The past 10 or so years have really exhibited the dominance of USC in Pac 10 football. Southern California has managed to secure a spot in the title since 2002, sharing with Washington State in 2002, California in 2006, and Arizona State in 2007.
Pete Carroll continues to elevate his intensity and dedication of coaching, reeling in the top notch recruits and producing an abundance of nationwide All-Americans. However, with the recent upheaval of the Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo recruiting allegations, the Pac 10 title may be "up for grabs" this upcoming season.
Oregon, Oregon State, and California are all possible alternate candidates for the Pac 10 championship. Oregon however, lost its premier halfback, Jeremiah Johnson, and elite cornerback, Patrick Chung, to graduation.
The departure of Johnson will hurt the Oregon offense, which strives off a running game and averaged over 250 rushing yards last season. Chung's absence will be relevant on defense because of the emergence of speedy threats Jahvid Best, Jaquizz Rodgers, and Joe McKnight on opposing teams in the conference.
Oregon State and "Quizz" may be the underdog of the chase for the crown, but they are not as talented and well-rounded as the California Golden Bears.
In 2009, the Bears will be without streaky quarterback, Nate Longshore, and the core of their 3-4 defense, but on the other hand, they have several gems returning who are ready to make an impact and want to solely win the Pac 10 title.
Let's start with the defense. Last year Coach Tedford made significant switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense because the strength of the team was in the linebackers. Seniors Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder were arguably the best players on the team.
Eddie Young, Devin Bishop, Mike Mohammed and incoming junior college prospects have been assigned the almost impossible task of replacing the previous linebackers. Spring practice reports are exciting Cal fans because they claim that these linebackers are a special group as well.
The defensive line will experience the loss of Norris Malele, Mika Kane, and Rulon Davis, whom helped the Bears stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks. Impressive defensive linemen,Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, will be called upon to lead the front attack. Once again, the defensive line should be among the best in the conference.
The unit that may have the most hype going into the season is the defensive backs (DBs). Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson is the leader, while Sean Cattouse, Darian Hagan, Chris Conte, and Marcus Ezeff are part of a strong supporting cast.
Tedford has implemented a "bend not break" system with the backs, however, occasionally the Golden Bears would get destroyed by the long ball, which sometimes costs them the game. The cornerbacks and safeties have worked hard during the offseason to correctly execute Tedford's sets, and many of them have showed spurts of potential.
Look for Sean Cattouse to play big this season because towards the end of last year he played like an All-American.
California is known for producing starting running backs and quarterbacks for the NFL under Tedford. Their offense is always the focal point of the team. Last year with inconsistent quarterback and wide receiver play, the Bears averaged 32.6 points per game. This year however, the passing game should be more efficient.
Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion, and redshirt freshman, Beau Sweeney, are all competing for the starting quarterback job. Riley is most likely going to be the starter because he has the most experience, an accurate arm, and the mobility that allows him to juke defenders.
Although the quarterback play was not great, part of the problem was the undeveloped and inexperienced wide receivers. Robert Jordan, Lavelle Hawkins, and Desean Jackson all left for the NFL, leaving transfer Nyan Boateng (from Florida), rookies Marvin Jones and Verran Tucker, senior Sean Young, and junior Jeremy Ross with the starting spots.
None of these receivers proved to be the "go to guy", making it hard for the Bears to develop much of a passing game.
However, during spring camp, Marvin Jones and Nyan Boateng proved that they have the potential to be the next Desean Jackson. And with the departure of leading receiver tight end, Cameron Morrah, tight end, Tad Smith, is ready to make an immediate impact.
Finally, the strongest part of the California Golden Bears team is their rushing game. Center, Alex Mack (NFL), is a huge loss for the team, and there is nobody on the roster that will be able to replace him.
Nevertheless, the other offensive lineman are prepared to help the running backs rush for over 150 yards a game this season as well. Tackles Mike Tepper, Mitchell Schwartz, and guard Justin Cheadle will look to provide big holes for Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, who are one of the fastest back duos in the nation.
SPEED SPEED SPEED. There is no other way to describe Jahvid Best, the Cal running back. Best rushed for over 1,500 yards last season, leading the Pac 10.
He is known for his great speed and agility, not so much for strength and power. Best draws comparisons to the NFL player Reggie Bush, and is projected as a high draft pick for the 2010 draft.
Jahvid received some Heisman watch towards the end of last year, but he is a serious nominee for this year's award.
In addition to Best, the Bears have second string back, Shane Vereen. Vereen is a similar back to Best, however his game involves a little more contact. When both Best and Vereen are on track, it is almost impossible to beat California.
With that said, it is very possible for the Pac 10 to be a close race this year. California looks strong on paper, but will they be able to translate that to success on the field? Can they finally overcome the past years and make a strong push for the title and the Rose Bowl?