10 Bold Predictions for the 2010 Pac-10 Football Season
Surprisingly, the PAC-10's USC and UCLA came out with two very good recruiting classes when all was said and done.
Will those recruiting classes bring USC back to conference dominance, or will UCLA become the top dog in the PAC-10?
After what most would call a down year for the PAC-10 conference, 2010 could be a complete turnaround with teams like Oregon, Stanford, and USC getting that much stronger.
So what questions will be asked as teams report to spring camp? How about an MVP prediction, a freshman phenom, and a conference champion?
We'll take a look at those questions and a whole lot more.
Top Running Back - LaMichael James (Oregon)
After the "punch seen 'round the college football world" and subsequent suspension of Oregon running back LaGarrette Blount, a young freshman by the name of LaMichael James was asked to take over the starting job.
If you don't know the name LaMichael James by now, you didn't follow college football during the 2009 season.
James took Oregon and the nation by storm, as he finished seventh in the nation in rushing with 1,546 yards (118.9 yards per game).
Did I fail to mention that James is only a freshman?
With Stanford running back Toby Gerhart moving on to the NFL, look for James to be the lead dog in the PAC-10 in rushing in 2010.
Top Quarterback - Jeremiah Masoli (Oregon)
For me, this came down to a battle between Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and Washington quarterback Jake Locker.
When you break down both quarterbacks, you begin to notice that both aren't that far apart. Locker passed for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2009, adding 388 yards and another seven touchdowns on the ground. This gives Locker a total of 3,188 all purpose yards and 28 total touchdowns for the season.
Then you get to Masoli, and though he has the lower passing touchdown total of the two (15), he made up the difference with his 13 rushing touchdowns in 2009.
The true difference between the two can be found in the team's 2009 record.
Locker and the Washington Huskies finished with a 5-7 record, while Masoli and the Oregon Ducks finished atop the PAC-10 conference with a 10-3 record.
While Locker is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, Masoli gets the nod as my pick for top quarterback in 2010.
Top Impact Freshman - Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA)
If there's a name that PAC-10 fans, as well as even the most casual college football fan, should get used to hearing, it's Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
This 6'3" 235-pound defensive lineman will bring a tremendous lift to a UCLA defensive line that gave up 144 rushing yards per game in 2009.
"His speed and quickness make him a dangerous defender. His ability to get up field and get to the corner make a him a threat to run by blockers as a pass-rusher." -- ESPN.com
If Oregon's incoming super-sophomore, LaMichael James, is going to the PAC-10's leading rusher, he's going to have to put a valiant effort against the likes of Mr. Odighizuwa.
Top Defensive Player - Mike Mohamed (Cal)
Mike Mohamed led the entire conference in 2009 with 112 tackles, 69 of which were solo, along with three interceptions and one forced fumble.
Though Cal was seventh in the conference in points against (331), the defense was second in the conference in rushing defense at 112 yards per game.
If Cal is going to get back in the race for the PAC-10 crown, the team will need Mohamed to be on his game next season.
Look for him to be a defensive force for the Bears and elevate them to a possible contender in 2010.
Team That Will Surprise - Washington Huskies
Want a surprise contender in 2010? Look no further than Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies.
Though the Huskies finished at 5-7 last season, this is a team that can finish at least 8-5 in 2010.
The Huskies have a chance right off the bat to show what kind of team they can be through their first three games of the season: a road game against BYU, followed by home games against Syracuse and a Nebraska team that could be a national championship contender in a season or two.
Let's not forget this is a team that went to LSU and could have easily knocked off the No. 11 Tigers before falling 31-23.
After that, they returned home to beat Idaho and then upset then No. 3 ranked USC 16-13.
Washington currently holds a 4-3 record against BYU, losing its last contest 28-27 in Seattle thanks to a blocked kick by BYU.
Most will remember the epic battle between the Huskies and the University of Nebraska in September of 1992, a game that Washington won. Could history repeat itself?
I think Washington will be at worst 2-1 (wins over BYU and Syracuse) before its showdown at the LA Coliseum against USC.
Win that one and the Huskies could very well avoid a loss until the matchup against Stanford.
Team That Will Disappoint - USC Trojans
The 2010 USC Trojans will usher in their first season without Pete Carroll, now that they are under the direction of former Tennessee man Lane Kiffin.
USC had a Top 10 recruiting class, but does that mean it will return USC to PAC-10 dominance?
Their 2010 non-conference schedule seems to set the Trojans up for success, opening the season with three straight games against teams with a combined 2009 record of 15-23.
They'll open the season on the road against Hawaii (6-7), return home to face Virginia (3-9), and then back out on the road to face Minnesota (6-7).
The PAC-10 hasn't gotten easier. If anything, the schedule will be the toughest part of USC's season.
USC will have conference road games against Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona, and UCLA.
Let's not forget that Stanford and Arizona both knocked off 'SC at The Coliseum. Trying to win on the road is not going to be an easy thing for USC.
Conference Game of the Year - Stanford at Oregon Oct. 2
On October 2, 2010, the Stanford Cardinal will travel up to Eugene, OR to take on the defending PAC-10 champion Oregon Ducks.
Last year, these two teams played an incredible game, which ended in a 51-42 win for Stanford on their home field, lengthening the Cardinals series' against Oregon to 44-28-1 all time.
These two teams combined for a total of 1,075 yards and 93 points, including a school record 223 rushing yards from Stanford Heisman candidate running back Toby Gerhart.
What will this season hold? The winner of this game could possibly go on to claim the PAC-10 crown.
Stanford had an edge playing at home last season, but now it's on Oregon's home turf. This has all the makings of an epic showdown.
Most Pressure - Lane Kiffin
Hey Lane, USC called and they want you to follow a guy that finished with a 97-19 record, seven BCS bowl appearances in nine seasons, including two national championships, and a 7-2 record in bowl games.
Actually, there's all the pressure in Southern California on new head coach Lane Kiffin, not only because he's the new head man for the Trojans, but because he has to continue the winning tradition that former head coach Pete Carroll left behind.
Kiffin is off to a good start with a Top 10 recruiting class, but can he groom Matt Barkley into one of the premier quarterbacks not only in the PAC-10 conference, but in the nation?
Like I said...no pressure
Coach on the Hot Seat - Paul Wulff (Washington State)
After just one losing season at his old post at Eastern Washington (2006), head coach Paul Wulff is a combined 3-22 over his first two seasons at Washington State.
The Cougars haven't had a winning seasons since they finished 10-3 in 2003 under then head coach Bill Doba.
Since then the program's best record was in 2006, when they finished 6-6.
The season doesn't start off easy, as they open the season in Stillwater, OK to take on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State on Sept. 4. Two weeks later, they'll be in Dallas to take on the upstart SMU Mustangs on Sept. 18.
How long Washington State will let these losing records continue is unknown, but if the Cougars can't get off to a promising start, Wulff may be squirming in that hot seat sooner than he would have liked.
PAC-10 MVP - Jake Locker (Washington)
Though he may not be my pick for the best quarterback in the PAC-10 next season, he will hoist the MVP trophy when the season is done.
Locker came back to play his senior season with something to prove in college football and to the pro scouts, who will hopefully improve draft status for 2011.
After throwing for 2800 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2009, Locker should easily reach the 3,000 yards plateau and get himself closer to 30 passing touchdowns before the year is out.
The Washington Huskies will be better than their 5-7 record last season, as they conceivably will be able to finish 8-5.
This will be accomplished by Locker's leadership, a role he will gladly take and run with in 2010.