While the Pac-10 is certainly in a "down" phase in football heading into 2010, the competitive balance will allow nearly every team to believe that it has a shot to win the conference.
With USC having more than a handful of issues hampering its program; Oregon kicking its best player off the team; and the rest of the conference relatively even, the Pac-10 can go in a lot of different directions in the upcoming season.
Virtually every team outside of Wazzu and ASU should have a true shot to compete this year if everything falls into play. By the end of the season, seven conference wins may just earn a Rose bowl trip this season.
The Ducks would be the outright favorite if Jeremiah Masoli was still on the roster, but he isn't. LaMichael James is a dangerous player that will keep that offense explosive, but Masoli was such a perfect fit for UO's system, it's hard to imagine the offense being as dynamic without him.
USC has very little to play for this year; is losing recruits; players are considering transferring and they have a significantly reduced number of scholarships offer recruits over the next couple of years. Add the inevitable grease-fire bound to occur under new head coach Lane Kiffin and things aren't looking all that great in Los Angeles for the future.
Arizona is a strong contender to win the conference and should be one of the favorites. The Wildcats return everything except two WR's – one of which dogged it through much of 2009 and found himself kicked off the team due to what I will refer to as an error in judgment – a fourth-string running back and a left tackle that was very good, but not so dynamic that he isn't replaceable.
UA's questions are mostly on defense as it returns only four starters and bodes an entirely new linebacker unit. If it can overcome it's few weaknesses, UA should contend for the conference.
Stanford could be a team to watch even if the Cardinal doesn't have Toby Gerhart. Andrew Luck is primed to have a monster year and is arguably the best pocket passer in the conference. Stanford has recruited very well all over the field and should be able to continue its growth as a program. Expect the Cardinal to be right in the mix.
Cal is a bit of a mystery. Every year people call them Rose Bowl contenders, but the Golden Bears have failed to live up to the hype. They are without Jahvid Best and still have Kevin Riley under center – which both hurt the Bears chances. The players to look out for are Shane Vereen and Marvin Jones. If those two can pick up the slack that Best leaves behind, the Bears are right in the mix too.
Oregon State's success is going to depend a lot on quarterback play. Without Sean Canfield, the Beavers will go with sophomore Ryan Katz who hasn't seen the field much. Katz isn't yet battle-tested, but he has an impressive arm and decent running ability. If Katz is good enough, OSU will also contend for the conference – especially with Rodgers brothers still on the roster.
Washington is another program that has recruited well and has a dynamic option at quarterback. Sure, Jake Locker hasn't really done much winning at the college level, but his arm and athleticism make him one of the most versatile quarterbacks in the country. He led UW to the second most passing yards in the conference a year ago and with everyone back from a year ago, they should be even more dangerous.
The Huskies big question is on defense, where they finished eighth in the conference in total yards allowed from scrimmage. Washington will need to improve considerably if it wants to win the conference, otherwise the Huskies will be a middle of the pack team no matter how good Locker is.
UCLA is a team that's hard to get behind at this point. Sure, the Bruins recruit well and have a ton of talent at their dispense, but there is little to show from it. Each year they are picked to contend, have an impressive non-conference showing and then fail to compete in the conference.
UCLA has quarterback problems and a lot of uncertainty all over the field and while they have the talent to contend, it's going to be tough for them to leap-frog so many other teams. The Bruins are – at the very least – one year away.
Arizona State will most likely bring a very good defense to the table, but very little offense. Without a Pac-10 level quarterback on the roster that's ready to immediately take over, it is going to be a long year for Sun Devil fans. Sure, there are surprises every year and teams climb out of the cellar to contend when they are least expected to, but it's hard to imagine that happening with where ASU currently stands.
The coaching staff has failed to develop talent nor has it filled the necessary holes to compete for a conference championship. This could be Dennis Erickson's last chance in Tempe and it doesn't look too good for him
Washington State has no chance. The Cougars have a nice young quarterback and little else. They will be fortunate to win even one conference game this year and it could be several seasons before they can compete at a high level once again.
The Pac-10 is truly wide open this year for most of the teams. With two new programs arriving soon enough, this is the time for true contenders to emerge. The next couple of seasons should be interesting for the Pac-10 and will be very telling when it comes to where the conference will stand several years from now.
State of Pac-10 Football
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