The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 25, 2011

2011 Pac-12 Conference Preview

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Preview

 

Larry Scott didn’t start the fire, but he did ignite it.  After Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten, Scott tried to lure Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado to form the first 16-team super-conference.  Sure, the Western Athletic Conference tried a 16-team setup in the 1990’s but the winner did not receive a bid to a major bowl.

 

Although Scott had to settle for Colorado and Utah, he fired the first shot toward what could become four major conferences of 16 teams.  It isn’t far beyond the imagination to see a four-team playoff down the road with a “plus one” format.

 

The strength of the league is in the North Division this year.  The South is faced with the strong possibility of sending its number two team to the first Pac-12 Championship Game, since Southern Cal is still on probation and prohibited from appearing in post-season games.

 

NORTH DIVISION

Stanford

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford has a reputation for producing great quarterbacks over the decades.  Four past passers are in the College Football Hall of Fame—Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, and John Elway.  Add Trent Edwards, Steve Stentstrom, Turk Schonert, and others.  Could the current quarterback actually be the best of the bunch?  If you believe A-Rod is better than Gehrig and Ruth or Pujols is better than Musial, then maybe you can say the same about Andrew Luck.

 

Luck is the best college quarterback in 2011, and he is the prohibitive favorite to cart off the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and most importantly, the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.  A joke is already going around NFL circles that one or more teams may deliberately “sandbag” this year in an attempt to post the worst record and take the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

 

Luck completed almost 71% of his passes last year for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns.  He averaged almost nine yards per attempt, which is almost unstoppable.  As a runner, he added over 500 yards when sacks are factored out.  As long as he stays 100% healthy, he is the player you want to watch every week—the modern day Babe Ruth of college football.

 

Receivers

Luck lost his top two targets from 2010, but we do not believe it will greatly affect his production.  Great QBs can take average receivers and make them look like stars; just ask Indianapolis Colts fans. 

 

Unlike almost every other college team, Stanford actively includes two tight ends for a considerable amount of playing time.  It allows the Cardinal to get extra blocking for the running game, and it makes it very difficult on diminutive safeties trying to stop 250-pound receivers.

 

The Cardinal have three excellent tight ends capable of making a big play.  Coby Fleener caught 28 passes and averaged 15.5 yards per catch with seven touchdowns last year; he became a star in the Orange Bowl with three touchdown receptions.  Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will also see significant amounts of playing time.

 

Stanford’s new wideouts will do just fine and will not be a liability.  Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu should average about 14-18 yards per catch and combine for about 90-110 receptions.  There is ample depth here with Jemari Roberts, Jamaal-Rashad Patterson, and Drew Terrell.  Terrell is a sleeper; he could emerge as a star.

 

Running Backs

What makes the offense so unstoppable is the running game.  Defenses cannot forget it is there, because the Cardinal can beat you on the ground.  Stepfan Taylor returns after gaining 1,137 yards with 15 touchdowns.  Taylor is also a big weapon in the passing game, and he grabbed 28 passes.  Defenses forget him on a running fake, but Luck is great at faking to him and then passing to him when the defense covers the downfield receivers.

 

Behind Taylor are three other competent backs that will receive playing time.  Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney, and Usua Amanam teamed for 789 yards and seven scores in 2010.  This unit is loaded.

 

Stanford uses a fullback, but he is a blocker 99% of the time.  Last year’s “third guard,” Owen Marecic, was so good, he was a fourth round draft pick.  He also played full-time at linebacker, frequently playing 90-100 scrimmage plays in a game.  The new Marecic will be Ryan Hewitt, but he will only play on this side of the ball.

 

Offensive Line

The line must replace three excellent players from last year, including 1st Team All-American Chase Beeler at center.  Khalil Wilkes and Sam Schwartzstein are battling neck and neck to replace him.

 

David DeCastro is entrenched at one guard spot after earning 1st Team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.  Kevin Danser will start on the other side.  At tackle, Jonathan Martin earned 1st Team All-Pac-10 accolades last year.  Tyler Mabry and Cameron Fleming are in a heated battle for the other tackle position. 

 

While not as talented overall as last year, this unit will still be an asset.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Stanford gave up just 56 points in their final six games last year, and the defensive line really toughened up down the stretch.  They allowed just 89.7 yards rushing 276.8 total yards per game in that stretch.

 

New head coach David Shaw appointed defensive back coach Derek Mason and former San Francisco 49er defensive coach Jason Tarver as co-defensive coordinators.  With the change comes a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense.

 

Terrence Stephens will start at the nose.  At 290 pounds, he is a little on the light side for a two-gap defender.  Ben Gardner and Matthew Masifilo start at the end positions.  This unit is the weakest link on the team, and it will be here where Stanford either wins or loses the Pac-12 title.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return from last year, and of course, there will be an extra linebacker in the alignment this year.  Shayne Skov will start at one inside position, while Chase Thomas will start at an outside position.  They led the Cardinal with 84 and 70 tackles respectively.  Both players co-led the team with 7 ½ sacks, and they combined for 22 tackles behind the line.  They also showed prowess for stopping passes, combining for nine passes defended.

 

Trent Murphy and Max Bergen will be the new starters on this unit.  Bergen made 21 tackles in limited playing time last year.  Blake Lueders could crack the starting lineup this year.  Keep an eye on Alex Debniak.

 

Secondary

Three starters return to this unit, and it should be in good shape.  Safety Delano Howell is the stud of this unit.  He led the Cardinal with five interceptions and 10 passes defended.  Michael Thomas returns to the other safety spot after finishing third on the team with 61 tackles.

 

At cornerback, Johnson Bademosi started nine times last year, while Barry Browning takes over for Richard Sherman, another NFL draft choice.

 

OTHER

Stanford lost a lot of talent via graduation, but the biggest loss will be coach Jim Harbaugh, who graduated to the 49ers.  Shaw has never been a head coach, but we believe he has enough talent to learn on the job without losing a game due to inexperience.

 

The Cardinal were one of four teams to average better than 40 points per game and give up less than 20 points per game (Oregon, Boise St., and TCU were the others).  In the 21st Century, any team that can pull off this feat is capable of contending for a national title.  We believe Stanford’s offense could be just strong enough to control the ball and the clock and allow the defense to mature without giving up 25 points per game.  We would not be surprised if Stanford repeats their averages of last year.

