Week one is in the books for the Pac-10. So how will the Cougs do?
Going into the conference schedule, the Cougs have been tabbed as the most likely team to challenge UCLA for the league title. Fair? Yes. Oregon State really has nothing to work with. Arizona State is VASTLY improved, but not ready for center stage yet. Oregon has a LOT of talent, but they are way too inconsistent to contend for a league title. Washington is better than last year, but their game against the Cougs proves that they are not ready to challenge the best teams in the league. Arizona is always good, and they have a legit shot at challenging UCLA. However, a home loss to Oregon and a shaky first half against Oregon State really doesn't make you feel great about their chances. Cal was able to beat USC at home, but really didn't look viable against UCLA. Stanford looks like they are for real, even in their game agaist UCLA, but in the end, they lost at home to the Bruins. Not a good start if you want to contend against UCLA.
That leaves the Cougs. We will know a lot more after next weekend when the Cougs play at USC and UCLA. But I'm not going to put too much into next weekend as they are road games and it is early.
So where will the Cougs end up? My prediction is 14-4 and second place to UCLA. Can they win the Pac-10? Yes, but I don't think it will happen. Here's why:
My observations from last season and this season is that the Cougs will win the games they are supposed to win and lose many of the games that they are supposed to lose. In a nutshell, I think the Cougs are perfectly matched against teams that have equal talent or even significantly better talent. The Cougs know who they are and what they want to do. Most teams do not even come close to the Cougs in terms of team identity and the ability to control the tempo of a game. If the Cougs are favorites in a game, they will win. Period. That's been happening for the last season and a half.
So why not a National Championship for this team? Well it is possible, but not probable. The thing is, controlling tempo and forcing your style of play begins to break down when the competition is FAR better athletically. The truth about the Cougs is that they are fairly athletic, but there are many, many teams that are more athletic and there are a few (like UCLA) that have clearly superior athetes.
When a team has clearly superior athletes, they can many times overcome the pitfalls of playing a team like WSU. They can play through the mistakes and by shear force of talent, they can eek out a victory (i.e. Oregon beating the Cougs in the twice last year by the slimest of margins).
So, when you look at the teams in the Pac-10, there are just too many talented teams for the Cougs to dominate throughout the schedule. Oregon State is really the only team that doesn't appear to have enough talent to at least challenge the Cougs. With so much talent, I expect the Cougs to lose a few.
Having said that, the Cougs finished second in the Pac-10 last year and they have a better team this year. They can force tempo and control games. They also have composure and in a close game (home or away) I just expect the Cougs to win. The games against Baylor, Gonzaga and Washington back me up on that.
I don't know which four the Cougs will lose, but I will take a stab at it:
UW - 2-0 (Hey I'm half way there!)
Oregon - 1-1
Oregon State - 2-0
Stanford - 2-0
Cal - 2-0
USC - 2-0
UCLA - 0-2
Arizona - 2-0
Arizona State - 1-1
By the way, Arizona State is not a typo. They are the one team that works as hard as the Cougs to control tempo. In fact, last year, they almost beat the Cougs at their own game in Phoenix. Arizona State is going to upset some teams this year, especially at home.
Next on tap: Post LA - observations on the LA games.