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From the Obstructed Seats

A Blog With Unique-and Probably Wrong-Perspectives

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    David E. Klutho-USA TODAY Sports

Since the League (or Era) of SuperFriends started in 2003-04 with LeBron James, one debate has been what player in that time has been the most polarizing player in the NBA.  Arguments can be made for LeBron and Kobe.  But the guy I would say is Carmelo Anthony.  

Melo to the Nuggets was somewhat of a steal for Denver after Detroit picked the incomparable Darko Milicic

The 2003 NBA Draft will go down as one of the best drafts ever with franchise players like LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade, and even all-stars like Chris Kaman, Josh Howard, and Kyle Korver.  But it was mostly the first 4 I mentioned that really stand out.  While LeBron garnered a lot of the headlines, Melo pushed the Nuggets into the playoffs after years of misery in Denver.  His overall sound play was praised by many and a lot believed he would be a champion first before LeBron.  He was a fairly complete player with a lot of agility and speed.  Carmelo took Denver to 7 straight playoff appearances, but however only having 1 time getting out of the first round.  During this run however, Anthony was considered one of the elite players in the NBA, but just never having enough great players.  

Signaling the turn of his career? It seemed like Iverson and Anthony were not really on the same page in Denver.

Yes, he had Iverson, but honestly, Iverson might have given him a negative impact.  I understand Iverson was probably one of the greatest "small" shooters in his generation and a true Hall-of-Famer, but he also had issues.  One of them being he would be a guy who would take a great deal of shots and somewhat isolate the rest of the team.  In Philly, the Sixers traded for guys to compliment Iverson, but they would often not pan out (Toni Kukoc anybody?) so Denver, believing Carmelo would get some much needed help, added Iverson to compliment him.  Well, while the Nuggets made the playoffs, it never felt like they were on the same page.  Iverson was shipped after a season and a half with Denver to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, who gave Carmelo his best run at a championship in the Mile High City, getting to the Western Conference Finals before losing to eventual champion Lakers.  But it felt like Carmelo started to change, thanks in part to Iverson as he wasn't keen on exactly "sharing" the spotlight with anybody. 

Anthony's dream of playing for the Knicks has been an overall nightmare to this point.

After one more year in Denver, Carmelo pulled off probably a bush league move on the Nuggets, refusing to sign any contract extension, then demanding a trade to the Knicks or he would leave in the off-season and join the Knicks one way or another.  It was pretty much what would become a spoiled brat phase started by him that continued with Dwight Howard (demanding Orlando trade him to the Nets) and Deron Williams (wanting Utah to trade him to the Nets as well).  It actually put me off on the NBA to the point where I stopped watching for a few years.  And even now, my interest has not been as it once was in the late 80's through the mid 2000's.  It is getting back up however as I think that run has finally gone (no, I don't think Durant is on that same boat, but he has become more and more of a knucklehead, but I am going off-topic).

When the Nuggets traded Carmelo, it was thought he was going to get New York back on track and bring back the old memories of the old Ewing/Starks/Mason-led Knicks of the early-to-mid-90's where the Garden was rocking.  And it started off that way as the Knicks would make the playoffs with Anthony for his first 3 seasons.  However, save for 2013, Melo hasn't gotten the Knicks out of the first round and many think his "I am the guy" bit has driven off stars from wanting to play with him and even the quality players who have been with the Knicks seem to get lost in the shuffle for Anthony's excessive shooting and not enough passing.  In 2013-14, the Knicks fell apart and Anthony was grilled for it.  Adding on top, he had a major knee injury, which also brought controversy as he was willing to play the All-Star Game right before he called it quits for the season for knee surgery.

After the 2014 season ended, Melo went on a tour notably to Chicago and Houston to see if he liked the idea of playing with other stars.  Nothing came of it, and returned to New York.  Oddly, fans of Chicago and Houston were HAPPIER that he didn't join their teams and fans of the Knicks were upset he returned.  

Carmelo's Twitter Wars with fans didn't do him any favors.

Things also got worse the next two seasons with Melo as he engaged in heated twitter wars with fans, notably Knicks fans, accusing him of being a selfish jerk and needs to get over his attitude of being the focal point and open up more to a team game with Kristaps Porzingis.  The fan base of Melo started to shrink more and more, especially in New York, where many had been hoping the Knicks would move Melo soon as he also wasn't keen to the idea of Phil Jackson's philosophies.  And by the 2015-16 season as it started, Melo was no longer considered by many as an elite player of the NBA, as many have placed LeBron, Curry, Durant, Westbrook, Irving, Jordan, Wade, Leonard, Lowry, and a few others ahead of Melo.  And the reasoning was simple: he wasn't a team guy.  The jokes were that his goal was to take many shots and his teammates were to pass him the shots and play defense whenever he felt the need to play defense.  And Melo himself started to become an NBA "joke."


Porzingis might have been the BEST thing to happen to Melo since joining the Knicks.

Then something happened: Melo opened up.  His scoring went DOWN to the lowest since his 2nd NBA season in Denver.  But to me, he looked like he understood that in order to win he needed to share the spotlight.  His assist per game was the highest it ever was been and he was crashing the boards like he used to in Denver.  Sure, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs once again, but given the team was Melo, Porzingis, and a set of rag-tag players who didn't have a great deal of talent, it was actually impressive.  He was more hush-hush, stopped the Twitter Wars with the fans, and played like he used to.  Granted, he isn't the Melo in his early days in Denver, but he is re-inventing himself as more of a team player who wants to win.

