Happy Friday. Welcome to the Week 1 mailbag.
To the notes!
Edwin from Salt Lake writes: Impressions of Utah's win over Michigan? Some good stuff some bad to me, but I'll hang up and listen...
Ted Miller: It wasn't always pretty but after all the hype surrounding coach Jim Harbaugh's debut, getting the W against a storied program from the Big Ten -- no matter its present state -- isn't something to feel bad about.
In fact, if not for a couple of regrettable penalties from LB Gionni Paul -- dude, it's about your team, not your personal machismo (but great play on that fourth-down solo stop) -- and some uninspired prevent defense late in the fourth, it would have been a decisive victory. There really weren't many moments in the game when you thought Michigan matched up physically.
John writes: As an Oregon alum, I'm very excited about the upcoming season and Vernon Adams leading the charge. This first game with EWU obviously has lots of intrigue, and I'm a little nervous considering how well EWU performed against Oregon State and Washington. It seems like these guys can play with anyone in the country. Do you know how many D1 transfers EWU has on their roster and should I be worried?
Miller: Every college football fan should retain a degree of worry before every game. That's being sporting. But, no, Oregon is not going to lose its opener.
Based on the roster, Eastern Washington has five Power 5 transfers, four from nearby Washington State and one from Arizona State.
Eastern Washington, No. 6 in the FCS preseason rankings, has 13 starters -- seven offense -- coming back from a team that went 11-3 last season and nearly beat Washington. This is not a typical FCS patsy.
BUT. The fear factor with the Eagles the past few seasons was based on QB Vernon Adams Jr., the guy who will line up behind center for Oregon, who is obviously pretty darn good because he won the Ducks' starting job in two or so weeks.
Jeremy writes: I am curious what you think [Oregon RB Royce] Freeman's stats will be at the end of the year. My bold prediction is that Freeman sets the Oregon record for most yards rushing in a single season. It's not that I think he's better than the likes of LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, but the stars seem to be aligning for a record season. With an injury to Thomas Tyner, the sea legs of a new QB, and taking into account that the possible #2 RB Byron Marshall is on the depth chart as first string WR... I think the ducks offense has a lot of yards to be gained on the ground, and not many names on the list besides Freeman to gain them. If the stats hold true to prediction I can't see him being left out of the Heisman talk either.
Miller: Maybe. I wouldn't be shocked if Freeman eclipsed LaMichael James' 1,805 yards from 2011, particularly considering that Kenjon Barner added 971 yards rushing for the Ducks that season. Freeman rushed for 1,343 yards as a true freshman while sharing the ball with Tyner, and there is no certain No. 2, no matter that the depth chart lists sophomore Kani Benoit, who had just 23 carries last season.
First off, Freeman would have to stay healthy. The 230-pounder might have to adjust his physical style a bit, picking his moments when he takes on a defender. He'd probably also need to improve his 5.5 yards per carry (James averaged 7.3 yards per carry in 2011).
That said, I'm not sure that Adams won't throw the ball a lot. Oregon might have the deepest, fastest crew of receivers in school history, and judgment on Adams -- from his Eastern Washington film and early returns with the Ducks -- is he fully capable of throwing the rock all over the place.
Oregon's offense has always been about balance. What the Ducks are chiefly aiming for is yards per play. Last year, that number was a stout 7.4 ypp, by far the best in the Pac-12. If they get within range of that this fall, you can expect Freeman to get a big chunk of yards on the ground.
Tom from San Diego writes: Where do you think the Cougs have the best chance to force a big upset this season?
Miller: I think Washington State has plenty of opportunities to win as an underdog, starting with a Week 2 game at Rutgers.
The Cougars typically record upsets in Pullman, particularly when the weather cools (and cools and cools). I'd say a Nov. 7 visit from Arizona State could be an upset special, seeing the warm-weather-loving Sun Devils went down in the chill at Oregon State on Nov. 15, 2014.
I'd also rate the Cougs' chances in the Apple Cup, even though it's in Husky Stadium, as pretty good.
Matt writes: The Cal hype train is full steam ahead right now. I have to ask. Last year if during Connor Halliday's record setting night, WSU converted on the 18 yard kick to beat Cal. Meaning WSU was the team that went 3-6 in conference and Cal went 2-7 instead of the other way around. Would WSU be the media darling this year? Both have high powered offenses, both have poor defenses, both need the D to make the jump to average to be successful.
Ted Miller: Well, the Cal hype train is steered by QB Jared Goff, a three-year starter who is expected to become a first-round NFL draft pick. He's a pretty darn good conductor.
No question Cal, which had horrible luck in losing on a Hail Mary at Arizona in Week 3 last year, recorded two of its three Pac-12 victories in fortunate fashion, first in double-overtime versus Colorado and then your aforementioned "Oh, no, Washington State just... " -- won't type it but it rhymes with "Couged it" -- against the Golden Bears.
If Washington State had converted that field goal, they would have improved to 3-2 and who knows what might have transpired. Still, I'm not sure the remaining schedule wouldn't have played out like it did. Who would the Cougs have upset? Stanford, Arizona USC, Arizona State or Washington? None of those games were close.
The reason Cal is getting some love is not only that Goff leads 16 returning starters, but also the quality of those starters, not to mention the return of several injured players and intriguing transfers. And keep in mind Cal's hype is mostly about bowl eligibility, not winning the North Division.
Washington State is replacing Halliday with Luke Falk, who flashed potential when he replaced an injured Halliday but struggled at season's end. There's certainly more uncertainty with the Cougars' offense than with Cal's, and the Bears appear to have more promise on defense, including continuity at coordinator.