2008 Pac 10 Football Preview
The Pacific Ten Conference had a very exciting 2007. Though USC captured its 6 th consecutive conference title, two teams rose up and gave the Trojans a significant challenge for the conference crown. The first of these teams was the Oregon Ducks, who would in all likelihood have won the Pac Ten had Heisman Trophy favorite Dennis Dixon not suffered a knee injury late in the year after the Ducks defeated USC in Eugene. The Ducks were joined in their challenge of the Trojans by Arizona State and first year coach Dennis Erickson, whose inaugural season produced a 10-3 mark and a jump into national prominence.
This year could very well be a transition year in the Pac Ten, as the conference welcomes two new coaches. Most notable is UCLA’s hire of alumnus Rick Neuheisel to turn around one of the conference’s most storied programs. Nearly half the conference has new starting quarterbacks and only two teams return more than thirteen starters. The only thing that seems to be a constant for the Pac Ten this year is that USC is by far the most talented team and is again the overwhelming favorite to win the conference title. Another neat thing to watch out for this fall is the Pac Ten’s four intersectional games with the Big Ten. Both conferences have dealt with large groups of detractors the past few years, so those matchups will go a long way towards gaining national respect.
2008 PAC 10 FOOTBALL EXPECTED ORDER OF FINISH
- Southern California
- Arizona State
- Oregon State
- Washington State
USC (Predicted Conference Record: 8-1)
Southern California is currently in the midst of an exceptional run under head coach Pete Carroll, and are winners of six consecutive Pac Ten titles! The Trojans are one of the top programs in the country and their 2007 season was another successful year. The Men of Troy dropped two conference games, including a stunning one point loss to Stanford, to knock them out of the National Title race but USC was playing as well as anyone by the end of the year as they wrapped up a Rose Bowl berth with four straight wins, including a 30 point beatdown of Arizona State. The Trojans return just 11 starters this fall, so USC will have a bit of inexperience, but SC is one of the few teams in the country that could field its backups every week and still have a good shot at winning their conference.
On offense, USC has a bit of a quandary at quarterback. Initially, junior Mark Sanchez was declared the starter after spring practice, but he suffered a dislocated kneecap in early August and his status for the early season games is very much in doubt. Stepping into his place will be sophomore Mitch Mustain, an Arkansas transfer who went 8-0 his freshman year as the Razorbacks’ starter in 2006. If Mustain plays well in the early going, USC could have a quarterback controversy on its hands leading into the season’s biggest non conference game against Ohio State. At tailback, the Trojans have a wealth of talent and their depth is unsurpassed anywhere. Expect junior Staphon Johnson to be the primary ball carrier, but sophomore Joe McKnight is one of the nation’s most explosive players, so he will also get plenty of touches. The Trojans’ offense, however, is not without questions. Foremost is the offensive line, a group which returns only one starter! While USC recruits as much elite talent on the line as anyone, building a solid O-Line requires teamwork and timing and USC might not have its O-Line going at full go in the season’s early going. Another concern for USC was the underachievement of their receivers last fall. Expect sophomore Arkansas transfer Damian Williams to make a big impact in his first games on the field with former high school and Razorback cohort Mustain. Overall, USC has a plethora of talent and should be a very solid offense, especially in the season’s later going once the O-Line gels and the quarterback situation works itself out. USC will score a lot of points this fall.
On defense, USC returns a lot more experience and should be a powerhouse in 2008. The Trojan linebacker corps is one of the country’s top two units, led by seniors Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. The Trojans’ run defense last year allowed an impressive 84 yards per game, but the defensive line’s top two players have since departed and they combined for 19 sacks last fall! This year’s returning seniors, Fili Moala and Kyle Moore, combined for 4.5 last year. So, the Trojans have a ton of production to replace. Expect sophomore Eversen Griffin to have a breakout year at DE, but the Trojans might allow a bit more rushing yards this year. The secondary is one of the nation’s best, returning three starters from last year. USC didn’t have a lot of interceptions in 2007, so junior safety Taylor Mays and company will need to improve in that category. Regardless, this is one of the best units in the country and USC’s defense should be the best that the Pac Ten has to offer this year. It is worth noting, however, that the four starters being replaced this fall were all 1 st or 2 nd round draft picks last April, so USC has lost an incredible amount of talent and production that won’t be as easy to replace as many USC fans think.
