2003 Pac-10 Preview, I

IT WENT like this: The Senior Editor asked if I wanted to pen the annual Pac-10 preview. I leapt at the chance… pretty sure I heard him laughing. After realizing what this assignment entails, I understood why. But I also had a plan.

I sought the council of noted gambler Cornbread Rick, the greatest money coach of all time - but he wouldn't return my calls.  I concluded he was less than forthcoming.  I consulted some preseason rags; they actually give ‘rags' a bad name.  And I ran the CF.C servers & computers 24/7, pouring over terabytes of data.


Clearly, its one of the more difficult topics I've taken on to date.  Still, I wasn't worried. 


Because I have complete and unfettered access to one of the most brilliant, innovative and perspicacious minds of our time.  An individual so fearless, so ingenious, so imaginary, he's been lionized the world over in song, word, deed and Claymation sculpture. 


That's right, baby: My imaginary friend, Jimmy. 


Oh, we could give you the standard preview: All the favorites snugly tucked away right where the "experts" slotted them. We could give you the simplistic tripe you've already read.  We could.   But we won't. 


Jimmy and me, we mean to go out on an imaginary limb with a few teams.  We're not going overboard, but we're not picking the favorites simply because some hack did.


Its go time.  Lets do it.


No. 10: ARIZONA  (2-10, 1-7)

Last season's mutiny is still reverberating in Tucson.  But what is almost certain to improve is the anemic running game.  Mike Bell and Clarence Farmer are battling for playing time at TB.  QB is unsettled; lefty Nic Costa holds a slight edge over Ryan O'Hara.  Injuries and academics have decimated depth on the O-line.  WR Lance Relford will be counted upon to lead a young receiving corps.


Defensively, the switch to a 3-4 means growing pains; who starts & even what position many will play is in doubt.  CB Michael Jolivette is the top cover man.  Joe Siofele heads the LB crew.  Both the new JC talent and the veterans need time they don't have to master the subtleties of the new scheme.  On the job training at ‘Zona, and its going to be rough.


Schedule: Brutal non-conference slate includes LSU, Purdue and TCU.  Arizona ends with two of three at home, all three in state, but by then the losses will have already piled up.


Player to Watch: RB Clarence Farmer.  Lightning rod returns from knee injury looking to reclaim starting role.  Farmer continues to voice undisguised animosity towards Mackovic - stay tuned.


The Jimmy Notes: Jimmy wonders if Mackovic will continue to damage the legacy of a 34-year coaching career.  Year three of "Rebuild, What else?" includes the coaching staff; more than half the assistants are new.  Jimmy thinks Jimbo Livengood should get Rick Dickson as a consultant - complete his little Algonquin roundtable.  Jimmy's Doppler is picking up rain in the desert.  Pouring rain. 


No. 9 STANFORD  (2-9, 1-7)

Playing 11 games means fewer losses for The Cardinal this year!  One returning starter on offense could actually be good news down on The Farm.  RB Kenneth Tolan must produce or J.R. Lemon may be ready.  Signal caller Chris Lewis returns from injury but Kyle Matter may claim the starter's role.  Whoever it is better be fleet of foot; the OL needs time to gel.


The defense has some talent but needs seasoning.  The line (and D in general) should improve from playing so many underclassmen last year.  DE Amon Gordon continues to develop; he has all the tools.  Solid Oshiomogho Atogwe moves to FS, but holes in the secondary will be exploited.  Linebacker is the strength with skill across the board.  But Michael Craven and crew shine next year, not in ‘03.   


Schedule:  Trial by fire out of the Pac-10 gate with road tests at UW, USC.  Doesn't get easier, the only school they miss is Arizona.  OOC opponents include Notre Dame & BYU. 


PTW: LT Kirk Chambers.  Lone returning starter on Offense must help four new faces on the line by playing out of his mind.


The Jimmy Notes:  Jimmy sees a team reminiscent of the 2000 Cougs.  Lots of losses, but right there at the end of several games.  Jimmy thinks the D is improved after gaining experience last season.  How good a coaching job Buddy Teevens does determines if Jimmy's fully convinced of the big Stanford turnaround in ‘04.  Jimmy's not sold on Teevens, not sure he likes the cut of his jib.


No. 8 OREGON  (5-7, 2-6)

Two pretty good lines; and their talents look to be wasted.  No running back has distinguished himself - LSU transfer Chris Vincent is the frontrunner.  Serious questions at QB with Jason Fife (pictured)trying to hold off Kellen Clemens.  Good bets to start at WR and TE out for the year.  Wideout Kellen Taylor or someone else must step up; prevent teams from doubling star Samie Parker.  K Jared Siegel is among the nation's best.


Oregon ranked No. 6 in league in RYA, but don't blame the D-Line.  Igor Olshansky, Haloti Ngata and crew aren't just good; they're damn good.  Depth is a concern, however.  A new DB coach, scheme and infusion of new players in the secondary; early results have not been encouraging.  Kevin Mitchell is a monster LB but other two backers are green. 


Schedule: Lesser OOC competition abruptly ends when Michigan visits Autzen in Week 4.  Oregon plays UW, ASU and UCLA on the road.  Good news, though: They miss USC this year.


The Jimmy Notes:  Jimmy knows its seemingly madness a Bellotti-coached team falls this far.  That said.. Welcome to hell, Duck fans.  Jimmy sees starter at QB named by default.. Offense will have difficulty consistently moving the ball.. Secondary continues to get lit up.  And a talented line again wears down.  Running game has looked worse than expected in Camp.  Double TE sets are missing the bodies.  Jimmy says the Ducks don't wait as long to begin the flameout in ‘03.  Jimmy wonders why they didn't scour the police blotter for help on offense.


No. 7 CALIFORNIA  (5-8, 3-5)

The Golden Bears will be hard pressed to repeat the magic of last season.  Senior TB Adimchinobe Echemandu returns from injury and has looked sharp.  Aaron Rodgers is one of ten JC transfers cramming to learn the new system and looks to start at QB.  WR The strength here, the line, tries to seamlessly fold in two new starters - and be as good as they look on paper.


On D, the philosophy is to give multiple looks, aggressively attack.  Players like JC transfer Joe Maningo will be turned loose at linebacker.  Redshirt freshman Tim Mixon has emerged as a shutdown Cornerback.  But the D returns only two starters - major concerns in the secondary, at LB and on the line are for real (especially at DE).


Schedule:  Vicious non-conference schedule but they miss WSU; get some tough foes at home.  Very young team but will field several former JC players…intriguing.


PTW: OL Mike Wilson.  He'll need to provide exceptional run blocking if Cal has any shot at back-to-back winning seasons.


The Jimmy Notes:  On paper, no way this team posts a .500 record let alone wins 5 games.  Of major interest to Jimmy: Cal's special teams were huge last year - new personnel steps in across the board.  Still, Jimmy sees Jeff Tedford having the JCT's and frosh playing above their heads.  Key for Cal is how resilient they are after concluding the non-conference slate.  And Jimmy was impressed by Tedford his first year.  So much so, Jimmy's Media Guide even mentions him this season.


COMING TOMORROW: Part II of the Pac-10 Preview

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