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
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
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
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
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.