6 and 7 Game Seasons? Pac is Back? What Is Going On In College Football?

Barely over a month ago, the hopes for a college football season seemed dismal at best, and completely dead at worst. The Pac-12 and Big 10 had cancelled, as had the Mountain West and MAC, leaving just six of ten FBS conferences ready to play in the fall. Rumors were that the ACC were close to folding, but the resolve of Notre Dame to both play and join the ACC temporarily gave that desire new life to start playing. The FBS season kicked off on September 3rd, with Miami taking on UAB, and we’ve since seen three weekends of college football. There have been hiccups – Baylor has seen four different games called off due to coronavirus concerns, and certainly the season has not gone off without any problems, but the return of college football is real, and it’s feasible that everyone else will be back soon as well.

Yesterday, there we’re several announcements regarding the Pac-12 and Mountain West, which are intending to return to the fall football scene, albeit with shortened schedules. That followed up the Big 10’s announcement that they hope to resume play in late October, and overall, it’s been an absolute whirlwind in college football. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s going on:

The Pac-12 is back, playing a 7-game schedule

As of now, the plan is that the Pac-12 will return on November 6, and they’ll play a 7-game schedule that includes the conference championship. Teams play the five teams within their division, and one crossover game. On December 19, there will be a title game played, with the non-qualifiers playing an additional crossover game to round out their schedule. The full schedule will be released in a couple of days.

To this point, there is no indication of whether they are ineligible for the College Football Playoff, which could lead to some interesting debates if Oregon, or perhaps USC, goes 7-0, but they have to compare there resume with a mix of SEC, ACC, and Big 12 teams that have played 10 or 11 games. Simply being eligible will be key for the Pac-12, as that at least entitles them to the Power-5 payout, which last year was 66 million per conference.

The Mountain West and Big 10 pick up the same timeline

The Mountain West conference elected to take the same schedule format as the Big 10, beginning an 8-game slate on October 24, with their conference championship on December 19. With two 6-team divisions, it’s unclear what the specifics of the schedule will look like, but ultimately, the biggest factor here is Boise State. The Broncos are the only consistently good team in this conference, and they are a yearly challenger for the Group of 5’s spot in the New Year’s 6.

A notable exception at this point is the Air Force academy. Despite the Mountain West’s cancellation the Falcons had gone ahead with their plans to compete in their two-game series with Army and Navy. While their clash with Navy is scheduled for October 3rd, their game with the Black Knights is slated for November 7, which would be the third week of the Mountain West season. That potential dilemma was not mentioned by the Mountain West in their announcement today.

What about the MAC?

The MAC remains the only FBS conference to not have a fall season in place, but this could change soon as well. They were the earliest conference to postpone their season, doing so on August 8, but sources say they are planning on holding a presidents’ meeting, where the plan is to vote on a season. As of now, the rumors are circulating around a potential 6-game season in the MAC, which would officially get all FBS conferences into play. The MAC doesn’t have a nationally relevant team, with their best overall record last season coming from Buffalo, who finished 8-5. Regardless, at this point, it would be very strange for the conference to attempt to go solo and play a spring season by themselves, so expect some shortened season announcement to be coming soon.

Top Pac-12 Returning Guards: #1 – McKinley Wright. Jr., Colorado

Today, we are finishing up our Pac-12 returning guards countdown with our #1 ranking – our final player feature to be published until after NBA Draft decisions that are made. This #1 slot belongs to a player who will undoubtedly be the favorite to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year if he returns for the 2020-2021 season in McKinley Wright of Colorado. Wright is not a projected draft pick right now, but he has not withdrawn from the draft process after hiring an NCAA-approved agent in May. One Pac-12 coach said of Wright: “If he returns, he could be next year’s Payton Pritchard”. Pritchard was the conference Player of the Year this past season and saw his draft skyrocket from on the outside looking in to a potential early 2nd-round pick. 

The hype is real and warranted for Wright, who proved to be one of the most versatile guards in the country during his junior season for the Buffalo. An effective three-year starter in Colorado, the Minnesota native averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists on 45% shooting over the course of the year, putting Colorado in position for an NCAA Tournament berth, had the season made it that far. It would have been Colorado’s first tournament appearance since 2016. 

