College football season is in full swing. Football stadiums across the nation are once again packed to the brim each gameday as fans come together to root for their team. The first three weeks of the season have already come and gone, but plenty of elite college football still lies ahead as Arizona and the rest of the Pac-12 start conference play. Here are some of the top stories, matchups and players to look out for across the Pac-12 for the rest of the season.
Coaching carousel and how it’s worked out so far
Normally it’s all eyes on the players on the field but this year the Pac-12 underwent a coaching switch-up like no other. Five schools in the Pac-12 have new coaches hoping to guide their respective programs to the promised land, with both schools in Arizona and Oregon on that list.
Let’s take a look at Arizona first. One of the biggest story lines for Arizona football is the first season of Kevin Sumlin at the UA. Sumlin brings quite the resume to Tucson. He got his start in college football as a linebacker at Purdue from 1983-1986 and has served as the head coach for Houston and Texas A&M most recently. Possibly the most intriguing part of his resume is coaching Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in 2012. The big question is, "Can Sumlin help do the same for the star of UA football, Khalil Tate?" In Sumlin’s first outing in the red and blue, the Wildcats fell to the BYU Cougars, 28-23 in a game that saw Tate rush for 14 yards. Tate did manage two touchdowns (one throwing and one on the ground), but the big takeaway from that Saturday’s game was Arizona underusing its offensive weapons. Sumlin and the Wildcats continued their struggles in Houston, losing in a blowout to the Cougars 45-18. Week three proved to be much better for the Wildcats and brought back some life to the team. The Wildcats beat Southern Utah at home by a score of 62-31. In Sumlin’s first win as the leader of the Cats, Tate threw for five touchdowns and got the team back on track as they head to Oregon State this Saturday.
Let’s shift our focus up I-10 to Arizona State, where one of the biggest player, coach and TV personalities took over as the new leader: Herm Edwards. Edwards has the resume to be a head coach; the question is whether or not his coaching methods are outdated. After going undrafted in 1977, Edwards was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. He stayed in Philadelphia until 1986 and wrapped up his playing career in 1986 with the Falcons and Rams. The last time Edwards was a coach at the collegiate level was in 1989 for San Jose State University as the defensive backs coach. His most recent stint as a head coach was from 2006-2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Edwards did more than shine in his ASU debut. The Sun Devils defeated the UTSA Roadrunners by a score of 49-7. To continue his success, ASU defeated formerly-No.15-ranked Michigan State on a late field goal to stun the college football world. The Devils took a bit of a step back last week after losing to San Diego State 28-21.
Just when you thought things would settle down in the Pac-12, UCLA ended its six-year run with former Head Coach Jim Mora. The Bruins brought in former Oregon, Forty Niners and Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly to hopefully return the blue and gold to elite status. Let’s just say things aren’t going exactly as planned. Kelly underperformed in his debut, alongside the Bruins as a whole. UCLA wasn’t able to escape week one without a loss, falling to unranked Cincinnati 26-17. UCLA faced a huge challenge in week two going up against No. 6 ranked Oklahoma, and the Bruins ended up losing that contest 49-21. The Bruins head into their week four bye week without a win after a brutal loss last week to Fresno State 38-14.
The coaching changes didn’t stop in the Pac-12 South. Oregon and Oregon State hit the switch button on their former head coaches, too. After a one season run with the Ducks, Willie Taggart left Eugene, Oregon to chase his dream job as the head football coach of Florida State. The move left the Ducks in a scramble to replace Taggart, who accepted the head coaching position at Florida State almost as soon as Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M.
Oregon filled the head coaching vacancy with an in-house hire: Mario Cristobal. Cristobal moved from co-offensive coordinator of the Ducks to head coach. College football rings are something that Cristobal knows a little something about, as he won two titles as a player for Miami and one title as an Alabama assistant coach in 2015. Oregon tore up the field on the offensive side of the ball through the first two weeks of the season with 58 points against Bowling Green and 62 points against Portland State. The Ducks head into Pac-12 play 3-0, after defeating San Jose State 35-22.
Rounding out the Pac-12 coaching changes is Oregon State’s new hire of Jonathan Smith. Smith returns to his alma mater in Corvallis, Oregon, where he played quarterback for the Beavers from 1998-2001. Most recently, Smith served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of Washington from 2014-2017r. Smith looks to turn the orange and black around from a subpar season a year ago that brought the Beavers just one overall win. The Beavers opened the season last week by scoring 31 points, but still came away with the loss. The Beavers faced a tough opponent in Ohio State who scored an impressive 77 points. Week two brought the Beavers their first win of the season against Southern Utah, but they fell to Nevada in week three and are now heading into Pac-12 play against Arizona with a 1-2 record.
Justin Herbert, QB (Oregon)
Out of all the players mentioned in this list of Heisman hopefuls, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has made the best case for a Heisman campaign during the last three weeks. The junior from Eugene, Oregon totaled an impressive six touchdowns in week one, throwing for five and running for one, and completed 10 passes on 21 attempts for 281 yards, also tallying 41 yards rushing.
Bryce Love, RB (Stanford)
The fourth-year back out of Stanford chose to forgo the NFL draft and return as one of college football’s elite running backs. Love was a force on the Cardinal offense in 2017, taking over for former starter Christian McCaffery. Love totaled 2,118 rushing yards a season ago and put himself in the Heisman conversation again. Love hasn’t quite lived up to expectations as of late, with 165 rushing yards this season, but this week against Oregon could change his luck.
Follow Cory Kennedy on Twitter