In honor of the start of the fall TV schedule, here's how each of the Pac-10 football programs measures up to the new shows hitting the tube.
1. Oregon Ducks: Boardwalk Empire
The parallels are uncanny. You have two of the most colorful locations in the American cultural and athletic landscape, with prohibition in Atlantic City and Phil Knight's Nike Factory in Eugene. You have two uncertain but intriguing personalities trying to hold the fort in both ensembles, with Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, and Chip Kelly as Chip Kelly. You have two certifiable badasses in Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar comin yo!) as Chalky White and LaMichael James speeding like the Road Runner at tailback. You also have a history of corruption and criminal behavior surrounding each program (bootlegging liquor, bootlegging laptops). Finally, Boardwalk Empire has hats. The Oregon Ducks have jerseys.
One can only wonder if both schools can overcome their lofty expectations (20 returning starters for Oregon despite the loss of their star quarterback, Boardwalk dealing with the shadow of the Sopranos and the Wire) and keep the show going without any bumps in the road (Oregon had plenty last Saturday night in Tempe but pulled it out; they'll need a better performance against the Cardinal this Saturday). But there's no doubt that despite all the noise in the rest of the landscape, these two organizations respectively are still the shows on Saturday and Sunday nights.
2. Stanford Cardinal: Hawaii Five-0
Two throwbacks on both the gridiron and on the tube. On one side, there's the hottest football team in all of college football that harkens back to the old days of smash-mouth football. They both have surprising personalities leading their crews (the eccentric Jim Harbaugh at the Cardinal, straight-laced Alex O'Loughlin and the humorous Scott Caan as the lead duo). There's Grace Park and Andrew Luck providing beautiful eye candy for young males and Monday Morning quarterbacks everywhere. The show has one of the catchiest TV theme songs ever to hit the airwaves, and the school has
one of the most interesting bands a catchy fight song to adopt that tune immediately as their fight song.
However, only time will tell if these remakes can last. Can the Cardinal defense sustain their level of success against the top-notch competition of the Pac-10, starting with Oregon this Saturday? Can Hawaii Five-0 connect to a new audience without losing the old one from four decades ago? Can Andrew Luck shine against superior defensive squads? Will Park continue to look like one fine female in the flesh? I think I can answer that last one ...
3. Arizona Wildcats: Terriers
Terriers is a dark comedy about two guys (one criminal, one retired cop) who are down-on-their luck and do much of their detective work inside a filthy pick-up truck. Arizona sticks together with a coach in Mike Stoops who should've been fired but is still somehow coaching AND winning football games. That's partly in thanks to the dastardly Nick Foles piloting the pick-up truck of passing offenses, the Airraid attack, and a defense that busts offenses into pieces.
It's hard to see how it works, but somehow Terriers manages to be quirky and intelligent despite this. Arizona seems to be good, although it's hard to pinpoint exactly how long they can keep this formula of success running at optimal levels. Although this team has been shut down offensively by Iowa and Cal in consecutive week, they've still pulled victories off by the skin of their teeth. Keep on riding that truck, I guess.
4. Oregon State Beavers: Detroit 1-8-7
A gritty team (the group of castoffs and misfits) in probably the least attractive of towns, them Beavers just keep on winning. Its TV counterpart is obviously in a place not many look to for sunshiny optimism. You have one of the most underrated coaches in Mike Riley, who's still coaching up his players the older he gets. You have one of the most underrated character actors in Michael Imperioli--Christopher Moltisanti carried the Sopranos in all the moments Tony didn't--who's showing his age, but not losing any of his chops. There's the Rodgers brothers powering the Beavers team, but with a weak supporting cast ... much like Imperioli trying to hold together this drama practically on his own.
"Detroit 1-8-7" might be a little bit better than the rest of the competition, but with the gritty content of the show, it might need some luck to stick it through to the end. The Beavers might get beaten up early, but based on recent history, you should fully expect Oregon State to be one of the last teams standing when December comes in the BCS race. You have to wonder if time is running out on both of them due to repeat offenses (too many cop dramas/magical Pac-10 runs for the Beavers). Oregon State's Pac-10 tests start with Arizona State this Saturday.
5. USC Trojans: No Ordinary Family
From a family of superpowers to a family of superegos in South Central. One plot centers around a slightly dysfunctional family coming back together after learning they all have pretty big super powers. Another centers around ex-Trojan football coaches reuniting in South Central to try to outshine the man who brought them the greatest glory, Pete Carroll.
You have two legitimate badasses in Michael Chiklis and Monte Kiffin as the father figures. Chiklis was the hardnosed, hardheaded lead in "The Shield," Kiffin the originator of the mad Tampa 2 defenses that provided NFL offenses years of endless suffering. Unfortunately for USC, Monte is not the lead here; that falls to Lane Kiffin. Did I mention the son in "No Ordinary Family" (before getting super powers) is jealous that the other members in his family are remarkable and talented? Hmm ...
