Let’s go back to the BCS National Championship Game. For
a change, there were two, and only two, major undefeated teams in the
nation, giving the BCS a break from its nearly annual selection controversy
and the accompanying cries for the cure-all playoff. On one side, there was
the “dynasty;” the defending champs who had a 30 plus game winning streak.
They featured a senior quarterback who had started for three years and had
only lost one game, as well has a litany of future NFL draftees. On the
other sideline was the underdog, a talented team that had finally ended a
streak of futility against its traditional rival, was largely viewed to be
carried by one player on offense and had a coach who was trying to prove he
could win big games.
As we all know, the game was a classic, coming down to the
final play, and the overlooked unbeaten dethroned the latest team to be
christened “The Greatest Team of All-Time.” Yes, in January 2003, OhioState defeated the mighty
Hurricanes of Miami.
College football is cyclical and history repeats itself
(insert your favorite similar cliché here), and the same fate that befell
ultimately took down last year’s USC team (proving once again that Trojans
always break under pressure). Miami,
despite its history of Heisman quality quarterbacks and annual elite
recruiting classes, has been unable to find a capable replacement for
Dorsey and has fallen from title contention in the years that followed. USC
now faces the task of replacing Leinart, along with fellow Heisman winner
Reggie Bush and top flight running back Lendale White. History indicates
that USC will lose at least a couple games this year, and that leaves the
conference open for contenders. Who will step up and sack Troy?
(Aside: As those who studied real history know, the actual Trojans lost
their war, in part due to their own stupidity. Why do athletic teams
continue to name themselves after a stupid loser? It’s almost as bad as
naming your team in honor of the French military).
Below you will find the PAC10 broken into several
groupings, based on coaching, talent, experience, depth, schedule, and,
quite frankly, my semi-knowledgeable opinion. While I think picking a
national championship contender based on schedule is stupid (see Purdue in
2004 and WVU in 2006), who a team plays and where those games are played
are key factors in deciding a conference race. The number in parenthesis
denotes the team’s predicted place in the conference standings.
Strong BCS contenders
University of Southern
California Trojans (2)
Yes, I did just spend several paragraphs expounding on
the historical likelihood of USC falling back to earth, and I do believe it
will happen. This will be the year the offense feels the loss of Norm Chow,
becoming weaker in play calling (a drunk chimp throwing darts at a playbook
could’ve gotten USC to 40 points per game last year) and player
development, especially at the quarterback position. They have also had a
tumultuous off-season, highlighted by several player arrests.
Despite all of that, it’s tough to overlook the cupboard
being stocked with top talent. Pete Carroll’s defense was unusually
mediocre last season, but is unlikely to be as bad again this season.
Carroll is too good of a college defensive coach to let it happen. Add to
that their extremely favorable schedule, which has virtually every team
capable of beating them coming to the Coliseum, and you have a recipe for a
strong run at the PAC10 title. If they don’t win the conference, USC has
the cache to get an at large bid to any BCS bowl, provided they win 10
games. Everyone will be gunning for them once again, looking for revenge
for recent beatings, and they are likely to slip at least once and most
likely twice, but reaching a BCS bowl is a strong possibility.
Key Games: Notre Dame, Cal. A win over the always
overrated Irish greatly enhances USC’s chances of an at large berth into
the BCS, and a win over Cal
should give the Trojans the PAC10 title yet again.
University of California Golden Bears (1)
If not USC, then who will take the PAC10? Call me a
homer, but it says here that the California Golden Bears will claim their
first conference championship since 1975 and their first outright
conference crown since Joe Kapp’s 1958 team.
Many key factors are aligning for Cal.
The offense will feature Heisman candidate Marshawn Lynch. The media focus
on coach Jeff Tedford’s offense is on the propensity for churning out NFL
quarterbacks, but its often overlooked that Cal
has had at least one back go over the thousand yard mark every year of the
Tedford era, including JJ Arrington’s 2,000 yard season two years ago. As
good as Lynch is, its unlikely that he’ll break Arrington’s single season
school rushing record because his backup, Justin Forsett, came one yard shy
of 1,000 himself last year, going over 7 yards per carry. For good measure,
third string back Marcus O’Keith averaged around 11 yards per carry last
season. All three return to form the best stable of backs in the country.
