Here's how the prediction game works. Make a prediction, and then see what happens. If it's good, remind everybody you predicted it. If it's bad, forget what team you predicted where. In August, I predicted the Pac-10 order of finish. No big deal, a bunch of other folk did too. But with the conference season now in full swing, I figured I'd take this opportunity to match my preseason picks with my take on team performance to date.
Overall, the conference looks better than I anticipated. To be truthful, I thought the Pac-10 would have its share of pretty good teams, with a couple good ones above the rest. Instead, this league probably goes eight good, not great, teams deep. In a year where it appears Miami is ahead of everyone else by a significant margin, the Pac-10 still looks to be the nation's deepest conference.
I'll rank teams by my take on performance to date. My preseason pick will be in parenthesis.
1. Oregon (Schu Pick 2): The Ducks look to have missed very little from last year's juggernaut. New starter Jason Fife is putting my "you must have an experienced quarterback to be successful in this league" theory to the test. He has looked very good, with a bit of a misstep against Fresno State. The level of competition rises a great deal now, so Oregon's true mettle has yet to be explored.
2. USC (Schu Pick 1): Unquestionably the best defense in the conference. USC is going to be a bear for everybody, and if it gets any kind of consistency out of its offense, there's a real chance it will make a great run at the league crown. But I'm just not sure the weapons are there. Kareem Kelly is a good receiver, but SC has yet to find a complement. Sultan McCullough looks like a capable running back. Carson Palmer a solid QB. Not bad, but is it enough week in and week out in a league where points are the norm?
3. Washington (Schu Pick 5): The Huskies were an eyelash from knocking off Michigan, and really haven't been tested since. Cody Pickett has been good, if not spectacular. Historically, Washington has won its share of close games. It will have to continue that trend in such a balanced conference.
4. Arizona State (Schu Pick 10): After its second-half collapse at Nebraska, ASU has looked very good. If his off-the-bench coming out party against San Diego State performance is any indication, not to mention the impressive exhibition at the expense of Stanford, sophomore Andrew Walter looks like this conference's next great quarterback. Walter has been outstanding. While not mobile, he does enough to sidestep pressure in the pocket, and you can't just teach the arm strength. It's logical to expect bumps along the way, given his inexperience, but because of Walter, ASU's future looks very bright.
5. Oregon State (Schu Pick 8): OSU will be a monster at home, and a mouse on the road. This team is built for turf, and the speed it can exhibit on that surface will make life miserable for the opposition. On grass, however, Oregon State looks very average.
6. UCLA (Schu Pick 7): Good talent, and looked outstanding against San Diego State. Also played well enough to beat a good Colorado State team, but then got torn apart by Colorado's rushing game. It's a team that looks like it should be better than it is, and at times will play like it. And at others, UCLA will look confusingly marginal at best.
7. Washington State (Schu Pick 4): Wazzu has beaten up on some pretty iffy competition. That said, for three quarters it played pretty well at Ohio State before folding, and an injured Jason Gesser turned in a monster game against California. With that offense this team is dangerous, to say the least, but one injury away from being in real trouble.
8. California (Schu Pick 6): An indication of the depth in this league. Cal has the best non-conference win in the Pac-10, a dismantling at Michigan State. However, it is 0-2 since then, but played a ranked Air Force team tough, and lost a shootout to Washington State. Cal's experience could be enough to get it into a bowl game before the smoke clears. This is a much-improved team.
9. Stanford (Schu Pick 9): If the ASU game was any indication, the Cardinal is already playing for the future. Starting quarterback Chris Lewis was yanked in the second quarter. Star receiver Teyo Johnson appears completely disinterested. It's going to be a long year on The Farm.
10. Arizona (Schu Pick 3): Talk about missing this one. Arizona had issues long before the rash of injuries. Outside of the Wisconsin game, Clarence Farmer could get nothing going on the ground. His knee injury is a sad break for a very good back, but it can open the door for Mike Bell, who appears to have a lot of tools. As the season progresses, Arizona might want to take a long look at a youth movement in an effort to provide added Division I experience for the seasons ahead.
Onto another sports issue: Lots of celebrating in regards to the announced verbal commitment of Houston power forward Ndudi Ebi, but it also potentially blasts open the door of an already dangerous trend. While landing what many consider the nation's best high school player is certainly a feather in Arizona's already impressive recruiting hat, it also potentially sets an interesting precedent. Ebi is likely a one-year college player. Period.
That means he will have to learn the Wildcat system in one year. Period. A year usually dedicated toward growing pains at the collegiate level. He certainly possesses the potential