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Pac 10 Preview 2006
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CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 9, 2006


Preview 2006 CollegeFootballNews.com Pac 10 Preview


Pac 10 Preview | All-Pac 10 team and top 30 players | Top 5s | Unit Rankings
- Arizona Preview | Arizona State Preview | California Preview
- Oregon Preview | Oregon State Preview | Stanford Preview 
- UCLA Preview | USC Preview | Washington PreviewWashington State Preview
 

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK

Overrated by Left Coasters and unnoticed by the right side of the country, the non-USC Pac 10 teams were decent, but nothing special over the last few years. Not anymore. Expect the league to come roaring back with more than just the mighty Trojans with Cal a legitimate national title contender, Oregon and Arizona State good enough to challenge for an at-large BCS slot, and everyone else outside of UCLA better than last year. Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State will be far more dangerous and will be a tough out every week, and Arizona should finally put it all together under Mike Stoops and be more consistent. Of course, all eyes will be on USC to see if it can reload and be a juggernaut again. The Trojans will continue to bring attention to the league; the rest of the country will then notice how good everyone else is.

3 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Almost by default, the starting USC quarterback will be a Heisman finalist. John David Booty and Mark Sanchez are really that good, and they have the talent around them to put up Matt Leinart-like numbers.

2. The addition of ends Loren Howard from Northwestern and Tranell Morant from Florida along with former BYU tackle Michael Marquardt will make Arizona State more of a factor in the Pac 10 race.

3. California’s linebacking corps might not just be the Pac 10’s best; it might be the best in the country. The world will notice in the opener at Tennessee.  

GAME OF THE YEAR
Nov. 18 California at USC
Each team has major landmines to step around, but this should be the battle for the Pac 10 title, and with a little luck here and there, this could be for a spot in the national title game.

1. USC
Predicted record: 11-1  Conf. record: 8-1
Best Player: WR Dwayne Jarrett, Jr.
Offense - This isn't going to be anywhere near the 580-yard, 49 point-per-game juggernaut of last year losing Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Winston Justice, Dominique Byrd, Taitusi Lutui, and Reggie Bush, but there's hope for the explosion to continue, albeit to a lesser degree, thanks to the nation's best receiving corps, a good foundation on the offensive line with tackle Sam Baker and center Ryan Kalil, and more high school All-America prospects than one team should have. However, there's an outside chance the wheels could come flying off. Quarterback John David Booty is hardly a sure-thing to last the season with his gimpy back, and Mark Sanchez has more problems than battling Booty with a sexual assault charge temporarily kicking him off the team. The running back situation is full of question marks with injuries, youth, and ineligibility playing havoc with the corps. Even so, this will be one of the nation's five best attacks if everyone stays healthy.
Defense - What the D lacks in overall experience it makes up for in ridiculous talent and athleticism. The linebacking corps is one of the best in America with a third string that would form a killer starting trio for about 95 other teams. The secondary doesn't have any big names, but that will change quickly if some of the superstar freshmen play well right away and if there's good competition for the safety spots. End Lawrence Jackson and tackle Sedrick Ellis are great players to build around on a line that should have few problems getting into the backfield. The return of former defensive coordinator and former Idaho head coach Nick Holt adds even more punch.
This season will be a success if … USC plays for the national title. Would just winning the Pac 10 and going to a BCS game be good enough at this point? It should be, but the bar is set ridiculously high after going 54-10 under Pete Carroll and losing two games in three years.

2. California
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 7-2
Best Player: RB Marshawn Lynch, Jr.
Offense - This should be one of the nation's most explosive attacks if the quarterback situation stabilizes in a hurry and if the offensive line can make up for some big losses. Tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and center Marvin Philip were two of the best linemen in the nation and won’t be easily replaced. That's about the only concern with Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett forming one of the nation's best 1-2 rushing punches and DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and LaVelle Hawkins combining for one of the nation's fastest and most explosive receiving corps. The question now becomes whether or not QB Nate Longshore can come back 100% after breaking his ankle. Steve Levy, Kyle Reed and Joe Ayoob will all get their shots at the starting job, but Longshore is the one who'll make sure the passing game doesn't finish last in the Pac 10 again.
Defense
– Eight starters return to a defense that should just now be hitting its stride with speed, athleticism and lots and lots of talent. The front seven should be a rock if all the top prospects come through as expected. The ends are deep, talented, and should have few problems getting into the backfield all season long, while Brandon Mebane is one of the nation's best tackles. The linebacking corps is one of the best in the nation with last year's recruiting class about to become tremendous. Cornerback is set with Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon sure to earn all-star honors, but the safeties are a big concern with no developed depth and two new starters.
This season will be a success if … Cal wins the Pac 10 title. It's time to take that next step up. It might be asking a lot to win the championship with a game at USC to worry about, but the Bears are good enough to dream big.