 

SUMMARY

Stanford has a dream schedule for a Pac-12 team.  They open the season with area rival San Jose State and then go on the road to Duke.  They should be 2-0 before opening conference play on the road at a rebuilding Arizona.  They then get a week off before hosting UCLA and Colorado.  A road game with Washington State follows, before Washington, without Jake Locker, comes to Palo Alto.  Stanford should be 7-0 when they head to the Coliseum to face Southern Cal in the first of a tough closing schedule.  By then, the defense should be up to snuff.  Following USC, Stanford has a trap game with Oregon State in Corvallis.  Then, on November 12 is the big rematch with Oregon, and this time it is at Stanford Stadium.  Arch-rival Cal comes in the following week, and then the Cardinal close out at home with Notre Dame, in what could be a battle of 11-0 teams.

 

Stanford has not run the table with a bowl win since 1940 when they became the first college team to use the modern T-Formation.  Could it happen again?  We believe it could, but chances are the defense will stumble at least one time.  The Pac-12 does not get its due in the eastern half of the country, but there is a lot of talent spread throughout the teams, and upsets are more prevalent here than in any of the Big Six conferences.

 

Oregon

Oregon is another of the teams that faced off-the-field issues during the summer.  The football program made several thousand dollars in payments to a recruiting service in Texas for what appeared to look like a third grade art project given in return, as well as the delivery of multiple key recruits out of the Lone Star State.  Running back Lache Seastrunk left UO over the controversy.  The NCAA is investigating.

 

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Darron Thomas made fans forget Jeremiah Masoli.  Thomas made the Ducks fly last year.  He passed for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushed for more than 550 yards (sacks not included).  He can only hope for a repeat as a 2nd Team All-Pac-12 choice, but he is the best quarterback in the league after the new “franchise” down the road.

 

Receivers

Like Mr. Luck, Thomas loses his top two targets from a year ago.  Jeff Maehl and D. J. Davis teamed for 119 receptions and 15 touchdowns, but their replacements will be quicker and more elusive this season.

 

One of those speedy guys is not quite 100% as of this writing.  Josh Huff has the talent and potential to play on Sundays.  He is recuperating from an ankle injury.  Rahsaan Vaughn will fill in for him until he is ready.  Justin Hoffman will see significant time and will use his size and speed to make big plays.  Lavasier Tuinei is more of a possession receiver, and he is the leading returning pass-catcher with 36 receptions. 

 

Tight end David Paulson returns after catching 24 passes and showing some ability to run to daylight.  He earned 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors last year.

 

Running Backs

Oregon’s Heisman Trophy candidate is LaMichael James.  James led the league with 1,731 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.  If Oregon ran the ball 70% of the time (instead of 61%), James might be a serious candidate to top 2,000 yards on the ground.  James also caught 17 passes, with three going for touchdowns.

 

Slot back Kenjon Barner should change his name to “Burner.”  The track sprinter is a hybrid running back/receiver.  He rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns (6.1 yds/rush) and caught 13 passes with two more scores.

 

This dynamic duo plus the running ability of Thomas gives the Ducks the best running game in the league and one of the best in the nation—the best of the non-triple option teams.

 

Offensive Line

It will be hard to replace the three graduated stars from this unit, but the Ducks could still have the best blocking corps in the Pac-12.  Carson York is a returning 1st Team All-Pac-12 at guard.  Ryan Clanton will be the new starter at the other guard spot.  Mark Asper and Darrion Weems will start at tackle, while the center position is still a two-man race between Hroniss Grasu and Karrington Armstrong.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Here is the first question mark in 2011.  Three starters must be replaced.  End Terrell Turner returns after recording just 32 tackles and 2 ½ sacks.  At the other end spot, Dion Jordan saw limited action in 2010, making 33 tackles and two sacks.  The two new tackles will be Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, who combined for 27 tackles.  The defensive line was exposed by Auburn in the Championship Game, but the Ducks gave up only 117.5 rushing yards per game in the regular season.  Expect that number to jump by about 20 to 25 yards this year.

 

Linebackers

This is the second and even bigger question mark.  The Ducks will be without their top two linebackers from last year.  Casey Matthews led in tackles and played both the run and pass better than most.  Spencer Paysinger was almost as talented.

 

Josh Kaddu is the lone holdover.  He was the weakest of the three starters last year and is not a candidate to become an all-conference player.  Dewitt Stuckey and Michael Clay will be the two new starters.  Clay saw as much time as Kaddu and made 42 tackles.

 

Secondary

This was to be the best defensive backfield in the league, but it is not now.  The front seven may not provide a decent pass rush, diminishing the secondary’s effectiveness.  The bigger factor in the decline is the suspension of one of its key components; cornerback Cliff Harris is out indefinitely after running afoul of the law, and Oregon’s defense begins to show a couple of holes and enough vulnerability to be exploited by quality teams (like LSU, USC, and Stanford) with these factors.  Harris was the premier cover corner in the nation last year.  He intercepted six passes and had an unbelievable 23 passed defended.  He is not replaceable.  He also led the nation with four punts returned for a touchdown, so his loss is worth about as much as Stanford losing Luck.

 

Anthony Gildon will start at one corner after seeing limited action last year.  Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett make a decent pair of safeties, but without Harris, this secondary will be lit up against quality passers.

 

OTHER

It is hard to predict what the investigatory cloud hanging over the program might do for team morale.  Oregon figured to be a top contender for the National Championship Game following their narrow loss to Auburn last year.  However, the cloud hanging over is definitely a black one.  It could eventually cost Coach Chip Kelly his job.  Other players could be implicated as the season progresses.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule is a bit more difficult this season, and we cannot see the Ducks running the table in the regular season.  An opener with LSU at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys’ Stadium in Arlington could be interesting if only for the fact that both teams have off-the-field issues.  The Ducks could get lucky if more than one key opponent is unable to play.  Oregon has to play at Stanford, and they host Southern Cal.  We believe at least one of those teams will get them this year.

 

Oregon State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

In a league with multiple NFL quarterback prospects, Ryan Katz gets overlooked.  Katz might be a contender for all-conference designation in other leagues, but in the Pac-12, he does not even challenge for third team.

 

Katz completed 60% of his passes for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.  He should improve upon those numbers in his second season as a starter. 

 

Backup Cody Vaz has potential, but he is nursing a bad back and will miss the start of the season.

 

Receivers

Katz’s top three receivers (Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop, and tight end Joe Halahuni) are back for more after teaming for 107 catches and 12 touchdowns.  However, the sensation of the August practices has been a true freshman.  Brandin Cooks was challenging for a starting bid until he injured his ankle.  When he is fully recovered, look for him to contribute immediately.

 

James Rodgers caught only 16 passes last year in limited action, as he missed most of the season with knee injuries.  He has undergone two surgeries earlier this year, so he may not be ready to play.  He was a star in 2009 when he was last healthy.  Redshirt freshman Obum Gwachman could start in Rodgers place.  This unit will allow Katz to surpass his stats of last year.