The Trojans’ schedule is pretty tough, featuring 5 conference road games in the alternating schedule. However, USC hosts Oregon, Arizona State, Cal, and Washington, all of the top challengers to their Pac Ten dominance, so the Trojans have the easiest possible schedule that features five away games. The non-conference schedule is pretty impressive, featuring the season’s biggest intersectional matchup against Ohio State. The Trojans also welcome rival Notre Dame to town late in the year. Overall, USC has by far the most talent in the conference and should be the overwhelming favorites this fall. USC has a lot of questions to answer along both side of the line of scrimmage but the Trojans have always improved significantly under Carroll as the season goes on, so by the time USC gets to the conference slate, they should have most of their rotations shook out. While USC has a lot of question marks, they also have some of the nation’s best talent and are a National Title contender, especially if they defeat the Buckeyes early in the season. While USC’s run at the top of the Pac Ten won’t last forever, it is unlikely that it will end this fall.
Big Games: Sept. 13th vs. Ohio St., Oct. 4th vs. Oregon, Oct. 11th vs. Arizona St., Nov. 8th vs. Cal, Nov. 29th vs. Notre Dame, Dec. 6th @ UCLA
Oregon (Predicted Conference Record: 7-2)
2007 was a fantastic and disappointing year all at once for the Ducks. With senior Dennis Dixon quarterbacking the offense, Oregon burst out to an 8-1 record, a lead in the Pac Ten race after beating USC and that nation’s #2 ranking. However, during that 8 th win, Dixon tore his ACL and the Ducks didn’t win another game in the regular season. Still, Oregon made their biggest mark on the national scene since the Joey Harrington days and the Ducks remain a serious competitor in the Pac Ten. With 12 starters returning this fall, Oregon has a good portion of last year’s team back for another run.
On offense, Oregon will have some work to do to match last year’s 38 points per game scoring average. The Ducks have a big question at quarterback with Dixon’s graduation and two candidates to replace him appear to be sophomores Justin Roper (6 TDs after replacing Dixon) and Nathan Costa (out with an ACL injury last fall). Costa is more mobile and fits the spread system better but it is likely that both will see time this fall. At tailback, senior Jeremiah Johnson was impressive before being lost halfway through last season and he is a very likely candidate to rush for over 1,000 yards this fall. He will run behind a solid offensive line which returns three senior starters and should be easily one of the Pac Ten’s best. At receiver, Oregon needs to find some depth behind senior Jaison Williams, who had eight TD catches last fall. Overall, the Ducks return a lot of talent in the second year in Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly’s spread system and they should be a very solid offense despite the losses of Dixon and tailback Jonathan Stewart.
On defense, Oregon was decent last fall, though they did allow only 23 points per game. However, the Ducks allowed 250 yards per game through the air and will need to improve against to pass this fall. To that end, the Ducks’ secondary returns three starters and their top two cornerbacks, juniors Jairus Bryd and Walter Thurmond, combined for 12 picks in 2007. Expect a significant improvement against the pass in 2008. Up front, the Ducks are very lucky to return senior DE Nick Reed, who had 12 sacks last fall. While Oregon’s top two DTs graduated, they have a large group of upperclassmen and JUCO transfers who should be more than adequate as replacements. Expect a big improvement against the run this fall from the Ducks. Helping that improvement will be the linebackers, where seniors Jerome Boyd and John Bacon (who is returning from an ACL injury) return and should be tough against the run. Expect Oregon’s defense to be one of the conference’s best units.
Oregon has the Pac Ten’s toughest schedule, drawing 5 road games, including trips to USC, Arizona State, Cal, and rival Oregon State. The Ducks also have a fairly tough non-conference schedule, traveling to Purdue and welcoming Boise State to Autzen Stadium. 2007 was a great year for Oregon, but 2008 could turn out to be just as successful. If the Ducks can stay healthy, they have the ability to navigate their schedule to the tune of ten wins. Oregon certainly should factor into the Pac Ten race, but USC is still the prohibitive favorite despite the strides Oregon and others have taken.
Big Games: Aug. 30th vs. Washington, Sept. 13th @ Purdue, Oct. 4th @ USC, Oct. 25th @ Arizona St., Nov. 1st @ Cal, Nov. 29th @ Oregon St.
