The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2010

2010 Pac-10 Football Preview

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2010 Pac-10 Conference Preview

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott attempted to shake the college football world in June by luring Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the Pac-16.  Instead, he had to settle for just CU and Utah.

Southern California made more headlines after the football season than during it, and they continued to stay in the news all summer.  After being placed on major probation, the Trojans will not be eligible for the postseason.  They lost several players who were allowed to become eligible immediately at other schools.  It cost Athletics Director Mike Garrett his job.

Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks before this all came to a head.  So, who is the honest-to-a-fault replacement?  Who is the guy that has been hired to run a clean program?  LANE KIFFIN!  Yes, the ex-Oakland Raiders coach, who left Alameda County in a cloud of controversy.  The ex-Tennessee Volunteers coach, who left the Vols looking at possible probation.  He brings Ed Orgeron with him.  Is the death penalty still an option in football?

USC is out of the bowl picture, and now the league will need six bowl eligible teams other than the Trojans to fulfill their contractual agreements.  This league is so balanced; any of the top seven teams could win the conference championship.  The Oregon Ducks lost Jeremiah Masoli, and still the PiRate Computer shows them to be the most powerful team in the nation in week one.  That aside, we cannot see Oregon, or any other Pac-10 team running the table in conference play, and we believe that two losses will earn a piece of the title.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team P10 W-L
1 Oregon 7-2 10-2
2 Arizona 7-2 10-2
3 Oregon State 6-3 7-5
4 California 6-3 9-3
5 Southern Cal 5-4 8-5
6 Stanford 5-4 7-5
7 Washington 4-5 6-6
8 U C L A 4-5 5-7
9 Arizona State 1-8 3-9
10 Washington State 0-9 1-11

 

BCS (Rose) Bowl: Oregon

Alamo Bowl: Arizona

Holiday Bowl: California

Sun Bowl: Washington

Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Oregon State

 

 

Team By Team Breakdown

Team Arizona Wildcats
               
Head Coach Mike Stoops
               
Colors Cardinal and Navy
               
City Tucson, AZ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 116.0
               
National Rating 21
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-2
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: The biggest loss on this side of the ball is offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who took over at Louisiana Tech.  Arizona couldn’t move the ball until Dykes brought the “Air Raid” offense to Tucson in 2007.

The Wildcats have two very capable quarterbacks.  Starter Nick Foles led ‘Zona to the brink of the Pac-10 Championship last year, coming up just short in overtime against Oregon.  Foles passed for 2,486 yards and 19 scores and should post better numbers this year.  Backup Matt Scott is a dual-threat runner-passer.  He forces opponents to prepare for two different game plans.

Coach Mike Stoops can call on multiple players to line up at receiver.  He can go with two tight ends or no tight ends and has talented choices both ways.  Juron Criner led the ‘Cats with 582 receiving yards, and he will get plenty of help from David Douglas, Bug Wright, and tight ends A.J. Simmons and David Roberts.

The Wildcats used a trio of backs last year and should continue to split the carries.  Keola Antolin led with 637 on the ground and caught 17 short passes. Nic Grigsby added 567 yards with an eye-popping 7.2 yard average.

A senior-dominated offensive line should continue to open running holes and protect the passers.  Arizona surrendered just 13 sacks in 2009.  Center Colin Baxter earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he should be an early draft pick next Spring.

Can Arizona continue their dominance on this side of the ball without Dykes calling the plays?  We say they can.  Look for the Wildcats to score 26-30 points and gain 375-400 yards per game.

Defense: Stoops loses his defensive coordinator as well; his brother Mark went to Florida State.  He also loses seven starters, including his top four tacklers.  The biggest concern is at linebacker, where there will be three new players in the starting lineup.  Two of the projected starters were junior college players last year, and the third saw limited action here.  None of the graduated players were top caliber, so the drop in production could be minimal.

The front line should be quite good.  Ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed return to anchor the perimeter.  Elmore finished third in the league with 10 ½ sacks. 

The secondary returns a 1st Team All-Pac-10 performer in cornerback Trevin Wade.  Wade led the team with five interceptions and nine passes broken up.

The Wildcats are expected to take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but we believe the defense will regress less than the offense improves.  Arizona may control the clock more in an attempt to help the defense.  Look for 21-24 points and 300-325 yards allowed, or about the same as last season.

Schedule: Outside of league play, Arizona has one easy game, one difficult game, and one interesting game.  They start off at Toledo on Friday night, September 3.  The Rockets will test the new defense.  They host The Citadel the following week, and they should light up the scoreboard.  The following week, Big Ten contender Iowa visits Arizona Stadium. 

The Wildcats face Oregon in Eugene and Stanford in Palo Alto.  We could see Stoops and company coming up one game short again this season, but win double-digit games, as long as the defense gels.

Team Arizona State Sun Devils
               
Head Coach Dennis Erickson
               
Colors Maroon and Gold
               
City Tempe, AZ
               
2009 Record              
Conference 2-7
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 99.0
               
National Rating 62
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-8
Overall 3-9

 

Offense: The Sun Devils suffered through consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1946-47, and if they don’t right the ship this year, it could be the end for Coach Dennis Erickson.  After starting his ASU tenure at 8-0, he has gone 11-18 since.

A lack of offense has been the reason for the decline in Tempe.  With just three starters returning on this side of the ball, it could spell doom for State this year.  They lost their top runner, top passer, and top two receivers, so you have to consider this a rebuilding season.

The Sun Devils will switch to a no-huddle, wide-open offense under first-year offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.  Piloting that attack could be one of three players.  Former Michigan quarterback Steven Threet was thought to be the front-runner, but Brock Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy are battling for the starting nod.  Look for Erickson to use Szakacsy as a running threat off the bench, and we believe Threet will open as starter.

There will be a two-man platoon at running back as well.  Cameron Marshall should start.  He rushed for just 280 yards and two touchdowns last year as the top reserve.  True freshman Deantre Lewis will get a hard look at supplanting Marshall.  He will see action right away.

Keeping with the program, ASU will rotate receivers, because they have several decent but no great pass catchers.  Kerry Taylor and Gerell Robinson are the two most experienced receivers, but they combined for just 49 catches and 537 yards.

The offensive line took a beating with the unexpected loss of loss of guard Zach Schlink to a career-ending knee injury.  Backup guard Jon Hargis was already out with an ACL injury, so there is going to be some depth issues in the line.  Center Garth Gerhart is the only experienced lineman left.

With a new offense and several new players, it looks grim for the Sun Devils this year.  We don’t believe they can improve on last year’s mediocre numbers.  Call it 17-21 points and 300-325 yards per game this year.

Defense: Things don’t look much better on this side of the ball, as ASU lost five of their top six tacklers, including most of their best pass defenders.  In a pass-happy league, this spells trouble.

Arizona State needs a spectacular pass rush this year, and they have two excellent tackles that could fit the bill.  Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola combined for 8 ½ sacks.  End James Brooks has the potential to be a pass rushing stud, and we believe he will lead the Devils in sacks this year.

Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict is nursing a bad ankle in August practice, but he should be ready for the season.  He is the only returning starter to the linebacking unit.  Burfict is strong against both the run and pass.

The secondary was one of the best in the league last year, holding opposing quarterbacks to just 53% completions and 189 yards.  All four starters are gone (combined for six interceptions and 18 passes broken up).  Former starter Omar Bolden returns to his cornerback spot after missing 2009 with an injury.  The other projected saw action last year, so the fall-off shouldn’t be severe.

Arizona State gave up just 21 points and 298 yards per game last year, which would have been good enough for a 9-3 record with a decent offense.  Expect those numbers to suffer some this year.  We’ll call for 23-26 points and 320-340 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The Sun Devils will go 2-1 outside of the Pac-10.  They host Portland State and Northern Arizona, and they play at Wisconsin.  In conference play, they fortunately host Washington State; that is their only sure win in the league.  They get two bye weeks in conference play, so a road game against Cal and home game with UCLA following those bye weeks will give the coaching staff time to come up with solid plans.  Maybe, they can get one more conference win, but we cannot see ASU sniffing bowl eligibility this year.