 

Halahuni had shoulder surgery earlier this season, and he will miss all of September.  Backup tight ends Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett face one game suspensions that will be staggered.  Tight end will be a concern in the early part of the season.

 

Running Backs

“The Quizz” is gone.  Jacquizz Rodgers left early and was a fifth round NFL Draft choice.  There will be a drop in talent and production here this year, as Coach Mike Riley uses the committee approach to replace him.

 

True freshman Malcolm Agnew may be the surprise opening day starter for OSU.  Terron Ward and Ryan McCants are contending with Agnew, but all three should see ample playing time. 

 

Offensive Line

Four of the five positions are set in stone.  The four holdovers from last year are center Grant Johnson, guard Burke Ellis, and tackles Michael Philipp and Mike Remmers.  Philipp and Remmers have the potential to become all-conference blockers.  Joshua Andrews was set to start at the vacant guard slot, but he suffered a concussion in practice and could be out for the opener.  Grant Enger had been moved to tight end but was moved back to guard and may start. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Injuries and academics are causing Riley some headaches this pre-season.  Both of his projected starting tackles will not be available for the opening of the season.  Dominic Glover, who recorded 43 tackles with 7 ½ for loss, is not academically eligible, and Riley is not sure when he will be available.  Kevin Frahm injured his meniscus and could be out four weeks. 

 

Redshirt freshman Scott Crichton will start at one end, while Taylor Henry should start at the other spot.  Henry started four games last year.  Rusty Fernando will become the designated pass rusher and come in on passing downs.

 

Manu Tuivailala should start at one of the tackle positions, with the other one still up for grabs as of this writing.  The Beavers will struggle here for the first month of the season.

 

Linebackers

The trio in this unit better overachieve, or else OSU’s defense will give up an increase in points per game for the fifth year in a row.

 

Rueben Robinson returns to the middle linebacker spot after registering 35 tackles in seven starts.  Cameron Collins started twice and saw considerable action in the other games.  He made 39 tackles.  Michael Doctor played in every game as a reserve and registered 11 tackles.  This group is not a top trio, but it is the best unit on this side of the ball.

 

Secondary

Once again, here is a unit that has been hit with injuries.  Top cornerback Brandon Hardin suffered a shoulder injury that required surgical repair.  He is out until October.  Two reserves are out for the season.

 

Safety Lance Mitchell finished third with 74 tackles last year.  He intercepted two passes and knocked away three others.  Anthony Watkins will start at the other safety position.  He got in on 27 tackles as a key reserve last year.  Ryan Murphy should see plenty of playing time.

 

Jordan Poyer figures to start at one cornerback position.  As a reserve in 2010, he had six passes defended.  Rashaad Reynolds will replace Hardin at the other corner.  He made 14 tackles and had no passes defended last year.

 

OTHER

The Beavers have seen their points allowed increase from 22.2 to 22.6 to 23.1 to 25.0 to 26.8 in the last five seasons.  The possibility of extending that negative streak to six is very high.  OSU could give up more than 28 points per game this season with all their injury troubles and a tough schedule against high-scoring opponents.

 

SUMMARY

The Beavers took a step backward last season, finishing with seven losses for the first time in over a decade.  This program has been on a small decline since 2006. 

 

Oregon State was once one of the weakest programs in major college football.  They went close to three decades without a winning season.  There was a quick transition from winning seasons in the 1960’s to losing seasons for the next 30 years.  Could the Beavers be on the cusp of repeating history?  We don’t know the answer, but we are a little pessimistic about 2011.

 

Katz is going to have to improve to a level similar to Thomas at Oregon if the Beavers are to score enough points to win most games.

 

The schedule gives them one cupcake—the opener with Sacramento State.  Conference games at home against UCLA, Arizona, and Washington are winnable, and road games with Cal and Washington State are winnable.  The Beavers must win all five of these games to become bowl eligible, and we cannot see this happening.

 

Washington

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jake Locker had his critics.  He threw too many off-target passes; he held onto the ball too long and took a lot of sacks; he ran the ball when he could have passed it, etc.

 

A quarterback at Southern Mississippi in the late 1980’s had many of the same criticisms bestowed on him.  His name was Favre.  Locker is Favre redux, and the Huskies will quickly realize how much he is missed.  Locker completed just 55.4% of his passes, for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final year at UW.  He added over 500 rushing yards (sacks removed) and six touchdowns. 

 

Keith Price takes over after completing 19 of 37 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.  He has talent and potential, but he will not duplicate Locker’s performance.

 

Receivers

Coach Steve Sarkisian welcomes back two stars on this side of the ball.  One of them is wideout Jermaine Kearse.  Kearse hauled in 63 passes for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. 

 

Devin Aguilar and Kevin Smith will supplement Kearse.  Aguilar caught 28 balls and averaged 12.6 yards per catch. 

 

The Huskies have two young, but inexperienced, quality tight ends; Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the top incoming recruit and should play right away, while redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson will see significant playing time.

 

Running Backs

The other star on this offense is Chris Polk.  As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns, and he nabbed 22 passes for 180 yards.  Polk recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss the start of the season.  Jesse Callier will replace him.  Callier rushed for 400+ yards and actually averaged a little more per rush than Polk.  Fullback Jonathan Amosa will open holes for Polk and Callier.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to the blocking corps.  Center Drew Schaffer, guard Coline Porter, and Tackle Senio Kelemente combined for 36 starts with Kelemente earning some all-conference consideration.

 

Erik Kohler should start at the vacant tackle position, while redshirt freshman Colin Tanigawa will take the vacant guard position.  Overall, this is a fair unit. 

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Huskies gave up more rushing yards last year than the year before, but four tough opponents accounted for most of that deterioration. 

 

The Huskies have depth here.  All four starters return from last year, but one or two may be supplanted by others.  Alameda Ta’Amu is the big man in the trenches.  The 6-3, 330-pound tackle plugs multiple gaps.  True freshman Danny Shelton could start opposite him.  Hau’oli Jamora and Everette Thompson should start at end, with Josh Shirley serving as a designated pass rusher.  Providing depth in the line are Sione Potoa’e and Talia Crichton.  This unit will perform better in 2011.

 

Linebackers

Here is Sarkisian’s headache, and the reason the defense may not improve overall.  Middle linebacker Cort Dennison is a good defender, having made 93 tackles with 8 ½ behind the line and defending five passes.  John Timu and Princeton Fuimaono are untested.  Garret Gilliland is available here as well.  This is the weakest trio in the Pac-12, and replacing Mason Foster and his league-leading 161 tackles will be impossible.

