Greg Hansen provides an inside look at college football in 2017, including which players to keep an eye on, game outcomes, and a couple upsets to get the season started.
Star columnist goes deep into 2017
Star columnist Greg Hansen is breaking down which teams, players and coaches to watch, and explains why the Wildcats may be good enough to make a bowl game this season. Click through for Hansen’s guide to the 2017 season:
Most coveted football tickets in the Pac-12 (non-rivalry division)
1. Utah — every game, every week
The Utes are considering expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium from 45,807 to about 55,000. It’s a gamble; the Utes have sold out every home game since 2010 and have a 98 percent season ticket renewal rate the last seven seasons. It may not be the league’s most intimate setting — it’s difficult to beat larger, sold-out venues at Oregon, Colorado and even Arizona — but Rice-Eccles is under consideration to be a host site for the 2026 World Cup.
2. USC at Washington State, Sept. 29
Talk about Friday Night Lights. The 7:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPN will showcase the Cougars, one of America’s most exciting teams, and all of 33,773 at Martin Stadium will be abuzz. The Cougars figure to be 4-0 and ranked somewhere near No. 15 when the national-title seeking Trojans visit. Did you know WSU has played to 94 percent capacity at Martin the last three years?
3. Nebraska at Oregon, Sept. 9
The Ducks get a rare 1:30 p.m. kickoff in a not-so-welcome-home game against Mike Riley, Nebraska’s coach and a longtime foe at Oregon State. Are the Ducks back? This game should provide a good clue.
Best coaches’ radio shows
Almost every coach in FBS and FCS is paid handsomely to sit down at a welcoming venue to say good things about their team on a hometown radio station. What do they have in common beyond the gushy, positive chatter? Most are held in popular local watering holes. Alabama’s Nick Saban holds his weekly radio show at Tuscaloosa’s “Victory Grill.” Talk about a fitting title. Here’s the way it goes in 2017 for the UA and some of its opponents:
Arizona: Rich Rodriguez speaks weekly at Brother John’s Beer, Bourbon and BBQ on Stone Avenue, site of the former Wildcat House.
Utah: Kyle Whittingham’s show is at the Desert Edge Brewery at Trolley Square.
Colorado: Mike McIntyre’s radio program is at Boulder’s FATE Brewing Co.
Washington State: Typically, Mike Leach doesn’t do anything ordinary. His weekly radio show is at Zeppoz, a Pullman bowling alley and bar.
Cal: Justin Wilcox and the Bears radio show is at the Fourth Bore Tap Room in Orinda, just east of Berkeley.
Arizona State: Todd Graham delivers his weekly message from the Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill at the Tempe Marketplace.
Northern Arizona: Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers is available for questions at Flagstaff’s Mayor Kitchen and Bar.
UTEP: Sean Kugler stages his radio show at El Paso’s Border City Ale House.
Two big upsets to mark on your calendar early in the season
1. Wyoming stuns Oregon, Sept. 18
The Mountain West Conference favorite Cowboys will be playing in front of home fans in Laramie and they’ll be battle-tested after opening the season at Iowa. What’s more, Wyoming has the better quarterback in possible No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Josh Allen, an overlooked junior-college player from near Fresno, California. The Ducks will be coming off a battle royal against Nebraska. Thanks to the TV gods, kickoff is an attractive 4 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
2. Colorado rocks Washington, Sept. 23
The Pac-12 has been fronting a Big Four quarterback platform — UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, WSU’s Luke Falk and Washington’s Jake Browning — but Colorado’s Steven Montez may soon crowd into that group. The Huskies have three early cakewalks (Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State) and will get the Ralphies’ best shot.
Who are these guys? (Arizona division)
Four unknown freshmen whose names kept rising above Arizona’s training camp chatter — four players believed to be part of RichRod’s revival — are not typical, we’re-coming-to-save-the-program prospects. Here’s the lowdown from Arizona’s class of 2017, ranked No. 37 nationally by Rivals.com:
Tony Wallace: Arizona located this emerging cornerback at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, where his scholarship offers came from Utah, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado and BYU. Next to tailback Nathan Tilford, he’s probably the most-sought freshman on the UA roster.
Colin Schooler: By the time Arizona got the signature of the linebacker from Mission Viejo, California, he had been offered scholarships by not-so-notable Buffalo, Charleston Southern, New Mexico, Nevada and UNLV.
