Picking the Pac-10:
There are a few things that seem to generally work for the Pac-10.
1) Pac-10 teams tend to defend the home field very well.
2) Cal seems to know how to beat the state of Arizona.
3) Oregon St. is always tougher at the end of the season than at the beginning.
4) Going with your gut before the season often works better than trying to rationalize everything during the season.
So I'm going to present my picks, with full disclosure of my Cal bias and the fact I have done next to no homework based upon #4.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 4-5, minor bowl game
What reasoning I have: Playing Cal as a home game does them no favors, as does playing USC at home. They aren't known for playing well on the road.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: The offense and the defense come together in the same season.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: All of their offensive experiments backfire and their defense has to stay on the field for 80% of games consistently.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Defend home field better to get one of the games against USC or Cal without choking away another home game to match, and pull off a few road wins.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 2-7, not bowling
What reasoning I have: It's not as if they could improve that much on defense, but it still didn't get them anywhere in the Pac-10 last season. I'm not convinced the offense will be so much better this season. Their home slate is not favorable besides.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Their Pac-10 opening 3-game road trip has a win in there somewhere to build some positive momentum for the season, and that positive vibe translates later into a home upset somewhere or a recaptured territorial cup. If the spread really works right out of the gate, throw my picks in the trash – this team could contend for Pac-10 top 3 finish.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Their defense collapses. There's no way the offense has improved so much they could survive that.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Beat Oregon St. early in the season, use that to inspire close games in Seattle, Berkeley, and in LA (winning 1-2 of those), and defend home against the Cardinal. I highly doubt they could mess up my picks negatively by sinking so badly as to lose to WSU.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 6-3, bowl representatives everywhere have sighs of regret and mutter things about the NCAA under their breath.
What reasoning I have: I'm not sure how many people are leaving, but motivation under a new coach and no bowl game prospects has to be tough. The talent level is still very high, but how much will the older players' hearts be in the TEAM. There's probably a lot of NFL showboating on their minds instead if they decide to stick around.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: They decide collectively to snub the NCAA and the BCS by winning the Pac-10 title outright anyway.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: The recent sanctions are so destructive to morale and chemistry they only win games where I could do the play calling from the booth for both offense and defense having just flown in from San Jose and still win the game on talent level.
How they could completely mess up my picks: The secondary decides to go for picks too often, the defensive line gets too aggressive and never catches a screen, and the linebackers are constantly out of position trying to cheat on the plays they imagine stopping in highlight reel fashion. The resulting shootouts don't bounce USC's way enough to make them bowl eligible even if they weren't under sanctions.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 2-7, no bowl.
What reasoning I have: I don't think think guys will get it together on offense. It's the same issue I have with ASU. In the Pac-10, winning with defense only is nearly impossible, and I really don't foresee their ground game becoming spectacular.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: The offense develops into something respectable.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Their defense slips back while their offense shows no improvement.
How they could completely mess up my picks: If I have undersold them, they should be able to beat Oregon St. at home and ASU on the road, and they will pull off another game somewhere else. It's very unlikely they will tank to “lose to WSU” status.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 7-2 Co-champion, Rose Bowl
What reasoning I have: Cal never makes sense. They will submarine under high expectations and will outperform low expectations. This year nobody expects them to be any good. Maybe this hopeful Cal fan is in for a huge payoff. (Of course, I could be completely wrong.) The biggest reason why my hope can be remotely plausible is the schedule: Arizona and WSU on the road, Oregon, Washington and Stanford at home, along with home games against ASU and the always-feisty UCLA (when it comes to the bear brother's brawl).
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Beat USC for some insurance space in the standings without conceding the Bear Territory advantage or actually beat Oregon St., who seems to have our number, without conceding the Bear Territory advantage.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Lose the Pac-10 opener @ Arizona and it could be really tough to sniff the Roses the rest of the way, given the streaky psych profile of the team. They would definitely surprise me in a bad way if QB play dropped along with the play of the receivers, or the pass defense didn't improve.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Go undefeated (I KNOW that's wishful thinking) or lose two of the home games.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 6-3, #3 in the Pac-10.
What reasoning I have: Does anybody want to play this physical team with a gifted QB? Did I mention this team is the smartest in the Pac-10 besides? Perhaps wishful thinking, but I have the season playing out where Cal-Stanford could be for the Roses. While I have Cal winning that one at home, it's by no means a very confident pick.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Their running game gets back nearly to Gerhart form, and their passing game becomes a monster. Meanwhile, the defense stiffens up a little. Only Oregon and USC have any prayer of beating them on paper, and Cal can only rely on the Big Game mojo to mess things up.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Their QB gets hurt again, and their QB play drops considerably. Trust me, that could ruin these picks in a hurry.
How they could completely mess up my picks: I think I've covered that. QB injury could drop them to 4-5. Significant improvement from last season could raise them to 8-1 or 9-0.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 7-2 Pac-10 Co-champions, excluded from Roses by rule and tiebreaker
What reasoning I have: Don't tell anybody, but apparently this attack is still just as dangerous without Masoli. The defense isn't terrible, either.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Their defense really improves against the pass and their offense is still as scary as ever. They roll over Cal @ Cal and/or OSU @ OSU in addition to beating everybody else.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Their defense melts down instead of improving or all those rumors about the continuing smoothness of the offensive juggernaut are false.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Go undefeated or suffer a big drop in QB play. Choking away two trap games would also destroy these picks, but I really don't see them doing that.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 6-3, tied for 3rd in the Pac-10, don't need the tiebreaker against USC but have it anyway
What reasoning I have: Starting at home against the offensively inept ASU will mean as long as they don't concede pick-6s like crazy, they will win the game off a more consistent rushing attack, field position and field goals. The early season clunkers they get out of the way on the road, where they are more forgivable, and they are against respectable teams. A bye week and Cal coming to town turn their season back around, where their only loss the rest of the way against a Stanford team on the road while they are looking ahead to the Civil War.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Find their A-game earlier in the season and pull off one of those early roadies as a win without trading it for a clunker later. 3-way tie for first gets resolved in some clunky manner where they manage to get the Rose Bowl or they overachieve so much they don't need a tiebreaker.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: They choke away the opener and their offense never really gets traction throughout the entire season.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Their new QB plays like the old one right out of the box and they destroy Arizona and Washington on the road or they choke against ASU and don't get revenge in the Civil War and lose their mojo against Cal.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 5-4, minor bowl game
What reasoning I have: I think they'll win all their home games and lose all their road games except against WSU. The road slate doesn't offer much in the way of chances with @USC, @Arizona, @Oregon and @Cal, 2 of those being revenge games against teams that very rarely lose at home, a third one at Autzen, and traveling to Arizona, despite what Cal's record thinks, is usually no picnic.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: They discover a way to win anything on the road to go along with winning at home (outside of the Apple Cup).
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Locker goes down with an MCL tear before conference play.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Locker goes down and their QB play drops like lead weight or the team develops consistency, playing like they did in Seattle last season in every game this season.
Predicted Pac-10 record: 0-9
What reasoning I have: A lot of the Pac-10 has gotten better more so than they have, and even those who we would think have slipped don't look like they can slip THAT far and still maintain any semblance of dignity.
How they could surprise me, in a good way: Win a Pac-10 game.
How they could surprise me, in a bad way: Show no improvement towards getting competitive this season.
How they could completely mess up my picks: Win 2 or more Pac-10 games.