Team California Golden Bears
               
Head Coach Jeff Tedford
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Berkeley, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 112.5
               
National Rating 31
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-3
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Coach Jeff Tedford has consistently put together well-balance, high-scoring offenses in Berkeley.  His Bear teams average 30 points per game year in and year out.  He has an experienced quarterback, a running back sure to top 1,000 yards rushing, and a stable of excellent receivers.  His offensive line is talented and very experienced.  So, it is easy to be optimistic about this season’s attack side.

Quarterback Kevin Riley won’t challenge the league’s top passers in passer rating, total yards, or touchdown passes, but the senior knows how to move his team.  Expect Riley to pass for 3,000 yards this year.

The Bears lost Jahvid Best who went to the NFL a year early.  Best was injured last year, and Shane Vereen took his place in the lineup for the last four games.  He finished the season with 952 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 25 passes.  Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson will get some touches as well.  In limited action last year, he averaged 6.8 yards per rush.

Marvin Jones and Jeremy Ross will not team to catch 150 passes, but both can get open deep and burn a secondary for a quick score.  Tight end Anthony Miller is one of the top three at his position in the Pac-10, and he should improve on his 26 receptions of 2009.

The offensive line returns four starters that have combined for 70 career starts.  Tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Matt Summers-Gavin form a great pair of outside blockers.

Cal should top last year’s offensive averages by a little.  Tedford’s teams usually score 28-33 points per game, and we will go for 31-35 this year with 400+ yards of total offense per game.

Defense: The Bears were too generous on this side of the ball last year, and it led to a conference average of 28 points allowed.  Six starters return, but there are enough holes on this side to keep Cal from contending for a top 10 finish.

The Bears switched to a 3-4 defense last year, and the front seven performed well against the run.  Even with 31 sacks, the pass defense gave up almost 270 yards per game.

Up front, two starters return to the three-man trench.  Nose tackle Derrick Hill controls the middle and commands more than one blocker to move out of the way.  You won’t see his name high up in the defensive stats, but he deserves an assist every time the inside linebackers get in on a stop.  End Cameron Jordan dumped quarterbacks six times last year, and he will have to step it up with the departure of Tyson Alualu, a first round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Linebackers Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks return after finishing one-two in tackles a year ago (combined for 183).  Both proved dangerous against the run and dropping off into the underneath pass zones.

The secondary was a weak point in 2009, and two starters must be replaced.  Cal picked off just 11 passes, but they knocked away several.  Unfortunately, the top pass defenders have moved on.  Safety Sean Cattouse intercepted one pass and broke up three; he leads the group this season.

Cal just doesn’t have enough talent on this side of the ball to consistently stop the great offenses in this league.  Look for the Bears to surrender 25-28 points and 375-400 yards.

Schedule: Cal should go 3-0 before league play begins.  The Bears host UC Davis and Colorado before jogging over to Reno to take on Nevada in what should be a great game.  Road games with Arizona, USC, and Oregon State will be tough, and home games with Oregon, Stanford, and Washington won’t be easy.  We’ll call for a 6-3 conference mark and 9-3 overall.  In a wild season, 6-3 could actually challenge in the wild Pac-10.

Team Oregon Ducks
               
Head Coach Chip Kelly
               
Colors Green and Yellow
               
City Eugene, OR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-1
Overall 10-3
               
PiRate Rating 126.2
               
National Rating 1
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-2
Overall 10-2

 

Offense: Is it possible that the Ducks can contend for the national championship after booting Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli off the team?  The PiRate computer says the Ducks are the number one team on September 1 (*–see note at the end about why the PiRate Ratings are used for just the next week of the season and are not meant to be used to look forward).

Second year head man Chip Kelly had to deal with the loss of a key weapon after one game last year and found an even better replacement.  Tailback LaMichael James rushed for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns after LeGarrette Blount opted for a boxing career that lasted one punch.  James could carry the ball 300 times this season and threaten the 2,000 yard mark if there wasn’t such great depth here.  True freshman Lache Seastrunk and sophomore Kenjon Barner could top 1,000 yards rushing if they either was the starter.  Look for the Ducks to top 200 yards, maybe 250, on the ground this season.

Making the running game all the more powerful is the return of the entire starting offensive line.  It is the best run-blocking line in the league and ranks with Ohio State and Wisconsin as one of the best run-blocking fronts in college football.  Both guards, Mark Asper and Carson York, should make either 1st or 2nd Team All-Pac-10.  Tackle Bo Thran will do so as well.

Filling the big shoes of Masoli will not be easy, but Kelly has two talented possibilities.  Pure drop back passer Nate Costa has worse knees than Joe Namath, but the senior has started and won in the Pac-10 before.  Sophomore Darron Thomas has the tools to be another Masoli, but he has to learn to cut down on mistakes.

Whoever starts at quarterback will have a decent group of receivers on hand.  D.J. Davis, Lavasier Tuinei, and Jeff Maehl all return after starting last season and combining for 100 receptions.  Oregon will use more play-action passes this year, and we expect the yards per catch to increase.

It looks like another big year on this side of the ball for the Ducks.  We think they can top 40 points per game, but we believe Kelly may try to control the clock a little more this season to help his defense.  We’ll call for 35-38 points and 410-440 yards per game.

Defense: The Ducks gave up 73 scrimmage plays per game last year and still made it to the Rose Bowl.  Expect Kelly to address this and try to hold onto the ball more this year.  If this defense can defend 10 fewer plays, Oregon could run the table.

Eight of the top nine tacklers return from last year including the Pac-10’s sack leader.  End Kenny Rowe made 11 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  He knocked down four passes as well.  To the inside, Brandon Bair made 8 ½ tackles behind the line.

Two potential 1st team all-conference players line up at linebacker.  Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews can blitz and disrupt plays and can cover their pass zones as competently as anybody.  The duo combined for 162 tackles, 4 ½ sacks, 12 ½ total tackles for loss, and 13 passes defended.

The secondary is better than the other two units and the best in the league.  The move of former starting linebacker Eddie Pleasant to safety makes the Ducks tough against the run and the pass on the back line.  Pleasant will blitz and get to the QB, and he will get his paws on a half dozen or more passes.  Cornerback Talmadge Jackson intercepted four passes and broke up six.

Oregon has the pieces in place to improve considerably on this side of the ball, but the Pac-10 offenses as a whole are even better this year than last.  Look for the Ducks to give up 18-23 points and 325-350 yards per game.

Schedule: Oregon will get off to a quick 3-0 start before Pac-10 play begins.  The Ducks open with New Mexico at home, visit a rebuilding Tennessee in week two, and host Portland State the following week.

We give the Ducks the leg up on Arizona in league play because the two teams face off at Autzen Stadium, one of the best home field advantages in college football (The Ducks’ winning percentage at home is more than 20% better than on the road in the 21st Century).  We think UO will not be able to run the table, because the Pac-10 is just too balanced.  Look for them to stumble once or twice.  The Beavers will be waiting for revenge in the Civil War on December 4.

Team Oregon State Beavers
               
Head Coach Mike Riley
               
Colors Orange and Black
               
City Corvallis, OR
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 113.7
               
National Rating 24
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-3
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Beavers have improved offensively the last four seasons, going from 27.8 points and 360 yards in 2006 to 31.5 points and 411 yards last year.  Look for a small retreat this season.

OSU lost quarterback Sean Canfield to the New Orleans Saints, and his replacement is a lightly experienced Sophomore.  Canfield passed for almost 3,300 yards and 21 touchdowns, and new QB Ryan Katz will not duplicate those numbers.

The best running back in the State of Oregon and best in the Pac-10 resides in Corvallis and not Eugene.  Jacquizz “Quizz” Rodgers raced for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns and also caught 78 passes last year.  Coach Mike Riley will use Rodgers to take the heat off Katz and force secondary defenders to cheat up.

James Rodgers is to pass catching what Quizz is to running.  He is the best in the Pac-10.  Last year, he led the league in receptions by 21 catches!  His 91 receptions went for 1,034 yards.  His presence will make it easier for Jordan Bishop and Markus Wheaton.

An experienced offensive line returns four starters including Freshman All-American tackle Michael Philipp and senior center Alex Linnenkohl, a three-year regular.

If Katz can develop and take enough heat off the running game, the Beavers have a championship-caliber offense.  We think he will have some growing pains, but by mid-October, OSU will be tough to stop.  Call it 28-33 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Defense: The Beavers have come up short by one game the last three years because they have not been able to stop the elite teams.  Against the rest, their defenses have looked outstanding.