Wright kicked off his season with an impressive effort in a conference game versus Arizona State, posting 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. The turn of the calendar was good to Wright, who was on fire in late December and early January, torching opposing defenses for three double-doubles in four contests. He started this streak with a 29-point, 10 rebound effort against #13 Dayton in an overtime victory and notched double-doubles against Oregon State and Iona as well. 

Sandwiched between those two games was a 21-point showing against #4 Oregon. His successful streak also kicked off an absurd end-of-year run that saw him notch at least 10 points in 21 of his final 22 games. Consistency was the name of the game, as despite playing alongside projected first round pick Tyler Bey, Wright took advantage of his opportunities and consistently turned in impressive efforts for the Buffalo. He notched three more double-doubles, against Washington State, Oregon State, and Stanford and ended the year averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds over his last five games. If that hot streak and his overall consistency rolls over into a potential senior campaign, Wright should be the odds-on favorite for the Player of the Year award in the Pac-12, and become a very intriguing draft prospect in 2021.

Top Returning Pac-12 Guards: #3 – Chris Smith, UCLA

We’ve hit the #3 slot in our top returning Pac-12 guards countdown, and after two straight Oregon guards to kick off our rankings, we head away from Eugene and down to sunny Los Angeles for our third feature. Coming in at #3 in this Pac-12 countdown is Chris Smith of UCLA, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game on 46% shooting from the field. For Smith, a change in coaching proved crucial in sparking his breakout collegiate campaign, as he was hardly on the Pac-12 radar, let alone in a national spotlight after two relatively nondescript seasons.. However, as the Bruins rapidly improved under first-year head Mick Cronin, so did Smith, who led the Pac-12 runner-ups in scoring, while earning a first-team all conference selection and the Pac-12 Most Improved Player award. Smith declared for the NBA draft this past spring, but he did not hire an agent and maintains his eligibility if he decides to return. This ranking at #3 is working under the assumption that Smith comes back for his senior season. Currently ranked the 65th best available prospect in the draft, Smith appears to be a fringe selection if he stays with the draft. Staying for a final season with Cronin could see his stock shoot up towards first-round value. 

After averaging under 20 minutes per game in both his freshman and sophomore years, Smith became the go-to-guy in the UCLA offense this past season. Averaging 28.3 minutes on the court per game, Smith improved his shooting from 40 to 46% and from 28% to 34% from beyond the arc, allowing him to post more consistent performances throughout the season. Smith put up solid numbers out of the gate, but UCLA faced a watered-down non-confernece schedule that featured just one ranked opponent, so his improved efforts were hardly considered a major headline at the time. However, he truly broke out in the Pac-12 opener at Washington, as he dropped 17 points on the Huskies, while ripping down 12 rebounds and dishing out five assists, giving the Bruins a critical road win to start their conference season. He did all his damage inside the arc, shooting 8-12 from 2-point range. He followed that performance up with a 22-point torching of Washington State and another double-double against USC, who finished 3rd in the Pac-12. 

Smith’s early domination of the Pac-12 was certainly a nod to his marked improvement in his junior season, but it wasn’t until January 30, with UCLA sitting at 3-4 in conference play and welcoming #20 Colorado onto their court, that Smith delivered his signature effort of the year. In a critical game for the Bruins, the Chicago product shot 8-11 from two-point range and cooly sank 13 of 15 free throws en route to a 30-point effort, which he complemented with nine rebounds and three steals. UCLA won the game, 72-68, and proceeded to rip off a 9-1 run in their next ten games to rise near the top of the Pac-12 standings. 

Smith continued to torch the Pac-12, racking up another double-double against Washington State and shooting a combined 7-13 from three-point range in key road victories against Arizona and Colorado, helping UCLA earn a #2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. The cancellation of the conference tournament and March Madness deprived basketball fans of the Pac-12’s newest star shine in the postseason, but should Smith come back for his senior season, he should be making headlines as one of the best in the business, both in the Pac-12 and in the country.