California (Predicted Conference Record: 6-3)
2007 was horribly disappointing for the Golden Bears, as they jumped out to a 6-1 start and were a freshman mistake against Oregon State from potentially being ranked #1 in the nation. However, that freshman mistake led to a 5 game losing streak and Cal finished with a massively disappointing 7-6 record, the worst in head coach Jeff Tedford’s tenure. This fall, Cal returns only 12 starters but should definitely factor into the conference race.
On offense, Cal put up their worst scoring totals in Tedford’s entire tenure last fall, averaging only 29 points per game. The Golden Bears had a season-long quarterback controversy after starter Nate Longshore suffered an ankle injury and freshman Kevin Riley impressed despite an egregious error against Oregon State that may well have cost the Golden Bears the game. This fall, Longshore and Riley are again expected to battle for playing time and Tedford’s handling of the situation could define Cal’s 2008 season. Regardless of who starts, Cal has a very solid offensive line in front of him as the Golden Bears return three senior starters, including center Alex Mack, one of the nation’s best. Cal has one of the conference’s top lines. The skill positions will feature new starters at every spot this fall and the receiving corps is losing their top four from last year. At tailback, sophomore Jahvid Best impressed during limited play as a true freshman last year and he has ‘1,000 yard rusher’ written all over him. Expect him to be a very solid contributor this fall for the Golden Bears. Once Cal decides on a quarterback, this offense should be very solid and should be more productive than last year.
On defense, Cal was disappointing in 2007, allowing over a touchdown more per game when compared to 2006. Luckily for the Golden Bears, they return a whopping eight starters from last year’s team and improvement seems very likely this fall. The strength of the defense will be at linebacker, where all three starters return, all of which are now seniors. The position simply oozes with experience and Cal has one of the Pac Ten’s best units. The Bears are also experienced along the defensive line, returning three starters to a group which fared poorly against the run last fall, allowing over 160 yards per game on the ground. If this unit can contribute anything resembling a pass rush, it will be an improvement from last year and I fully expect better production from the D-Line. The secondary is a bit of a concern, as only two starters return to a unit which fared poorly in terms of interceptions last fall. Expect a stronger front seven to benefit the Golden Bears’ pass defense and junior cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson could be a breakout star this fall. Cal should be much improved and they should be one of the better defenses in the conference this fall.
Cal also has a tough conference schedule, drawing 5 road games in the unbalanced slate. Of those five, the most difficult will be at USC and Oregon State. The Golden Bears have the good fortune of welcoming most of their rivals for the top spots to Berkeley, as Arizona State, Oregon, and Washington will play at Memorial Stadium this fall. The non-conference schedule is also tough, featuring the season opener against Michigan State and a road trip to Maryland in the early going, two games that will be challenges. Overall, Cal should shrug off last season’s disappointing ending and emerge as a threat to win the Pac Ten this fall. While the specter of USC will always loom over the top contenders, an improved passing attack could make Cal a very dangerous team. Anything short of 9 wins will probably be a disappointment.
Big Games: Aug. 30th vs. Michigan St, Sept. 13th @ Maryland, Oct. 4th vs. Arizona St, Nov. 1st vs. Oregon, Nov. 8th @ USC, Nov. 22nd vs. Stanford
Arizona State (Predicted Conference Record: 6-3)
Hiring Dennis Erickson looked like a stroke of genius by the ASU braintrust after 2007 turned into a 10-3 year for the Sun Devils. Arizona State rocketed out to an 8-0 mark before stumbling against Oregon and USC. However, the Sun Devils’ season, while successful, wasn’t the achievement that a 10 win season normally is. Consider this: Arizona State faced off against 4 ranked teams last year. The results? Three blowout losses by 11 points or more and a victory over a freefalling Cal team. Other than those three games, the best win that ASU notched was against 9-4 Oregon State early in the year. So, Erickson has a job proving that 2007 wasn’t a fluke and he has 13 returning starters to lead the effort.
On offense, Arizona State’s attack will be in the very capable hands of senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who enters his third season under center. Carpenter’s 2007 season featured over 3,200 yards passing and 25 TDs despite being sacked over fifty times! Carpenter will have his top targets from 2007 back this year, led by senior Michael Jones (769 yards, 10 TDs) and junior Chris McGaha (60+ catches, 803 yards). Expect both to improve their numbers from last year. The Sun Devils also return last year’s leading rusher, senior Keegan Herring, who will be pushed by true frosh Ryan Bass. Expect ASU’s running attack to improve this fall. However, all improvements on offense are probably going to revolve around the aforementioned porous O-Line. Last year’s group was comprised entirely of returning starters, yet they still struggled. Even odder, ASU put up over 32 points per game! While ASU only returns two starters on the line this year, odds are that they’ll probably perform better than last year’s poor showing and that will only mean bigger and better things for the Sun Devil offense. Expect a very strong year in Tempe.