For OSU to challenge this year, the pass rush has to improve.  The Beavers had just 17 sacks last year, and they return three starting linemen who should lead the team and move that number past 20.  Tackles Stephen Paea and Brennan Olander are even better against the run, and opponents will not find much success running the ball inside.  End Gabe Miller needs a breakout year after sharing the lead with Paea for the QB Sacks lead with three.  He needs to approach double digit sacks if the Beavers have a chance to make it back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 47 years.

Linebacker is a bit of a concern with the departure of their top two tacklers.  Dwight Roberson, Tony Wilson, and Keith Pankey are not all-conference performers.

Three starters return to a better than average secondary.  Safeties Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell combined 142 tackles and 14 passed defended.  Cornerback James Dockery intercepted two passes and knocked away eight others.  New cornerback Brandon Hardin saw extensive action last year intercepting a pass and batting away four others.

Oregon State has to step it up and come up with better defensive efforts against the top teams in the league.  They padded their stats against the weaker teams.  There is no way their defensive numbers will be as good as last year, but they could still compete for the Pac-10 title.  We’ll predict 25-28 points and 350-375 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: Who made this schedule?  He should be tarred and feathered.  OSU must play both TCU and Boise State.  When this schedule was made, those two teams were already powerful.  The third non-conference team is Louisville, and when they were put in the schedule, they were as good as the other two.  The Beavers will be out of the national title picture before October.

In league play, the best thing going for OSU is that they get USC and Oregon at home.  The bad news is they get Arizona, Washington, and Stanford on the road.  They will need five conference wins to be bowl eligible.  We’ll say they get six.

Team Southern California Trojans
               
Head Coach Lane Kiffin
               
Colors Cardinal and Gold
               
City Los Angeles, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 5-4
Overall 9-4
               
PiRate Rating 110.9
               
National Rating 34
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-4
Overall 8-5

 

Offense:  Cue the organ music.  It’s time for the daily soap opera brought to you by the makers of Probation Suds.  On today’s episode of How Lame Can You Get, we find Lane Kiffin delaying the signing of papers to release ex-players and recruits who do not want to stay in LA.

Southern Cal received two years probation for numerous recruiting violations, and they brought in a coach that already had the NCAA investigators burning the midnight oil.  Eight key players and recruits left, able to become immediately eligible at other schools.

With all that aside, the Trojans still have lots of talent.  If enough have chips on their shoulders, and the team stays healthy, they could even take it out on the rest of the nation and run the table.  We think that is unlikely.

Quarterback Matt Barkley had a fine freshman season.  He completed 60% of his passes for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns.  He also threw 14 interceptions.  Backup Mitch Mustain was once considered the best quarterback prospect in the nation, and he started half a season at Arkansas as a freshman.

While there isn’t a Marcus Allen, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, or Charles White on this roster, USC has several talented running backs even with the loss of their 1,000 yard rushing starter from last year.  Junior Marc Tyler may be about to emerge and live up to his press clippings.  Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable, and fullback Stanley Havili will all see action as ball carriers.  Havili is a threat as a pass catcher too.

The Trojans lost their top two receivers, but they have a lot of talent ready to step in.  Ronald Johnson and Brice Butler have some game experience, and tight end Jordan Cameron could emerge as a force in the middle of zones.

Only two starters return to the offensive line, and a projected starter has gone while the getting was good.  All the new starters were highly sought recruits, so the drop in talent won’t be that much.

USC’s offensive numbers could go up a little this year, because Kiffin will run up the score on teams that have no chance.  Expect 27-31 points and 400 total yards.

Defense: The Trojans lost too much on this side of the ball to dominate or even compete for the Pac-10 title in our opinion.  You don’t replace Taylor Mays, Josh Pinkard, Kevin Thomas, and Everson Griffen with untested recruits and expect the same results.

Jurrell Casey and Nick Perry give the Trojans a good base to rebuild the defensive line.  Perry’s eight sacks tied for the team lead.  Wes Horton is a decent end, but he is not all-conference material.

All three starting linebackers return, but the Trojans are now a bit thin here due to a couple of defections.  Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith, and Michael Morgan are the best trio in the league.

There are no returning starters to the secondary, and in the Pac-10, that will get you beat.  Cornerback T.J. Bryant will be the leader of this unit, but he will not come close to matching Mays or Thomas.  Shareece Wright was supposed to start in 2008 and again in 2009, but he’s been off the field for two years due to injuries and ineligibility.

Southern Cal gave up 11 more points and 118 more yards in 2009 than in 2008.  That trend will continue this year, but the weakening will be less.  Call it 21-25 points and 325-350 yards allowed.

Schedule: USC will play 13 games without going to a bowl thanks to an opening game at Hawaii.  They host Virginia and Notre Dame and play at Minnesota.  The Trojans could go 4-0, but we will call for 3-1.

In league play, USC travels to Stanford, Arizona, and Oregon State.  They host Oregon, Cal, and Washington.  They have the talent and swagger to play spoiler, but we think the personnel losses and general malaise creeping into this program will cause them to settle in the middle of the pack.  Remember, they were tied for 5th last year at 5-4.  We will call for a repeat in 2010.

Team Stanford Cardinal
               
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Palo Alto, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-3
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 117.9
               
National Rating 18
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 5-4
Overall 7-5

 

Offense: The Cardinal finished in a tie for second last year thanks to an offense that topped 200 yards both on the ground and through the air.  With eight starters returning, even with the loss of their star running back, they should field another excellent offensive squad in 2010.

Expect the Cardinal to look more like many of the great teams from their past this year.  They will pass the ball with great effectiveness thanks to the return of the next Jim Plunkett.  Andrew Luck passed for 2,575 yards as a true freshman with 13 touchdowns to just four picks.  Expect Luck to top 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns this year and challenge Jake Locker for 1st Team All-Pac-10 and 1st Team All-American (like the good ole days when Plunkett and Sonny Sixkiller banged heads).

Coach Jim Harbaugh is licking his chops over the return of both starting wideouts and one of his two starting tight ends from last year.  Chris Owusu is a serious deep threat every time he catches the ball, but he has to cut out all the drops.  When he held onto the ball last year, he averaged 18.4 yards with his 37 receptions.  Ryan Whalen just missed 1,000 yards, ending with 926 on a team-leading 57 catches.  Tight end Coby Fleener caught 21 passes, and he will get more looks this year.

Replacing Toby Gerhart’s 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns couldn’t be replicated with any back in the NCAA.  He was so consistent, in the manner of Larry Csonka and Jim Taylor, and that will be missed more than anything.  At this point in the preseason, Harbaugh has said that as many as six backs could see the field.  Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan, Taylor, and Tyler Gaffney appear to have a slight edge at the moment, but true freshmen Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale and redshirt freshman Usua Amanam (the quickest back on the team) still have a real shot.  Don’t forget fullback Owen Marecic.  He will see action on both sides of the ball, as he has been moved to linebacker.

The offensive line ranks just behind Oregon for the best in the league.  Four starters return from a unit that gave up just seven sacks and opened holes for backs to run for 5.3 yards per attempt.  Andrew Phillips and David DeCastro make the best guard combo in the league.

Stanford will throw the ball more and run less this year.  The consistency may suffer a bit, but there will be days when this team cannot be stopped.  Look for the Cardinal to challenge for top scoring team in the league and once again score 35-40 points per game while gaining 425-450 yards per game.

Defense: Like many of the contenders in this league, Stanford doesn’t have a championship-caliber defense to match its offense.  As a result, the Cardinal will get in offensive shootouts with four or five opponents.  Remember, they beat Oregon last year 51-42, giving up an amazing 570 total yards and still winning.

Harbaugh brought in NFL veteran defensive coach Vic Fangio to rework the defense.  The Cardinal will switch to the same 3-4 defense Fangio used with the Baltimore Ravens.  He couldn’t bring Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and Terrell Suggs with him.

All 3-4 defenses must have a big, strong nose guard to occupy more than one blocker and defend the middle.  Sione Fua fits that bill.  At 6-2 and 307, he will protect his linebackers behind him.  Ends Brian Buicke and Matthew Masifilo have starting experience, and former end Thomas Keiser dropped back one line.