A different side of Carmelo was shown in Rio.........
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

And then the Olympics arrived.  Coach K put Carmelo as the team captain and he acted like a captain.  He wasn't zeroed on on being really "the guy."  But more of the one making sure Team USA would win the gold at the Olympics.  And honestly, minus the 2004 squad, this group struggled.  I've already mentioned it earlier on the struggles the team had in their games on my USA post, but the one thing I admittedly failed to bring up was the fact Carmelo's play was solid all throughout and probably kept the team in the hunt for the Gold Medal game.  He worked his tail off and said all the right things and did all the right things.  The end result was a gold medal (his 3rd one of those and 4th medal overall) and probably end up going down as the most decorated Olympic Basketball player in US history.  I think it is something that he will pride himself for the rest of his life on.  And I applaud him for that.  

The question has already been brought up by certain members of the media is will the Olympic Carmelo be what the Knicks get instead of the Knicks Carmelo?  I think it is an unfair question largely because what you saw Melo did in 2015-16 was similar to what we saw in 2 weeks at Rio.  A guy, while being an integral part of the team, was fine of not being the focal point to the squads and more of a guy that will do what he NEEDS to do in order to win.  Again, the Knicks didn't have THAT much last year so for them to do what they did was actually impressive.  He will now have Rose and Noah to go alongside him and Porzingis.  More questions will be on the Knicks if Rose & Noah can remain healthy than Carmelo being this "new" form.

I think also Carmelo knows his window is closing.  The knee injury he suffered a few years back has somewhat slowed him down a bit of being a major impact player.  He is also 32 and the time of being a force is almost over.  He will be a contributing factor in his waning years but no longer the superstar he was or envisioned he would be in New York.  It is probably to the point he needs others to take the load and he do what he is able to do and not WANTS to do anymore.  And that is all right.  If he continues this trend of being more of a team guy and willing to do the small & necessary things besides scoring, it isn't out of the realm the Knicks face off against the Cavs in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals.  

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

© 2016 SportsBlog.com. All rights reserved. Interactive One Millennial
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I would probably get called a lot of things in this post.  I get that.  I've already been called in regards to my views on professional basketball today that I am  similar to an old bitter man who yells at the kids to get off his lawn.  And that was from a friend of mine.  So I understand if people bash me about my views on this.

Maybe we were spoiled by this group of guys in Barcelona.

Obviously we need to take a step back and remember 1992 when the first Dream Team happened.  You were talking about a few things that aren't the case today.  1.  11 out of the 12 players went into the Hall of Fame and the 12th player was in the College Hall of Fame (Laettner).  They were stars and constantly in the spotlight 24-7.  2.  They all got along but they all wanted to win before all else.  They knew they were stars and the focus was always on them in the NBA but they all wanted to win together.  And what you got in 1992 was an epic run to the gold medal where they just dominated and a close game to them was a 35 point blowout win.  And it made fans salivate for Dream Teams after that as nobody, seemingly would touch the United States in the basketball world.

Shawn Kemp's antics in the 1994 World Championships gave US a black eye with their Dream Teams in regards to sportsmanship.

While 1994 wasn't an Olympic year, the United States put up Dream Team 2 for the World Basketball Championships.  It was the "next generation" of NBA stars like Shaq, Mourning, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Johnson, Larry Johnson, and old-timers like Isiah Thomas and Dominique Wilkins.  While they also dominated, many critics ripped the team for their taunting, obscene gestures (i.e. Kemp grabbing himself as he posed for a dunk towards the opposing team), and yelling at refs.  Most of what I recalled however, was directed towards a few players notably Kemp and Coleman, but it gave a black eye in terms of how US basketball was all about.  That said, even that group played as if they wanted to win.  

Dream Team III was a mixture of the first two Dream Teams, and had the same results of dominating opposing countries.

After the debacle in 1994, Kemp, who was pretty much in his prime with the Supersonics, was not even considered for a spot on the 1996 squad and 5 of the first Dream Team guys (Barkley, Pippen, Malone, Stockton, and Robinson) joined the 1996 Dream Team with the likes of Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaq, etc. (i.e. showing a bit more sportsmanship in the process)  Dream Team III dominated once again for a Gold Medal.  And again, the team had 10 Hall of Fame players with the exceptions being Hill & Hardaway (and during that time, they were MVP style candidates).

The 2000 team won the gold medal but would never be mistaken for the groups in 1992 or 1996.

The Dream Teams ended in 2000 as it wasn't really more of All-Star after All-Star being lined up as most of the stars like Robinson, Shaq, Malone, Reggie Miller, etc. were getting "tired" of doing it so the era of the likes of Vin Baker, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and Antonio McDyess joined Team USA Basketball.  Now me personally, I have NO issue with any of those guys, but comparing them to after what we saw in 1992 and 1996, it was a downgrade.  It was like going from eating at a 5-star restaurant to going to eat at O'Charley's.  Not that there is anything wrong with O'Charley's and I enjoy their food, but you want the real deal, you want a 5-star restaurant.  The end result was another gold medal for the United States though they had major hiccups against Lithuania twice, where it nearly was a chance of being in the bronze medal game instead of the gold medal game.

So, you are saying that a team with Iverson, LeBron, Carmelo, Wade, and Duncan could only squeak by with the BRONZE??????

Now came the downfall of 2004. The team will end up having 5 Hall-of-Famers (already down from the 11 in 92 and 10 in 96) and it was the faces of the NBA or would be the faces of the NBA for the next 12 years (minus Kobe).  Add on Larry Brown, whom had just won a world championship coaching in Detroit preaching "TEAM GAME" and it seemed like the gold medal would stay with the US.  And.............nope.  The players came off as playing as individuals (notably Iverson & Marbury) and it just seemed like the players were lost out there.  LeBron, Melo, and Wade were too young to stand up to those guys, and Larry Brown probably pulled out whatever hair he had left as he constantly complained on how the team was off.  They lost the first game of the Olympic draw by 19 to Puerto Rico and then again to Lithuania and in the semis lost to Argentina to certain themselves of no gold.  It was an ugly year.