On defense, ASU fielded an improved unit last year, allowing less than 23 points per game. Of that group, seven starters return and ASU should be even better this fall. A position of strength for the Sun Devils will be the defensive line, where three starters return from a unit that allowed less than 120 yards per game on the ground. Junior DE Dexter Davis had 10.5 sacks last fall and should be the cornerstone of the line. At linebacker, juniors Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon return and should be very solid contributors. Arizona State’s front seven is very strong and could actually improve against the run this fall. However, their secondary is a question mark with only 2 starters back. Luckily, senior safety Troy Nolan is the team’s top returning tackler and he also contributed six picks in 2007. Expect him to be a solid and calming influence as the Sun Devils break in a new group which could end up being equally as good as last year’s unit. Arizona State has a very good defense which puts them on very even footing with their competitors at the top of the conference.
Arizona State’s schedule is not an easy road. The Sun Devils have 5 conference road games and face road trips to Cal and USC in back to back weeks, followed later in the year with trips to Oregon State, Washington and rival Arizona, a difficult road indeed. The Sun Devils also have one of the biggest non-conference games in college football this fall, as they welcome the Georgia Bulldogs to Sun Devil Stadium in late September. Overall, Arizona State could be better than last year’s 10 win team but fail to match their win total. Their schedule is far more difficult and they have a target on their back now. Still, Arizona State has as good of a shot at winning the Pac Ten if USC stumbles as anyone and the Georgia game will be a great chance to prove their worth in front of the nation. Expect an 8 or 9 win regular season this fall.
Big Games: Sept. 20th vs. Georgia, Oct. 4th @ Cal, Oct. 11th @ USC, Oct. 25th vs. Oregon, Nov. 8th @ Washington, Dec. 6th @ Arizona
Washington (Predicted Conference Record: 5-4)
Washington had a tough year in 2007, finishing with a dismal 4-9 mark. However, the Huskies were probably better than their record, having lost a number of close games, including contests against USC, Oregon State, and Hawaii by less than a touchdown. The Huskies also unleashed quarterback Jake Locker, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards and passed for over 2,000 as a freshman before his season ended due to injury after ten games. Coach Ty Willingham is on the hot seat this fall and anything short of a bowl berth would probably cause him to lose his job, so he will be relying heavily on his 12 returning starters this fall.
The Huskies will be led by sophomore quarterback Jake Locker, who is one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the country. If he stays healthy, Locker could easily exceed the 1,000 yard rushing and 3,000 yard passing marks this fall. Locker will have plenty of time to run and pass behind an offensive line which returns four starters from last year. Led by senior center Juan Garcia, who until recently was thought to be an injury casualty this fall, the young but experienced O-Line should allow Washington to have a strong running attack. At tailback, sophomore Brandon Johnson will get first crack at carrying the load after playing well in limited time last fall. The big question for the Huskies will be at wide receiver, where only senior TE Michael Gottlieb has more than ten career catches! If the Huskies can find a decent group of receivers for Locker to throw to, Washington could easily improve on last year’s 29 points per game, which was an improvement of over a TD per game from 2006 itself.
The Huskies have a lot more questions on defense this fall. First of all, linebacker EJ Savannah was declared academically ineligible after recording over 110 tackles last year. Second, the Huskies allowed nearly 32 points per game last year and they have to improve that statistic for the team to have any realistic bowl hopes. The only position group that returns a lot of experience would be the secondary, where three starters return. Senior Mesphin Forrester will be switched from safety, where he made over 90 tackles last fall, to cornerback and Washington’s pass defense should improve noticeably from last year’s group which allowed over 260 passing yards per game. The front seven is a big question mark, where junior Daniel Te’o-Nesheim (8.5 sacks in 2007) is the only returning starter on the line. To make matters worse, UW is expected to play a lot of underclassmen and it is plausible that the Huskies will play a lot of the 3-4 defense to try and compensate for their general lack of depth on the defensive line. At linebacker, junior Donald Butler is the only returning starter but there are a lot of players with experience (5 players back who started a game last year) at the position. The Huskies will need contributions from all of them if they’re going to be a decent defense. The Huskies could struggle mightily against the run this fall and the defense remains very much a work in progress and could be one of the Pac Ten’s worst.