Their blockers from last season will change. Cal
lost three offensive linemen to the NFL (side note: congrats to Ryan
O’Callahan on being named a starter as a rookie on the Patriots) as well as
a four year starter at fullback. However the return of Andrew Cameron, a
seasoned starter and All Conference performer, from injury helps alleviate
concerns, as does the return of Good Samaritan and badass lineman Mike
Tepper. Cal returns several
other linemen with playing experience, as well as one of the best blocking
tight ends around in Craig Stevens. Just as importantly, Cal
returns a fantastic offensive line coach who has yet to have a dud in his
years in Berkeley.
The big focus will be at quarterback, which happens to
be Jeff Tedford’s specialty. Cal
has a young but experienced and talented group of receivers led by Desean
Jackson and Robert Jordan, who along with the running game should take the
pressure off starting quarterback Nate Longshore. Longshore was an Elite 11
quarterback in high school and, after spending a redshirt season watching Aaron
Rodgers put on a quarterbacking clinic, has won the starting job two years
in a row. Longshore won’t be asked to win too many games, but rather just
guide the offense and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers who
surround him and let a top notch defense work its magic without having to
worry about short field position or overwork due to turnovers and constant
punts. This is a role made famous in the NFL by Superbowl champion
quarterback Trent Dilfer, who happens to be a Tedford product.
The real story in Berkeley
may be the defense. The loss of senior starting cornerback Tim Mixon will
hurt, but Cal should still have a top 10 defense nationally, perhaps even
better when one considers the weekly battles against the most complex
offenses around (and not the 3 runs up the middle and punt, hope to win 6-4
garbage seen in parts of the Midwest and South). Cal
is led by All America level defensive tackle Brandon Mebane who
single-handedly draws double and triple teams, pressures the quarterback
and gets sacks, and stuffs any back who dares come near him. The rest of
defensive line should produce at least one All Conference performer, maybe
several if pass rushing end Philip Mbakogu can come back from a bothersome
secondary is led by senior four year starter and preseason All America
corner Daymeion Hughes. As mentioned earlier, he loses fellow longtime
starting senior Mixon to a knee injury, but will still have plenty of
talent around him. The secondary could be a relatively weak link as it will
be breaking in three new starters, with only Thomas DeCoud having any
significant playing experience. Watch for redshirt freshman corner Syd’Quan
Thompson, who many observers expect to become better than Mixon (and
perhaps better than Hughes) as early as this season.
The linebackers are perhaps the strongest unit on the
team, which says something considering how good Lynch and the running backs
are. Led by All America candidate senior DesmondBishop, Cal’s
linebackers go three deep with players capable of starting at this level.
There is so much depth and talent that two players who were freshman All
Americans last season will be second string this year. Watch for versatile
senior Mickey Pimentel to become one of the top defensive playmakers in the
Achilles’ heel may be the special teams, which have been mediocre at best
under coach Pete Alamar the last three seasons. Tom Schneider returns for a
third season as the kicker, and Cal
fans are hoping that he has made major strides from two sub par seasons to
start his career. The punter is juco transfer Andrew Larson, who is said to
have a booming leg but had some trouble getting kicks off quickly in
practice. The return teams will feature Lynch and Jackson, but no playmaker
short of Barry Sanders can do much without blocking. The coverage teams
should field a ton of top talent, but the schemes and other coaching
aspects are questionable.
Key Games: Cal
opens at Tennessee in a
statement game for both programs. Cal’s
chances for a national championship probably hinge on this game, as do its
chances of an at large BCS bid. Cal
travels to USC late in the season for what should be a monumental showdown.
Cal is 0-6 while playing in Southern
California (Holiday Bowl included) under Tedford and has
suffered annual special teams breakdowns while playing in Los
Angeles. This is the year Cal
steps up, repeats the 2003 defeat of USC, and finally takes the conference.
Joe Kapp should dust off the Taquila and prepare to have his first sip in
decades. That is, unless Cal
can make the National Championship Game.
