DevilsDigest.com and WildcatInsider.com have each agreed to provide the predictions of four of the ‘major players' from each site's message boards. We will use the simple and widely used point system used by the Associated Press and everyone else who puts out polls. A first place prediction garners 10 points and on down the line with a tenth place finish garnering 1 single point.
The completely ridiculous DevilsDigest/WildcatInsider media poll will come out in three phases. Today we will unveil the predictions of the four Devils. Tomorrow will be the Wildcats and on Monday we will unveil the final tally between the two sites.
DevilsDigest.com Publisher Hod Rabino, Moderators Stacy Price (KKDevil), Eric Menkhus (BigE) and legendary poster David Chappell (dabochaps) provide the Devils' side of the story.
1—USC— Until someone knocks them off the top spot here, the Trojans remain leaders of the Pac-10. The defense, led by All-American DE Lawrence Jackson and LB Keith Rivers, should be good enough to keep the Trojans in games while a restructured offense will be looking to gel. The key to another BCS season will be at the quarterback spot and keeping turnovers to a minimum as there is enough talent at the surrounding skill positions to help buoy things during the transition. Tailback may be an issue if health concerns continue to mount. Southern Cal may benefit from a favorable schedule in '06. If they can get by early trap games on the road at Arizona and Washington State, they play most of their toughest games at home, including Cal and Notre Dame.
2—Cal—The Bears appear to have all the pieces in place for a BCS bowl if they can find some consistency at quarterback. That may be easier said than done considering last years debacle at the position but Cal is hoping to duplicate the success Oregon had a year ago in implementing the spread offense while rebuilding the offensive line. DeSean Jackson looks to become the next premier receiver in the league while Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett will lead the ground attack. Cal's defense, much like USC's, is anchored by the front seven--particularly by the linebackers. The only loss the Bears will be looking to fill is Donnie McCleskey at safety. The schedule is also favorable this year as USC appears to be the only conference roadblock.
3—ASU—The offense should continue to hum this season with 8 starters returning. The Sun Devils are hoping that an experienced offensive line can finally catapult a ground game that has been rather modest. Quarterbacks Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter will have some familiar targets to throw to but it remains to be seen what kind of void the loss of Derek Hagan will leave in the passing attack. An improvement defensively would pay dividends for the Sun Devils. Three transfers will make their debut on the defensive line this season. If health issues can be kept at a minimum, there's a possibility of a decent rotation, finally, that must develop a better pass rush. Linebacker and cornerback are two positions affected most by graduation. Safety Zach Catanese will have to anchor a secondary in transition. Schedule-wise, ASU must split their road games in California if they want to compete for the Pac-10 title and/or BCS game.
4—Oregon—The Ducks must find better production at the quarterback spot this season now that Kellen Clemens is gone. Dennis Dixon is the starter heading into the fall but Brady Leaf will most likely be used at some point in games. Running back Jonathan Stewart will have his shot to break out of the shadow of Terrance Whitehead now. Cameron Colvin and James Finley will lead the receivers after the departure of Demetrius Williams. Oregon made great strides on the defensive side of the ball last season by leading the conference in total defense but lost their rock in the trenches, Haloti Ngata, and defensive end, Devan Long. If the retooled defensive line can shore up things, the Ducks have a decent secondary that is led by safety tandem J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung. The schedule isn't as friendly to Oregon this season as trips to USC, Cal, and ASU are on tap as well as an early season visit from the Holiday Bowl victorious Oklahoma Sooners.
5—WAZZU—No more quarterback controversy as Josh Swogger packed his bags for Montana. Alex Brink, who got the majority of the snaps last season, is a year wiser in the system and has one of the top receivers in the league to throw to in Jason Hill. Jerome Harrison's defection at running back could spell trouble but DeMaundray Woolridge will get an opportunity along with two JC transfers. The loss of playmaker Will Derting at linebacker is not as troublesome as it sounds as the Cougars have two underrated linebackers on the outside in Scott Davis and Steve Dildine. Undoubtedly, the biggest hole on defense will be at cornerback. The Cougars play USC, Cal, and Oregon at home.
6—UCLA—Only three assistants return from Karl Dorrell's staff last season, which includes the departure of both coordinators. It will be tough for Ben Olson to duplicate the success of Drew Olson's career year in '05 without the help of TE Marcedes Lewis and RB Maurice Drew. Chris Markey will be handed the reigns of the ground game while Junior Taylor makes his return from injury at WR. The defense has been an Achilles heel for the Bruins but they are hoping a formidable front 4 can stay healthy, which would go a long way in shoring up a defense that ranked last in the conference in run defense last season. The bad news is that all three starters at linebacker last year have graduated. The Bruins have a brutal schedule with roadies at Oregon, Notre Dame, Cal, and ASU.
