2008 Pac-10 Preview Part II

In our second and last part of the Pac-10 previews, we examine the 2008 prospects of the conference's northwestern schools.

Oregon Ducks

2008 Schedule: Washington, Utah State, at Purdue, Boise State, at Washington State, at USC, UCLA, at Arizona State, at California, Stanford, Arizona, at Oregon State

2007: 9-4 (5-4)

Offense

Replacing Dennis Dixon will be no easy task for the Ducks. The dynamic quarterback was having a Heisman like season before injuring his ACL, which hated a potential national championship run. Oregon coaches and fans seem to think sophomore Nate Costa is the best option to replace Dixon. Costa is mobile and resembles Dixon the most out of any signal caller on the roster. Sophomore Justin Roper has a chance to win the job after putting up impressive numbers against South Florida in the Sun Bowl, but his lack of mobility will probably keep him on the bench.

Despite losing stud running back Jonathan Stewart early to the NFL, the Ducks appear dangerous at the position once again. Jeremiah Johnson (pictured) is a speedy back that has been productive despite never being a full-time starter. Johnson tore his ACL in 2007, but should be ready by the start of the season. Joining Johnson is superstar JC running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount was immensely impressive in spring ball and has impressive size and power. Junior Andre Crenshaw should also be in lineup to pick up a couple few carries a game.

At wide receiver Oregon boasts a couple of freak athletes. Jaison Williams is back for his senior year and if the 6'5" receiver can become more consistent than the sky is the limit for him. Williams has been plagued by a case of the drops throughout his career, but his unbelievable combination of size and athleticism has kept him on the field. Jamere Holland, a transfer from USC, should see considerable amounts of playing time this year. At tight end Ed Dickson has the starting spot locked down and could prove to be the team's most reliable receiver.

Oregon's offensive line was dominant for a majority of the 2007 season. Three starters return from that unit including senior center Max Unger. Jacob Hucko and Fenuki Tupou will man the offensive tackle spots. Tupou earned second team All-Conference honors in 2007 and the senior should continue to enforce his will in the trenches.

Defense

If the Oregon defensive line is able to avoid injury then they will be a force to reckon with. Defensive ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu are arguably the best pair of defensive ends in the Pac-10 and they have the potential to put up twenty plus sacks between them. Ra'Shon Harris, Cole Linehan, and Justin Thompson will all rotate on the inside.

Senior Jerome Boyd is the standout among the Oregon linebackers. Boyd is a converted safety that has exceptional range and is a perfect example of what makes the Oregon defense so dangerous. John Bacon is back for his senior year after suffering an injury in 2007 and is projected to start in the middle. Casey Matthews filled in for Bacon last year when he was injured and the sophomore will push for playing time throughout the season.

The defensive backfield is home to Oregon's best player, safety/rover Patrick Chung. A surprising returning player for 2008 season, Chung was dominant last season and has the NFL written all over him. Jarius Byrd and Walter Thurmond are both back at cornerback. By season's end the two could start to receive some national attention. The only potential weak spot in the secondary is junior safety T.J. Ward. Ward has been a special teamer for most of his career but should do well sandwiched between so many talented players.

Kicker Matt Evensen returns for his senior season and Coach Bellotti only had positive things to say about punter Josh Syria after spring ball. Jamere Holland and Andre Crenshaw could handle a majority of return duties.

Overview

The injuries Oregon had to deal with in 2007 were unfortunate. After impressive victories over Arizona State and USC, the Pac-10 title was theirs for the taking. Once Dixon, Stewart, Johnson and a handful of others were sidelined their absences derailed any championship hopes. However, head coach Mike Bellotti has done an admirable job of stocking his roster full of talented athletes and has this team poised for another run at the league title. Oregon's schedule is daunting, but if Nick Costa is as good as advertised the Ducks have a chance at usurping USC.

Oregon State Beavers

2008 Schedule: at Stanford, at Penn State, Hawaii, USC, at Utah, Washington State, at Washington, Arizona State, at UCLA, California, at Arizona, Oregon

2007: 9-4 (6-3)

Offense

Despite finishing third in the Pac-10 for the second straight year, Oregon State never got stellar play from their quarterbacks in 2007. Junior Sean Canfield began the season as the starter but poor performance and taking too many sacks gave another junior, Lyle Moevao, a chance. Consequently, Moevao seems to be the favorite to win the job. He performed better than Canfield towards the end of last year and took all of the snaps in spring ball as Canfield sat out with an injury.

At running back, familiar face Yvenson Bernard is gone and in his place is freshman Ryan McCants. The young running back has yet to take a snap but is already being compared favorably to former Beaver running back Steven Jackson. Behind McCants are junior Jeremy Francis and senior Patrick Fuller.

