2009 Early Pac 10 Lookaheads
California RB Jahvid Best
California RB Jahvid Best
Posted Feb 1, 2009

The Pac 10 was much-maligned last year, and then came the bowls. With USC needing to do some rebuilding, at least for USC, other teams like Oregon and Cal, with Heisman candidate Jahvid Best, will be in the title hunt. Here's an early look-ahead at each Pac 10 team with what needs working on and why to be excited and grouchy.

2009 Pac 10 Early Lookaheads

Arizona | Arizona StCalifornia | Oregon | Oregon St
Stanford | UCLA | USC | Washington | Washington St
- 2008 CFN All-Pac 10 Team | 2008 CFN Preseason All-Pac 10 Team

- 2007 Pac 10 Lookback/Recaps | 2008 Pac 10 Lookaheads

- 2008 Pac 10 Lookbacks and Recaps

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 8-5

Why to get excited
: Eight starters are back from a defense that exceeded expectations last year. Other than needing to develop a couple of linebackers, the Wildcats will begin the season without any glaring weaknesses. On the defensive line, Brooks Reed and Earl Mitchell earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors in their debuts as starters. In the secondary, CB Devin Ross and S Cam Nelson will anchor a pass defense that gave up just a dozen touchdown passes in 13 games.

Why to be grouchy: Three of last season’s most important offensive players are gone. Four-year starting QB Willie Tuitama has finally run out of eligibility. WR Mike Thomas leaves Tucson with a satchel of school records as a receiver and punt returner. Eben Britton has declared for the NFL Draft, leaving a 6-6, 310-pound opening at left tackle. The program gushes about QB Matt Scott’s potential, but he’s a true freshman with zero experience at this level.

The number one thing to work on is: Getting to the quarterback. As good as the Arizona defense was in 2008, it did a poor job of making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Reed was the lone exception, but he can’t blow up opposing gameplans on his own. He needs more help from Ricky Elmore, D’Aundre Reed, and the rest of the ends.

Biggest offensive loss: QB Willie Tuitama
Biggest defensive loss: LB Ronnie Palmer
Best returning offensive player: TE Rob Gronkowski, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Devin Ross, Sr.

Arizona State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited
: This could be the program’s best defense in years. Seven starters return with equal representation at each level. The defensive line has star power on the outside and inside with Dexter Davis and Lawrence Guy, respectively. While not the flashiest group around, the linebackers welcome back three seniors with extensive starting experience. Despite struggling in 2008, CB Omar Bolden still has lockdown qualities and all-league potential.

Why to be grouchy: It’s going to be a while before the offense snaps out of its funk. There isn’t a lot to get pumped about after the Sun Devils averaged just 22 points a game and were 100th nationally in total offense. A new quarterback will take over for four-year starter Rudy Carpenter, the running game needs an overhaul, and the offensive line is, at best, average.

The number one thing to work on is: The offensive line. Not a lot was expected from this group in 2008, and it certainly delivered on those expectations. The makeshift group was 109th in the country in sacks allowed, while sharing the responsibility for the 113th-ranked running game. If the immobile Danny Sullivan supplants Carpenter at quarterback, he’ll spend the year running for cover.

Biggest offensive loss: QB Rudy Carpenter
Biggest defensive loss: S Troy Nolan
Best returning offensive player: WR Chris McGaha, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Dexter Davis, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 7-5  Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited
: RB Jahvid Best is back. In Best, the Bears have a genuine Heisman contender and one of the most electrifying players in the country. In the final three games alone of his sophomore year, he ripped off 698 yards and eight touchdowns on just 58 carries. Provided he can stay healthy throughout the year, Best is the type of gamebreaker who’ll make everyone around him better, while bringing uncommon national attention to the Cal program.

Why to be grouchy: The rest of the offense has question marks. Kevin Riley needs to prove he’s the quarterback of the future, especially now that Nate Longshore is gone. The young receivers adapted slowly to their expanded roles in 2008. And Alex Mack will be impossible to replace at the pivot. Although Best and Shane Vereen give Cal one of the best backfield duos in the country, even they’ll need more support from the rest of the offense.

The number one thing to work on is: Restocking the shelves at linebacker. The 3-4 was so successful last fall because all four linebackers earned All-Pac-10 recognition. However, three of those run stoppers, Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and Anthony Felder, have played their final game in Berkeley. Mike Mohamed becomes the new leading man of the group, and he’ll be looking for help from some of the kids, like D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks.

