Sonny Dykes

Beaten Down Bears: “Bad Passes, Drops and Missed Tackles Doomed Us”

Well that escalated quickly. After giving up 10 quick points and an end zone interception to start the game, the Oregon Ducks exploded for 31 straight points before halftime, while stuffing Cal’s potent offense en route to a 44-28 win....

The Pac-12 Days of Christmas

*Please note that this story is completely fictitious, and meant to be nothing more than a satirical look at the Conference of Champions. Any and all references, conversations, and situational humor is strictly fiction, and in no way depicts any...

Hroniss Grasu Previews Cal Match-Up

FishDuck.com writer Omar Garibay-Diaz spoke with Oregon’s starting center Hroniss Grasu Tuesday outside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. The time has almost come. Friday the Oregon Ducks will march down to Santa Clara to face the Cal...

Division Powers: Pac-12 North

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the country. The conference has changed vastly since its conception, but one thing has always stayed the same: winning. With the addition of Utah and Colorado three years ago (how time flies), the Pac-12 was split into two divisions: North and South. Though the North division has produced the Pac-12 Conference champions both years, the South division has steadily gained power. The 2014-2015 football season will have top-ranked teams in both divisions, but the two divisions will always have teams in the cellar who need a little bit of help getting up.

Let’s take a look at how the North division rankings shake out in the pre-season:

6. Cal Bears

Cal QB Jared Goff trying to throw the ball during the rain storm against Oregon.

Cal QB Jared Goff tries to throw the ball during the rain storm against Oregon.

1-11 – that was the Bears’ record at the end of the 2013 football season. First-year head coach Sonny Dykes inherited a team with some talent, but a lot needed to change. Though he has now had a year to institute the changes he wanted, the team is still young. Quarterback Jared Goff shows potential, but he still needs time and coaching to fully reach that potential. The rest of the team has little experience and there is truly no single player that stands out. Those in the fan base hoping for a quick climb up the division rankings will be disappointed.

Not helping the Bears at all for the second year in the row is their schedule which is one of the hardest around. Cal is certainly capable of winning more than one game this season, but hoping for much more than three would be wandering into fantasy land.

[Out of conference foes: @Northwestern, Sac State, BYU (in November)]

5. Washington State Cougars

QB Connor Halliday being knocked down by a Duck player

QB Connor Halliday is knocked down by a Duck player.

The 2013 football season brought big improvements for the Washington State Cougars. The team went 6-7 overall and 4-5 in Pac-12 play which was a vast improvement from the previous year. This year the Cougs return a three-year starter in QB Connor Halliday along with offensive and defensive lines that, while not perfect, have some experience and are starting to believe in themselves.

Coach Mike Leach worked wonders in Pullman in his first two seasons there, pulling the team from the bottom of the conference and getting them to the middle of the pack. Leach is known for his fast offensive attacks, but a couple victories last season were largely thanks to the defense. If the team can figure out how to play together and not lose hope even after falling behind early, Wazzu will be a threat to most teams on their schedule.

[ooc schedule: Rutgers (in Seattle), @Nevada, Portland State]

4. Oregon State Beavers

Oregon battling Oregon State in the Civil War

Oregon battling Oregon State in the Civil War.

Last season did not start off the way the Beavers had hoped, with a loss to FCS Eastern Washington. The Beavers bounced back, however, and went on to win their next six games before losing the next five games, followed by a win in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to close out the season. Looking at the Beavers’ last two games (against Oregon in the Civil War and Hawaii in the bowl game), you have to wonder how good the Beavers could have been if they’d figured out how to run ball earlier in the season. Oregon State’s offense last year seemed to focus mostly on the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks formula, which worked — until it didn’t.

Now Cooks is gone and Mannion, who was one of the best quarterbacks around last year, will be playing without his first-choice weapon on the field. The Beavers’ defense was young last year and didn’t have much experience. With a year’s worth of learning and in some cases, 12 games under their belts, you have to wonder how good the Beavers can be. With a coach as good as Mike Riley, I don’t anticipate another year of barely batting .500.

[ooc: Portland St., @Hawaii, San Diego St.]

3. Washington Huskies

This past season brought the best record the Huskies had seen in the past 12 years. The last time the Huskies did better than 9-4 overall (5-4 in the Pac-12) was in 2000 when they went 11-1 with Rick Neuheisel as head coach. When, at the end of the season, head coach Steve Sarkisian left to become the head coach at USC, most fans and critics alike were surprised. Those same fans and critics rejoiced, though, when Washington went out and hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State, a feat other big-time college programs had been trying to accomplish for years.

