PAC 10 College Football Preview
Written by: Shane M. Dayton
Many fans, myself included, have viewed the Pac-10 in recent years as a conference that held one of the best football dynasties in college football history, and then the rest was a joke. While the Pac-10 has not been particularly strong in recent years, there is reason to believe that the rest of the pack is catching up to Pete Carroll’s amazing USC teams, but let’s not get carried away…
USC still owns the west and they are an early favorite to head to the national title game.
USC: Finished T-1st, projected 1st
When you average eleven wins and two losses a year and have two national titles, you know you’re doing something right, or maybe everything. Pete Carroll has rebuilt the USC Trojans into the team everyone is gunning to beat. When an 11-2 record, shared conference title, and BCS bowl victory is a down year, things are good. Even if Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are gone, there is no reason to worry. USC is returning a jaw dropping eighteen starters, including every single defensive starter. USC will avenge its losses and go undefeated, cementing John David Booty’s chances to cement his name along side Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. They are too good, with too many returning starters, and too much stockpiled talent.
UCLA: Finished T-4th, projected 2nd
How sweet was December 1st for Bruins fans! Your defense hammered the famed unstoppable offense to the tune of a 13-9 victory. The really good news is that the suffocating D loses only one starter, and the offense doesn’t look bad, either, returning ten players with starting experience. Quarterback Olsen is back healthy, and his backup worked admirably in relief, including the USC upset. UCLA faces some strong non conference competition, and the Pac-10 as a hole is stronger. You know USC is going to be gunning for revenge. UCLA will be a tough cookie, and may surprise teams as a national title contender, but I think USC will just be a little too much. Expect a winning season and a solid bowl, though if the stars align right, they may be dark horse contenders for the national title.
Oregon State: Finished 3rd, projected 3rd
Oregon State put together an excellent season, winning ten games and acting as one of only two teams to defeat USC. Seven starters return on offense, and eight return on defense, which will give the Beavers a great base to work from in 2007. A dramatic win over a strong Missouri team in the Sun Bowl gives state fans reason to be optimistic. The defense and offense are both strong, and this is a well coached team. Not enough to knock off USC, but enough to grab a solid bowl, and upset Cal along the way.
Cal: Finished T-1st, projected 4th
Spread offenses work much better in college than in the NFL, which makes Cal dangerous regardless if they are a “system team,” and maybe I’m falling into the same trap of over looking them, but this year I just genuinely believe that Cal is the fourth best team in the Pac-10, and A&M was heavily overrated—so I don’t buy their bowl game as a quality victory. There are only four returning starters on the defense, and seven on offense. They go to UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State while USC eats up a home game. This is a good team, but this year they slip. They will still make a bowl, but this won’t be a team competing for the Pac-10 title in the final weeks.
Arizona: T-5th, projected 5th
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the breakout team of the Pac-10 for 2007. It has taken time and patience, but both are about to pay off for wild cat fans. Eight starters return on offense, including the entire offensive line. An extremely tough defense returns ten starters. This is a team that beat Oregon and Cal last year and played USC and Oregon State very respectably. With all the returning talent, another solid recruiting class, and Coach Stoops, this is the year they take the next step: A winning record, .500 or better in the Pac-10, and a bowl game. Also, Arizona State better be ready: this year the in-state rivalry will be an all out brawl.
Arizona State: T-5th, projected 6th
It’s hard to pick out Arizona State over Oregon since the two teams look similar in many regards, but Arizona State has the better head coach and quarterback, so there’s the nod. An easy non-conference schedule will help sprint towards .500 and a bowl bid, and quarterback Rudy Carpenter was good enough for the team to tell Sam Keller to hit the road. Nine starters on offense will make them potent—which is good since the defense will leave plenty to be desired. Expect a winning season and mid level bowl, but unless Carpenter morphs into the next John Elway or Brett Favre, don’t expect major contention from this team.
Oregon: T-5th, projected 7th
Oregon didn’t exactly collapse: because they weren’t nearly as good as their 4-0 (with the extremely controversial win over Oklahoma) would indicate—but they were just terrible against a hungry BYU team that destroyed them 38-8. On the plus side, Oregon has always bounced back from a bad season under Coach Mike Bellotti and they return seven starters on offense, including QB Dennis Dixon, who should be much better with more experience under his belt. While they’re not the ten win team of a few years back, they should have a potent offense and should go bowling again this year.
Washington State: T-5th, projected 8th
When you collapse badly, as Washington State did, you hope for a quick start, so . . . hello Wisconsin? Three weeks later their first Pac-10 game is at USC, followed by another road trip to a resurgent Arizona (who beat them last season). Ouch. State lost most of a defense that wasn’t dominant to begin with, though the offense should be good shape. This team will have to fight and claw to reach .500, but if the defensive line can stay healthy—which hasn’t happened so far, they could have a chance to become a real thorn in the side of Pac-10 competition. My former college roommate asked me for good news being a Wazzu fan, so I told him at least he’s not a Washington fan.
Washington: 9th, projected 9th
It’s not that this team isn’t making strides under head coach Tyrone Willingham—it is, but most coaches will take a powder puff non conference schedule during a potential break out season. Washington starts out with Syracuse (good) then plays Boise State, Ohio State, and Hawaii. Even worse, Boise State and Ohio State eat up two home games, meaning most of the Pac-10 will see Washington at their place. With highly touted recruits finally getting their chance, and a solid offensive line, this team is much better than it was three years ago—but it doesn’t matter because they have to crawl on broken glass across their stomachs to get to four wins.
Stanford: Finished 10th, projected 10th
Five straight losing seasons, despite having talented quarterback Trent Edwards. The team hired former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Harbaugh has the right work ethic and upbeat attitude for a difficult job, and will switch the team to a West Coast offense. Despite some big losses, most of the starters return on a defense that does have talent, but still needs to make strides. When the high point is saying, “Well at least we have one of the best punters in the Pac-10,” you know success is a ways away. Even Washington’s murderous schedule won’t knock them to the basement.
The Pac-10 will be much more competitive than years past, with USC once again heading the group, though if UCLA can even put together an okay offense, they could be a strong dark horse team. This should be a much more fun conference to watch this year than in years past.