Washington’s conference schedule is moderately favorable, as the Huskies will have five home games this fall. Road trips to Cal and USC will be daunting, but expect the Huskies to put a scare into a few of the conference’s top teams. The Huskies also face one of the country’s most difficult non-conference schedules, as they welcome BYU, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame to Seattle this fall! The Notre Dame game sticks out, as Willingham would like nothing more than to beat the school which unfairly fired him four years ago. However, Washington probably has the toughest schedule in the entire country and they could very easily start the year 0-3, a tough hole to dig out of. Overall, the Huskies will be much stronger and are certainly talented enough to make a bowl game. The offense should score a ton of points with Locker at the helm, but their defense could be very poor so the offense will have to carry this team. Meanwhile, a difficult schedule could make a bowl game a difficult proposition. However, the Huskies have one of the nation’s most talented quarterbacks and the players are all fully aware of Willingham’s dilemma. I fully expect Washington to win at least 6 games and qualify for a bowl and one of those six wins will be against Notre Dame and keep Ty Willingham in Seattle for another season.
Big Games: Aug. 30th @ Oregon, Sept. 13th vs. Oklahoma, Oct. 18th vs. Oregon St., Oct. 25th vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 1st @ USC, Nov. 22nd @ Washington St.
Arizona (Predicted Conference Record: 4-5)
The Mike Stoops era enters 2008 in the same position as Ty Willingham’s regime in Seattle. In short, if Stoops does not lead the Wildcats to a bowl game, he’s likely out of a job. Last season was a tough year for Arizona, as the Wildcats finished 5-7 but lost 4 games by a TD or less! This fall, Arizona returns 13 starters, but most of the veterans return on offense. How Stoops molds this defense will decide the fate of the 2008 Arizona Wildcats.
On offense, Arizona returns ten starters from an offense that averaged 28 points per game in 2007. Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama returns for his 4 th go round under center and he should have an excellent year along the lines of his 2007 season, where he passed for over 3,600 yards and 28 touchdowns. Tuitama has a very good group of returning receivers, highlighted by senior Mike Thomas who accounted for over 1,000 yards and 11 TDs last fall. The rushing attack will feature sophomore Nicholas Grigsby, who led the team in rushing last year as a true freshman and he should only improve on his totals this fall. Grigsby’s improvement will be a huge factor for the Wildcats since they averaged less than 80 yards per game on the ground in 2007! Expect improvements by leaps and bounds as the Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line and the open spot will be bolstered by former blue chip Texas lineman J’Marcus Webb, a JUCO transfer this fall. Arizona should be a very good offense and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats improve their scoring average.
Arizona ’s defense is one gigantic question mark, with only three starters returning. The defensive line will be entirely compromised of new starters. Expect senior DE Johnathan Turner to emerge as a leader after registering 3.5 sacks in limited duty last fall. The Wildcats have usually had an average run defense, at worst, so this unit should probably develop into a solid group by the time that conference play rolls around. At linebacker, senior Ronnie Palmer should be a very solid contributor after recording 83 tackles last year and there are a few JUCO transfers who could make an impact as well. Much like the defensive line, the linebackers are inexperienced, but I think that Stoops (whose background is on defense) should be able to turn this group into a strength. The secondary features two returning starters at safety: senior Nate Ness (5 picks last year) and junior Cam Nelson (60 tackles in 2007). However, the Wildcats lose star cornerback Antoine Cason, who was a first round pick in the NFL draft. The Wildcats should be decent against the pass, especially if the front seven develop, but it is unlikely that Arizona will match last year’s very solid showing. Overall, Arizona has a lot of questions on defense and the performance of the front seven will dictate how the season plays out.
The schedule is moderately favorable, featuring 5 conference home games. The only major contender that doesn’t come to Tucson is Oregon, as Cal, USC, and Arizona State will play in Arizona Stadium this fall. Expect the Wildcats to push one or more of that group to the limit. The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule should be a cakewalk, featuring a road revenge game against New Mexico (who beat the Wildcats by 2 points last year on the strength of a Hail Mary pass). Overall, Arizona and Washington are very similar teams, strong on offense and full of questions on defense. In fact, the only reason I have Arizona behind UW is because of the mobility difference between their respective starting quarterbacks. However, the Wildcats have a much more favorable schedule and I feel that their defense will develop enough to allow the ‘Cats to finally go bowling. The best guess for Arizona’s final record would be either 7-5 or 8-4, either of which would save Stoops’ job.
