Wednesday, August 20, 2008

2008 College Football Conference Predictions: Pac-10

6 straight conference titles for USC have left everyone wondering if the Trojans will ever relinquish the league crown. It isn't so much that the rest of the conference is lacking in talent, but USC's talent top to bottom just dwarfs everybody else in the league. So much so that in a few preseason All Pac-10 lists, you'll actually find USC players that probably won't even start for the Trojans this year. With the talent that Pete Carroll has brought to L.A., it is hard to believe that this team only has one outright National Title (2003.)

This year shouldn't be much different for the Trojans, and they'll certainly be right in the middle of the National Title talk. It all comes down to the Sept. 13 matchup with Ohio State, a game which I happen to believe they'll lose. I still believe that Southern Cal will run through the conference slate undefeated, and win the Pac-10 in 2008. Arizona State will be the only team to stay within striking distance of USC, but the trip to L.A. on October 11 will be too much to handle. California and Oregon will hang around the top half, with UCLA and Arizona battling for bowl berths.

1. Southern California Trojans (Projected Overall Regular Season Record: 11-1, Projected Conference Regular Season Record: 9-0)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Ohio State 9/13
Key Conference Game: vs Arizona State 10/11
Key Players: OG Jeff Byers, WR Patrick Turner, LB Rey Maualuga, DT Fili Moala
The Trojans luck out and get the Arizona State, Oregon, and Cal all at home, not to mention their most difficult non-conference game against Ohio State. The injury bug has struck since the beginning of August, and as a result QB Mark Sanchez, and RBs Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable are all questionable for the first week or two of the season. If they aren't full strength by mid-September, I see an Ohio State team hungry to prove themselves to the nation ready to pick the Trojans off. I know, it sounds silly. Just a hunch.

2. Arizona State Sun Devils (10-2, 8-1)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Georgia 9/20
Key Conference Game: at USC 10/11
Key Players: QB Rudy Carpenter, RB Keegan Herring, PK Thomas Weber, DE Dexter Davis
Carpenter figures to blow away the school's career passing records this season, but defense will be the area that ASU looks to improve if it wants to take the next step toward the Top 10. In its 3 losses last season, the Sun Devils gave up almost 44 points per game. They are a senior laden defensive squad, but very small across the defensive line. However, they were surprisingly good against the run last year (probably more because not many Pac-10 teams run the ball.) Replacing 3 starters along the offensive line will be of paramount importance to head coach Dennis Erickson.

3. California Golden Bears (8-4, 7-2)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Maryland 9/13
Key Conference Game: vs Arizona State 10/4
Key Players: RB/KR Jahvid Best, C Alex Mack, LB Worrell Williams, LB Zack Follett
Cal tanked badly in the 2nd half of 2007, losing 6 of their last 7 (the only win in that stretch being by a FG at home over Washington State.) They had big problems stopping the run at times with a very inexperienced defensive line. This season should be an improvement on defense, with 8 starters returning. The offense may not be quite as good as we're used to seeing under Jeff Tedford, as they'll focus more on the run this year with a speedy sophomore RB in Best. Florida transfer Nyan Boateng may be the go-to WR. The offensive line is probably the best in the Pac-10.

4. Oregon Ducks (9-3, 6-3)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Boise State 9/20
Key Conference Game: at Cal 11/1
Key Players: C Max Unger, RB Jeremiah Johnson, SS Patrick Chung, DE Nick Reed
The Ducks are another team that faded down the stretch last year, although the loss of QB Dennis Dixon was the primary reason. The returning QBs have less than 400 career passing yards. The most experienced of the group is Buford native Justin Roper, but sophomore Nate Costa, who missed last season with an ACL injury, is right there. The battle may go right up to camp. The defense in Eugene could be very good, especially up front. Teams struggled to run on the Ducks at times last season, and that could be the case again.

