Of all the tight races expected in college football this year, and there will be many, the PAC 10 looks to be the most wide open.
Depending on injuries, luck and a bounce or two here or there, any one of seven teams could conceivably win the conference in 2010.
Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona, California, Stanford and even a depleted USC team will contend for the league's BCS bowl bid. Four of these teams will be led by star quarterbacks.
Washington's Jake Locker has been touted as a potential No. 1 NFL draft pick for two years now. Stanford's Andrew Luck, only a sophomore, is a legitimate Heisman candidate and many think he'll continue to flourish under popular coach Jim Harbaugh despite the loss of Toby Gerhart.
Golden Boy Matt Barkley leads the post-Pete Carroll era at Southern Cal. Outside of his many physical tools, word out of Troy has it that Barkley, also just a sophomore, has grown into a true team leader for new coach Lane Kiffin.
The least talked-about of the bunch is Arizona's Nick Foles, perhaps because his Wildcats are the least likely of these seven teams to win the conference. But he leads an offense that returns eight starters from a unit that scored 27 points per game a year ago. Look for even more offense from Arizona, but the defense is equally inexperienced, so the Wildcats will give up plenty of points as well.
The funny thing is that a team with a huge question mark at quarterback is who most, including this site, are picking to win the league. Despite the dismissal of star signal caller Jeremiah Masoli, the Oregon Ducks look to be the team to beat. Nine offensive starters return, including Heisman candidate LaMichael James in the backfield. Eight regulars are back on defense, so improvement is expected on that side of the ball.
Oregon State will be a factor for one reason—coach Mike Riley, who consistently gets more out of his players than most coaches do. The Beavers introduce new quarterback Ryan Katz, but with the Rodgers brothers back at the skill positions and an experienced offensive line points should be available in bunches in Corvallis. OSU brings back seven starters from an average defense. Does anyone play defense in the PAC 10? The Beavers will need to because they play both non-AQ darlings Boise State and TCU in September.
Perhaps this preview would be more informative by just rolling out the teams that won't contend. UCLA hasn't been relevant in a while, Arizona State has disappeared and Washington State, well, come on now.
Predicted Order Of Finish:
Interesting Storylines: Will the probation-saddled Trojans play with a chip on their shoulders like everyone is expecting? With such parity in the league, will 6-3 be good enough to win it? Supporting casts are great, but which of the great quarterbacks is best equipped to carry a team?
One Game You Can't Miss: Oregon at USC, Oct. 30