University of Oregon Ducks (3)
The Oregon Ducks find themselves in a solid yet tenuous
position as a program. After briefly appearing to step into the power void
that was created in the conference in the late 1990s, they have been blown
out of the water by USC and have watched Cal come from nowhere to pull past
the Ducks (albeit not by much at this point, yet the Bears appear to have
all the momentum). Last season was their first “up” year since Tedford and
Harrington left in 2001, and they still got demolished at home by USC, got
passed over for BCS at large bids which went to two teams with more losses
than UO, and ended up losing to a then 7-4 Oklahoma team in the Holiday
Bowl. They did win ten games, but the only significant win was over
at home in overtime in a huge storm (and even then, Cal
barely missed a field goal as regulation ended that would’ve won the game
for the Bears) and they avoided 10-2 UCLA. It was about as nondescript a
ten win season as one can have without being WSU. That season epitomizes
their stagnation as a program, stuck as a top twenty to twenty five team
but rarely considered much better than that.
There are reasons for optimism this year. The Ducks
enter their second year in offensive coordinator Crowton’s spread offense,
and teams tend to take some time becoming proficient with the spread. Star
quarterback Kellen Clemens departs for the NFL, but Dennis Dixon (and Brady
Leaf, who is related to Ryan Leaf) got some game experience at the end of
last season when Clemens was injured and should excel in the spread. They
lose their leading rusher and solid receiving back Terrence Whitehead, but
return much hyped sophomore Jonathan Stewart. Stewart, it should be noted,
didn’t do too much as a runner last year, compiling an underwhelming 3.5
yards per carry on the season. Dixon
and Stewart should be helped by the return of the entire offensive line.
The offense should be consistently solid at worst, and has the potential to
be very explosive. Unfortunately for Duck fans, they may have to wait until
their young skill position stars mature to see the latter.
special teams should be a strength, as they return senior kicker Paul Martinez,
as well as the aforementioned Stewart as a kick returner. The defense
shouldn’t be terrible, but will miss defensive line beast Haloti Ngata, as
well as several other playmakers.
The real killer for Oregon
this season is the schedule. They have a difficult out of conference with a
trip to pesky Fresno followed
by a visit from Oklahoma
(they also host PortlandState,
who seems to be playing everyone in the PAC10 this year). Their conference
slate has them making trips to ASU, Cal,
USC, and also playing the Civil War on the road. The Fresno,
Oklahoma, ASU, and Cal
games come in succession following a season opener at home against Stanfurd.
Oregon’s season could be over
before it starts.
Key Games: Oklahoma
beat UO in the Holiday Bowl last year, but they will be visiting Autzen
without Rhett Bomar. A win will move the Ducks up the rankings and set them
up for two huge conference road games. Every Tedford – Bellotti game has
come down to the wire regardless of the relative strength of the two teams.
If that trend holds up, this could be Oregon’s
chance to edge back ahead of Cal
as a program and set themselves up as the challenger to a rebuilding USC.
ArizonaState Sun Devils (4)
As it does every year under Dirk Koetter, ASU should
have an offense that scores almost as often as its coeds do. And like most
other Koetter teams, this one will likely fail offensively in its biggest
moments and play little defense. So what’s new at ASU? How about a
potential player revolt?
What started out as a competition between two good
quarterbacks ended in a dramatic flurry that not even Shakespeare would’ve
dared dream up. Given nearly nine months to choose between senior Sam
Keller and sophomore Rudy Carpenter, Koetter couldn’t make up his mind and
offered to split snaps, an offer both quarterbacks declined. As fall camp
was winding down, Keller was named the starter. The next day, it is
believed that Carpenter went to Koetter and threatened to transfer. It has
also been widely rumored that roughly twenty players went to Koetter as a
group and expressed their strong desire for Carpenter to start, saying
Keller was not a good choice to lead. Among these players was Keller’s
roommate. And to top it off, Keller had earlier been voted a team captain. The
next day, Koetter officially put the knife squarely between Keller’s
shoulder blades by naming Carpenter the starter. Koetter said Keller would
have all the time he needed to decide on whether or not to transfer,
failing to mention that classes started the next day (meaning Keller had
less than a day to digest all this, say “et tu” to his roomie, and decide
on his future).