 

Secondary

When healthy, this is a tough unit.  However, as of this writing, one of its key components is recuperating from an ankle injury that may prevent him from starting the season opener.  Cornerback Quinton Richardson intercepted two passes among his 10 passed defended, and he will likely be replaced by Greg Ducre for the Eastern Washington game.

 

Safety Nathan Fellner led the Huskies with five interceptions and 13 passes defended.  Cornerback Desmond Trufant posted 48 tackles and defended five passes.  His counterpart will be sophomore Sean Parker, who picked off one pass in limited duty.

 

OTHER

2011 presents UW with a tough schedule.  The non-conference slate includes games with Hawaii and Nebraska (in Lincoln).  In conference play, the Huskies must play at Utah, Stanford, USC, and Oregon State.  The Apple Cup game with WSU has been moved to Qwest Field and will not be as much of a home field advantage.

 

 

SUMMARY

We have a lot of confidence in Sarkisian and his two coordinators, Doug Nussmeier on offense and Nick Holt on defense.  They have just enough talent to compete against everybody but Stanford and Oregon.  UW could win six or seven games again even without Locker at quarterback.

 

California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Coach Jeff Tedford has developed some outstanding quarterbacks here, including current Super Bowl Champion QB Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller.  As OC at Oregon, he had Joey Harrington, A. J. Feely, and Akili Smith.  At Fresno State before that, he tutored Trent Dilfer, David Carr, and Billy Volek.  In other words, Tedford knows a thing or two about quarterback development.

 

This year, he welcomes Zach Maynard from the University of Buffalo.  Maynard has beaten out last year’s starter Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.  Look for Maynard to easily surpass last year’s off-season for Cal in yardage and touchdowns (2,101 yards and 15 touchdowns).  Look for a return of 200+ yards through the air and 20 touchdowns or more.

 

Receivers

The Bears’ top two receivers return in Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, who teamed for 96 receptions and 1,255 yards.  Michael Calvin started three times and caught 13 passes.  Anthony Miller returns at tight end after hauling in 13 passes.  Look for steady improvement here with Maynard throwing the pigskin.

 

Running Backs

Tedford is also known for developing 1,000-yard rushing backs.  Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and the just departed Shane Vereen are prime examples.  Vereen does not have a likely 1,000-yard back replacing him this year.

 

This could be a year in which Cal uses a running back by committee.  Isi Sofele, Covauhgn DeBoskie-Johnson, and C. J. Anderson could split the carries, but the freshman Anderson has the skills to eventually become the feature back.  Cal averaged just 159 yards on the ground, which is a multi-year low in the Tedford era.  Look for better overall results, with the new trio combining for about 175 yards per game.

 

Offensive Line

This will be an improved unit in 2011.  Three starters return, including 1st Team All-Pac-12 tackle Mitchell Schwartz.  Guards Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin are the other two veterans of the line.  Dominic Galas will start at center.  He started once in 2009.  Matt Williams is a famous sports name in the Bay area; Cal’s version will start at the vacant tackle position.  This group could give up less than 20 sacks and block well enough for the backs to average better than 4.5 yards per rush.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is rebuilding to do all throughout the defense this year, and the Bears will take a step backward on this side of the ball.  The line returns just one starter from the 3-man unit and loses a 1st team all-conference player in Cameron Jordan.

 

DeAndre Coleman returns at end after registering 18 tackles as a platoon player.  He did not make a sack or hurry a quarterback.  Trevor Guyton started four games and played in seven more, getting in on 29 tackles with 8 ½ for loss.  At the nose position is a human eclipse.  Viliami Moala is 6-3 and 350 pounds.  The true freshman is one of Cal’s most prized recruits, and he has won the starting job from day one.

 

Linebackers

Two starters return to this four-man unit, one of whom is a legitimate star.  The Bears lose another star with the departure of leading tackler Mike Mohamed to the NFL Draft.

 

Mychal Kendricks led the Bears with 8 ½ sacks and 15 total tackles for loss.  His fellow inside linebacker mate, D. J. Holt, returns after making 85 tackles.  On the outside, redshirt freshman David Wilkerson will man one spot, while the other one is up for grabs between Chris McCain, Ryan Davis, and Cecil Whiteside, none of whom have played here.

 

Secondary

Two starters return to the back line of defense.  Safety Sean Cattouse is the closest thing to a star on this unit.  He intercepted a pass and broke up seven others last year.  D. J. Campbell will start opposite him after making 21 tackles in reserve last year.

 

Marc Anthony returns at one cornerback slot.  He was credited with eight passes defended with two interceptions.  The new corner will be Steve Williams, who intercepted a pass and knocked away four others in reserve.  Overall, this is a reliable but not spectacular secondary.

 

OTHER

The kicking game is in good shape with the return of two quality players.  Bryan Anger narrowly missed leading the league in punting, while Giorgio Tavecchio has a strong leg and was 4-6 on field goal attempts from beyonf 40 yards.

 

Cal will have to play its home games away from campus this season, as Memorial Stadium undergoes some surgery.  The Bears will host Fresno State at Candlestick Park and play the rest of their home games at AT&T (Giants baseball) Park.  If the Giants are in the NLCS, Cal will have to move its game with USC.

 

SUMMARY

It all depends on the rebuilt defense.  Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows his stuff, and we believe he will mold the new players into a cohesive unit.  They will not stop everybody on the schedule, but just remember what Cal did to Oregon’s offense last year—15 points and 317 yards (Oregon gained almost 450 yards against Auburn).

 

The offense will be much improved and will easily top last season’s averages.  We would not be shocked if the Bears top 28 points per game and 400 total yards per game.

 

The schedule has just one cupcake—a week three game with Presbyterian.  Cal opens with Fresno State at Candlestick Park, and that is a trap game for sure.  Through a quirk in the schedule, the Bears will play 10 conference games this year.  The Colorado game will not count in the league standings, as this game was already on the schedule before the Buffs joined the Pac-12. 

 

Here is the catch.  Cal was 1-4 on the road last year, and in effect, all 12 games this year will be on the road.  If the two municipal parks provide them with the same homefield advantage as Memorial Stadium, then the Bears will go bowling in El Paso, Las Vegas, or a similar venue.  If not, then Tedford could be sitting on a hot seat.

 

Washington State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Jeff Tuel is not another Jason Gesser or Alex Brink, but he is going to have a year not too different than the two former stars.  Tuel completed almost 60% of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, and he has the potential to top 3,000 yards in 2011.

 

Marshall Lobbestael has starting experience, and if Tuel is injured, all will not be lost.  He does not have the accuracy of Tuel, but he will not be a deer in the headlights if he must go in.

 

Receivers

The Cougars return three starters here, one of whom was a Freshman All-American last year.  Marquess Wilson could be a 1st Team All-Pac-12 member this year after taking in 55 passes for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns.  He is a threat to take even a one yard pass and turn it into a long touchdown bolt.

