The wait is finally over. No more World Cup. No more LeBron and Favre hogging your sports screen with their self-pitying soliloquies. No more having to pretend you care about things like cycling, horse racing, figure skating, rollergirls (although rollergirls are AWESOME) and whatever else appears on your TV on a Saturday afternoon. No more having to photoshop Jeremiah Masoli running away with laptops to get your kicks (actually, that never gets old).
College football is back, and the clock is ticking toward the official kickoff on Thursday night. To get you prepared, we got together the SB Nation Pac-10 sites to provide our input on this upcoming season. We managed to get AZ Desert Swarm (Arizona Wildcats), House of Sparky (Arizona St. Sun Devils), Addicted to Quack (Oregon Ducks), Building the Dam (Oregon St. Beavers), Bruins Nation (UCLA Bruins), Conquest Chronicles (USC Trojans), Coug Center (Washington St. Cougars) to join the California Golden Blogs (California Golden Bears, in case you thought this was the Concordia University SB Nation site) in casting their predictions for this upcoming season. The categories were predicted standings, Pac-10 Offensive & Defensive Player of the Year and Pac-10 Coach of the Year. In addition, some of us added in our All Pac-10 Teams.
First, the results for the main four Pac-10 categories. Parentheses indicate first place votes.
Pac-10 Predicted Standings
|Pts (out of 80)
|Oregon St. (2)
For the third time in four years, it looks as if the Pac-10's is anyone to grab.
After the jump, we examine the teams and break them up into tiers, and look at the other categories. Make your own Pac-10 predictions in the comments!
The rest of the awards
Pac-10 Coach of the Year: Chip Kelly & Steve Sarkisian (tied with 3 each), Mike Riley and Mike Stoops (tied with 1 each)
SB Nation's All Pac-10 Team (* indicates lead vote-getter)
Quarterback: Jake Locker, Washington
Running Backs: Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State*; LaMichael James, Oregon
Wide Receivers: James Rodgers, Oregon State*; Jermaine Kearse, Washington
Tight End: Anthony Miller, Cal
Offensive Tackles: Bo Thran, Oregon*; Adam Grant, Arizona
Offensive Guards: David DeCastro, Stanford*; Andrew Phillips, Stanford
Center: Colin Baxter, Arizona
Defensive Ends: Kenny Rowe, Oregon*; Ricky Elmore, Arizona
Defensive Tackles: Jurrell Casey, USC*; Stephen Paea, Oregon State*
Linebackers: Michael Mohamed, Cal*; Akeem Ayers, UCLA; Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State; Casey Matthews, Oregon
Cornerbacks: Trevin Wade, Arizona*; Shareece Wright, USC
Safeties: Rahim Moore, UCLA*; John Boyett, Oregon
Punter: Reid Forrest, Washington State
Kicker: Kai Forbath, UCLA
Punt/Kick Returner: Chris Owusu, Stanford
Team analysis, one-by-one
As many as seven teams will have legitimate shots at capturing the title. In what's looking like the final year of the round-robin, it could be one hectic ride from Honolulu (the conference opener between USC and Hawaii) and Pasadena on New Year's Day.
Phil Steele mentioned in the EDSBS Live Podcast that when he plugged his numbers into his magical Paul the Octopus, he came out with six or seven different winners of the Pac-10. Although he did list Oregon as the actual favorite, he didn't presume so with much confidence. And our voters felt pretty much the same way. The Ducks finished in first in many of the polls, but there was no clear consensus.
These three teams were almost unanimously picked to finish 10th, 9th and 8th and aren't expected to challenge for the crown.
10. Washington State. Safe to say that no one expects much out of the Cougars after a season that saw them go 0-9 in the Pac-10. Still, things finally look brighter in Pullman after the darkest two year stretch in recent Division I history. Former Golden Bear James Montgomery has recovered quite nicely from a frightening injury and could be a strong feature tailback if he can regain his 20 carries a game form. Jeff Tuel could be a legitimate top tier Pac-10 quarterback (59% completion percentage for that team is pretty good). Still, there are too many holes to plug to assume this team will do anything more than compete for a few upsets along the way and try to regain the Apple Cup. An impossibly difficult home slate (USC, Oregon, Arizona, Cal, Washington all come to town) don't help matters.
It's not a certainty that Paul Wulff will survive this season, but if his teams manage to show fight and signs they're turning the corner, he should be returning to try leading the Cougars back to relevance in 2011.