5. UCLA Bruins (5-7, 5-4)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Fresno State 9/27
Key Conference Game: vs USC 12/6
Key Players: TE Logan Paulsen, OT Micah Kea, LB Reggie Carter, WR/PR Terrence Austin
Rick Neuheisel takes over for Karl Dorrell, and he has some talent as his disposal, although it is pretty young. JUCO transfer Kevin Craft has been named the starter over Ben Olson. He'll have his hands full with 4 new OL starters. The Bruins were very good against the pass last season, especially in the latter half. They lost some key players in the secondary, but should be pretty good yet again. A brutal non-conference schedule may be the difference between a bowl berth, and December tee times for Neuheisel.

6. Arizona Wildcats (7-5, 4-5)
Key Non-Conference Game: at New Mexico 9/13
Key Conference Game: vs California 10/18
Key Players: WR Mike Thomas, OT Eben Britton, LB Vuna Tuihalamaka, LB Ronnie Palmer
The Wildcats were a disappointment in 2007, as some thought maybe they'd be an 8 or 9 win team. They lost 7 and failed to make a bowl. The culprit was largely a weak rushing offense that didn't even gain 1,000 yards as a team. The 'Cats prefer to throw the ball, but they'll need a better rushing attack if they expect to improve. Head Coach Mike Stoops is a defensive guy, and he'll have a monumental task ahead of him this season with just 3 starters returning. Stoops is very much on the hot seat, and even a lower tier bowl might not be enough to save him.

7. Oregon State Beavers (4-8, 3-6)
Key Non-Conference Game: at Utah 10/2
Key Conference Game: vs California 11/15
Key Players: WR/PR Sammie Stroughter, OG Jeremy Perry, CB Brandon Hughes, S Al Afalava
The Beavers' have had winning seasons in 5 of the past 6, but are in danger this year of missing a bowl game. Only 3 starters return on defense (all in the secondary), and more than likely OSU is going to struggle on that side of the ball. Stroughter is a great WR, but missed most of '07 due to injury. If he can stay healthy, he'll be someone to keep an eye on.

8. Washington Huskies (2-10, 2-7)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Notre Dame 10/25
Key Conference Game: vs Oregon State 10/18
Key Players: QB Jake Locker, OG Casey Bulyca, LB E.J. Savannah, DE Daniel Te'o-Mesheim
Locker is as dynamic a player as there is in the conference, and he'll need to be on his game this season for the Huskies to stay in most games. UW was one of the better rushing teams in the country last year, thanks largely to Locker's 1100+ yards and 13 touchdowns. Defense will be a problem this year as it has been in recent years. A sick non-conference slate consisting of BYU, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame will keep UW near the bottom of the league and out of postseason play.

9. Stanford Cardinal (2-10, 1-8)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs San Jose State 9/20
Key Conference Game: at Washington 9/27
Key Players: C Alex Fletcher, RB Toby Gerhart, DT Ekom Udofia, LB Clinton Snyder
Despite the incredible win over USC last season, the Cardinal still only won 4 games and suffered some very disappointing losses toward the latter half of the year. 16 starters return, including 9 on defense, so you'd expect there to be further improvement. Games at Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon and Cal will keep things from getting much better, and you know USC will be looking for revenge. Don't expect this to be the season for Stanford to get back to a bowl game.

10. Washington State Cougars (2-11, 0-9)
Key Non-Conference Game: vs Oklahoma State 8/30
Key Conference Game: vs Washington 11/22
Key Players: WR Brandon Gibson, RB Dwight Tardy, DT Fevaea'i Amhu, DE Andy Mattingly
The Cougars won a surprising 5 games in 2007, including big wins over UCLA and Washington. But head coach Bill Doba was fired and replaced with former Eastern Washington coach Paul Wulff. He inherits 14 starters. The Cougars threw it well last year, but break in a new QB this season in Gary Rogers, who only threw 26 passes in 2007. He won't have much to work with at the skill positions, but he does have 4 returning offensive linemen to protect him. The defense, which gave up over 500 yards of offense 4 times last season, should struggle again, although it is a pretty experienced unit.


Worm said...

Great write JJ. I agree USC will dominate this conference. Do you think this is the most lopsided conference in the country or is the Big Ten?

JJ said...

The Big 10 is definitely the more lopsided conference. There isn't a team there comparable to Arizona State in my estimation. I'll have the Big 10 preview (plus independents) up tonight, by the way (or at least I plan to.)