Pacific 10 Conference Preview
Today starts the previews of the big five conferences. I chose the Pac-10 as number five not because it is the fifth strongest league. The top five conferences this year should be extremely close in strength, so picking the strongest league before one game has been played is just ridiculous.
I lead off with the Pac-10 strictly as preference. And here's why.
The Pac-10 will be the most experienced league in the nation this year, as most teams have large majorities of returning lettermen and starters. Of the 44 players comprising last year's two-deep All-Pac-10 selections, 31 of them will be back for action in 2005. Last year's weakest team, Washington, has 19 starters returning.
The Pac-10 now has seven bowl guarantees, and my ratings say there will be seven bowl-eligible teams. No other conference has a 70% bowl participation guarantee.
The Pac-10 media, in their official preseason poll, selected
My ratings show
On paper, Coach Pete
Carroll's Trojans are more talented than the last two editions. That's scary!
A possible sign of concern is that several assistant coaches have
departed, including offensive coordinator Norm Chow to the Tennessee Titans and
defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to Ole Miss. The ratings say USC will go 12-0 once again,
but road games at
The Trojan offense returns eight starters and numerous backups who could start on other bowl-eligible teams. Five players have been named to the Maxwell Award watch list.
It all starts at
quarterback, and USC merely returns the Heisman
Trophy winner. Matt Leinart
projects to be the first player chosen in the 2006 NFL draft. His 2004 numbers were awesome: 65.3%
completions, 3,322 yards, 33 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. It will be difficult to surpass those
numbers, but even coming close will be enough to be invited back to
Thunder and Lightning rained down upon Trojan opponents last year, and the storm returns intact this year. Tailbacks LenDale White and Reggie Bush could both join Leinart on the December flight to the Downtown Athletic Club. The top tailback duo since Eric Dickerson and Craig James played at SMU and possibly since Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard played at Army, the two backs combined for 2,011 yards and 21 TDs rushing. White is a better pure runner, while Bush is a weapon coming out of the backfield on passing routes. Leinart spotted him 43 times last year, and Bush totaled 509 yards with seven scores. Bush scored two more times (giving him a grand total of 15) on punt returns.
The receiving corps has two potential All-Americans in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. They teamed for 97 receptions, 1,509 yards, and 19 touchdowns in 2004, despite Smith missing five games with a broken leg. Jarrett ascended to the starting lineup when Mike Williams was officially ruled ineligible and promptly hauled in 13 passes for touchdowns as a freshman. Williams wasn't missed. Tight end Dominique Byrd is a tough blocker and reliable pass catcher who can go across the middle and destroy a zone.
The offensive line returns four starters from a unit that opened holes good enough for 4.7 yards per rush and surrendered just 25 sacks in 518 pass plays. The fifth spot will be manned by Winston Justice, who started in 2002 and 2003 before missing last year due to suspension. He'll join center Ryan Kalil, guards Fred Matua and Taitusi Lutui, and tackle Sam Baker. All five of these guys will receive NFL paychecks after they finish their collegiate careers.
The Trojan defense loses six starters from a unit that finished in the top 10 in every statistical category. There are some big holes to plug. Gone from the "Wild Bunch II" interior line are 1st team All-Americans Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. Both starting ends return in Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson. They combined for 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
Dallas Sartz is the only returning starter at linebacker. Last year, Sartz recorded 48 tackles and broke up six passes. Joining him will be Oscar Lua and Keith Rivers.
The secondary returns two starters. The leader of this group is vicious-hitter Darnell Bing. Bing registered 63 tackles with eight for losses and broke up seven passes in 2004. Justin Wyatt returns to man one of the cornerback spots. Wyatt had five tackles behind the line and broke up seven passes last year.
If that weren't enough, USC has the best punter in the Pac-10. Tom Malone nailed 49 punts with a 43.8 yard average and 38.5 net average.
Head coach Dirk Koetter's Sun Devils won nine games last year including an
exciting Sun Bowl victory over Purdue.
In four seasons in
Eight starters and all 11 second-team players return to an offense that scored 30 points and produced 435 yards per game in 2004. One of those three player missing is career passing leader Andrew Walter. Sam Keller replaces Walter, and he could be even better. Filling in for the injured Walter in the Sun Bowl, Keller easily won the game's MVP honors by completing 25 passes in 45 attempts for 370 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against a tough Purdue defense. Included in that game was the game-winning hurry up drive that went 80 yards in just 30 seconds. The Sun Devils have another Jake Plummer in the making.