Big Games: Sept. 20th @ UCLA, Oct. 4th vs. Washington, Oct. 25th vs. USC, Nov. 22nd vs. Oregon State, Dec. 6th vs. ASU
Oregon State (Predicted Conference Record: (3-6)
Oregon State posted its second consecutive strong season in 2007, finishing with a 9-4 record a year after posting an impressive 10-4 mark, the two best records in Head Coach Mike Riley’s five year tenure. This fall could be a major fall off for the Beavers, as they only return ten starters from last year’s team but it is difficult to count out OSU after their surprising results the past two years.
On offense, junior Sean Canfield returns at quarterback after having a very tough 2007, throwing only 9 touchdowns against 15 picks before getting injured. He should improve with experience which should be a major benefit for the Beavers, whose quarterbacks threw for only 11 TDs against 21 picks last year. At receiver, the Beavers are lucky to return senior Sammie Stroughter after he struggled with personal issues last year and barely played. Stroughter’s presence should be a major benefit for Canfield. On the offensive line, OSU returns three senior starters and they should again be the rock upon which a tough running attack is built. That running attack will likely fall to sophomore James Rodgers and true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers. Both will need to be very solid to help OSU come close to last season’s 175 yards per game average. Overall, Oregon State should have a much better pass attack than last year and the Beavers should have a scoring offense on par with last year’s edition.
On defense, Oregon State will see a HUGE drop off as the entire front seven leaves from a unit which allowed an incredible 2.1 yards per rush for an average of only 71 rush yards per game! Unfortunately, that rock solid defense will return very little experience up front from the backups. One player with a lot of experience is senior DE Victor Butler, who racked up an impressive 13.5 sacks last fall in passing situations and will be expected to lead the line. At linebacker, Oregon State loses THREE 2 nd team Pac Ten performers from last year and there is very little experience returning. Those linebackers were the biggest reason that the defense was so solid last year and this is an enormous hole for the Beavers. The good news is that the Beavers have one position of strength in their secondary where three seniors return and senior Greg Laybourn is expected to step into the open safety spot after making nearly 50 tackles and snagging 2 picks last fall. Expect Oregon State to have one of the conference’s best pass defenses despite the losses up front. The Beavers’ defense has a ton of question marks this fall, the biggest of which is at linebacker. The run defense is a major concern and if the Beavers can’t find decent production, they could be in for a long season stopping the opposition.
The conference schedule is favorable, as the Beavers do feature five home games. However, their home opposition features USC, Arizona State, Cal, and rival Oregon, so the Beavers face all of the conference’s top teams at home. The non-conference schedule is fairly tough, featuring trips to Penn State and Utah and a visit from Hawaii. Overall, the Beavers could struggle to take advantage of their extra home games with such a tough slate. Oregon State is probably a stronger team on offense but is significantly weakened on defense. If the Beavers can’t get opposing teams off the field, then their offense can’t score and OSU is looking at a major step back in run defense. The combination of a very tough schedule and a large number of losses make a bowl game rather unlikely. If Oregon State wins six games this fall it will be a surprise.
Big Games: Aug. 28th @ Stanford, Sept. 6th @ Penn St, Sept. 25th vs. USC, Nov. 1st vs. Arizona St, Nov. 22nd @ Arizona, Nov. 29th vs. Oregon
UCLA (Predicted Conference Record: 3-6)
2007 was a massive disappointment for the Bruins finishing with a paltry 6-7 record after many people predicted them to be major contenders for the Pac Ten title. Unfortunately, injuries and missteps were too much for UCLA to overcome and former coach Karl Dorrell was fired. In his stead, UCLA brought in alumnus and former QB Rick Neuheisel, whose career 66-30 record is impressive but his laundry list of NCAA violations is not. Neuheisel also made two very good moves by keeping defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker and bringing in Norm Chow as offensive coordinator. In short, UCLA has the coaching staff to turn the program around. Unfortunately, the Bruins only return 9 starters and rebuilding will take time.
