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2008 CFN Pac 10 Team Capsules
Posted Jun 24, 2008

2008 CFN Pac 10 Predictions and Team-by-Team Thumbnail Views

2008 CFN Pac 10 Preview

Predictions & Quick Team Previews

Team Previews & Predictions
Arizona | Arizona State | California | Oregon | Oregon State
Stanford | UCLA | USC | Washington | Washington State

- 2008 CFN Pac 10 Preview
- CFN All-Pac 10 Team & Top 30 Players
- Pac 10 Team-by-Team Capsules

Pac 10 Unit Rankings

- Pac 10 Schedules & Predictions

1. USC
Predicted record: 10-2  Conf. record: 8-1
Best Offensive Player: RB Joe McKnight, Soph.
Best Defensive Player: LB Rey Maulaluga, Sr.

Offense: Mark or Mitch? The battle between Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain to replace John David Booty at quarterback isn’t exactly over, even though Sanchez got the nod in April. Although he’s the logical heir apparent and the most experienced hurler, Mustain has done nothing but impress the staff since transferring from Arkansas. Whoever gets the ball will have gobs of speed and explosiveness surrounding him. After getting a taste of action as a freshman, RB Joe McKnight is on the tarmac and preparing for national lift-off. The receivers are a year older, with the size, athleticism, and addition of former Hog Damian Williams to dominate opposing secondaries. The line loses four starters, putting the onus on sophomores Kristofer O’Dowd, Butch Lewis, and Zack Heberer to perform like vets.
Defense: When linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing decided to forego the NFL Draft for one more year, it ensured that the Trojans would have one of the nastiest back sevens in the country.  Not only are the two seniors All-America-caliber, but the secondary is sensational. Safeties Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays are among six players with starting experience.  Even without current pros Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson, the defensive line will be just fine. On the outside, speedy Everson Griffen is good enough to make folks forget about Jackson. On the inside, senior Fili Moala is about to shed his anonymity while making a strong push for All-American honors and a spot in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft.

2. Oregon
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 6-3
Best Offensive Player: C Max Unger, Sr.
Best Defensive Player: S Patrick Chung, Sr.

Offense: Who’ll get the ball on opening day? Dennis Dixon and his backup Brady Leaf are gone, meaning the quarterback situation will be under the microscope. Although six hurlers are on the roster, the competition will come down to Nate Costa and Justin Roper. Roper was peerless in the Ducks’ Sun Bowl rout of South Florida, but the compact, mobile Costa is the better fit for the spread. With Jonathan Stewart headed to the pros and Jeremiah Johnson recovering from a knee injury, the Ducks need to build running back depth, especially with the uncertainty under center. If Johnson is slow to recover, the vaunted Oregon ground game will become the responsibility of little-used Andre Crenshaw and LeGarrette Blount, a heralded 230-pound transfer from East Mississippi Junior College.   
Defense: What you need to know: For a change, most of Oregon’s stars this season will be on the defensive side of the ball. The Ducks lose little from Nick Aliotti’s ball-hawking unit, retaining all six of the players who earned all-conference recognition a year ago. Up front, ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu are talented pass rushers who can also defend the run. The Jerome Boyd-led linebackers have a chance to be the best group in Eugene in years. The secondary, featuring Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, and Walter Thurmond, will be among the best in the West. Offenses should have their best luck running the ball right at a line that’s understaffed at defensive tackle.

T3. Arizona State
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 5-4
Best Offensive Player:
QB Rudy Carpenter, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Dexter Davis, Jr.
Offense: QB Rudy Carpenter is adapting nicely to being Dennis Erickson’s latest pupil, planning to make his fourth season as the starter the best one yet. He’ll be surrounded by a deep supporting cast that includes receivers Michael Jones, Chris McGaha, and Kyle Williams, and backs Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance. However, all of that skill position talent might not reach top gear if the offensive line doesn’t get its act together. The Sun Devils yielded a ridiculous 55 sacks a year ago, robbing Carpenter of the time needed to make his reads and forcing the staff to install more simplified blocking schemes. From that leaky unit, three starters must be replaced, including both tackles and First Team All-Pac-10 C Mike Pollak. The front wall will be built around hulking guards Paul Fanaika and Shawn Lauvao, a pair of returning starters and assets to the running game. 
Defense: The Sun Devil defense took a giant stride in the right direction last year, displaying more toughness and intensity than in recent seasons. Still, when the schedule became more challenging late in the season, the D got exposed by the likes of Oregon, USC, and Texas. As the players become more comfortable in Craig Bray’s system, there’ll be a greater reliance on blitzing than in the past. Five key components of last year’s defense must be replaced, particularly all-league LB Robert James and half of the secondary. Dexter Davis and Troy Nolan have become staples at defensive end and free safety, respectively, while CB Omar Bolden and LB Travis Goethel are budding stars entering their second seasons as starters.

