Usually our 6-Pac of questions runs on Thursday, but with Thanksgiving this week, Kevin Gemmell and Kyle Bonagura discuss six pressing issues a little earlier this week.
Which Pac-12 South team still in contention would give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 title game?
Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: I hit on this in my mailbag last week, and I still think UCLA, Arizona and ASU all provide unique challenges that are starkly different from each other. But the UCLA team I saw live at the Rose Bowl Saturday night was electric. The offensive line mauled, the defensive got after the quarterback and the wide receivers stepped up big. UCLA looks to be playing its best football right now. That could make things real interesting for the Ducks.
Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Even though UCLA has been the division’s best team over the last few weeks, I’m leaning toward Arizona because of the Wildcats’ recent success against Oregon. Football is so predicated on match ups and Arizona has won its last two games against the Ducks -- and nothing was fluky about either game. It’s also tough to get past the fact that UCLA simply wasn’t competitive against the Ducks earlier this year. It trailed 42-10 at home before a late rally made the final score (42-30) appear closer than it was.
If a Pac-12 South team wins the conference championship game, how likely would a playoff berth be?
Gemmell: I think it depends on how much the committee is really going to emphasize conference championships. They say they will, so we have to take them at their word for now. If it’s UCLA, the Bruins would be 5-1 against Top 25 teams, which would include a win over Oregon in the rematch. Arizona would be 4-1 with two wins over the Ducks and ASU would be 6-1 against ranked teams. That in itself makes for a compelling enough argument for inclusion.
Bonagura: It’s a good sign for the Pac-12 that 1-loss Oregon is ranked ahead of undefeated Florida State. It shows there is precedent to slot a 2-loss Pac-12 team ahead of a 1-loss team should UCLA, Arizona or Arizona State beat Oregon. It’s obviously not that simple, but like you point out, Kevin, all three would have wins that stack up favorably compared to other candidates from other conferences. It'd be a coin flip.
What are your takeaways for Colorado’s season to this point?
Gemmell: Encouraging, though it’s tough to see. I think you hit the nail on the head, Kyle, in your power rankings Sunday when you said because the conference is so deep, you can’t see the results in the standings. Colorado has gotten better, but so has the conference. They just need to accelerate their improvement over the next couple of years if they want to pass some of these teams. But they were a lot more competitive this year than in season’s past. That’s something to build on going forward.
Bonagura: Coaches hate -- HATE -- playing “What If?” In Colorado’s case, it’s particularly frustrating, or encouraging, depending how you look at it. The Buffs led 10-win Colorado State (10-1) in the fourth quarter, they went to double overtime with Cal, they led Oregon State at halftime, they went to double overtime with No. 9 UCLA and led Washington at halftime. There were some not-so-close games in there, too, but the point is they were a few breaks from a more respectable record.
Headed into his first Apple Cup, how would you measure Chris Petersen’s first season at Washington?
Gemmell: I think he needs this one to rally his base. He’s been a no-nonsense coach when it comes to discipline. I dig that, so kudos to him. The OKG thing will fly for now. And I’m willing to give a two-time national coach of the year a couple of seasons to get the OKGs he really needs to build the program up in his image. Much like the situation in Boulder, Washington will have to find a way to keep pace with the rest of the league. The South is rising at a furious pace. Oregon isn’t going anywhere. Stanford might not be down for long. In other words, it’s not going to get easier.
Bonagura: Good, not great. The Huskies have won the games they should have won, but there isn’t a signature win to date. Like you said, Kevin, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Nothing about his coaching résumé indicates the Huskies won’t trend upwards deeper into his tenure in Seattle. That said, losing the Apple Cup would leave a sour taste on his debut season regardless of what happens it whatever lesser-tier bowl they end up in.
Rich Rodriguez still hasn’t beaten Arizona State. What will be the keys in this week’s Territorial Cup?
Gemmell: Neither team needs motivation, that’s for sure. But if this game does come down to determining the South Division, well, that’s going to make things awfully exciting. Health of some key players will obviously contribute. But I think Arizona’s one-two punch of Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson will make or break this game. If those two get off, it opens up a world of possibilities for Arizona’s offense. If the Sun Devils can run blitz the heck out of Arizona and make plays in the backfield, that could be the game-changer.
Bonagura: Health and turnovers are the two big ones. If Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon isn’t ready to go, I think you have to give the edge to Arizona State. We’ll probably have to wait until later in the week to get a better idea of what Solomon’s chances are, but the assumption at ASU is that he will play. In games between teams this closely matched, I always give the edge to whatever team wins the turnover battle. Also, limit the scoreboard watching -- UCLA will be playing Stanford at the same time.
“Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota” is the talk around O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene, Oregon. What was the talk around your middle school?
Gemmell: Will Clark (still the prettiest swing of all time), Guns N’ Roses (find me a better debut album top to bottom than Appetite for Destruction … fine, maybe Pearl Jam’s Ten a couple of years later in 1991) and Batman (yes, kids there was a time when Michael Keaton actually was Batman).
Bonagura: When I was in middle school in the Bay Area, Steve Young was wrapping up a legendary career with the 49ers, Puff Daddy owned the radio airwaves and it seemed like every girl saw Titantic at least four times in theaters.