2008 Early Pac 10 Lookaheads
USC RB Joe McKnight
USC RB Joe McKnight
Posted Feb 17, 2008

It's still USC's Pac 10 world and everyone else is taking up space, but the rest of the league is catching up with Joe McKnight and the boys. Here's an early look-ahead at each Pac 10 team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2008 Pac 10 Early Lookaheads

Arizona | Arizona StCalifornia | Oregon | Oregon St | Stanford
UCLA | USC | Washington | Washington St

2007 Pages

2007 Pac 10 Season | 2007 Pac 10 Lookbacks/Recaps   
Arizona | Arizona StCalifornia | Oregon | Oregon St | Stanford
UCLA | USC | Washington | Washington St

Why to get excited: You've heard it before, but if it's ever going to happen offensively for Arizona, this will be the year. The new open passing game put up big numbers overall, finishing tenth in the nation, but bogged down at times. Now, Willie Tuitama is a veteran running the attack, the back is in place in Nicholas Grigsby, the best receivers return, and four starters return the line. To put the pressure on, it's time to become unstoppable, mainly because ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the defense might need a little work. It wasn't a bad D, but it wasn't anything special and now it loses six starters off the defensive front seven, corners Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot, and free safety Dominic Patrick. The schedule over the first half of the season is relatively light, so the D needs the time to come together before facing Cal, USC and Oregon in a four week stretch.
The number one thing to work on is: Keeping the chains moving. The reason why the Arizona offense can afford a lack of rushing output is because the short passing game is supposed to get three to five yards any time it wants to. Texas Tech was 13th in the nation in third down efficiency converting 47% of its attempts. Hawaii was tenth in the country. The Wildcats finished 98th in the nation in third down conversion percentage converting a mere 35% of the time; that won't get it done in the Pac 10. 45% would probably mean a winning season.
Biggest offensive loss: OT Peter Graniello
Biggest defensive loss: CB Antoine Cason
Best returning offensive player: WR Mike Thomas, Sr. 
Best returning defensive player:
LB Ronnie Palmer, Sr.

Arizona State
Why to get excited:
Dennis Erickson hasn't bolted. Apparently, Arizona State isn't Idaho. The "Junior College," as Arizona head coach Mike Stoops would call ASU, has a nice mix of top high school prospects coming in, along with instant help from the JUCO ranks with DT
Spencer Gasu and defensive backs Max Tabach and Terell Carr to fill some key holes. The main offensive stars, at least the ones at the end of last year, are back, including QB Rudy Carpenter, RB Keegan Herring, and top receiver Chris McGaha. All-star PK Thomas Weber returns and should be good for at least one close win by himself.
Why to be grouchy: While there's help coming in from the recruiting class, the defense still has to overcome the loss of five defense starters including LB Robert James, both starting corners, and big-hitting safety Josh Barrett. The schedule starts off light, and then gets brutal over a six game stretch facing Georgia, at Cal, at USC, Oregon, at Oregon State and at Washington.
The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. You could almost see the stars and bluebirds swirling around Carpenter's head after taking hit after hit after hit. Three starters are gone off an offensive line that was mediocre for the ground game and positively abysmal in pass protection allowing 55 sacks and countless other hits. Erickson and his staff has to figure out how to get the ball out of Carpenter's hands quicker, and how to give him another second of time to operate.
Biggest offensive loss: C Mike Pollack
Biggest defensive loss: LB Robert James
Best returning offensive player: QB Rudy Carpenter, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: SS Troy Nolan, Sr.

Why to get excited:
There are just enough key players back, and just enough good prospects waiting in the wings, to expect a stronger season after collapsing over the second half of the disappointing year. While the biggest hit taken is at receiver, losing Robert Jordan, the underproductive DeSean Jackson, and Lavelle Hawkins, that just so happened to be the biggest strength of the 2008 recruiting class.
Why to be grouchy: This might be a step-back year to take a big leap forward in 2009. The Bears lose a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, but again, there are players waiting to roll. The big problem is a schedule that starts out playing Michigan State, at Washington State and at Maryland. That might not seem like that big a deal, but for a team that might need a game or two to reload, that's not exactly taking it easy before a relative home layup against Colorado State. While the road Pac 10 schedule isn't all that bad for three of the games, going away from Berkeley to face Wazzu, Arizona and Oregon State, there's also a trip to USC.
The number one thing to work on is: Generating pressure. The Bears were 106th in the nation in tackles for loss and only came up with 22 sacks; finishing last in the Pac 10 in both categories. The secondary did surprisingly well without the support, but it would still be a bonus if opposing passers had to worry a little bit. It would be nice if the D could force a few more turnovers, too.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Justin Forsett
Biggest defensive loss: FS Thomas DeCoud
Best returning offensive player: C Alex Mack, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Zack Follett, Sr.