T3. Oregon State
Predicted record: 6-6 Conf. record: 5-4
Best Offensive Player:
WR Sammie Stroughter, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Victor Butler, Sr.
Offense: Is there a viable option at quarterback to run the offense? Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao were bad and worse, respectively, in 2007, combining for 11 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. Canfield is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and is expected to begin throwing again in July. Through the years, however, the Beaver offense has been paced by the running game, putting pressure on Ryan McCants to become the third freshman to rush for 1,000 yards under Riley. He’s good enough to deliver the feat. The team breathed a sigh of relief when a fifth year of eligibility was granted to WR Sammie Stroughter, a player who’ll give a jolt to the passing game and special teams unit. 
Defense: Go ahead and give coordinator Mark Banker the Broyles Award if the Beavers are even remotely as stingy as last year’s eighth-ranked defense. The unit must replace the entire front seven, all of whom earned at least All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition a year ago. Of greatest concern is the dearth of tackles, where only Pernnell Booth has earned a letter. It’s a good thing Banker substitutes freely, a philosophy that’ll help ease the transitions of ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris and linebackers Bryant Cornell and Keaton Kristick into the lineup. The strength is in the secondary, which boasts four veterans, including all-league CB Brandon Hughes and snot-knocking SS Al Afalava.  

Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 5-4
Best Offensive Player:
RB Kahlil Bell, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Reggie Carter, Jr.
Offense: The hope is that Chow can do for the UCLA quarterbacks what he did for the USC passers earlier this decade. It won’t happen overnight. The long-time coordinator has the indisputable track record as a quarterback guru, but Patrick Cowan is done for the year with an ACL tear, and Ben Olson is nursing a broken foot that won’t be healed until the summer.  Olson hasn’t come close to fulfilling his prep hype, falling prey to injuries and inconsistency, but still has the natural gifts needed to be the next hurler in Chow’s long line of success stories. While the receiving corps will be solid, the Olson has to be healthy and productive of the attack will initially lean heavily on RB Kahlil Bell and short passes to TE Logan Paulsen.                 
Defense: The D must regroup after losing its best pass rusher, top linebacker, and three-quarters of the starting secondary to graduation. Neuheisel cleaned up with defensive backfield recruits, landing CB Aaron Hester and S Rahim Moore, both of whom will have a chance to crack the two-deep. Up-and-coming Brian Price and veteran Brigham Harwell, who was given an extra year of eligibility, are a good pair of tackles who’ll lend hope to a run defense that was a major strength. LB Reggie Carter is flying under the radar and Alterraun Verner is a game-breaker on the brink of becoming one of the Pac-10’s most dynamic cover corners. The schedule does no favors for a defense in flux, so it’ll be trial by fire.  

T6. California
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 4-5
Best Offensive Player:
C Alex Mack, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Zack Follett, Sr.
Offense: Is Cal about to get consumed by an old-fashioned quarterback controversy? It might be unavoidable considering the inconsistent play of incumbent Nate Longshore and the head of steam being built by Armed Forces Bowl hero Kevin Riley. The job remains Longshore’s to lose, but if the more mobile Riley continues to mature, it’ll be hard for new coordinator Frank Cignetti to keep him out of the lineup. As if losing RB Justin Forsett isn’t tough enough, the Bears learned in March that his heir apparent, James Montgomery, is transferring to Washington State. Next in line is Jahvid Best, who missed spring drills recovering from a hip injury. The departures of last year’s top five pass-catchers create opportunities for Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross, and Florida transfer Nyan Boateng, who are short on experience, but long on potential.            
Defense: The Bears and coordinator Bob Gregory have the ingredients to improve upon last year’s flexible defense. They’re particularly strong at linebacker, where Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and Anthony Felder each have All-Pac-10 potential. Up front, however, there’s a glaring need for more pressure, and for talented sophomores Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo to emerge as run stuffers in the middle. The depth at linebacker coupled with the front wall concerns have the Bears flirting with the idea of using more 3-4 sets, which showed promise in last year’s bowl win over Air Force. Up-and-coming CB Chris Conte gets his first chance to start in the secondary, replacing Brandon Hampton.      

