Pac 10 Preview

Irish Eyes takes a look at the Pac 10 conference. Here is the first five teams done in alphabetical order.

***Arizona (6-6 overall, 4-5 in the conference): With 17 returning starters, the Wildcats are poised to make huge strides in head coach Mike Stoops fourth season. Stoops has hired Sonny Dykes away from Texas Tech to implement his spread offense that was so successful in Lubbock. The entire offensive line is back, quarterback Willie Tuitama is healthy, and 10 starters and a whole bunch of experience return to the defense.

Willie Tuitama (1,335 yards passing, 7 TDs, 6 INTs) comes into the season with a concussion problem, but with tackle Peter Graniello anchoring and experienced line, he should be well protected. With the new offense, the Wildcats will need several green players to step up at receiver. Mike Thomas (50 rec, 597 yards, 2 TDs) and Anthony Johnson (26 rec, 312 yards, 3 TDs) are at least two reliable pairs of hands for Tuitama to throw at. In the Stoops era, the Wildcats have struggled to run the football, but with the o-line in tact and Chris Jennings (500 yards, 3 TDs), leading a back by committee, that should improve.

This defense should be well balanced, being able to rush the passer, play the run, and prevent the pass. Spencer Larson (89 tackles, 10.5 for loss), who led the team in tackles last season is back at linebacker. Antoine Cason (62 tackles, 3 INTs) is one of the best defensive backs in the league, and defensive end Louis Holmes (36 tackles, 5 sacks) is one of many guys that can get to the quarterback.

***Arizona State (7-6 overall, 4-5 in the conference): Dennis Erickson is here to save the day in Tempe, Arizona. Erickson is back in the college game after his college success again didn't carry over to the NFL. But if he can lead Oregon State to a BCS bowl, he can certainly do the same at Arizona State. Just not sure this year is the year.

Quarterback Rudy Carpenter (2,523 yards, 23 TDs, 14 INTs) is back to guide an offense that returns 10 starters including one of the nation's best tailbacks Ryan Torain (1,229 yards, 7 TDs). Like their rival Arizona, the entire offensive line is back. The only player to be replaced is the team's leading receiver, tight end Zach Miller. The receiver position looks promising since seldom-used sophomores Kyle Williams and Brandon Smith made a big jump on the depth chart during the spring.

The defense might be what holds the Sun Devils back this fall. Defensive end Michael Marquardt (25 tackles, 7.5 TFL) is back, but there is question marks to who will play on the opposite side. If a few JUCO players step up, this defense could be alright.

***California (10-3 overall, 7-2 in the conference): Head coach Jeff Tedford is back to calling the plays in Berkeley, after handing over the role for a season. He has a lot of toys to play with, and like Arizona State, is hoping that a defense that lost a ton of talent plays better than advertised this fall.

Defenses better be ready to line up in nickel and dime packages, as Tedford will air it out with quarterback Nate Longshore (3,021 yards, 24 TDs, 13 INTs) at the helm, and the dangerous Heisman candidate DeSean Jackson (1,060 yards, 9 TDs) leading a very talented group of receivers that can go four or five deep. The offensive line lost two starters, but center Alex Mack and Mike Gibson return, and this unit should be just as good as last season. With Justin Forsett (670 yards, 4 TDs) taking over for Marshawn Lynch at running back, the Golden Bears might not miss a beat.

Six players have to be replaced from last year's defense including three all-conference performers. Worrell Williams (51 tackles) returns at linebacker providing experience.

***Oregon (7-6 overall, 4-5 in the conference): Everyone in Eugene is waiting on running back Jonathan Stewart (981 yards, 10 TDs) to bust out and have a Heisman-type season. New offensive coordinator Chip Kelly certainly hopes this year is the time. Stewart certainly has a boatload of talent, but he hasn't put it together for a whole season.

Quarterback Dennis Dixon (2,143 yards, 12 TDs, 14 INTs) really struggled throwing the ball last season and will have to bounce back if this team is going to be successful. He has receiver Jaison Williams (984 yards, 6 TDs), and of course Stewart to take some of the pressure off. Offensive tackle Matt Unger is back to anchor the line.

On defense, the strength is at cornerback with Walter Thurmond (67 tackles, 4 INTs) and Jairus Byrd (56 tackles, 5 INTs) providing maybe the best duo in the league.

***Oregon State (10-4 overall, 6-3 in the conference): The Beavers head into the season trying to record back-to-back 10 win seasons for the first time in program history. They will have a chance, as they return a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the line, led by guard James Perry and center Kyle DeVan have four starters returning that earned conference recognition. Running back Yvenson Bernard (1,307 yards, 12 TDs) could have an even bigger season with those guys back. Leading receiver Sammie Stroughter (1,293 yards, 5 TDs) will give whoever the quarterback is one of the better targets in the Pac 10. Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao head into fall camp competing for the starting signal-caller duties.

Defensively, the linebackers and secondary look great. Three of the team's four returning tacklers are back at linebacker led by Joey LaRocque (98 tackles) and Derrick Doggett (87 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss). Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes have improved every year, and enter their third years as starters. Defensive end Dorian Smith (30 tackles, 9 sacks) led the team in sacks last season despite being a part-time player. Top Stories