Another week, another tailgate as we head towards September 2nd .
This week I will begin to embrace my new surroundings of Eastern Washington and write about the Pac-10 and all its glory. I already have my Wazzu hat and jersey on.
To be honest, I haven't followed the Pac-10 too closely, having grown up and spent most of my time in the Midwest it has always been all about the Big Ten. This year is gonna be different for me as those Big Ten early games start at 9 a.m. my time.
So what are the story-lines going into the Pac-10 season?
I have already touched on the Kiffin effect, and we know that USC may be on probation, depending on the appeal process. We also know that everyone is taking the Oregon schools to march to the Rose Bowl.
But who else will challenge?
Who is the best player in the conference?
What chance, if any, do the Pac-10 teams have of going to the National Title game?
I will attempt to answer those questions and more as the Pac-10 reigns supreme in this week's edition of the Friday Tailgate.
Who will surprise in 2010?
Last year the fact that USC didn't win the conference was the biggest shock. You could say that the Oregon schools and Arizona were also notables along with Washington seemingly reviving what had been a dreadful program under Ty Willingham.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in my opinion was how well Stanford played. They went 8-5, with a 6-3 conference mark, falling four points short against Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl. In fact they beat eventual conference champ Oregon by nine, beat the tar out of USC, and were two close losses to Arizona and Cal away from smelling the Roses.
But, Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhardt is gone and the Cardinal must find a way to replace his 1,871 rushing yards and 28 TD's. Maybe that's why many are picking Stanford to finish near the bottom of the conference.
I say, not so fast my friend.
There is no reason why the Cardinal can't be at or near the top of the conference again in 2010.
Andrew Luck returns at QB, and is one of the smartest and most talented QB's in the league. Four offensive lineman return from last year, along with several key tight ends in the blocking scheme.
Again, it may all come down to who replaces Gerhardt, but Jim Harbaugh has several options. Look for either Stepfan Taylor or fellow sophomore Tyler Gaffney to be a suitable combo to fill the void.
Where you will see the biggest change is on defense. Vic Fangio was hired in the offseason after serving as an NFL assistant with the Baltimore Ravens the past four seasons. Look for him to bring a bruising, hard hitting attitude to a team that looks to be better than ninth on defense in the conference.
So, if you wanna say that Stanford will be a far lesser team without Gerhardt, than I guess me saying that they will be just as good will come as a surprise, thus giving them my pick to “surprise” the league again in 2010.
Who is the best player in the conference?
When I think of Pac-10 football I think offense. Very rarely do we talk about smash mouth, defensive battles.
So go figure I am picking an offensive player to be the player of the year in the conference.
Jake Locker will undoubtedly be the top QB taken in the 2011 NFL draft. Many experts thought he would go number one in this past year's draft, but Locker elected to stay in school and try to lead the Huskies back to the promise land.
Locker will have plenty of weapons at his disposal and should have quality numbers in both the yards department and win column.
Chris Polk returns at back and is as big of a threat running the ball as he is catching it out of the backfield. Wide receivers Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse form a solid duo on the outside, and down the middle TE Kavario Middleton is a huge target.
Perhaps the biggest asset for Locker is not his ability to run, but the lack of talent that is on the Huskies defense.
Teams should have no problem putting up points against Washington, therefore it will give the offense plenty of opportunity to pad stats and put up big numbers.
A win over Nebraska in week three could even propel Locker into the Heisman front runner early in the season.
Are any teams BCS National title worthy?
Just like last season someone will pull ahead and appear to be on the fast track to the Rose Bowl and will suddenly fall victim to someone chasing them. Then that team will be the front runner until they get knocked off and so on.
In this conference it is all about the offense again, and with many squads having mediocre defenses except for maybe Oregon and USC, it appears that balance will be the norm again for the Pac-10.
Who is Jeff Tuel?
In moving to Eastern Washington I have made an attempt to get familiar with the local team in Washington State. True, I did say that they may be in jeopardy of going 0-for in 2010, but they do have their bright spots.
Jeff Tuel is one of those spots. He became the first true freshman to start since Drew Bledsoe. He did show some signs of promise before going down with an injury. The key for him to have success starts up front.
Four starters return from a unit that was so-so at best, and the lone departure was their all conference center. This could pose to be a problem.
Tuel does have some pieces at the skill positions. Cal transfer James Montgomery appears to be healthy and ready to provide a steady ground attack, and if any of the returning receivers can become the big play guy, then watch out.
Overall, Tuel won't put up the Locker numbers. He won't even put up the win totals this year that will put him on the map, but watch for his name in the future.
If the Cougars can find a way to win three or four games then momentum will be building in Pullman, and people will start to talk about the kid who wears No. 10.
How will the Pac-10 do out of conference?
There are several big non conference games that Pac-10 teams will play that may shape how the country looks at the conference as a whole. How they play will ultimately determine how much respect this conference deserves.
Oregon State plays TCU at Texas Stadium to open the year. The Beavers offense, with a new starting QB will get a look at a ferocious Horned Frog defense. This could be a major step for a top tier Pac-10 team to give the conference the toughness it needs.
The following week Oregon travels to Rocky Top to take on the Vols. Oregon should be favored, but you never know when you go on the road in the SEC. Any way you look at it a win is big for the Pac-10.
Oregon State continues their tough non conference with a trip to Boise on September 25th .
If Boise beats Va Tech and OSU beats TCU in their openers, then watch out game of the week. This could possibly establish a BCS run if the Beavers can make a run on the blue turf.
Other big games include the aforementioned Nebraska-Washington game, Notre Dame-USC, and Arizona-Iowa.
Wins in these big games will definitely establish the conference as a top tier league and have the BCS keeping their eye out for an at large.
So how will they do in these games?
I think overall the conference is balanced, but down as a whole. There are plenty of powerful offenses, but not a lot of defense, and in the end defenses win championships.
What we learned today
As always we end the article the Sportsnation way with what we learned today.
Stanford will once again be good, which may come as a surprise to some.
Jake Locker is the best player in the conference, hands down.
No team in the Pac-10 will challenge for the national title.
Jeff Tuel is a player to keep an eye and an ear out for.
The Pac-10 will struggle against the other BCS power teams.
So that's it for my Pac-10 thoughts this week, so what do you think? Am I better suited for life in the Big Ten?
Do you think anyone will step up and challenge for the BCS title? Will Wazzu shock the world and go to a bowl game?
As always it's just my opinion, I could be wrong...