It is time. College Football has almost arrived, and the entire country of sports fanatics are enveloping their minds in the addiction that is NCAA football...including me.
This week, I'm covering the Pacific Ten conference in their quest for a national title and a spot among the ranks of the SEC and Big 12.
USC's usual dynasty has suffered some setbacks, but they are still strong in national eyes. However, will it be enough to keep ahead of Cal and sensational back Jahvid Best? Or will Oregon's own stud running back in LeGarrette Blount end up stealing the show? How about the Beaver's Jacquizz Rodgers?
I break down every rank of the conference in this article. Read on...
1. Southern California (USC) Trojans
USC enters this season coming off a dominating Rose Bowl victory, but it will still be no easy ride to another BCS berth. New coordinators on both sides of the ball could put the Pac-10 title in jeopardy.
Corp and Barkley will compete for the QB spot, both of which have talent but little experience. At wideout, Damian Williams is a great producer, and the rest of the unit is also good.
Five running backs will compete for that starting job, but all of them should be serviceable players. Whoever gets the job shouldn't have much trouble finding holes, as the offensive line is one of the best in the USA.
On defense, six total starters were lost from the line and linebacking, but most positions seem to have decent fill-ins. The secondary is excellent, being lead by All-American FS Taylor Mays and SS Josh Pinkard.
The schedule also provides some challenges, including an array of hard road games, including Ohio State, Notre Dame, California, and Oregon.
Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl, vs. Penn State
Predicted Record: 10-2 (8-1 conference)
2. California Golden Bears
California enters this offseason with more confidence than ever, and a hope for a Pac-10 title and a BCS Bowl.
The play of quarterback Kevin Riley will determine a large part of the Bear's 2009 successes. Riley is mobile and tough, but needs more accuracy. His targets are also limited, with a deep but inexperienced WR unit and questions at tight end.
Running back Jahvid Best is the key point of the team, and is likely a top-10 national runner. Best recorded over 1,500 yards last year in twelve games, averaging over 130 yards per game and an incredible 8.1 yards per carry.
The offensive line lost Alex Mack to the NFL, but still appears solid.
On defense, the line appears intact and the secondary group is also good, being lead by cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson.
The linebacking group is an average Pac-10 unit, but could improve over time as many spots are "under siege" from younger players.
The schedule should provide for an interesting season, as the Golden Bears begin with their three non-conference games; Maryland, Eastern Washington, and Minnesota, all of which should be wins. However, they then head into the conference with a brutal opening three games: at Oregon, USC, and at UCLA.
In truth, it could be a tight race between Cal and USC, and Cal falls short on historic experience. But in talent, the Bears get the edge, and the title.
Projected Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl (vs. Utah)
Predicted Record: 10-2 (7-2 conference)
3. Oregon State Beavers
Coming in at third is the Oregon State Beavers, who had one of their best years in recent history last season.
Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is the heart and basis of the offense, and it's well deserved. Rodgers has great sense and a terrific eye for holes. He can also turn up the speed and moves when he needs to.
Jacquizz's brother, James Rodgers, is the top wide receiver, but he lost talent behind him this offseason.
The quarterback job is up for grabs between Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield, both of which are capable starters.
The defense is a slight weak point, as the line and linebackers appear fine but no returning starters at linebacker could be a major rebuilding issue.
The non-conference schedule is easy, with a home game against Cincinnati the only one worth stressing. However, conference road games versus Arizona State, USC, and Oregon could be hard to win.
Projected Bowl: Poinsettia Bowl, vs. TCU
Predicted Record: 9-3 (6-3 conference)
4. Oregon Ducks
Oregon enters this season having fallen one win short of a double-digit victory season, and that's the goal entering 2009. But the road to 10 wins will have plenty of bumps.
The quarterback situation is one of the best in the conference. The opening day starter seems likely to the Masoli, who is accurate as a passer and also a great runner, averaging around 60 yards per game last season.
