Schu Strings: Picking the Pac

I consider myself the best at being the worst. That is, when it comes to preseason prognostications. So in the grand spirit of not being very good, here goes. This year's Schu Pac-10 football predictions.

At this year's Pac-10 media day festivities, Washington State was selected as the preseason favorite to win the conference. I hereby mock the media. Ha. OK, before we continue, the next time fans get accused of jumping on the bandwagon in search of the next hot thing, take a look at the boys and girls in the press. If it's flavor of the month, they're all over it. Washington State? Now I dig the Cougs, and I think Jason Gesser is a talented quarterback, but it's Washington State.

The media has been right 19 of 41 times, almost 50 percent, but how hard was it to pick USC in the 60s and 70s? Even I could have managed that. Speaking of USC.

Schu's Pac-10 Predictions:

1. USC-It's Pete Carroll's second year. Same for offensive coordinator Norm Chow, which might be just as significant. Troy stumbled out of the gate, but got hot late, winning its last five Pac-10 games and last four regular season contests. Carson Palmer returns at quarterback, while the team also returns its top two receivers and hopes for health at the running back position. If that falls into place, and USC can weather yet another nasty non-conference schedule, we may be listening to that damn, redundant marching band theme a lot this year.

2. Oregon-Loaded at every position, but facing a big question mark at quarterback. Oregon was outstanding last year, but it must hope Jason Fife or Kellen Clemons are up to the task in 2002. Quarterback is the single most critical position on the field, and if he gets rattled by constant Division I pressure, the whole offense stumbles. Onterrio Smith will handle the load at running back. Although technically a backup last season, he still managed to crack the 1,000-yard barrier.

Are you sitting down?

3. Arizona-Sporting News called the UA a darkhorse in its preseason magazine, and it might be onto something. If Arizona doesn't score points this season, there's something wrong. Jason Johnson has had a year to understand John Mackovic's offensive system, and he has the luxury of running back Clarence Farmer, wide receiver Bobby Wade, a solid contingent of tight ends and a largely experienced line to keep things moving. Aside from score, Arizona must do two things on offense: limit the turnovers and take time off the clock. The defense still has questions, especially along the front line, but if it gets any help there at all, then the linebacker unit appears imposing. A punting game could be critical as well.

4. Washington State-Remember last year when Oregon State was the tasty flavor? Remember the end of last year, when Oregon State finished 5-6? WSU and OSU have many of the same issues, and basically it comes down the depth. Gesser is fabulous, but the loss of Nakoa McElrath at receiver puts more pressure on Mike Bush. And who will replace Doug Minnich in the backfield? WSU does get Oregon, Washington and USC at home.

5. Washington-Gut feeling here. Washington looks to have a lot of talent, and quarterback Cody Pickett followed nicely in the footsteps of Marques Tuiasosopo. He found ways to win. But if one believes in things evening out, perhaps this is the season UW loses its share of close games. Reggie Williams is probably the best receiver in the league, but finding a replacement for Larry Tripplett is a top priority.

6. Cal-Are you sitting down? The Golden Bears have many of the same ingredients as last year's Washington State team. Not all, but many. Even though they got blasted early, there were more competitive performances later on the schedule. Only Arizona returns more offensive firepower. Cal sports its starting quarterback, top running back, top receiver and nine returners on defense.

7. UCLA-Talk about the need for new beginnings. After rising to as high as No. 4 in the national polls, UCLA decided to imitate fellow Los Angelino Charlie Sheen and implement immediate terminal velocity. Quick explanation: Charlie Sheen starred in a parachute movie filmed in Marana. It was called Terminal Velocity. It was bad, much like UCLA in the second half of the season. Loaded with talent. Now Bob Toledo has to get something from it. The Bruins do benefit from a second year in Phil Snow's system defensively, so that could be beneficial. But heart and desire is the issue here. Cory Paus returns at QB.

8. Oregon State-This could be a very interesting football team. Derek Anderson replaces Jonathan Smith at quarterback. There are those who believe he is the superior talent. Same goes for Steven Jackson at the tailback position, although despite the disappointing season for Ken Simonton, it would be hard to argue the value of his superb tailback career in Corvallis. Eight starters return on the defensive side of the ball.

9. Stanford-The Cardinal lost its coach and most of its defense. That spells trouble. Chris Lewis returns at quarterback, but his career has been spotty in split duty. Teyo Johnson is one of the top receivers in the conference and looks to have big-time NFL upside.

10. Arizona State-The Sun Devils could be bad. While eight starters return on defense, including Terrell Suggs, the best defensive end in the conference, ASU is going to have to find a way to improve on last season's eighth in the league effort. Because the offense will struggle to score. ASU has more questions at quarterback than any team in the league, and that is a recipe for serious trouble.


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