1. Last year USC had to overcome playing all the toughest Pac-10 foes on the road and this year they get all of them at home. While they have just 11 returning starters and lose a league high 26 lettermen, I’ll call for them to go unbeaten in the Pac-10 and grab a school record 7th straight Pac-10 Title.
2. California - I got beat up by Cal fans last year when I picked them 5th in the Pac-10 and they entered the season ranked #12 in the AP poll. My projection looked bad when Cal opened 6-0 and moved to #2 but for the 2nd straight year they collapsed late and needed a comeback in the bowl just to pull out a 7-6 season and finished 6th in the Pac-10. This year they have just 12 returning starters but get 5 Pac-10 HG’s, including ASU and Oregon and that is the key for me calling them 2nd. While none of my 8 sets of power ratings calls them the 2nd best team in the conf, the schedule (and some underrated talent) gets them up this high.
3. Oregon - Tough to pick the Ducks here as 7 of my 8 sets of power ratings call them the 2nd best team in the league but they do have to play USC, California and Arizona St all on the road. Last year, had QB Dennis Dixon stayed healthy, they would likely have played for the National Title. With my #3 rated offense and #2 rated D in the Pac-10, they can overcome their tough schedule.
4. Arizona St - The Sun Devils were Pac-10 co-champs last year at 7-2 but were waxed in the Holiday Bowl by Texas. I thought they would jump out to an 8-0 start last year and they did. This year they probably have a stronger team but also have a tougher schedule, including Georgia in the non-conf slate. They also have 5 Pac-10 road games. While they won’t match last year’s 7 wins in Pac-10 play, it will be another strong year.
5. Arizona - The Cats got a couple of late wins vs backup QB’s to finish 4-5 in the Pac-10 and keep HC Mike Stoops around another year. This year they have five conference home games and my #2 rated offense. They have a Pac-10 low 17 lettermen lost and more experience than you would think on a defense that has just 3 starters back. I’ll call for the Cats to move into the upper half of the Pac-10 standings and save Stoops’ job.
6. Oregon St - The Beavers finished 3rd in the Pac-10 last year at 6-3 and their 12 wins in Pac-10 play the last two years trails only USC (14). Despite their 6-3 record, they did only outgain Pac-10 foes by 18.3 ypg and have the 2nd fewest amount of returning starters in the conf at 10. My main concern is the defensive front 7 which lost all 7 starters but it wouldn’t surprise me to see HC Mike Riley fashion another winning season with this team.
6. UCLA - The Bruins have just 9 returning starters and maybe less than that if QB Ben Olson does not return from an injury suffered in the spring. They do have an inexperienced O-line but were an injury ravaged team last year so they have more experience than you would think. UCLA gets five Pac-10 HG’s but still needs an upset or two to land a bowl bid.
8. Washington - The Huskies have 5 Pac-10 road games. With Jake Locker now a soph, this is HC Tyrone Willingham’s best team and after a lot of close losses (12 by 8 or less) in his first 3 years, things could break right for a big move up in the standings. The Huskies have won a Pac-10 low 6 games in the league in the last 3 years and while they will be better, they may find it tough to move into the upper half of the standings.
9. Stanford - For the 6th straight year SU was outgained by a league worst 175.9 ypg and it was not even close as UW was #2 at 66.5! This year SU has 16 returning starters and figures to be one of the more improved teams in the country but they have a lot of ground to make up and also draw five Pac-10 road games. They will find it tough to top last year’s Pac-10 win total (3).
10. Washington St - The Cougars did not catch a lot of breaks the last 3 years, losing a lot of close games and only winning 8 in Pac-10 play. While the Cougars have 14 returning starters, first year HC’s usually go through a transition year as they gain knowledge of the players and the players learn their systems. They must also travel to 3 of the 4 teams listed directly above them.
Pac-10 Notes: The modern era record for rushing yards by a QB in Pac-10 play was held by Jeff Dankworth of UCLA who had 815 in 1976. Jake Locker topped that with 986 (5.7). Since 1960 there have been 29 Pac-10 teams coming off of a losing season to change coaches and only 5 had winning marks the next year. Jeff Tedford had the biggest turnaround, taking Cal from a 1-10 record to 7-5 in 2002. That stat does not bode well for UCLA or Wash St. The Pac-10 plays some of the toughest schedules in the country. They play a round robin so they have NINE conference games and some of the schools play 3 BCS non-conf games, making them the only league with teams playing all 12 games vs BCS schools. USC was expected to make the National Title game and I am still scratching my head wondering how they ended the regular season #6 in the AP poll as I would have had them at #1 or #2. The Pac-10 did have 4 teams in the Top 25 at the end of the year, despite the tough schedules. They were 5-3 vs BCS schools in non-conf play which was the best % of all the leagues but their 65.5% mark overall vs non-conf 1A teams was only 4th best. They not only were 4-2 in the bowls but beat a pair of ranked teams in the post season (3rd best). I give USC a great shot at notching its SEVENTH straight Pac-10 title and that comes on the heels on NOT winning a title for six straight years. Experience is a question in the Pac-10 as they are the ONLY BCS conference that has just ONE team returning with 15 or more starters.