The 2008 basketball team was actually a good team but seems to get lost in the shuffle when talking about the post 1992 Olympic basketball teams.

2008 the US won the Gold again and surprisingly the team did VERY well with Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Melo, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Jason Kidd taking charge and winning all games in double digits.  It seems as this team has been widely forgotten as you have maybe 6 Hall-of-Fame players when all is said & done.  But maybe it was in the backdrop of the 2004 team that crashed.  So with this group you did have a good team rolling in Beijing, determined after the 2004 debacle to win the gold.

The 2012 squad will probably have the most Hall-of-Famers since the 1992 & 1996 squads, but probably still end up not being as good as those two squads in the 90's.

In 2012, the debate wasn't whether the United States would take the gold with Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo, Durant, Paul, Harden, Westbrook on the team, but if they could beat the original Dream Team squad.  Kobe Bryant, never one to hide what he feels, said they could be in the same breath and "could beat" the 92 Dream Team.  Of course, it got a lot of heat among the likes of those 92 Dream Teamers such as Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Michael Jordan, who really in essence called Kobe's comments stupid.  Kobe backtracked, but it set up a debate against the old school NBA fans with today's modern NBA fans.  And it didn't necessarily help that the 2012 team had hiccups with once again Lithuania and Spain in the final (US only won by 7 in the gold medal game), which gave the old school fans the argument of "no way would the 2012 team compete with the 1992 team."  I will talk about this later.

Carmelo Anthony has led the US to the gold medal game in Rio.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016 the squad, led really by Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant (only 2 holdovers from the 2012 team), this has somewhat gone down as their worst year of Olympic basketball since 2004 when they won a bronze.  Only time will tell if there are other future Hall-of-Famers besides Carmelo and Durant on the team.  Way too early to tell on Butler, Lowry, and Green anyway.  But the US has struggled tremendously against the likes of Serbia (won only by 3 in the pool round) and Australia (again only winning by 10) and could not shake off Spain in the semi-finals.  The thing is, the players early on were showboating, dancing, and having a good old time to which even Coach K was angry at the team for doing too much celebrating (even in blowout wins), unhappy with some of the players who he viewed not showing great sportsmanship (Durant of all people showboating and Paul George whining about Australia), and also having to handle DeMarcus Cousins and his temper issues.  And the sad part is, minus LeBron & Curry, the players that the USA has put in Rio are the faces of the NBA.  

Which also is a problem for the NBA now.  

Now, I am pretty certain the United States will win the gold today and will be happy if they do.  But where US Basketball is at right now, especially when you compare it to the early Dream Teams of 92 and 96, is galaxies apart.  And I think it is about the players that we see that are playing in the NBA now.

And it is simple: the US players in the NBA are not accustomed to playing "team" ball.  And are also not accustomed to playing by international rules as opposed to the NBA rules where if you lay a hand on an offensive player, you are called for a foul.  It has frustrated the players and has gotten them out of their comfort zones to the point they can't handle this all that well.

Yes, rip me now and call me that old geezer.  

Some of these games it has felt like the only answer to the US is to put up 3 pointers and hope for the best.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

But look, anybody who has watched these games has seen that the United States is more accustomed to playing one-on-one with their defenders, trying to attack the hoop or put up the 3 pointer.  Sometimes it works because you have players who are far more talented and far more skilled than any other country.  And on the flip-side, you have players on defense being unable to handle pick & rolls.  You are having players unable to handle some of the stronger players on opposing teams, especially down low.  And what I think is an issue is that these players, who are "the guy" on their NBA teams, aren't necessarily making good adjustments to the "team" style.  It is the guys who are more of a "role" player that have done well such as De'Andre Jordan (who played big against Spain), Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving (granted, that one is a stretch given he can be a superstar, but remember who his teammate is in Cleveland).  But the likes of George, Cousins, and Jimmy Butler, who are focal points of their NBA teams, are struggling.  And it is the teams that are giving them the most fits play more of team oriented basketball games.  "Yes, but the US is still winning," you are saying.  Yes, because the talent pool is far deeper than the likes of Serbia, France, and Australia.  And France had no Tony Parker in the lineup for that game either.  

Jimmy Butler has not played great in these Olympics.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

"But, the competition is so far greater now and 2012 than it was in 1992!"  Yeah, but the majority of NBA stars still are United States citizens.  You are pretty much putting out 12 all-stars every time out as opposed to a place like France, who might have two NBA players in general.  And the rest might be equivalent to NBA D-League.  Again, I don't want to go entirely ripping the rest of the world here, but you have too much talent on one team to only win by 3 points on 3 separate occasions and 6 points on another occasion.  And yes, I also get that you can't compare the likes of Jordan, Barkley, Magic, etc. in that crew as they have gone down as LEGENDS.  But think this, wasn't that the point of this argument?  AND those guys competed to WIN.  If they had to give up a few of their numbers, even for the Olympics, they would be willing to do so.  The players today, I am not sure if it is more for glory and recognition.  They want to be "the guy" over "the guys."  At least from my standpoint.

It seems like Cousins & Co. are dumbfounded on the different style of Olympic basketball to NBA basketball.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

"They do want to win!"  Okay.  I don't think they want to go out and lose.  But it comes back to they want to show the world they are world's better than the rest of the world.  And they might have lost sight of just "winning" but trying to look good.  But I think a few of them thought it would be "too easy" especially when they drubbed China in the first game and when the competition got stiff, they didn't know how to handle that or some of the rules in the Olympics as opposed to the NBA.  It also probably has gone back to their NBA styles over team play.  Which is a big problem.

Might not being getting paid, but team USA is still enjoying the life in their yachts.

