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Home-and-Home: Can the Pac-12's play match the hype in 2023?
The quarterbacks are back! The quarterbacks are back! Christian Caple of On Montlake and Tyson Alger of The I-5 Corridor try to figure out what that means for the Pac-12.
Home-and-Home is a twice-monthly conversation between Christian Caple of On Montlake and Tyson Alger of The I-5 Corridor. With more than two decades of combined experience covering football in the Northwest, join On Montlake the 1st of every month and The I-5 Corridor on the 15th for their unique views on the Ducks, Huskies and Pac-12 football.
ALGER: Well, Christian, it’s been a bit since we’ve done this. Welcome to the other side. Obviously I was disappointed to see The Athletic’s decision to eliminate Washington coverage. On the other hand, I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t hope this would be the eventual outcome: You launching your own publication, On Montlake, and us having the ability to partner up on things like the old days.
So while I imagine in the future we’ll likely make appearances on each other’s podcasts and figure out other ways to collaborate, for now how about we, like, write to each other twice a month and alternate on who hosts it?
We could call it: Home-and-Home.
What say you?
Also, it’s not your fault…
CAPLE: Serious question: what do I do with all the hoodies and shirts and hats? And the YETI thermos? I could try to tape on the On Montlake logo, but it probably wouldn’t survive the dishwasher.
ALGER: I did get a lot of mileage out of that first sweatshirt we got. And one of the stickers doesn’t seem to want to scratch completely off my fridge.
Memories. Will be good for the eventual 30 for 30.
So, how have the first two weeks been?
CAPLE: Buddy, they ain’t calling us for the documentary.
The first two weeks have been amazing, honestly. The response from subscribers has blown me away, and I’m enjoying waking up every day and setting my own agenda. This whole ordeal has really filled me with gratitude for everyone who has reached out with kind words and support.
Plus, now Substack is the only non-legacy media platform with regular coverage of the Pac-12’s top two remaining brands. That’s … cool? I think? Especially as this media-deal saga continues twisting and turning.
ALGER: When we started doing those Pac-12 roundtables, it was always fun to sift through the all the comments yelling at us because we didn’t have someone covering schools like Colorado full time. The irony is, The Athletic is probably going to cover the hell out of Colorado this year.
Back when we used to be co-workers, the Ducks and Huskies were right in the thick of the Cristobal-Petersen/Lake era. What’s the temperature up in Seattle these days? Ready to move conferences? Confident in the Pac-X? This has to be a fascinating spring, especially considering last year’s domination down the Corridor.
CAPLE: There certainly seems to be a segment of the fan base that would like to see Washington join the Big Ten as soon as possible, which I don’t necessarily understand. Jumping ship would be the proper sentiment without CFP expansion and those six automatic bids. So long as the Pac-12 can pull together an adequate media-rights deal for the next five years or so, though, why wouldn’t a school like Washington or Oregon want to stay out west and compete against the remaining Pac-12 teams for a spot in the expanded CFP? Of course, I understand the concerns about the league’s viability long-term, and if the Big Ten were to reach out with an invitation, then I think we all know what the prudent move would be. Barring that, speaking purely from a CFP perspective, there’s no question that Pac-12 survival creates the easiest path.
Spring will be interesting (practices started last week, and resume later this month). The Huskies have a lot of defensive questions to address, and a lot of new personnel to get up to speed. Everyone sort of knows what to expect from the offense, I think, though they do need to shore up the offensive line to replace the three starters they lost. Expectations are high. The schedule is tough. This is a confident coaching staff, and you saw that confidence filter to the players last season. With an 11-2 record in their back pocket and a bunch of dudes who came back to school rather than declare for the draft, they’re expecting big things in 2023.
What are you most interested in watching with the Ducks this spring?
ALGER: Shoot, I might as well cut and paste. Again, happy you’re here, CC.
Like UW, the Ducks more or less know what they’re working with offensively. The trio of Nix-Irving-Franklin is as good as any QB-RB-WR in the conference. There’s a few holes to fill on the offensive line — and the whole new offensive coordinator thing, too.
