While the news at Pac-12 media day was scant, your Pac-12 bloggers did come away with an opinion or two. So the question behind today's Take 2 is which team near the bottom of the preseason poll did we leave media day feeling better about than before.
Ted Miller: While I think a team many are underestimating is UCLA, the team at Pac-12 media day that made me go, "Hmm… maybe?" was Oregon State.
Why? A couple of reasons. For one, a slide like this has happened with Mike Riley before. When he returned to Corvallis in 2002 after his ill-fated tenure with the San Diego Chargers, he went 8-5, 7-5 and 5-6. Folks wondered if the program was going to revert back to its dismal run of 28 consecutive losing seasons. Only Riley and the Beavers would go on to win 36 games over the next four seasons.
Further, there's second-year starting QB Sean Mannion, who was OK last year, but wasn't terribly efficient with 18 interceptions and 16 TDs. That sort of feels to me like Sean Canfield throwing 15 picks against just nine TDs in 2007. Two years later, after watching Lyle Moevao mature into a solid QB in 2008, Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And recall the difference in Matt Moore in 2005 -- bad QB, kind of a jerk -- and 2006 -- good QB who grew up and went to the NFL.
Quarterbacks under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have dramatically improved their second year in the Beavers offense. The unfortunate exception to this rule, of course, is the guy Mannion displaced last fall, Ryan Katz.
But there's more!
Mannion has a strong crew of receivers and tight ends/H-backs. He just needs a running game to keep the opposing defense honest. I actually think there's enough talent in the backfield to make a "running back by committee" approach work. And the offensive line should improve because, well, it can't do much worse than last year.
But there's more!
What about that defense? It stood out to me at media day that Riley talked about the improved conditioning of sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. Those two have a chance to be a heck of a tandem. I like the Beavers back seven, which is sneaky good at linebacker and has cornerback Jordan Poyer, a top NFL prospect. The question is can the Beavers cover up an obvious weakness at tackle? Tag that with a firm "maybe."
The key stretch in the schedule runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 when the Beavers play at UCLA, at Arizona, Washington State and at BYU. Those are four winnable games, but the Beavers have to be road warriors. The bad news is they've won just one true road game over the past two seasons.
Of course, that win was at a good Arizona team, when Katz seemed like he was on the cusp of breaking out -- only WR James Rodgers blew out his knee that night. Little has gone the Beavers way since then.
Call this a hunch that the Beavers will trend up in 2012. They might not get to eight wins, but I expect them to return to the postseason.
Kevin Gemmell: That's not a bad call. But it's the team the Beavers are staring up at in the preseason poll -- Washington State -- that leaves me questioning if there is room for one more in that indecipherable vacuum of second-tier North teams.
Like you, I think UCLA could be dangerous, because the athletes are in place and where Noel Mazzone goes, big offensive numbers usually follow. It seems like they just need a swift kick to the butt-pad to get them going. Jim Mora seems like the guy with the right set of feet.
But until we see what Mora can do at the college level, I'm sticking with the Cougars, because we know what Mike Leach and his teams are capable of.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been dropping WSU in occasionally as a team to watch in the North. And while I'm still not quite ready to elevate them in with those second-tier teams -- Cal, Stanford and Washington (in alphabetical order as not to offend) -- I'm a lot closer now than I was when the week started.
I walked away from media day convinced that Leach was not only the right hire, but that his impact is going to be immediate.
Most impressive was the demeanor and focus of quarterback Jeff Tuel. He carried himself with a quiet confidence and poise that stood out to me. I'm not going to compare being up on the stage to quarterbacking a football team -- but let's face it -- sitting up there in front of 100-plus reporters can be daunting. Tuel was loose -- and even cracked wise a couple of times. He carried himself like a mature, veteran, big-time quarterback. That's what you want to see.
The Cougars are going to score points, lots of them. And Tuel is going to put up numbers, big ones. Plus, there is depth at the position. Should Tuel suffer another injury -- he only appeared in three games last year -- Connor Halliday is waiting in the wings. I can think of a few teams that wouldn't mind having Halliday as a failsafe.
And I don't think the conference is fully prepared for what Leach and Co. are going to unleash each week. In his 10 years at Texas Tech his teams went to 10 bowl games. In 2000, his first year, he re-wrote virtually every Texas Tech passing record -- and then proceeded to re-break them for the next nine years. In his final two seasons his teams won 19 games. Washington State has won nine in the past four.
I'm predicting a 4-0 start (at BYU, Eastern Washington, at UNLV, Colorado). This team should make the postseason and if everything comes together with some haste, seven or eight wins is a very realistic possibility.