Top Returning Pac-12 Guards: #4 – Chris Duarte, Oregon

We’re back to our top returning guards in the Pac-12 countdown and we’re coming back with our second straight Oregon Duck. Yesterday, we slotted St. Johns transfer L.J. Figueroa at #5 in our rankings, and today, Chris Duarte is the man of the hour, coming in at #4 in the countdown. Duarte, like Figueroa, is a premier defender, coming off a season in which he ranked second in the Pac-12 with 1.7 steals per game. With Figueroa, the defending steals leader in the Big East, and Duarte, the Ducks have possibly the most fearsome defensive backcourt in the league. Duarte’s offensive numbers in 2019 didn’t pop off the chart, as he played second-fiddle in the Oregon offense to Pac-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard. However, Duarte still averaged 12.9 points per game, while crashing the boards for 5.6 rebounds a contest, both marks ranking second on the team. With Pritchard off to the NBA, Duarte will be the go-to-guy in Eugene, and expect his numbers to take a jump across the board. 

Duarte didn’t always get the most opportunities last season, but when he did, he showed what he’s capable of, and that should have Oregon fans for this coming winter. In an early-season overtime loss to #6 Gonzaga, Duarte posted 16 points and 9 rebounds, and when conference season picked up, so did Duarte’s numbers. In a three-game Pac-12 winning streak against Utah, Arizona State, and #24 Arizona, Duarte combined for 51 points and 21 rebounds. Three games later, he put forth his signature effort of the year, facing Pac-12 contenders USC in a game that went to two overtimes. Duarte dropped 30 points on the Trojans, while collecting 11 rebounds for his lone double-double of the year. If that wasn’t enough, the junior guard was a terror defensively, notching eight steals. He followed it up with 24 points and 6 steals against UCLA. Those two efforts against the two next-best teams in the conference should thrill Oregon fans, who were looking primed for a Final Four run behind Pritchard, but Duarte looks up to the task.

Duarte’s biggest hindrance to big efforts were his three-point shot. He shot 34% from deep on the year, but in an 8-game stretch that lasted from the Utah game to the UCLA clash, he shot 44% on his 3-point offerings and averaged over 18 points per game. If he keeps that type of consistency in 2020-21, both he and the Ducks have an extremely high ceiling.

Top Returning Pac-12 Guards: #5 – LJ Figueroa, Oregon

When playing in a Power-6 conference in college basketball, winning road games is absolutely critical to building a successful season. With a bevy of hostile environments throughout the country, nearly every team finds it necessary to steal some victories away from home. To win such games, you need players that thrive in the spotlight and can silence opposing crowds. That’s the asset that LJ Figueroa, the senior transfer for Oregon, who averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, brings to the table. On the road, Figueroa notched 16.4 points away from home en route to being the leading scorer for the Red Storm on the year. As Figueroa prepares for his senior campaign on the opposite coast, he slots in as our #5 returning guard in the Pac-12.

As the Red Storm coasted to a 10-2 start to non-conference play against a relatively weak schedule, Figueroa put up solid numbers, highlighted by a 25-point effort against UNH and 23-point showing versus Brown. In their first premier contest of the season, St. Johns battled #16 Arizona in a neutral-court clash, and Figueroa shined, finishing with 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

On the year, the Red Storm star led the conference with 1.9 steals per game. Later in the year, against #18 Seton Hall, Figueroa posted an astounding 7 steals, complementing a 16-point, 5-rebound effort. Figueroa’s season was highlighted by some truly impressive road performances at Depaul (28 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Georgetown (23 points, 5 rebounds), and at #16 Seton Hall (19 points, 4 rebound). He punctuated an impressive season that saw him near the top ten in overall scoring in the conference with a huge performance in a Big East Tournament victory against Georgetown, notching 22 points against the Hoyas, who had defeated the Red Storm twice during the season. 

Figueroa, if he gets the waiver for immediate eligibility, should fit quite well into Oregon’s system, and at the surface, he is landing in a much better situation in Eugene. The Ducks are replacing a projected second-round pick and Pac-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard, but with the dynamic returning guard in Chris Duarte and the acquisition of Figuero, Oregon figures to be near the top of the Pac-12 again and mixing into the national title conversation as the season winds on. 

