Monday, December 29, 2014

2015 Rose Bowl Prediction

#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State
January 1 at 2 p.m. Pacific
Rose Bowl Stadium
Pasadena, CA

What's At Stake: 
The winner: 1) is Rose Bowl champion, and 2) goes on to play in the national championship game against the winner of #1 Alabama vs. #4 Ohio State.

2014 season recap: The Ducks  racked up a 12-1 record in 2014. Mostly, they rolled the teams they played. Save the one Oct. game against Arizona (a close loss) and the game right before that against WSU (a close win), the Ducks put the hurt on the teams they matched up against. Those earlier close ones can mostly be attributed to offensive line injuries. That, and the Duck D seemed to take the "bend but don't break/keep it all in front of you" strategy to an extreme. More positively, Oregon beat currently and at-the-time ranked teams, including: Michigan State, UCLA, Utah and Arizona  in the league title game. They also beat Washington (a team with three All-Americans on their defense) soundly and for the 11tth year in a row. I would summarize the Ducks as such: wicked potent offense with the best QB in the nation + a ton of talent all over the field complemented by a fast but frustrating "don't give up the big play" defense that at times is super frustrating to watch. But, that combination delivered 12 wins.
Since the end of the season: There have been two big developments for the Ducks since they won the Pac-12 title game - one good, one bad. On the upside, QB Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football this season. The negative is that Oregon's All-American cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu injured his knee in practice and will not be able to play in the Rose Bowl.
Strengths: The Ducks have all to the pieces in place on offense to move the ball on the ground and through the air...and put up points. Also, the Ducks seem to find turn overs. And, speed on special teams means they can break one any time.
Weaknesses: Oregon does not field a defense that is just going to shut a team down. Yes, they did do that to Arizona in their last game and at key times against UCLA and Michigan State. But, that was not the norm across the entire season. All told, teams can work the ball down the field pretty easily on Oregon. Also, the Ducks do not have a field goal kicker that it can rely on outside of about 20 yards...and even then it's a nervous moment for Duck fans.
Opportunities: Oregon's offense can exploit an FSU defense that has not seen thee speed, tempo and talent at QB and RB that the Ducks bring. Special teams - particularly punt returns - could be magic.
Players to watch: On offense, #8 Mariota of course. Also keep an eye on the entire offensive line and how well #21 RB Freeman is running the ball. On defense, how much of a rush does the Oregon defensive line get? See how #9 Armistead does in getting to the QB and how does the now-depleted secondary fare against FSU's passing game? On special teams, watch speedy returner #6 Nelson.
What Oregon fans say: FSU plays in a weak league and has barely escaped many times this season. In the Pac-12 they would have lost several games. FSU QB Winston is an interception throwing machine...and the Ducks feast on turnovers. Oh, and good luck stopping the Oregon offense for four quarters.
Oregon fans' secret fear: FSU QB Winston picks apart the Oregon secondary on the way to multiple scores while their D line slows down the Mariota machine on offense. That, or the game comes down to a filed goal attempt by the Oregon kicker.

Florida State
2014 season recap: The Seminoles' season was basically a series of "great escapes" in which they fell behind in the first half and then came back in the second half to win...usually by a narrow margins. Throw in some easy wins over weak ACC teams and they ended at 13-0. Their marquee wins were against ranked Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech squads. Their offense runs the ball decently, but earns its yards and points by QB Winston throwing the ball. He has a talent for firing the ball into narrow windows, but sometimes (all too often for FSU fans) those balls are picked off. But hey, they've won 29 games in a row. On defense, the Seminoles do let teams score. They gave up 31 to Oklahoma State, 41 to NC State, 27 to Notre Dame and 31 to Louisville. So, we're not talking about an SEC-style/shut-down D here. But again...two straight undefeated seasons.
Since the end of the season: Not much news...which is good for a squad that has had some players get into trouble off the field.
Strengths: On offense, clearly QB Winston is a leader and can throw the ball really well. On defense, their line is big and athletic. And, they have a very good place kicker.
Weaknesses: FSU's defense is susceptible to the spread offense, a fast tempo and a mobile QB. Guess what Oregon does? Also, QB Winston does throw too many interceptions.
Opportunities: Throwing the ball to move it down the field against Oregon's "keep it in front of us" defense (now also minus its best cover man due to injury), having their big defensive linemen disrupt running lanes and making Oregon's QB scramble. The ability to win the game with a long field goal.
Players to watch: On offense, #5 QB Winston, tight end #85 O'Leary and #80 receiver Greene. On defense, I say watch the FSU line play. Are they getting into the Oregon backfield regularly? Are they making Oregon's QB to scramble and denying Duck RBs the ability to get to the corner?
What FSU fans say: We're current national champs - you are not. We've won 29 in a row - you have not. Oregon plays in the weak Pac-12 and have never seen the size, speed and aggressiveness of this FSU team.
FSU fans' secret fear: Oregon rips FSU for 50+ points aided by QB Winston throwing multiple interceptions...and no amount of second half heroics matter.

