OrangeAttack's Pac-10 Preview

I know. I know. You were sitting there, thinking, OA isn't going to do a Pac Ten preview this year. Here it is, just a day before the season opener, and I haven't heard a peep out of OA. Shoot, he's even been mostly absent from the boards...

Well kids, look up on the horizon. See that thin plume of smoke rising somewhere near Lake Oswego? That's coming from my keyboard. It's still smoking from the abuse endured, when I battened down the hatch, locked the doors, put in the earplugs, fed the dogs a steak, and turned this mutha out.

And now.. drumroll please.. OrangeAttack's Pac Ten Preview. We begin, as always, at the bottom and work our way up.


No. 10 Arizona Wildcats

Last year, one of my more memorable quotes was, “Bob Toledo, welcome to your farewell tour.” Coach Mackovic, Toledo has kept the hot seat warm for you, go ahead and take a load off.. you’re in it this year.

A player mutiny unparalleled in recent Pac 10 history still hangs like a fog over Tucson, and enigmatic but fabulously talented running back Clarence Farmer continues to voice his disapproval of the.. ahem.. er.. businesslike, shall we say?.. coach of the Wildcats. How Mack survived the offseason is absolutely beyond me, but I’d bet my Oregon State Rose Bowl tickets (oops, is that giving too much away from my #1 prediction?) that there is no frickin’ way that Mack survives another season.

And this one is going to be rough for the Wildcats. I wonder if they’re kicking themselves for firing Dick Tomey yet?

On offense, the Wildcats return 7 starters. We all know that Clarence Farmer is the star of this crew, and he’s vowed to prove that he’s the best running back in the Pac 10. I’d say that he’s the only guy who can legitimately dispute Steven Jackson’s claim of the title at this point – yes folks, he’s that good. We all kind of forgot about him after the knee injury last season, but if he’s healthy.. man watch out. Nic Costa appears slated to take over at QB, and though he’s not big, the 5-10 Soph from Aloha, Oregon is blisteringly fast and very athletic. In another system under another coach, he could be a serious weapon, the way Tui was for UW. 4 of the 5 offensive line starters return from last year, but considering that this team finished dead last in the Pac 10 last year in rushing yards, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a good thing. Depth is thin so this unit will need to stay healthy or it won’t be too pretty for the Wildcats.. again. At wide receiver, things look rather shaky. The news just got worse too.. Andrae Thurman, a fifth year senior and the Wildcat’s best possible hope to replace Bobby Wade, is academically ineligble.

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this thing and talk about the defense: In looking for a scapegoat, Mack dumped possibly one of the best DC’s in the game, Larry MacDuff. MacDuff was the architect of Arizona’s famed Double Flex Eagle defense, and also worked as the DC on some pretty darn good NFL defenses with the Giants. Considering the lack of support from the offense, the defense really wasn’t too bad last year.. but don’t tell that to Mack. Instead, the Wildcats will convert to a 3-4 base alignment and try to bring the pressure into the backfield from the outside.

The Cats return 6 starters from last year’s squad, and the best of them is probably 6-2, 260 LB Joe Siofele. Siofele played an outside LB spot last year in the Flex Eagle, mostly serving the function of defensive end. One has to believe that he’ll move to a Mike spot to take advantage of his size and sure tackling. A guy to watch is DL Brad Brittain, a Soph. He looks to have a good season in front of him. If Michael Jolivette returns healthy, this will be a big boost for the secondary. He has to be considered as one of the best CB’s in the conference if he’s 100%. You have to expect some growing pains defensively for the Cats as they adjust to an entirely new system and I think the 3-4 is going to have some trouble with good running teams this year.

Half the coaching staff has turned over, but maybe a little new blood will be a good thing.

Personally? I’ll be watching UA for the train-wreck factor. Can’t watch it…. Can’t look away…. Can’t watch it…. Can’t look away…..

