We introduce you today to Mr. Contrarian, a guy who lives for an argument. Tell him the sun rises in the East, and he’ll try to make a case that you need to start scanning the West for it. He can find something wrong in spring daffodils, kids blowing bubbles in a summer breeze, or county fairs. On the other hand, just when your favorite team has you hanging on the ledge, he’ll try to talk you off, offering up reasons that the sky isn’t falling. His favorite word is perspective. Your description of him might be Wet Blanket.
Without further ado, here he is, spoiling for an argument after an opening weekend of Pac-12 football in which 10 teams played, three lost, one unexpectedly. We’ll hear him out, North to South:
The Huskies waxed Boise State, 38-6, beating the Broncos like an old rug. This just doesn’t happen to Boise State. What say you, Mr. Contrarian?
Well, you don’t throw back a whupping over Chris Petersen and his program. But let’s put it in some perspective: This is nowhere near the ilk of Boise State’s best teams. If you don’t believe me, check out Phil Steele’s rankings of the best draftable players for 2014. You won’t find Joe Southwick anywhere among the top 60 of quarterbacks, nor a running back. Nor a linebacker, nor a cornerback on the list of 70. Yeah, there are a handful of guys in there, led by No. 13 at wide receiver, Matt Miller, but overall, there are few real playmakers. BSU has eight starters back, one of the lowest totals in the FBS.
The Huskies beat a reputation, not a great football team.
The Cougars gave their supporters some hope with a 31-24 loss at Auburn in oppressive heat and humidity. Mr. Contrarian has some reservations, though.
Auburn proved to be a one-dimensional outfit, surviving in this one on big plays. Its quarterback, Nick Marshall, either had a skittish debut throwing the ball, or the War Eagles are in deep trouble against any kind of physical defense in the SEC that will force him to throw. He passed for only 99 yards, and three times (one on a reverse pass), Auburn receivers were open behind the WSU secondary, only to be overthrown. If a couple of those are completed, it could have been a three-touchdown win.
The Cougars will face much better-balanced offenses in the Pac-12, starting Saturday night at USC.
Ducks thrashed Nicholls State, 66-3, in a game in which the uniforms probably didn’t need to be laundered afterward. But Mr. Contrarian points out that quarterback Marcus Mariota was only 12 of 21 passing, overthrew some receivers, and Oregon’s first-year coach, Mark Helfrich, wasn’t all that wowed by his team’s tackling.
OSU laid a big egg in the opener, losing to Eastern Washington, 49-46. Comparisons will naturally be drawn to 2011, when the Beavers debuted with a defeat to Sacramento State (and went on to a 3-9 season), but those are probably strained. Two years ago, OSU coach Mike Riley would make a strange quarterback shift in the second game of the season at Wisconsin, switching early from Ryan Katz to Sean Mannion, while in this game, Mannion was clearly comfortable at the offensive controls, completing 37 of 43 for 422 yards.
Also, the OSU defense was without starting linebacker D.J. Alexander, still mending from a minor knee injury suffered in camp. But here’s a stat, courtesy of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, that’s off-putting even to Mr. Contrarian: OSU allowed Eastern 34 plays of eight yards or more.
In the twin debuts of Sonny Dykes and frosh quarterback Jared Goff, Northwestern won in Berkeley, 44-30. But Goff threw for 445 yards, most in Cal history in regulation time, and Dykes showed some verve, calling for a fake field goal on Cal’s first possession that resulted in a touchdown. So he got generally high marks.
You always know you’re in for a lecture when Mr. Contrarian begins his remarks with, “Where do I begin?”
Trojans decked Hawaii, 30-13. But there was ample reason for concern, starting at the quarterback spot. Cody Kessler was 10 of 19 for 95 yards and got sacked for a safety. Max Wittek was 5 of 10 for 77 yards. There were receiver drops, including by Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee. And now, coach Lane Kiffin may be inviting more speculation by not naming a starting QB for Washington State, although he says he has settled on one. He told LA reporters, “I’m not going to get into ‘This guy this,’ and “This guy that,” saying that doing so “would create an opening for people outside the building to tear these guys apart.”
It all sounds really uplifting, doesn’t it?
Bruins flattened Nevada, 58-20. The LA Times reported that 14 first-year freshmen played for the Bruins, which isn’t always a good sign. One of them, Bellevue product and linebacker Myles Jack, said wryly, “I got hit on the first play on a crack-back block and had a headache the rest of the night. That was my welcome to college football.”
UCLA was the most penalty-plagued team in the league last year and it’s off to a similar start, with 12 for 93 yards.
‘Zona whitewashed Northern Arizona, 35-0. The good news is that NAU was 18th-ranked in the FCS poll and had 18 starters back from a good team, and Arizona’s defense seemed to make big strides from its league-worst showing in 2012. But here’s the bad: The Wildcats won in a way that might not be reflective of how they’ll have to do business in the Pac-12. They had an un-RichRod-like total of 47 offensive plays, and the quarterback, B.J. Denker, threw only 13 passes.
Yeah, the Utes outlasted Utah State, 30-26, something they failed to a year ago. But Mr. Contrarian hastens to point to the injury concerns: They lost last-year’s second-leading receiver, Kenneth Scott, for the season, running back Kelvin York didn’t play in the second half with an undisclosed injury, and linebacker Brian Blechen, who didn’t get much work in fall camp with knee tendinitis, had surgery last week and will either be out awhile or be redshirted.
Any win is a good win for the Buffs, and the 41-27 victory over Colorado State represented progress — although it didn’t seem to impress CSU coach Jim McElwain, who told reporters defiantly afterward, “I still think we should win the game. And I’m going to tell you, I think we should win the game next year. So go ahead and put it in their locker room now, OK?”
Mr. Contrarian is at a rare loss to assess the fact Colorado allowed CSU only 295 total yards. Last year, Colorado was No. 117 in FBS total defense, and Colorado State was No. 100 in total offense. So until next week, at least, he’ll have to find another bone to pick. And no doubt he will.