Pac-10 expecting season of parity

The Pac-10’s football coaches went on a look-at-us road show to

the East Coast in July, hitting Times Square, ringing the opening

bell at NASDAQ and visiting ESPN’s headquarters before landing back

on the floor of the Rose Bowl for a media meet and greet.

Now it’s time to see if their teams can live up to the hype.

In what may be its final official year as the Pac-10 – next

year’s addition of Utah and likely Colorado, too, will make 12

teams – the conference is as deep and talented as it’s been for

quite some time. There may not be a legitimate national-title

contender and Southern California has a two-year bowl ban because

of the Reggie Bush fiasco, but the Pac-10 has eight or nine teams

that can contend for the conference title.

”There is a lot of parity in this conference, there is no doubt

about it,” California coach Jeff Tedford said. ”Last year we had

five teams with the same record. Very difficult to go through this

conference unscathed. Very competitive. There is firepower on

offense and a lot of great defenses.”

Oregon is the favorite, by a slight margin.

The Ducks are the defending conference champions after going 8-1

– 10-3 overall – and are coming off their first Rose Bowl since

1994. Oregon is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, has a

no-huddle offense that makes defenders’ heads spin and is

chock-full of confidence after knocking USC off the conference

throne for the first time since 2001.

Still, it wasn’t a quiet offseason for the Ducks.

The big blow was the loss of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a

potential Heisman Trophy candidate, who was dismissed from the team

after a second run-in with the law. That leaves senior Nate Costa

and sophomore Darron Thomas in a battle that will likely last until

just before the season starts.

Running back LaMichael James, who set the Pac-10 freshman record

with 1,546 yards rushing last season, was suspended for the season

opener against New Mexico after an altercation with his

ex-girlfriend that led to a guilty plea on a harassment charge. Two

other players were dismissed from the team and two more were

suspended for brushes with the law.

”We’re just moving forward, looking at a new season,”

defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. ”It’s just like we graduated

the guys that are gone.”

USC made the Ducks’ offseason seem manageable.

The Trojans, coming off a lackluster 5-4 conference season, were

rocked by the loss of coach Pete Carroll, who left for the Seattle

Seahawks, then were hit with heavy sanctions that included a

two-year bowl ban after the NCAA ruled Bush and basketball player

O.J. Mayo received improper benefits.

The sanctions allowed players to transfer without having to take

a year off and many did leave, leaving new coach Lane Kiffin with

just 70 scholarship players – 15 below the NCAA’s limit – at the

start of training camp.

”The only way we’re going to be able to express ourselves is to

win 13 games,” tailback Allen Bradford said. ”We know it’s going

to be difficult this year.”

OREGON – Key players: QBs Nate Costa and Derron Thomas, RB

LaMichael James, DE Kenny Rowe, MLB Casey Matthews. Returning

starters: 9 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Costa was slated to start two seasons ago before an

injury and Thomas has drawn some comparisons to former Ducks QB

Dennis Dixon, so the loss of Masoli might not slow Oregon’s potent

offense much at all. … Had nine games of more than 200 yards

rushing last season including 391 vs. USC. … Offensive line

returns intact. … Rowe had 11 1/2 sacks last season.

USC – Key players: QB Matt Barkley, WR Ronald Johnson, DT

Jurrell Casey, MLB Chris Galippo. Returning starters: 5 offense, 6

defense.

Notes: Coach Lane Kiffin draws lots of attention for what he

says and how he acts, but he was 7-6 in his only season at

Tennessee, with close loses to Alabama and Florida. … Barkley

started as a freshman and had an up and down season with 15 TD

passes and 14 interceptions. … Trojans start season at Hawaii,

which allowed them opportunity to play 13-game regular season.

ARIZONA – Key players: QB Nick Foles, RB Nic Grigsby, DE Ricky

Elmore. Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: New QB coach Frank Scelfo tutored eventual first-round

draft picks Patrick Ramsey and J.P. Losman at Tulane … Wildcats

finished a solid season with a thud, getting beat 33-0 by Nebraska

in Holiday Bowl. … Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, head coach

Mike’s brother, left for Florida.

CALIFORNIA – Key players: RB Shane Vereen, LB Mike Mohamed, TE

Anthony Miller. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: QB Kevin Riley has had a mixed career at Cal, but he’s a

senior now and the Bears need him to find the consistency that has

eluded him. … Vereen led team with 952 yards rushing last year

filling in for first-round draft pick Jahvid Best. … New

defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast was in NFL for last 15

years.

STANFORD – Key players: QB Andrew Luck, G David DeCastro, WR

Chris Owusu, NT Sione Fua, LB Shayne Skov. Returning starters: 8

offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Luck, projected as a possible first-round draft pick,

takes over the reins after Doak Walker Award winner Toby Gerhart

moved on to the NFL. … Coach Jim Harbaugh has been mentioned as a

possible candidate for NFL and big-name colleges but has so far

stuck with Stanford. … The Cardinal are coming off their first

bowl appearance since 2001.

WASHINGTON – Key players: QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Polk, WR

Jermaine Kearse, LB Mason Foster, S Nate Williams. Returning

starters: 9 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: An accurate drop-back passer, Locker is a Heisman Trophy

front-runner and the likely No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL

draft. … Polk became the first freshman in school history to rush

for over 1,000 yards (1,113) and caught 25 passes. … The Huskies

went from 0-12 in 2008 to 5-7 in their first season under Steve

Sarkisian and expect to make another jump this season behind

Locker.

OREGON STATE: Key players: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James

Rodgers, DT Stephen Paea, LB Dwight Roberson, CB James Dockery.

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Jacquizz Rodgers was third in the nation with 21 rushing

TDs, while his brother, James, led the Pac-10 with 179.1

all-purpose yards per game. … The Beavers must find a replacement

for QB Sean Canfield, who graduated. Sophomore Ryan Katz and Peter

Lalich a transfer from Virginia, will fight it out. … Oregon

State finished tied for second in the Pac-10 last season, just

missing its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1965 with a loss to

rival Oregon.

UCLA: Key players: QB Kevin Prince, WR Nelson Rosario, WR Taylor

Embree, LB Akeem Ayers, S Rahim Moore, DE Datone Jones, K Kai

Forbath. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: The Bruins are making steady progress under coach Rick

Neuheisel, winning seven games last season and four the year

before, and have had two stellar recruiting classes. … Forbath

has made 37 straight FGs inside 50 yards. … Moore led the NCAA

with 10 INTs in 2009.

ARIZONA STATE: Key players: WR Kerry Taylor, WR Aaron Pflugrad,

LB Vontaze Burfict, DT Lawrence Guy, K Thomas Weber. Returning

starters: 3 offense, 4 defense.

Notes: Coach Dennis Erickson, who could be on the hot seat after

two of the worst seasons in program history, has made big changes

with the offense, bringing in new coordinator Noel Mazzone and

switching to a no-huddle, four-wide set. … The QB battle between

Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler will likely last

until just before the season starts.

WASHINGTON STATE: Key players: QB Jeff Tuel, DE Kevin Kooymanm,

DE Travis Long, WR Jared Karstetter, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Reid

Forrest. Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: Any turnaround for the Cougars will have to start on

defense. Washington State ranked last in total defense last season,

allowing nearly 1,000 more yards than the next closest Pac-10 team.

… Washington State has won just two games the past three seasons

and coach Paul Wulff’s job could be in danger if there isn’t

improvement this year. … Tuel won the starting job in a close

battle with junior Marshall Lobbestael, who will still get snaps

during the season.