August 12, 2004

Let’s Play Some Football! PAC-10 Version

Here we go, back to the big kids. Actually, this conference has one really big kid and nine others racing to catch up. USC has reestablished itself as the dominant power in the conference and no one is close. The major obstacle for the Trojans this year should be Cal, as Coach Jeff Tedford returns a powerhouse passing attack, and just enough running and defense to be effective. The Oregon schools could be good, but both have holes that need filling. Everyone else could squeeze into a lower-tier bowl, or fall into oblivion. This conference really needs UCLA and Washington to return to form.

1. USC Trojans
All you really need to know about the Trojans is that the three best running backs in the PAC-10 (Reggie Bush, Herschel Dennis and LenDale White) ALL play for them. They also have the best offensive line, best defensive line, best linebackers and best secondary. Their special teams are good, and Bush is capable of breathtaking returns.

God how I hate them.

2. California Golden Bears
If it were not for USC’s sudden, and considering it came under Pete Carroll, inexplicable return to greatness, the Bears would be next in line to be the traditionally awful PAC-10 team that finally makes it to the Rose Bowl. Now it becomes a guessing game. What happens first, Tedford takes the team to the Promised Land, or a bigger and better program (or even the NFL) takes Tedford away? My guess is on the latter, unless the UC-Berkeley athletic department comes through on promises to improve the program. On the field, the Bears run a version of Oregon’s offense, and run it well. QB Aaron Rogers and wideouts Geoff McArthur and Jonathon Makonnen are dangerous.

3. Oregon State Beavers
This year the Beavers’ hopes will rise and fall with QB Derek Anderson, just like they have the last few years. Anderson has had the same season twice in succession: He kills the bad teams and gets eaten alive by good ones. That will have to change, especially since RB Steven Jackson isn’t around to bail him out. The defense is good, especially in the secondary, which is lead by senior safety Mitch Meeuwson and Soph CB Brandon Browner, defending PAC-10 freshman of the year.

4. Oregon Ducks
It’s been a frustrating two years for the Ducks and their fans. The team has looked very good at times (see the upset win against Michigan last year) and terrible at times as well (the first game after Michigan, OU was crushed at home by WSU). Unless they show improvement, especially running the ball and defending the pass, expect more of the same. There are some very talented players on the squad, especially DL Haloti Ngata. Now that QB Kellen Clemens is the definite starter, he’ll need to step up.

5. Washington State Cougars
At this point, in the PAC-10, you can throw the teams in a blender and whatever order they come out is possible. It is easy to see each of these, with a couple exceptions, anywhere from the Holiday Bowl to 2-9. Following the most successful three years in school history, WAZZU is retrenching a bit. The talent is there, but it is very young, with only six returning starters. First order of business will be settling on a quarterback. Sophomore Josh Swogger is currently listed as the starter, but the coaching staff seems to really like RS freshman Alex Brink and his Gesser-like skill set.

6. Washington Huskies
This is a pivotal season for the Huskies, as the program seems to be on the verge of collapsing. After back-to-back late-season collapses, a total changeover in administration, and the looming Neuheisel mess, Coach Keith Gilbertson seem to have little leeway this season. On the field, the Huskies have some very talented players, but also have gaps, especially along the lines. They also need to settle on a QB. Junior Casey Paus is the passer, Soph Isaiah Stanback the runner, and freshman Carl Bonnell seems to be a mixture of the two. Paus did play well last year subbing for Cody Pickett, leading the team to a blowout win over Oregon

7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Dirk Koetter, after a disappointing 2003, seems to be on the hot seat. The Sun Devils closed 2002 with a flourish, giving Kansas State all they could handle in the Holiday Bowl. That was expected to carry over, but it didn’t, and ASU fell flat. This team still has a lot going for it, especially QB Andrew Walter running Koetter’s sophisticated passing game. Still, this team has always seemed less than the sum of it’s parts recently, and if that doesn’t change soon, Koetter could be out of a job.

8. UCLA Bruins
Speaking of out a job… Karl Dorell is in a tough position. The Bruins struggled down the stretch last year, especially on offense, climaxing in a putrid performance in the Silicon Valley Classic loss to Fresno State. Dorrell fired offensive coordinator Steve Axman, replacing him with former Idaho coach Tom Cable. The Bruins will continue to run a version of the West Coast Offense, but they will certainly need improvement, especially from QB Drew Olson. UCLA took a bit of a risk when hiring Dorrell, who had no head-coaching experience, and little time as a coordinator. He has not gotten off to a good start, and chasing off quality players like Tyler Ebell, Tab Perry and Matt Moore won’t help.

9. Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats are starting over, again. The John Mackovic experiment was a disaster, so they try this time with Mike Stoops. Formerly the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma under his brother Bob, Stoops comes highly regarded, and wasted little time reestablishing discipline in a program that clearly broke down under Mackovic. He has much work to do, however. The overall talent level of this team isn’t great. He does have an okay offense, led by RB Mike Bell and an adequate corps of receivers. Defensively the ‘Cats will be on their third system in three years. Expect some stumbles along the way.

10. Stanford Cardinal
Buddy Teevens made a quick mess during his stay in Tulane, and he seems to be doing it again. The Cardinal are far behind the rest of the league talent-wise, even Arizona has a better 2-deep lineup. Teeven’s complicated offense, a version of the Fun ‘n’ Gun has not taken hold here, and defensively they were a mess last year. They do return 14 starters, so they should be better if only due to experience. The Cardinal starts with four home games, and they must get off to a quick start. An early collapse would doom their chances, and probably Teeven’s job as well.

Previously: ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12 ,Non-BCS Conferences

Posted by Frinklin at August 12, 2004 05:31 PM

Don't knock Carroll... he was totally overmatched as a pro head coach, but he was a good defensive coordinator and he's well-suited to the college game. He's too soft for head coaching in the pros, but he's not a dummy.

Posted by: Mediocre Fred at August 12, 2004 08:51 PM
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