Spring. Too late to ski much. Too early to waterski. Too early to talk about college football.
It's never too early to talk about college football. So without further ado… my Pac 10 preview… the first of three parts.
|#10 Stanford Cardinal|
Anyone who doesn't think that the Trees are in a world of hurt is, well, in a word: Nuts. Things look much less than rosy in Palo Alto these days, with the departure of outstanding coach Tyrone Willingham to Notre Dame, not to mention the graduation of all but two members of the defense. Then there is the rather questionable choice of new HC Buddy Teevens, whom Stanford selected over former OSU head coach and USC assistant Mike Riley.
Two members of the Stanford defense return, both defensive linemen: NT Craig Albrecht and DT Matt Leonard. Gone are CB Ruben Carter, FS Tank Williams, and ILB Coy Wire, leaving large holes to fill.
The offense looks slightly better: Two of the four members of the offensive line, plus TE Brett Pierce return. Chris Lewis filled in admirably for the injured Randy Fasani at times, including a comeback victory at Autzen Stadium against the ducks, so Stanford doesn't look too bad at QB. What will hurt is the departure of solid workhorse Brian Allen at RB. On the bright side, dynamic (if diminutive) Luke Powell and rising star Teyo Johnson return at WR. If Lewis can get some time to throw the ball, Stanford should be able to produce offensively.
However, conventional wisdom holds that a new coach implementing a new system always costs a few games, and I suspect that this will be the case this year for Stanford. The defense is certainly going to cost some games as Teevens struggles to put together some consistency. Watch for teams to just tee off against the Cardinal this year.
The schedule doesn't do the Cardinal any service, either, with just 5 home games and 6 road games, including at Boston College, at Oregon, and visiting their old coach Willingham in North Bend for their annual game against the Irish. Yikes.
Oh boy. How would you like to be Jeff Tedford? You've just inherited the Pac 10's worst football program, you had the worst recruiting class in the conference, and your QB has been somewhat of a head case up until now.
Okay, true: QB Kyle Boller has spent a good share of his career running for his life.
And when was the last time that Boller had some decent receivers to throw to? Cal's stars have always been on the defensive side of the ball, players like Deltha O'Neal and of course the incomparable Andre Carter.
Still, you expect a lot more from a kid whom Cal fans hailed as Jesus in Cleats. Maybe that's why Tom Holmoe is gone.
Cal is an enigma. The Golden Bears under Holmoe usually meant a stellar defense and an anemic (at best) offense. Last year broke the mold as Cal gave up somewhere in the neighborhood of 392 points per game and one million yards over the season… but there were bright spots. Freshman RB Terrell Williams showed moments of true brilliance last year, and the enigmatic Joe Igber returns as well to the backfield. Igber is a dazzling type of runner who can break off the big play at any time, with his shifty style and good speed… what hurts is his tendency to dance, looking for the holes and often getting hit for a loss. The leading WR by year's end was converted CB LaShaun Ward, and that probably doesn't figure to change this year. The Bears do return 8 starters on offense, with key losses at the OL position.
Not so good when trying to get some consistency from a shaky QB, no matter how much upside he's got. Cal will need some players to step up and fill the hole to have a chance.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal also returns 8 starters, including the outstanding Jameel Powell at CB. NT Daniel Nwangwu returns up front, and SS Nnamdi Asomugha returns to the secondary as one of the best safeties in the conference. The front seven is a soft spot for the Bears, particularly the LB corps, which wasn't terribly productive last year.
The biggest hurdle for Cal will likely be learning the new systems, offensively and defensively, and historically the Pac 10 isn't easy on a rookie coach. Expect the Bears to leave 2002 bruised, bloody, and home for the holidays.
|#8 Arizona State|
Make no mistake about it, Arizona State is a program on the rise. Second year coach Dirk Koetter is a brilliant young coach, and there are not likely many in the nation more offensively minded than Koetter.