If that wasn't enough,
Running back appears to
be the only possible question mark this year.
Rudy Burgess takes over as starter after rushing for 404 yards at a 5.2
average. He moved from wide receiver to
back, so he should be an excellent option out of the backfield when
The offensive line returns a talented and deep group. Center Grayling Love is receiving publicity as a possible All-American after making the 1st team All-Pac-10 squad last year. He can play all five interior line positions, which should make him a coveted NFL prospect. Guards Stephen Berg and Zach Krula join tackles Andrew Carnahan and Brandon Rodd.
How well the five replacements perform on defense will determine whether ASU can compete for a Top 10 ranking. Each unit on the stop side needs a new starter to contribute in order to match last season's averages of 24.5 points and 359 yards allowed per game.
The strength of the defense is definitely at linebacker. Dale "Manimal" Robinson and Jamar Williams will vie for All-Pac-10 honors this year after combining for 174 stops (14 of those for losses), 6.5 sacks, and four interceptions. Robert James is the new starter on the weak side.
The secondary has a chance to be better than last year. R.J. Oliver was granted a medical red shirt and returns for his sixth year after missing most of 2003 and all of 2004. If he approaches 2002 form, he will be The Sun Devils shut-down corner. Free safety Emmanuel Franklin broke up seven passes and picked off four more.
Coach Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears return the fewest starters in the
conference this year with just eight.
USC has the next fewest at 13. Tedford has the talent level to the point that they will
just reload in
Like Bruce Snyder has
done in the past at
Replacing Aaron Rodgers at quarterback is a tall task. Rodgers completed 66.1% of his passes with a TD/INT ratio of 24/8. Rodgers was a JUCO who made an instant impact. Tedford hopes history repeats itself with the new QB. Joseph Ayoob was the nation's top junior college quarterback last year. He threw 35 touchdown passes last year.
How does a team replace
a 2,000-yard rusher who averaged seven yards per carry. They do it with someone who averaged nine
yards per carry. Marshawn
Lynch takes over for J. J. Arrington.
Lynch scored eight rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns last
year. He is a breakaway threat any time
he gets his hands on the ball, as his superior ability to cut on a dime makes
it tough to bring him down in the open field.
You can bet Tedford will throw the ball more into the middle of the
field to put extra pressure on opposing secondaries who stay outside conscious trying to contain Lynch. LaVelle Hawkins
has 4.4 speed and great hands. More
importantly, he was Ayoob's top receiver at City
College of San Francisco, averaging 23 yards per catch. True freshman DeSean
Jackson should start from day one. The
Southern California Player of the Year, he was also named the MVP of the U.S.
Army All-American Bowl. Tedford stated that
The offensive line returns several quality blockers. Center Marvin Philip and tackle Ryan O'Callaghan will compete for All-American accolades. Guard Aaron Merz and tackle Andrew Cameron could make the All-Pac-10 team.
Don't expect 37 points
and 493 total yards per game this year, but
The defense returns just
three starters, but three others have considerable starting experience. The
All three regular linebackers departed. Ryan Foltz has past starting experience. He will be joined by two more outstanding JUCOs. Desmond Bishop and Mickey Pimentel are explosive, hard-hitting players who can blitz and get to the quarterback, pursue the run, and play pass defense. The level of athleticism increases in this unit.
The defensive line loses the Pac-10 sack leader in Ryan Riddle, who tallied 14.5. Tackle Brandon Mebane is the team's best run defender. Former starting end Tosh Lupoi returns after missing a year due to a broken foot.
4. U C L A PiRate: 111 HFA: 4
The Bruins have been victims of bad luck the last few years, as they continually suffer key injuries, frequently to their starting quarterback.
Coach Karl Dorrell must be thinking about buying a rabbit's foot warehouse this year, as he starts the season with a quarterback who had major knee surgery last year and missed all of spring practice. Trying to top last year's 30 points and 410 yards per game will be tough if the injury bug bites yet again.
Drew Olson looked like an All-American at times last year. He threw for 2,565 yards and 20 touchdowns. If his knee prevents him from playing at times, former Vanderbilt scout team player David Koral and redshirt freshman Ben Olson will battle it out for 2nd team. Koral played two and a half quarters of the Las Vegas Bowl, completing seven of 12 passes for 89 yards and two scores.
