3. Under the Radar: Arizona enters 2010 poised to make a run at the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history. The Cats were a 2OT loss to Oregon away from winning the Pac-10 last year and return their leading passer, rusher, and receiver from 2009 in QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin and WR Juron Criner.
Nic Grigsby has had health issues but if he can stay on the field he is an explosive guy inside, outside, and in the short passing game. Keola Antolin is a strong runner that is incredibily difficult to bring down for a guy his size (5'8, 195 lbs) and will get enough touches to make an impact this year and spell Grigsby.
On defense, Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are the most dynamic pass rushing duo in the conference and CB Trevin Wade looks like an All-Conference guy. The LB level is an area of slight concern because of the lack of experience and uncertainty at the Weakside spot and interior line play is going to be huge for a team that will often be challenged right up the gut.
The Cats are going to have a difficult time climbing out of the role of unknown with non-conference games against Toledo and Citadel, but winning against Iowa will get some attention and the matchup against Oregon State two weeks later in the Zona Zoo is the early season game of the Pac-10 season.
2. Angry Beavers: Pac-10 followers know how close the Beavs have been to the Grandaddy the past two years; thisclose. The only problem has been what most OSU fans believe is the problem with most everything in the Pac-10, the State of Oregon and the world at large for that matter: The Oregon Ducks. Hate doesn't describe the feeling and after the debacle in Reeser two seasons ago and the heartbreaking second half gut-job the Ducks pulled in 2009, the only thing that will satisfy OSU is to beat Oregon and go to the Rose Bowl.
The Rodgers brothers both return and the speed of James getting to the edge on the "fly" sweep combined with Jacquizz's knack for breaking tackles and moving the pile inside the Beavers are going to score plenty. The only real question on the offense is the play of Ryan Katz, whose huge arm has people around Corvallis buzzing about just how good this offense could be. Sean Canfield was lights out last year down the stretch and even with both Rodgers brothers that is going to be tough to duplicate. There are complimentary weapons to go along with James and Quizz, most notably Darrell Catchings and Damola Adeniji.
Mark Banker probably does more with less than any other coordinator in the conference; and he has to be one of the angriest Beavs of all after the last two Civil War games. The Beavers defense rarely has a household name but that has changed in a big way with Stephen Paea. Paea opted to return to OSU and if the extra year does anything to refine his skills that is big trouble for Pac-10 offenses. James Dockery and Brandon Hardin both have experience at CB as does Lance Mitchell at Safety. OSU ranked fifth in the conference in PPG allowed last year and sixth in yards per game and will have to improve on those rankings if they hope to get to Pasadena. The bottom line for this unit is they will never wow you during warmups, but they have proven they play with the intense effort and physical mindset that makes championship caliber defenses.
1. System Quarterbacks: A phrase that is thrown around a lot in a negative way has proven to be a real asset for Oregon the past three seasons. With 18 starters back on offense and defense, the pieces are there for a repeat title run but QB play is going to be the determining factor.
Chip Kelly has built winners out of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli and even got a five TD Sun Bowl performance out of Justin Roper in 2007 and an emergency start win with Costa at the helm last season.
Dixon had become a polarizing figure before Kelly's arrival with many questioning his ability to beat out Brady Leaf before 2007. Masoli was only forced into action after Nate Costa's knee injury during camp in 2008 and led an offense that looked stagnant and out of sorts at times before hitting it's stride late in the year and leading the Ducks in their final four victories of the season.
The hope for Duck fans has to be that Kelly and the spread-option system can strike gold again and make productive, winning QBs out of Costa and Darron Thomas. With LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in the backfield (or sometimes flexed into the slot, or spread wide to the numbers, or motioning across the formation...OK point made) and all ten members of the offensive line two-deep returning, the Ducks have a solid foundation on which to build their offense in 2010.
Both guys bring a unique set of skills and circumstances to the table. Costa of course has the medical history, which probably means Thomas is going to be used at some point this season regardless of who opens the season as starter. DT has seen such limited action that it's impossible to gauge how he would fare over the course of a 12 game season, but the flashes of potential have been enticing.