Huskies in the house at Autzen Stadium in 2012.

Huskies in the house at Autzen Stadium in 2012.

With Petersen at the helm, expect the Huskies to avoid taking any steps back and instead to move forward. Washington will be a very real contender in the Pac-12 North race and will likely appear in the Top-25 list at some point in the season. Quarterback Cyler Miles is young but showed promise last year and is now back from a suspension. The team needs to work on its secondary, but that is something that should improve over the summer and during fall camp. The defense was solid last year. It doesn’t lose a lot of players and should be as strong as it was in 2013.

The Huskies start off the season with a fairly easy preseason schedule — playing first at Hawaii and then home against FCS Eastern Washington, Illinois and FCS Georgia State — but their first game in conference play will be against Stanford. They play California after their bye week, then Oregon and Arizona State back-to-back, followed by Colorado and then UCLA. If the Huskies can get through this stretch of their schedule unscathed, they will be riding on top.

2. Stanford Cardinal

Wade Keliikipi pushing Stanford.

Wade Keliikipi pushing Stanford.

Stanford is one of the three teams in the Pac-12 likely to be ranked in the Top-10 at the beginning of the season. The Cardinal had one of the strongest defensive front sevens in the conference. The defensive line was instrumental in helping retain Stanford’s Pac-12 Championship for the second year and end the season with a 11-3 (7-2 Pac-12) record. Though the defense lost some great talent to the NFL, there are still some lesser-known players who will step in to fill the holes and make Stanford’s defense one to be feared once again.

On the offensive side, Quarterback Kevin Hogan threw 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and has a 16-3 record since he took over as the starter in the middle of the 2012 season. He was a strong playmaker last year and is likely to improve with more time and experience under his belt. Ty Montgomery, one of Hogan’s favorite targets, returns this year. Stanford will add Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector to Hogan’s target list, as well.

One of Stanford’s biggest hurdles this season will be its schedule. After the Cardinal open with UC Davis, they play USC in the second game of the season, plays Army the next week, and then, after a bye, come games @Washington and @Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. At the end of October Stanford plays Arizona State and Oregon State, and then plays Oregon at the beginning of November. The game against Oregon is already marked on calenders everywhere and if both Oregon and Stanford make it to November 1st undefeated, it will be one of the biggest and best games of the year.

1. Oregon Ducks

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Oregon will be ranked in the Top-25 (and likely the Top-10) at the beginning of the season. The Ducks return almost all their starters and have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation leading the charge. Last season didn’t end the way the Ducks hoped when QB Marcus Mariota injured his knee late in the season. Without one of their best weapons at 100%, the Ducks lost two games and their national titles hopes faded.

The Oregon offense running away with the ball.

The Oregon offense running away with the ball.

This year the Ducks are back and ready to go for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. On the offensive side, Oregon not only returns Mariota but has a lot of experience returning in most positions. Oregon lost its top three receivers to the draft and its most experienced WR Bralon Addison is out for the season with an injury, but there is more than one young and eager player ready to battle for his position. The entire offensive line is talented and has a nice mixture of young and veteran players who will all work to keep defensive coordinators on their toes.

Under new defensive coordinator Don Pellum, the Ducks’ defense will look to prove, once again, how good it really is. With the surprising return of CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the defense will look to find ways to make the opposing quarterback, receivers and running backs’ lives miserable. DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Arik Armstead, all projected defensive line starters, average 6’6 and 295 lbs. All three spent the off-season in the weight room getting stronger. All the backup spots on the defensive line are filled by either veterans or players with game experience.

Barring any unforeseen injuries, Oregon may very well earn one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.

[ooc: South Dakota, Michigan St., Wyoming]

The Pac-12 is the deepest conference in the country. The North division by itself holds three potential Top-25 teams, and we haven’t even discussed the South yet.

Top photo by Craig Strobeck

An Overview: The Pac-12′s Second-Year Coaches

In the past three years a lot of teams in the Pac-12 have had coaching changes, with the sole exception being the University of Utah where Kyle Whittingham has been the coach since 2005. The other 11 schools in the conference have all hired new coaches since 2011. There are three programs — Oregon, California and Colorado — heading into Year 2 with their new coaches. Let’s take a look at exactly what they accomplished last year and what they are projected to do this year.

