In the past three years a lot of teams in the Pac-12 have had coaching changes, with the sole exception being the University of Utah where Kyle Whittingham has been the coach since 2005. The other 11 schools in the conference have all hired new coaches since 2011. There are three programs — Oregon, California and Colorado — heading into Year 2 with their new coaches. Let’s take a look at exactly what they accomplished last year and what they are projected to do this year.
Sonny Dykes — California Bears
The 2013 football season didn’t go the way Bear fans expected or hoped. The Bears took a step back from 2012, winning only one game versus three the previous year. This doesn’t take into account that Cal had one of the hardest schedules in the FBS in 2013, and it doesn’t look much better in 2014. They faced five ranked teams — four of them in the first six games of the season and one in their final game of the season. To say the odds were stacked against the Bears and Sonny Dykes would be an understatement.
California’s sole win of 2013 came in the second game of the season against lowly Portland State, who they defeated 37-30. Other than that, the Bears were run over by every other team they played. Their other two out-of-conference games were against ranked teams, Northwestern and Ohio State, which resulted in 44-30 and 52-34 beatings. In the Pac-12, the conference’s top teams — Oregon, USC, UCLA and Stanford — whupped the Bears with a combined score of 217-67.
Bear fans are eager for the team to return to prominence but it is unlikely to happen in the 2014 season. Cal has some of the same problems it did last year – tough schedule and a young quarterback, among other things — and will need time to get better and dig themselves out of the hole they are in. Sonny Dykes is too good a coach for the Bears to stay at the bottom of the Pac-12 forever, and they will almost certainly do better than they did last year. But then, with only one win, it’s hard to do worse.
Mike MacIntyre — Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado hired Mike MacIntyre to succeed Jon Embree after a short two-year tenure as head coach. In the first year under their new coach, the Buffaloes went 4-8 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12. The only Pac-12 team Colorado beat was Cal, a team who also had a first-year head coach. The Buffaloes started the season on a high note defeating Colorado State, a team that had embarrassed them the year before, and FCS Central Arkansas, effectively doubling their wins from the 2012 season. Their third game of the season against Fresno State was cancelled due to weather and wasn’t rescheduled.
In their fourth, fifth and sixth games of the season, Colorado faced both teams from the state of Oregon and Arizona State, losing all three with a combined score of 155-46. They came back to win their next game against Charleston Southern 43-10, giving the team a much-needed boost in morale.
They once again lost three games in a row, against Arizona, UCLA and Washington, before playing Cal, which became their only Pac-12 win of the year. The Buffaloes played one of their best games of the last few seasons against the Bears, winning 41-24. Colorado closed out the season with two losses, to USC and Utah, and failed to qualify for a bowl game.
Besides the obvious statistic of winning three more games in 2013 than in 2012, the Buffaloes improved in almost every single statistical category. The only important categories that Colorado didn’t improve in were passing yards allowed per game, fourth-down offense, punt returns, punt return defense and time of possession.
Even with the improvement the Buffaloes made last year, the team is still rebuilding. With a bit of luck, Colorado has enough talent in the team and enough coaching push from MacIntyre to become bowl eligible in 2014. If MacIntyre can keep recruiting as well as he did in 2013, the Buffaloes will keep getting better and better talent to work with and could be competing in the Pac-12 in the next two or three years.
Mark Helfrich — Oregon Ducks
For most programs in the country, going 11-2 in your first year as a head coach would lead to celebrations in the streets. After Mark Helfrich’s 11-2 first season at Oregon, there was … disappointment. Going into the season the Ducks were considered national championship contenders and Duck fans were ready. When the Ducks lost to Stanford, Duck fans were saddened but bounced back and started looking forward to the Rose Bowl.
Then came the game against Arizona. Duck fans watched the game with jaws on the floor and tears in their eyes. Losing against a great Stanford team could be (very grudgingly) accepted, but losing to a 6-4 Arizona team was heartbreaking. Being out of the Pac-12 championship game and the Rose Bowl hunt was shocking, and then to find out that Oregon was left out of all the BCS bowls? Deeply disappointing.
When Marcus Mariota decided to come back to Oregon for his redshirt junior year, Oregon fans cheered. The Ducks are expected to be ranked in the Top 5 at the beginning of the season. With Mariota at the helm and Helfrich having a year’s experience under his belt, the Ducks have a good chance of making the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Mark Helfrich has a lot to prove and he has a great chance to do so in the coming season. Oregon, arguably, has one of the most talented teams the program has ever seen, and if Helfrich can keep the team focused on the “Win the Day” philosophy Chip Kelly popularized, the Ducks could win the season.
With the season only three months away, we just have to get through this summer before we’re once again in the land of tailgates and football games.
Top photo by Kevin Cline