How It Will Unfold
Considering all of the above, here is how I think this game will go...

First Quarter
FSU has success stopping the rusty Oregon offense while the FSU O moves the ball through the air with short, efficient passes that reduce the chances of Winston throwing an interception - and they score a TD early. Oregon fans' worst fears are being realized. FSU's "ball control" keeps Oregon's offense off the field and the Ducks off the scoreboard...for the moment. However, Oregon's D stiffens and holds the Seminoles twice to field goals.

Score at the end of the first quarter: FSU 13-UO 0

Second Quarter
Oregon gets its running game going and makes FSU pay for over-aggressively rushing Mariota. The Ducks get a score. Winston throws a pick and the Ducks convert into a FG. Yes, a FG by Oregon. But, FSU strikes again for another TD by throwing long against the guy replacing Oregon's All-American CB Ekpre-Olomu.

Score at halftime: FSU 20-UO 10

Third Quarter
The Ducks get a great kick return the first time they touch the ball in the second half - setting up a TD pass from Mariota. Oregon's defense comes out with some adjustments that puts more pressure on Winston - making him throw poorer passes and getting sacked a few times. With this comes a couple more possessions for Oregon's offense - and a FG and TD. FSU eeks out a FG during the quarter.

Score at the end of the third quarter: UO 27-FSU 23

Fourth Quarter
Oregon fumbles the ball in their own end and FSU converts into a TD, taking the lead again. However, the Ducks come right back and score quickly. Now, it's down to who can stop who? I say three-plus quarters of Oregon's offensive attack starts to take its toll on FSU's defensive players and Oregon's offense hits the accelerator - scoring twice. Meanwhile, FSU becomes desperate as time is running out...they get a TD. It's UO 41-FSU 37 with a couple minutes left.

FSU makes a mistake...a fumble, a pick, failing to convert of fourth down. This seals the deal for them. Oregon takes advantage to win, and even scores one more before the clock runs out.

Final Score
UO 48-FSU 37

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Own 2014 "Year in Review"

Well, 2014 was quite a year. The world saw many wonderful and terrible things happen over the past 12 months. I have my opinions on those events of course, but - as with everyone - how a person experiences and feels about a year comes down to their own personal situation and experiences.

As I sat recently and thought about this past year, I initially felt that it was a tough stretch (as in, "wow, that was not a fun year"), but then I quickly realized that, you know, we did a LOT of great things during 2014 despite some challenges. And, if the hurdles we faced this year are the worst thing we ever have to go through, then we're doing just fine.

And that got me thinking that as 2014 comes to and end, I wanted to list out some of the highlights and most important things that occurred for us over the year. It's good to remember these things, and for me...writing about them further cements them in my mind and heart.

So, below is a personal "2014: A Year In Review." Before delving into it though, I need to say that none of what happened in 2014 - or any year - would mean damn thing without my beautiful, smart and wonderful wife - Diane. She means the world to me.

OK, here's the scoop on 2014...

My job situation was one of two developments that were central to our 2014. It's a long story, but I'll try to tell it in a shortened way...

The first thing to know is that the company for which I had worked at for nearly eight years decided to consolidate all its offices to Dayton, OH, Raleigh, NC and New York City. This meant closing the Bellevue office I worked in and "offering" employees either the "opportunity" to move or just letting them go. In what I took as a vote of confidence, I was offered the option of continuing to work for the company so long as we moved to the New York area. In one of the easiest decisions of my work life, I said "no thanks." For those of you who know me, we've discussed the many reasons for this. However, I can summarize it as such: Life is short, my wife and I are in our 40s, we love living in the Northwest, this is where our friends and family are, we want to control where we live and why, NYC - while awesome to visit - is not nearly as nice an area as Seattle and the pay/job security of the company I worked for was not worth risking a cross country move. I will say this though, this company did treat me well on the way out the door with severance and bonuses.