Corona Causes Major CFP Evaluation Questions

Due to the coronavirus, the college football season, and especially the College Football Playoff, has a lot of questions surrounding the possibilities of playing. The BIG 10 and the PAC 12 have already announced they will be playing conference only games for the 2020 season, and the other power five conferences, the SEC, the ACC, and the BIG 12, are all expected to follow the conference only games model. The Group of Five conferences have not made decisions on their schedules for 2020. This will be an exceptionally hard year for the committee to decide who will get into the Playoff because there will be no common opponents, and the Group of Five will also be even more unlikely to get a bid into the playoff with no power five contests. The CFP directory has announced they will be flexible and ready for any situation that results in a season.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence celebrates a touchdown against Ohio State.

The question on a lot of minds right now is what does a conference-only schedule mean for the Playoff? The committee will have to adjust the way they review teams – that is the only option. In past years, common opponents and strength of schedule were weighed heavily; this year, these categories will not have the same effect. I believe that this year will mostly be an eye test. The committee will have to watch the top teams, and I believe they will have to rank them based off of which teams are dominating. I also believe this will be a “what have you done for me lately” situation. Although the committee is not supposed to take prior years into account, these are human voters and prone to biases. \

This also raises even more questions. First is how do you rank conferences? For example, say we have a situation similar to 2019 where Ohio State, Clemson, and LSU are undefeated. Hypothetically, you have an undefeated Oregon and an undefeated Oklahoma, and both are conference champions. How will the committee rank the PAC 12 versus the BIG 12? This situation, which would be highly unlikely, but could arise, would come down to margin of victory. However, the BIG 12 is stronger then the PAC 12, so if Oregon has a better margin of victory, but Oklahoma is in a tougher conference, does Oklahoma get in?

Another question is that of a team is dominating but has a slip up in one close road game, and then you have another team that is undefeated but has one all close games, which gets in? Another hypothetical situation that could possibly happen: Ohio State loses to Penn State in a close game on the road, but blows out every other team, whereas Oregon is undefeated but most of their wins is close, which team will get in?

What happens if Clemson loses a tight game although Clemson has been a consistent performer in the playoff semifinals and national championship. In a season full of questions, will the Committee look at past seasons? With all of these questions, the biggest factor for the committee’s decisions will be the eye test – the teams that are truly dominating will be ranked the highest. Another unknown is what does the committee decide when teams have quarantined players and drop a game because they lose a key piece. For example, what if Justin Fields, quarterback for Ohio State, is sidelined because of the coronavirus, and Ohio State drops a game to Rutgers (an extreme example) because of it, a game they easily would have won with him? How does that factor into the committee’s decision?

An intriguing option that is being discussed around college football, is the one year expansion to an eight team playoff. I like a lot of college football fans would love to see an eight team playoff. The reason that this is almost necessary for this season is the fact that the committee is not going to have enough information I believe to properly rank these teams. Because of these circumstances, I don’t know if there will be enough evidence to name definitively the best four teams, That is why I believe if they expand to eight teams fir one year, they can duke it out on the gridiron and the committee will not face as much scrutiny, and it will give more power five teams a chance within the confines of these strange circumstances. The Committee announced they are weighing there options, but experts do not expect that they will make a decision until late October, because there first rankings will not be out until the first week of November.

The biggest takeaway I have for teams with CFP aspirations, is that there is even less room for error this year then in past years. Teams need to go out and dominate every night they play and can leave no questions unanswered. The committee will have to base their final decision on how a team looks to determine who the best teams are, so top teams must avoid any slip-ups or close and overtime games against a bad team – nobody can question that this will be a radically different season, and that extends from season openers to the Playoff.

Daily Headlines: Jalen Kitna Commits to Florida

The Florida Gators may be leaning on Kyle Trask this season for their College Football Playoff hopes, but their quarterback room of the future got a big upgrade on Tuesday, as four-star Jalen Kitna expressed his verbal commitment to the Gators. The Texas product had seven major offers on the table, and BC, Arizona, and Georgia Tech were also heavy players in his recruitment. Although he checks in as a pro-style quarterback, several scouts have lauded his ability to make plays with his legs. Kitna currently clocks in with a 4.7 40-yard dash, and he threw for over 1500 yards last season – he’s an intriguing addition to the Florida quarterback room.