Keiser anchors a solid quartet of linebackers.  He finished third in the league with 15 total tackles for loss (9 QB sacks) and should be a terror blitzing from outside.  Marecic will start next to him.  We think these two will work well together.

Three starters return to a secondary that gave up 265 passing yards per game last year.  If the front seven can improve on the 21 QB sacks of last year, this quartet should post better numbers.  Cornerback Richard Sherman led SU with 10 passes defended.  Strong safety Delano Howell supplied great run support.

With Gerhart, Stanford still saw opponents run three more scrimmage plays per game than they enjoyed.  The defense had to defend 68 plays per game.  If that number goes up into the 70’s, it is bad news.  The offense needs to help the defense out and have more time-consuming drives. 

We look for SU to give up 23-27 points and 375-400 yards per game this year. 

Schedule: A home game with Sacramento State kicks off the season.  Two weeks later Wake Forest comes to Stanford Stadium.  The Cardinal follow that up with a visit to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.  We figure the Cardinal will be 2-1, but they could be 3-0.

The defense just doesn’t have enough for us to place SU among the top three in the league this year.  We think they will have a chance in every game—a chance to win and a chance to lose.  Only a home game with Washington State is a given.  They should split the other eight Pac-10 contests and finish 5-4, earning another bowl bid.

Team U C L A  Bruins
               
Head Coach Rick Neuheisel
               
Colors Blue and Gold
               
City Los Angeles, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-6
Overall 7-6
               
PiRate Rating 109.4
               
National Rating 39
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-5
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: Year two saw Coach Rick Neuheisel turn his alma mater’s team around, winning seven games and the inaugural Eagle Bank Bowl after going 4-8 the year before.

The UCLA running game was too weak to take the heat off a very good West Coast passing game.  The Bruins improved slightly from 83 to 115 yards per game, but that mark beat only Washington State.

Watch for UCLA to implement the Pistol Offense into their repertoire this year and run the zone option.  Can sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince run the option?  He’s dealing with a strained back muscle in practice.  He suffered a broken jaw in a game last year, so this may not be the best fit for him.  Richard Brehaut is not a runner either.  Juco transfer Darius Bell is the one true dual threat quarterback on the roster, and he could eventually emerge as the go to guy.

No running backs on this roster will strike fear in the defenses of the league.  Johnathan Franklin led the Bruins with 566 yards.  We expect true freshman Malcolm Jones to eventually become the lead back.

The passing game should continue to be strong thanks to the return of Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree.  They both caught more than 40 passes last year.  Rosario is big and fast, and he can burn defenses with a long gainer any time.

The offensive line welcomes back four starters, and if Micah Kia can regain his effectiveness from 2008.  He missed last year with an ACL injury.  This group doesn’t have a real star, but they will be improved and cut down on the 29 sacks they allowed.

UCLA should improve their scoring average from 22 to about 24-26 points per game.  We expect them to top 350 yards per game as well.

Defense: The Bruins finished second in the league against the pass and fifth overall, but seven starters were lost to graduation.  There is rebuilding to do on this side of the ball.

After an a broken right foot ended end Datone Jones’ season, the Bruins were left with having to replace their entire defensive line.  Jones had four sacks and seven other tackles behind the line, and there isn’t a player on the roster capable of replacing him, much less all-conference end Brian Price.  Price was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and runaway leader in tackles for loss in the Pac-10.

Only one starting linebacker returns as well.  Akeem Ayers is a borderline all-conference performer.  He defends well against the run and the pass, and he is a fantastic blitzer.

Three starters return to the back line, where the Bruins were tough against the pass last year.  They were greatly helped by a pass rush that recorded 44 sacks.  The one lost starter was a 4th Round NFL draft choice, but UCLA returns a certain 1st Round pick.  Rahim Moore is a difference maker at free safety; he is better than Taylor Mays who went in the 2nd round of this year’s draft.  Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions and batted away seven other passes.

We expect UCLA to be more generous on this side of the ball and give up 26-30 points and 340-370 total yards per game.

The Bruins have one of the best kicking combos.  Punter Jeff Locke and placekicker Kai Forbath will both play in the NFL.  Forbath is the best kicker in college football, and he may be better than 90% of the NFL kickers.

Schedule: The Bruins have a difficult non-league schedule.  They must face Kansas State and Texas on the road and Houston at home.  They will be lucky to go 1-2.

UCLA gets five home conference games and could win three or four of them.  Road games with Cal, Oregon, and Washington won’t be fun.  It looks like a sub-.500 year in Westwood.

Team Washington Huskies
               
Head Coach Steve Sarkisian
               
Colors Purple and Gold
               
City Seattle, WA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-5
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 115.6
               
National Rating 22
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-5
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: It has been eight seasons since the Huskies last posted a winning record and went to a bowl.  That 2002 team rode the arm of Cody Pickett tossing to Reggie Williams and won seven games.  With the talent returning in Seattle this year, seven wins would be a disappointment.  UW returns nine offensive starters, including the possible first pick in next year’s NFL Draft, so second year coach Steve Sarkisian could reverse that bowl drought this year.

Jake Locker is a lot like John Elway.  Aside from the accurate rifle arm and great wheels, he could choose to play baseball if a lousy NFL team chose him in the draft.  Let’s hope the comparison ends there.  Elway never played on a winning team nor played in a bowl game at Stanford.  Locker has one more shot to avoid the same fate.  He should top 3,000 yards per game through the air this season and possibly pass for 25 or more touchdowns.  And, maybe some Seattle DJ will right a ballad about him like they did for Sonny Sixkiller.

Just about every wideout that caught a pass last year returns, and that makes UW a very scary team.  This group of receivers ranks in the top five in the nation.  In Jermaine Kearse, Locker has a target to bring out the mad bomber in him.  Kearse averaged 17.3 yards on his team-leading 50 catches.  James Johnson and Devin Aguilar teamed up to make 81 receptions.  Tight end Kavario Middleton will be sorely missed after being dismissed for violating team rules.

The task of helping keep defenses honest falls on running back Chris Polk.  Polk rushed for 1,113 yards last year.  Locker rushed for over 500 yards when you factor out sacks and crossed the goalline seven times.

The offensive line is a bit small, but they are quick and rely on zone blocking to open running lanes.  Four 2009 starters return including Ryan Tolar and Cody Habben.  Tolar can play guard or center and will start at center this season.

The Huskies should average around 30-35 points and 400 total yards this season.

Defense: Eight starters return to a defense that improved by eight points and 62 yards per game last year.  Two of those three graduated defenders were last year’s starting ends.  Tackle Alameda Ta’Amu would be the perfect nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.  He will line up next to Cameron Elisara.  Not many teams will run the ball up the middle.

UW returns two quality linebackers in Cort Dennison and Mason Foster.  Both will have to increase their tackles by a couple dozen if the Huskies are to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Alvin Logan was scheduled to be the third linebacker, but chronic injuries have forced him to give up football.

The secondary returns all four starters and almost the entire second string as well.  Though not among the best in the league, they can rotate and stay fresh.

Washington will once again struggle at times on this side of the ball, but there should be enough improvement to shave a little off last season’s numbers.  Look for 23-26 points and 375-400 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Huskies don’t have any pushover non-conference games this year.  They open at BYU and then host an improving Syracuse and Big 12 North favorite Nebraska.  A 2-1 mark would be an accomplishment.  UW must go on the road to USC (where the Trojans will be out for revenge), Arizona, Oregon, and Cal.  They could lose all four of those games.  Home games with Oregon State, Stanford, and UCLA will be tough as well, and we think they will lose one of them.  Call it a 4-5 league mark, and if they start 2-1, they will return to a bowl game. 

Team Washington State Cougars
               
Head Coach Paul Wulff
               
Colors Crimson and Gray
               
City Pullman, WA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 0-9
Overall 1-11
               
PiRate Rating 92.9
               
National Rating 79
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-9
Overall 1-11

 

Offense: Where have you gone Jason Gesser?  Washington State has been one of the weakest teams in FBS football the last two seasons, finishing with back-to-back 11-loss seasons.  The Cougars have averaged less than two touchdowns per game these last two years.  Their total yardage from the last two years combines was more than 70 fewer yards than Houston gained last year.