The next thing to know is that as a result of all that, on the first week of January 2014 I no longer worked for that company as an employee. However, I'd made some great friends and allies there over the years and at least one came to me and wanted my services as a contractor. So guess what? I was quickly back in action working with this company - albeit in just a couple of their businesses rather than across most or all of them. Fine by me. And, hey, I was able to do business trips to NYC and SF early in the year. Both were productive and fun ventures.

By the fall I learned that the company had enacted layoffs and big budget cuts...both of which hit the group I had been part of, including my former boss and one of my former employees. At this point I had my own private "I knew glad we did not move" moment. While I cannot say for sure I would have been let go, I think it's likely. And even if I hadn't, what a mess to be stuck with.

One thing these reductions did affect was my clients there could no longer work with me...budget reductions.

The last thing to know is that about the time the above came to pass, I hooked up with a great consultancy called Prime8 and have been doing work for Microsoft through them since November. This is good, solid work for good people and I like it.

While I cannot say how 2015 will go, I can say 2014 proved to be quite the ride. It's frustrating to be thrust into that situation, but on the other hand I'm proud of myself for keeping employment up and running all year long at the levels I am accustomed to being paid.

This was the second big thing in our year. My health was fine. However, my wife had a ruptured disc in her neck in February that required surgery in April. This was a big deal - both in terms of the physical recovery and financial outlay. The surgery instantly fixed the immediate problem, but other pain emerged and to make a long story short...while slowly and steadily getting better, she is not pain free as of yet. Suffice it to say though, I am glad she had the surgery and that the immediate threat of long term nerve and muscle damage is gone. And of course I'm proud of her for toughing through it.

Because of the old job situation and my wife's health issue, vacations to far-flung places around the world were not on the docket for 2014. However, did have some great times visiting some local and domestic locations.

New Orleans in May - we went there for a few days in May. We stayed in a boutique hotel just off the wonderful Frenchman Street. From there we were able to easily strike into the French Quarter or get a cab to anywhere we wanted to go.

Highlights included brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a bayou tour, dinner and music on Frenchman Street, prowling the Quarter's streets to shop, eat and drink and seeing the historical sites. At left is a shot I took of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. You can see some pictures I took on this trip HERE.

Northern California in July - for the Fourth of July weekend, we visited my uncle and his wife in Amador County, California. This is a rural area about 1.5 hour drive north and east of Sacramento. It's also an region with wonderful views, an exciting and developing wine culture (lots of wineries) and nice little towns...such as Sutter Creek. Oh, and it was HOT. I'm talking 100 degrees. Anyway, we had a wonderful time away for a few days visiting relatives, tasting wines (Amador is know for their Zins and Barbaras) and relaxing.

Lummi Island in August - this summer we had a one-night getaway to nearby Lummi Island. This is not technically one of the San Juan Islands, but it might as well be. It's right there with them and offers wonderful outdoor experiences and beautiful vistas. The island is quite rural with only one formal hotel and two restaurants...all owned by the same group. The place we stayed is known for their gourmet dinner, sourced from organic and local ingredients from the island and Sound.  Apparently people fly in from around the country to go to The Willows Inn. Luckily, all we had
Hike Payoff: View of the San Juan Islands from Lummi, (C) Marc Osborn
to do is drive a couple hours and we were there. Transported across the water by a small ferry, we landed and instantly felt disconnected from urban and suburban surroundings...a good thing! Our fist adventure was to take a hike to an overlook point to get a view. Next, on this warm summer day, we stopped at one of the two restaurants to have a chilly beer (or two) and take in more of the view. Finally, we went to the hotel, checked into our room...actually house...for the night, retiring for said gourmet dinner in the evening. The next morning we biked the circumference of the island and then headed home. What a great little, local escape!

Music is important to me. I find that it provides a major release, an emotional outlet that helps me have fun, squeeze out frustrations, engage in conversations with friends and so much more. Mostly I'm interested in rock music - not heavy metal (although some of that is fine), but music that embodies the spirit of "Rock And Roll." 2014 ended up yielding some pretty dang good music on that score - some by acts already known and famous, some by up and coming bands doing interesting things.