Anthony Pandy: Talented defensive linemen are the highest priority in recruiting. Arizona got Pandy at Narbonne High School near Los Angeles, beating virtually every Mountain West Conference school, Syracuse and Wazzu.
Kurtis Brown: Not many brand-name schools went to Liberty High in Bakersfield, California, to pursue Brown, who chose Arizona over seven Mountain West offers and one from Colorado.
The game has been good to me
For six years, Mark Stoops labored to rebuild Arizona’s defense. That labor has been rewarded.
Now Kentucky’s head coach, Stoops has a particularly striking deal. He banks $250,000 for every victory beginning with the seventh win of the season, and a seven-win season automatically triggers that one more year be added to the end of Stoops’ deal. If he were somehow able to get to 10 wins, his contract would be extended by two years, and he would earn $1 million total for wins seven, eight, nine and 10.
It’s a young man’s game
Twenty-five years ago this fall, 60-somethings Bill Walsh of Stanford and Don James of Washington were the Pac-10’s most prominent football coaches.
That has since changed as college football has evolved into a younger man’s game. The league’s youngest head coach is Cal’s Justin Wilcox, at 40. Oregon’s Willie Taggart is 41. Stanford boss David Shaw, who has been around for a bit, is only 45.
Here’s a look at the “senior citizens” of Pac-12 football:
Kyle Whittingham, Utah. He turns 58 in November. Could pass for 48 with those always-on-display muscle T-shirts.
Mike Leach, Washington State. At 56, Leach is the league’s second-oldest head coach.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. He’s 54, and has come a long way since becoming a head coach at age 25. From Salem College to West Virginia, Michigan and now Arizona? That’s an eventful three decades.
Gary Andersen, Oregon State. Although he has been the head coach at four schools — Southern Utah, Utah State, Wisconsin and OSU — Andersen is only 53.
Who are these guys? (Pac-12 division)
Outside of ever-mobile Yogi Roth of the Pac-12 Networks and maybe our humble UA beat writer Michael Lev, there probably aren’t five people on the face of the earth who know the names of all of the league’s offensive coordinators
Once seen as a glamour job, being an offensive coordinator in the Pac-12 now requires years (sometimes decades) of labor before getting a call-the-plays gig. It’s a transient job, subject to year-to-year hiring and firing.
Here’s what you probably don’t know about the league’s OCs, who range in age from 36 (Colorado’s Brian Lindgren) to 56: Wazzu head coach Mike Leach, who is his own offensive coordinator, does not list one on his staff.
Utah’s Troy Taylor, 49, first year
One of just three Pac-12 offensive coordinators to play (briefly) in the NFL, Taylor, a Cal alumnus, rose to his job unconventionally, coaching in high school for 14 years before last season being discovered at small-school power Eastern Washington.
Colorado’s Brian Lindgren, 36, fourth year
He played QB at Idaho and coached at NAU and San Jose State before landing the Buffaloes’ top job.
ASU’s Billy Napier, 38, first year
The Sun Devils’ coaching turnover is a blur; Napier, who played QB at Furman, rose through the ranks at stops from South Carolina State to Alabama.
UCLA’s Jedd Fisch, 41, first year
Believed to be the highest-paid OC in the league, at $810,000 annually, Fisch has the most compelling backstory. He did not play football but instead was an all-state tennis player in New Jersey. He got a job as a gopher for Steve Spurrier at Florida and then cut a trail that included jobs at Minnesota, Miami, Michigan and with the Broncos, Jaguars and Seahawks of the NFL.
USC’s Tee Martin, 39, third year
The most accomplished player of the league’s OC’s, Martin was a star QB on Tennessee’s 1998 championship team who played briefly in the NFL before coaching at New Mexico and Kentucky.
Cal’s Beau Baldwin, 45, first year
Finally, after his successful head coaching career at Eastern Washington, Baldwin is in the big leagues.
Stanford’s Mike Bloomgren, 40, third year
How about this unlikely rise to The Farm? Bloomgren played at tiny Culver-Stockton College and coached at Catawba College before getting his foot in the door as an NFL gofer.
OSU’s Kevin McGiven, 40, second year
He got started at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher and then went to Louisiana Tech and got in the coaching network at BYU as a grad assistant.
Oregon’s Marcus Arroyo, 37, first year
From the Dick Tomey coaching tree, at San Jose State, Arroyo bumped around at Prairie View A&M and Wyoming before hitting it big.
