Preseason Lookaheads - Pac 10
Posted Jan 18, 2007

Before spring ball and before the recruiting madness fully kicks in, we look ahead at what every team needs to work on along with the big hopes, concerns, and key losses starting with Chris Markey's loaded UCLA and the rest of the Pac 10.

The numbers are the CFN pre-preseason national rankings.

1. USC   2006 Record: 11-2
Why to get excited: There have been some good defenses in Pete Carroll's era, but none like this. Ten starters return with so much depth that the third stringers would start for at least 75 other teams. While many will focus on the loss of receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, there's more NFL talent ready to step in. Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton and others will make John David Booty look great, and vice versa.
Why to be grouchy: Is Booty the real deal? While he looked fantastic in the Rose Bowl, he was inconsistent throughout the year even with Jarrett and Smith to work with. There are plenty of great running back options, but no one has made anyone forget about Reggie Bush and LenDale White. USC might be a factory, but center Ryan Kalil and tackle Kyle Williams will be missed.
The number one thing to work on is: Punt returns. Along with Booty getting on the same page with the starting receivers, and for a top running back or two to emerge, there needs to be more pop to the punt return game after averaging a mere 6.19 yards per try. Getting more out of punter Greg Woidneck would be nice.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Dwayne Jarrett
Biggest defensive loss: LB Dallas Sartz 

9. UCLA   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: The program has been building for this season. The USC win showed the potential of the team under Karl Dorrell, and now it's time to blow up with ten starters returning on each side of the ball. All things considered, the schedule works out extremely well with the road games at Utah, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State and Arizona to go along with the trip down the freeway to USC. BYU, Notre Dame, Cal, Arizona State and Oregon have to come to the Rose Bowl.
Why to be grouchy: Will a quarterback controversy cause an issue? Pat Cowan is mobile and showed towards the end of last year that he can be a winner, but Ben Olson has the potential to lead the team to a truly special season. Will the team be divided in any way? The loss of PK Justin Medlock, arguably the nation's best kicker last year, will be a problem at some point.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting even more pop to the offense. That'll come once the quarterback situation is settled. Consistency would be nice, but big plays would be even better. There are too many good, experienced skill players to average just 330 yards and 23 points per game.
Biggest offensive loss: C Robert Chai
Biggest defensive loss: DE Justin Hickman 

18. California   2006 Record: 10-3
Why to get excited: Jeff Tedford is locked up with a contract extension, Justin Forsett appears more than ready to take over the full-time rushing duties from Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan form the nation's most electrifying receiving trio, and Nate Longshore is a talented, experienced passer. If the Bears can get by the early visit from Tennessee, a 7-0 start is possible before going on the road to deal with UCLA and Arizona State. The USC game is in Berkeley.
Why to be grouchy: While there might be a lot of great pieces returning to the puzzle, some key superstars are gone including Lynch, LB Desmond Bishop, CB Daymeion Hughes, and DT Brandon Mebane. Those four were among the best in the nation at their positions. Andrew Cameron and Erik Robertson will be missed from the offensive line.
The number one thing to work on is: Stopping the pass. The back seven was fine at slowing down most of the short stuff on a regular basis, but even with an All-American in Hughes patrolling part of the field. the secondary still gave up 241 yards per game. Getting more pressure from the defensive front would be a plus.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Marshawn Lynch
Biggest defensive loss: CB Daymeion Hughes 

25. Oregon State   2006 Record: 10-4
Why to get excited: One of the hot teams at the end of last year winning four straight including the Sun Bowl over Missouri, just about everyone is coming back with eight starters returning on defense and seven on offense including All-America candidates Sammie Stroughter and Yvenson Bernard. Four starters are back on the offensive line, while likely new starting quarterback Sean Canfield should be fine right away. Alexis Serna is back for what seems like his ninth year as the Beaver kicker.
Why to be grouchy: The Pac 10 slate is as bad as it gets with five away games going to Arizona State, California, Washington State, USC and Oregon. Four starters might return to the O line, but it almost got Matt Moore killed last year and might not give Canfield a whole bunch of time. Three starters return to the secondary, but Sabby Piscitelli was the playmaking glue who held it together.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting even more balance to the offense. With backs like Bernard and Clinton Polk, there's no reason to only average 118 rushing yards per game. Of course, the number is skewed from all the sacks, but that doesn't mean there can't be a more effective ground attack. Until Canfield is sharp, the running game will have to shine.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Matt Moore
Biggest defensive loss: SS Sabby Piscitelli 

39. Arizona State   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: Dennis Erickson might be a rent-a-coach, but he's a good one at the collegiate level. He was hired early enough to put his offensive stamp on the team, while the defense shouldn't be too bad if the cracks can be filled in quickly. Rudy Carpenter is a talented passer who should be more relaxed and comfortable a year after the quarterback controversy fiasco. Ryan Torian is a special back who should be the focal point of a balanced attack. The schedule is fantastic with a relatively easy non-conference slate (Bowling Green, Colorado and San Diego State), while USC, Cal and Oregon State have to come to Tempe. However ...
Why to be grouchy: The schedule is sort of quirky at the end of the year finishing up with Cal, at Oregon, at UCLA, USC and the rivalry date with Arizona; there's not a sure thing in the bunch. Enough key players from last year's defense are gone, including LB Beau Mautai and CB Keno Walter-White, to make a difference early on. Losing offensive safety valve Zach Miller early to the NFL was expected, but still painful.
The number one thing to work on is: Improving the pass protection and developing a deep threat. While Carpenter wasn't the player he was in 2005, he didn't have Derek Hagan to throw to and was hit early and often. The line gave up 37 sacks and forced Carpenter to hurry his throws time and again. This is a huge, relatively experienced line that needs to be better.
Biggest offensive loss: TE Zach Miller
Biggest defensive loss: S Zach Catanese 