Whoever ends up under
center will have a couple of experienced receivers on the other end of those
passes. Junior Taylor caught 32 passes
for 463 yards. He can be a threat on the
reverse, as he has a 49-yard touchdown run in his career. Joe Cowan started two games last year, with
one of them coming against
UCLA has one of the better running backs in the league in Maurice Drew. Last year, Drew rushed for 1,007 yards at a 6.3 average. He missed three games, so he could have run for 1,300 or more yards. He also caught 18 passes. Blocking for him will be fullback Michael Pitre, who can also catch passes out of the backfield.
The offensive line isn't comparable to USC or Cal, but it is better than everyone else's in the league. All five starters this year started at least five games. Center Mike McCloskey earned 2nd team All-Pac-10 last year. Guards Shannon Tevaga and Robert Cleary join tackles Ed Blanton and Chris Joseph. These five linemen are taller than UCLA's 1964 basketball starting lineup.
The Bruin's young defense was the team's downfall in 2004, as they surrendered 26 points and 430+ yards per game (200+ rushing and passing). Eight starters return, so there should be some improvement.
The linebackers return intact from a year ago. Spencer Havner led the team (and the Pac-10) with 125 tackles. Eight of those went for losses. He should be a first round pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Wesley Walker and Justin London combined for 114 tackles with nine for losses.
The secondary has several players with game experience. Safety Jarrard Page finished with 79 tackles, three interceptions, and seven passes broken up. If he recovers from off-season foot surgery, Chris Horton should continue to be a big playmaker. He blocked two punts last year. Rodney Van and Michael Norris are average cornerbacks. Marcus Cassel gives the Bruins another option.
UCLA has a couple of stars on its special teams. Kicker Justin Medlock was good on 15 of 20 field goal attempts including three from 50 yards or more. Tailback Drew returned 10 punts for a 15.2 average and a touchdown.
The Ducks' 10-year string of winning record came to an end last year, as Coach Mike Belotti's troops lost three close games and finished 5-6. Changes have been made this year to try to fix what was wrong. Former BYU coach Gary Crowton comes in as the new offensive coordinator. He will open up the offense with the spread attack. Defensively, the Ducks will apply pressure more this season, as they concentrated on being a contain team last year.
The offense scored 282
points in 11 games (same amount they gave up) in 2004. Senior quarterback Kellen
Clemens will see his numbers improve this year in the new offense. Last season, he completed 60% of his passes
for better than 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns. In the recent past, whenever
Wide receiver Demetrius Williams struggled through an injury-plagued season but still managed to nab 47
passes for 593 yards. A healthy Williams
can top1,000 yards.
James Finley was the top junior college wide out last year, averaging
over 100 yards per game. Brian Paysinger and Cameron Colvin will see a good deal of action
this year. With the fullback spot going by the wayside, last year's starter
Dante Rosario moved to H-back.
The offensive line is the Ducks' question mark. Only two starters return this year. Center Enoka Lewis and guard Ian Reynoso will welcome guard Palauni Ma Sun (6-05/365) and tackles Geoff Schwartz and Max Unger.
The strength of the Duck defense is in the back line. Every starter in the 4-2-5 alignment secondary returns. Cornerback Aaron Gipson is the best cover defender on the team. Last year, he intercepted four passes and broke up five more. Justin Phinisee starts at the rover after breaking up six passes in 2004. Safety J.D. Nelson is the leading returning tackler with 66; he broke up four passes. Anthony Trucks recorded 6.5 sacks last year from his linebacker position. His position title changes to strong safety, even though his assignments will be the same.
The other two linebacker spots will see new starters this year. Walk-on Brent Haberly earned the middle linebacker spot, while A. J. Tuitele mans the outside spot.
The defensive line has one bona fide star in tackle Haloti Ngata. He faced double and triple team blocks much of last year and still managed to get to the quarterback four times and stop five runners for losses. End Devan long led the team with 7.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss.
The Ducks have a favorable schedule this year. If they can pull off the big upset when USC visits Autzen Stadium on September 24, the Ducks could parlay that into a piece of the conference title. It adds up to eight or nine wins and a return to a bowl.
There is good and bad news for Coach Mike Riley's 2005 Beavers. OSU has some excellent players on both sides of the ball, but they have major depth issues. If the team stays healthy, State can enjoy another winning season. If enough players miss action, the record could drop below .500.