Here are the bands I thought put out quality new music over the past 12 months:
  • Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways
  • Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
  • The Horrors - Luminous
  • Courteeners - Concrete Love
  • Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
  • The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt
  • The Strypes - Snapshot
Speaking of music, live music - to me - takes everything I just said about why I like music to the next level. Sadly, I did not attend many gigs this year. This was, in part, due to the fact that...well...not that many "must see" bands I'm interested in came to Seattle. And, I can't be bothered to buy super expensive tickets for "big" shows like the Foo Fighters and still end up sitting a million miles away from the stage in a big venue.However, there were a few excellent exceptions in 2014...
Glasvegas Live in Seattle, (C) Marc Osborn
  • Glasvegas. Over the past several years, this compelling Scottish rock band has become one of my favorites. Are they huge the world over? No. Do they play catchy, compelling and moving songs that are different than what you hear on the radio? Yes indeed. For the fourth time in five years they came to Seattle on tour. This time at the Columbia City Theater. You can read my review of the show HERE
  • The Strypes. This is a young band out of Ireland who bring a fresh perspective on old time blues rock and roll. I'm not talking about "slow hand" style blues here. I'm talking about revved up, amped up, fast paced rockin' blues. Think a cross between the Rolling Stones and The Hives, think a marriage between The Yardbirds and the Ramones. That's what I'm talking about. Hitting the stage at the Crocodile in downtown Seattle, this was a hot, sweaty, great gig. A great time!
Brian Ferry Live in Seattle, (C) Marc Osborn
  • Brian Ferry. You may remember Brian from his solo work in the 1980s or, more famously, as the lead singer for Roxy Music. When we heard he was coming to play Benaroya Hall in Seattle, we jumped all over it. Scoring tickets right down front center, we really enjoyed hearing all his old hits and some new material too. You can read my short review of the show HERE.
It was a really good sports year for me. Hey, any time your hometown football team wins the Super Bowl...and in particular its's automatically a banner year. But, there was much more. Here's how my personal "year in sports" went...
  • Seahawks 12K. I ran it and clocked a 7 min, 24 second per mile pace. That's great for me!
  • STP Bike Ride. Another personal athletic accomplishment of 2014 was participating in and completing the annual Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride. This is a 200+ mile ride starting at the UW campus in Seattle and finishing in downtown Portland. Some people rock it down to Portland in one day, but most do it in two. That's how my buddy Sean and I did it...two days. This was relatively easier (and I use that term loosely), but it also allowed us to take advantage of my in-laws living in Chehalis - a town exactly half way between Seattle and Portland. So, we had a nice place to eat and sleep for our one night on the road. I loved the entire experience. I expected I would be able to do it, and was not surprised that I completed the ride. However, I was sufficiently impressed with the endurance needed. I'll be doing this one again in 2015.
  • Seahawks. What can I say that you don't already know? They won the Super Bowl in February by destroying the Denver Broncos to capture their first NFL title. Wow! I could go on and on, but I'll just leave it at...I never thought I'd see that happen and I could not be more pleased for my city and for the pro team I've followed since the 1970s.
  • Oregon Ducks. My alma matter had an impressive year in sports I follow. First, its mens basketball team made the NCAA "Big Dance" and advanced to the second round. That's really good for UO and made watching basketball a priority for me in some time. Next, the Oregon's mens track and field team won the outdoor national title, and BOTH mens and women's teams won national titles for indoor track and field. Track Town USA! The women's softball team won the Pac-12 championship. And of course, the Oregon football team rolled up a 12-1 record, #2 ranking, beat Washington for the 11th year in a row and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl playoff game on Jan. 1, 2015. Oh, and the Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, won the Heisman Award for the best player in the country.
  • Sounders. My hometown squad had their best year ever. They racked up the best record in MLS for the season (which in virtually all leagues around the world would have made them champion...the end), they won the US Open Cup, had two players on the US World Cup team, beat rival Portland twice (and had one draw with them), reached the divisional finals of the MLS playoffs...all the while playing entertaining soccer. The only downer was that despite all of that, they could not make the final MLS Cup game. Their old nemesis LA Galaxy saw to that. Oh well...on to next season!
  • World Cup. Loved it. Great performances, first class soccer on display, a biting scandal, Team USA did well and the exotic locale of Brazil to see and learn about. For someone not into baseball, this was a great summertime sports focus.
  • Tour de France. I watch this competition every year, and every year I like it more and more. This year saw many top contenders crash out of the race, inclement weather, new and interesting stages and French riders for the first in a long time challenging for top three finishes. Additionally, the 2014 edition of the tour served as a daily inspiration and excitement builder for my own bike riding - training up for and then riding the STP.
  • Winter Olympics. Held in Russia, a lot of the entertainment value of the Games was the scandal and background on how Russia put on the competition. Seriously, how did they do it? Read the Vanity Fair article about it. Pretty much all the perceptions you have about Russia being corrupt and producing shoddy infrastructure are true. On the fields of competition, there were engrossing match ups in hockey, downhill skiing, bobsled and cross-country that I enjoyed watching.
Candidly, this was not my most prolific or artistic year for taking pictures. I still enjoy it greatly, but so many things just took my attention away from doing it more frequently in 2014. None the less, I did get some good shots and you can see my "2014: The Year in Pictures" on my Photostream HERE.