Sonny Dykes — California Bears

The 2013 football season didn’t go the way Bear fans expected or hoped. The Bears took a step back from 2012, winning only one game versus three the previous year. This doesn’t take into account that Cal had one of the hardest schedules in the FBS in 2013, and it doesn’t look much better in 2014. They faced five ranked teams — four of them in the first six games of the season and one in their final game of the season. To say the odds were stacked against the Bears and Sonny Dykes would be an understatement.

Cal players in the waterfall of the Oregon-Cal game

Cal players in the waterfall of the Oregon-Cal game.

California’s sole win of 2013 came in the second game of the season against lowly Portland State, who they defeated 37-30. Other than that, the Bears were run over by every other team they played. Their other two out-of-conference games were against ranked teams, Northwestern and Ohio State, which resulted in 44-30 and 52-34 beatings. In the Pac-12, the conference’s top teams — Oregon, USC, UCLA and Stanford — whupped the Bears with a combined score of 217-67.

Bear fans are eager for the team to return to prominence but it is unlikely to happen in the 2014 season. Cal has some of the same problems it did last year – tough schedule and a young quarterback, among other things — and will need time to get better and dig themselves out of the hole they are in. Sonny Dykes is too good a coach for the Bears to stay at the bottom of the Pac-12 forever, and they will almost certainly do better than they did last year. But then, with only one win, it’s hard to do worse.

Mike MacIntyre — Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado hired Mike MacIntyre to succeed Jon Embree after a short two-year tenure as head coach. In the first year under their new coach, the Buffaloes went 4-8 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12. The only Pac-12 team Colorado beat was Cal, a team who also had a first-year head coach. The Buffaloes started the season on a high note defeating Colorado State, a team that had embarrassed them the year before, and FCS Central Arkansas, effectively doubling their wins from the 2012 season. Their third game of the season against Fresno State was cancelled due to weather and wasn’t rescheduled.

Mike MacIntyre coaching against Oregon

Mike MacIntyre coaching against Oregon.

In their fourth, fifth and sixth games of the season, Colorado faced both teams from the state of Oregon and Arizona State, losing all three with a combined score of 155-46. They came back to win their next game against Charleston Southern 43-10, giving the team a much-needed boost in morale.

They once again lost three games in a row, against Arizona, UCLA and Washington, before playing Cal, which became their only Pac-12 win of the year. The Buffaloes played one of their best games of the last few seasons against the Bears, winning 41-24. Colorado closed out the season with two losses, to USC and Utah, and failed to qualify for a bowl game.

Besides the obvious statistic of winning three more games in 2013 than in 2012, the Buffaloes improved in almost every single statistical category. The only important categories that Colorado didn’t improve in were passing yards allowed per game, fourth-down offense, punt returns, punt return defense and time of possession.

Even with the improvement the Buffaloes made last year, the team is still rebuilding. With a bit of luck, Colorado has enough talent in the team and enough coaching push from MacIntyre to become bowl eligible in 2014. If MacIntyre can keep recruiting as well as he did in 2013, the Buffaloes will keep getting better and better talent to work with and could be competing in the Pac-12 in the next two or three years.

Mark Helfrich — Oregon Ducks

For most programs in the country, going 11-2 in your first year as a head coach would lead to celebrations in the streets. After Mark Helfrich’s 11-2 first season at Oregon, there was … disappointment. Going into the season the Ducks were considered national championship contenders and Duck fans were ready. When the Ducks lost to Stanford, Duck fans were saddened but bounced back and started looking forward to the Rose Bowl.

Mark Helfrich coming out the tunnel at Autzen Stadium

Mark Helfrich coming out of the tunnel at Autzen Stadium.

Then came the game against Arizona. Duck fans watched the game with jaws on the floor and tears in their eyes. Losing against a great Stanford team could be (very grudgingly) accepted, but losing to a 6-4 Arizona team was heartbreaking. Being out of the Pac-12 championship game and the Rose Bowl hunt was shocking, and then to find out that Oregon was left out of all the BCS bowls? Deeply disappointing.

When Marcus Mariota decided to come back to Oregon for his redshirt junior year, Oregon fans cheered. The Ducks are expected to be ranked in the Top 5 at the beginning of the season. With Mariota at the helm and Helfrich having a year’s experience under his belt, the Ducks have a good chance of making the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Mark Helfrich has a lot to prove and he has a great chance to do so in the coming season. Oregon, arguably, has one of the most talented teams the program has ever seen, and if Helfrich can keep the team focused on the “Win the Day” philosophy Chip Kelly popularized, the Ducks could win the season.