Matt Moore has started five games in the Pac-10, but none of those were here. He transferred from UCLA and begins the season as the OSU starter. Ryan Gunderson backs him up after completing seven passes last year backing up Derek Anderson.
The receiving corps is a team strength.
Tight end Joe Newton finds himself in the same boat with
The Beavers had trouble running the ball last year, averaging only 71 yards per game. Even factoring out QB sacks, OSU managed only 1,000 yards rushing in 12 games. Yvenson Bernard stands only 5-08, but at 207 pounds, he is built like a bulldozer.
The offensive line returns three seasoned vets in guards Roy Schuening and Josh Linehan and tackle Adam Koets. Schuening has All-Pac-10 potential.
Middle linebacker Trent Bray leads the Beaver stop troops. Last year, he led the team with 122 tackles with five for losses. He added three sacks as well. Keith Ellison joins him at linebacker after recording seven tackles for loss and seven passes broken up. Derrick Doggett is the new starter at the weak side position.
The defensive line returns three starters from a year ago, but the one lost was star pass rusher Bill Swancutt. Does a modern day knight start at tackle? Sir Henry Anderson may not have felt the tap from a king or queen, but he can put a hurt on enemy ball carriers.
Strong safety Sabby Piscitelli nabbed five interceptions and had eight passes broken up last year. He leads a rebuilt secondary. OSU surrendered less than 200 yards through the air and led the league by allowing only 43.9% of enemy passes to be completed. Those stats won't be approached this year.
After winning 10 games for three straight seasons, the bottom fell out on the Cougars last year, as they fell to 5-6. They lost two close games, but they won four close games, so the record could have been anywhere between 1-10 and 7-4. The offense suffered, losing five points from its average of 2003, but it was the collapse of the "Killer D" defense which led to the downfall. WSU gave up 28 points per game after yielding just 20 the year before. Enemy runners gained more than 40 extra yards, while opposing quarterbacks completed more than 55% of their passes compared to 48% in 2003.
Don't look for a return
to 10 wins this season, but
Running back Jerome Harrison returns after running for 900 yards in 2004 at a 5.2 average. In the final three games against UCLA,
All the key contributors
return to the receiving corps. Jason Hill won't get the press that other Pac-10 deep threat receivers get, but he
averaged more yards per catch than any USC,
Three starters return to the offensive line in center Nick Mihlhauser, guard, Norvel Holmes, and tackle Bobby Byrd. Mihlhauser has pro potential.
Six starters will try to jump start the Cougar defense. The linebackers will bear the brunt of the load. Middle linebacker Will Derting led the Killer D's with 93 tackles, eight for loss. He played half the season with a broken wrist. Scott Davis finished second in tackles with 86 with five for losses. The third linebacker, Steve Dildine, is a former BMX racer. He played just one year of high school football.
The Cougar front four returns three full-time starters and one part-time starter. Mkristo Bruce and Adam Braidwood combined for 13 tackles for loss from their end positions. Aaron Johnson tips the scales at over 300 pounds. He teams with Ropati Pitoitua at the tackle position.
Only one starter returns in the depleted secondary. Cornerback Alex Teems broke up seven passes last year to go with 47 tackles. Wally Dada will start at the other cornerback spot. He started against UCLA last year, making four tackles and knocking down two passes.
The Tyrone Willingham
era begins in
The offense averaged
only 14 points and 311 yards per game last year. This year, 10 starters return. Quarterback Isaiah Stanback
was one of three signal callers to see action.
Casey Paus and Carl Bonnell
played as well. Willingham has not
announced which one will start (as of this writing), and
Regardless of whom starts under center, he will have a full stable of receivers at his disposal. Wide out Craig Chambers led UW with 408 yards on only 19 receptions, good for 21.5 yards per catch. Sonny Shackleford led the team with just 21 receptions for 298 yards. Corey Williams began the season as UW's best wide out before fracturing a wrist and missing the last seven games. The tight end position loses its most experienced player, as Joe Toledo moves to offensive tackle. Robert Lewis will be the new starter.
Willingham praised his running backs at the end of spring practice, calling them the top offensive unit. Kenny James rushed for 702 yards and scored five times last year. Fullback James Sims was the team's second leading rusher with only 212 yards.