ASU '10 Spring Game 02 (via Fanster.com)
9. Arizona State. Here's a coach on the definite hot seat. After a first place tie in his first season, Dennis Erickson has suffered two straight losing seasons and seen an offense decline to one of the conference's worst (9th in passing efficiency, 8th in rushing offense last season). It's almost certain another losing season will end his short reign.
Unfortunately, other than a strong front seven that should feature the best physical defender in the conference in linebacker Vontaze Burfict, there is little to support an upwards raise. Despite the loss of two senior linebackers, the presence of two huge 300 pound tackles could clog up any interior rushing game.
As for the offense...ugh. The ASU linemen have always been the weak link of Erickson's squads, and even though they're more experienced this season, it seems to translate to "they won't suck as bad as last season". Last year's starting wide receivers are gone, replaced with . Likely starter and Michigan transfer Steven Threet had to scrap his knowledge of Rich Rodriguez's system and spend a year digesting a new playbook....only to see a new OC who ran a variant of Mike Leach's Airraid take over for this season. So much for promising running back Cameron Marshall being the main guy to carry the offense.
EagleBank Bowl Football (via krmcguire)
8. UCLA. The Bruins always seem to be on the edge of hitting that next level to contending for conference championships. However, there are still too many question marks to fully entrust the 2010 team to bring them over the hump. Uncertainty at quarterback (Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince continue to tango), an offensive line in constant turmoil (center Kai Maiava lost for the season, right guard Jeff Baca academically ineligible, Xavier Su'a-Filo on a Mormon mission), and losing several prominent Bruin defenders like Brian Price, Reggie Carter, and Alterraun Verner keeps the Bruins from moving that far up and making that next leap.
As is typically the case with UCLA, there is plenty of talent to spread around. Playmaker Akeem Ayers might be the best linebacker in the Pac-10. Rahim Moore is definitely the best safety in the conference. Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman showed promise as the new running back tandem, and three new freshmen (Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and Anthony Barr) could breathe life into the Pistol Offense Norm Chow is installing. and And the Bruins special teams unit is still one of the best in the country, with Kai Forbath a favorite to repeat as the winner of the Lou Groza Award.
Although the classes are getting better and better for Rick Neuheisel's teams, with the troubles on the line and under center they're probably not ready to be the best in the Pac. But once the talent coalesces through the season, they could play the role of spoiler down the stretch against many a conference title seeker. They'll have their chances against Washington, Arizona, Oregon State and of course, their beloved Trojans.
Locker_crowd2 (via Dave Sizer)
T-6. Washington. Despite the return of Heisman candidate Jake Locker and Sark Week taking over the Internets, not many people seem high on the Huskies, with their highest placement on the list being 4th. Still, there's a lot of guys coming back from a team that blitzed through its final two games (yeah, it was the undermanned Cougars and the battered Golden Bears, but still). Locker should have the offensive tools to set conference defenses on fire this season--he returns with promising running back Chris Polk, and two dynamic threats in Jeremaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar (likely the best receiving duo in the conference). Even though his offensive line is a question mark and kept the running game from getting going on a consistent basis, Locker's mobility and accuracy on the run is one of his greatest strengths and could get him out of many jams when things break down in the pocket.
The big question is the Husky defense, which seemed to come together at the end of last season--and now loses its two fiercest warriors in Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Donald Butler. Mason Foster and Cort Dennison can pick up the slack at linebacker, Alameda Ta'amu and Cameron Elisara will be tough to contain inside, and Desmond Traufant looks like a serious lockdown corner, but the Huskies will need to show some drastic strides to improve from their awful pass defense performances in 2009.
Steve Sarkisian does have Washington on the right track, but the Huskies need to prove they can win away from Seattle (12 straight road losses since 2007) before people can trust them to be a serious contender. A road opener at BYU and conference trips to Autzen, Memorial, the Coliseum and Arizona Stadium don't exactly help the cause.
IMG_9793 (via Monica's Dad)
T-6. Cal. Many of our voters seem to have gone along and picked Jeff Tedford's Sturdy Golden Bears downward, all but one voter predicting a 6th or 7th place team watching the party from outside. Still, if you examine the situation closely. there's a lot to like if you're a Cal fan.
