It's getting crazy. Things are at a feverish pitch, and while I thought that
last week's games would sate my unnatural desire to witness some football, it's
done nothing more than whet my appetite. I can't think of much else right now,
I even woke myself up in the middle of the night shouting OOOOOO SSSSSS UUUU
OK, I made that last part up. But you get the picture. Let's get to the preview, shall we??
#3 Oregon State Beavers
Yeah, yeah, yeah Beavs. Sacrilege, I know. I should be a homer and pick us to finish first in the Pac 10, what kind of fan am I, anyway??
Let's call it journalistic integrity. No, no. We all know better than that, OA doesn't give a damn whether anyone else thinks he has integrity or not. Gordo told me that I was the worst admin ever and that all the other kids laughed and called me names and made jokes about me behind my back. Let me tell you, I lost a lot of sleep over that one. Well, if I wasn't such an arrogant, stubborn SOB I would have!
The truth is, it has more to do with rational thought. I took a hard look at the Beavs and a hard look at the rest of the conference and I figured that we would probably finish 3rd. Not that winning is out of the question, with a few good bounces and some BEAVER KARMA all things are possible. Well, all things except the damn ducks winning the conference or a share of it for the third year in a row.
But I digress.
Enter year 4 of the Dennis Erickson era. Where are all those Mensa members that insisted Erickson would never last more than 2 years in Cornvalley now? Where are all the Rhodes Scholars who insisted that Erickson would have us on probation by now?
Gone, along with the record-breaking little engines that could, Ken Simonton and Jonathon Smith. We'll miss you, guys. But the beat goes on.
15 starters return to the 2002 incarnation of the Black Bandits from Benton County and a renewed sense of focus and determination can be felt in the air in sleepy Corvallis.
The stage is set. The non-conference slate is set for some nice momentum with a 4-0 start, and heavyweights Washington State aren't on the conference menu this year… and the ducks come to visit rowdy Reser Stadium this November. The minefields lie only in the Coliseum and Husky Stadium this year, as a 10-2 season is well within reach.
Offensively the Beavs return 7 starters, replacing Chris Gibson and Vince Sandoval on the OL and the aforementioned Smith and Simonton in the backfield. Jonathon Smith returns for at least another year… with whistle and clipboard in hand as he hands over the reins to sophomore star in the making Derek Anderson. 6-6 and 234 pounds, DA will provide a tower to rain footballs all across the land. Joining him in the backfield will be fearsome force Steven Jackson, a 230 pounder who can run over, around, and straight through defenses. To be quite honest, I don't know who to be more excited about.
James Newson has emerged as a premier receiver in the Pac 10 and figures to improve upon a 57 catch, 968 yard performance in 2001. Newson was a bright spot in a questionable receiver corps, and will need some help from Jayson Boyd to keep the double teams at bay.
Defensively the Beavers look downright fierce, with quite possibly one of the top 5 or 10 defenses in the nation. Senior CB Dennis Weathersby, Senior DT Eric Manning, and Junior MLB Richard Seigler lead 8 starters returning to the field for the 2002 campaign, likely improving a defense that ranked third in the Pac despite early difficulties. Weathersby may well be the best cover corner in the nation, and Seigler and Manning are undoubtedly in line for at the very least All Conference honors this year. This unit should absolutely strike fear into opposing OC's hearts.
There is potential for a lot of low scoring games for the Beavs as the offense works out the kinks and Anderson finds his groove.. there will likely be at least a couple serious pastings of a hapless opponent this year ala Washington in 2001 once things are up and rolling. In the unlikely event that OSU survives UW and USC there is a solid chance the Beavers will be dancing with roses come January.
#2 USC Trojans
Oh now I know what you're saying. You're thinking that OA is crazy, picking the habitually underachieving Trojans to come in second in the Pac. And you may be right. But OA made up his mind in the spring who was going to finish where, and if there's anything you have learned by now, it should be that OA is one stubborn sumbitch.
SC always looks good on paper. Perennially in the top 25 at the start of the year, habitually out of the top 25 at the end, the Boys from Troy have scored a losing record in conference play over the last four years, and haven't had an all league tailback since the 80's. Tailback U? More like Tailback WHO.
Expect things to change this year, you heard it here first.
The Pete Carroll administration comes back with the potential for a stellar sophomore performance. Say what you like about the Trojans, but Carroll put together a formidable defense last year in his first season, ranking first in the Pac 10. That's a pretty good start for the Poodle. But what I really like about USC is their offensive coordinator, Norm Chow.
I've never made any bones about it, I'm a Norm Chow fan. He put together outstanding, high powered offenses at BYU over the last decade or so, and just when the doubters began to decry Norm's ability he showed up for a brief stint at NC State. There he turned the Wolfpack into a TD machine behind the arm of a freshman Philip Rivers, and silenced his critics. The rumblings began again last year (unbelievably, considering that USC was relying on a freaking FULLBACK to carry the ball because they ran out of TB's), but will again be silenced. Believe it, folks: Chow is the real deal. His success with QB's is legendary, and my guess is that two years with Carson will do that young man a world of good.
Well, maybe. The Trojans return a formidable number of starters at 15, a whopping 10 of them on offense. Sultan McCullough returns this year after being sidelined with a game crippling abdominal injury last year, along with perhaps the most over-hyped player in the conference, Carson Palmer. Carson apparently isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but you have to respect the young man's abilities athletically. He can run, as any Beaver fan who watched in astonishment as he chased down Terrence Carroll from behind in 2000 or watched in anguish as he shook Terrell Roberts out of his shorts in 2001 can readily attest. Palmer threw for a touch over 2700 yards last year, racking up 13 TD's. Also worthy of note is that he threw 12 picks, but when taken in context with the lack of any kind of running game, I can't blame him much.
Add in Justin Fargas to the mix to ta