Why to get excited: This is the new hot program. Partly because of the sweet digs provided by Phil Knight, partly because of the spiffy (cough) uniforms, and partly because the program is solid, recruits are taking notice and Oregon is becoming the place to be. For this year, if the quarterback situation can be settled early on, the offense could be terrific again. With the experience under fire Justin Roper and Cody Kempt got at the end of last season, they're not starting from scratch like they would be if Dennis Dixon had a healthy knee.
Why to be grouchy: Yeah, the 56-21 Sun Bowl pasting of South Florida was nice, but don't forget how the team collapsed once Dixon went down. There's a question mark about the program's ability to come through in the clutch, at least at the moment, and now there will be a bit more of a bull's eye to deal with. Five starters are gone off the defense (but it should turn out to be fine) including both starting tackles, and replacing linebackers A.J. Tuitele and Kwame Agyeman won't be easy. The schedule is hardly a breeze going on the road five times in a seven week span, with the two home dates against Boise State and UCLA. Facing USC, Cal and Arizona State all on the road will make winning the Pac 10 title tough.
The number one thing to work on is: Clamping down against the pass. The passing yards allowed don't tell the whole story, most teams had to bomb away to try to keep up with the juggernaut Duck offense, but the secondary allowed 20 touchdown passes and 200 yards or more in every game but the loss to UCLA. The O will likely be less explosive, so in the pass-happy Pac 10, the D will have to be a bit more effective.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Dennis Dixon
Biggest defensive loss: DT David Faseteete
Best returning offensive player: C Max Unger, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: S Patrick Chung, Sr.

Oregon State
Why to get excited: Was there a quieter 9-4 season? There's even more hope for 2009 with several key players back on offense and three starters returning to the secondary. Helping out the passing game, which struggled mightily with its consistency throughout last year, is the expected return of top receiver Sammie Stroughter, who filed all the paperwork to receive a medical redshirt after missing almost all of last year.
Why to be grouchy: With all seven starters off the front seven of the nation's best run defense gone, it would be nice if there was a little time to jell. Nope. The schedule starts off very, very badly. At Stanford isn't going to be a breeze, at Penn State will be a nightmare, Hawaii shouldn't be a problem, USC is USC, and a trip to Utah should be far, far tougher than it appears. The top running backs, including Yvenson Bernard, are gone, which hurts even more because ...
The number one thing to work on is: ... the passing game wasn't up to snuff. The yards, overall, were there, but OSU had one of the nation's most inefficient attacks. The two quarterback system only works if they can each play, and while Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield each had their moments, neither took the job by the horns. It would be a big plus if there was one starter emerging from spring ball.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Yvenson Bernard
Biggest defensive loss: DE Dorian Smith
Best returning offensive player: OT Andy Levitre, Sr. (or WR Sammie Stroughter, if he returns)
Best returning defensive player: DB Brandon Hughes, Sr.

Why to get excited: The defense stunk, the offense was worse, and there was a strange power outage in a key stretch late in the year, but the excitement is there with seven starters back on offense, eight on defense, and most importantly, the return of Jim Harbaugh, who hasn't been snagged yet by a bigger-name program. Even in a 4-8 season, confidence isn't a problem after beating USC at USC and archrival Cal, but ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the talent level is nowhere near where it needs to be to hope for an upper-division finish. Wins are wins are wins, but one came against San Jose State, two of the wins were by a total of two points, and the Cal win was by seven. After starting off 2008 with Oregon State, the Cardinal goes on the road for five straight weeks and six of the following seven (although one of the dates is at San Jose State).
The number one thing to work on is: Pass protection. It's hard to throw the ball from your back, and Stanford quarterbacks spent a lot of time dusting themselves off. The Cardinal was 116th in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up 48 on the year, with the line also struggling in the running game. Tavita Pritchard can play, but he's not good enough to survive and thrive if he's under constant pressure.
Biggest offensive loss: WR Mark Bradford
Biggest defensive loss: CB Nick Sanchez
Best returning offensive player: OG Alex Fletcher, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: FS Bo McNally, Jr.

Why to get excited: Rick Neuheisel's "passion bucket." While there are significant losses on both sides of the ball, this team is built to win and win right now. Last year's defense was ore than fine, but the offense stunk it up after quarterbacks Pat Cowan and Ben Olson couldn't stay healthy. Both are back, there's experience behind them, and the recruiting class has talented prospects to throw into the mix if there's an emergency. Most importantly, new offensive coordinator Norm Chow is aboard and will never, ever, coach an attack that averages 334 yards and 22 points per game. Neuheisel has invigorated the program, and it shows.
Why to be grouchy: The secondary was a strength last year (and was much better than the final stats would show), and now three starters have to be replaced. Also gone is pass rushing terror Bruce Davis and solid rock in the middle Kevin Brown. Schedule-wise, there isn't a layup in the non-conference slate facing what should be the best Fresno State team Pat Hill has ever produced, Tennessee, and a trip to Provo to face a loaded BYU team that just might be good enough to think BCS.
The number one thing to work on is: Protecting the passer. Few Pac 10 teams did a good job in pass protection, but that's still no excuse for allowing 36 sacks and countless other pressures. Yes, there are options if Cowan and Olson get banged up again, but the goal is to not let that happen. Chow's first goal is to make sure his passers are getting the ball off quickly, and unlike last year, efficiently.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Chris Markey
Biggest defensive loss: SS Chris Horton
Best returning offensive player: QB Pat Cowan and/or Ben Olson
Best returning defensive player: CB Alterraun Verner, Jr.