Pac-12 makes call on return of athletes, Clemson and Oklahoma also make decisions

In a big decision, the Pac-12 announced they would allow athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts. It’s unclear how this works with California’s plan to host online classes. But, at least the Pac-12 is open to the possibility of sports returning – so keep your fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, Clemson announced that they are authorizing their athletes to return to campus June 8, although Oklahoma is staying a little more cautious, announcing they will be waiting until July 1. However, these timelines still keep the college football schedule on pace for an on-time start, so hopefully July 1 is at late as it gets.

Coleman-Lands transfers to Iowa State

Jalen Coleman-Lands announced his intention to transfer to Iowa State, where he will complete his sixth and final collegiate season with his third team. Coleman-Lands spent two seasons with Illinois, sat out the 2017-2018 season due to transfer, then red-shirted a year due to injury in his first year with DePaul. Last season, Coleman-Lands put up 11.1 points per game in the Big East, and he’s headed back to the Big 12, where he will play for the Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State struggled last season, putting up a 5-13 record in a top-heavy Big 12, but the addition of Coleman-Lands gives them a solid player who has lots of experience playing big games will give them a nice asset as they try to surge back to Big 12 relevancy.

Herm Edwards and Jayden Daniels: A Duo No One is Talking About

When Herm Edwards left his job as ESPN to become the next head coach at Arizona State, it seemed like a move that wouldn’t greatly effect the college football world. Now, after just two years in Tempe, Edwards has the Sun Devils in position to compete for a PAC-12 championship.

In 2018, when the Sun Devils hired Edwards to be their next coach, Todd Graham had just been fired after finishing two of his last three seasons under .500. Now, after 2 years, ASU is on the come up. They’ve been 15-11 over the last two years and have grabbed some statement wins, with two victories over Michigan State and an upset of top-10 Oregon on Saturday Night Football last year.

Edwards has also made a large impact on the recruiting trail. He has brought in two top-30 classes (according to 247 Sports) – an accomplishment Graham failed to achieve in his last two years with the Sun Devils. One of Edwards’ first recruits was a 4 star quarterback out of San Bernardino, California. His name? Jayden Daniels. Daniels was inserted as the starter last year after senior star Manny Wilkins graduated. Daniels looked a little timid at first , managing only 19 points in an early season win over Sacramento State, but he became the man in week 3 in East Lansing.

Michigan State was the #18 team in the nation and boasted an elite defense, and ASU looked like just a young team. It was 7-3 in the 4th quarter, but true freshman Jayden Daniels led his team down the field to win the game 10-7. ASU then matched up against #6 Oregon on a Saturday Night in November. Daniels threw for 408 yards and 3 TDs, including an iconic 3rd & 16 connection with Brandon Aiyuk.

This all occurred while his counterpart Justin Herbert, the supposed “best QB in the PAC 12”, Justin Herbert, completely disappeared in the 2nd half. So what’s my point? This team and this quarterback were underestimated all last year, and they beat some nationally relevant teams that took them for granted.

Next year, the Sun Devils return 76% of their 2019 production on defense, and they have an offense led by Jayden Daniels. Herm Edwards and Jayden Daniels have turned this program around. Ladies and gentlemen, assuming there is a season, the Arizona State Sun Devils are going to win the PAC-12 in 2020.

Saturday’s Pac-12 Recaps and Takeaways

The Pac-12 had four matchups on Saturday, with one big upset and a huge statement victory among the results. Here are all the recaps and takeaways from Saturday along with the games to come today.

Arizona State 66 Arizona 65

The Recap: 22 was a special number for Arizona State as they held Arizona to 22 second-half points to rally from a 22-point deficit and beat the #22 Wildcats 66-65. Remy Martin scored 24 to lead the Sun Devils while Alonzo Verge sank the game-winning layup with 9 seconds left. 