After a year of misfortune and bad breaks, game breaking wide receiver Sammie Stroughter (pictured) returns after being granted a fifth year of eligibility. The Beavers will welcome him back with open arms, as his presence will be felt not only at receiver but on special teams as well. Although he is undersized at only 5'7", sophomore receiver James Rodgers should be productive in 2008.

Oregon State might face some troubles on the offensive line. A couple key players from last year's unit are gone and replacing them will not be easy. Senior left tackle Andy Levitre is the most versatile and best option the Beavers have and guard Jeremy Perry returns after missing most of 2007 with a broken leg. Wilder McAndrews and Adam Speer will hold down the right side of the line and former walk on and tackle Marcus Henderson will start at center.

Defense

After combining for an impressive 19.5 sacks in 2007, defensive ends Victor Butler and Slade Norris are back for another year of rushing the passer. Recently it has been reported that star JC defensive tackle Simi Kuli might not be available for the 2008 season in Corvallis after all. Kuli is having some academic problems and his status for the season is unknown.

All three starting linebackers from last year's team are gone and it will be a tall task to replace them. Hopes are high for junior outside linebacker Keaton Kristick. At 6'3" 230 pounds, Kerstick has the speed and range to shut down opposing offenses. Bryant Cornell has plenty of experience and will start in the middle. Keith Pankey looks to be the guy on the weakside. Pankey is another speedy guy and was able to score some playing time as a true freshman last season.

Brandon Hughes is the star of a defensive backfield that might be the best unit on the entire team. Keenan Lewis should do well at cornerback so long as he stays healthy. Senior safety Al Afalava can lay the wood and will need to have an All-Conference worthy performance this year if the defense wants to be as good as it has been recently.

Oregon State lost one of the best special teamers in all of college football when kicker/punter Alexis Serna graduated. However, they did gain a playmaker in the return game with Sammie Stroughter. Justin Kahut will replace Serna as a place kicker, and Kyle Harper is the favorite to take over punting duties.

Overview

Over the past couple of years, Mike Riley has a done an admirable job at Oregon State. Back-to-back third place finishes in the Pac-10 speaks volumes about the job the Beavers' skipper has done. This might be one of Riley's more challenging years though. Oregon State lost several key players and they do not have a reliable quarterback. Fortunately for Riley, he does get Arizona State, Cal, Oregon and USC all at home. Another third place finish seems like a little bit of a stretch, but if we have learned anything it is to not count out this squad.

Washington Huskies

2008 Schedule: at Oregon, BYU, Oklahoma, Stanford, at Arizona, Oregon State, Notre Dame, at USC, Arizona State, UCLA, at Washington State, at California

2007: 4-9 (2-7)

Offense

In 2007, the college football world got familiar with a quarterback named Jake Locker (pictured). One of the most hyped up quarterback prospects not going to a perennial powerhouse in years, Locker proved he was worth the wait. Although he completed only 47 percent of his passes, Locker tormented defenses and found several different ways to make plays. He has a cannon of an arm and can out run most safeties and linebackers. Look for the sophomore to improve his accuracy and be one a national top ten quarterback by the end of the year.

Louis Rankin is gone and sophomore running back Brandon Johnson needs to fill his shoes. Although Rankin was never a world-beater, he offered consistency and his presence will be missed. Johnson was relatively productive last year as a backup and will be assisted by freshman running back Willie Griffin and junior fullback Paul Homer.

Wide receiver is going to be an interesting position to watch. The Huskies lost almost all of their productive receivers and inexperienced sophomore D'Andre Goodwin will probably be the number one option here. That unless freshman WR Chris Polk lives up to his accolades and becomes the electric playmaker everybody expects him to be. Anthony Boyles was heavily recruited in 2007, but he did not qualify immediately and spent the season greyshirting. Now Boyles is on the team and could make a big impact for a group that is desperate for a star. Fellow freshman Devin Aguilar went through a similar process as Boyles and could be a part of the offense this year. Senior tight end Michael Gottlieb is a big target in the passing game and should have be productive.

Juan Garcia is the leader and best player on the offensive line, but unfortunately he suffered a foot sprain that will keep him out roughly half of the season. Tackle Ben Ossai is back for his third year of starting and sophomore Cody Habben will take the other tackle spot. Matt Sedillo, a raw sophomore, will attempt to fill the void left by Garcia.

Defense

The defensive line might be a bit of an issue for Washington. Five seniors are gone from last year's squad and replacing them are couple of players with not much experience. De'Shon Matthews is perhaps the best example of how unsettled things are. Before spring ball started, he was a backup defensive end. After several solid practices, he got promoted to starting defensive tackle. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is the best player on the line and is coming off a solid 2007 campaign in which he tallied eight and a half sacks.

