The Pac-10 had its media days last week and, to no one's surprise, the USC Trojans were picked to finish first in the conference this year.
I can't fault the logic on that one; Pete Carroll tends to reload every year on the recruiting trail, and he certainly knows how to coach those boys up. But, without further adieu:
1) Oregon: This team is stacked. Jeremiah Masoli, Ed Dickson, Jamere Holland, Diante Jackson, LaMichael James, Tyrece Gaines, LaGarrette Blount, Andre Crenshaw--this offense is a powder keg waiting to blow. But the Ducks schedule tough, and this year they go to Boise for a HUGE matchup right out of the gate (September 3). They also play Purdue and Utah at home. That home schedule is this team's saving grace, as Autzen is one of the loudest, hardest places for opposing teams to play in the country. Playing on the turf in Boise is no easy feat but the Ducks are hungry for revenge after losing last year at Autzen. If the defense can force turnovers this year and hand off to the offense, this team will be very good. Prediction: 11-1, the lone loss coming at Arizona. The Ducks win the conference and make a bid for a BCS title in 2009/10. Mark it down, folks...you heard it here.
2) USC: It won't be all that easy this year. Mark Sanchez takes his talents to New York and last year's punishing defense is depleted by substantial losses at linebacker. The Trojans' first big test will come at The Horseshoe on September 12, when they no doubt paste another overrated Ohio State squad. The men of Troy should be 4-0 when they cruise into Strawberry Canyon for a battle with Cal (#2 in the media poll). I think they win that game and get to 7-0 before they travel north to do battle with Oregon at Autzen on Halloween. Prediction: 10-2, with losses to Oregon and UCLA...
3) UCLA: As much as I dislike Rick Neuheisel, I have to admit that he gets results. Year three of his hand at the controls of his alma mater will be a good one. Ambitious scheduling should boost the Bruins' profile and I think this year we see big steps on the offensive side of the ball. Not happy about the preseason poll, this team will be playing with a chip on its shoulder, which doesn't bode well for Lane Kiffin and Tennessee when the Bruins head east to smack the Vols. Prediction: 9-3 with losses at Oregon State and Stanford and at home vs. Kansas State.
4) Cal: Jeff Tedford is a nice guy but his teams have stalled out in terms of progress. His QB, Kevin Riley, is inconsistent and prone to prolonged slumps and, while Jahvid Best is a beast, until Riley can make teams pay, he'll take a pounding this year as teams load up against him. That said, the Bears will get a game Maryland team at home and make a little noise on the road this year to finish a little lower than where the pundits pegged them. Prediction: 9-3, with losses to Oregon, USC and Stanford.
5) Oregon State: Mike Riley's team is well coached but he simply lacks a playmaker at the quarterback position. This team will tumble a bit this year as both Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao struggle to move the ball through the air. The Rodgers brothers are dynamic but have yet to prove they can remain on the field late in the year, when the battle for the conference heats up. Prediction: 8-4, with losses to Oregon, USC, Cincinnati and Cal.
6) Stanford: Toby Gerhart is a stud (just ask the Oregon State Beavers) and Jim Harbaugh is well on his way to turning this thing around. I think Stanford will be a major player on the national stage again in college football within the next five years. The team is trending upward and it plays a favorable schedule in '09. Prediction: 8-4, with losses to Oregon, USC, Cal and Oregon State.
7) Arizona State: It's hard for me to write this with ol' Dennis Erickson down there in Tempe, but this team seems to lack an identity. They always seem to reach up and sting someone, and they tend to come from the weeds every third year or so to win nine or ten games. That said, I don't think this is their year. Prediction: They roll into Georgia 2-0 and get smacked in Athens, then lose to the Ducks, Trojans, Bruins, Beavs and The Cardinal to go 7-5.
8) Arizona: Mike Stoops was full of bravado and optimism at media day (show me a coach who isn't in the first week in August), but despite having a stud in huge tight end Rob Gronkowski, this team loses a leader in their quarterback Willie Tuitama. They lost that game at Central Michigan and, despite revisiting the 2007 euphoria of spoiling things for Oregon, they go 5-7 in '09.
9) Washington: New coach Steve Sarkisian will find things a little tougher on the banks of the Lake Washington than he did down at The Coliseum. Jake Locker is a great player and I love watching him on Saturdays, but this team is two or three recruiting classes away from being a winning program. I like the scheduling, but this team will lose to both LSU and Notre Dame and get kicked around the Pac-10 quite a bit. They beat Idaho and Washington State to go 2-10.
10) Washington State: These pour Cougs have lost their way. Paul Wulff has a major challenge on his hands to recruit top talent to Pullman, and this team's lack of talent was apparent on both offense and defense last year (although I watched the Apple Cup and really enjoyed it--nice work there, boys!). I think they'll win their bye week on October 17 and take out Southern Methodist at home on September 19 to go 1-11.
The Pac-10 was 5-0 in bowl games last year and put a lot of quality athletes into the draft a few months ago. Let's hope 2009/10 has all of the same drama ad success for America's premier athletic conference.