Jahvid Best departs, but Shane Vereen returns. The impressive Marvin Jones is back, although there are questions about whether true freshman Keenan Allen is ready to line up on the other side of him. Anthony Miller could stake his claim as one of the top tight ends in the country after a strong sophomore campaign. Top 10 pick Tyson Alualu is gone, but six of the seven Golden Bears in the front seven return, including Cameron Jordan off the edge and Mike Mohamed quarterbacking the defense. Two of the team's most maligned coordinators on defense and special teams are gone, replaced by new and impressive names that could give Golden Bears fans exciting things to look forward to. And other than Locker, Kevin Riley is the only senior quarterback in the Pac-10, with multitudes of experience to draw upon in tense game situations.
The big questions remain secondary with Syd'Quan Thompson departing (although the rest of the departing secondary was hardly as consistent) and offensive line (which was not very good last season, but four starters return and should all be improved). This is a very veteran team laden with juniors and seniors that can't be happy that the prognosticators are throwing aside the Bears. If Cal can get through a few tough road games in Arizona, USC and Oregon State, the home stretch is the most favorable of any team in the conference--home against Oregon, The Big Game, and Washington.
These three teams are pretty much bunched together and separated by a point each, so don't put too much stock in the three to five ranking. If anyone is unseating the top two teams on this list, here are the prime candidates.
IMG_9826 (via Monica's Dad)
5. Leland Jr. High. The faith in the Cardinal this year depends on how much you trust sophomore Andrew Luck. The Cardinal return a great offensive line and fullback and two excellent wide receivers in possession receiver Ryan Whalen and speedster Chris Owusu. But running back is a total mystery, and If they can't produce as well with the youngster Stepfan Taylor and the seasoned Jeremy Stewart, defenses will be playing Luck hard to make him prove he's an NFL-caliber quarterback. For a guy that benefited the most from Toby Gerhart's Heisman-worthy season, Luck will have to raise his game and be able to open up the run game with his passing ability.
Also, do you trust the Cardinal to win shootouts? The offense seems more than capable of putting up points, but the defense seems just as capable of giving them up. Their defensive line should improve with Sione Fua anchoring the middle and Thomas Keiser coming off the edge in the new 3-4 formation. The back eight, on the other hand, is a madcap of castoffs (Richard Sherman is a converted receiver playing cornerback), switchoffs (Fullback Owen Marecic will be playing both ways as a linebacker), and who knows whats (Backup quarterback Alex Loukas played at free safety this spring, and he claims it made him better--at being a quarterback. Go figure).
Finally, if you believe in the power of the schedule, here's their starting schedule in FBS action: at UCLA, Wake Forest, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, USC. If they get through that part of the season intact, three more road dates at Washington, at ASU and the Big Game loom. Get ready for the ride Cardinal fans. I know you exist, somewhere out there.
IMG_1899 (via Monica's Dad)
4. USC. How well can the Trojans adjust to playing for nothing?
Lane Kiffin's first season as USC's main man will be anything but easy. Matt Barkley returns off an uneven freshman season. The running game should have another strong platoon--junior Marc Tyler takes over as the lead running back, Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable provide solid support, Dillon Baxter should make his mark when he returns from his suspension, and Stanley Havili will continue to be used everywhere, anywhere. The offensive line should prosper behind Kristofer O'Dowd, although there are injury concerns. The question is the Trojans pass-catching--Ronald Johnson is the lead receiver, and he could be Barkley's only reliable option with the talented but unproven Robert Woods lining up beside him and a group of unsure handlers behind them. What will happen when defenses load the box and force Barkley to be the hero?
USC's clear strength is their front seven, with Jurrell Casey and DaJohn Harris plugging the middle and Armond Armstead and Wes Horton coming off the edge. Add in solid support from the rotation of Devon Kennard, Malcolm Smith, Michael Morgan and Chris Galippo, and they might have to ride the contributions of this unit when the offense stalls out. The big problem the Trojans have to handle is whether the secondary behind them (with only Shareece Wright having significant experience, and he hasn't played since 2007) is strong enough to handle offenses that'll spread the field and make them tackle in open space or can cover deep down the field.
There is still plenty of talent for USC, and despite getting that extra game, the schedule sets up fairly nicely. We probably won't know anything about the ability of their team until October (September is the Silence of the Lambs--at Hawaii, Virginia, at Minnesota, at Wazzu), but other than a road trip to Palo Alto, they get Washington, Cal and Oregon, and a final stretch at Arizona and Oregon State. When the going gets tough is when we'll find out how dedicated these Trojans really are.