WSU will field an improved offense this season, but they are so far behind the rest of the league, they are still guaranteed to finish 10th in scoring and total offense.  Coach Paul Wulff had to take the redshirt off quarterback Jeff Tuel after four games last year, and then Tuel went down for the year five games later.  In those five contests, he completed 59% of his passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns.  Backup Marshall Lobbesteal has never recovered 100% from a knee injury he suffered in 2008.

The Cougars return their three top receivers and four of their top five, led by Jared Karstetter, who grabbed 38 passes for 540 yards and six TDs last year.

WSU has had no semblance of a running game the last two seasons.  Last year’s mark fell to 71 yards per game.  Of course a lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line allowing an astronomical 53 sacks.  But, then again, defenses did not have to worry about the run and could sell out to the pass.  James Montgomery has survived multiple injuries in and around his knees and almost had to give up football.  The former Cal transfer says he is healthy enough to play.  When 100%, he was a game-changing back.  Chantz Staden is another former starter trying to come back after missing all of 2009.

The offensive returns four starters, but it is still the weakest in the conference by far.  Expect this unit to give up a lot of sacks again this year, but they should improve on the horrible showing of last year.

There is nowhere to go but up for this offense.  WSU will top 14 points per game this year.  Call if 16-18 points and 275-300 total yards.

Defense: The defense gave up 38.5 points per game last year, and that represented a five point improvement over 2008!  The Cougars actually gave up 69 more yards per game than the year before.  With a much improved defensive line, State will improve by a couple more points. End Travis Long led WSU with six stops for loss. 

Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis led the Cougars with 84 tackles, but he recorded just 4 ½ for losses.  He’ll have two new starters joining him in the second line of defense, and this remains a weak unit.

The secondary returns half of its 2009 starters, and this remains the weakest pass defense in the league by far.  WSU gave up 276 passing yards per game, and enemy passers completed 66.8% of their passes against them.

Look for an improved line to allow WSU to improve their numbers.  Expect 33-36 points and 450-475 total yards allowed per game.

Schedule: Washington State goes on the road for two of its non-conference games, and they will lose both games.  They open at Oklahoma State and play at SMU two weeks later.  A home game with Montana State is sandwiched in between, and it is a must-win game.  MSU is not a weak FCS team. 

We don’t see the Cougars breaking the losing steak in Pac-10 play.  They beat a winless Washington team in 2008, and that is their only conference victory in the last two years.  We believe it will be their only conference victory in three years.

*–The PiRate Ratings cannot be used to look forward past the next week of the college football season.  These ratings are good for just the current week, because the computer program uses more than game scores to determine the ratings.  Based on depth and personnel, some teams have regression factored into their rating due to predicted depth issues.  Other teams may have an advancement programmed into their rating due to certain personnel issues (star players recovering from injury, new system to learn, etc.)

Coming Tomorrow: The Big 12 almost ceased to exist this summer after losing Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.  Can the Cornhuskers conclude their tenure in the league with a title?

September 1, 2009

2009 Pacific 10 Conference Preview

2009 Pacific Ten Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

Quick, can you name the last team to win the automatic BCS Bowl bid from the Pac-10 prior to Southern Cal’s long reign at the top?  Would you believe, it was Washington State in the 2002 season?  That was Mike Price’s last year in Pullman.  The fad this year on the West Coast is to jump off the Trojan bandwagon.  The so-called experts say that this is the year Southern Cal will be displaced at the top.  We don’t proclaim to be experts, but we have our opinion as well.  Read on to find out what we think.  Oh, and all five of us agree with this opinion too.  Our choices for first and second place were unanimous.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, when UCLA hosts Southern Cal at the Rose Bowl, the Bruins may not get any home field advantage whatsoever.  However, if UCLA hosted Connecticut on a Saturday night at 7:30 PM Pacific Time just five days after Connecticut played at Rutgers, UCLA might get 7-10 points home field advantage. The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Pac-10 Conference Preseason PiRate Ratings

 
   

 

Prediction *

 
  Team

PiRate

Pac-10

Overall

  Southern Cal

125

9-0

11-1

  California

120

7-2

10-2

  Oregon State

109

5-4

8-4

  Arizona

109

6-3

8-4

  Stanford

109

5-4

6-6

  Oregon

108

5-4

7-5

  U C L A

104

4-5

6-6

  Arizona State

103

3-6

5-7

  Washington

99

1-8

2-10

  Washington State

84

0-9

2-10

   

 

 

 

 
 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 
 

on expected changes to rating during the year

 
             

 

Southern Cal: The Trojans own this league.  They have won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles.  However, the dominance hasn’t been all that dominating.  USC has actually lost five conference games in the last three years.

Many prognosticators think this is the year that another team finally ends the dominance and drops the Trojans out of first place.  After all, eight starters from the stellar defense are gone, and quarterback Mark Sanchez is the new Joe Namath/Brett Favre with the Jets.

Listen to us now, and believe us later: This Southern Cal team will not only make it eight wins in a row, they just might prove to be the best team in the nation by December.  We would pick USC to run the table and play at home in the National Championship Game, but they must make a September 12 road trip to the giant horseshoe to play Ohio State.  If that game were played in October, we would be confident that the Trojans would win.  In the second game of the season and first road trip, we think it’s too iffy to chalk that one as a win.  If the Trojans win that game, they could easily win the rest.  What would happen if USC, Oklahoma, and Florida were undefeated at the end of the season?  Of course, the Trojans did win a piece of the national title once before when they were the odd team out.  In our opinion, if there was an eight or 12-team playoff, USC might have won any or all of the last seven titles.

Let’s start at quarterback.  It’s impossible for a team to lose the top QB picked in the NFL draft and stay on an even keel, right?  Not right when it’s the men of Troy.  Understand this: USC had the number one recruiting classes for 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.  They are a perpetual all-star team.  It’s like Joe DiMaggio giving way to Mickey Mantle.  The Trojans actually have three Mantle’s at quarterback.  Aaron Corp was the starter coming out of spring practice, but he’s been slowed by a leg injury.  True freshman Matt Barkley will begin the season as the starter. 

Now, to tell you a little something about Barkley: he could be the very best quarterback in all of USC history!  We’ve studied this situation at length the last few days, and it’s apparent that Coach Pete Carroll was waiting for any excuse to elevate him to first team.  New quarterback coach Jeremy Bates came from the Denver Broncos.  Jay Cutler credited Bates for the success he’s enjoyed in the NFL.  Well folks, Bates thinks Barkley is already close to Cutler in talent and ability.  He convinced Carroll to make the change.  Barkley is a gunslinger who may throw more interceptions than Corp, but he will be the Brett Favre (in his prime) of the Pac-10.  Southern Cal will average 250-300 yards passing this year.  Former Arkansas starter and top recruit in the nation Mitch Mustain may only see action in the fourth quarter of 56-0 games.

Barkley has a future NFL star as his top receiver.  Damian Williams led the Trojans with 58 receptions and 869 yards in ’08.  New starter Ronald Johnson may make USC fans forget Patrick Turner.  The speedster will keep defenses honest, and if they concentrate of stopping Williams, they will be watching USC’s placekicking unit come out on the field for the extra point.  Johnson average 17.3 yards on his 33 catches last year (8 TDs), and he should easily top 50 this season.  Tight end Anthony McCoy will contend for the Mackey Award this year.  He provides a mammoth-size target at 6-5 and 255.

Now for even better news: USC has the real top running back unit in the country (Oklahoma might argue the point, but we say it’s USC).  Their fourth string tailback could start for half the BCS conference teams.  Joe McKnight has a tendency to drop the ball, but if he fixes that problem, he could actually become a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy.  He may not get enough touches to gain 1,000 yards, but that’s because Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable are just as talented.  The three backs should combine to rush for 2,250 or more yards this year.

To add to all these riches, Southern Cal’s offensive line is just plain scary.  There is no argument here: it is hands down the best OL in the nation, and no other team comes close.  Even with center Kristofer O’Dowd questionable for the first two weeks, the Trojans have stars-in-the-making to plug the hole.  When healthy, O’Dowd is the best center in college football and better than many starting centers in the NFL.  You can make that same statement about guard Jeff Byers.

We expect USC to score 35-45 points per game and average 450-500 total yards per game.

Okay, you say the defense is bound to take a major step backward with the top four tacklers from last season and all eight graduated starters picked in the NFL draft.  We’ll agree that USC won’t give up just nine points and 222 yards per game this year, but the drop-off may not be all that harsh.  Also, the Trojans will probably force more turnovers this year and convert them into points.