So what does all that have to do with ASU’s chances in
2006? Plenty. The backup quarterback is now a true freshman (strangely yet
fittingly, ASU had a highly touted 3rd string quarterback
transfer out earlier in the offseason due to his place on the depth chart),
which is all the more important considering that ASU has only made it
through one of the last nine seasons without having to go to a backup at the
quarterback position. Additionally, there had to be Keller supporters on
the team who are not happy about this, and at the first sign of trouble
they are likely to turn on coach Kutthroat and his merry band of
backstabbers. And what’s to stop an unhappy 2nd stringer from
pulling the same act Carpenter used?
I’m still putting them fourth in the conference due to a
high powered offense (love their tight ends in the passing game), a
defensive line presumably improved by an infusion of talented transfers (though
they’ll have to replace their best defender from the last couple seasons,
linebacker Dale Robinson), and a favorable home/road split in conference.
They do visit Cal and USC, but under Koetter they’ve been repeatedly
slaughtered by those two teams regardless of where the games have been
played. ASU gets Oregon,
UCLA, and Stanfurd at home, giving them a good chance to control their
destiny in the 2nd and 3rd tier of the conference.
OregonState Beavers (5)
OSU has a lot going for it this season. They return the
conference’s leading rusher, Yvenson Bernard, and all five starting
offensive linemen. They also return an all conference kicker, Alex Serna, a
top tight end in Joe Newton, and a senior quarterback, Matt Moore. They
have been unable to beat anyone of consequence except Cal
on the road, but among their 5 conference home games are dates with my
entire top 4, meaning they don’t play any road games against anyone who
projects as a major contender.
So why not have OSU higher? For one thing, their defense
has a lot to prove. They were pretty bad last year, especially against the
pass where they ranked 3rd to worst in the nation. The defense
was an embarrassing 12th worst in the nation in points allowed
per game. They return some experienced players, but what good is it if
those players are experienced at sucking (except, inexplicably, against
[side note: that last sentence, sans the Cal
part, might sum up my entire UW preview. Stay tuned]
Another problem is that the senior quarterback is UCLA reject
Matt Moore, who continued a not-so-proud OSU quarterback tradition (hello,
Derek Anderception) of treating the ball as if it were trying to give him
syphallis, and in the process throwing nearly twice as many interceptions
as touchdowns. Oh, and he’ll lose by far his best target, Mike Haas. My
guess is that he’ll have a better recognition of which team is wearing the
Halloween colors this year, but still be no more than slightly above
mediocre for a PAC quarterback.
So what’s the final pick (oops, sorry for the choice of
words, Matt) for OSU? Coach Mike Riley has never lost fewer than four games
in a season, and he won’t start now. However, with 13 regular season games,
two cream puffs and two decent mid majors on the out of conference slate,
and a favorable (in terms of making a run for the top of the conference)
home/road conference split (not to mention 5 home games vs 4 road, meaning
the annual home team’s win in the Civil War should belong to OSU this
year), it’s entirely conceivable that OSU wins 10 games including its bowl.
If they win less than 8, Riley should be fired. And I’m not sure he
shouldn’t have been fired after totally wasting Steven Jackson, a talent
like Derek Anderson, and a good defense a few years ago.
A Pre X-Mas Bowl against a Mid-Major? How can I
UCLA Bruins (6)
The 2005 Bruins may have been the worst 10-2 team in
recent memory. They dominated virtually no one, had to come back from
several large late deficits in very unlikely fashion, and got spanked in
its two losses by a combined 85 points (compare that with WSU, which
finished tied for last in the conference and yet only got outscored by a
combined 69 points in its 7 losses). UCLA had a very good passing game and
a solid ground game, as well as super return man Maurice Drew, but Michael
Jackson could’ve moon-walked for a 100 yards on their defense last year.
This year’s Bruins lose the key players who made last
year’s magic carpet ride happen. Quarterback Drew Olson had the quietest 31
touchdown 3 interception (and half a dozen or so 4th quarter
comebacks) regular season I’ve ever seen. The aforementioned Drew, who led
the Bruins in rushing and returns (where he was among the nation’s best),
and was 3rd on the team in receiving, has moved on to the NFL.
Joining him in the pros is tight end Marcedes Lewis, who led the Bruins in
receptions, receiving yards, and had more 2.5 times as many touchdowns as
anyone else on the team.
