Late Night Desert Oasis

Handicapping News: Late Night Desert Oasis

It's been awhile since college football fans could really be excited about any late night Pac 12 telecasts from Arizona and Arizona State. But, both of those teams have new head coaches, new attitudes, and TV showcase opportunities Saturday Night that could allow each to make a statement.

Arizona and new head coach Rich Rodriguez host #18 Oklahoma State at 10:30 p.m. ET in a game that will be televised by the new Pac 12 Network. Arizona struggled to win their opener last week vs. feisty MAC contender Toledo. If you didn't see the game or the boxscore, you may not be aware that Arizona actually dominated the stats! Arizona won total yardage 624-358 while passing for almost 400 yards. It was a nailbiter because of Arizona turnovers. You have to figure that miscues will become more rare as the players grasp the new system. It's a great sign for the team that they gained over 600 yards in a debut spot. Vegas has installed potent Oklahoma State as a favorite of -10.5 off their blowout win of lowly Savannah State. You know Rodriguez would love to step up and upset a ranked team as a double digit dog. That would really ignite the Wildcats program.

  • Arizona State and new head coach Todd Graham host Illinois from the Big Ten at 10:30 p.m. ET in a game that ESPN has picked up for national broadcast

  • Arizona State crushed Northern Arizona last week in a tune-up. Illinois posted a good result over Western Michigan, winning 24-7 as 10-point favorites. But starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhause was hurt in that game and may not be able to go at full speed (or play much at all) tonight in the desert. ASU opened as a 2-point favorite, but is now laying in the 4-4.5 range because of the news on Scheelhause.

Coach Rodriguez and Coach Graham are far from clones. But, they are similar in terms of their aggressiveness on offense.

Both like to attack from the get-go rather than pounding away
Both are trying to create big plays every time the ball is snapped
Both like to put points on the board in flurries to discourage opponents
Both will run up the score if they get a chance to
Both have made names for themselves by bullying lesser conferences

And, as a result of those tendencies, they have similar negatives.

Both tend to run offenses that get turnover prone vs. quality
Both tend to let their QB's get hit too often by aggressive defenses
Both have had issues building defenses they can trust
Both tend to wear down their own defenses by playing shootouts
Both have burned bridges with career coaching moves

Rodriguez was "the next big thing" when he was at West Virginia in the eyes of many. Michigan hired him, and found out right away that he wasn't ready for the big time. Winning in the Big East is one thing. Winning in the Big 10 is tougher, particularly if you're trying to compete for the title by asking your QB to do everything.

Graham followed a similar path on a slightly delayed basis. He became a hotshot coaching prospect at Tulsa, running up the score against weak CUSA defenses. Pittsburgh hired him hoping to rejuvenate their boring program. Graham fled after a year because he couldn't recruit to his style (among a few other reasons). He didn't temporarily destroy his own reputation the way Rodriguez did at Michigan. But, he didn't do himself any favors leaving so quickly after talking a big game. He may be in the process of destroying his own reputation!

That's what makes this year in the desert, and tonight's TV action so fascinating. We have dramas playing out at both Arizona schools that could end up with both returning to importance in a Pac 12 that's trying to regain its star status in the sport...or that could end up with more failures for head coaches who aren't currently threats to have anybody build statues of them.


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