Q&A: 2018 Pac-12 Football; Scott Frost Shaking Up The Big Ten


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While FBS had just one game in the last two weeks, the period could not accurately be referred to as a dormancy. Hardly. College football is a beehive of activity from the conclusion of the regular season until the start with coaching changes, and starting this year, the early signing period.

This stretch marks an unofficial commencement of the next college football season — evident in this edition of The Open Man Q&A.

No matter if Sam Darnold opts to return for the 2018 season — and, while this is just my own speculation, I would not be surprised if he did — USC will be ranked to start the season. The Trojans return what I feel should be the best group of pass-catchers in college football next season, between Tyler Vaughns; Michael Pittman Jr.; Deontay Burnett (so long as he opts to return); and emerging tight end Josh Falo.

Freshmen on the offensive line got a ton of experience in 2017 due to injury, preparing that unit for 2018. The defense will have to make some replacements, most notably at linebacker with Uchenna Nwosu and, presumably, Cameron Smith bound for the NFL. John Houston’s emergence late in the season addresses some of that concern, though.

Washington should also be ranked to open 2018. Jake Browning will be back for his fourth season quarterbacking the offense, and the defense should remain stout. Taylor Rapp will be one of the best defensive backs in the nation next season.

K.J. Costello’s ascent down the stretch ensures that with or without Bryce Love, Stanford will be back in the Top 25 to kick off 2018.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A case can be made that either Arizona or Oregon should open 2018 ranked. Pending Darnold’s decision (and that of Josh Rosen, but I’d be shocked if he returns to UCLA), the Wildcats and Ducks have the two best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2018.

Along with Khalil Tate and Justin Herbert, both teams return several key players from vastly improved defenses. Arizona in particular got huge production out of freshmen like Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler, and the returning veterans appeared more comfortable in Year 2 of Marcel Yates’ defense.

While another coaching change might make some voters hesitant on Oregon, retaining Mario Cristobal ensures a smoother transition. Oregon also benefits from the brand-name recognition.

1. Given how befuddled Todd Graham’s firing left me, Arizona State’s #NewLeadershipModel did not start at a great place from my perspective. Once Herm Edwards’ surfaced, I was flabbergasted. Then, the press release explaining his role and his introductory press conference left me downright gobsmacked.

So, yeah; the glorified PR presence and fundraiser functioning as a proverbial CEO of the program did not seem like the soundest strategy. Nevertheless, Phil Bennett and Billy Napier both proved their value as coordinators this past season, and…

…I’m sorry? Phil Bennett is leaving after the Sun Bowl? And Billy Napier is a candidate for the Louisiana-Lafayette job?

Oh, dear.

2. This one is easy: Cheers. I’m a child of the ’90s, when NBC was arguably at its peak with Seinfeld (which technically debuted in the ’80s), Friends and the Cheers spinoff Frasier, so my exposure to the previous decade’s lineup is admittedly limited.

However, Cheers was a show I enjoyed watching in syndication with my dad when I was in high school, and later in college during gaps in my class schedule. I came to watch other classics Miami Vice and M*A*S*H* this way.

Cheers holds up well thanks to classic characters. Each of the main cast is strong, from arrogant Sam Malone to the naive Woody. And bless this show for giving us Woody Harrelson, an excellent actor who has appeared in some of my favorite films, like No Country for Old Men, White Men Can’t Jump and Zombieland.

It’s remarkable Woody played the role of Mickey in Natural Born Killers just one year after Cheers went off the air.

In addition to a great cast, Cheers had memorable episodes. My personal favorite: Kevin McHale counting the bolts in the Boston Garden floor at the behest of the crew.

I like the Scott Frost hire, in part because he has the potential to turn Nebraska into a legitimate rival to Wisconsin. Frost brings some qualities that will differentiate the Huskers from the Badgers, certainly, but I suspect there will be some similarities.

The college football landscape’s undergone profound changes since Nebraska was last a powerhouse; that much is evident. However, Wisconsin has managed to discover a formula for sustained success despite residing outside a deep, local recruiting pool.

Wisconsin provides an interesting template through its unearthing of high-level talent in lowly recruited areas. The Badgers flourish with hidden gems like Jack Cichy — and it’s not just Wisconsin that finds these players.

North Dakota State won five consecutive FCS national championships on the strength of discovering elite talent, NFL talent like Carson Wentz and Kyle Emanuel, in the Upper Northwest. Frost’s ability to recruit these kind of players and combine it with the pipeline he established in talent-rich Florida is the recipe Nebraska needs to regain relevance.

As for how it will impact the Big Ten West overall, Wisconsin’s a clear pace-setter, with Iowa just behind. Kirk Ferentz as a formula wherein the Hawkeyes are always at least decent, with peak years every recruiting cycle (four-to-five years). Pat Fitzgerald has maxed out Northwestern in historic context.

Jeff Brohm was a great hire at Purdue, and keeping him amid talk of Tennessee sniffing was arguably the biggest win of this coaching carousel. The Boilers have a high ceiling. The Big Ten West will improve as a division, but Frost is stepping in at the right time to make immediate strides. It’s not unlike when he arrived at UCF, really.

This week at The Open Man, I spotlighted Chris Jericho and made the case that the Winnipeg-raised wrestler has ascended to the peak of his industry. Jericho makes a strong case, but he’s not quite my favorite Canadian wrestler — let alone my favorite Canadian.

The former distinction belongs to Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who I credit for getting me interested in wrestling. His wraparound sunglasses and leather jacket made him seem so much more cool than Hulk Hogan, who even as a kid I found to be corny and disingenuous.

I did not necessarily understand the concept of great matches as a child, but watching Bret, there was something with his ring presence and just resonated. As I got older, I came to appreciate how incredible he was in the ring.

Today, I appreciate Bret for his pettiness.

But is The Hitman my No. 1 Canadian? He certainly has competition.

I previously mentioned old TV series I watched in college, and perhaps my favorite of them all was the Canadian sketch comedy show, Kids in the Hall. Picking a favorite member of the Kids in the Hall cast would be like picking a favorite son. Each comedian contributed to at least one forgettable skit, like David Foley as Hecubus, or Kevin McDonald as the King of Empty Promises.

However, Bruce McCulloch probably gets the nod based on volume. His portrayal of the obnoxious grade schooler Gavin is top-notch, but he also stars in many of the show’s other best bits.

Canada’s offerings to the music world…well, they exist. SUM-41 came from Canada, and I think maybe Nickelback. Drake isn’t quite good enough to compensate for that mess.

I do have to give my neighbors to the north credit for Snow, however.

Aliki boom boom down, indeed.