Washington’s Jonathan Smith, 38, fourth year
A former walk-on from Los Angeles who became quarterback of Dennis Erickson’s 11-1 Oregon State team of 2001 started in the Big Sky Conference at Idaho.
Arizona’s Rod Smith, 43, sixth year
Nothing complicated here; Smith was RichRod’s quarterback at Glenville State in the early 1990s and after coaching at South Florida, Indiana and West Virginia Tech, rejoined his old coach in Tucson.
Top three motivational resources
1. In late July, Arizona hired former Penn State and NFL receiver Freddie Scott II to speak to its football team. Scott, who is a pastor, public speaker and author, talks about everything from domestic violence to teamwork. He is in high demand; in a two-week period after which he spoke in Tucson, he visited the football teams at Pitt, Miami, South Carolina and met with the Southeastern Conference student-athlete council.
2. Former mob boss Michael Franzese makes the rounds, but not on a crime spree. This summer he spoke to the Florida Gators and a handful of other FBS teams. Franzese was able to escape from a life of crime to start his own ministry. (Florida has a big budget for motivational speakers: This year, it also hired Hall of Fame running back and CBS analyst Marcus Allen and former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf.)
3. Eric Thomas, the so-called “Hip-Hop Preacher,” has spoken to, among others, football teams from North Carolina State, Auburn, Cincinnati and Colorado State. He is intense and has an in-your-face delivery. It sells in college football.
Eight great players in the Pac-12
1. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Supporting cast is limited, but in Mike Leach’s let-it-fly offense, Falk is the single most dangerous man in the league.
2. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes and threw 31 touchdowns as a freshman, transforming the Trojans into a national title contender. What will he do this season?
3. Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Much like the Huskies, Browning limits his mistakes.
4. Vita Vea, DL, Washington
He’s 350 pounds, runs 40 yards in 4.8 seconds and has football savvy. Few like him in college football.
5. Hercules Mata’afa, DT, WSU
The closest thing to Vea in the Pac-12 in a pivotal position.
6. Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
The league’s top game-breaking skill position threat.
7. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
A year ago, he was an off-the-charts NFL prospect and potential All-American. If he is healthy, the Bruins can battle USC for the Pac-12 South title.
8. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
In two years behind Christian McCaffrey, Love quietly gained 1,008 yards and averaged 7.2 yards per crack. He’s the next in the Stanford assembly line behind McCaffrey and Toby Gerhart.
How Arizona will finish
The Wildcats don't have to worry about Pac-12 powers Washington and Stanford on the schedule this season, and with a hot start, they may even sneak into bowl season.
Here's a game-by-game outlook:
Game 1: NAU
Wildcats win 37-23. Tougher than expected.
Wildcats' expected record: 1-0
Game 2: Houston
Hope rises as the Wildcats outscore QB Kyle Allen's team 45-41.
Wildcats' expected record: 2-0
Game 3: at UTEP
You can't lose to UTEP, can you?
Nope. Arizona survives, 33-24.
Wildcats' expected record: 3-0
Game 4: Utah
RichRod's refrain "We need to get bigger" shows against the giant-sized Utes. Utah grinds it out, 30-20.
Wildcats' expected record: 3-1
Game 5: at Colorado
The one-time patsy punches Arizona in the gut.
Buffs win, 41-20.
Wildcats' expected record: 3-2
Game 6: UCLA
Every college football team seems to pull off a stunner every fall.
But not this time. Bruins win, 48-34.
Wildcats' expected record: 3-3
Game 7: at Cal
Arizona move above .500 by beating the league's worst team, 52-37.
Wildcats' expected record: 4-3
Game 8: Washington State
First team to 50 wins. Cougars 56, Arizona 41.
Wildcats' expected record: 4-4
Game 9: at USC
Not recommended TV viewing for those under 60 years of age. Trojans 49, Arizona 17.
Wildcats' expected record: 4-5
Game 10: Oregon State
Back to .500 in a thrilling finish. Arizona wins, 36-31.
Wildcats' expected record: 5-5
Game 11: at Oregon
The Ducks aren't the Ducks of old, but they'll have enough on a rainy day at Autzen Stadium. Oregon 39, Arizona 27.
Wildcats' expected record: 5-6
Game 12: at Arizona State
This time Arizona will need to complete a pass to hoist the Territorial Cup. Wildcats finish the season with a big win, topping the Sun Devils 41-34 on the road.
Wildcats' expected record: 6-6