"They aren't getting paid to play so for you to say they aren't really in it is bull!"  Good for them.  But how much money are they making in the NBA?  Even if the US Olympic committee paid their athletes, we are talking chump change.  Plus, they aren't walking out on the town asking for money and having to deal with crummy village rooms in Rio.  They have a nice little ride (or big ride I should say in a yacht).  No, I am not complaining about this as I would do the same thing too and you do wonder with security issues, they should even be in the village.  No basketball team since 1992 has stayed in the Olympic village so this is one thing I don't have an issue.  But the money isn't what they want.  It is glory.  And the question is, is it glory for individuals or team?

Win by 57 in the first game against a very far weaker team (and one you walloped in an exhibition just earlier) and then celebrate like it is the gold medal game? Okay.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

"Is it wrong to show emotion after you make a big play or win games?!  I think you are being rough on this sportsmanship thing."  If you win by 2 at the buzzer in a hard-fought game, then I have no issue.  But if you are winning by 50 and the team out there probably has no business being there and do all that nonsense on them, come on.   Go and play a pick-up game with a 7 year old and drop the goal to 9 feet.  Would you do all the dancing and gesturing then?  That is about as equivalent to the US playing China.

Magic and the Dream Team did their share of celebrating, but it never crossed the line of poor sportsmanship.

"The 1992 team celebrated a lot in blowouts too."  Celebrated?  Yes.  Showboat after plays were over & everything else?  No.  

No contest.

1992 vs. 2012: A "Debate"

Kobe & LeBron made comments that the 2012 team would have beaten the Dream Team.  Many responded back, ripping Kobe & LeBron for those comments.  Kobe backtracked and probably half-joked saying if it was a 7-game series, they figured they could take one from them before being bounced out.  The thing was, the 2012 team wasn't too bad, but it comes back to the 2016 team of the egos of Bryant, James, Durant (who was somewhat okay at that time), Carmelo, etc. where they were "the guys" on their NBA franchises and a team game wasn't necessarily a big deal.  

One argument for the 2012 squad was that the team had shooters (large in part because the NBA was more zeroed in on the 3-point shot) like Bryant and Durant while the 92 squad pretty much had Bird & Mullin take the shots and a few threes from Jordan & Drexler as well so if there was an advantage, it wasn't a large one.

Another argument and I mentioned earlier was the Dream Team went against only 17 NBA players total in 1992 as opposed to the 39 players the 2012 team had.  But still you are talking most rosters not having NBA players, let alone All-Stars (not named Parker or Gasol).  

An argument Kobe made which was probably an "oops!" moment on his part (and probably which what Jordan alluded to) was the age factor.  Yes, the 92 team was "older" but Kobe himself would have been the 2nd oldest guy on the court if we took a time machine and brought back the 1992 Dream Team with the 2012 team.  Only Bird would have been older.  The 1992 team also had 2 guys over 30.  The rest were 30 or under, which really meant the entire team would be entering their prime.  The 2012 team average age was 25.8 while the 1992 team was 28.6.  So a 3-year difference, but the players on 1992 as I mentioned were in their primes as opposed to some of the 12 squad who weren't or just entering.  So I think his reason was flawed.

Also, the 2012 team had shooters as opposed to a great balance of players in 1992 who would beat you from the outside, down low, attack the basket, etc. The 2012 team would have Kevin Love, and that would have been it.  Tyson Chandler wasn't an offensive threat (ever) and Anthony Davis was just starting out.  And on the other side you had Ewing, Robinson, Malone, and Barkley.  Good luck 2012.

And my last argument and this is where the kicker would be that I think the Dream Team would beat up the 2012 squad is the fact that the Olympic Rules were more aligned with the rules of the NBA in the early 90's.  Plus, the Dream Teamers had to face the Bad Boys where they had to literally fight for every basket and do it without constantly griping to the refs.  And those guys also played physical ball themselves.  If they sensed teams were unhinged with not getting calls, they would put the foot on the throat and destroy opposing teams and fast.  We have known to see LeBron as one who runs to the ref every time a ball gets stolen from him or he felt he got fouled.  We saw that with Kobe too at points of his career and now Durant is doing that (and ironically it was Barkley who said that those 3 could have made the Dream Team in 1992).  The thing is, even today's players, if the calls they feel won't go their way, they will struggle tremendously.  And I think that alone would give the 92 squad a major psychological advantage.  And those were guys to make sure you were psyched out.  It just would be a disaster result for the 2012 team.  I would say if it was a 7 game series, the 1992 team wins in 4.......maybe one game the 2012 game make interesting, but I would say the average margin of win would be 20 points.  

The US way of basketball might keep them from getting more of these if the style of play doesn't change.

SO, WHAT TO DO?  Honestly, I don't know.  We are seeing countries with only one or two players have any NBA experience give team USA a run for their money.  The problem is, the rules of the NBA are more for show/ratings and have gotten somewhat away from the FIBA rules and the stars are accusing players from other countries for being "dirty."  So now you are seeing fouls in the NBA that are not called in the Olympics and it has thrown the players off.  And it is pressing as a "team game" which you are having stars coming in and trying to be their NBA selves and it hasn't worked all that great right now.  It might have to take more of a group of players with a team-minded approach and the stars would have to "give up" their ways if they really want to win.  Honestly, and I can't believe I am saying this, but the reason why the USA is playing in the gold medal game might be Carmelo as he has taken more of the "I want to win this and I don't necessarily care how I win it" approach while the others come off more about "I want to be the star of stars and have my name under the same breath as Jordan, Barkley, and Magic."  But it will take more attitudes from Carmelo and DeAndre Jordan and less from George, Durant, and Cousins for that to happen.  I guess that is my only idea at this point.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The PAC-12.  The conference that nobody has much of a thought of given a lot of their games are played from 8:00 onward, which means people only hear about the games on Sunday morning preparing for church or getting ready for the NFL games.  PAC-12 fans have felt somewhat angry over the years that their teams don't get their due and want to be mentioned in the same breath as the SEC.  We've seen and heard over the years how Oregon has wanted the likes of Alabama, even having fans go to Tuscaloosa and troll the Tide there (now we are seeing USC talk a lot in their upcoming game against the Tide).  We hear the fans say that the SEC couldn't handle the speed and the offensive styles of the PAC-12 at all either.  But the results were shown.  The Ducks had an early loss to Michigan State (whom got decimated by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl) and never recovered.  Stanford had a major hiccup against Northwestern, which pretty much prevented the Cardinal to the playoff as well.  We saw Texas A&M smash Arizona State and Washington lose to Boise State (not the same Boise State squads we saw 5-10 years ago).  And last year was one of those years, as they were the conference not participating in the College Football Playoff.   But can they get back to the playoff?  Well, yeah.  The one thing about the PAC-12 is, that nothing is what it seems from year-to-year.  There will be teams that will surprise and others will fall.  And it just depends on which teams have strong enough defenses that can play fast AND physical that will have the best chance of winning the PAC-12.