 

No. 9 Stanford Cardinal

Aaaand.. competing for the prize of “who can go winless in the Pac 10 this year” will be (drumroll please) the Stanford Cardinal!

Save your applause for the end of the preview please.. Thank you. Don’t forget to tip your waitress. And please take crying babies to the lobby.

Welcome to Buddyball part two. Is it a comedy or a horror flick? I can’t quite tell. What is clear is that Buddy Teevens, while he may be a Steve Spurrier protégé, certainly is no Coach Superior. Looking back a year, I note that the Cardinal opted to hire Teevens over current head coach Mike Riley as Tyrone Willingham’s successor.

Uh.. whoops.

Well, the good news is, Stanford fans won’t have to suffer through 12 games of crappy football this year. Of course, that is because the Trees only play 11 games, but that’s beside the point. This might be coach on the hot seat, part 2. Poor Teevens just can’t catch much of a break though: the offense that was supposed to be pretty explosive last year just fizzled and struggled with injuries and the defense was returning just 2 starters.

Stanford returns just two starters on offense this year, 6-3 215 Sr Chris Lewis at QB and 6-7 315 Sr Kirk Chambers at OT. duck fans remember Lewis well, as he threw for a truckload of yards as the Cardinal handed Oregon their only loss of 2001 at Autzen Stadium, but opposing defenses also remember Lewis last year for his 9 INT to 5 TD ratio last year. He’s coming off a torn rotator cuff and the word is that he looks pretty good. He’ll have a decent target in speedy but diminuitive Luke Powell and will more than likely be cussing Teyo Johnson’s name for leaving early for the NFL instead of staying and giving him a nice big clutch receiver. And Kwame Harris too, for that matter, as he’s running for his life. If Lewis can’t get it done, Kyle Matter should provide a very capable alternative. OA’s advice to whoever ends up with the starting QB gig is to wear track shoes, because they won’t be getting a lot of protection from a thin AND green offensive line this year. TE Brett Pierce returns after a knee injury and his replacement last year Alex Smith should see some time on the field again this year.

On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford returns 7 starters, probably still a year away from being a solid unit. Lots of underclassmen here, the only senior in the whole 2 deep is DE Louis Hobson. It really does look like they will be a nice solid unit in 04 and 05 with all the young guys they have.. but this year is still going to be a tough one. The secondary is filled with track stars that couldn’t cover a receiver with a blanket and a stun gun last year. They return both corners, and with a year’s seasoning they should return an improved unit. Watch sophomore linebacker Jeremy Craven—he’s going to be a star in the next couple years. If Craven lives up to the billing, the LB’s will be a very nice group next year. Without much help from the offense this year they will likely take a beating and give up a ton of yards and points.. but it will belie how good this unit could be.

2005 will give Teevens his first fair shot at what he can do.. well, if he lasts that long that is. Hope you’re wearing your asbestos underwear, Buddy.. you might just be sitting in the hot seat.

 

No. 8 California Golden Bears

I struggled with this one a little, I really did. I wanted to put Cal in the top two-thirds of the conference, I really did. I like second year coach Jeff Tedford and what he did with the Golden Bears last year was nothing short of amazing.. if there was a nominee for “most likely to prove that OA is a know-nothing windbag”, it would be Cal. Especially after watching them fight tooth and nail with KSU last weekend.. though I didn’t get to SEE any of the game due to it coinciding with my sister’s wedding.

Tedford has really introduced Cal as a wildcard this year with the TEN JC transfers brought in, many of whom figure to play right away, and several of whom were very highly regarded by the recruiting gurus. In the end though, it’s just too hard to ignore the staggering losses that Cal had to graduation -- just 8 starters total return -- and a brutal non-conference schedule that is sure to leave the boys from Berzerkely a little beat up and a lot beat down.