In short, the magic is gone in Westwood. The offense is
being turned over to Ben Olson (no relation to Drew), who was the nation’s
#1 quarterback recruit out of high school (when he committed to BYU, where
he then redshirted and then took a 2 year mission). Off course, that was so
long ago that Cal was busy
going 1-10 and USC alumni were calling for Pete Carroll’s head and for the
head of the AD who dared hire the NFL failure. Olson has thrown a grand
total of 4 passes since graduating high school in 2001, and there is
virtually no one behind him. With Drew and Lewis gone, he’ll have to do more
than just get the ball to playmakers, as there are no experienced ones on
Can Karl “Radio” Dorrell put together another shocking
10 win season? I doubt it, and think that history will judge his 2005 UCLA
team to be a bigger fluke than Keith Gilbertson winning 9 games as head
coach of Cal in 1993. The
talent is there for another run at the Sun, but coaching, lack of
playmakers, lack of defense (which should improve with the return of some
key defensive linemen, but still be mediocre at best), and a brutal road
schedule will do in the Bruins. They will not survive trips to Notre Dame,
ASU, and Cal, on top of their
annual emasculation at the hands of USC.
Key games: OregonState visits the Rose Bowl,
giving UCLA a good chance to stake its claim to the top half of the
conference. Arizona also
comes to LA, giving Dorrell a chance to avenge last year’s brutal
throttling in Tuscon and how that his team has some semblance of pride.
LelandStanfurdJuniorUniversity Cardinal (7)
UC Davis. UC Davis UC Davis UC Davis.
In men’s basketball too! Did I mention UC Davis?
Now that that’s out of the way, its time more people
noticed that the Cardinal finished tied with ASU and Cal for fourth place
in the PAC10 last year. They return senior quarterback Trent Edwards, who
may be the best quarterback in the conference and possibly one of the ten
best in the country. They return their leading wide receiver, senior Mark
Bradford. Evan Moore, a 6’7 senior wideout, returns from injury for one
final season on the farm. In fact, Stanfurd returns 6 of the 7 players who
had receiving touchdowns last season (losing only running back J.R. Lemon).
The offensive line is once again a big question mark (i.e. probably a
sieve) but with all the returning talent and Walt Harris’ expertise in the
passing game, the furd should be able to move the ball in the air against
most teams this year.
Big problems arise just about everywhere else. What was
a decent defense last season loses just about everyone of note, including
all name team selection Babatunde Oshinowo. As mentioned, the offensive
line is not exactly a strength, although my view may be skewed by watching
Cal’s annual knocking out of Edwards and subsequent bludgeoning of backup
T.C. Ostrander, esquire. Walt Harris’ expertise pretty much ends with the
passing game, as no Cardinal back managed to crack the elusive 250 yard
barrier last season.
The schedule is kind to the Card. While they only get
four conference home games, three are against relative lightweights UA, UW,
and OSU. Stanfurd also hosts San Jose State (who to be fair did managed to
win three straight in this series during the Cardinal’s glorious Ty
Willingham era) and Navy, which gives Furd a good chance at winning four or
five home games this season. One or two road wins on top of that gets
Stanfurd to their first bowl game since the fabled 2001 Seattle Bowl. Their
3 remaining fans would be thrilled.
Key Games: At UO to open the season, and at ASU on Oct
21st. Two solid chances to get the conference road upset they
need to get to a bowl. They also visit Notre Dame, and Furd showed last
season that their passing game matched up very well with Notre Dame’s total
lack of pass defense.
WashingtonStateUniversity Cougars (8)
Over the years, WSU has added to the college sports
lexicon by screwing up so many times that “couging it” became synonymous
with blowing games. Last season, however, WSU took it to another level as
they repeatedly lost by
or less on their way to a last place conference finish.
Like most delusional fans of losing teams, WSU fans
think that all their close losses will turn to wins (and their water will
turn to wine, and their fugly women will turn into…fugly women who aren’t
related to them). Sometimes teams lose close games because they are
inexperienced and need to get over the hump. Sometimes teams lose close
games because they are just that bad and other teams cruise for 3 quarters
and turn on the afterburners in the 4th just in time to pull out
a win and scar the losing team’s fans further. I believe WSU is more of the
latter than the former.