PAC-12 NORTH

Luke Falk could be a Heisman candidate in 2016 if he does get the Cougars to a division title.

1.  WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:  Yes, I have Washington State as the team to win the PAC-12 North.  Yes, it also goes against my theories of how Air Raid offenses negatively affect your own defenses.  And while the Cougars defenses won't ever be compared to the likes of Alabama, Clemson, and LSU, it is not the worst in the PAC-12.........at all.  The Cougars had issues stopping the run however (95th in the nation) but were not completely awful defending it in the air, thanks in part to new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.  And they are also bringing back 3 starters from the secondary (which still none of them are seniors so that will be an experienced group for 2 years) so they might actually get better.  However, the front will be in need of help as they were ran out of games, and it is quite possibly the reason why Wazoo lost 3 of their 4 games that was decided by a touchdown or less.  Offensively I don't think anybody needs to be very worried about what they do.  Leach is an offensive guru and has 8 starters coming back, including Luke Falk, who can sling it with the best.  The receiving core is pretty much all there with Gabe Marks leading the way.  So this is the team to watch in the PAC-12 this year without question.  The schedule is somewhat favorable for them, though isn't a dream schedule by any means.  They have a few tough road games (Boise State, Stanford, Arizona State), but they get their tougher games at home (Oregon, UCLA, Washington, which could be very good or very bad pending on the situation.  BEST CASE RECORD:  11-1.  WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6.  MY PROJECTION: 10-2.  Washington State will take a road win in either Boise or Arizona State and with Oregon a little down, can pretty much hold serve in Pullman.  But there is a chance the Apple Cup might be a very meaningful game this year.

Royce Freeman might be the best RB in college football not named Leonard Fournette........and Oregon fans think he might be better. Tough to argue.

2.  OREGON DUCKS:  If you want to know why the SEC (not just Alabama) doesn't take Oregon (and really rest of the PAC-12) seriously, check the numbers on the defensive side.  The Ducks are AWFUL.  Even when Oregon was making national championships, you never sensed the defense was that kind of defense that could net you that key stop so your offense could come back and do their thing.  Hence why the Ducks have also started to get that "can't win against the top powers" label that plagued the likes of Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma over the years.  The one argument I keep hearing is that the defense is fast and can cover up ground.  But after seeing the last few years of Ducks football, it wasn't the speed that was an issue: it was size and strength.  We saw it when they played Ohio State how the Buckeyes bullied Oregon's defense and to an extent, Michigan State's offense pushed around the Ducks.  Oregon brought in Brady Hoke to really install his physical 4-3 defense (which did work at Michigan even when the Wolverines were mediocre), but they also bring back only 4 starters so how much of this year is an adjustment for Oregon on the defensive side.  The offense also only returns 4 but it feels like the system will remain solid as Dakota Prukop transfers over from Montana State in the same manner Vernon Adams did from Eastern Washington.  Is he a playmaker like Adams or Mariota?  Not really, but he still fits the system.  The question will be the line as it has always been somewhat of an issue for the Ducks, even in 2014, trying to keep their quarterbacks upright.  However, they seem pretty high with the protection that Prukop will have so they might gel faster than some might think.  The schedule for the Ducks isn't terrible until November and they might go 7-1, maybe 8-0 before their buzzsaw of games is thrown at them (at USC, Stanford, at Utah, and at Oregon State).  IF they could manage 2-2 or 3-1, the Ducks will find themselves in a VERY good standing.  BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0. WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5.  MY PROJECTION: 9-3.  It will all depend on the Ducks defense this year.  They should improve, but how much is the question.

Elijah Qualls gives run games fits.

3.  WASHINGTON HUSKIES:  Many people are picking this Washington team because Chris Patterson is starting to see his recruits come into fruition in Seattle.  Given how Patterson built a legit program in Boise State, it is something to watch.  However, after two 7-6 seasons, I am not sold that this year is going to be THAT year.  However, I do think the Huskies will be better than a 7-6 team like they've been the last few years.  First off, 9 starters return including Jake Browning who started to gain momentum the last 3 games and put up plenty of strong numbers across the board.  If that continues, then there will be more & more hope in 2016.  Defensively, the Huskies were the best or one of the best in the conference, and bring back 8 starters, which is probably why there is plenty of hope this year, whether it is Sidney Jones or Budda Baker in the secondary or nose tackle Elijah Qualls.  As for the schedule, the road games in Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State are not going to be easy ones.  I can see them taking 2 of these games, but that is too much to ask for all four.  I think they will run the table on their home tilts however.  BEST CASE SCENARIO: 11-1.  WORST CASE SCENARIO: 7-5.  MY PROJECTION: 9-3.  They will beat Arizona, but the other 3 road games I mentioned, I don't see it happening.  But I won't be too surprised if they steal another game somewhere.

Christian McCaffrey was almost a one-man wrecking crew for Stanford in 2015.