Biggest offensive loss: C Alex Mack
Biggest defensive loss: LB Zack Follett
Best returning offensive player: RB Jahvid Best, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Syd’Quan Thompson, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 9-3    Final Record: 10-3

Why to get excited
: The quarterback situation will be light years better than it was this time last year. The Ducks have regrouped nicely from the graduation of Dennis Dixon, and could begin the 2009 season with three viable options under center if Nate Costa and Justin Roper can ever stay healthy. The centerpiece of the competition will be Jeremiah Masoli, who emerged as an improbable rock star last fall, finishing the year as hot as any quarterback this side of Norman, Okla.

Why to be grouchy: Both lines have endured significant hits from graduation. The offensive line, which was so instrumental in Oregon’s ground success, must replace four starters, including perennial all-star Max Unger. On defense, three-fourths of the interior is gone, headed by Pac-10 sack leader Nick Reed. If the Ducks are going to duplicate last week’s 10-win season, they’ll have to get both lines in order during the offseason.

The number one thing to work on is: Tightening up the pass defense. Considering all of the next level talent that was roaming around that Duck secondary, it’s a little hard to fathom why it yielded so many big plays. Oregon was last in the Pac-10 in yards and touchdown passes allowed. Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond, and T.J. Ward are all back, leaving no excuses for a repeat performance.

Biggest offensive loss: C Max Unger
Biggest defensive loss: DE Nick Reed
Best returning offensive player: RB LeGarrette Blount, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: CB Jairus Byrd, Sr.

Oregon State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 9-4

Why to get excited: The long offseason will provide more than enough time for the Rodgers brothers to get healthy. The Sun Bowl shined a bright light on just how valuable James and Jacquizz are to the Oregon State offense. With both on the shelf with injuries, the Beavers managed only a field goal versus Pittsburgh, their lowest output in over a year. Time away from the game will allow James to heal his broken collarbone and Quizz to get his shoulder right, giving OSU the most feared offensive tandem in the Pac-10.

Why to be grouchy: There’s a mass exodus taking place in the Beaver secondary. Brandon Hughes, Greg Laybourn, Al Afalava, and Keenan Lewis all earned spots on the All-Pac-10 squad. Now they’re all trying to continue their playing careers in the NFL. Throw in the loss of the team’s top two pass-rushers, Victor Butler and Slade Norris, and Oregon State will have a heap of trouble stopping quality quarterbacks in 2009.

The number one thing to work on is: The kicking game. For a program that plays in a slew of tight games each year, Oregon State needs maximum consistency from its punter and kicker. Rookie Johnny Hekker averaged less than 40 yards a punt for a unit that ranked 95th nationally in net punting. PK Justin Kahut missed 8-of-24 field goal attempts, and was less than 50% beyond 40 yards.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Sammie Stroughter
Biggest defensive loss: DE Victor Butler
Best returning offensive player: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Soph.
Best returning defensive player: LB Keaton Kristick, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 3-9  Final Record: 5-7

Why to get excited: Head coach Jim Harbaugh is still on The Farm. After fielding all kinds of interest from NFL franchises, he recently voiced his commitment to Stanford, backing it up with an extension of his current contract. It’s no coincidence that the Cardinal has been more competitive since Walt Harris was replaced on the sidelines by Harbaugh. To keep moving in a northerly direction, however, the program needs to keep its fiery leader from going elsewhere.

Why to be grouchy: The offense is still seeking a first-rate quarterback. In two years, Harbaugh has made little progress with a Cardinal passing game that resides at the bottom of the Pac-10. Yeah, Tavita Pritchard had that one memorable moment against USC in 2007, but he’s lacked consistency and thrown seven more picks than touchdowns. There’s hope that uber-recruit Andrew Luck can break through after redshirting last fall.

The number one thing to work on is: Defense. It’s not that Stanford is without quality players, such as LB Clinton Snyder and S Bo McNally, but better opponents tend to have their way with it. Equally soft against the run as the pass, the Cardinal allowed at least 35 points in each of the final three games with bowl eligibility hinging on the outcomes.

Biggest offensive loss: T Ben Muth
Biggest defensive loss: LB Pat Maynor
Best returning offensive player: RB Toby Gerhart, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: LB Clinton Snyder, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 6-6   Final Record: 4-8

Why to get excited
: Hope for a turnaround can be found on defense. The UCLA communications department will be hyping an All-America at each level next summer. Up front, the sky is the limit for DT Brian Price, who earned a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team as a sophomore. Second team LB Reggie Carter put off the NFL to return to Westwood for one final season. Ditto Alterraun Verner, an all-league corner with good ball skills. Rick Neuheisel is amassing a lot of talent on this side of the ball for whoever he anoints as the next defensive coordinator.

Why to be grouchy: The offense is still light years from even being competitive. The need for a playmaking quarterback may be the most obvious concern, but the Bruins are also lacking in skill position players and quality offensive linemen. After finishing 111th in total offense and 109th in scoring, it’s hard to imagine how UCLA gets dramatically better in 2009.