7—Arizona—The Wildcats may have their best shot at a bowl game in several years. Offense appears to be Quarterback Willie Tuitama is raw but the biggest playmaking threat at the position for the Cats since the days of Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins. A very nice piece to build the offense around as he can throw to speedy receivers Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas. Three starters return on the offensive line that will be looking to open up some holes for an unproven ground game with the graduation of Mike Bell. The secondary anchors the defense, led by corners Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason. Cason and Fontenot are arguably the best corner tandem in the league. Perhaps the biggest key to Arizona's season may be the first game at home against BYU. A winnable game that can springboard confidence.
8—OSU—Playmaking receiver Mike Hass is gone but TE Joe Newton returns from injury. Quarterback Matt Moore, who threw 19 interceptions last season, simply must make better decisions in '06 if the Beavers are going to challenge for a bowl game. Running back Yvenson Bernard ran for a quiet 1,300 yards last season and may eclipse that mark this season as all 5 starters return on the offensive line. The Beavers took most of their lumps on defense last year and the loss of Trent Bray and Keith Ellison at LB may spell trouble but the good news is that all 4 starters return in the secondary, which should lead to some sort of improvement. Sabby Piscitelli should be an All Pac-10 performer at safety. OSU has a favorable schedule with home games against Cal, WSU, USC, ASU, and Oregon.
9—Stanford—A dark horse that may very well finish higher if they can find some defense. The offense may be underrated with Trent Edwards back at quarterback and Mark Bradford returning as the team's top target at receiver. All five starters on the offensive line return with the only question mark at running back. The Cardinal took a big hit on defense last season with the graduation of Babatunde Oshinowo and Julian Jenkins. Senior LB Michael Okwo may very well shine this year but it may be in a futile attempt with many holes on that side of the ball. The Cardinal have an outside chance at surprising a rebuilding Oregon team the first game of the season. If a loss is incurred, Stanford still has some shots at taking down Oregon State, Arizona, Navy, and Washington State at home if the cards can fall their way.
10—Washington—How can it get any worse? The Huskies should be more competitive this season but it may not necessarily translate into more wins based on the schedule. This is the last year for quarterback Isaiah Stanback to shine but he may not have much to work with as only three other starters return from last season's lowest scoring offense in the Pac-10. Seven starters return on defense but the linebackers will be retooled with the losses of Evan Benjamin and Joe Lobendahn. The Huskies may have a decent secondary with the move of Dashon Goldson to cornerback from safety, joining C.J. Wallace. Home games against San Jose State and Stanford look to be the two biggest opportunities for wins. Oregon State also travels to Seattle.
1—USC-I can't pick against them until another team proves to me that they have the talent and mental make up to beat them.
2—(tie) Cal-Good defense and a Tedford offense is a very good mix.
2—(tie) ASU-Improvement in defense and running game wins games lost in the past.
4—Oregon-I can't figure them out this year, but have a hard time believing they'll be much lower than 5th.
5—(tie) Stanford-Senior QBs usually do well in the Pac.
5—(tie) Oregon State-Surprise in the Pac 10 this year.
7—(tie) Arizona-Improvement shown, but not enough running game to compliment Tui's promise.
7—(tie) WAZZU-Wild card that could be as good as 4th or lose a bunch of close ones.
7—(tie) UCLA=Lost a ton of talent, but could surprise and move up into bowl contention.
10—Washington-Will be improved, but still a year or two away from moving up the standings.
1—(tie) USC-Clearly I believe that they will bounce back from losing such large parts to their offense. I have learned that talent does not win games (see Michigan and Tennessee 2005), but an absurd amount of talent and a top 3 coach in the nation will definitely win games. A down year for the Pac-10 in all around talent, and USC takes advantage of a great home schedule and a knack for winning. The team has a down game at WSU, and cannot complete their classic second half comeback and the Cougars pull one out late. Title game possibly, but BCS for sure.
1—(tie) Cal-Losing a projected starter at QB a month before fall practice hurts the team early on in the season with a road game at SEC opponent Tennessee. Levy gains his starting spot back after his suspension is over for the Vols game. Unfortunately, Carroll will still show that he has a clear edge in talent and skill over Tedford when they visit Los Angeles for arguably the Pac-10 game of the year. BCS game possibly with such a high start in preseason rankings, but a loss at Tennessee and the Pac-10 stinking up the Holiday Bowl the last two years could leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters.
3—ASU-ASU will be able to sweep through OOC conference games with a far superior offense and (hopefully) capable defense. I feel that OSU, UA, and UCLA will come down to the fourth quarter, but the Devils will pull them out with superior leadership and skill from the QB position. The California streak continues with a close call at Cal, and a game over by the 4th quarter against USC. I feel that Cal and USC's defense is good enough to keep pace with their offensive production, and if the Devils can't find some ounce of stopping power on Defense then the offense will eventually hit a down point in the games.