With the season only three months away, we just have to get through this summer before we’re once again in the land of tailgates and football games.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

News Flash to Boosters: It’s Not Kelly’s Job to Please You

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Oregon head coach Chip Kelly (Alex Shoemaker/Eugene Daily News)
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly
(Alex Shoemaker/Eugene Daily News)

In a story published yesterday by John Locanthi of the Willamette Weekit was revealed that a number of University of Oregon boosters are annoyed with football head coach Chip Kelly due to a lack of appreciation for the fans, which in this case means the same thing as a little kid screaming at his dad, “Pay attention to me!”

Some boosters even hope Kelly bolts for the NFL after this season so the team can bring in a coach who will interact with them more.

Some say that it is Kelly’s duty as head coach to mingle with boosters in order to keep them happy, and keep the money flowing into the athletic department. Last year, the Oregon athletic department received over $30 million in donations and gifts. The team generated $20.5 million in 2011.  It’s pretty simple math. Keep the donors happy, the money keeps coming in. Upset the donors, and the money stays in their pockets.

But I have a news flash for Oregon boosters: It’s not Kelly’s job to please you. His job title is head football coach, and his obligation to the school is to coach, and win, football games. So you have to watch the game from a special luxury suite instead of down on the sidelines. Cry me a river while you feast on your complimentary food and beverages.

I watched every Oregon home game this season from the same viewpoint the boosters have and, believe me, it’s actually an upgrade from the sidelines. Other examples of Kelly turning a cold shoulder include videoconferencing with the Oregon Club instead of making the weekly trip to Portland, and skipping an annual golf tournament put on by the Oregon Club, sending assistant coaches instead.

Boosters are like young children. They crave attention and recognition, and if they don’t get the attention they want, they throw a hissy fit. Because Kelly doesn’t give them enough attention, their attitude is, “Let him leave for the NFL so we can have a coach who pays attention to us!”

Now boosters, I’m going to throw some numbers your way to put things in perspective. Since taking over in 2009, Kelly has led the Ducks to as many 10 win seasons (four) as Oregon had in the previous 113 years of the program. On January 3, the Ducks will play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, their fourth consecutive BCS bowl appearance. The only other teams to make at least four consecutive BCS bowls are Miami, USC, and Ohio State. Starting to see a pattern here? Kelly has brought Oregon to the top tier of college football programs.

Former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti
Former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti

So you want Kelly gone in order to get a coach who will let you stand on the sidelines, come speak at your booster meeting, or play a round of golf with you? Mike Bellotti was good at that, but the best he ever did was one BCS appearance in his 14 years as head coach. Rich Brooks was also good with boosters, but Kelly has something neither of those coaches do. A Rose Bowl ring.

It’s become clear that Kelly is good at his job of winning football games. In his four years at Oregon, Kelly has an overall record of 45-7, and a conference record of 33-3 Even though his tenure at Oregon is nothing compared to that of Bellotti’s or Brooks’, he will go down as the most successful football coach in the history of the program.

Boosters have to understand that different coaches have different personalities. Brooks and Bellotti were people pleasers, while Kelly is not. People pleasers are guys like newly hired Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, who announced that football practices would be open to the public, and that he intends to live in Berkeley so he can interact with fans on a daily basis and become part of the community. But Kelly is nothing like that. He keeps his life private, and any interactions, even with the media, brief.

One of Kelly’s post-game press conferences this season was nearly over in a matter of less than three minutes before reporters were pressed to ask more questions by the athletic department, who said, “Really guys, that’s it?” I’ve been in Eugene for the same amount of time that Kelly has been head coach, and only once have I actually seen him away from an Oregon athletic event, and that was with him in the passenger seat of a car with his feet kicked up on the dashboard.

What boosters seem to be missing is that Kelly is giving them a could shoulder not because he doesn’t appreciate them, but rather because he is focused on winning football games, which logically should make the boosters happy.

So I pose this question to the boosters who want him gone because he doesn’t pay attention to you. Would you rather have a coach who takes time out of his hectic schedule to videoconference in to your booster meeting every week, and continue to make trips to the BCS every season, or would you rather the Ducks hire a coach whose main concern is shaking hands and kissing babies rather than win football games? I don’t know about you, but if I was a fan, I’d take videoconferences and BCS bowls over meet-and-greets and Sun Bowls (or Holiday Bowls, or Alamo Bowls or…New Mexico Bowls) any time.

Comment below if you think Oregon should do something about Kelly’s lack of support from boosters.