The Takeaway: Arizona is not good away from home. The Wildcats are ranked due largely to their 10-1 home record, but they are now 0-4 in road games. Home court matters a lot to this squad – they beat the Sun Devils by 28 at home just weeks earlier. 

Colorado 76 Washington 62

The Recap: Tyler Bey scored 16, McKinley Wright IV had 15, and the #23 Buffaloes rode a 51-point first half to an easy win over Washington at home, improving to 5-2 in Pac-12 play and a three-way tie for second in the conference. 

The Takeaway: Colorado’s depth is a huge strength: Big comebacks are hard enough to make, but overcoming an 18-point halftime deficit is near impossible when your opponent continuously has fresher legs on the court. Colorado had four players play at least 12 minutes off the bench, while Washington had one such player. Overall, Colorado’s bench outscored Washington’s 25-4, which may be a difference-maker in the postseason. 

USC 75 Oregon State 55

The Recap: Propelled by Onyeka Okongwu’s 18 points, USC dominated both halves and earned a huge road victory at Oregon State, keeping pace with Colorado and Oregon for second in the conference with their fourth win in five games.

The Takeaway: USC may be the most dangerous Pac-12 team in the Playoff: USC is now 5-2 in true road games and 7-4 in games played outside their home arena. That’s a huge advantage on every other Pac-12 team, and it could make a huge difference in the postseason, where most if not all games will be played on neutral courts.

Utah 76 Washington State 64 

The Recap: The Utes got a big day from Rylan Jones (24 points) and huge contributions off the bench from Mikael Jantunen (16 points) as they handled the Cougars for the second straight win following a four-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Utah’s defense is their key to victory. The Utes have a decent offense that can put up 70 points a game, but they rarely blow you out of the water with a jaw-dropping offensive performance. However, in four Pac-12 losses, Utah is giving up 84 points a game, compared to 66 points a game in their 3 wins. If Utah figures out how to play consistently good defense, this team could make moves in March. 

Friday’s Games

None

Sunday’s Games

UCLA @ #12 Oregon

Stanford @ Cal 

Pac-12 Status Report: Struggles On The Bubble

Last year, the Pac-12 sent just 3 teams to the NCAA tournament, the fewest of any Power-6 conference, and this year looks to be more of the same, unless some of the teams stuck in the mud can get unstuck really fast. As a whole, the conference is struggling, featuring just three ranked teams and just one in the Top 20. Arizona is still the title favorite in my mind, but Oregon and Colorado also seem like viable candidates. Identifying biggest risers and fallers is difficult in a conference where every team seems to be playing with consistent mediocrity, but here is our best shot:

Biggest Risers: USC

  • The Trojans actually lead the Pac-12 with a 4-1 mark in conference play, but that one loss was a 32-point demolition, suffered at the hands of the Washington Huskies. USC responded to that with three straight wins – but two of those were against UCLA and Cal, two of the worst teams in the league. Saturday’s home victory over Stanford showcased USC’s potential, but whether they’re a tournament team is somewhat undecided.

Biggest Fallers: Oregon State

  • I listed the Beavers as a team that, while a title seemed unlikely, could make a decent run in the conference tournament, especially given their 17-point win over Arizona. Oregon State followed this with two straight losses. Although their road loss to a solid Washington team can be excused, I cannot justify their 13-point loss to Washington State – quite possibly the worst team the conference and at the very least in the bottom echelon of teams. In a league with a core top 3 teams and a definitive ‘basement tier’, such a bad loss will quickly move you into the biggest faller category.

Quick Hits

  • Right now, I’m going to predict exactly 3 teams to make the NCAA tournament out of the Pac-12. Outside of Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado, I just don’t feel comfortable picking another of these squads to crack the field.
  • On the bubble, I’m listing 5 teams in order of how I rate their chances: Stanford, USC, Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon State.
  • As for teams that have no chance, I believe there are already four that have played themselves out of contention – Utah, UCLA, Washington State, and Cal.

Biggest Upcoming Games

  • USC @ Oregon State
  • UCLA @ #12 Oregon
  • Stanford @ Cal