On offense, UCLA has already lost both of their senior quarterbacks to season-ending injuries! Patrick Cowan tore an ACL in spring practice and Ben Olson had foot surgery in fall practice so the reigns will fall to JUCO transfer Kevin Craft almost by default. Further hurting the Bruins is that Craft’s top returning receiver, sophomore Dominique Johnson, only had 25 catches and 4 TDs last fall. Thus, it seems likely that UCLA’s passing game will suffer some growing pains. At tailback, the Bruins have a lot of talent led by senior Kahlil Bell and a pair of true freshmen, so the running game would seem to be quite solid. However, the O-Line is a major question mark, with only one returning starter and a nearly complete lack of experience. UCLA has a ton of questions at every position outside of tailback but the problems along the offensive line could cause UCLA to struggle to score many points in Neuheisel’s first year.
The defense’s outlook is slightly better, as the front seven returns some talent. On the defensive line, seniors Tom Blake and Brigham Harrell should anchor a pretty solid line that will benefit from the continuity provided by Walker. The linebackers are also impressive, led by senior Kyle Bosworth and the talent coming up behind the two returning starters is pretty impressive. UCLA allowed only 110 rushing yards per game last fall and they shouldn’t be too far off that number this year. The secondary, however, is a much bigger concern with only one starter back and no seniors are projected to start. Junior cornerback Alterraun Verner had 4 interceptions last fall and should be the unit’s best performer. The rest of the group could be compromised of a lot of young players and UCLA will probably be vulnerable to the aerial attack. UCLA shouldn’t be terrible this fall but their secondary will hold them back from being one of the Pac Ten’s better defenses.
The Bruins actually have a fairly favorable conference schedule, featuring five home games. Included on that slate will be rival USC in Neuheisel’s first attempt to change the rivalry’s dynamics as Dorrell only beat USC once in five tries. The non-conference schedule is quite tough, hosting Tennessee and Fresno State while traveling to BYU. Overall, UCLA will have some serious problems on offense this year due to injuries at quarterback and massive inexperience on the line of scrimmage. The defense won’t be able to carry the team due to a deficiency in the secondary and the schedule is difficult to the point that it is possible that the Bruins won’t win a single road game this year. If UCLA makes a bowl game, it will be a very big surprise.
Big Games: Sept. 1st vs. Tennessee, Sept. 20th vs. Arizona, Oct. 25th @ Cal, Nov. 15th @ Washington, Dec. 6th vs. USC
Stanford (Predicted Conference Record: 2-7)
Despite the fact that Stanford only went 4-8, 2007 was a rousing success under first year coach Jim Harbaugh. Why? Stanford’s upset of USC in the Coliseum when the Cardinal was a 41 point underdog marked the biggest betting line upset in the history of college football and along with the first victory over rival Cal in 6 years gave Stanford fans hope that the future would be much brighter. However, Stanford still only won 2 other games last year and despite the return of 16 starters, the Cardinal is way behind much of the conference in terms of talent.
On offense, Stanford returns seven starters from last year. Stanford has a quarterback battle going on between junior Tavita Pritchard and sophomore Alex Loukas, but Pritchard seems to be the favorite to start the season. Pritchard engineered the upset at USC, but his season stats were not impressive, throwing only 5 TDs against 9 interceptions. Returning also is last year’s top receiver, junior Richard Sherman. The running backs are all back from last year and the load will likely be split between senior Anthony Kimble and freshman Toby Gerhart, who ran wild in his only game before being injured and subsequently redshirted last fall. The Cardinal also return three starters on the offensive line and they should be improved from last year. It would not be a surprise to see Stanford improve noticeably upon their 19 points per game average from last year.
On defense, Stanford wasn’t awful last fall (allowing only 28 points per game) and much of that unit returns this year. The Cardinal allowed over 430 yards of offense per game, so there is a lot of space for improvement. On the defensive line, senior DE Pannel Egboh recorded six sacks last fall and was an impact player. He should be the leader of an improved line. The linebackers were an aggressive group in 2007, combining for 18 sacks among the three returning starters. That group has an extra year of experience and will look to senior Pat Maynor (6 sacks in 2007) for leadership. The secondary has a lot of room to improve, considering that they only had 11 interceptions as a team in 2007. The three returning starters are all juniors, so a year of experience should help them a lot but this is still one of the conference’s weakest pass defenses. Overall, Stanford is a much improved team on defense but I would probably rank them no better than the conference’s 6 th or 7 th best defense.