 

Jared Karstetter hauled in a team-leading 62 passes and scored seven times.  He is strictly a possession receiver and uses his height to his advantage over smaller cornerbacks.  Isiah Barton and Gino Simone teamed up for 32 receptions and will supplement the two primary options.  Look for true freshman Henry Eaddy to challenge for a starting spot early in the season.

 

A new tight end/h-back must be found.  Coach Paul Wulff will choose between Jared Byers, Andrei Lintz, and Aaron Dunn.  This unit is in good shape overall.

 

Running Backs

WSU has not been able to generate a running game in six years.  The last three seasons have seen the Cougars rush for an average of less than 86 yards!  Of course, giving up 51 sacks in a season is enough to skew those rushing stats.  Removing the sacks, WSU rushed for about 115 yards per game with an average of 3.8 yards per rush.

 

Wulff will rely on a three-man platoon this year and hope to take enough heat off Tuel to prevent defenses from lining up and coming with five and six pass rushers.  Rickey Galvin, Logwone Mintz, and Carl Winston will split the load.  Look for the Cougars to top 100 yards rushing, but only by a little bit.

 

Offensive Line

This won’t be a major asset, but the blocking corps is going to be quite a bit improved in 2011.  Three starters return to this unit, but the new starters have enough experience to be considered quasi-starters.

 

Guard B. J. Guerra is the leader of this unit. He could challenge for 1st team all-conference honors this year.  Fellow guard John Fullington takes over on the other side after starting six times as a freshman.

 

Wade Jacobson and David Gonzales will man the tackle positions.  Jacobson started every game last year, while Gonzales has started seven games in the past.  He missed last season with an injury.

 

Andrew Roxas will be the new starting center.  He has nine career starts under his belt. 

 

This unit is not the equal of Oregon’s or Stanford’s, but they are no longer the weakest in the league here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Cougars are still in need of a lot of improvement on this side of the line.  They gave up 220 yards per game on the ground (average of 5.6/rush) and made just 23 sacks. 

 

Two starters return to the trenches this year.  End Travis Long led the team with five sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss.  Tackle Brandon Rankin made just 19 stops, but five were for losses.  The new starters figure to be Anthony Laurenzi at tackle and Adam Coerper at end.  Coerper is a fast developer; he moved from number four to number one in just a couple weeks.

 

Linebackers

This unit is a little stronger than the one in front.  Two starters return here.  Alex Hoffman-Ellis finished second on the squad with 81 tackles, while middle linebacker C. J. Mizell added 57 stops with six for loss.  Sekope Kaufusi is the new starter at the Sam position.  He made 22 tackles in a limited role last year.

 

Secondary

If there is a strong unit on this side of the ball, this is it.  However, it is hard to call this quartet a major asset. 

 

It is never great when your leading tackler is your strong safety.  Deone Bucannon led WSU with 84 tackles.  He intercepted a couple passes and knocked away five more.  Tyree Toomer is the other starting safety.  He is adequate against the pass but better supporting the run.

 

Cornerbacks Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington combined for 62 tackles but only seven passes defended.  Washington is nursing a sore hamstring, so he will be slow to start the season.

 

OTHER

Washington State’s last winning season was 2003, which was the third consecutive 10-win season.  The Cougars have fallen on rough times since.  Defense has been the major problem, as WSU has given 35 or more points per game the last three years.  We believe that streak will come to an end this season, but not by much.

 

SUMMARY

The schedule should allow Wulff’s Cougars to start 2-0 after they open with Idaho State and UNLV.  Game three will be the bell-weather game.  When the Cougars go to San Diego State, they might even be favored.  If they win the game to move to 3-0, then there is a chance, albeit small, that they could find a way to win three in the conference and make it to a bowl.  We tend to believe they will fall short this year, but they could easily double their win total from last year.

 

SOUTH DIVISION

Southern California

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Matt Barkley is the best second best quarterback in a league since Colt McCoy at Texas in 2008 and 2009.  He might be the top quarterback in every other conference in America.  Last year even though he missed a game and parts of another, he completed 62.6% of his passes for 2,791 yards and 26 touchdowns. 

 

The Trojans are stocked here with three other quality passers.  Jesse Scroggins is out indefinitely with an injured hand, but true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler have star potential.  The Trojans will rely more on the pass this year, and we expect them to average more than 250 yards per game through the air.

 

Receivers

As a freshman, Robert Woods may have been one of the three best receivers in the league.  He finished with 65 receptions and six touchdowns last year and could top 80 receptions this season.

 

Behind him, the Trojans are inexperienced.  Marqise Lee could start as a true freshman.  Kyle Prater is a redshirt freshman, but at 6-05, he will be a tough matchup problem.  Brice Butler has played sparingly in two seasons.

 

Tight end/H-back Rhett Ellison hauled in 21 passes and scored three times in 2010.  Look for him to get more balls thrown his way this year.

 

Running Backs

Who would have thought that an internet gossip site could affect a college football team?  Starting tailback Marc Tyler ran his mouth off to TMZ.com, and it cost him his spot in the lineup.  Coach Lane Kiffin suspended him indefinitely over his remarks.  Funny, Kiffin’s name has been dragged through the mud from coast to coast in numerous internet sites, yet he still has a job.

 

Tyler led the Trojans’ ground game with 913 yards and nine touchdowns.  Curtis McNeal figured to be his replacement, but he injured his knee and is doubtful for the season opener.  Dillon Baxter and C. J. Morgan will share the reps at running back until one of the other two is able to play again. 

 

Offensive Line

The Trojans are deep here.  Their two-deep is almost as good as Oregon’s, even though just two starters return.  Center Khaled Holmes is one of the best in the league.  Ditto for tackle Matt Kalil.  John Martinez and Abe Markowitz will start at the vacant guard positions, while Kevin Graf will man the vacant tackle spot.  Look for this group to provide excellent pass coverage for Barkley and surrender less than 20 sacks for the seventh year in a row.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Any defense with Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron coaching is going to be tough up front.  The Trojans have the top defensive line in the league and one of the best in the country.

 

Three starters return, but nose tackle Armond Armstead will have to share his spot with newcomer George Uko, and DaJohn Harris may be relegated to the second team in favor of Christian Tupou.

 

Nick Perry starts at one end, while Wes Horton inherits the other end spot.  Devon Kennard and Kevin Greene will spell the two starters and allow the Trojans to have fresh anchors on the edge.

 

Linebackers

If there is an Achilles’ heel in the defense, it is in the linebacker unit.  It would be hard to find the heel here, because the Trojans’ linebackers are going to make a lot of plays this year.

