PAC 10 Preview


Add one part Pete Carroll dashing to the NFL and one part a stronger conference as a whole, and what do you get? A wide open Pac-10. And I mean, WIDE open. There are a ton of teams with legitimate shots at taking the prized crown in the West. The 2010 season is predicated on one thing: experience. Experience in age and experience in position will determine this year’s champion. Here is a preview, from my predictions in order of finish, worst to first.

10. Washington State

I like Paul Wulff, I think he’s a good coach. But the talent simply isn’t here.

Both lines are solid, and I don’t see much dropoff from the skill positions, but there is a lack of playmaking ability on this squad.  Quarterback Jeff Tuel isn’t bad by any means, but he’s no Jake Locker, either. The rest of the offense is no more than a “bleh”.

I’m actually excited to watch the front seven of the defense and how well they can hold ground, but this secondary can only hope for mediocre. They may be the opposite of Kiffin’s USC defense; well-coached but not enough talent to play close.

9. UCLA

This team is not built to win now. It is a program trying to find an identity.

Starting quarterback Kevin Prince is the cornerstone. His success is dire to where UCLA goes, not just this year, but in the seasons to come. I believe in Prince. I do not believe in the running attack. Underclassmen at both the running back and fullback position will hinder the Bruins’ progress.

This defense can hold for three quarters, maximum. But three quarters to this team will seem like an eternity, as the time of possession with no ground control will be the demise. Watch out though, because this team is well-coached and might make some noise in 2011 and beyond.

8. Arizona State

I am not to high on Pac-10 teams who have major questions on the offensive side of the ball. Steven Threet as the quarterback? Not sold. Cameron Marshall as a premier back? Tag me skeptical.

This is a shame, considering ASU has what is possibly the best defensive line in the conference. The linebackers are a question, yes, but the back line is not. But defense isn’t the issue here.

As good as I expect the defense to play, I’m just not sure this offense can keep up with the Oregons and USCs of the world. Having not one senior manning the offensive line is not a good sign.

A decent team, but the Pac-10 is loaded with playmakers.9. UCLA

This team is not built to win now. It is a program trying to find an identity.

Starting quarterback Kevin Prince is the cornerstone. His success is dire to where UCLA goes, not just this year, but in the seasons to come. I believe in Prince. I do not believe in the running attack. Underclassmen at both the running back and fullback position will hinder the Bruins’ progress.

This defense can hold for three quarters, maximum. But three quarters to this team will seem like an eternity, as the time of possession with no ground control will be the demise. Watch out though, because this team is well-coached and might make some noise in 2011 and beyond.

7. Stanford

Much like California, experts question the loss of a premier back, in this case Toby Gerhart. That loss will be more than made up for in quarterback Andrew Luck, who I expect to have a huge season. Though the running back production will obviously be lacking, the big-play expectations should make up that difference.

Questions are in the defense, which include major position changes at linebacker (ex-fullback Owen Marecic starting at ILB), and corner (ex-receiver Richard Sherman). This scares me. There are high-powered offenses in this conference. Can the Bears stand up to the challenge?

6. Washington

Two words: Jake Locker. He is the consensus #1 pick in the NFL draft right now. It’s not all hype. He is really good. And he is getting better.

The receivers he has are explosive enough, but is his backfield? Chris Polk is a promising tailback, but the right side of the offensive line is a concern. This pro-style offense is delectable to scouts, but does it translate to Pac-10 wins?

Depth issues on the front line plague the Huskies, and if the defense can’t control the clock and hand Locker the ball, does this future NFL prospect’s talent mean much? Look for time of possession to be the key in all Washington games this year.

5. California

The biggest gripe against the Bears is that they disappoint. Whenever anyone expects them to make the leap, they blow it. Well, I don’t expect them to win this league, but they should be formidable.

The one aspect of Cal’s offense everyone if looking to is replacing Jahvid Best. Don’t worry about it. Junior Shane Vereen will do his job. Returning three of their top four wide-outs is a positive as well.

The problem is at quarterback. Kevin Riley must make big plays. Throwing down the field and opening up this offense is the one key to the Bears’ success.

Ironically, giving up the big plays is this defense’s biggest weakness, which is the reason why I don’t have Cal ranked above Arizona. The quick strike can cripple this team. Pac-10 teams with good tight end play and deep threats can destroy this questionable Cal secondary and linebacking group.

I expect the Bears to play every game close, but give up that one play or two that keeps them from Rose Bowl contention.

4. Arizona

When looking at the Wildcats this year, look to one man: Nick Foles. He should thrive this year. If running back Nic Grigsby stays healthy, expect him to open up the offense and make Arizona a high-flying threat. The receivers are there, and a big, over-powering offensive line should provide adequate protection.

Then there is the defense. I’m not too wild about this “Cheetah” formation they are playing with, which features four defensive ends manning the entire line. Look, when you need a gimmick as your go-to as a defensive game plan, something is wrong. Will tinkering and scheming make up for an inexperienced front seven? I’m not sure this can hold up against offenses like Oregon’s.

3. Oregon State

Everyone is down on the Beavers because of their non-conference schedule. They start the season by playing TCU and Boise State, who combined to go 25-0 in the 2009 regular season. They may (and should) lose both games. But those losses will help the Beavers in the Pac-10.

The offense is anchored by a strong running back and receiving unit, but the question is whether or not sophomore Ryan Katz is the answer at quarterback. The O-line shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but accuracy and consistency from Katz is.

I wouldn’t worry about the defense, though. While there is some youth on the defensive ends, the linebacker and corner positions should hold up the fort.

But will a 1-2 start derail this team’s focus? Head Coach Mike Riley has his work cut out for him, though if he can stay the course with a talented team, expect them to make waves.

2. USC

Pete Carroll was a great college coach, don’t get me wrong, but recruiting was the key to his success. USC routinely fielded more talent than the guys on the other side if scrimmage, and in college football, talent usually wins out.

New head coach Lane Kiffin isn’t without talent. But he is without experience. While I like the Trojans’ chances as regaining Pac-10 superiority, the youth is a problem. USC has only ten returning starters from 2009, replacing twenty-six lettermen.

The inexperience starts at offensive line. Freshman Seantrel Henderson mans the right tackle position, and he is a synopsis of what USC is this season: highly recruited, loads of talent and potential, but unproven. This includes underclassmen at right guard, defensive end, both safety positions, tight end, and of course, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley.

I expect Barkley to be solid, but is Kiffin a good enough coach to lead an inexperienced team to a Pac-10 title? I say no, but talent should get them close.

1. Oregon

The obvious red flag here is the absence of last year’s starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Due to off-the-field discretions, Masoli was dismissed from the team and suspended for the 2010 season (ultimately being ruled eligible to play for Ole Miss). So the big question for Oregon is who is the quarterback, and can he replace Masoli?

That quarterback is Darron Thomas, and don’t you worry about him. I fully expect the Ducks’ offense to be the class of the conference, with a strong running game backed by sophomore tailback LaMichael James (1,546 yards last year) and a solid receiver core. Oh, and the offensive line might be one of the nation’s best. This offense will light up the scoreboard.

So will the defense hold up their end of the bargain? With an offense like Oregon’s, I look to the defensive backs, who will be up against an offense who is behind and passing more often than not. And their DBs are stacked. With three returning starters, gaining ground on the Ducks defense should be no easy task. Look for big things in Eugene.

Written by Jay Fisher @jfishsports on Twitter

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