On offense Cal returns 6 starters, lead by running back Adimchinobe Echemandu. The 6-0 225 Sr doubles as a star sprinter on Cal’s track team and if he stays healthy after missing most of 2002 with a knee injury, he has the potential to be a game-breaking type of back. Speed, size, moves, he’s got it all. Cal returns a very solid fullback in Chris Mandarino as well. Mandarino, 6-1 230 So, is a competent receiver, good short yardage back, and a devastating blocker. Succeeding Kyle Boller will be highly acclaimed 6-1 190 Jr Reggie Robertson. First year starters typically have a tough year in the Pac 10, but Tedford has proven to be thus far a quarterback guru of sorts, and I expect Robertson to actually fare better than most 1st year starters. Keep an eye on WR Jonathan Makonnen this year, the 6-0 175 Sr should be Cal’s go-to guy at wideout. The offensive line boasts 4 seniors and one junior, 3 of which are returning starters, and should actually be a pretty good unit, lead by the outstanding Senior Mark Wilson at Tackle. Wilson, 6-6 295, has started nearly every game of his college career, and is big, strong, athletic, and very quick. The offensive line last year allowed just 25 sacks, and this year should provide similar production. The key to Cal’s success on offense will be Echemandu – Cal goes as AE goes. I fully expect Cal to put a lot of points on the board this year.. and give up plenty too, which brings us to……

…The defense. Cal returns just 2 starters on defense, which is always a scary proposition in the Pac 10. DT Lorenzo Alexander, a 6-3 295 Jr, and Rover Donnie McClesky, a 5-10 180 So, are the lone returnees. Some very, very good players have come through Cal in the last few years, and last year was no different. Tully Banta-Cain was one of the best pass rush defensive ends in the league, and Cal may have had the second best pair of CB’s in the league as well last year. Jameel Powell and first round draft pick Nmandi Asomugha were arguably on par with Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts. Both were big and athletic and thrived in the physical press coverage situations. Powell’s absence hurts doubly as he was a game-breaking punt returner as well. Cal will need to improve their secondary performance over last year though. Despite having two stellar corners, the safety play was terrible, and this year’s unit may actually improve with the speedy, big-hitting McClesky settling into Pac 10 play and the addition of possibly one of the best JuCo guys around in Fresno CC Matt Giordano. Giordano, a 6-0 190 Jr FS, notched 62 tackles and recovered 4 fumbles last year for Fresno City College, and will definitely push for a starting job before the year is out.

Cal is again, an enigma. Jeff Tedford brought in a ton of talented, blue-chip JC guys to help shore up the defense.. and you just never know how JCT’s will work out. Will they be able to step right in and play, or will they require a year to acclimate to the speed of the Pac 10? Will Cal’s running game be first rate, or will first year starter Reggie Robertson struggle and allow opposing DC’s to stack the box and shut down Cal’s offense altogether.

Last year nearly made Tedford out to be a miracle worker, and this year, if he pulls it off he’ll be Jesus on the sidelines for Cal fans. My hunch and Pac 10 history says that he struggles… but watch JT in future years. He’s going to make Cal a dangerous opponent over the next few years.

 

No. 7 Oregon Ducks

Let’s see.. last year I said “Ok duckfan.. let the screaming begin.” And it did. I picked Oregon to finish #5 in the Pac and duck fans roundly criticized me for my prognostication.

Let’s see here.. where DID Oregon finish, anyway? I can’t remember. Was it 3-5 in Pac 10 play? That sounds about right to me.. I think that the overall record last year was 7-6, following the loss to perennial aerial powerhouse Wake Forest. Is that close?

Ok, ok. All good natured (or bad, take your pick) ribbing aside, I think that Oregon is going to have a tough go of it this year. Oregon has tons of potential, and (oh man, I know Gordo is going to put this in his sig line..) one of what I would consider to be the nation’s elite coaches in Mike Bellotti, as far as X’s and O’s go. But as my dear old drunken pappy liked to say, “Son, you can’t polish a turd.” Excuse me while I go wash my hands and throw away my hanky.. Ok, I’m back.