T6. Washington
Predicted record:
5-7  Conf. record: 4-5
Best Offensive Player:
QB Jake Locker, Soph.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Jr.
Offense: Jake Locker is the undisputed franchise, a well-sized triggerman who fell just 14 yards short of becoming the first quarterback in Pac-10 history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Reaching another level will require better decisions as a passer, improved accuracy, and more support from a rebuilt supporting cast. Hard-running Brandon Johnson is the likely backfield option after rushing for 196 yards and two scores as Louis Rankin’s backup.  Considering the attrition taking place at wide receiver, gifted newcomers Anthony Boyles, Devin Aguilar, and Chris Polk will be asked to contribute right away. The line brings back three starters, but has lost All-Pac-10 C Juan Garcia for an extended period of time, a crushing blow to the entire offense.
Defense: New coordinator Ed Donatell might seek out a one-way ticket back to the NFL after trying to resuscitate this unit. The Huskies will be looking for a bunch of new starters on a defense that finished last in the Pac-10 and 104th nationally in pass defense. The biggest need area is along a depleted defensive line that loses three starters, and will be counting on players, such as holdover DE Daniel Te’o- Nesheim and untested DT Cameron Elisara, to lead the charge up front. The brightest building block of the defense was LB E.J. Savannah, an athletic defender who led the team with 111 tackles in 2007, but he's academically ineligible and might be out for the year. That means FS Nate Williams is the new star playmaker to build the back seven around. 

T8. Arizona
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 4-5
Best Offensive Player:
WR Mike Thomas, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Ronnie Palmer, Sr.
Offense: While it wasn’t without hiccups, Arizona made a nice transition to Sonny Dykes’ wide-open spread offense.  After averaging a 100th place finish in total offense over three years, the ‘Cats clawed their way to No. 67 behind a fast-paced passing attack that rung up more than 300 yards a game.  With ten starters, including Tuitama, back from that unit, many school records are expected to fall in 2008.  Arizona is particularly loaded with skilled receivers, including All-Pac-10 WR Mike Thomas and Rob Gronkowski, a rare talent at tight end.  Although the offense should be crisper on experience alone, to really purr up to Dykes’ liking, the line has to become more physical at the point of attack.  
Defense: Call the architect because Arizona is undergoing a major renovation on defense. One year after bringing back 10 starters, the Wildcats lose eight regulars, including three all-stars, DT Lionel Dotson, LB Spencer Larsen, and CB Antoine Cason.  It’s a good thing Mike Stoops has recruited quality athletes the past few years because he’ll need a number of those kids to step forward this season. While there are emerging playmakers, like S Nate Ness and CB Devin Ross, in the secondary, and steady Ronnie Palmer at middle linebacker, the defensive line is a major worry for the ‘Cats. The ends don’t frighten anyone and the middle is soft, a one-two punch that could cripple the growth of the back seven. 

T8. Washington State
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 2-7
Best Offensive Player:
WR Brandon Gibson, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
DE Andy Mattingly, Jr.
Offense: With new head coach Paul Wulff comes a no-huddle spread offense that makes extensive use of the shotgun formation. However, don’t be fooled by the fancy name.  Washington State will still be seeking a degree of balance behind the hard running of Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory, and an improving offensive line that brings back four starters. The great unknown in Pullman is who’ll replace all-time leading passer Alex Brink, who finally ran out of eligibility. While senior Gary Rogers has an early edge, Wulff has dubbed the race an open competition that should last well into August. Whoever gets the ball will spend a lot of time zeroing in on Brandon Gibson, an All-America-caliber receiver who put off the NFL for one final season.     
Defense: Co-coordinators Jody Sears and Chris Ball are installing a 4-3 defense that’ll attack and stack the box in order to stop the run. Nine players who started games in 2007 are back, with the strength of the defense being at linebacker and defensive end. The star of the unit is DE Andy Mattingly, who made a splash last season as a blitzing outside linebacker with a knack for getting to the quarterback. He’ll be bookended by Kevin Kooyman, another terrific athlete who has the burst and desire needed to make plays behind the line. The chief areas of concern lie on the interior of the defensive line and in a secondary that yielded 23 touchdown passes, but played much better down the stretch.

10. Stanford
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 2-7
Best Offensive Player:
C Alex Fletcher, Sr.
Best Defensive Player:
LB Clinton Snyder, Jr.
Offense: After engineering gains in almost every statistical category versus the prior year, Jim Harbaugh’s attack has to do more. Far more. There’ll be no shortage of challenges, however, including deciding on a quarterback, rebuilding the receiving corps, and somehow milking more consistency from a beleaguered line. The objective will once again be to attack defenses with an up-tempo system that leans on the pass, yet still strives for balance with a power running game. All eyes will be on the battle behind center, which will introduce a couple of fresh faces, Michigan transfer Jason Forcier and high-profile recruit Andrew Luck.
Defense: Scott Shafer is now coaching at Michigan, but don’t expect new co-defensive coordinator Ron Lynn to change a lot from the attacking defense that was so successful at getting into the backfield and creating turnovers in 2007. The Cardinal retains much of the personnel responsible for a No. 5 national ranking in tackles for loss and second place Pac-10 finish in sacks. Although the front seven is loaded with players capable of harassing the quarterback, Stanford’s ability to turn the linebackers and safeties loose will depend on the play of a shaky pass defense coming off a rough season. Besides shoring up the secondary, Lynn needs to develop more depth at defensive tackle if the run defense is going to take a positive step.