The strongest unit on this side of the ball is the secondary.  This is the third different unit that ranks number one in the nation.  In all the past in Troyland, there have been some fantastic defensive backfields.  The 1980 may have been the best ever with Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, and Jeff Fisher starting.  We believe the current starting secondary could prove to be even better.

Cornerback Shareece Wright has been given the best compliment he can receive.  The USC receivers say they cannot get open against him in practice.  Since Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald won’t be playing in the Pac-10, Wright should be able to shut down the opponents’ top receivers every week.  Safety Taylor Mays strikes fear in the brains of all those who think for a second they can catch a ball in the middle of the field without experiencing great punishment.  He’s a safety in a middle linebacker’s body.

The three all-star linebackers from last year leave the biggest hole, but the Trojans won’t fall much in this department.  In fact, this trio ranks in the top 10 nationally as a unit.  They will be smaller but quicker and should guarantee that the Trojan pass defense stays number one.  Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan will be household names by November.

Up front, the Trojans took another beating to graduation, but the new starters are capable of picking up where the graduates left off.  Defensive tackle Armond Armstead will miss the first half of the season, but if he returns to form, this unit will be tough at the end of the year.  End Everson Griffen could record double digit sacks.

You will see that the rest of the team previews are considerably smaller than USC’s preview.  We just don’t see another team that can displace the Trojans this year.  Sure, there are a lot of new players to plug the holes left by player graduation, but all the other teams in the league have question marks as well.  Those teams don’t have three dozen highly-rated recruits available to choose their new starters.  

Late Note:  Shareece Wright will miss the season due to academic ineligibility.

California: Those prognosticators who believe USC will fall from first in the Pac-10 believe Cal is the team that will move up.  We believe the Bears will be terrific this year and probably will win 10 regular season games, but we just don’t see them topping the Trojans.  Coach Jeff Tedford’s squad could conceivably due what Oregon State did last year, but the Bears have holes to fill this season.  Road games against Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford spell at least one additional conference loss and maybe two.

Cal’s passing game didn’t live up to Tedford’s standards last year, averaging just 193 yards and a very unCal-like 52.6% completions.  Starter Kevin Riley faced a heated competition this August from Brock Mansion, and if Riley doesn’t improve his accuracy, expect to see Mansion taking over.  Cal absolutely must improve upon the 6.1 yards per attempt to move forward.

What could make the passing situation worse is the lack of a star at receiver.  Nyan Boateng and Verran Tucker return after combining for 801 yards and eight touchdowns.  One of them must step up and become the next DeSean Jackson for Cal to reach its offensive potential.  Freshman tight end Spencer Ladner has loads of potential, but he won’t be the answer this year.

The Cal running game is second only to USC in the Pac-10.  Jahvid Best is favored to win the league rushing title for the second straight season (1,580 yds/8.1 Avg./15 TD), and Shane Vereen is capable of rushing for 1,000 yards if given enough carries. 

The Bear offensive line will open holes for the two star backs.  Cal is well-endowed at tackle with Mike Tepper and Mitchell Schwartz, but the inside isn’t quite as strong.

Cal will score 30-35 points per game and pick up 375-425 yards per game, but the standard deviation of their scores and yardage will be higher than USC’s.  It will allow the Bears to win 66-3 against weak teams, but they will lose some games 35-27 (USC won’t have that type of up and down performance).

Defensively, Cal is strongest up front and not too far behind in the secondary.  There’s a bigger question mark at linebacker than the question mark at USC.

The secondary returns all four 2008 starters.  Cornerbacks Syd’Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan combined for seven interceptions and 29 deflected passes, as Cal limited opponents to just 51.6% completions.

Up front, Cal returns all three DL starters from a year ago.  Tackle Tyson Alualu and end Cameron Jordan have all-Pac 10 potential after teaming for 22 tackles behind the line.

Three great linebackers have used up their eligibility.  Michael Mohamed is the only holdover.  Nobody on the roster can replace Zack Follett’s 23 tackles for loss (10 ½ QB Sacks).

The Bears will have days where their defense shuts down the opposing offense, much like they did against Oregon last year when they held the Ducks to 84 passing yards.  There will also be days when they give up 400+ yards, like they did against Arizona last year.  This team will be better than 2008, but not enough to move from second to first.

Oregon State: We were puzzled when the PiRate mathematical equation spat out the Beavers as the third best preseason team in the Pac-10 ratings.  We still don’t believe it.  OSU lost eight defensive starters, including its entire secondary.

The Beavers gave up 23.1 points and 312 yards per game last year.  After dropping the opening two games and giving up 81 points and 755 yards, OSU’s defense toughened up and gave up 154 total points and just 244 yards per game over the next nine games. 

Linebackers Keaton Kristrick, Keith Pankey, and Dwight Roberson will lead the new defense.  The trio recorded 186 tackles a year ago.  Kristrick finished with 14 tackles behind the line, and he’ll have to be a monster this year for OSU’s defense to stay competitive in the league.  

Stephen Paea is the sole returning starter up front.  He sacked QBs five times and trapped six runners behind the line last year, but he will see double teams more this season.

The secondary hasn’t been this raw this decade, and we expect the enemy pass numbers to rocket upward.  OSU gave up 181 yards at a 51.7% completion rate last year, and the 2009 numbers could move to 250 yards and 60% completions allowed.

The offense has some issues as well, but they have one major asset.  Running back Jacquizz Rodgers deserves to be on the Heisman Trophy watch list.  As a freshman, he rushed for 1,253 yards and 11 scores and caught 29 passes in 11 games.  He’s so multi-talented, he will line up and take the direct snap from the wildcat formation.  His rushing totals may stay the same, but his receiving totals are going to head north this year.

Rodgers will help quarterback Sean Canfield to more easily knock the rust off after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury.  In limited action, Canfield posted the best stats of his career (66.7% accuracy, 8.4 yds/attempt).  Last year’s principle starter, Lyle Moevao, suffered a rotator cuff injury and won’t be ready at the start of the season.  Freshman Ryan Katz will back up Canfield until then.

James Rodgers, brother of Jacquizz, takes over as the number one receiver this year.  He’ll see multiple looks running the ball off motion.

The offensive line lost three starters, and guard Greg Peat is the only all-conference caliber player in the blocking corps.

Coach Mike Riley always seems to get his Beavers to exceed expectations, but this team is going to regress some this year.  OSU was one win away from a Rose Bowl berth last year, but this season, they will be fortunate to go 5-4 in the league.  Their non-conference slate includes Portland State, UNLV, and Cincinnati.  Reser Stadium is a great homefield edge for the Beavers, and they should beat the Bearcats to start 3-0.  By then, Canfield should be back to normal, and he will take enough heat off Rodgers to lead State to their seventh bowl in the last eight seasons.

Arizona: Just when it looked like Coach Mike Stoops had reached the end of the line in Tucson, his Wildcats turned it around and took off.  Arizona finished 5-7 in 2007, leaving Stoops on the hot seat.  The Wildcats opened 2008 with a 70-0 pasting of Idaho and never looked back, winning eight games, including a Las Vegas Bowl win over Brigham Young.  The Wildcats lost some key personnel, but enough talent returns to earn another bowl bid.

Replacing career passing leader Willie Tuitama is the first order of business.  Entering the final week of the preseason, Stoops has yet to name a starter and indicated he would use a platoon to start the season.  This school has a long history of 2nd string quarterbacks assuming starting duties and going on to long tenures as the starter, so maybe Matt Scott and Nick Foles will want to be the backup for the Central Michigan opener.

The running game is solid with the return of 1,153 yard rusher Nic Grigsby (13 TD) and backup Keola Antolin (525 yds/10 TD).  ‘Zona averaged 158 rushing yards per game last year, and we expect an improvement to 180 or more yards per game this year, as Stoops emphasizes the run this year.

When UA throws the ball, two returning starters will be running the routes.  Delashaun Dean and Terrell Turner teamed for 96 receptions and 1,173 yards.  The featured receiver this year could be tight end Rob Gronkowski.  He hauled in 47 passes for 672 yards and 10 scores last year, and he could top 70 receptions this year.  In two years, he will be a hot commodity in the NFL draft, possibly a 1st round pick.

