Insta-reaction to Pac-12 developments on and off the field (and court) …
1. A study in contrasts.
Two teams were in the news this week because of developments at the offensive coordinator position — contrasting developments that symbolize the stark differences between the programs in question.
On one hand: Utah dipped into its past to hire Andy Ludwig, who called the plays for the Utes when they made their 2008 Sugar Bowl run.
On the other: USC lost Kliff Kingsbury to the NFL after one month on the job and after he was forced to resign his position in order to interview with the Arizona Cardinals.
(The entire situation was an embarrassment for the proud program on multiple fronts, but when you hire an OC with a higher Q-Rating and more leverage than your head coach, trouble is sure to follow.)
Yes, the Utes have changed coordinators every year or two since Ludwig’s departure a decade ago — the one facet of coach Kyle Whittingham’s game that leaves room for criticism. In every other respect, his program is a model of stability and sound management.
The Trojans are the anti-Utah, a cauldron of turnover, turmoil, bad hires, administrative blunders, underachievement and general chaos.
In the past decade, USC has employed four permanent head coaches and three interim head coaches.
The Utes have had one head coach.
Imagine if the situations were reversed, if Utah was constant churn at the top and USC stability incarnate.
2. The OCs were merely OK.
Pondering the coordinator developments at USC and Utah pushed the Hotline down a wider path, in which we considered the overall coaching of offense across the Pac-12 in 2018.
It was not the best of years in that regard.
Looking specifically at the three pillars of playcalling, quarterback management and game management (i.e., time-and-score, down-and-distance), I’d argue that Washington, Oregon, Cal, Stanford, USC, Arizona and UCLA all experienced moderate-to-severe malfunctions.
More games were lost because of mistakes in those areas — mistakes by some very good coaches, by the way — than I can remember in recent years.
In fact, only one team executed at a high level in all three facets for the majority of the season: Washington State.
The Pac-12 has a long list of tasks to complete in order to be consistently competitive with the best of the other Power Fives.
Better coaching, especially on offense, is darn close to the top.
3. Say it ain’t so, Bama.
In a Hotline podcast published Thursday — one of the best we’ve done, by the way — ESPN analyst and former Husky quarterback Brock Huard offered a passionate, honest assessment of the state of Pac-12 football.
At one point late in the conversation, the topic turned to the lack of elite defensive linemen in the Pac-12. Huard referenced a mega-prospect from the Seattle area in the class of 2021 (i.e., a current sophomore).
“He’s a 285-pound freakish, freakish athlete that plays defensive end, defensive tackle, and in these 7-on-7 camps plays middle linebacker,” Huard said. “He is one of the most unique guys, and he cannot leave.
“Chris Petersen doesn’t want him to leave the state or the city, but he can’t leave your conference. He can’t go to Notre Dame or Ohio State. Those are the guys that you have to, have to, have to keep on the west coast.”
For those unfamiliar, that prospect is J.T. Tuimoloau, a defense tackle from Sammamish who happens to be the No. 1 rated player, at any position, in the country (per 247sports).
Yep, the best overall prospect in the class of ’21 is a defensive tackle from Seattle.
For the Pac-12, that’s the winning Powerball ticket in the jackpot at the end of the rainbow mounted on the gold-plated back of a pearly-white unicorn. And Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Colorado and Utah have all offered scholarships.
And yet …
Brandon Huffman, a recruiting analyst for 247sports who’s based in Seattle, lists Alabama as the heavy favorite to land Tuimoloau.
4. Separation Saturday.
We’re two weeks into a 10-week conference season for a collection of mediocre teams, which will assuredly produce unpredictable results (because inconsistency is in the DNA of mediocre teams).
But it sure feels like tiers are forming …
First tier: Arizona, Washington and UCLA.
Second tier: Arizona State, Utah, Stanford, Oregon, USC, Colorado and Oregon State.
Third tier: Cal and Washington State.
A case could be made for the Huskies as the favorite after their impressive road sweep of the Mountain schools, but we’re not quite ready to definitively proclaim UW the team to beat.
The only surprises within that evolving three-tiered structure are Oregon, a preseason favorite derailed by injuries (see below), and Arizona State, which once again has followed an impressive November/December with a series of in-conference clunkers.
In fact, the Sun Devils have played their way onto the NCAA bubble in three weeks since beating Kansas, losing at home to Princeton and Utah and on the road to Stanford.
The Hotline doesn’t believe the Pac-12 will emerge from Selection Sunday as a one-bid league — the guess here is two berths — but ASU’s current crash-and-burn certainly increases the chances of the ultimate embarrassment for a power conference.
5. Duck season, this is not.
Dana Altman must have done something to annoy the basketball gods, because Oregon has encountered an impressive level of misfortune — all of it combining to derail what appeared to be a promising season.
The Ducks were without 5-star wing Louis King early in the season, they’re without 5-star center Bol Bol for the rest of the season, and they’ve been without ace defender Kenny Wooten in this middle stretch of the season.
(And those aren’t the only injuries. So depleted is the roster that Altman is exploring ways to add healthy bodies.)
Then came the biggest gut punch of all — not an injury but a collapse for the ages.
The Ducks squandered a nine-point lead in the final minute Thursday and lost to UCLA in overtime. The last-second sequence in regulation perfectly symbolizes the season:
With a three-point lead and 3.3 seconds left, Altman, one of the best coaches in the conference, instructed the Ducks to foul UCLA, thereby preventing the Bruins from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer.
But guess what: Jaylen Hands made the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, and Chris Smith grabbed a loose ball underneath and converted the game-tying basket with 0.7 seconds left to force overtime.
When a smart coach gives a smart directive and it backfires … what can you do?
Welp, we’re about to see what the Ducks can do. Their season, one could argue, depends on how quickly they recover from the wrenching loss.
“I told the guys, I’ve never had one like that and I know they haven’t,” Altman said. “It’s tough on all of us.”
The Ducks host USC on Sunday, and the extra day will undoubtably help with the emotional recalibration. But losses of that nature have a way of lingering for weeks.
Because of all that had gone wrong prior to Thursday, the Ducks don’t have weeks. They have hours.
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