 

Devon Kennard returns to the middle after making 72 tackles with seven for losses.  Chris Galippo was a part-time starter and made 29 tackles.  Marquis Simmons will split time with Hayes Pullard at the other outside spot.

 

Secondary

This unit is almost as strong as the front line.  The loss of Shareece Wright and his 10 passes defended will be hard to overcome, but new starting cornerback Tony Burnett saw a lot of action last year and made 26 tackles.  He will join Nickell Robey, who led the team with four picks.

 

The two starting safeties are back for more.  Jawanza Starling and T. J. McDonald combined for 126 tackles and nine passes defended.

 

Nickel back Torrin Harris is good enough to be a regular for most teams.

 

OTHER

Kiffin was cleared in the recent investigation of the Tennessee football program.  The Trojans will be off probation after this season, and they will not be eligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game this year.

 

SUMMARY

USC should be 6-0 when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on October 22, although they must face Arizona State in Tempe on September 24.  They follow that game with Stanford at the Coliseum. A trip to Eugene to face the Quack Attack in November is followed by a visit from cross-town rival UCLA. 

 

Southern Cal should win at least eight games this year, and we would not be surprised if they go 10-2.

 

Arizona State

OFFENSE

Quarterback

When healthy, Brock Osweiler is an effective quarterback.  At 6-08, he has no trouble seeing over the line, but he is mobile enough to be an effective runner.  In limited action last year, he completed 57% of his passes for 797 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

 

The Sun Devils will be in a heap of trouble if Osweiler is absent for any length of time.  Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly is the next best option, but he is not ready for Pac-12 football.

 

Receivers

Coach Dennis Erickson has loads of depth here but no true stars.  His projected three starters, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie, and Gerell Robinson, all topped 25 receptions and combined for 94 total with 13 touchdowns.  T. J. Simpson caught 29 passes for 481 yards, but he is still recovering from ACL surgery in the spring.  Juco Transfer George Bell could see action early.

 

Tevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle could form a double tight end set, but ASU does not throw to their tight ends and uses them basically for blocking.

 

Running Backs

The Sun Devils have some depth here.  Cameron Marshall returns after leading the team with 787 yards and nine touchdowns.  James Morrison saw limited action in 2010, but he will move to number two on the depth chart.  Deantre Lewis will not be ready for the start of the season after suffering a gunshot wound that damaged his hamstring.  He finished second with 539 rushing yards.

 

Look for Marshall to threaten the 1,000 yard mark if Lewis does not see the field this year.

 

Offensive Line

Arizona State welcomes back all five starters from 2010, and this is why the Sun Devils have an excellent shot of advancing to the first Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

Center Garth Gerhart is a Remington Trophy contender.  Tackle Evan Finkenberg could contend for all-conference honors.  Guards Andrew Sampson and Mike Marcisz and tackle Aderious Simmons round out the unit.  Look for the total number of sacks allowed to drop by 5-10 from a rather high 31 in 2010.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Erickson’s front four performed admirably last year, giving up just 120 rushing yards, but they did not provide enough of a pass rush.  Both ends, Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett, return after teaming for 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.  Bo Moos and William Sutton will be the new tackles.  They are one-gap aggressors and not big beefeaters.  Corey Adams is making a charge to replace Moos.

 

Linebackers

This could have been one of the top units in the nation, but the loss of key starter Brandon Magee with a torn Achilles’ tendon has dropped it several rungs on the national ladder.  Vontaze Burfict led the team with 90 tackles last year, but he did not record a sack and only knocked away three passes.  Colin Parker made 57 tackles, while Oliver Aaron made 47 with 7 ½ for losses.  Aaron replaces Magee.  Shelly Lyons could crack the starting lineup in place of Parker.

 

Secondary

Here is the problem with the defense.  ASU gave up 245 passing yards per game and allowed a completion percentage of 63.2%.  Two full-time and one part-time starter must be replaced.  Cornerback Deveron Carr started part-time and made just eight tackles.  At the opposite corner, Osahon Irabor made 40 tackles with three passes defended.  Safety Eddie Elder registered 64 tackles with 5 ½ stops for loss and five passes defended.  Clint Floyd will start at the other safety spot after recording 30 tackles.

 

OTHER

The Sun Devils had a -6 turnover margin last year, and a lot of that had to do with a defense that could not create turnovers.  Expect some improvement on that side of the ball but not much.

 

SUMMARY

This is Arizona State’s year to shine, but injuries could hamper the process.  With Southern Cal ineligible for the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Sun Devils are the best of the rest in this weaker division. 

 

ASU may not have a gaudy record, because their out of conference slate includes games against Missouri and Illinois.  They could easily start 1-3, because their first conference game is against the Trojans.  Even if that happens, the Sun Devils can still rebound and go 6-3 in the league.  That should be good enough for second in this division, and at 7-5, they would be playing Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12’s automatic BCS bowl berth.

 

Arizona

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Nick Foles returns after passing for 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns.  He completed 67+% of his passes.  The situation is muddled after Foles.  Expected backup Bryson Beirne sprained his ACL and is out for several weeks.  Last year’s backup Matt Scott plans to redshirt this year, and that leaves true freshman Daxx Garman as the only other choice should Foles go down.

 

Receivers

Coach Mike Stoops has quality talent here with the return of his top four receivers.  Juron Criner, David Douglas, David Roberts, and Terrence Miller teamed for 207 receptions and 18 touchdowns.  Criner was the breakaway threat, while the other three were excellent possession receivers.

 

Dan Buckner joins the group after transferring from Texas.  He had starting experience with the Longhorns.

 

Running Backs

One of UA’s two platoon backs return this season.  Keola Antolin rushed for a team-leading 668 yards; he scored seven times.  Antolin also caught 28 passes with two more touchdowns.  The talent behind him is average.

 

Offensive Line

Oh no!  That’s the best way to describe this unit, as all five starters are missing.  Center Kyle Quinn is the only player to ever start a game, and he started a grand total of one.  Guards Trace Biskin and Chris Putton are as green as any starter in college football.  Tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus are redshirt freshmen.  ‘Zona is going to regress by a considerable amount, and Foles is in danger of having to run for his life.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The front line is almost in the same boat as the offensive line.  The Wildcats lose two NFL Draft choices.  Tackle Justin Washington is the lone returnee.  He made 46 stops with 11 ½ for loss and will contend for 1st Team All-Pac-12 honors this year. 

 

Sione Tuihalamaka starts at the other tackle position.  He made 23 stops with three going for losses.  The ends will be Mohammed Usman and C. J. Parrish.

 

Linebackers

Paul Vassallo returns to his Will linebacker position after leading the team with 102 tackles and eight for loss.  Derek Earls returns at the middle spot after making 44 tackles.  David Lopez will be the new starter at the Sam position.  This is an average unit.

