Before the football season began, most of us knew the Cougars' schedule was an absolute gauntlet to run. Last year, this team proved just how fragile they were, missing more starts than any other team in college football and by a wide margin. Eleven straight weeks of football was going to take its toll at some point and seems to have begun. Offensive lineman David Gonzales out for the year with a broken forearm, defensive back Damante Horton sprained his knee, offensive lineman Micah Hannam has a concussion, linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood have both been nicked up. The unfortunate thing is I'm sure I'm forget some injuries, in fact, I'm nearly positive.
Perhaps even more unfortunate is it will likely get worse this weekend. The Cougars are facing their third straight top-20 team in Stanford. They are on the road playing a physical, hard-hitting team on both sides of the ball. This is a Stanford team that jumped out to a near three-touchdown advantage on Oregon in Eugene. They have the best quarterback in the conference if not the nation in Andrew Luck.
It has been said in many other places this week but it bears repeating: be ready for a letdown this week. The Cougars have been improving dramatically over the last few weeks, losing their last three games by an average of 17 points. Granted, it doesn't sound like much of an improvement but remember last year when they lost those same three games (Oregon, UCLA, Arizona) by an average of 41 points. There certainly has been marked improvement on this team.
But Stanford has had a week to rest and prepare and giving Jim Harbaugh an extra week to get ready might as well be a death sentence. Giving him an extra week to prepare against a banged-up and vastly overmatched opponent is worse but then I don't exactly know what's worse than a death sentence.
Despair not though! With Midnight Madness having taken place last Friday, basketball season is upon us! I think it would be an understatement to say this year, more than many in the past; people are looking forward to basketball season. Forget that two games against Kansas State and Gonzaga provide the bread in an Apple Cup sandwich (a sandwich I still wish I was in town to enjoy) but the Cougars could go from last place to almost first without changing anything.
I'd envision the likely starters to be Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore, DeAngelo Casto, Brock Motum and Marcus Capers. So really, only one starter is different from last season. While the Cougars graduated just one upperclassman (Nikola Koprivica) and will have an even shorter Senior Night this year (which is to say, there won't be one), just about everyone else in the conference lost some key players. Washington lost Quincy Pondexter but expect their superior back court to save their question mark of a front court. California lost, well, everyone. Oregon lost Michael Dunnigan and didn't really add anything. Stanford is still struggling to be who they once were. Arizona State has only five players on a roster of 17 that have played collegiate basketball. Everyone else is essentially the same as last season.
It's hard to argue that when he's on, Thompson is the best scorer in the conference. When he's on, it seems nearly impossible for him to miss. But Thompson struggled later in the season as a few misses compounded themselves into an even bigger issue: he got into his own head. Thompson never had to deal with that kind of adversity before, especially in high school. Sure, he was double teamed at that level but the skill of the players isn't even close to that of the Pac-10. When Thompson got doubled last year, it was hard to shoot. Without the safety net of Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes and Caleb Forrest to pick up some of the scoring and draw some defenders, Thompson put it all on his shoulders.
This year should be different though. Moore can shoulder more of the load in scoring. Motum is physical and loves to shoot from anywhere. Casto will still be Casto, flopping and flying all over the court and somehow still being able to put it in the hoop. Faisal Aden and Patrick Simon should provide some scoring relief off the bench.
Further analysis in this space on basketball to come in time (first exhibition game in 16 days! Yipee!) but as a short little preview: I expect very, very good things.
Last Week: 3-0
A marquee Thursday night match-up! Should be a kin to watching Brad Pitt try to act with a bunch of 5th graders.
Brad Pitt's 61, Rick Neuheisel's 5th Graders 10
I have no idea what to think of Cal. I have no idea what to think ASU. This doesn't bode well for me on this one.
Dennis Erickson's Desert Devils 9, Jeff Tedford's Final Year? 3
Arizona should, in theory, totally deflate any confidence Washington has. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.
Come Back Soon Nick Foles! 42, Jake Locker Lost $20 Million Staying In School 21
Well, as I eluded to earlier, this one isn't going to be pretty. Honestly, keeping it within about four touchdowns would be a victory.
Stanford 52, Washington State 20
Obscure Pick of the Week: What state is one of these schools in? Why can't they be specific? They're too ambiguous!
Central Oklahoma 24, Northeastern State 14
Dunderhead of the Week: John Buccigross, ESPN Sportscenter anchor. There's nothing good about how you do your job. You inject your opinion into every story you read, you do highlights about as well as a toddler and just look like you have the high-holier than everyone attitude. I might just have to elect you to permanent Dunderhead of the Week status. Yep, that's just what I'll do.
John Buccigross. Permanent Dunderhead of the Week.
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The 2010 athletic season is here…and you know what that means…It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Football, soccer and volleyball, just to name a few, are preparing for their 2010 seasons. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.