The offensive line must replace both tackles and a guard, and the new starters are not as talented.  There would be an increase in sacks, but the ‘Cats won’t throw the ball as often.

The defense improved as much as the offense last year, and thanks to an excellent front four that returns all of its starters, chances are the 2009 edition will be just as competent.  Tackle Earl Mitchell and end Brooks Reed star in the trenches.  Reed led with eight sacks.

The second line of defense lost two of its three starters including team-leading tackler Ronnie Palmer.  The two new starters saw a lot of action, so there shouldn’t be too much drop-off.

The secondary welcomes back two starters with cornerback Devin Ross leading the way.  He broke up 13 passes and picked off three last year.

The schedule includes a non-conference game at Iowa.  That should be a loss.  Road games against Oregon State, Cal, and Southern Cal will keep the Wildcats from competing for second place with Cal and USC, but they can easily compete with the other seven teams in the league.

Stanford:  Here’s where we agree with the PiRate formula.  Stanford could be the sleeper in the Pac-10 this year.  By sleeper, we are talking about a sleeper contender for an upper division finish in the league and bowl bid.  The Cardinal started 4-3 and appeared to have two winnable games left to play, but a disheartening loss to UCLA put an end to those hopes.

This year, we expect Stanford to take the next step forward and get that important sixth win.  Because the Cardinal must play at Wake Forest and host Notre Dame out of conference, they will have to post a winning conference record to become bowl eligible.

Here’s why we believe Stanford will get it done this year: they have their next great quarterback in the fold.  Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is going to be something special.  The son of former West Virginia star QB and NFL journeyman Oliver Luck, he’s beaten out 2008 starter Tavita Pritchard and will post much better numbers than Pritchard’s 2008 stats.  Stanford tallied just 152 passing yards per game last year, but that number will be easily surpassed this year.  Luck should top 2,500 yards through the air.

The top three receivers from last year are back, but one of them, tight end Coby Fleener, will lose his starting job to Jim Dray.  Dray is fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him on the sideling for much of the last 1 ½ seasons.  This unit will make it easier for Luck to shine in 2009. 

Stanford will not be one dimensional this year.  They averaged 200 rushing yards per game last year, and with Toby Gerhart returning (1,136 yds/15 TD), the Cardinal will have explosive balance.

The offensive line returns three starters and a couple of tested backups, so they will give Luck and Gerhart what they need to succeed.  Stanford should top 400 yards and 28 points per game this year.  The last time the Cardinal scored more than 28 points and produced more than 400 yards per game, they finished 9-3 and missed out on the Rose Bowl by one game.

How much the Cardinal improve this year depends on the progress of the defense.  SU gave up a generous 27.4 points and 380 yards per game last year.  With eight starters returning, we believe there will be some improvement on this side.

Each unit has potential all-conference players.  Stanford dumped enemy QBs 34 times last year, and end Tom Keiser led with six even though he wasn’t a starter.  As a sophomore, he could approach double digit dumps.

Clinton Snyder leads the second line of defense after recording 6 ½ tackles for loss last year.  Middle linebacker Nick Macaluso returns to the starting lineup after missing half the season with an injury, so SU should be okay here.

Three starters return to the secondary, and with an excellent pass rush coming up front, these guys should improve a great deal this year.  Free safety Bo McNally is the star of this unit, and he led the team with 76 tackles and four interceptions a year ago.

It looks like Stanford has all the horses needed to move into the upper half of the league standings.  Is the hometown Emerald Bowl in their near future?

Oregon: The biggest change in Eugene this year is on the sidelines.  Mike Bellotti unexpectedly stepped down earlier this year just before the start of spring practice.  For the first time in 15 seasons, the Ducks will have a new coach.  Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator the last two seasons, and he moves up to assume control.  Kelly’s offenses proved to be difficult to slow down and impossible to stop.

Dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Masoli returns after passing for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns against just five interceptions and rushing for 718 yards and 10 scores.  Backup Justin Roper transferred to FCS power Montana.

Two Ducks topped 1,000 yards rushing last year.  One returns.  LeGarrette Blount runs the ball like Eddie George.  Last year, he gained 1,002 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.  He should get 20 carries per game this year, and he could gain 1,500 yards if he stays healthy.

The Ducks’ passing numbers may decline some early, as there are some issues in the receiving unit.  Projected starter Chris Harper came to Oregon to play quarterback, but he realized that wasn’t going to happen.  He transferred to Kansas State.  Aaron Pflugrad, who was expected to contribute as a key reserve or possibly start, transferred to Arizona State.  Kelly fired his father as receiver’s coach after assuming control of the program.  Tight end Ed Dickson and wide out Jeff Maehl are not going to be confused for Anthony McCoy and Damian Williams.  Former USC receiver Jamere Holland must prove he is as good as advertised, or the Ducks are going to have trouble keeping defenses from stacking up to stop the run.

The offensive line was decimated by graduation, and there’s no way the new starters will be able to match the effort of the old.  Instead of being one of the best in the nation, they will be average.  Look for the yards per rush to drop by at least a yard and the sacks to balloon from 20 to the mid 20’s.

The defense wasn’t spectacular last year, giving up 28.2 points and 390 yards per game, but those number may look good compared to what they will give up this year.  The defensive line gave up just 119 rushing yards per game and provided a superb pass rush, but three of the four starters have moved on.  At least the starter returning is a great one.  Will Tukuafu led the team with 7 ½ sacks and added 10 other tackles for loss.

Linebacker Spencer Paysinger is a complete player, but he is not as talented as the best linebackers in the league (like Mohamed at Cal).  You can say the same thing about Casey Matthews.  This duo may have trouble matching last year’s stats because the front four won’t be as adept at keeping blockers away from them.

The secondary returns T. J. Ward, who is as good as any defensive back in the league.  Ward led the Ducks with 101 tackles and deflected eight passes.  The rest of the secondary is in sort of a shambles.  Two star players and second round draft picks will be replaced by much weaker and less experienced players.

Oregon opens the season with a Thursday night game at Boise State.  They host Purdue and Utah the next two weeks before conference play begins.  They should be 2-1, but if they are 1-2, or worse, 0-3, it’s going to be a long year in Eugene.  We think OU will get off to that 2-1 start and go on to post a winning season and bowl bid.  They won’t compete for the league title. 

U C L A: Year two in Westwood promises to be a return to bowl eligibility for the Bruins.  16 starters return from a team that won four games, and two more wins are certainly possible this year.

The offense didn’t get the job done last year.  The offensive line couldn’t keep pass rushers out of the backfield, and Bruin quarterbacks were introduced to the ground 35 times.  The 220 yards lost brought the rushing average down to 83 yards per game (using NFL rules, the Bruins rushed for 101 yards on 29 attempts, which wasn’t great either).

Last year’s starting quarterback, Kevin Craft, is now the third string passer.  Freshman Kevin Prince won the job in the spring, and true freshman Richard Brehut appears to be number two on the depth chart.  With Norm Chow and Coach Rick Neuheisel’s great knowledge of quarterback talent, it’s obvious that the passing game will be taking a step forward, even if they give up an experienced senior for an untested redshirt freshman.

Two starting wide receivers are back, and they should post better numbers this year.  Taylor Embree and Terrence Austin caught a combined 93 passes.  Tight end Ryan Moya should see more balls thrown his way this year after hauling in 38 passes a year ago.

The running game can only improve this year.  Derrick Coleman and Christian Ramirez should share the load, and we expect them to combine for 800-1,000 yards this year.  Fullback Shane Moline can convert on short yardage plays, and he is a rather strong lead blocker.

The offensive line should be much improved this year with four starters returning.  Guard Nick Ekbatani is going to miss a month or more with a sprained knee ligament. 

UCLA gave up 29 points per game last year, but not all of that can be laid at the 22 feet on the stop side.  The Bruins’ offense gave the ball away too many times, allowing opponents to enjoy excellent field position.  The defense gave up just 337 yards per game, and if they just repeat that amount, they should improve their points allowed per game by as many as five to seven points.

The true superstar of this side is cornerback Alterraun Verner.  He deflected a national best 18 passes and intercepted two others.  Middle linebacker Reggie Carter returns after leading the Bruins with 83 tackles.

Up front, end Korey Bosworth could join Brian Price on the all-Pac 10 team.  Bosworth registered 7 ½ sacks and five deflected passes, while Price had 4 ½ sacks and 14 total tackles behind the line.

