OrangeAttack's Pac-10 Preview: Part III

OrangeAttack continues his breakdown of the Pac-10 with picks 1, 2 and 3.

No. 3 Arizona State Sundevils

Wow. How in the world did I end up with the Sun Devils ranked this high? I’ve been listening to all the so-called experts (snort of contempt inserted here) pick ASU to finish #1 in the Pac all spring and summer. And I keep thinking, “they must be idiots. So they have a solid Qb. What else have they got?”

Well, I’ll tell you what the Sun Devils have got. A lot of freaking returning starters, that’s what. Yes, they sent the conference’s best defensive end since.. well, uh.. EVER, I guess. You have to figure some drop off on the defensive line, even if you’re the biggest Sun Devil homer that ever lived. And yes, Shaun MacDonald is gone and damned if that little 5-9 170 dude couldn’t shred defenses to death on the deep ball. I, for one, am glad to see both of those guys gone.

But 9 other guys return on the offensive side of the ball and this is Andrew Walter’s second year in the system. The 6-5, 220 Jr flat out BLEW UP in the upset win against oregon at Autzen Stadium, throwing for 536 yards against the ducks. That’s a Pac 10 record, folks. And then he didn’t look back. Despite missing the first 5 games of the season he still smashed the 3,000 yard barrier – and when I say smashed, I mean smashed, he tallied 3,877 yards – and was also the first conference QB to have FOUR 400+ yard games in a single season. One word comes to mind: Yikes. You might say that having Shaun MacDonald as a target is a big part of that, he was an All American after all.. but you also have to figure that SOMEBODY is going to be an AA when you throw for almost 4000 yards in 7 games or so.

SHEESH.

At wide receiver, the Sun Devils still have some weapons. Diminuitive but explosive Jr receiver Darryl Lightfoot goes just 5-9 and 160, but this kid can hit the home run. Those who follow OSU recruiting may remember the name Lightfoot.. he was originally a Beaver signee. Argh. His name befits him, as Lightfoot can fly, the fastest member of the Sun Devil team on both sides of the ball. 6-0 195 Sr Skyler Fulton gets his first shot at a starting spot as receiver, and has decent experience. Beyond that, there is some uncertainty, so the wide receivers must perform for Walter to shine. The Sun Devils also have a premiere fullback in Sr Mike Karney. The 6-0 255 Karney is seriously what is best described as a FREAKING BRUISER. He’s probably the best run blocking FB around, does well in pass protection, and has good hands to boot. Mike Williams, 6-0 200 Sr, is the returning starter at tailback, but the word is that 5-9 189 So Cornell Candidate is pushing hard for his spot. If the last name Candidate sounds familiar, it’s because he is the brother of UA standout RB Trung Candidate, who is starting for the Washington Redskins this year. The offensive line returns all 5 starters. At first that sounds pretty intimidating until you realize that the unit was really.. not so good last year. Arizona State gave up 49 sacks last year and never provided any kind drive blocking for the running game. Expect them to be a much improved group, but one of the best in the Pac 10? Thaaaaat might be stretching it a little bit. They do have decent depth, however, and when it’s all said and done they should be better than average. The star of the group is 6-1 308 G Tim Fa’aita, and the young rising star you should be keeping an eye on is mammoth freshman Steven Berg. You can’t miss him.. he’s 6-6 320, and NASTY.

On defense it looks like Koetter still hasn’t given up on the goofy 4-2-5 that played well in the WAC.. it’s basically like playing the Nickel all the time and in my opinion it leaves ASU more vulnerable to physical teams with a good sized running back. Arizona State returns 7 starters to the defense and loses some pretty talented guys in Mason Unck and Soloman Bates. Oh yeah, and some guy named Suggs who was the best defensive player in the country last year. The star of the secondary and the defense as a whole this year is 6-1 189 Jr free safety Jason Shivers. Shivers not only hauled in 3 picks last year, he also racked up 121 tackles. How the heck did this guy not make first team all conference? Both of the other safeties return and RJ Oliver, a 5-9 173 Jr, also returns at corner and is worthy of recognition. He’s blisteringly fast, and probably won’t get tested a lot.. but the secondary last year was less than stellar, so this group will be interesting to watch. As I mentioned before, both LB’s are gone and could be a very weak spot for the Sun Devils this season. Koetter and Co. will pin their hopes on JC transfer Justin Burks, a 6-3 235 Jr. He’ll need to provide an immediate boost or you’ll see a lot of teams rush for some big yards against ASU. The defensive line has lost Suggs, but returns the other three starters. It’s not a big group, with Sr DT’s Brian Montesanto and Shane Jones measuring up at 6-5 256 and 6-2, 286 respectively. DE Jimmy Verdon is a 6-4, 265 Jr who had a nice season last year in Sugg’s shadow. Keep your eye on the other defensive end spot: 6-2 241 So Nick Johnson is reportedly a monster.

