Probably the only good thing about summer break ending, is that I know in less than 2 weeks, the College Football season will be here. Every year, there is a new sense of excitement, new players with the spotlight on them, and new programs to focus on.
As you all know, I'm a Pac-10 fan, Stanford's my number 1 team, but when there's another team in the conference with a shot at a National Title, I'm behind them, even if it is USC. Now please, nobody accuse me of being a bandwagoner. By no means am I saying I go about and buy the other team's apparel, or in some cases, even watch the games at all. All I'm saying, is that when I think a Pac-10 team has a shot at eternal glory, I'm supporting their cause.
So, without any further adieu, allow me to unveil my 2010 Pac-10 preview. (I've been working/thinking about this for quite some time now)
My Preseason Ranks:
For the second year in a row, they're the best team in the conference in my opinion. LaMichael James will be looking to follow up a stellar Freshman campaign, and Jeff Maehl will be looking to breakout in an offese that is likely to pass more. The Ducks extra motivation for this season I think should come from an embarassing Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State. The team seemed overconfident and didn't have the same demeanor as the squad that took it to Oklahoma State in the Pacific Life Bowl two years ago. An issue for this team however will be a QB. With no more Masoli, whose going to take control of the offense? Nate Costa looks to be the early favorite. I don't think Oregon is the most talented team in the conference, but I think they've got the best shot of taking the title due to intagibles, most notably, the Autzen Zoo.
They're the most talented team in the conference, plain and simple. But with no bowl eligibility, and LaMe Kiffin as their coach, I don't think they have it in them to win the conference. Matt Barkley should be looking to improve on a season that was up and down to say the least. Even without a rusher who ran for over 500 yards last season, Running Back U shouldn't have many issues running the ball. If USC had bowl eligibility and didn't have LaMe Kiffin running the show, they'd be my pick for Pac-10 champ.
3. Oregon State
They're the team that nobody talks about. They've finished in the top 25 for 6 years running, and yet, they still garner no respect in the preseason polls. Mike Riley has to be one of the best coaches in the nation. Year in and year out, he gets the most out of his players despite playing a grueling schedule which this season includes Penn State on their non conference slate. Jacquizz Rodgers will compete with LaMichael James for crown of best running back in the conference. Obviously he'll be the most important part of the offense, but we can't forget about his brother James Rodgers who is one of the best WRs in the country.
Andrew Luck. Perhaps no player in the conference determines how his team will fair this upcoming season than him. With no Toby Gerhart, everybody wants to know, how will Stanford move the ball? Will it be with a backfield that will see 3 running backs splitting carries? Or will it be with Andrew Luck's lethal arm? The team has 8 returning starters on offense, including 4 of the offensive lineman that made up what was widely considered the second best offensive line in the country behind Alabama's. (Stanford only surrendered 4 sacks last season). Also, Owen Marecic, arguably the best Fullback in the country will be lining up on both ends of the ball at Fullback and Linebacker.
This team rotates around Jake Locker. Many would argue that he, and not Luck will determine the future of his team more, but with 18 returning starters, Washington's does have some ability outside of the future NFL draft number 1 pick. The WR core is extremely strong with receivers coming in with over 500 receiving yards from last season. The only real question mark with this team will be the running game. But with Jake Locker being the dual threat QB that he is, and a passing game that is sure to make defenses shiver, regardless of who steps in at halfback, this team should have an effective ground game.
Another team with a stud QB, Nick Foles. This team as usual will rely on the Air Raid attack that should see Foles throwing the ball about 35 times a game. This might just be the best offense in the conference but the defens is so abysmal that it drops the Wild Cats to 6th in the conference. Trevin Wade is the lone bright spot on D as he is one of the best defensive backs in the conference. Even with a 6th place finish, that still puts them in a bowl game as the Pac 10 should be the deepest conference in the country. Similar to Oregon State, Arizona's got an extra difficult schedule with Iowa coming to town in week 3.
The Bruins were one of 2 teams in the conference to win their bowl game last season (out of 7). But with uncertainty at the QB position, the team slides down the ranks. Will the starter be Kevin Price? Or Kevin Craft? Or will they platoon? Fortunately however, the Bruins are very young and have multiple running backs who are capable of carrying the load. The defense will be lead by safety Rahim Moore who is without question the best defensive back in the conference (he had 10 INT's last season). On special teams, Kai Forbath is the best kicker in that nation. He and Rahim Moore however aren't enough to lift the Bruins out of the bottom half of the Pac-10.
If Kevin Riley is ever going to break out, this is the season. In his final year as a Bear, Cal needs him more than ever if they plan to make a bowl game. It's hard to believe this is the same team that had it not been for a poor play call, would've been the number 1 team in the country at one point. Now, they will find themselves scrambling to make a bowl game. Cal's got one of the easier schedules in the conference as their toughest non-conference game will likely be at Nevada. Fortunately for them, they get to play Oregon, Stanford, and Washington at home. That could be the boost they need to upset one of those teams and squeeze into the bowl season. But with no Jahvid Best, this team needs Kevin Riley to breakout and for another player to become a playmaker on offense.
9. Arizona State
Arizona State is where the talent drops off in the Pac-10. The offense really doesn't have any strong points. The passing game ranked 62nd in the nation, the run game 93rd. If Arizona State has any bright spots, its their run D which ranked number 1 in the country last season statistically. Incredible considering the likes of Toby Gerhart, Joe McKnight, and Jahvid Best all called the Pac-10 home last season. Arizona State will have a stretch of 3 games next season that includes playing @ Wisconsin, VS Oregon, and @ Oregon State. If they can win 2 of those games, perhaps they'll surprise me and find their way to a bowl game. But the odds of them even being competitive in any of those games are slim.
10. Washington State
As usual, the Cougars finish dead last in the Pac-10. They've made mild improvements, all of which coming from returning starters, but the fact remains, this team isn't even close to the rest of the conference. This team similar to UCLA will likely have a platoon at QB with Jeff Tuel, Marshall Lobbestael, and Kevin Lopina. Washington State starts off their season at Oklahoma State. The way I see it, this game is a no lose situation for the Pac-10. If Wazzu gets crushed like they should, who cares, Oklahoma State beat the basement of the Pac-10. If Wazzu keeps it close, it speaks volumes for the depth of the conference. And if Wazzu wins.... don't even get me started.
All 4 of their teams have a chance at winning the Pac-10 title. Whichever of their teams wins it, will likely find themselves in Radio City Music Hall come December.
Well guys, there you have it. My preseason Pac-10 predictions. No conference should have a more interesting outcome than the Pac-10. As usual, we should expect tons of upsets and if any team comes out of this conference with fewer than 2 losses, I'd be stunned.