An added weapon is kicker Kai Forbath, who is in range whenever the Bruins cross the opponent’s 40 yard line.

UCLA’s schedule is interesting.  Out of the conference, they host San Diego State and Kansas State, and they play at Tennessee.  All three teams have new coaches this year and may or may not be much better than last season.  The Bruin record could be 3-0, 2-1, 1-2, or 0-3, depending on the progress of the new coaches.  We think it will be 2-1.  In league play, the USC and Cal games are the only ones that appear out of reach.  The Bruins have a decent shot at going 5-2 in the other seven, but we think they will flop in one of those winnable games.  4-5 in the conference and 6-6 overall look like the best fit.

Arizona State:  After winning 10 games and challenging for a Rose Bowl berth in 2007, Coach Dennis Erickson’s Sun Devils won only half as many games last year.  We don’t think he will right the ship this year due to a tough schedule and a major drop-off at quarterback.

Rudy Carpenter started all four seasons in Tempe, and he departed as the number two all-time passer at ASU (as a frosh, he replaced the career leader, Andrew Walter).  Danny Sullivan inherits the job, but his career completion percentage is just 46%, albeit in limited action. 

If ASU had a strong running game, Sullivan might be able to enjoy some success with play-action passes and more one-on-one situations.  Unfortunately, the running game is a liability once again.  The Sun Devils rushed for just 89 yards per game in 2008, and improvement should be nominal this season.

The returning receivers won’t be as productive with the new QB, and to make matters worse, the top pass catcher from last year has graduated.  Michael Jones led with 61 passes, and the leading returnee, Chris McGaha, caught just 35.  Kyle Williams could be a game-breaker.  He caught only 19 passes last year, but he averaged 19.2 yards per reception and scored four times.

The offensive line returns four starters, so at least the new skill players might get a fraction of a second additional blocking time.  This is the one strength of the offense.

The defense will have to carry the load if ASU returns to the plus side of .500.  The front seven returns four starters who provided excellent play.  End Dexter Davis is the league’s leading returning sack master, having recorded 11 last year.  Tackle Lawrence Guy came up with two sacks and eight other tackles behind the line.  Linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon proved to be tough at stopping the run and the pass, teaming for 161 tackles, 15 ½ tackles behind the line, seven interceptions, and nine deflected passes.

The secondary lost its best player, Troy Nolan, to the NFL, but two players return who started last year.  Cornerback Omar Bolden could become a star.

Arizona State must make the return visit to play Georgia in Athens this year, and even with the loss of Matthew Stafford, the Bulldogs will hand it to the Sun Devils.  ASU will win the other non-conference games at home with Idaho State and Louisiana-Monroe.  They should be able to pick up a conference road win at Washington State and a home game with Washington.  Home games with Southern Cal and Cal will not go so well.  That leaves home games with Arizona and Oregon State and a road game with Stanford.  ASU must win two of these three games, and we see them coming up a game short of bowl eligibility.

Washington: There’s nowhere to go but up for Washington after finishing 2008 at 0-12.  It cost Tyrone Willingham his job, as he could only muster a four season record of 11-37.  New coach Steve Sarkisian comes from Southern Cal where the Trojans lost just nine games in his seven years as an offensive assistant, offensive coordinator, and assistant head coach.  His first year in Seattle could see his forces lose more than nine games in just three months.

Quarterback Jake Locker missed eight games with a broken thumb, and his replacement, Ronnie Fouch completed just 45% of his passes with a 4/13 TD/INT ratio.  Locker’s ability to run out of the spread made him a formidable dual threat, but Sarkisian’s style of play is not the best style for him.  He will take his lumps trying to set up in the pocket and pass like Matt Leinart or Mark Sanchez, because the offensive line in no way resembles the lines he saw in Trojanville.  Guard Ben Ossai is a stud, and tackle Cody Habben is better than average, but the rest of the unit would be third or fourth string at USC.

The running game could be better, but if Locker doesn’t get his share of rushes, the stats may not show it.  If none of the backs proves to be worthy of drawing away defensive attention from Locker, it’s going to be another very long season at Husky Stadium.

Locker has a couple of fine receivers holding over, and with enough protection, he can top 200 passing yards a game.  D’Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse, and backup Devin Aguilar combined for 100 receptions and 1,239 yards.  Those receptions only led to three touchdowns.

Look for a much improved defense in Seattle, as 10 starters return to the fold.  The one new starter saw significant action last year, so every facet of the defense should be better.  Linebacker Mason Foster led the stop troops with 105 tackles including 12 for loss.  End Daniel Te’O-Nesheim recorded eight QB sacks and cornerback Quinton Richardson batted away seven passes and picked off one pass. 

The Huskies gave up 38.6 points and 452 yards per game last year, so they have a long way to go to return to respectability.  They could shave a touchdown and 50 yards off those stats and still lose double digit games.  The schedule gives them just one chance to win out of conference.  UW hosts LSU to open the season and plays at Notre Dame in October.  A home game with Idaho is the closest thing to a sure win.  In league play, they have a score to settle with their rival in the Apple Cup.  We think they will break their by then 17-game conference losing streak with a win. 

Washington State: Is it possible for a team that finished 1-8 in the conference and 2-11 overall to regress?  When that team averaged just 12.7 points per game and gave up 43.8 points per game, that team can improve statistically by quite a bit and still win just one or two games.

Last year, Washington State gave up the most points ever in a single season.  They averaged just 241 total yards per game and gave up 443.  Throw out the 48-9 win over Portland State, and those numbers become 208 yards gained and 460 yards allowed and an average score of 10-47!

Second year coach Paul Wulff doesn’t have a lot of talent to work with as the season begins, as numerous players on both sides of the ball have suffered injuries in practice.  It doesn’t bode well for any real improvement.

Quarterback Kevin Lopina threw 11 interceptions last year in 153 pass attempts.  That’s one interception every 14 passes.  How many touchdown passes did he complete?  Zero!  He suffered through two separate injuries, and he is capable of much more when healthy.  Quarterback option number two, Marshall Lobbesteal started until being lost for the season with an ACL injury.  He will see playing time this year as well.

The running back position appeared to be set as Cal transfer James Montgomery looked primed to take over the starting job.  However, he’s one of the aforementioned injured players, and he may not be ready to go in the season opener against Stanford.  Last year’s starter Dwight Tardy has been successful running out of the Cougar backfield in the past, but he’s not been the same since suffering a torn ACL two years ago.

More injury troubles abound at receiver where leading returning wide out Jeshua Anderson is also questionable for the first game.  This unit is considerably weaker without Brandon Gibson, who led the Cougars with 57 receptions last year.  True freshman Gino Simone may contribute immediately.

The offensive line was just plain offensive last year, surrendering 43 sacks and paving the way for a rushing average of 2.7 yards.  Four starters return to this unit, so there should be some improvement.  Center Kenny Alfred earned 3rd Team All-Pac 10 honors last year, and he could move to 2nd Team All-Pac 10 this year.

Only five starters return to the defense, and this unit could actually be a tad weaker this year, even after surrendering 58 or more points six times last year!  The secondary would have been much better than last year, but the two starting cornerbacks will not be around.  Devin Giles was dismissed and Romeo Pellum decided to transfer.  Brandon Jones ascended to the starting lineup, and he’s another one of the starters battling injuries.

The defensive line returns just one starter, and Coach Wulff will use true freshman Travis Long if not as a starter as a top reserve. 

At linebacker, Andy Mattingly has the potential to contend for all-league honors.  Freshmen will get a long look here as well.

The schedule is not kind.  The Cougars begin the season at home with Stanford, and they should immediately occupy 10th place in the league.  A game with Hawaii in Seattle should give them a decent shot at evening the record, and a home game with SMU could even allow WSU to have a winning record for one week.  Then, the Cougars visit USC in a game where they could lose by 70 points if the Trojans rub it in.  Losses should begin to pile up, and WSU should be 0-8 in the conference when they travel to Seattle for the Apple Cup game.  This year, we expect Washington to win that one, so Washington State should wear the collar in the Pac-10.

Next up: The Big 12 featured some of the most exciting offensive performances in the nation and produced the Heisman Trophy winner.  What will the South Division do for an encore, and will a North Division team be good enough this year to be the fifth best overall team in the league?

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