43. Oregon   2006 Record: 7-6
Why to get excited: The skill players have the potential to put up numbers with the best of them. QBs Brady Leaf and Dennis Dixon, RB Jonathan Stewart, and WR Jaison Williams are experienced enough to do far more than they did over the final four games of last year. The line should be good enough to give them all time to work. The return game was a major strength last season, and should be again with all the top returners back. Three of the league away games are against non-bowl teams (Stanford, Washington and Arizona).
Why to be grouchy: An early trip to Michigan might hurt the psyche of a team that finished the year on a disastrous note. The defensive line loses Darius Sanders and anchor Matt Toeaina, while J.D. Nelson was a key playmaker in a strong secondary.
The number one thing to work on is: Deciding on a quarterback. Dixon was the main man early on last year, but he had to keep looking over his shoulder at Leaf and eventually lost his gig. The offense should've been getting better as the season went on, not worse. The potential is there for big things; now the team has to play like it.
Biggest offensive loss: C Enoka Lucas
Biggest defensive loss: FS J.D. Nelson 

45. Washington State   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: Wazzu might have been the best team to have not gone to a bowl over the last two seasons. It invented ways to lose close games in 2005, and collapsed last year losing its final three games to Pac 10 lightweights Arizona, Arizona State and Washington. Everyone will be well motivated. Getting several of the key skill players back should help the cause. After a trip to Wisconsin, the Cougars get San Diego State and Idaho before ...
Why to be grouchy: ... playing three Pac 10 road games in four weeks going to USC, Arizona and Oregon. There's also a trip to Cal down the line. Washington State was tremendous at getting into the back field last year, and it was mostly due to Mkristo Bruce. He, along with Scott Davis and his four sacks, are gone. Can Lance Broadus be a premier pass rusher as the number one guy?
The number one thing to work on is: The return game. Charles Dillon has the speed and skill to become a solid, but the Cougars were last in the Pac 10 averaging 5.47 yards per punt return and 17.52 yards on kickoff returns.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Jason Hill
Biggest defensive loss: DE Mkristo Bruce 

48. Arizona   2006 Record: 6-6
Why to get excited: After three years under Mike Stoops, the defense should finally be where Wildcat fans had hoped it would be a few years ago. With the return of top corner Antoine Cason for his senior year, nine starters are back on what should be one of the Pac 10's stingiest defenses. Offensively, Willie Tuitama, if he can stay healthy, is the type of playmaker to finally get things moving on a consistent basis. The young O line that struggled so much last year is all back full with a year of experience.
Why to be grouchy: Teams don't just go from being 115th in the nation in total offense to dangerous with a snap of the fingers. Unfortunately, as good as Tuitama is, the team can't rely on him for a full year. RB Chris Henry, who looked like a star at times over the second half of last year, ditched early for the league of mercenaries. PK Nick Folk won't be around to rely on anymore when the offense struggles to close.
The number one thing to work on is: Generating a pass rush. It's inexcusable that Stoops and his staff haven't figured out how to get to the quarterback. 15 sacks and a mere 50 tackles for loss haven't made anyone forget about the Desert Swarm days.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Chris Henry
Biggest defensive loss: SS Michael Johnson

54. Washington   2006 Record: 5-7
Why to get excited: QB Jake Locker and RB J.R. Hasty are superstar prospects who appear to be finally ready to shine. The entire defensive line returns after a decent year, while the offensive line should be a strength. Yes, Ty Willingham can coach.
Why to be grouchy: It's asking a lot for Locker to be the savior right away. How's this for an opening eight games? At Syracuse, Boise State, Ohio State, at UCLA, USC, Cal, at Arizona State, Oregon. The secondary gave up 240 yards per game last year and now has to replace three starters. The defense loses five of the top six tacklers, while the offense has to replace top receiver Sonny Shackelford.
The number one thing to work on is: Forcing turnovers. Washington failed to generate enough big plays with only 14 takeaways. Doing more on third downs would be a plus after converting just 33.7% of its chances.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Sonny Shackelford
Biggest defensive loss: SS C.J. Wallace

75. Stanford   2006 Record: 1-11  
Why to get excited: With a new coaching staff comes new hope. Walt Harris didn't have a prayer after injuries hit the offense hard, and now Jim Harbaugh takes over after a successful stint at the University of San Diego. Nothing is expected out of the program this year, and everyone will overlook the Cardinal.
Why to be grouchy: Of the 12 games, nine come against teams that went to bowls while the other three come at Arizona, at Washington State, and against Washington. The overall talent level isn't even close to the rest of the Pac 10.
The number one thing to work on is: Getting the offense moving. It's one thing to be bad, but it's another to be bad and completely ineffective. Stanford might never have the athletes to come up with a killer defense, but it's always been able to get the skill guys to put up yards and points in bunches. Averaging 232 yards and 10.58 points per game isn't going to fly. First and foremost, the line has to be better after allowing 50 sacks and paving the way for just 65 rushing yards per game.
Biggest offensive loss: QBs T.C. Ostrander and Trent Edwards
Biggest defensive loss: LB Michael Okwo