Why to get excited:
This is still the most talented team in the Pac 10 with what should be the league's nastiest defense. Rey Maualuga passed up being a top ten draft pick to join Brian Cushing as the key cogs in killer back seven. Offensively, the machine should be loaded, and better, with Joe McKnight leading the way on the ground behind a strong line, and the receiving corps almost certain to be improved after a mediocre 2007. No offense to Oregon State or Virginia, but all the big games (Ohio State, Oregon, Arizona State, Cal, Notre Dame and, in the Rose Bowl, UCLA) are in L.A.
Why to be grouchy: DT FIli Moala chose to return for his senior year, but you don't get better by losing Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson off the line. While USC might be a factory, it'll still hurt to lose Mackey Award winning TE Fred Davis, three starting offensive linemen, and even the occasionally underwhelming John David Booty. Receivers Patrick Turner and Videl Hazelton should be better, but that's not a given. Mark Sanchez and/or Mitch Mustain still has to prove he can be up to USC quarterback snuff.
The number one thing to work on is: The entire punting game. The difference between being good enough to win the Pac 10 and good enough to win the national title is razor-thin, so USC, considering there are several question marks on both sides of the ball, has to work on getting all the little things right, like punting and returning punts. The Trojans were last in the league in punt returns averaging a mere 6.31 yards per try, and was 104th in the nation in net punting averaging 32.59 yards per attempt.
Biggest offensive loss: TE Fred Davis
Biggest defensive loss: DT Sedrick Ellis
Best returning offensive player: RB Joe McKnight, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Rey Maualuga, Sr.

Why to get excited: Jake Locker is a year older. The Pac 10's breakout quarterback wasn't always pretty throwing the ball, but he was scary on the ground, and now he has more experience. Even if the surprisingly solid recruiting class doesn't kick in right away, U-Dub has decent talent coming back to be more dangerous on offense. If the team can jell quickly, the chances will be there for a decent start with seven of the first ten games at home. The good: the awful defense of last year has to undergo wholesale changes. The bad: ...
Why to be grouchy: ... the awful defense of last year has to undergo wholesale changes losing seven starters. Locker might be more polished with an offseason to work, but the receiving corps loses the top five pass catchers. The schedule is supposed to be easier than 2007, but eight bowl teams are on the schedule, and that doesn't include Notre Dame. All the Dawgs have to do is start the year at Oregon, deal with a loaded BYU team, and then face Oklahoma.
The number one thing to work on is: Stopping the run. The entire defense needs work, especially considering all the personnel losses, with job one needing to be more effective against the run. The line got into the backfield and got to the quarterback on a regular basis, but it got steamrolled over by anyone who stuck with the ground game. Offensively, getting Locker to be more efficient would be nice.
Biggest offensive loss: RB Louis Rankin
Biggest defensive loss: DT Jordan Reffett
Best returning offensive player: QB Jake Locker, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: DE Daniel Te'l-Nesheim, Sr.

Washington State
Why to get excited: New head coach Paul Wulff has veterans to work with welcoming in eight starters on defense and six on offense. While the loss of bombing QB Alex Brink would normally be devastating, Gary Rogers appears more than ready to blow up in his new role. He has all the tools, the experience, and even a little bit of leadership kicking in this offseason. While he should be the man, there are other options with four decent options to push for the job. In other words, the passing game, considering top target Brandon Gibson is coming back, should continue to shine. If nothing else goes right this year, at least the regular season ends with a trip to Hawaii.
Why to be grouchy: Can the team survive a brutal mid-season stretch against Oregon, at UCLA, at Oregon State and USC? While there's plenty of experience returning, the team has a long way to go to be a player in the Pac 10. The defense struggled against any offense with a pulse, while the offense was inconsistent. The talent level is hardly top-shelf.
The number one thing to work on is: Scoring. Last year's offensive attack led the Pac 10 in passing, and the offense moved the ball, but the points didn't come. The Cougars hung 45 on both San Diego State and Idaho, and put up 33 on Stanford and 42 against Washington, but averaged a mere 17.6 against the seven bowl teams they faced. That won't get it done again in an improved league.
Biggest offensive loss: QB Alex Brink
Biggest defensive loss: FS Husain Abdullah
Best returning offensive player: WR Brandon Gibson, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Andy Mattingly, Jr.