 

Secondary

If Arizona has a strength on this side of the ball, it is in the secondary.  Free safety Robert Golden finished tied for third in the league with 13 passes defended, but he only intercepted one pass.  He’ll team with Marquis Flowers, who made 11 tackles as a freshman.

 

At Cornerback, Trevin Wade needs to improve on his four passes defended, while Shaquille Richardson becomes a full-timer after coming up with nine passes defended.  Without a strong pass rush, this unit will struggle a little.  

 

OTHER

Arizona has to visit Oklahoma State just prior to playing Stanford, Oregon, and USC in consecutive weeks.  This four-game losing streak could damage the morale of the new starters and doom Arizona to a losing season.

 

SUMMARY

The only sure wins on the schedule are the opener with Northern Arizona and the finale with Louisiana.  There are chances for maybe four conference wins, so the Wildcats could get to 6-6.  Who knows?  When Arizona faces Arizona State, if they are 4-4 in league play, the game could even be for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

 

U C L A

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Stanford is noted for its great tradition of outstanding quarterbacks.  UCLA is noted for its awful tradition of injured quarterbacks.  It seems like every starter since Cade McNown graduated in the 1990’s has suffered some injury.

 

Kevin Prince is just the latest in that trend.  He made it through five games last year, passing for 384 yards out of the new pistol offense.  His knee was not well enough to allow him to set and throw quickly, and the extra running from the new formation sent him to the sidelines. 

 

Backup Richard Brehaut returns after leading the Bruins with almost 1,300 passing yards.

 

Two more QBs could see playing time this year; that is if tradition holds, and quarterbacks go out with injuries.  Nick Crissman was a highly sought-after passer four years ago, while true freshman Brett Hundley is a dual threat.  Hundley might have challenged for a starting spot, but he tore his meniscus playing basketball and will not be ready at the start of the season.  Even before he suited up, the injury bugaboo hit him.  Expect more of the jinx in 2011.

 

Late Note: Brehaut sprained his foot in practice and will miss a few days.  JINX!

 

Receivers

If a healthy quarterback can get in a rhythm and start several games, he will be happy with the group of receivers on hand.  Nearly everybody that caught or even dropped a pass in 2010 is back in 2011.  Leading receiver Taylor Embree strained a calf muscle and will be slowed to start the season.  Embree made 32 receptions but did not convert any into touchdowns.

 

Anthony Barr and Nelson Rosario will start at the other two receiver spots; they teamed for 38 receptions but just one touchdown.  Tight end Cory Harkey made 14 catches.  How many touchdowns did he score? Zero!  Of course, the Bruins only scored nine times through the air.  Randall Carroll is the one legitimate long ball threat.  He will see a lot of action after averaging 16.2 yards on his 15 receptions—and with two whole touchdowns!

 

Running Backs

At last, here is one position that will not cause Coach Rick Neuheisel nightmares.  Jonathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards and eight scores, while averaging 5.3 yards per rush.  Backup Derrick Coleman added 487 yards and five scores.  If the passing game develops like it could, the running game could see its yardage drop a little, but the average per carry could top 4.5 yards.

 

Offensive Line

Additional injuries and academic issues have put a dark cloud over this unit.  Guard Stan Hasiak had to enroll in a junior college due to grades.  His expected replacement, Jeff Baca, will miss the start of the season with an ankle injury.  The other guard spot was expected to be filled by Chris Ward.  He suffered a sprained ankle and will miss some practice time.

 

At least tackles Mike Harris and Sean Sheller are healthy and experienced.  Center Kai Maiava missed all of last year, but his healthy return is the one bright spot here.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Bruins are in good shape here with a lot of depth and decent talent.  Damien Holmes and Datone Jones make up a quality pair of ends.  That is, if Jones can make a 100% comeback after a medical redshirt year in 2010.  Justin Edison and Cassius Marsh can plug a lot of gaps from their tackle positions. 

 

Linebackers

Will linebacker Sean Westgate made 90 tackles with four sacks and 11 total for losses.  He played tough against the short pass, knocking away four passes.  The unit will build around him.  Patrick Larimore missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  Glenn Love will start at the other linebacker spot after making 16 tackles as a reserve.

 

While not spectacular, this trio will not be the reason UCLA loses games this year.

 

Secondary

What looked like a possible strength has taken a pounding through injuries.  Somebody needs to investigate UCLA’s practice field.  Are they going on pavement or something?

 

Three starters return to the defensive backfield, including strong safety Tony Dye.  Dye led the Bruins with 96 tackles (remember what we said about strong safeties leading in tackles), while breaking up nine passes and pilfering one other.  His counterpart will be Dietrich Riley, who made 21 stops in reserve last year.

 

The cornerbacks are set with Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price.  The duo teamed for 51 tackles and 14 passes defended.  Jamie Graham figured to contend for a lot of playing time after transferring from Vanderbilt, but he suffered a meniscus tear that requires surgery and will be out until at least October.  Anthony Jefferson had to have surgery for a herniated disk in his back and will also be out all of September.

 

OTHER

Neuheisel is on the hot seat.  His three years in Westwood have produced a pair of 4-8 seasons with a 7-6 season in between.  He has two new coordinators this year.  Norm Chow went to Utah, so former 49ers’ offensive guru Mike Johnson takes over.  Joe Tresey is the new DC.  He was Brian Kelly’s DC at Cincinnati for two years.

 

SUMMARY

An opening game against Houston will be very interesting and reveal if UCLA has any chance of moving up from the dregs of the conference.  The next game against San Jose State should produce a win, but game three is against Texas.  The Bruins could be 1-2 and looking at another losing season; they could be 2-1 with a chance to get to seven wins.  If the quarterback play comes around with no injuries, they could even be 3-0.  If that’s the case, and the jinx can be avoided, they could be a dark horse for the South Division title, or at least the eligible team title.

 

Utah

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Welcome to the Pac-12 Jordan Wynn.  Wynn is 1-1 lifetime against conference opponents.  The Utes beat California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl, and he almost upset Oregon in the 2009 regular season.

 

Last year in the Mountain West Conference, Wynn completed 62.2% of his passes for 2,334 yards and 17 touchdowns.  He missed Spring Practice, but he should be ready for the start of the season.  With new offensive coordinator Norm Chow tutoring him, he should produce better numbers even in a tougher league.

 

Juco transfer Jon Hayes will be the primary backup this year.

 

Receivers

Utah does not have exceptional talent here this year.  The depth is not there.  DeVonte Christopher is a gem; he led the Utes with 660 yards in receptions, averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

 

H-Back Luke Matthews is another big play receiver, but he only got his hand on 18 passes last year.  He will be called on to block more than catch passes. 