4.  STANFORD CARDINAL:  The problem going into the season is that we still don't know who will be taking the snaps against Kansas State in the opening week.  Is it Keller Chryst or Ryan Burns?  My guess is Chryst.  But regardless of who is the quarterback, they will have Christian McCaffrey to hand the ball off, giving that quarterback some relief, which might be needed to replace a line losing 4 of their 5 starters last year.  In the past it hasn't been an issue, so it might not be a major problem.  Defensively, Stanford has been fine, though they only return 5 and most of it is in the back 8.  It will depend on how well the line holds up with Solomon Thomas as a starter now.  But I don't see major issues in that aspect.  But the passing defense needs to improve (71st in nation last year) if they want to figure in the PAC-12 crown.  In terms of schedule, it isn't a fun one with a 4 week span of 3 road games in UCLA, Washington and Notre Dame (with a tough home game in Washington State in the last two).  If the Cardinal allow the passing games of those teams rolling, it might be a long year in Stanford. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1.  WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6.  MY PROJECTION: 8-4.  That 4 week stretch will hurt them.

It might be another year or two before Christian Wallace makes his impact for the Beavers. But it is a sign of hope in Corvallis.

5.  OREGON STATE BEAVERS:  It is hard to really project teams who won 1-3 games the year before and go "well, they will improve and go 6-6" or something like that, unless the team was decimated by injury or they relied too much on a star player who got injured.  Oregon State is one of the examples.  That said, Gary Anderson is a good coach and inherited a junk team from Mike Riley (why I don't think Riley is worth gum on a shoe).  They SHOULD be better, but the unfortunate case, they are in the PAC-12 North.  It is hard to really show great results when you have Stanford, Oregon, and the two Washington schools rolling.  And there is not a lot in the way of studs though Darrell Garretson should provide more consistency at quarterback.  And it might mean improvements for the returning receiving corps led by Victor Bolden.  The questions continue at the running game as Ryan Nall takes over, but Anderson, who had Melvin Gordon in Wisconsin a few years back, will be more inclined to run the ball so this might be an improvement as well.  Defensively, the Beavers were horrible as they were 100th ranked in the nation in almost all categories (99th against the pass was the highest).  That has got to improve if Oregon State makes the next steps and it has to improve, but talk has already been about Shurod Thompson (safety) and Christian Wallace (cornerback) improving that part, but it might be another year or two before they really make an impact.  I don't see really much in the way of big wins and upsets for the Beavers in 2012, but they should improve a good bit though, maybe not what the record will show.  BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7.  WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11.  MY PROJECTION: 3-9.  They might get better by the end of the year and give Oregon a run for their money, but that might be it.

Davis Webb takes over at QB for Jared Goff, but is he even in the same league as him?

6.  CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS:  The big questions are going to be: how much did Jared Goff impact the Bears and how much impact will Jared Goff's exit leave on the Bears?  Goff was a stud and some wonder if all of the Bears success was because of him.  Cal under Sonny Dykes went 1-11, 5-7, and 8-5 last year with Goff.  So is it Goff or the system?  The good news is, they have a proven quarterback with Davis Webb coming over from Texas Tech.  However, is he as good as Goff?  Time will tell.  If the offense rolls under Webb, California will make things very interesting on the rest of the PAC-12.  If Webb (and Cal struggles, there might be some nightmares happening in Berkeley.  But there is help with the likes of Tre Watson, but a new group of wideouts probably aren't what the Bears need at this point.  Defensively, they improved, but they were incredibly horrid in 2014 and it improved to very bad last year.  And with only returning 5 starters, there isn't a whole lot of hope for the Bears.  And as for the schedule?  Oh wow.  Good luck with that.  BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7.  WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11.  MY PROJECTION: 2-10.  Sorry Bears fans, but I think Goff was more of a one-man band in Berkeley and that schedule is NOT forgiving.

PAC-12 SOUTH

Josh Rosen might be the guy to get UCLA to the promised land.

1.  UCLA BRUINS:  If there is one team I would put money in the PAC-12 making it to the playoff, UCLA is it.  Josh Rosen is a Heisman-quality quarterback and with the spread being pushed out for more of a pro-style offense that will benefit him, might create havoc all throughout the 2016 season.  Rosen will have new wideouts alongside Darren Andrews to throw at and a new tight end, but will have protection from his left side and the running game is pretty deep.  Defensively, the Bruins are solid all throughout and shouldn't really take any steps back.  8 starters return plus Eddie Vanderdoes, which means probably more of an improvement in the run defense (the major glitch last season sitting at 98th in the nation) and Fabian Moreau, which should continue the strong passing defense.  It will be more about can they get enough play from the linebacking group.  The schedule seems pretty fair, though they have a Week 1 tilt at Texas A&M.  But given how the Aggies are under the scope a bit with their issues in the program, if they escape that, it could be a memorable season for the Bruins as one real major block will be an October tilt at Washington State.  BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0.  WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4.  MY PROJECTION: 11-1.  The Washington State game is the concern I would have at this point, but I think the possible rematch would be going in the Bruins favor.

Joe Williams should be the guy carrying the load in Utah.