The schedule is pretty tough, featuring only four conference home games. However, those games only feature one very tough game when USC comes to town with revenge on their mind, so if Stanford can play well at home they could exceed expectations. The non-conference schedule is tough, featuring road trips to Notre Dame and TCU. Overall, Stanford is better than last year but it might not see it in their record. If Stanford makes it to a bowl game this year, Harbaugh will be handed a blank check by the university board of trustees.
Big Games: Aug. 28th vs. Oregon State, Oct. 4th @ Notre Dame, Oct. 18th @ UCLA, Nov. 15th vs. USC, Nov. 22nd @ Cal
Washington State (Predicted Conference Record: (1-8)
2007 was the final year of the Bill Doba era at Washington State as the Cougars finished with a disappointing 5-7 record. Doba’s first year in Pullman finished with a 10-3 record but the next four years didn’t produce a bowl game and it was time to go. New Head Coach Paul Wulff is a former lineman for the Cougars from the eighties and has a good understanding of the culture surrounding the program. His first year returns 14 starters from 2007 but it will probably be a tough year transitioning to the new staff.
The Cougars’ expected strength on offense this fall will probably be their offensive line, where four starters return. This bodes well for the running attack, where junior Dwight Tardy should improve upon his 2007 totals (676 yards, 6 TDs). At quarterback, there is a wide open competition but senior Gary Rogers seems to have the inside edge at winning the job. Whoever wins the quarterback derby will be very fortunate to have senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson available to throw to. Gibson, who caught 67 passes for 1,180 yards and 9 TDs last fall, was voted to onto the 1 st team All Pac Ten squad and is one of the conference’s best at his position. It would not be a surprise to see Washington State at least match last year’s 26 points per game average this fall.
On defense, Washington State struggled mightily in 2007, allowing over 32 points and 420 yards per game. Their defensive line struggled with a lot of injuries last year, so the Cougars should see some improvement from that unit. Look for junior DE Andy Mattingly, who played a hybrid DE/LB role last year, to improve upon his 8 sacks and provide much-needed leadership. The linebackers are all back and WSU will start three seniors at the position. Barring injury, they should be a solid group. The secondary also returns three starters but they need to cause more turnovers this fall after catching only 13 picks last year. Still, the pass defense should also be stronger. Washington State has a lot of returning starters on defense this fall and they should prove to be a solid if unspectacular defense.
The schedule is somewhat friendly to the Cougars, featuring five conference home games. Included among those are matchups with USC, Cal, Oregon, and rival Washington, so if the Cougars can exploit home field advantage, they could surprise. The non-conference schedule is heavy on Big XII opposition, featuring a matchup with Oklahoma State in Seattle to kick off the season and a trip to face the Baylor Bears two weeks later. The Cougars also have a 13 game schedule because of the NCAA’s allowance of an extra game to cover travel costs to face Hawai’i in late November. Head Coach Paul Wulff’s first year at the helm will probably be a struggle, as WSU hasn’t been a recruiting force and the Cougars definitely lag behind their conference opponents in terms of overall talent. If Washington State matches last year’s five win mark, it will be a surprise.
Big Games: Aug. 30th vs. Oklahoma State, Sept. 6th vs. Cal, Sept. 27th vs. Oregon, Nov. 22nd vs. Washington, Nov. 29th @ Hawai’i
The Bottom Line for the Pac-10 in 2008
The Pac Ten should have a very interesting race this fall, partly because of conference leviathan USC’s four losses the past two years. Defeats at UCLA, Oregon, and Oregon State in the past 2 years have shown that the Trojans are beatable despite their overall dominance since Pete Carroll took over in Los Angeles. Oregon and Arizona State appear to be emerging powers in the conference and they, along with Cal, should provide the Trojans with a stiff challenge at the top of the conference this year. Surprise teams could easily include Arizona and Washington, both of which should be very strong on offense while breaking in a new defense. Oregon State and UCLA could also factor in the bowl picture. However, the conference title race will be focused on USC, as always, but if the Trojans finish this year with two conference losses they could find themselves in the unfamiliar position of not earning the conference’s automatic BCS bid for the first time in six years. That scenario, however, is still unlikely and I am picking the USC Trojans to win the Pac Ten for the seventh consecutive year and represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
Matt Baxendell is collegesports-fans.com’s newest staff writer. If you’d like to join his college football therapy group, email him at matt.baxendell @ gmail.com with all your questions, comments, and anything else you would like to share.
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