2009 CFN Pac 10 Preview

Posted Jul 28, 2009

2009 CollegeFootballNews.com Preview - Pac 10 Preview

2009 CFN Pac 10 Preview

Team Previews & Predictions
- Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Oregon | Oregon State
- Stanford |
UCLA | USC | Washington | Washington St 

- 2009 CFN Pac 10 Preview
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2008 CFN Pac 10 Preview

By Richard Cirminiello

This just in—USC should win the Pac-10 championship.

In the conference’s version of Groundhog Day, the Trojans are once again the heavy favorite to snag an amazing eighth consecutive league title. Sure, there have close calls, like last season, but the program always seems to find a way to finish on top. Even with a new set of challenges, namely a first-year starting quarterback and retooled front seven, expect to see the same script and final chapter. There’s more than enough blue-chip talent, especially at the skill positions, along the offensive line, and in the secondary, to win a league that has no iron-clad foil. As usual, USC will also be in the national title discussion, but a rough schedule and a recent history of untimely lapses means at least one loss in its future.

Just because USC has become a 1990’s version of Florida State doesn’t mean the rest of the Pac-10 will hoist up the white flag. Cal and Oregon enter the season as the two primary contenders. The Bears have as much talent as anyone outside of Los Angeles and a bona fide Heisman contender in RB Jahvid Best. The potential is there for this to be the best team in the Jeff Tedford era, provided he can earn his guru title with inconsistent QB Kevin Riley. The Ducks have no such problems behind center, where Jeremiah Masoli has a cult following after just one year. Building on last season’s torrid finish, however, will require the offensive line to gel in Chip Kelly’s first season replacing long-time head coach Mike Bellotti.

Battling to join Cal and Oregon are five programs, with varying qualifications. Even with wholesale changes on defense, it doesn’t make sense any longer to underestimate Oregon State. No one gets more from less than Mike Riley, and the Rodgers brother, Jacquizz and James, can completely take games over. After finally laying the ground floor in 2008, Arizona will build another level with a balanced offense and speedy defense. Yeah, it’s going to take time, but now that the storm has passed, UCLA will be much more competitive in Rick Neuheisel’s second season, especially if the offense ditches the toe tag. The defense has an All-America candidate at each level in DT Brian Price, LB Reggie Carter, and CB Alterraun Verner. As long as Jim Harbaugh keeps turning down offers to leave, Stanford is a rising star in the Pac-10. There’s enough in the running game and front seven to bowl for the first time in eight years, a seminal moment for the Cardinal. Which is the real Arizona State, the one that won 10 games in Dennis Erickson’s debut or the one that went 5-7 a year ago? Probably closer to the latter until the offense gets right.

Washington and Washington State are the bottom-feeders, which is probably not fair to the Huskies. They’ve actually got a ton more young talent and optimism than a Cougar program that belongs in the Big Sky Conference. Although Steve Sarkisian’s plate in Seattle is full after inheriting an 0-12 team, he does get QB Jake Locker back and has a surprising amount of quality players to begin molding. U-Dub is going to ruin someone’s season this fall with an upset.

Team That'll Surprise

Stanford – The Cardinal has spent the last two seasons building to this point under Jim Harbaugh, when the talent is up to par with the rest of the league and the team makes a long-awaited postseason return. Stanford came close last year before fading over the final month of the season. Now, with a stellar recruiting class about to descend on the Farm, and the power ground game revved up behind Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal is about to break into the Pac-10’s first division. If redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck can win the job and give the offense some hope in the passing game, the transformation goes into overdrive.   

Team That'll Disappoint

Oregon – The expectations are sky-high after last year’s strong finish and offensive pyrotechnics, but overlooking the Ducks’ holes is a mistake. Albeit a rising star, Chip Kelly is in his first year as the head coach, which brings new challenges and divert some of his attention away from the offense. Plus, the offensive line took a beating from graduation, and the receivers have a lot to prove. Oregon will be plenty potent, but there are too many questions and too many landmines on the schedule to be talking top 10, as some are suggesting.  

Game of the Year … USC at Ohio State, Sept. 12. No, there’ll be no bearing on the league race in Columbus this evening, but go ahead and try to find Pac-10 game that rises to this level of importance and excitement. In a possible national championship elimination game, the Trojans and Buckeyes will meet in primetime for the second straight September? Troy rolled last summer, but the situation at quarterback has been reversed, with USC now putting its fortunes in the hands of an unproven player.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...

1. C Kristofer O’Dowd, Jr. USC
2. DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Sr. Washington
3. DT Lawrence Guy, Soph. Arizona State
4. DE Brooks Reed, Jr. Arizona
5. LB Keaton Kristick, Sr. Oregon State

Coach on the Hot Seat

Paul Wulff, Washington State – Technically speaking, no one is on the hot seat in the traditional sense of the phrase. Even though a few coaches, like Rick Neuheisel, Dennis Erickson, and Mike Stoops, can stem criticism with a winning season, it’s unlikely anyone gets the boot at the end of the year. Wulff left little margin for error in his debut on the Palouse, guiding the Cougars to a 2-11 season that was worse than the record indicated, if that’s possible. And then in the offseason, Eastern Washington was whacked for NCAA rules violations when Wulff was at the helm. Coaches rarely get canned after two years, but if Wazzu shows no progress, you never know how an embarrassed administration will react.

5 Non-Conference Games the Pac-10 had better take very, very seriously

1. Cal at Minnesota, Sept. 19
2. Central Michigan at Arizona, Sept. 5
3. Oregon State at UNLV, Sept. 12
4. Purdue at Oregon, Sept. 12
5. Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19

Bold Prediction … The Arizona offense won’t skip a beat without Willie Tuitama. A very nice quarterback, who threw for more than 9,000 career yards and 67 touchdowns, he’ll prove to be replaceable. Both sophomore successors, Matt Scott and Nick Foles, looked more than capable in the offseason of running Sonny Dykes’ offense. Scott has the athletic ability to force renovations to the playbook. Foles can reach Tempe with his passes. Plus, whoever gets the nod in August will be surrounded by a slew of exciting weapons, including TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Delashaun Dean, and backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin. The Wildcats are not about to retreat after finally breaking through in 2008. In fact, they’ll be better if the rebuilt offensive line can come together quickly.

5 Best Pro Prospects

1. S Taylor Mays, Sr. USC
2. TE Rob Gronkowski, Jr. Arizona
3. DT Brian Price, Jr. UCLA
4. RB Jahvid Best, Jr. Cal
5. DE Tyson Alualu, Sr. Cal

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill

1. QB Aaron Corp for Mark Sanchez, USC
2. LB Chris Galippo for Rey Maualuga, USC
3. C Chris Guarnero for Alex Mack, Cal
4. DE Kenny Rowe for Nick Reed, Oregon
5. DE Ben Terry for Victor Butler, Oregon State