 

Reggie Dunn will split time with Dres Anderson at the flanker position, while Kendrick Moeai starts at tight end.

 

Running Backs

Utah must replace its two-platoon set of runners.  They combined for more than 1,400 yards on the ground and 19 touchdowns.  Juco transfer John White will get first crack at starting, but Tauni Vakapuna should get a lot of attempts in short yardage situations.  He’s 5-09 and 229 pounds, so tackling him will be like stopping a large boulder coming down a mountain.

 

Offensive Line

This is not a strong unit.  Center Tevita Stevens is more than capable after earning 3rd Team All-MWC honors last year.  Tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have the experience with Bergstrom earning 2nd Team All-MWC honors.  Both projected starting guards will miss the start of the season, and Coach Kyle Whittingham has not yet settled on one of the replacements.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

There is some talent here, but overall, this is not an exceptional unit.  Star Lotulelei may one day live up to his name, but the nose tackle is an unknown commodity at the moment.  The other tackle will see a platoon between James Aiono and Dave Kruger.

 

Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger will start at end.  Shelby made 6 ½ stops for loss last year. 

 

Linebackers

This is the strongest unit of a weak defense.  All three starters from last year return, and they finished one, two, and four in tackles.

 

Chaz Walker led the Utes with 113 tackles, while making seven for losses.  Hybrid linebacker/safety Matt Martinez made 91 tackles, while Brian Blechen added 67 stops and proved to be excellent against the pass with nine passes defended, four of them interceptions.

 

Secondary

The Utes have to start over here, as all four 2010 starters are gone.  Cornerbacks Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy have some experience, and Lacy has sprinter’s speed, so he will make up for a few mistakes before it can hurt the team.

 

Juco transfer Keith McGill will join true freshman Eric Rowe and sophomore Michael Walker at safety.

 

OTHER

Whittingham has expressed some concerns with his place kickers, as Coleman Petersen and Nick Marsh have been inconsistent in practice.

 

The Utes will miss punt returner Shaky Smithson, who took two back the distance last year, while averaging 19.1 yards per return to lead the nation.

 

SUMMARY

It is going to be a rough first season in the Pac-12 for the Utes.  Their offense will not equal last season’s production of 33 points and 389 yards, and their defense will give up more than 2010’s 20 points and 337 yards.

 

After an opening game with Montana State, Utah faces USC and BYU on the road.  They get a week off before starting conference play in earnest.  Mixed in the middle of the schedule is a trip to Pittsburgh. 

 

We see a 1-2 non-league record and then a struggle to win three more games.  At least, the Utes play neither Oregon nor Stanford.

 

Colorado

OFFENSE

Quarterback

New coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy return to their alma mater to light a fire in the Buffaloes’ offense.  They inherit co-starter Tyler Hansen, who completed 68% of his passes but averaged less than 10 yards per completion.

 

Juco transfer Brent Burnette could challenge Hansen for the job.  Overall, this is the weakest QB roster in the Pac-12.

 

Receivers

Paul Richardson is sure to start after leading the Buffs with a 15.1 yard average per catch.  He grabbed 34 passes and scored six times.  Logan Gray, a former QB at Georgia, is immediately eligible and will start.  The other position will be split between Toney Clemons and true freshman Tyler McCulloch.  There is potential here, but they may need another season of experience.

 

Running Backs

Rodney Stewart is “the man.”  He was the Buffaloes’ offense last year, rushing for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Bieniemy may sound like a broken record calling his number over and over again this year.

 

Offensive Line

Three starters return to a rather decent unit.  Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins form a formidable pair of guards, while David Bakhtiari is a plus at tackle.  Jack Harris earned the other starting tackle nod, but he has never played in a college game in two years at CU.  There is a two-man battle to fill the center spot that would have belonged to Mike Iltis had he not given up football.  Daniel Munyer and Gus Handler are neck and neck.

 

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

The Buffs are hurting on this side of the ball.  They will have a weaker defense than Washington State this year.  However, the four-man D-line is not all that bad.

 

Josh Hartigan and Chidera Uzo Diribe will make a decent pair of ends.  Hartigan made seven QB sacks as a designated pass rusher last year and will be more of a linebacker than end, while Will Pericak will play more like an end than a tackle.  Curtis Cunningham and Conrad Obi will play inside.  This unit has depth and some talent.

 

Linebackers

Unless you count Hartigan as a true linebacker, this unit is in need of a transfusion.  Jon Major made 57 tackles at the Will position last year, but too many of them were after nice gains by the enemy.  Derrick Webb and Douglas Rippy are not the answer and will be exploited.

 

Secondary

CU will be lit up via the passing game, as the secondary is not Pac-12 caliber.  Safeties Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins will make a lot of tackles, but officials will be signaling “first down” on most of them.  Travis Sandesfeld and Greg Henderson are subpar at cornerback.

 

OTHER

Colorado plays at Hawaii, so the Buffs will have 13 games on their schedule.  The contest with California in week two will not count as a Pac-12 game, since it was previously scheduled as a non-conference game.

 

SUMMARY

Because they play 13 games, there is a good chance CU will suffer through a double-digit loss season.  They play at Hawaii and at Ohio State outside of the league, and they face rival Colorado State at Invesco Field in Denver.  It will be a long first year for Embree.

 

2011 Pacific 12 Conference Media Poll

Team

1st Place Votes

Points

North Division

 

 

Oregon

29

239

Stanford

13

220

Washington

 

142

Oregon State

 

120

California

 

110

Washington St.

 

51

 

 

 

South Division

 

 

Southern Cal

24

230

Arizona St.

13

207

Utah

4

170

Arizona

1

140

U C L A

 

89

Colorado

 

46

 

 

 

Pac-12 Championship

 

Oregon

 

28

Stanford

 

11

Arizona State

 

3

 

 

2011 Pac-12 Conference PiRate Ratings

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

North Division

 

 

Stanford

126.4

9-0/13-0*

Oregon

125.6

8-1/11-1

Oregon State

112.9

5-4/6-6

Washington

112.9

5-4/7-5

California

111.3

3-6/6-6

Washington St.

102.8

3-6/5-7

   

 

South Division  

 

Southern Cal

117.2

7-2/9-3

Arizona St.

116.6

6-3/8-5

Arizona

113.1

3-6/5-7

U C L A

110.9

3-6/4-8

Utah

108.4

2-7/3-9

Colorado

101.8

0-9/1-12

   

 

* Stanford picked to defeat Arizona State
in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

 Coming Friday Night: A look at what’s left of the Big 12 Conference.

August 18, 2010

2010 Pac-10 Football Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

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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