E.J. Savannah was a pleasant surprise for Coach Tyrone Willingham last season. The junior linebacker was the team's most productive player on defense and has the talent to be an All Pac-10 player. Donald Butler and Trenton Tuiasosopo will platoon in the middle.

Washington's pass defense was abysmal in 2007, finishing 104th while allowing 27 touchdowns through the air. Mesphin Forrester is making the move from safety to cornerback and will be counted on greatly. Darin Harris will be taking Forrester's spot at safety and will be joined by sophomore Nate Williams. Redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson looks to be the other starting cornerback and at 6'0", 205 pounds has the size to make an immediate impact.

Washington should be set on special teams as they return kicker, Ryan Perkins, and punter, Jared Ballman. Both return positions are unsettled and should be up for grabs once summer ball starts.

Overview

If Washington is to make a dramatic improvement in 2008, it will be thanks to Locker. The young quarterback is going to need to be brilliant if the Huskies want to return to a bowl game and if they want to keep their coach. There was talk of firing Coach Willingham in the offseason, but the school instead decided to give him one more chance. But there was a catch; Willingham has to have a winning season or he is gone. With an out of conference schedule that includes games with BYU and Oklahoma and an ever-challenging Pac-10 schedule, the outlook is bleak. But do not count out the boys from Seattle. Willingham has done a good job of recruiting the past couple of years and has a quarterback that is as dangerous as any in the conference.

Washington State Cougars

2008 Schedule: Oklahoma State (game to be played in Seattle, WA), California, at Baylor, Portland State, Oregon, at UCLA, at Oregon State, USC, at Stanford, Arizona, at Arizona State, Washington, at Hawaii

2007: 5-7 (3-5)

Offense

The torch at quarterback has finally been passed in Pullman. Taking the place of Alex Brink will be senior Gary Rogers. Rogers, a fifth-year senior, is a big quarterback with an even bigger arm. However, Rogers' size might be somewhat of a disadvantage in new head coach Paul Wulff's spread offense. Typically the spread offense calls for a somewhat mobile signal caller, and Rogers does not conjure up memories of Dennis Dixon.

After tearing his ACL in 2007, junior Dwight Tardy hopes to start at running back. Tardy is a quick, well-built runner that has been productive in the past when called upon. If Tardy is not healthy by the start of the season, look for junior Chris Ivory to be the main beneficiary.

Michael Bumpus and two other receivers from last year's squad are gone, but coach Wulff caught a big break when senior Brandon Gibson (pictured)decided to return. Gibson, standing at 6'1", looks to be one of the better receivers in the Pac-10 this year. Behind Gibson are a couple of career special teamers and underclassmen. Senior Devin Frischknecht will start at tight end.

The offensive line will be the Cougars most reliable unit in 2008. Four starters from last year's team return including both offensive tackles and junior center Kenny Alfred. Alfred is a three-year starter that could end up winning All-Conference honors.

Defense

Perhaps the most productive, unknown player in the Pac-10 is Cougar defensive end Andy Mattingly. At linebacker in 2007, Mattingly recorded eight sacks and was a terror for opponents. This year he is making the transition to defensive end and should once again be the team's best pass rusher. Senior defensive tackle A'l Ahmu is the only player to return from last year's unit.

Washington State is yet another Pac-10 team with a strong group of linebackers. Four-year starter Greg Trent will lead the group and play in the middle. Despite being undersized, Trent has proven to be a productive player. Kendrick Dunn and Cory Evans will flank Trent on the outsides.

Defending the pass will be the biggest challenge for the Cougars' defense. Seniors Markus Dawes and Alfonso Jackson will start at cornerback. Jackson played safety last year and Dawes has spent much of the last two seasons injured. Talented sophomore Chima Nwachukwu is moving from cornerback to safety where he should be able to make even more plays.

Three place kickers are all battling for one spot and junior Patrick Rooney appears to have the inside track. Reid Forrest will be the team's punter again. Guys such as Brandon Gibson, Chris Ivory and Tyrone Justin will do most of the return work for the Cougars.

Overview

2007 was another disappointing year and former head coach Bill Doba got canned. Replacing Doba is Paul Wulff who after building a successful program at Eastern Washington brought the majority of his staff with him to Pullman. The odds do look to be stacked against the Cougars this year though. Non-conference road trips to Baylor and Hawaii as well as a game with Oklahoma State in Seattle should all prove to be difficult and their Pac-10 schedule is not doing them any favors either. Combine the rough schedule with a new quarterback and entirely new offensive and defensive schemes and it is tough to see Washington State finishing much better than eighth in the Pac-10.


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