With Pete Carroll's official resignation, the Pac-10 now moves into a new, uncertain era. Barring a huge coaching coup by the Trojans, other teams in the conference can no longer point to Heritage Hall as the reason their band isn't rocking down Colorado Avenue New Year's Day. One of the greatest coaches in college football history is gone, and now it's up to the rest of the teams and coaches to fill in the void he's left behind.
Here are the biggest questions a lot of people are asking about teams and conference, both short-term and long-term.
Can Oregon emerge as the new USC? Some Cal fans feel the Ducks have been gaining momentum to take the mantle as numero uno. Oregon's had their chances to win the Pac two of the last three seasons, beating the Trojans both times in Autzen and possessing the crown once. It's hard to imagine them replicating USC's dominance, but they certainly have performed on an upward trend the last few seasons since Chip Kelly arrived (4th, 2nd, and 1st), and it's hard to imagine them deserting that upper-tier position.
They have plenty of intrinsic advantages. The Ducks have a great offensive system that they can insert relative unknowns into, and a defense filled with playmakers that hawk the ball. They'll be returning 20 starters next year and will be the prohibitive Pac-10 title favorites and a BCS title contender. They have the best facilities in the conference, perhaps in the country. They have perhaps the strongest booster in the conference who helps provide the Ducks with state-of-the-art technology, equipment and uniforms. They are an exciting team to watch every season and a sexy pick for many recruits, especially now that they've proven they are a top tier squad with great exposure.
Oregon's not leaving the top 3 anytime soon, unless Kelly turns out to be less of a recruiter than Bellotti was.
Does the heat get put on Tedford? According to fatheads like Ray Ratto who don't know what they're talking about, this is what's the case now.
Some Cal fans believe that with Carroll gone, our esteemed coach is now going to feel the pressure. The big reason that Cal hasn't been to the Rose Bowl yet is that they've run into the Trojans every year and got turned back. Otherwise we would've been there twice already in Tedford's tenure (although to be fair, that seems to be the excuse for Bellotti and Riley too).
Now, no Carroll=Tedford needs to produce, right? Not really. As Thoroughbred has mentioned ad infinitum, we will only learn the strength of Tedford's recruiting over the next few years due to our facilities disadvantage/treesitter fiasco. Starting with this year's class and going forward from there, the SAHPC should be completed for our football recruits to practice in. Only then can we truly judge Tedford on a level playing field compared to everyone else.
Anyway, Tedford will be here through 2016 barring a drastic drop in performance and on-the-field results. So he's still a long ways off from 'feeling the pressure.' However, the resentment and criticism will grow every year the Bears fall short of smelling roses.
Will UCLA take over as the dominant power in Los Angeles? As Rick Neuhisel proclaimed two years back, the monopoly is over...thanks to Pete deciding he was bored of the monopoly. By default, UCLA now emerges as a sexy pick for most talented recruits--with Pete gone, a lot of talent could leave South Central for Westwood.
Remember, Rick Neuheisel has quietly assembled solid recruiting classes the past two years (13th in 2008, 14th in 2009), will probably finish around that ranking this year, and managed to pace one of the most turgid offenses in the country to bowl-eligibility and a 7-6 finish. Take all the shots you'd like at the Weasel, but Slick Rick's great at getting talented players into his program and he will certainly have a great chance to take his first one from the Trojans next December.
If he's afforded the chance and stays out of trouble, the Bruins could be making serious noise in a few seasons.
Will Mike Riley finally deliver the Beavers a Rose Bowl? Cal fans aren't the only one in the conference feeling serious angst; Oregon State hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1965, and with Riley signed on until 2019, he looks like the coach who could deliver on that goal. The last two years Oregon State has come up one Civil War victory short of Pasadena. With the conference schedule again in their favor (all of their toughest opponents coming to Corvallis), can the Beavers get over the hump behind the Rodgers brothers before they have to transition to a new crop of playmakers?
Can the Huskies put themselves back at the top of the crowd? For a long time in the 80s/early 90s in the Pac-10, the most dominant power wasn't the Trojans or the Bruins but the Huskies. Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt came through the Trojan system, and are slowly piecing together strong Northwest recruiting classes. Already they beat three bowl-eligible teams in-conference; if they could learn how to win on the road they could be a sleeper for the Pac-10 crown in 2010 behind Jake Locker.
