Living on the West Coast, and having followed Pac-10 football for more years than I want to remember (I go back to the days of the Pac-5), I will be submitting blogs about the Pac-10 and it's various teams. To start out, here is a quick breakdown of each team and their chances of winning the Pac-10 title this year:
Arizona: This normally defensive minded team is going to have to rely on their offense this year, if they want to challenge for the Pac-10 title. QB Nick Foles returns, but he needs to become more accurate. Nic Grigsby is a good RB, when healthy. The 'Cats have already lost starting WR Delashaun Dean for the season, but should be O.K. at that position. The offensive line returns four starters. Defensively, the 'Cats have major problems. They are strong at the DE position, but will be relying on two new starters at DT. The LB corps must be totally rebuilt. The secondary if very iffy. On top of all of that, they lose their D.C. Mark Stoops, to Florida State. For Arizona to have any chance at all of winning the Pac-10, their offense will have to avoid injuries and become more consistent.
Arizona State: This team is the opposite of their cousins from Tucson. Normally an offensive power, they will have to rely on their defense this season. The offense must replace all of the skill position players. The line must stay healthy and start to gel. Defensively, things are much better. The DL is solid. There is a lot of speed at LB, so look for the Devils to run both the 4-3, and 3-4 sets to utilize their team speed. The secondary is in good shape. Unfortunately, head coach Dennis Erickson's future at ASU may not be in the best shape. The schedule is a killer, with games at Wisconsin, Oregon State, Washington, Cal, USC, and Arizona. ASU may not win a single away game this season. The outlook is not real good.
California: If you can figure out this team, please tell me how you do it. Cal is by far the most inconsistent team in the Pac-10. Offensively, a lot of talent returns, including QB Riley, RB Vereen, and six other starters. Riley must play more consistent, and the line must protect him. On defense, Cal should be solid up front in their 3-4 alignment. LB Mike Mohamed returns, and he is a good one, but he will need help. Starting LB Chris Little has already been lost for the season. The secondary will need a lot of help. Head coach Jeff Tedford is getting a reputation for being an underachiever. Last year's results show just how inconsistent this team really was. This has to change if Cal wants any chance to finally win a Pac-10 Championship. I will believe it when I see it.
Oregon: This team is favored to win the Pac-10, and if head coach Chip Kelly can keep this team out of trouble, there is no reason why the can not win it all in the Pac-10. Talent wise, Oregon returns a ton of it. Nine starters on a very potent offense. Sophomore Darren Thomas edged out senior Nate Costa for the starting job at QB. The rest of the offense is as solid as it gets. The defense returns eight starters, but still must improve on the number of points it gives up. This unit must depend on its speed. The big minus for Oregon is the schedule. They must go to USC, Cal, and Oregon State. Oregon does not fare well in Los Angeles, and both Cal and Oregon State are looking to exact some revenge on the Ducks. They will have to overcome those teams to repeat as Pac-10 Champs. The chances of them doing so are very good.
Oregon State: The Beavers have come so close in the past two years, only to see their hopes of a Pac-10 Championship and a trip to Pasadena crushed by rival Oregon twice in a row. The Beavers have an explosive offense, with eight players returning, including the Rodgers brothers. "Quizz" is the best RB in the Pac-10, and James is an excellent receiver. New QB Ryan Katz will be depended on to lead the offense this season. The defense will be solid up front, but inexperienced at the LB position. The secondary showed major improvement last season, and must continue on that path. Oregon State's problem may be emotional this season. They start out by playing TCU and Boise State, both on the road, in weeks 1 and 3. How will this team react to a possible 1-2 start to the season? Riley has gotten them close for two years in a row, but has not won the title. Will they be up for a two week road trip in October to Arizona and Washington after a potential 2-2 start to the season?
Stanford: QB Andrew Luck is all the rage in the Pac-10. Already touted as a superstar, Luck will lead seven other offensive starters back this season. Gone is 1,800 yard rusher Toby Gerhart. You just do not replace stars. Luck will become the target of opponents defenses this season. He has a very good corps of WR's coming back, as well as a solid OL. The defense returns six starters, but will have a new look, with new D.C. Vic Fangio taking over. They will need to improve their secondary play, and find something that resembles a pass rush. This team finished 110th in passing defense last season. The Cards will go as far as Luck and their defense takes them. Is head coach Harbaugh auditioning for the Michigan job this season?
UCLA: Rick Neuheisel wants to see eight wins out of this team this season, and things looked promising when summer camp began. UCLA had seven players returning on an offense that simply did not produce last season. That number has now been drastically reduced. Starting LG Jeff Baca is out for the season. Starting C Kai Malava is out for at least six games. Starting QB Kevin Prince will probably miss the opener, and could be out longer. UCLA has been plagued with injuries ever since Neuheisel took over, and this year is no exception. The offense is going to have to find a way to put points on the board. The defense takes a big hit due to graduation, but does return a solid secondary and LB Akeem Ayers. Their only starting DL, Datone Jones, is out for four weeks due to an injury. With all of these injuries, UCLA falls from a team with an outside chance of winning the Pac-10 title to a team with an outside chance of winning six games.
USC: Where to start. USC returns six starters on offense, and five on defense, but that does not seem to matter as far as Lane Kiffin is concerned. Freshman Robert Woods has earned a start at a WR position and Nick Robey, another freshman has earned a start at CB. On offense, QB Matt Barkley returns, with a new attitude, after a so-so rookie season. USC has a lot of RB's, but must produce a couple of WR's to help Ronald Johnson. The OL must produce this season. On Defense, the front seven should be solid. The secondary must be rebuilt, and is very inexperienced. The biggest difference is the new D.C. Monte Kiffin is about as good as they get. The big question is how USC handles their banishment from post season play. If they can overcome that, and take an "us against the world" attitude, this team has enough talent to win a lot of games. They get Cal and Oregon at home. USC can not go to the Rose Bowl, but they can win the Pac-10 Championship.
Washington: This is the last chance for Heisman candidate Jake Locker to get his Huskies to the Rose Bowl. The QB who is in the running for the Heisman Trophy, and a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL gets eight more starters returning on offense. All of the skill players return. The offensive line is going to have to be rebuilt, and will be the key for this unit. The defense returns six starters, but loses two key players. The Huskies will probably use a lot of 3-4 defense because of depth issues up front. They have lost starting LB Alvin Logan for the season. The secondary will have to improve. With all of this talent, and a major upset of USC, last season, Washington is looking for Roses this year. While all of this is great, one must remember that Washington has not has a winning season under Locker. They also must travel to USC, Arizona, Oregon, and Cal. A bowl game? Yes. The Rose Bowl? Maybe.
Washington State: This team has won three games in two years. The Cougars return six players on both sides of the ball. On offense the line is going to have to protect QB Jeff Tuel. The RB's and WR's are not a very impressive group. On defense, things do not appear to be much better. They have depth on the line, and the LB corps seems to be on the improve, but the secondary is a mess, and the loss of starting FS LeAndre Daniels for the season does not help. This team is very thin on overall talent. Recruiting has not been good. Head coach Paul Wuff is on the hot seat. It is very hard to find many wins on the schedule. 1-11 is a possibility.
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