"So why are you picking ASU third to last in the Pac, OrangeAttack?" you may wonder.
Many reasons. Let's start with the departure of signal caller Jeff Krohn, who was much better than most gave him credit for. Sophmore Andrew Walter is the heir apparent for the starting QB position for the Sun Devils, and at 6-5, 220 pounds, he's certainly more prototypical than Krohn. Also in the mix may be the nation's #1 JC QB, Juco transfer Andy Goodenough. So the cupboard isn't bare for quarterbacks at ASU, just uncertain.
Gone as well are the top two performers out of the backfield, RB's Delvon Flowers and Tom Pace. Junior Mike Williams looks poised to take over the starting spot, but also worthy of a look is Cornell Candidate… brother of former Arizona star Trung Candidate.
Returning at WR are two speedy threats in Daryl Lightfoot and the outstanding Shaun McDonald, plus senior Justin Taplin, which should make for an effective passing attack if ASU can field a solid backfield to keep defenses honest. Certainly the strength of this team is in the wide receivers.
Defensively, the Devils also look uncertain. Last year Arizona State was 8th in the Pac in total defense, and this year may not be much better. Returning is the outstanding Terrell Suggs at defensive end, but the rest of the defensive front looks rather inexperienced. Koetter's quirky 4-2-5 defense struggled last year as players learned the new system, and although another year in the system will help, it will likely be another year before the system is in full swing. Of particular concern is the safety position for the Sun Devils, as the 4-2-5 scheme depends heavily on safeties to make plays—and the safety group at ASU this year is deep and talented, but young and largely inexperienced. Senior Alfred Williams returns, but look for sophomore Jason Shivers, who led the team in tackles last year as a true freshman and garnered Freshman All America accolades from the Sporting News, to star.
Inexperience is going to cost the Devils in the most ambitious campaign I can ever remember the Sun Devils embarking upon. Starting with the baptism by fire at Lincoln, Nebraska, against the Cornhuskers for the BCA classic and ending with a wicked 3 of their final 4 games on the road, the Sun Devils' brutal schedule will likely contribute to their ranking as much as any other factor.
|#7 UCLA Bruins|
Bob Toledo, welcome to your farewell tour.
Gone is inconsistent, troubled, but ridiculously talented RB DeShaun Foster, which means also gone is your leading scapegoat for your lack of success if you are the head coach of the UCLA Bruins.
Gone are receivers Brian Poli-Dixon and Jon Dubravac, and TE Bryan Fletcher, and now it appears that the Bruins are stuck with Cory Paus, as capable backups Scott McEwan has graduated at Ryan McCann has transferred to the UT-Chattenooga. Whoops, Bruin fans should be saying to themselves, as McCann was the best of the trio. Paus has been solid at times, but mostly erratic and worst of all, injury-prone, a key factor in the Bruins' habitual underachieving..
Key offensive line players Bryce Bohlander and Mike Saffer return, and although center Troy Danoff is gone, the OL should again be solid at UCLA. Standout WR Tab Perry figures large into the Bruins plans for 2002, and I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see the prize of this year's recruiting class, TE Marcedes Lewis get some PT this year. At RB, figure Manuel White to carry the load, although junior Akil Harris will certainly be in the mix.
On defense, the front seven will be an area of concern for the Bruins with the departure of the monstrous Kenyon Coleman at DE, DT Anthony Fletcher, WLB Ryan Nece and of course MLB Robert Thomas. The secondary returns one of the best CB's in Ricky Manning Jr, and across from him is Matt Ware who made a big impact in his first year as a starter last year. The pass rushing duties will likely belong to twin brothers and juniors Dave and Mat Ball, at DE. In all, the Bruins return just 5 starters on defense from last year, which will certainly translate to some losses.
This Bruin team's success (and most likely Bob Toledo's job) really rests on the play of Cory Paus, though.
Hope Bob's got his resume updated.
Next up: OrangeAttack's fourth, fifth, and sixth picks for the Pac 10.
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