Pre-Season Prediction of the Wild Wild West

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The Pac-10 media poll will be out tomorrow, and in anticipation of that piece of collective guesswork, here's my contribution to the stew. And what will probably prove to be faulty reasoning that led to it.

This is the year "ACC-ism" could well break out. The race should be very interesting, at least to Pac-10 fans, and very competitive, but, coupled with what is probably a limited number of "signature" non-conference wins against impressive opponents, it could be a battle outsiders don't follow very closely. Like most recent ACC seasons.

All ten teams have legitimate reasons for optimism in some areas, but there are also questions about all ten of them, and significant enough that you can make an argument against each team's hopes for the year.

ESPN's Ted Miller even went on record predicting the conference winner will have two losses.

Yet there is one thing we know; some team will go to a BCS Bowl. Beyond that, expect a season of dog-fights (not all of which involve the Huskies), and probably some multi-way ties in the bowl races that bring tie-breakers into play.

It makes for a great season, albeit one where the conference could be turned upside down. And probably a lot of wrong media pre-season top tens.

(Full Media results now included...)

My picks:

1. Oregon

2. USC

3. Oregon St.

4. Washington

5. Stanford

6. Arizona

7. California

8. UCLA

9. Arizona St.

10. Washington St.


Oregon - The clear number one if QB Jeremiah Masoli had returned, the Ducks still appear to be the best bet. A fast, active defense, and especially the one-two punch of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in the backfield, the best rushing tandem in the conference, are the best friends of an inexperienced QB, probably Nate Costa.

One reason things could go wrong was on display in last year's Oregon win over UCLA, the Costa start, where defense and James and Barner (including a kickoff return for a TD) carried the day. But the game demonstrated clearly that Oregon flies highest when their quarterback plays well. That effort would not have carried the day against Arizona or Oregon St., when it was Masoli at his best that earned Oregon the Rose Bowl trip.

Another is the schedule, which includes trips to USC and Oregon St., the two top threats to a Rose Bowl repeat trip for the Ducks.

USC - The best overall 100 deep roster in terms of individual talent is still the Trojans, and the impact of reduced scholarships won't really start to show up on the field for a couple of years. Looking at the schedule, one can make a reasonable case for USC winning every game without any "miracle of the year" events. And an AP ranking at or near the top is a goal the Trojans, who still get to play 13 games, can rally to every week.

The reason they may fall short is Lane Kiffen. And this is NOT a bash Lane Kiffen statement (sorry, Bruins Nation fans). Kiffen is still an inexperienced head coach, and while he seems to regularly be in the middle of controversy, it is because he is an aggressive, creative thinker, always trying to find an advantage. Sometimes the scope and scale of the downside to any given situation just isn't being recognized until it is too late. The Pac-10 rarely gives up a perfect run through the league, even to great teams, with experienced coaches. At some point, something will go sideways for USC that they probably won't be able to overcome on the field before a game ends in a loss.

Oregon St. - The potential for a team with this much returning experience in both their first and second units, especially one topped by the best tandem in the conference in James and Jacquizz Rodgers, is usually a conference championship, and a BCS contender even if they don't claim an automatic berth.

The "yeah buts" for the Beavers have mostly to do with the QB spot, where Ryan Katz takes over. A brutal non-conference schedule, arguably the toughest in the nation while breaking Katz in, probably knocks the OSU record, and their non-Rose bowl prospects, down. And rarely does a team without an experienced QB win the Pac-10.

The lack of depth, and options, behind ‘Quizz is also an issue. Expect a bump in the road somewhere along the Pac-10 trail.

Washington - Jake Locker joins LaMichael James and ‘Quizz Rogers as legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders, and that makes the Huskies a great bet for another big step up the Pac-10 ladder.

But just how many demons can Washington reasonably exorcise in one year? The Huskies haven't been able to win on the road, and the schedule takes them to both USC (the Trojans tend to be especially tough to deal with at home after losing to the same team on the road the year before) and Oregon. Washington also hasn't handled Stanford during their resurgence. And Oregon and Oregon St. have manhandled the Huskies of late, and not much has changed about the matchup problems that caused that. Look for Washington to overcome some, but not all, of their challenges.

Stanford - Andrew Luck is the other returning QB in the conference with Locker that has "NFL can't miss" on his bio. But Toby Gerhart is gone, and the Cardinal defense is also suspect enough that it seems enough opponents will slow the Stanford passing game down enough to keep the Cardinal out of the upper reaches of the conference.

Arizona - QB Nick Foles and RB Nic Grigsby give the Wildcats the weapons to again do some damage. And the schedule has USC, Oregon St., Washington, and Cal, as well as rival ASU, all coming to Tucson. For this reason, though the loss of a lot of defense, and total overhaul of Mike Stoops' coordinator corps. (Can co-coordinators for both offense and defense not produce some confusion at some point?) will cause Arizona to take a step back, it may not be as much of one as it otherwise would be. Where Pac-10 games are played can be a big factor, and Tucson is never a picnic.

California - Inconsistency has been the hallmark of Bears football of late, and while their talent should win them some games, the lack of an apparent game changer on the level of James, USC's Matt Barkley, ‘Quizz, Locker, and Luck, all players who can almost single handedly carry their team, will prevent them from winning some. Kevin Riley and Shane Vereen have work to do if Cal is to contend for a better tier bowl.

UCLA - The Bruins depended on a stellar defense that lost a lot of quality players after last year to get back to a bowl game. It will be tough to continue to get enough defensive production to ride Kai Forbath's kicking to a lot of wins. Rick Neuheisel's recruiting and reclamation of LA won't show up in the win column quite yet.

Arizona St. - It's hard to rate any Dennis Erickson team as low as the Sun Devils have been of late, based on his track record. And ASU will be a contributor to the uncertainty in the middle of the Pac-10 pack, with an upset sometime. But it is hard to see consistency from a team that had a terrible offense last year, and will have an inexperienced QB (regardless of whether they go with Steven Threet or Brock Osweiler) not always being protected by a very inexperienced line.

Washington St. - The Cougars are just faced with too deep of a hole to climb out of this soon. A massive shortage of team speed and so little depth are problems that can't be fixed on the field; only several years of recruiting will put Washington St. in position to compete, rather than try to find a way to steal an upset here or there. Whether coach Paul Wulff can survive politically, or whether QB Jeff Tuel can even survive, are seriously in question in Pullman.

 

This actually matches what the media collectively decided quite closely, though three spots differ. That's because I have Washington ahead of Stanford and Arizona, instead of behind them. The three are still only 24 points apart.

Preseason Media Poll:

1. Oregon (314)
2. USC (311)
3. Oregon State (262)
4. Stanford (233)
5. Arizona (222)
6. Washington (209)
7. California (175)
8. UCLA (134)
9. Arizona State (81)
10. Washington State (39)

 

Notably, this ends USC's 7 year run as the top pick in the pre-season media poll, though by a very narrow margin.

 

andy_wooldridge@yahoo.com

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