Oregon returns 7 starters to the offense, four of them returning from a very good offensive line. Is it just me, or has Oregon had a pretty darn good offensive line for about 4-5 years running? Man, it must be nice. The offensive line, led by 6-5, 282 Sr Dan Weaver and 6-4, 284 Sr Joey Forster will not be a huge unit, but have proved to be very effective in pass blocking and should continue to prove so. There will need to be some improvement in run blocking but with 4 players returning, that shouldn’t be an issue. The QB controversy still rages on, with 6-4 222 Sr Jason Fife and 6-2, 214 Soph Kellen Clemens battling it out. Some sources claim that the job is still Fifes, some say that KC will be the man. Time will tell. Oregon lost Onterrio Smith to the NFL, and LSU transfer Chris Vincent, a 6-1 218 Fr looks to fill the bill in yet another of Oregon’s seemingly endless string of outstanding transfers at running back. The line is long.. McCullough, Droughns, Morris, Smith.. I keep waiting for the ducks to get a prep star at tailback, and they keep pulling in these transfers! At least Vincent will be around for 4 years, provided he doesn’t follow his predecessor and jump early to the Big Show. Senior fullback Matt Floberg, 6-3 240, is a good one. The loss of WR Keith Allen, a 6-1 207 Jr, hurts a WR corps that was already thin. This is Sr Samie Parker’s year to shine. The 5-11 177 pound Jr has world class speed and is a serious threat to take it to the house any time. If he develops better hands and runs better routes this year, he will take home some All-conference honors. In the end, the loss of Onterrio Smith, George Wrighster, Keenan Howry, and Jason Willis will prove to be a big loss and the Oregon offensive machine will finally slow a bit to rebuild.

Defensively, it’s hard to know what to make of this group. Returning just 5 starters from an utterly horrible group last year, Oregon’s secondary last year could only be described as woeful and thus, the defense as a whole stunk up the place. Worse, it just didn’t appear to improve as the year rolled along, which is never a good sign for the upcoming year. A lot has been made of Oregon’s dubious distinction for the 114th ranked pass defense last year, and for good reason. Oregon has brought in some JC transfers, including a kid that we have all heard a lot about, Rodney Woods, 5-10 180. Don’t worry, duckfan.. I’m not going to take any cheapshots here, best to just let sleeping dogs lie. What I will point out is that Woods hasn’t appeared to have risen beyond 3rd or 4th string, and that’s a little troubling. Oregon’s strong point is obviously at DT, where they have quite possibly the best pure DT in the nation in Haloti Ngata. Ngata, a 6-4 343 So, can only be described as a freak of nature. He’s unbelievably athletic for his size, and has a great motor. A couple of Civil War replays at OA’s house showed Ngata pursuing the play 30,35 yards downfield and never giving up. You gotta like that. Igor Olshansky, Ngata’s partner, is equally imposing at 6-6, 315 and if he’s full strength after the back surgery that kept him out of spring ball, these guys will be a two man wrecking crew. The loss of Roderkus Wright is a big one, as his presence would have undoubtedly secured Oregon the second best DL to USC. Instead, his absence leaves defensive end as a big question mark. Quinn Dorsey is a big, talented body at 6-4 270, and will likely be a name we hear a lot this fall, surprising some who will wonder why they didn’t hear of him last year. That would be that he was suspended from the team for NCAA violations in regard to a rent scandal, FYI kids.

In the end, Oregon just has too many questions to answer, even with a talented, brilliant coach like Mike Bellotti at the controls. With a road game in Mississippi and Michigan at home, Oregon may even notch a losing season, and may provide Oregon State with a good chance to break the Civil War home team deadlock dating back to 1996, when the Ducks won at Parker Stadium in Corvallis.

More: OrangeAttack's Pac-10 Preview: Part II | OrangeAttack's Pac-10 Preview: Part III


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