Four of last year's
regular offensive linemen return as well as numerous backups who saw
action. Rob Meadow and Chad Macklin will
get help at tackle by the move of
The defense gave up 30.4 points last year. Nine starters return, including all of the front seven. Nose tackle Mike Mapuolesega missed almost half the season with an injury. Tackle Manase Hopoi led the Huskies with 13 tackles for loss and added nine sacks. Ends Greyson Gunheim and Brandon Ala combined for 34 tackles, but neither played the entire season. This unit has experience three-deep.
The linebackers carried the load last year. Evan Benjamin, Joseph Lobendahn, and Scott White finished 1-2-3 in tackles with 105, 100, and 83 respectively. The trio combined for 10.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss.
The secondary returns both starting safeties, but gone are the starting cornerbacks. C.J. Wallace and Dashon Goldson teamed at safety to bat away eight passes.
9. Stanford PiRate: 101 HFA: 4
Buddy Teevens went 10-23 in three years in
Harris eliminated the previous depth chart and started anew this past spring. As a result, the quarterback position remains unsettled at this writing. Trent Edwards and T. C. Ostrander split the snaps last year, and both of them return as does 2002 starter Kyle Matter. Edwards had the better stats, and he possesses fine running ability.
Leading rusher J. R. Lemon returns at running back. He rushed for 440 yards on 93 carries. David Marrero figures into the mix. Fullback Nick Frank will open holes for the duo. Harris is adding the position back to the main formation.
The one loss on the
offensive side is the other Alex Smith.
The tight end caught52 passes last year and was drafted by
Not only do the Cardinal return all five interior line starters, they return the entire 16-player roster of linemen. Last year's lineup featured Brian Head at center, Ismail Simpson and Josiah Vinson at guard, and Jon Cochran and Jeff Edwards at tackle.
The defense gave up a respectable 21 points per game last year. Only five starters return to this side of the ball, but several reserves had meaningful game experience.
Babatunde Oshinowo returns as nose tackle, and Julian Jenkins starts once again at end. These two combined for nine sacks last year.
The four-man line backing crew features Kevin Schimmelmann on the inside and Jon Alston on the outside. Alston led the Cardinal with 10 sacks.
Only safety Brandon Harrison returns to the secondary this year. This group will be quite young and exploitable. Stanford gave up 60% passing last year, so the opponents could have a field day against their secondary.
The Cardinal must play
Mike Stoops begins his
second year in
Richard Kovalcheck was that freshman quarterback. Last year, he completed only 47.6% of his passes for 1,039 yards and six touchdowns against seven interceptions. Adam Austin could eventually overtake Kovalcheck should those numbers not improve.
Syndric Steptoe returns at one wide out after leading the Wildcats last year with 30 receptions. True freshman Michael Thomas has impressed coaches this summer, and he could see considerable playing time as a deep threat. Mike Jefferson and B. J. Vickers should see a lot of playing time.
The Wildcats return a
running back who narrowly missed gaining 1,000 yards
last year. Mike Bell rushed for 950
yards. Gilbert Harris will be the number
two man. When
Three experienced interior linemen return this year. Center Kili Lefotu, guard John Abramo, and tackle Peter Graniello join newcomers Tanner Bell at tackle and Joe Longacre at guard.
Expect some better offensive number in 2005, as UA only scored 14.9 points per game while gaining just 289 total yards per game.
The defense has room for improvement after surrendering 25 points and 379 yards per game. The top three tacklers return, but unfortunately, they were members of the secondary. Safeties Lamon Means and Darrell Brooks teamed with cornerback Antoine Cason for 206 tackles five interceptions, and 20 passes broken up. Cornerback Wilrey Fontenot added four broken up passes.
The lone returnee at linebacker is Dane Krogstad. He recorded 48 tackles last year. Redshirt freshman Ronnie Palmer will get the nod at middle linebacker.
The defensive line returns two starters in tackle Paul Philipp and end Marcus Smith. Smith broke up eight passes while recording 41 tackles.
The Wildcats are still
at least another year away from contending for a winning record. For now, they have one guaranteed win against
If All Games Were Played September 1st
(in other words, these ratings are only good for the first week of the season)
(and predicted records may move a team up or down due to HFA)
Team Conf. Overall
U C L A 7-1 9-2
Oregon State 4-4 6-5
Stanford 1-7 3-8