But I was just looking at Oregon’s Pro Day results and it’s striking how many of the players participating that have a real shot at the NFL came from the defensive side of the ball: Christian Gonzalez, a cornerback projected to go in the top 10, linebacker Noah Sewell and edge rusher DJ Johnson. Throw in Bennett Williams, a consistent defensive back the last two seasons, and you’d think the Ducks were coming off some sort of defensive juggernaut of a season.
As your Washington readers saw in Eugene last year, the Ducks certainly are not.
So my eyes will be on the defense and whether or not we start to see some of the progress/potential that made Lanning such a hot coaching commodity in the first place. They got some really nice players through the portal (LB Justin Jacobs, DL Jordan Burch), so let’s see how all the moving parts settle. But I really don’t think we’ll get a feel for that until the fall.
Here’s something for you: Do you buy or sell the on-field hype for the Pac-12 going into next season? There’s no way this all actually goes well for the conference, right?
CAPLE: At least from a Washington perspective, it does feel a lot went their way in 2022 (against a relatively weak schedule) and it’s going to take some real, tangible improvement to maintain the same record in 2023. League-wide, though, the quarterback thing is pretty important, right? I had a season-long chicken-or-the-egg debate with myself about whether the Pac-12 truly had a bunch of awful defenses last year, or if the conference’s QB talent was the primary contributor for that. Probably a little bit of both.
You mentioned having your eyes on Oregon’s defense. Guessing folks feel the same around USC, where Caleb Williams returns but memories of those Utah and Tulane losses linger. Cam Rising is back at Utah, but we’ll see what his recovery from ACL surgery looks like. I always love watching Oregon State, and the Beavers are going to be interesting again this year. They were stout defensively last season and have a lot to replace on that side of the ball, but the addition of Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei provides some hope they can be a little more efficient offensively.
Do I see a CFP entrant in that top tier? Ehh. But I do think the Pac-12 has dramatically improved its depth and floor. UCLA will have a new quarterback and some new transfers in key spots. Colorado already feels like a completely different program than its lifeless 1-11 finish last year. Arizona took a huge step forward last season. Arizona State has new leadership. Stanford and California … have work to do, but a new OC in Berkeley and a regime change in Palo Alto will be worth monitoring. Washington State is something of a wild card with a returning QB but two new coordinators. Not many easy outs in the league in 2023. What do you think?
ALGER: I like that Oregon doesn’t play Georgia this year. That’s a start. But really, I don’t see a lot of separation between the Ducks, Huskies, Trojans and Utes. These teams were all really close in 2022. They all had some pretty big flaws. They’re all running it back.
I really do like Oregon State, though, and back in January I wrote a predictions post about them making the Playoff. They’re the least talented of the entire group and I know they lost pieces on that defense, but it does seem like adding Uiagalelei addresses the biggest offseason need in the league. I don’t know how much this resonated up in Seattle, but them coming from behind to beat the Ducks in The Corridor Cup last year without throwing the ball in the second half was one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen.
And now they should be able to throw the ball.
But, you and I have done this long enough to know that this all leads to a bunch of three-loss teams, right?
CAPLE: It very well could, because I’m not sure any of the teams in that top tier jumps out as the clear No. 1. They’ll probably all play a bunch of super fun games against each other, finish with two-plus losses each and the national narrative will be about how none of them were good enough to make the Playoff. The Alamo and Holiday bowls will be must-watch TV, though.
Maybe I’m being too cynical. After all, this is the last year of the four-team format. And the last year with USC and UCLA in the conference. And you called your shot on Oregon State. So maybe we should all be rooting for the Beavs to usurp the big boys, play their way into the field and become the first team since Washington to humbly accept its multi-touchdown defeat to whichever SEC opponent it faces.
The cynicism only recedes for so long, Tyson.
ALGER: You did grow up an M’s fan, man. See you over at On Montlake on the 1st.
– Tyson Alger and Christian Caple