Diane and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this year and I turned 45...I'm closer to 50 now than 40! Our cat Josie had a thyroid issue that would have killed her, but we spent the dough and cured her (for now)...and we have a healthy 14 year old cat again. We enjoyed visiting with friends we had not seen in a while - including Kurt and Heather from Vancouver, WA and Marcus from Portland. We took some nice hikes - Rainer National Park and Mount Pilchuck were memorable. We attended the Greenwood Car Show...always a big party and really near where we live. I went skiing with a buddy at Crystal on a beautiful day in the middle of the week - no crowds! I attended a few Mariners baseball games with some good buddies. I took countless training rides around King County on my new Cannondale road bike to get ready for the STP. I fellow Oregon alumni and I did a road trip to Eugene to see an Oregon basketball game in the brand new, state-of-the-art arena there. We enjoyed may a fun dinner with friends around Seattle and in our own, close-to-home Ballard neighborhood...not to mention enjoying our fire pit in the back yard. I celebrated St. Patrick's Day in SF with work friends by attending a big outdoor bash and then a nice dinner.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pac-12 Bowl Predictions

The college football post season is upon us. In about 48 hours, the first bowl will be played. On Saturday, the Pac-12 gets into the action with the first of its eight teams playing a bowl game.

Below is the full roster of bowls that league teams will be playing in and what I think will happen...

Las Vegas Bowl - Dec. 20
#22 Utah vs. Colorado State

Comment: Utah put together their first good season since joining the Pac-12. CSU seems to annually be decent but not great. But, I think this actually might be a very entertaining game. Utah has great D and dynamic special teams. Colorado State can move the ball. 
Prediction: CSU 27-UU 24

Holiday Bowl - Dec. 27
#24 USC vs. Nebraska

Comment: I like this one too. Nebraska is showing their coach out with one last game. USC trying to set up hopes for next season. I think this will make for a competitive game with some good talent on display.
Prediction: USC 28-Nebraska 17

Sun Bowl - Dec. 27
#15 Arizona State vs. Duke

Comment: Meh, not much to root for or care about unless you support one of the two schools. I won't be watching this one. Also, for the two schools it's a no-win situation I think. You win, nobody notices or cares. You lose - particularly if you're ASU - and your season really ends on a down note. 
Prediction: ASU 48-Duke 30

Foster Farms Bowl - Dec. 30
Stanford vs. Maryland

Comment: Double meh. Same reasons as the Sun Bowl. Plus, it's the "Foster Farms Bowl." Not watching. 
Prediction: Stanford 20-Maryland 14

Fiesta Bowl - Dec. 31
#10 Arizona vs. #20 Boise State

Comment: After a couple snoozer games, the Pac-12 is back with an exciting one here...on New Years Eve to boot. While I'm no Arizona fan, I'll be rooting for them to represent the league against the likes of BSU. Meanwhile, BSU will be trying to return to relevance with an upset of a top 10 team. 
Prediction: UA 35-BSU 23

Rose Bowl - Jan. 1
#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State

Comment: This is the biggie for the league and it will be a gooooood game. Given my personal interest in this one and since it's the marquee Pac-12 bowl appearance this season, I'll write a separate prediction post closer to the game.

Alamo Bowl - Jan. 2
#14 UCLA vs. #11 Kansas State

Comment: A battle of talented teams, but "also ran" status for both. UCLA was the toast of college football before the season started, then reality set in that they just were not as good as predicted...still good, but not THAT good. Meanwhile KSU put together a nice season, but dropped key games when it counted. I think UCLA will have the edge here, and last time the Wildcats played a Pac-12 team in a bowl (2013 Fiesta vs. Oregon) they were soundly beaten.
Prediction: UCLA 33-KSU 21

Cactus Bowl - Jan. 2
Washington vs. Oklahoma State

Comment: This could go either way. UW beat teams that they were clearly supposed to and lost to every team with a better record. Plus, their QB is iffy at best. Ok State played a plucky season, giving a scare to some good teams and beating their in-state rival Oklahoma. 
Prediction: Oklahoma State 30-UW 27

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pac-12 Wraps Up, Bowl Games Next

OK, so I predicted the Ducks would win the 2014 Pac-12 Title Game. I was right.