You get the feeling it might work. You just get that feeling that'll it hold on because the family element is strong enough to overcome the other deficiencies. But in a flash, they could be gone, whether by lack of interest or by choice (Tennessee fans will tell you a little about that). The tilt with Washington and a rematch with Steve Sarkisian will be the first true test for the Trojans.
6. California Golden Bears: The Event
Both of these groups will keep on teasing you without definitively answering any questions, and only raising more questions as time goes by. Everything lacks rhyme and reason, no matter how long the season goes, but both are still intriguing enough to tune into to see what happens next. Anything that does happen is exceedingly random, like a Kevin Riley pick-six, or a Cal defense giving up 52 points one week to Nevada and then nearly shutting out Arizona's offense the week after. In both cases, it's not certain whether the leaders (the President in "The Event," Jeff Tedford for Cal) quite know the answers themselves.
And yes, I'm sure outsiders of the Cal community are probably indifferent to watching this squad. Which makes it a lot like people who are outside "The Event" and aren't interested in it to begin with. You're either in or your out with this squad and this show. Those who are in just have to hope the ends will justify the means, or over time they might be out too.
7. UCLA Bruins: Law and Order, Los Angeles
Here you have a successful coach in his third stint with a big time Western program. You also have a successful TV show in its fifth or sixth spinoff incarnation. You'd count both teams out for having accumulated too many reps of recent failures. However, this season both squads have talented defenses (Akeem Ayers, Rahim Moore and Sheldon Price on the UCLA defense, Terrance Howard and Alfred Molina as the lawyers).
The problem is both sides have had so much recasting (the UCLA offensive line completely rebuilt, "Law and Order: LA" has had plenty of their supporting unit cobbled together at the last minute) that you have to wonder if any flashes of spectacular will be snuffed out by consistent inconsistency. Yes, the Pistol offense did gash up Texas to blow the game open, but the Longhorns pretty much beat themselves up with five turnovers and a poor offensive gameplan. Will UCLA be able to get away with 27 yards passing against formidable Pac-10 competition? Additionally, is "Law and Order" really ready to make the jump from coast-to-coast?
8. Arizona State Sun Devils: Running Wilde
A lot of wild promise gives way to healthy skepticism in both of these projects. You have the past-his-prime Dennis Erickson with the talented Steven Threet trying to restructure a competent offense in the desert. You have the past-his-prime Will Arnett teaming with the talented David Cross trying to recapture the magic of one of the funniest shows ever. You have a feeling that they're just in the wrong division at the wrong time. With "Running Wilde," with so many "Arrested Development" regulars involved in this project, it just has the feeling of "been there, done that".
Both of these teams seem a bit out of place, and Arizona State seems particularly privy to that, putting up 31 on Oregon but beating themselves down the stretch. In addition, too much excessive madness seems to keep both shows from progressing much past the first level of development. The one-pitched Arnett and Cross together just provides so many levels of unfunny; Vontaze Burfict by himself is like the unchained rancor in Jabba's pit. So if they fail, it should be spectacular to watch.
Can ASU rein in the madness before facing Oregon State? It's not likely "Running Wilde" will be doing anything but what its namesake suggests.
9. Washington Huskies: The Defenders
Both this show and this team are based on one thing: If you believe one larger-than-life player (Jake Locker for the Huskies, Jim Belushi for "Defenders") can take youthful, inexperienced units and lift them way over their talent levels. All early signs point to no (what sounds worse, 4 for 20 at home against Nebraska, or wacky lawyers running around Las Vegas?), but you're not ready to count them out until they've truly been cut from contention.
Also, the Huskies could use a defense after getting pantsed by Taylor Martinez. Maybe "Defenders" picked the wrong city. Perhaps Belushi can pull out the funny in a few episodes and Locker can pull out the magic, starting with the Trojans Saturday night.
10. Washington State Cougars; S*)%T My Dad Says
The unfunniest sitcom of the fall season parallels quite well with the unfunniest story of the Pac-10, the continued ineptitude of the hapless lads in Pullman. Both of these programs are doomed to the trashbin in 2010. Whether it's William Shatner accepting hand-me-downs for a Twitter experiment gone too far or the Cougars just finding new ways to lose by four touchdowns or more, neither is fun to watch.
In the latest edition of S**t The Cougars Do To Lose Football Games: When Washington State takes a 7-0 lead on USC on a wide receiver touchdown pass, they SUBSEQUENTLY give up a rushing touchdown and a pick six in under a minute and a half to relinquish the lead and relinquish hope. The worst part is that Cougars fans consider this Trojan dismantling as progress.
One should pray there's a day the Cougars will be simply competitive again. I'm not sure I want to say the same thing about William Shatner's career. Beam me up, Commissioner Scotty.