4—Oregon-Coming off a solid season last year, the Ducks are in prime position to once again make it to a decent bowl game. They have a very unfavorable schedule this year in the Pac-10, and I think the Rose Bowl is an impossible goal with 3 away games at their prime competition in the conference. Duck fans might hope for going at least 1-2 in those stretches of games at USC, Cal, and ASU, but I don't think this Oregon team has the talent to go into road stadiums and pull out victories against top talent. I see Cal and ASU improving, and USC staying about the same level, so unless Oregon finds a way to improve upon last season they will have to aim for 3rd or fourth in the Pac-10 this season.
5—WAZZU-Preseason rankings have the WSU defensive line as a top 20 unit in the country, and I feel that the rest of their defense is suitable enough to slow down some offensives around the Pac-10. WSU will have the most dangerous WR core in the conference. Also remember that WSU lost 5 games by 4 points or less. Yes it is still a loss, but it is easy to see that with some improvements around the team they could have turned around those games into wins. They get Cal, UO, and USC at home and I feel that they will win one of those games if not two if they come and play. Tough opening start at Auburn, but if they somehow manage to pull off that game then watch out for this team because they could gain some momentum and be the surprise of the Pac-10. QB Brink needs to improve, and a replacement for Harrison will not be easy, but I think improvement around the team will help push them into a much needed bowl game.
6—Arizona-BYU returns 23 starters, with a formidable offense, and their weakness is defense especially on the line. I think the lack of a dominating running attack for the Wildcats keeps the Cougars in the game and they pull it out. Defensive battle keeps it close in the first half in Baton Rouge, but LSU pulls away with superior athletes and home crowd. USC takes care of business in Tucson remembering the UCLA debacle the year before. Cal (although late in the game) pulls off the win, and UO wins at their own house. Loss at WSU late in season hurts the wildcats attempt at bowl eligibility, and ASU rides their senior QB and a late season improved defensive front 7 to a victory late in the game. If their running game can really provide a viable offensive option to go with Tuitama, then this team might be able to win some games. However, any injuries to Tuitama, or their skill positions, will leave this team struggling to put points up on the board. I don't care how much Stoops might like to think the opposite, but you HAVE TO be able to score consistently in the Pac-10 to win games consistently.
7—UCLA-Clearly I do not believe they can bounce back from losing such large parts of their offense. UCLA's defense was never the strong point to their team last year, and breaking in a new QB and finding a replacement for Drew and Lewis will be too much to overcome for Dorrell.
8—Stanford-Expectations for the Cardinals will be higher next season with 5 wins, a solid returning QB, and a new stadium. However, the schedule is not favorable for a repeat of last year's success. They lose two home games which could possibly go either way, but superior talent at WSU and UA notches a loss for those. No "upsets" this year for the Cardinals.
9—Oregon State-With their pathetic OOC schedule it is hard for them to not at least win 3 of those games. A close win at Boise State will start them off 3-0, and the nosedive begins shortly afterward. A senior QB and a top RB means nothing without the talent to surround them. However, that senior QB and a top RB should get them to a bowl game this season. 2nd in the Pac-10 in penalties last year will continue this year, as this team has not shown me the ability to not commit costly penalties for a few seasons now. If Moore doesn't further develop his game, and the ability to not throw interceptions, then this team will go down the wrong path very fast. Giving up 50 points three times in a year is never a good thing, if their defense can keep the score 25 or below they should have a chance to win.
10—Washington-Nothing about this team excites me. Question marks all over the field. When your Points for versus your points against is 100 (237-337) then you know you have problems. I cannot look at one point of this team and say there will be a clear improvement, and their record will show it. If Willingham is the savior of this proud program of the Northwest, then he will muster his troops to a least 3 wins, but I think this team and their coach will not have enough to make it even that far.
1—USC-May have lost a lot, but can't count the champs out quite yet.
2—ASU-An improved defense will get the Devils over the hump.
3—Cal-Questions at QB will probably prevent them from being the favorites.
4—Stanford-Senior QB's usually translate into success in the Pac-10.
5—Oregon-A tough schedule will yield mediocre record.
6—UCLA-Will struggle on both sides of the ball.
7—Arizona-Suspect running game and front seven will show only a modest improvement over the 2005 record.
8—Oregon State-Another questionable front seven that can negate a good offense.
9—WAZZU-While they get the heavyweights at home, they still will struggle in 2006.
10—Washington-An already anemic offense is replacing seven starters.
Tomorrow the WildcatInsider.com predictions will be unveiled and those will be done by Editor-In-Chief Brad Allis, Football Editor Chris Bonney, Moderator Bard Doster (Bard1) and super poster Justin Wollman (JusGusAZ).