IMG_8852 (via Monica's Dad)
3. Arizona. They were six seconds from Pasadena last year, so all signs would point to making the final leap, right? Well, the offense returns mostly intact and should be fierce again. Nick Foles had a great sophomore campaign and is poised for a breakout campaign. Greg Nwoko, Keoala Antolin and Nic Grigsby are all back and ready to take Arizona's rushing attack to another level. The Wildcats offensive line returns four starters, and nearly all of Foles's main targets in the Airraid attack return, particularly Juron Criner.
The same cannot be said on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven was nearly completely wiped out, with only two starters returning (although they're defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, who could cause havoc for opposing tackes). Mike Stoops admitted himself that the defense is not playing well, and that was only a few weeks ago. With Mike's brother Mark departing for Florida State, the defense is basically hitting the reboot button, something that you never want to hear a season after you competed for a conference title.
The biggest thing in their favor is the schedule: Iowa, Cal, Oregon State, USC, and Washington all have to travel to Tucson, leaving the Wildcats with only the Ducks as a formidable road contender. Still, take a wait-and-see attitude with the Wildcats. See if they're capable of winning shootouts through most of the season and surmounting opposing defenses.
Here are your favorites. Unsurprisingly, everyone seems to be pointing toward a Civil War rematch deciding who wins the West.
OSU RB Jacquizz Rodgers (via SA Wedding Photo)
2. Oregon State. If there's anyone to knock off Oregon from defending their crown, this feels like the team. USC, Cal, Oregon all come to their place. It makes no difference whether they start the season and get bowled over by TCU or Boise, as they're prone to doing every season. The bigger question is whether they can handle those games without picking up injuries to their frontline guys.
Because if they can, the Beavers have all the ingredients of finally making the leap under Mike Riley. The Rodgers brothers return for their third and final hurrah of terrorizing the conference with their midget demonry (James is a senior, so only Jacquizz comes back next season). Joe Halahuni is the conference's best-kept secret and could be the go-to guy if sophomore Ryan Katz has trouble connecting outside. We haven't even mentioned Paea and a defense returning eleven guys with starting experience, although there are big questions at linebacker with Keaton Kristick and David Pa'aluhi gone about how well they can handle the outside and intermediate areas of the field.
On offense, everyone is wondering whether Katz will be able to deliver in his new role--Sean Canfield was so good for the Beavers last season that it's hard to see him matching that production. But there will be experienced talent around him to guide him, and unlike the Ducks, the schedule does seem to favor a young quarterback getting most of his big reps at home.
1. Oregon. It should be no surprise the Ducks are favored to finish first, with the majority of the voters thinking Oregon has what they need to go back-to-back. They return almost their entire offense and defense (18 returning starters, to be precise). They have LaMichael James and a completely intact offensive line, with Kenjon Barner and Lache Seastrunk ready to take the spread attack into hyperspace mode. They have a front seven with six returning and should be one of the fiercest in the conference, led by Casey Matthews and Kenny Rowe. This is a team that's been there, done that, and although the target will be on their back from beginning to end.
The big question, as it's been since March, is the passing game. With Masoli, Oregon seemed like a sure national title contender. Without him, it's anyone's guess if sophomore Darron Thomas is capable of stepping into his shoes and producing the same way. And it's not like senior Nate Costa is about to hand Thomas the reins. Plus outside of Jeff Maehl, there are no strong receiving threats.
A second big but somewhat underrated question is the schedule. After a tune-up road trip to Rocky Top, they have to go to LA, Berkeley, and Corvallis, where they've won a combined ONE game since 2001. Their home schedule is no easy pickings either--the Bruins, the Cardinal, the Huskies, and the Wildcats will all be formidable foes--but the advantage Oregon has in Eugene is sometimes way too understated.
If the Ducks can capture at least two of those three crucial road games, especially the Civil War, they should be well on their way to booking their flight back down to Southern California on New Year's Weekend.
(Thanks to Matt Ortega at AZ Desert Swarm, Cory Williams of House of Sparky, Dave, jtlight, Matt Daddy of Addicted to Quack, AndyPanda of Building the Dam, Ryan Rosenblatt of Bruins Nation, Joey Kaufman of Conquest Chronicles, Jeff Nusser of Coug Center for their input.)