T3. Oregon State
Predicted record: 7-6  Conf. record: 5-4
Best Player: RB Yvenson Bernard, Jr.
Offense - Eight starters return to an offense that should blow up as long as there's steady quarterback play. All five starters return to a line that should be among the best in the Pac 10, Yvenson Bernard and JUCO transfer Clinton Polk form a rushing tandem as good as any in the league, and the receiving corps should make up for the loss of Mike Hass with several good prospects led by Anthony Wheat-Brown. Matt Moore is back for his second year as the starting quarterback and needs to cut down on his mistakes. Expect more offensive balance with the ground game carrying the load far more than it did last year.
Defense - The run defense was fine; the pass defense was one of the worst in America. Expect things to even out a big with the freshman corners who got torched last year now sophomore corners who'll get torched. There needs to be more of a pass rush from the ends, and that should come with Jeff Van Orsow and Dorian Smith each looking to be regulars in the backfield. The no-name linebackers should be tremendous as the season goes on.
This season will be a success if … the Beavers flirt with winning ten. It might take 14 games to do it including a bowl trip, but it's possible if they don't screw up against the teams they're supposed to beat.

T3. Arizona State
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 5-4
Best Player: TE Zach Miller, Jr.
Offense - It'll be a major disappointment if this isn't one of the nation's five most productive attacks with the addition of coordinator Roy Wittke to work with the quarterbacks. The passing game will be deadly Rudy Carpenter able put up All-America numbers with a speedy receiving corps to work with an a huge, experienced line to play behind. The running game won't be neglected with Keegan Herring and Shaun DeWitty sure to combine for around 1,500 yards. Zach Miller is one of the nation's best tight ends leading a sleek, fast group of receivers who'll all get plenty of work.
Defense - No one played defense in the Pac 10 last year outside of Oregon, so it should say something that ASU's D was the worst in the league allowing 469 yards per game. There's way too much speed, athleticism and depth to not be far better with a big improvement expected on the line thanks to transfers Loren Howard and Michael Marquardt. The linebacking corps has to replace Dale Robinson and Jamar Williams, but there are several interesting options to fill the void. The safeties will be among the Pac 10's best, so the pass defense should be far better if there's more production from the corners.
This season will be a success if … ASU wins the Pac 10 title. Enough is enough. There's more than enough experience, talent, and athleticism to win the title and get to the BCS.

T3. Oregon
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 5-4
Best Player: RB/KR Jonathan Stewart, Soph.
Offense - The move to the spread offense was a success finishing 18th in the nation in total offense and 12th in scoring. A late-season injury to QB Kellen Clemens allowed Brady Leaf and Dennis Dixon to see meaningful playing time, and now they should hit the ground running in a two-quarterback system. Top receiver Demetrius Williams is gone, but there's plenty of returning talent at receiver to hope for a sure-thing number one target to emerge. The line will be the best in the Pac 10 with all five starters returning, but it has to be better at run blocking. The time is now for top prospect Jonathan Stewart to shine as the featured tailback.
Defense - Oregon was the one team in the Pac 10 that played a little defense last season, but it'll dip this year without star tackle Haloti Ngata and top corners Justin Phinisee and Aaron Gipson. There are enough returning veterans to keep from sliding into mediocrity until several athletic new playmakers to step up. There's speed to burn in the secondary and plenty of size up front, but there aren't any sure-thing All-Pac 10 performers. The linebackers in the 4-2-5 are good, but not spectacular.
This season will be a success if … Oregon wins nine games. Duck fans will be hoping last year was the start of something big, but the schedule has too many pitfalls and the team is too incomplete.

6. Washington State
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 4-5
Best Player: WR Jason Hill, Sr.
Offense - The whole might be better than the sum of the parts. It might not be the nation's eighth best offense again, but it should be more explosive through the air thanks to the return of receivers Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus. If quarterback Alex Brink can take a step up in his development, the sky's the limit. The ground game will miss Jerome Harrison, but JUCO transfers J.D. Deidrichs and Derrell Hutsona should help DeMaundray Woolridge to keep things rolling. Even though there aren't any all-stars on the line, it should be solid, especially at tackle.
Defense - It's not going to be the type of defense that can stop anyone cold, but there are just enough veteran playmakers to come up with a few plays needed to be effective in the shootouts the team is certain to be in. End Mkristo Bruce should be one of the Pac 10's most disruptive forces, while outside linebackers Steve Dildine and Scott Davis should be in line for all-conference honors. The secondary that struggled too much last year has to find new corners, but the safeties should be solid.
This season will be a success if … The Cougars win eight games. The team is two seasons removed from a run of three straight ten-win seasons and needs to get back on the winning track.