I predicted the score would be 45-28 - a difference of 17 points. Well, I was 20 points off on that as it ended up being UO by 37 with a final score of 51-13 - with six of UA's total of 13 coming on the last play of the game.

To summarize how the game went:
  • Oregon stopped UA's offense cold - the exact opposite of when they met in Oct.
  • UA's defense played well in the first half, but conceded points...then fell apart.
  • Mariota and the Ducks O took a bit to get on track, but when they did...whoosh!
  • Blowout.  
And with that, the Pac-12 season is over. Oregon is league champ - making it four titles over the past six seasons. Elsewhere, the league finished with six of its 12 teams ranked: Oregon #2, Arizona #10, UCLA #14, Arizona State #15, #22 Utah and USC #24. There were two other teams with winning records: UW (8-4) and Stanford (7-5).

What's Next
For the Pac-12 there are two big things left for this season:

Will Oregon QB Marcus Mariota win the Heisman Trophy? We'll only know the answer next weekend. Speculation is that he will, but there has not been a league player outside of USC who has won the award since 1970 (Jim Plunkett, Stanford) and nobody from a school outside of the state of California since 1962 (Terry Baker, Oregon State). So, one wonders.

Bowl Games
Eight league teams are going bowling, some with very interesting match ups, others not so much. Below is who is playing in what games along with some quick thoughts. I'll likely post some predictions for these games at some point in December and FOR SURE on the Rose Bowl.

#22 Utah vs. Colorado State
Las Vegas Bowl - Dec. 20
Decent match up. Could be a good game. The Vegas bowl is a blast and one of the better small bowl games.

#24 USC vs. Nebraska
Holiday Bowl - Dec. 27
I like this one. Nebraska showing their coach out with one last game. USC trying to set up hopes for next season. 

#15 Arizona State vs. Duke
Sun Bowl - Dec. 27
Meh, not much to root for or care about unless you support one of the two schools.

Stanford vs. Maryland
Foster Farms Bowl - Dec. 30
Double meh. Same reasons. Plus, it's the "Foster Farms Bowl."

#10 Arizona vs. #20 Boise State
Fiesta Bowl - Dec. 31
Another good one. New Years Eve day to boot. While I'm no Arizona fan, I'll be rooting for them to represent the league against the likes of BSU.

#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State
Rose Bowl - Jan. 1
This is the biggie! This will be a gooooood game I think. Close, hard fought with turnovers being a huge factor. I'll predict it soon.

#14 UCLA vs. #11 Kansas State
Alamo Bowl - Jan. 2
A battle of talented teams, but "also ran" status for both. 

Washington vs. Oklahoma State
Cactus Bowl - Jan. 2

Which team is on the rise and which one still has big question marks going into the offseason. The winner of this one will feel pretty good and the loser awful.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pac-12 Football: 2014 Final Standings + League Title Prediction

What a season! Great games, upsets, road teams winning, Hail Mary victories, a front-runner Heisman candidate, a player named Scooby and great performances from a lot of players.

In total I went 64-19 in predicting winners of Pac-12 games this season. That's a 70% rate of success. Pretty good.

Below is how I thought the standings would be at the end of the season and then how they actually turned out. And below that is how I think the Pac-12 Title Game will go.

Here is how I predicted the teams in this division would finish...
  1. Oregon
  2. Stanford 
  3. Oregon State 
  4. UW 
  5. WSU
  6. Cal 
Here is how they actually finished...
  1. Oregon (11-1, 8-1)
  2. Stanford (7-5, 5-4)
  3. UW (8-5, 4-5) 
  4. Cal (5-7, 3-6)
  5. WSU (3-9, 2-7)
  6. Oregon State (5-7, 2-7)
I got the first two and fifth place correct, but otherwise it was a jumble with UW and Cal performing a bit better than I thought and Oregon State a lot worse. Overall, despite some good games, this division ended up being Oregon and then everyone else. The Ducks swept every school...and, other than WSU, by a lot of points.