Halfback LeGarette Blount is a top 35 player nationally at the position, and top recruit LaMichael James is a nice compliment. There are five great recievers in the system, so that unit won't be lacking, either.
The offensive line is a weak point, losing their best two starters this spring.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line could have it's issues as well, losing star Nick Reed as well as two other starters. The secondary also lost it's top two starters.
At linebacker, the unit is mostly intact from graduation and appears ready to go.
As far as the schedule goes, games against non-conference foes Boise State, Purdue, and Utah could be tough games to get through. Thankfully, though, the Ducks do manage to get most of the tough Pac-10 opponents at home.
Projected Bowl: Holiday Bowl, vs. Kansas
Predicted Record: 8-4 (7-2 conference)
5. UCLA Bruins
UCLA has plenty of room to improve on, as last year's horrible four-win performance has left a lot to be wanted. However, the Bruins appear on the verge of a major bounce-back.
Quarterback is a bit unstable, but hopefully either redshirt freshman Kevin Prince or senior Kevin Craft, who did throw 20 interceptions last year, will step up.
Running backs Ramirez, Dean, and Knoz will all end up being good starters.
The recievers group is team best, with good size and plentiful talent, and top-ranked tight end recruit Morrel Pressly should be a fantastic addition.
The line is a slight concern, but should improve.
On defense, the entire group is sturdy and intact.
The schedule has two somewhat hard games at Tennessee and home vs. Kansas State, but most of the difficulty is in the conference. However, this year, it's all about a bowl berth once more, and the Bruins seem likely to accomplish that.
Projected Bowl: Sun Bowl, vs. Notre Dame
Predicted Record: 7-5, 5-4 conference
6. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona goes into this season full of confidence after an eight win season, which included their first bowl berth since 1998. However, it could be hard to repeat.
The easy non-conference schedule may help, with three home dates against Central Michigan, Northern Arizona, and Iowa.
Quarterback Willie Tuitama was lost to graduation, and there really isn't much to replace him. Left tackle Eben Britton is also gone.
There is plenty of speed and skill at running back and wide receiver, though.
On defense, it looks like they may finally be becoming the staple of the team. The linebackers unit suffered a few setbacks this offseason, but the secondary is possibly league-best, and their aggression is also a great attribute.
Projected Bowl: Emerald Bowl, vs. N.C. State
Predicted Record: 6-6, 4-5 conference
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State is one program in the Pac-10 that isn't headed in the right direction. The Devils dropped from 10 wins in '07 to just a mere five in '08, and improvement will be small if any.
There are major concerns about the running game, and there is about no one at the quarterback position, either. The receiving group is solid, though, and the line should be very sturdy.
The defense appears ready to advance to another level, though. The line is simply sub-par (except for Dexter Davis), but the back seven is the strength of the team.
The schedule will be very tough, though, as it includes a trip to Georgia.
Projected Bowl: Hawaii Bowl, vs. Hawaii
Predicted Record: 6-6, 4-5 conference
8. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford recorded one of their best seasons in years last year, going 5-7. But it looks like a drop in the standings is likely.
The running game should be fine, but they have major holes at quarterback, wide receiver, and the secondary is also torn apart. The offensive line also lost a couple starters.
The schedule also includes games at Wake Forest, Oregon State, Arizona, and USC, and home matches versus UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, California, and Notre Dame.
Predicted Record: 4-8, 3-6 conference
9. Washington Huskies
After a winless 2008 season, the Huskies don't have anywhere to go but up.
With quarterback Jake Locker, it seems that Washington will likely be able to record at least a couple wins, but besides him, there are no other elite players on the roster.
The defense is also in shreds, and the non-conference schedule is also hard, including games against LSU and Notre Dame. In the conference, a grueling stretch from October 10 to November 14, including five straight games against Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, and Oregon State.
Predicted Record: 2-10, 1-8 conference
10. Washington State
Don't ask me to describe the roster breakdown, there is no roster. Wins will lose themselves from the dictionary here.
Predicted Record: 0-12, 0-9 Conference