2.  UTAH UTES:  After a few solid seasons since joining the PAC-12, the Utes are starting to carve their own personality and becoming that team nobody in the conference wants to play at all.  They play a strong, physical defense that frustrates some of the speedy teams (ask Oregon last year) and has an offense, while not flashy by any means, can wear out a defense.  Some might think it is more of a Big Ten-esque mentality (probably why they give these teams fits).  The issue that gets Utah is the whole consistency bit.  They got the fans pumped and riled up after their beatdown in Eugene and then they fall flat on their face at USC and had 2 hiccups a few weeks later against Arizona and UCLA.  And their chance at a major bowl game went ka-boom.  But this might be the year that those issues might go away.  Troy Williams looks to be the starter right now, replacing Travis Wilson.  He should be all right, but Joe Williams will have to continue his pace after Devontae Booker was injured last year.  If the run game continues to be the anchor, it will help Cox ease in to that quarterback spot.  Defensively Utah is a physical presence led by Lowell Lotulelei.  The Utes had 22 interceptions last year, but it also was 103rd in the nation in the pass.  This HAS to improve if Utah wants to be considered for either a playoff or a New Year's Bowl game.  The schedule isn't as bad for a PAC-12 school and has two rough ones ahead at UCLA (which might decide the division) and Arizona State.  They do have three very tough home games though in USC, Washington, and Oregon (the last two being the final 2 home games of the year).  If they continue their physical style of defense, they shouldn't have any issues against any of them.   BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1.  WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4.  MY PROJECTION: 11-1.  I like how Utah plays and I think the group plays smart football.  Their hiccup will be UCLA in Pasadena.

JuJu Smith-Schuster continues the tradition of impact receivers the Trojans keep putting out.

3.  USC TROJANS:  USC has gotten to that point they are on the same level as the likes of Georgia and LSU where they can recruit like mad, but it never pans out on the field.  You can attribute that to poor coaching.  You can attribute that to just the players not stepping up or whatever may be the case.  But the Trojans, always expecting to be near the top of the PAC-12 mountain are mostly in the middle of the pack.  Yes, they won the division, but not very impressively and they fell apart near the end of the 2015 season.  But Clay Helton is running the team for a full year now so now he will hopefully bring stability.  But the first thing he needs to do is hope Max Browne is the man to replace Cody Kessler.  He is formidable, but one wonders on how a senior with no experience will pan out.  Sometimes it pans out great.  Others, not so much.  We will see how it works out against Alabama in Week 1.  Good luck.  But Browne will have 9 returning guys including Justin Davis and Ronald Jones to ease the pressure and has JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 1,400 receiving yards last season.  So the weapons are there and the question will be, can Browne utilize them?  Defensively, they are middle of the road and only return 5, which could cause problems for them in the passing game, though the secondary returns all the starters from last year.  So it might be can the generate any pass rush in the PAC-12?  So this alone might keep USC from really making a strong push in the PAC-12.  The schedule has some ugly games with Alabama to start out with and then back-to-back games at Stanford and Utah and then later on having a 3 game stretch with Washington, UCLA (both on the road), and Notre Dame.  And if you go a game before that, a home game against Oregon.  Have fun with that Trojans.  BEST CASE SCENARIO: 8-4.  WORST CASE SCENARIO: 4-8.  MY PROJECTION: 7-5.  Schedule is insanely hard.  If they could manage 8-4, Helton should garner coach of the year votes.

Nick Wilson will be featured for Arizona's offensive attack.

4.  ARIZONA WILDCATS:  The problem is simple and it somewhat plagues the PAC-12 in general with Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, and even Washington State........the quick strike spread/air raid offenses cause their own defenses to struggle mightily.  And with only 7 returning on defense, you wonder if the Wildcats will be near the bottom again and the other question might be, will Rich Rodriguez's job start to be on the line?  RichRod has established some stability for Arizona, but a 7-6 last year was an overall disappointment as the year before they played in the Fiesta Bowl.  Yes, the offense looks good and brings back starting QB Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson at the RB, but it is going to be one of those offenses that might have to score 50+ to win games.  And those are the games that will be problematic.  Because if they get the likes of Utah, UCLA, or even Stanford, they won't come close to 50.  The schedule isn't hot especially when conference play starts with Washington and two roadies at UCLA and Utah.  If they get stymied early, it will be a very long year in Tucson and maybe the last year for Rodriguez.  BEST CASE SCENARIO: 6-6.  WORST CASE SCENARIO: 3-9.  MY PROJECTION: 5-7.  

Jimmie Gilbert will be looked upon as a leader for the Buffaloes improved defense.

5. COLORADO BUFFALOES:  Well, the Buffaloes haven't been relevant to the PAC-12 nor college football for a while. However, there looks to be maybe a small light at the far end of the tunnel for their first time being in the PAC-12. Yes, they went 4-8 last year and their lone conference win was against lowly Oregon State. But four of their losses in-conference were a touchdown or less so there is some hope. In regards to offenses in the PAC-12 however, the Buffs are pretty rough. The run game has been near the bottom of the conference and while the passing game isn't bad with Sefo Liufau, it isn't wowing. So that needs to improve. Defensively they took a step up and with 9 starters returning, Colorado might be a tough team to score the football on. And the really good thing is, they could return 9 in 2017 so there is something cooking in Boulder. But the question will be, can they take down anybody besides the likes of Oregon State or could they get a stunning win against even a team like Arizona State? If they can rack up a couple of wins, it is not out of the ordinary to think Colorado to wonder if they can make a bowl game in 2016, which for them would be a huge step after being down for so long, even before their switch from the Big 12 came. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6. WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9. MY PROJECTION: 4-8. I really want to see the Buffaloes have an upset whether it is against Arizona or even USC, but until they can win a few games in the conference, it is hard to see them further win more than 5.

With a new QB in Tempe, Demario Richard will have to be more of a focal point for the Sun Devils

6.  ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:  What was said about Arizona can easily be said about Arizona State.  Todd Graham is as an offensive minded guy as anybody in college and never met a blitz he didn't like, which creates nightmares for his own defense as well.  And the problem is, Graham loves those no-huddle quick strike offenses.  This year is a wonder given how Arizona State has questions at the quarterback with Manny Wilkins being the likely guy to run the offense.  If he struggles, it could be a very long year with very disastrous results.  If the Sun Devils slow up a bit and continue to focus more on running the ball with Demario Richard, it might help Wilkins get more comfortable.  But being a slow-paced kind of guy has never fit Graham.  But if the offense sputters, don't expect the defense to help as they were dead last against the pass last year.  Pass rushing and blitzing weren't the problems.  It was they either got tired or quarterbacks exposed the weaknesses of the match-ups, creating nightmares.  The schedule will be somewhat nice early on before the gauntlet begins for them starting with Washington State until the Arizona game.  If the offense struggles early and often, it will be a very long season in Tempe and one will wonder if Graham survives even at 6-6.  BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6. WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9.  MY PROJECTION: 4-8.  Arizona State has just too many questions to go with too many liabilities.