Game of the season: Oregon beats Stanford, stopping a two season skid against the Cardinal and latching onto the North Division lead for good. 

Next: All this puts Oregon into the Pac-12 title game Friday.

Here is how I predicted the teams in this division would finish...
  1. UCLA
  2. USC
  3. ASU
  4. UA
  5. Utah
  6. CU
Here is how they actually finished...
  1. UA (10-2, 7-2) 
  2. UCLA (9-3, 6-3) 
  3. ASU (9-3, 6-3)
  4. USC (8-4, 6-3)
  5. Utah (8-4, 5-4)
  6. CU (2-10, 0-9) 
I got spots 3, 5 and 6 correct. But, Arizona played much better than I thought they would with a new QB and replacing some key players on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, UCLA under-performed...I bought into the annual UCLA hype this year and should not have. And USC had an OK year, but not as good as their talent would suggest.

Game of the season: Way too many to pick just one. But, I'll try...ASU beats UCLA in the last game of the regular season. This eliminates the Bruins from winning the South Division and catapults UA into that position.

Next: These results put Arizona into the Pac-12 title game Friday.

Pac-12 TITLE GAME - Dec. 5, 2014 

Oregon Ducks vs. Arizona Wildcats in Santa Clara, CA at 6 p.m. Pacific 
By virtue of its better record, Oregon is the "home" team, but this is a neutral site match up.

This is obviously a compelling game. Here are several reasons why...

Oregon: If they win, not only will they re-capture the league title for the first time in three seasons, but they will be a lock to get into the four-team national championship playoff. And that would likely be in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Oh, and barring a bad game, QB Mariota is probably your 2014 Heisman Trophy winner. And if all that wasn't enough for the Ducks to be motivated, Arizona is the team that gave them their one loss earlier in the revenge will be a factor. If Oregon loses, for the third season in a row they will be relegated to the odd situation of being second banana in a league they dominated. Sure, they'll still probably get a decent bowl, but no playoff and no Heisman.

Arizona: These are heady days for Arizona's football program. Sure, by all rights they should have lost to UW and were only saved by a super bone headed coaching decision by Washington to not "take a knee" at the end of that game. But, they now have a chance to win their first Pac title ever. That is their motivation. That and of course trying to show their earlier victory over UO was not a fluke. If they beat the favored Ducks, they'll have an outside shot at the playoff (depending on what else happens nationally) but more likely a sweet New Years Day bowl. If they lose, they drop to a being a three-loss team and while they will go bowling and probably still be ranked, it'll be quite a bit less of a season for them.

Big Picture: How Oregon does in this game will have a direct impact on which schools are in the four team national title playoff. If the Ducks win, they're in...locking up one of the four spots. If they lose, then another school will get in.

What do I think will happen in this game?

I think Oregon will win this time against Arizona. It'll be a hard fought, tough game for a half...maybe even three quarters. Arizona will put points on the board, sure. But, this time around Oregon will pull away and win by a couple scores. Why do I think this? A few reasons:

1) Oregon has a healthy offensive line this time. Due to a wave of injuries, in October they were starting walk ons and Freshmen at most spots on the line against UA. It showed. The running game was extremely limited, Mariota was hurried and sacked a lot and the Ducks were unable to take advantage of the aggressive Arizona defense. Additionally, key defensive players left the game because of injury too. It was still a very close game, but the Ducks could not do enough to win. However, since getting many/most their starters back on the line...

2) Oregon's offense has ramped up considerably and they are hitting on all cylinders. Loads of talent and experience all over the field. This time, I expect the Ducks to make Arizona pay for their aggressive play on defense with more yards, more first downs and more points.

3) Oregon's defense has steadily improved. In the defeat to Arizona they looked lost and unprepared. Horrible to be honest. Since then they've gotten better and better each week - particularly at linebacker. Arizona feasted on the short pass over the middle or to the flat followed by long runs by the receiver. That was poor linebacker play...something that has greatly improved since. Also, the Ducks have gotten a much better pass rush since the loss. And I highly doubt there will be any stupid "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalties for celebration such as the one that created the Arizona drive that cost the Ducks the earlier game with Arizona.

My prediction is that these three factors will be clearly on display and will add up to an Oregon win:

Oregon 45-UA 28

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pac-12 Football Week 14 - Results vs. Predictions

I went 4-3 this week, bringing my season total to 64-19 in picking Pac-12 football game winners.