Overall it looks like plenty of exciting games will involve the Sun Devils. The offense has the tools to put points up on the board, and they’ll throw the ball all over the field and try to develop some kind of a running game this year. My money is on Candidate for tailback duties.. he was the better back prior to the injury bug putting him on the sidelines. If the offense sputters after the loss of MacDonald, things could get ugly quick, because Arizona State’s defense is going to give up some points this fall.

The lack of a stalwart defense and a respectable running game will keep the Pac 10 title out of reach.. this year.

 

No. 2 USC Trojans

Wow. I don’t know if I am buying all the hype but I could have sworn that around springtime I figured USC to be somewhere close to the middle of the conference. What in the heck happened? I don’t buy into hype! I’m a free thinker!

Well.. maybe I bought into the hype a little. Ok, here’s how I figure it. SC’s defense is going to be baaaaad. Not “bad” as in “horrible”. I mean “baaaaaaaaad” as in “bad mo fo’s”. Probably the best defensive line in the nation. A returning All Conference linebacker who just runs around and makes plays (Hey, what’s a football conversation without an Erickson-ism??). And a solid secondary.

Baaaaaaaaaaad.

But we’ll get to the specifics on that. I thought to myself, “OA, can a Pac 10 team really win the conference without an experienced qb? Nah. They can’t finish better than 4th. When was the last time a Pac 10 team won the conference with a first-year starter at qb and a wicked, nasty defense? Uh.. (media guide consultation.. websearch..) well that would be 1991 Huskies, with Billy Joe.”

Is the SC defense that good? Well, all I can say is definitely maybe. But here’s the difference. Like all Don James teams, that Husky offense was a ball control, eat up the clock monster powered by Nap Kaufman. I have to think that’s the blueprint to do it, if you’re going to make it with a green qb. This SC offense, under Dr. Chow, is a complicated passing set that maybe doesn’t require an athlete of Carson Palmer’s stature, but does require a guy who can make the right decisions. That’s hard to come by in a first year starter. Chow did it with Philip Rivers, but not every kid is a Philip Rivers.

Sorry, SC fans.. I’m not buying it. Well, not all the way, anyway. I still see SC challenging for the Pac 10 title, but ultimately finishing second. Now let’s get down on it:

On offense, SC return 6 players, having sent Carson Palmer to the NFL, picking up a Heisman along the way after an illustrious 9 year career as a Trojan. The entire backfield has emptied as well, with the 3 top rushers out of eligibility. The Qb duties appear (at press time) to belong to 6-5 215 So Matt Leinart, but the race isn’t over yet and we could see JD Booty in the starting role, or 6-5 225 Jr Matt Cassel or even 6-1 190 Jr Brandon Hance even. Talk about wide open!! At running back, Hershel Dennis received some reps last year, but it’s a wonder if the 5-11 175 So will be durable enough to withstand a full season of Pac 10 play. He’s definitely in the top half of the Pac 10 backs already, and is quick and talented, but don’t be surprised to see true freshman Reggie Bush, 6-0 190 get some PT as well. At wideout, the first thing out of your mouth better be BMW: Big Mike Williams. The 6-5 219 So burst onto the scene last year and immediately began drawing comparisons to Terrell Owens. He’s a star, no doubt about it. Stalwart receiver Keary Colbert, 6-1 205 Sr also returns and the receiving corps will again be excellent if TE Alex Holmes is fully recovered from off-season surgery. Watch for the nations #1 prep wideout in Steve Smith to possibly make some noise this year as well. Fast doesn’t even begin to describe this kid. The offensive line returns 4 starters and could be a stellar group, but nagging injuries raise some concerns. Winston Justice could well be the best of the bunch here, but I’ll hold off on giving him the crown until I see how his surgically repaired shoulders (yes BOTH) do throughout the season.

And now.. the defense. I want my mommy!

Udeze. Patterson. Cody. Nazel.

The wild bunch 2 is right, this is far and away the best defensive line in the nation. Shaun Cody is the best of the bunch and he’s good enough to play in the NFL right now. The 6-4 275 Jr DT is versatile as well: He can play DE or DL with his speed and athleticism. He’s not just the best DL in the conference, he’s the best in the nation. The linebackers are also very, very solid with returning First Team All Conference OLB Matt Grootegoed leading the way. The 5-11, 205 Jr is undersized for linebacker but is ALL HEART and plays as big as anybody on the field, and just has a nose for the ball. He lead the team in tackles last year and will rack them up again this year. Don’t forget about Melvin “Champ” Simmons, either. The 6-1 215 Sr returns at the other OLB spot and is also an All-Conference type of player. Lord help USC opponents if they field a good to great MLB. The secondary may be some kind of a question mark, with Marcell Almond leading the way as the only returning starter. The 6-0 200 Sr has the kind of size you need these days to cover the Pac 10’s big, athletic wideouts, and has the speed that is drawing plenty of attention from NFL scouts. He’s a solid bet as an All Conference player as well. Kevin Arbet, a 5-11 190 Sr was slated to start at corner last year before breaking his foot. He should be solid. The key to the secondary will be whether All-Everything safety Darnell Bing, 6-2 220 Fr, will pan out to be all that he is supposed to be. If he does, then the loss of All American safety Troy Polamalu won’t sting nearly as much.