UCLA might stumble in Washington State, but if there is a rematch, the Bruins would exact revenge.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP: WASHINGTON STATE VS. UCLA:  In terms of the regular season, I had Washington State winning given the game was in Pullman.  But on neutral ground and in the Golden State I think the Bruins would exact a measure of revenge on the Cougars.  But it will be interesting.  I think Rosen would pick apart the Cougars defense while the Bruins do just enough to keep Luke Falk from really taking over.  I think it would be a good game if this does happen and the balance of UCLA wins out and sends the Bruins to the playoff.

TOP 5 QUESTIONS NOBODY WILL ASK:

Not sure if either Graham or Rodriguez might be smiling when they play each other. They might be playing for their jobs that night.

1.  You mentioned both Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham possibly being on hot seats.  Who is more likely gone, or is there another PAC-12 coach that needs to update their resume?  Well, Sonny Dykes could be on the chopping block if California falls off a cliff like I think they might, but I think they will give him one season after last year.  Depends on how the Bears handle it.  But I think Graham, given how the Sun Devils fizzle and if they do go 4-8 and the team hasn't shown any progress especially on the defensive side, Graham will be gone well before Rodriguez.  Everybody else in the PAC-12 is pretty much safe at this point however.

The Ducks will be fine down the road. Just need to address an issue or two.

2.  Some have Oregon being in a "down" year and possibly their window where the likes of Mariota & Co. is now closed.  Have the Ducks fallen back in the PAC-12 to the likes of Stanford, Utah, the SoCal schools and even Washington?  I think that era for Oregon is done, but I don't think they are going to be just sitting on the sidelines watching the likes of UCLA, Utah, Washington, Stanford, etc. and will be back in 2017 or 2018.  There are two problems the Ducks have now however.......the first one being the defenses have been undersized over the years and nothing remotely close to a physical defense that the top national teams, especially east of the Mississippi River have.  It has been what has bitten the Ducks every year now.  And even when they played Stanford a few years back, they had no answer to their defenses (last year Stanford won the conference really because of their offense, not their defense).  If Oregon starts getting bigger to go along with faster, then it will be better.  The other issue Oregon is creating on their own is the whole "let's run out and grab an FCS graduate transfer."  Overall the Vernon Adams thing didn't really pan out largely because he was always dinged up it seems.  And at times it felt like the Ducks offense, albeit still great, wasn't as dominant as Marcus Mariota had it going.  Whenever the Ducks have had success has been the ones they have had from Freshman to Senior years and this goes back to the Joey Harrington Era as well.  Plus, your program is pretty much funded by Nike.   So that also helps the Ducks out.  So Oregon football is going to be here to stay for a while.  It just a time where they aren't really considered a national threat just yet...........or at least for another season.

Washington State, unlike their high-octane conference brethren, can play some defense.

3.  You rip the likes of Arizona, Oregon, and Arizona State for their quick strike offenses but still give praise to Washington State's offense and their shoddy defense to the point of a PAC-12 North title.  Isn't it a bit hypocritical?  I guess so.  BUT for the PAC-12, the Cougars have been okay.  Not great by any means, but they were ranked 3rd against the pass and 6th overall in the conference with total defense.  The other teams were way worse than Washington State.  While I am not one of the air raid philosophy, Mike Leach has at least put out a formidable for PAC-12 style defense.  Do I expect them to be Alabama in 2016?  No.  Do I even expect them to be Washington in 2016?  Not really.  But it might be good enough to steal the North.

It might be a matter of "when" Boise State joins the PAC-12 (or PAC-14). Just not anytime soon.

4.  Will the PAC-12 expand to 14 teams?  Not unless the Big 12 goes to 14.  I think the PAC-12 is making a big mistake for not going 14 and bringing in both Boise State and BYU into the mix.  I don't see why they don't bring Boise State already, given that somebody in the conference plays the Broncos every year.  It seems only natural to put them in there.  And there was (for at least a very short time) a small but nice rivalry between the Broncos and the Utes.  But if they do expand, it will probably be Boise State and Utah State.  Can't see the PAC-12 expanding anywhere else that would make sense.

Stanford has shown they can hang with some teams outside the PAC-12.

5.  Could the PAC-12 really hang with the other conferences?  It is all about balance.  I would say "yes" to it if a team could play a balanced game and not try to play shoot-outs like the Big 12 likes to do.  And notice how the first two playoffs the PAC-12 and Big 12 are the only conferences who have not sent a representative each season while the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC have all been there for the first two times.  And I think part of that issue resides with the "top dog" since 2010 in Oregon.  Like it or not Ducks fans, but look at your power games out of conference.  You have suffered losses to Boise State, Auburn, LSU, Michigan State, TCU, and Ohio State and all of those were big games (save TCU) for the program, which does more than offset the Michigan State & Florida State wins you had in 2014.  It is nice to bark up the tree of Alabama and troll them (USC included here), but Oregon hasn't shown they can beat the big boys, and that has given the PAC-12 a black eye to the rest of the nation.  That said, do I think Stanford falls under the same category as Oregon?  No.  UCLA?  No.  Utah?  Not even the Utes would fall under the "big game choker" label.  So yes, I think the PAC-12 is a threat and can hang, but it depends on who comes out and if they are a balanced squad.  

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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