#8 UCLA (9-2, 6-2) vs. Stanford (6-5, 4-4) in Los Angeles. If UCLA prevails, they win the Pac-12 South Division and will face Oregon for the league championship next weekend. If Stanford wins, the winner of the Territorial Cup takes the South. So who's going to come out on top? I think UCLA is on a roll. They are playing much better and they're at home. Sure, Stanford will present some problems for Bruin QB Hundley, but I think UCLA will be able to score more than Stanford.

My Prediction: UCLA 24-Stanford 17
Actual Score: Stanford 31-UCLA 10. What sound does a bruin make? CHOKE! Wow. They super-blew it at home. And I blew my prediction pretty bad.

TERRITORIAL CUP.  #11 Arizona (9-2, 6-2) vs. #13 Arizona State (9-2, 6-2) in Tucson. The winner of this rivalry game will either win the South Division if UCLA stumbles or they will set themselves up for a very good non-playoff bowl game. The loser will still go bowling, but the luster will be a off a bit. My gut tells me ASU has more juice. Despite having a couple surprisingly bad losses (to UCLA and OS), they are one of the most constantly good teams in the league...if that makes sense. UA ain't chopped liver and could win. But, I say the Sun Devils in this one.

My Prediction: ASU 38-UA 28
Actual Score: UA 42-ASU 35. Check out Arizona. I thought this would be close, and it was, but obviously I thought the Sun Devils would prevail. Oh well.

CIVIL WAR. #2 Oregon (10-1, 7-1) vs. Oregon State (5-6, 2-6) in Corvallis. From a distance, this game would appear to be a lock for Oregon. However, as an Oregon fan, I can tell you with 100 percent confidence that the Oregon State Beavers football team will play its best game of the season, by far, in the Civil War. Book it. Their defense will suddenly rise up and look like a brick wall. Book it. And, their QB will slice and dice the Oregon D. Book it.

But here's another thing you can book...Oregon has much better talent across the board and they have Marcus Mariota at QB. And that will make the difference. I only see Oregon losing if either: a) Mariota goes out injured, b) there is some time/space continuum vortex over Corvallis that unleashes a tsunami of Oregon turnovers that the Beavers benefit from directly in points or c) both.

Could the Beavers win? Yes, they "could." They'll score points, but they won't win.

My Prediction: UO 47-OS 31
Actual Score: UO 47-OS 14. Got the UO score right on the number...thought the Beaves would put much more of a fight.

APPLE CUP. Washington (7-5, 3-5) vs. Washington State (3-8, 2-6) in Pullman. This is another "throw the records out" rivalry game. WSU has been plugging away, playing competitive football in most their games but not reaping results. Passing the ball is their forte and they are doing it right now (pretty well) with a new QB coming in mid-season for their injured starter. They want to sting the Huskies to make their season. UW has an up-and-down season - beating inferior teams and losing to same or better teams. And, they've shown a penchant for blowing it via poor coaching decisions when they could have/should have won (UA) or nearly doing so (Eastern Washington). So what does all that mean? I think it means that the Huskies will win a fairly close game.

My Prediction: UW 30-WSU 26
Actual Score: UW 31-WSU 13. Again, I was very accurate on what the winner would do...not so much on their competition.

#25 Utah (7-4, 4-4) vs. Colorado (2-9, 0-8) in Boulder. Utah is bowl eligible and they'll be fighting for that much better of a bowl game that would come with an eighth win. Meanwhile, CU is seeking to finally get a league win this season. They are at home and are not as bad as their record suggest. But Utah is better.

My Prediction: UU 27-CU 17
Actual Score: UU 38-CU 34. CU put up many more points against that Utah defense than I thought...or probably anybody in Salt Lake City did.

USC (7-4, 4-1) vs. Notre Dame (7-4) in Los Angeles. Notre Dame is coming off three losses in a row and USC enters the game losing a stinger to UCLA. Who gets back on the winning track? I say its the Trojans. More talent.

My Prediction: USC 24-ND 20
Actual Score: USC 49-ND 14. Is it that USC finally put it all together? Or, is it that ND is really over-rated? Probably some of both.

Cal (5-6, 2-4) vs. BYU (7-4) in Berkley. People in Berkley and Provo will care about this game. Nobody else will. I say Cal's offense wins the day for the Golden Bears to get them, barely, to bowl eligibility.

My Prediction: Cal 38-BYU 20
Actual Score: BYU 42-Cal 35. Cal misses gaining bowl eligibility. BYU gets to eight wins. The world looks the other way.