WSU does have a pretty good quarterback in Alex Brink,
and one of the best receivers in the conference in Jason Hill, but they
lose the man who made their offense so dangerous last year, 1900 yard
rusher Jerome Harrison. The passing game, which also features wideout
Michael Bumpus but lost top tight end Troy Bienemann, should be in the top
quarter of the nation once again, but the Cougars may have trouble putting
up touchdowns in the redzone without Harrison.
WSU’s defense and special teams weren’t very good last
season, and don’t figure to be much better this year. The defense does have
stud defensive end Mkristo Bruce, but doesn’t have much else that will
scare opposing offenses. Bruce will have to be a one man wrecking crew to
keep opponents from once again lighting up the Cougs.
Coach Bill Doba seems like a nice man who puts in the
requisite effort for the job (side note: condolences to the entire Doba
family on the loss of coach Doba’s wife), but is just not up to being a
head coach at this level. He had some success in year one with Mike Price’s
players and system, but its been all downhill since.
The schedule does set up a run for a bowl game. After a
brutal opener at Auburn, WSU
gets two cream puffs at home. They also get 5 conference home games,
including UA and UW. An upset or two on the road (Stanfurd? UCLA?) leaves
the Cougs fighting for a bowl game at the end of the season.
Key games: Cal
visits Martin Stadium, a place the Bears haven’t won at since the Jimmy
Carter administration. WSU has played Cal
tough both times they’ve faced Tedford, and this would seem to be one of
WSU’s best chances for a huge upset win to swing them to the middle of the
conference and perhaps up into the Holiday
candidates category. Beating UW for the 3rd straight year,
especially after decades of Husky domination, would brighten the mood of
Coug fans everywhere.
Ruining our famous coach’s rep, one crappy season
at a time
University of Arizona Wildcats (9)
We are in year three of the Mike Stoops “the revival of
this program is just around the corner” tour, and Tuscon residents may be
getting dangerously close to the part where they realize that sending
someone $50 for a book on how to get people to send you $50 for a book may
not be the brightest idea. Yes, recruiting is way up, and the defense looks
better, but improving win totals have not followed. Stoops’ game
mismanagement and on field temper tantrums directed at teenagers who dare
make a mistake during a game may eventually erode the goodwill his
brother’s (Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops) name built for Mike.
Willie Tuitama looked impressive for a true freshman at
the end of last season, but is now getting a little too much hype. UA went
2-2 with him at the helm (including a blowout loss to a putrid Washington
team), and didn’t exactly face top defenses. He will face a game in
Rouge against a traditionally stingy LSU defense
in game two this year, so we will find out quickly just how good Tuitama
With the new rules changes this season, especially the
ones involving the changes in when the game clock runs, game management and
assimilation to the rules will be at a premium. This is not a Stoops
specialty, and UA could once again lose a game because of a bumbling late
game effort by its head coach (I wonder if he’ll let the team publicly
berate him if it happens like he would do to them if the situation were
Key games: UA hosts BYU to open the season. This is a
bellweather game for the Wildcats program, and UA surely doesn’t want to
head to LSU in a 0-1 hole. ASU comes to Tuscon to end the season, and a win
over ASU could get UA to a bowl game, or make yet another losing season
seem more acceptable.
University of Washington Huskies (10)
Ty Willingham’s and his Huskies’ long, slow march back
to mediocrity continues. Senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback is athletic and
improving, and could make some plays, but UW doesn’t have the offense,
defense, or special teams to contend in what should be a strong PAC10 this
year. UW better be careful, as a couple more years in the cellar could make
them irrelevant for the foreseeable future. Losing Greyson Gunheim hurts a
weak defense already devoid of playmakers. Their schedule has trips to the
two teams I have directly above them, which figures to limit their upward
mobility. They’ll have a hard time getting more than 3 or 4 wins this
Maybe Lorenzo Romar can return the favor and give the
football team a player who will spark an unexpected resurgence? Anyone on
Montlake know if Spencer Hawes can rush the passer?
Key games: The Apple Cup is in Pullman
this year. UW used to win this every year, but is in danger of losing 3
straight. A win here is huge for morale, and going into the offseason (and
thus recruiting season) on a high note is important. UW is going to Tuscon
to try repeating last year’s pussywhipping of the Wildcats. Wins in both
these road games sets UW up for a run at 5 wins, or maybe even a bowl bid