Once it’s all said and done, not a lot of teams will score points on this USC squad, but we saw what happened last year when Polamalu, who was the qb and heart and soul of the defense was absent.. SC lost on the road to Washington State, even with Carson Palmer at the controls. My hunch is that playing on the road will take it’s toll on a young qb and will cost SC the conference title.

And now…. Here we go kids:

 

No. 1 Oregon State

That’s right.. Oregon State. Now hold on, before you start screaming about homerism and so on, remember that I picked Oregon State 3rd in the conference last year.. and what did we finish, tied for 4th in the standings?

Ok, so I’m an optimist. So sue me. I feel that Oregon State, with the pieces returning, has the best shot at winning the title. Best linebacker in the conference, best running back in the conference, and a 3300+ yard passer back at the controls. Plus an All-Conference receiver to boot.

It’s a Rosey time to be a Beav. Seriously. Go ahead, bring on the “Da Bears 211 to –2” jokes, that’s fine. I’ll be shouting “I told you so!!” at Christmas. The Beavers return 10 starters and one of the most fearsome triple threats in the nation in James Newson, Derek Anderson, and Steven JACKSON, who deserves to be mentioned in every discussion about the best running back in the country. Mike Riley returns to Corvallis, to finish what he has started in the resurrection of a program mired in mediocrity for the better part of 30 years. I’m excited, and I think I have every reason to be.

On offense, Oregon State returns 10 starters to a very productive unit. Steven Jackson returns for his Junior season, the sensational 6-3 233 pound back posting a school record 1786 yard mark last year and looking to improve this year behind a veteran offensive line. 4 starters return and the size is impressive across with former JC transfer Brandon Lockheart 6-6 243 Jr, slated to start at tackle. The star of the group is 6-4 344 Jr Kanan Sanchez, who has started for the Beavs as a freshman and a sophomore. He plays with a DT mentality and a motor to go along with it, and is now Oregon State’s most experienced OL. Derek Anderson handles the qb duties for the second year in a row, and the 6-6 230 Jr is coming off a school record setting season. On the other end of the passes is a Biletnikoff candidate in James Newson, who also set school records last year for receiving. The 6-1 207 Jr racked up over 1200 yards and 74 catches last year, plus 12 TD’s. Don’t expect that number to go down as defenses are forced to pick their poison between Newson and Jackson. No other team in the conference is as balanced or dangerous offensively as Oregon State. Mackey Award candidate Tim Euhus, 6-5 242 Sr, will see plenty of balls thrown his way this year and will be an even bigger part of the offense than last year. The key to the offense will be the emergence of a second threat at wideout and a steady performance from Derek Anderson. If it happens, watch out kids. The fireworks will be loud and bright.

On defense, Oregon State returns 5 starters and will be the key to Oregon State’s season. OSU has enjoyed a defense ranked in the top 3 in the conference the last 3 years running and if they can come reasonably close to that mark, then the offense will take care of the rest. Strong up the middle, the foundation comes with the defensive line. 2 year starter Noah Happe left early for the NFL, but eager to take his place is Sr Dan Rothwell. The 6-7, 270 Rothwell was slated to be a starter for the 02 season before sustaining a season ending knee injury in fall camp. How he rebounds from that injury will go a long way to determining the strength of the front four. The two returnees are 6-3 305 Sr Dwan Edwards at tackle and 6-4 260 Jr Bill Swancutt at end. Edwards is one of the top 5 tackles in a conference rich with stellar DT’s and Swancutt is coming off a school record setting season in sacks. Both should be very productive this season. At linebacker, Butkus Award candidate Richard Seigler returns and the 6-3 240 Sr is the best in the conference at the position and the Lacey and Pollard are productive backups settling into starting roles. Linebacker should again be a solid position for OSU, although probably a step down from the overall strength of last year’s unit. And then comes the question mark, the big chink in Oregon State’s armor and the big question mark for the season: The secondary. 2 of the 4 starters return, both at secondary. Aric Williams is set at one corner, and the 6-0 186 Jr has seen a few starts and extensive action in his career at OSU. The big question is how redshirt freshman Brandon Browner will play. A physical specimen to say the least, the 6-4 204 Browner has excellent speed and plays very well in bump and run coverage, but will need to polish open-field technique. The safeties are an excellent group with former Freshman All American Mitch Meeuwson, 6-3 214 at FS and former Juco transfer Lawrence Turner, 5-11 197 at strong safety both reprising their starting roles from last season. These two combined for 9 picks last year and will likely rack up several this year as well.

The kicking game also looks solid for Oregon State, with Carl Tobey returning on punting duty and Kirk Yliniemi returning as the place kicker after compiling an eye-popping 15 of 16 FG’s last year.. 15 in a row, as a matter of fact, including a 50 yarder.

For Oregon State, the offense will be dazzling, if not utterly explosive, and the defense should be able to effectively contain the mostly one-dimensional Pac 10 offenses this year. Add it all up and it smells like Roses for Oregon State.

Thanks for reading my Pac 10 preview. See you next year!!

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


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