Looking long-term, the Huskies have Nick Montana as Locker's heir apparent. Although the Oregon schools will certainly make life difficult for Washington at first, the history and success of the Washington program could pull in the best of the Northwest recruits and lead to bigger and better things.
When will Washington State stop playing in an eternal state of suck? Oops. That was kind of a low-blow. My bad. Moving on...
Can Harbaugh stick around long enough to bring the Cardinal to national prominence? For all the talk about Harbaugh being the hottest commodity in college football, he's only two years younger than Tedford, and unlike Tedford, it feels like he's leveraging his current situation as a stepping stone to the pros. If he were to be around for more than a few more years, I'd be pretty shocked (but not despondent, since he's fairly overrated). Al Davis and the Raiders seem very much interested in him now, and eventually one team will be willing to take a chance on him.
For the moment, assuming Jim stays around, he has a young team with fairly solid recruiting classes--with Gerhart they could have seriously challenged for the Pac-10 crown, but without him they should still be plenty formidable with a top-notch O-line, Andrew Luck returning, and a defense that HAS to get better.
Do the Arizona schools make some noise? Hard to see Dennis Erickson doing anything other than getting fired after 2010, but Mike Stoops is another story--the Wildcats seemed like a real good team before their faceplant in the Holiday Bowl, and although they probably fall off a bit with so many starters and his defensive coordinator/brother leaving this season, there could be plenty of chances for Stoops to grab the crown.
Will the Pac-10 get even LESS respect with USC no longer dynastic? This is something not many people are thinking about right now, but already you can guess that perceptions are heavily biased against the Pac-10, and the relegation of USC to a lower playing field could end up causing more bias in favor of bigger fanbases in the Big 12 and the SEC. Nick Daschel of Buster Sports makes an interesting point.
USC is the only program in the Pac-10 that can carry the water of a national power. Oregon may have sex appeal and the money bags of Phil Knight, but it’s a relative new shooter without a large television market. Washington is located in a large metropolitan area with a large TV base. But the Huskies have been down for so long, they’ll have trouble recovering even a small piece of their former status as a national program. California can’t win the Pac-10 title, let alone the nation. UCLA is only good for so long, and then basketball season starts.
The last time USC football was down for a period was the late 1990s through early 2000s. It might have been the worst period of football the Pac-10 has seen in decades. How else can you explain Tyrone Willingham winning a Pac-10 title (1999, Stanford) and Washington State getting to the Rose Bowl twice in five years?
If you want to see the Pac-10 become as irrelevant as the ACC and Big East, go ahead, root for USC to fall apart.
While I believe that better television deals could go a LONG way to solving that problem, I do agree that without USC in place as the de facto team to watch out for, we could see a further drop-off in terms of overall appearances. That's something I didn't even think was possible years ago.
Of course, you probably only care about this if you believe in the current BCS system, or you don't want to see your team hosed out of a national title shot. Otherwise, not a huge deal for anyone.
What will the Trojans look like without Pete? I think we severely overestimate the dropoff effect USC will experience--they might no longer be dominant year-by-year, but they'll be more than capable of winning a few Rose Bowls and an occasional title if they can get a decent enough coach who's willing to put the work into recruiting to notch the top talent.
2010 probably does not bode well for them--playmakers Joe McKnight and Damian Williams are gone, so is tight end Anthony McCoy, their front seven should improve, but their entire all-star secondary is gone, they have a 13 game schedule that might burden a younger team and trip them up somewhere in there. However it'd be foolish to expect USC to drop off the face of the Earth unless the sanction hammer falls hard on them.
Can USC stay on top without Carroll? USC is USC – it has the tradition, it has the talent currently, it’s a nice private school in LA – it has lots going for it. Any coach should have all the help he could ask for in recruiting. However, Carroll has been unbelievably successful at USC, on a level no other program can really compare to. By default the program must go down. If it does….well, for the first time in years, everyone has a shot every year to compete for the Pac-10 title, and that’s gotta be great news for all y’all who’ve been waiting for a Rose Bowl.
Indeed. For now, the dynasty looks to be dormant, not dead. Time for the Trojans to really fight on in the conference or get devoured by the Pac-10 wolves.