The number one thing to work on is: Improving the play of the O-line. Last year’s unit was the root of so many offensive problems, like averaging 2.6 yards per carry and allowing a million sacks. After relying on a bunch of young kids, like Jeff Baca and Mike Harris, the Bruins need everyone to grow up fast if the rest of the offense has any chance to make plays.

Biggest offensive loss: RB Kahlil Bell
Biggest defensive loss: DT Brigham Harwell
Best returning offensive player: TE Logan Paulsen, Sr.
Best returning defensive player
: DT Brian Price, Jr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 10-2   Final Record: 12-1

Why to get excited: Recruiting. Every year, pundits wring their hands over the number of stars USC loses to the NFL, and every year, it wins the Pac-10. Hey, it’s never fun losing a Rey Maualuga or Fili Moala, but waiting in the wings is another wave of blue-chip talent itching for its chance to play. Recent history shows that those young players will deliver when their time arrives. Now that G Jeff Byers has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, the Trojans will be bringing back all 18 offensive linemen from the 2008 roster.

Why to be grouchy: The Trojans will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the second straight year. It’s not that they don’t have options, but losing Mark Sanchez early to the NFL Draft robs USC of one of the nation’s premier passers and opens the door for a seven-month quarterback controversy. Mitch Mustain or Aaron Corp? It’s a question Pete Carroll hoped he wouldn’t have to answer until 2010.

The number one thing to work on is: Offensive execution. While the aggregate numbers tell a different story, the Trojans did have occasional lapses on offense in 2008. Getting shutout in the first half at Oregon State, for instance, probably cost them a shot at a national championship. Whoever gets the ball from Carroll needs to do a better job of producing points on a week-in, week-out basis.

Biggest offensive loss: QB Mark Sanchez
Biggest defensive loss: LB Rey Maualuga
Best returning offensive player: C Kristofer O’Dowd, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: S Taylor Mays, Sr.

CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7   Final Record: 0-12

Why to get excited
: Just about everyone returns. Yeah, yeah, that’s not always a good thing, but the Huskies went with a bunch of youngsters in last year’s winless campaign, who figure to be better from that experience. Rookies, like RB Chris Polk, DE Everette Thompson, and WR Jermaine Kearse, give new head coach Steve Sarkisian plenty to get excited about. Plus, two of last season’s best players, QB Jake Locker and LB E.J. Savannah, are expected back from injury and academic suspension, respectively.

Why to be grouchy: Before handing the keys back to the administration, former coach Tyrone Willingham drove the program into a ditch. From 0-12 to being competitive again is going to be a long climb for the new staff. Of the 119 FBS schools, Washington ranked No. 100 or lower in just about every statistical category. In other words, the Huskies didn’t do any one thing well in 2008.

The number one thing to work on is: Run defense. The secondary actually got better as the season wound down, but the run D was consistently bad throughout the year. The Huskies gave up 240 yards a game on the ground and a ridiculous 5.7 yards a carry, capped by a 311-yard outburst from Cal’s Jahvid Best.

Biggest offensive loss: C Juan Garcia
Biggest defensive loss: CB Mesphin Forrester
Best returning offensive player: QB Jake Locker, Jr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim

Washington State
CFN Preseason Prediction: 5-7  Final Record: 2-11

Why to get excited
: In theory, Wazzu hit rock bottom in 2008. And once rock bottom is reached, the only direction is up. Now that the storm has passed in Pullman, the Cougars can start the long road back under second-year head coach Paul Wulff. Hey, there’s also a hint of momentum to take into 2009, courtesy of a double-overtime win over Washington in the Apple Cup.

Why to be grouchy: No one in the Pac-10 has less talent than Washington State. Even winless Washington has a nice collection of young players capable of blossoming into all-stars. Wazzu? Not so much. Now that WR Brandon Gibson has graduated, there isn’t a single player on the roster that immediately jumps out as a pro prospect. Purely in terms of players with potential, Wulff has a long way to go before closing the gap on the rest of the league.

The number one thing to work on is: The defense. You can go just about anywhere with this question, but it’s the defense that especially hideous in 2008. The Cougars were last in the country in run defense and next to last in points allowed. In a wicked six-game stretch in the middle of the year, Washington State gave up at least 58 points five times. There’s a glimmer of hope on offense, but it won’t mean a thing if the defense can’t make a stop once in a while.

Biggest offensive loss: WR Brandon Gibson
Biggest defensive loss: LB Greg Trent
Best returning offensive player: C Kenny Alfred, Sr.
Best returning defensive player: DE Andy Mattingly, Jr.