T7. UCLA
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-6
Best Player: CB Ben Olson, Soph.
Offense - Few teams have to replace more important producers than UCLA losing ultra-accurate QB Drew Olson, mighty-mite RB Maurice Drew, and top receiving tight end Marcedes Lewis. New QB Ben Olson is mature, big, and talented, but he needs his wide receivers to be more productive and could use a deep, but still developing offensive line to jell right away. The running game will be better with Chris Markey, Kahlil Bell and Derrick Williams hammering out yards behind Michael Pitre, one of the Pac 10's best fullbacks. While the potential is there for this to be a very good, very productive offense, there aren't any sure-thing home run hitters. At least not yet.
Defense - There should've been far more production last year considering how talented the linebacking corps was. The Bruins were abysmal against the run finishing 118th in the nation allowing 233 yards per game, but expect the D to toughen up under new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who cranked up the intensity several notches this spring. The problem will be size and experience. It's not a huge front seven, and several first year starters will have problems early on. Injuries were a problem last year, but there could be a night-and-day improvement if everyone, especially tackle Kevin Brown, can stay healthy.
This season will be a success if … UCLA finishes in the top four of the Pac 10. There are simply way, way too many question marks and way too much youth to reasonable expect a run for the Pac 10 title.

T7. Stanford
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-6
Best Player: QB Trent Edwards, Sr.
Offense - The offense was awful last year with no rushing attack and not enough of a passing game. The problem was the offensive line that gave up way too many sacks and didn't adjust to the new coaching staff. If experience counts for anything, things should be far better with seven players with starting experience returning up front and, technically, 11 returning starters to the offense. The biggest boost will be in the passing game where 6-7 Evan Moore returns after injuring his hip early last year to join Mark Bradford to form a deadly 1-2 punch. Trent Edwards needs to be a senior playmaker and the type of quarterback who can carry the team on his back considering the team's average stable of running backs.
Defense - No one stopped anyone in the Pac 10 last season, so the numbers (442 yards and 30.6 points per game) are a little out of whack. There was a problem coming through with a key third down stop and slowing down long drives, and there should be more of the same issues this season. The D will shift between a 4-3 and a 3-4 depending on the situation, but going with four linebackers will probably be the way to go with a shaky group up front. The back seven, or eight, has a tremendous array of athletes, but not a lot of proven depth. Linebackers Mike Silva and Michael Okwo and safeties Brandon Harrison and Trevor Hooper have to go from being nice starters to stars.
This season will be a success if … Stanford wins seven games. It's a better team than last year when it won five games and came within a loss to UC Davis from going to a bowl game.

T7. Arizona
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 3-6
Best Player: CB Antoine Cason, Jr.
Offense - It took a few years, but the Arizona offense should finally be consistently productive. Improvement in the running game will be a key early, but it'll be too tempting not to bomb away. Quarterback Willie Tuitama is one of college football's brightest young stars, and he has weapons to work with thanks to the return of the top four receivers from last year and more speed in the backfield than the Wildcats have had in years. The pass protection should be even better with tackles Peter Graniello and Tanner Bell returning to lead a deep line.
Defense - The piece should finally be in place to have the defense Arizona fans envisioned when Mike Stoops took over as head coach. The biggest improvement will be at linebacker, where Spencer Larsen, Dane Krogstad, and Ronnie Palmer are finally healthy and should finally be on the field at the same time. The line isn't all that big and has to get into the backfield more and generate more pressure. The secondary has the potential to be among the Pac 10's best if a steady free safety can be found; there might not be a better trio in the conference than safety Michael Johnson and corners Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot.
This season will be a success if … Arizona gets to a bowl game. While there's a ton of experience, next year will be when the Wildcats can reasonably be a factor in the Pac 10 title race.

10. Washington
Predicted record: 4-8  Conf. record: 2-7
Best Player: SS C.J. Wallace, Sr.
Offense - There are way too many question marks going into the season. Can last year's average offensive line actually improve after losing four starters? Is there a quarterback on the roster who can put points on the board and come up with wins? Who will the deep threat be to replace Craig Chambers? How long will it take before J.R. Hasty becomes the workhorse? It takes lots and lots of points to keep up in the Pac 10, and with the defense UW has coming into this season, this offense will have to be used to playing in some track meets. Does it have the firepower? There's experience and plenty of options, but the jury is still out on whether or not this can be the 30-point-per-game attack it needs to be.
Defense - Things weren't always pretty last year, but the Dawgs had to go against some of the nation's highest octane offenses. The D wasn't bad against the mediocre attacks and now gets eight starters back with the potential of finishing in the upper half of the Pac 10 standings if the secondary can improve by leaps and bounds. Safety Dashon Golden will get a look at corner, the biggest weak spot, while Donny Mateaki will be tried out at tackle if he's not needed at end. There's good athleticism and decent depth just about everywhere with more reinforcements on the way from the JUCO ranks.
This season will be a success if … UW wins seven games. There has to be a big upset or two to set a fire under the fan base, while a win over Washington State  would do wonders to get the program rolling into 2007.