Turning the Helmet

ZEUS TOOK A NAP three years ago, and his eyes are still sealed shut. Taking advantage of the top god's snooze, Apollo Pete, the divine champion of the Trojans, once again has the Pac-10 writers under his spell, the lord of the silver bow having persuaded them to fling all of their votes to his beloved Trojans in each of the last two pre-season polls. And he's arranged for USC to field NFL-caliber teams to ensure the writers don't look like chimpanzees throwing darts at a wall.

The previous 44 media polls have correctly picked the conference champion but 50 percent of the time. While awake, Zeus mostly preferred the neutrality of the free-for-all.

Apollo Pete's machinations go beyond polls. He is so good he's even convinced some college football writers USC has won three consecutive Pac-10 titles. That little quest by Jason (Gesser) and the Couganauts in 2002 didn't really count, did it? And that 30-27 overtime win over USC? Didn't happen. (I apologize if I sound like a Husky wallowing in the Jamesian Era.)

By all appearances, Zeus will snooze through this season while Apollo continues to pull strings of domination, an effort that should place USC in its back yard playing for the national title.

Sleep on.

AND SO THE OTHERS line up for the scraps. Forgetting that Jeff Tedford and Dirk Koetter do not play quarterback, the writers discount the fact that Cal and Arizona State have lost their field generals to the NFL. Yet the writers declare they'll retain upper division status -- Cal at No. 2, ASU at No. 3.

Sam Keller helped his team beat Purdue in the Sun Bowl, but he may look more like Yosemite Sam than Andrew Walter after facing LSU and USC in Weeks Two and Five. Oh, and did I mention Keller couldn't beat Arizona?

Cal is depending on a JC transfer and a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Yes, Marshawn Lynch looked like a world beater in a reserve role, but can he strap it on alone? Of course, I'm not counting the warm-up games against Sacramento State and Washington.

Then there's that vaunted Cal defense, the one Texas Tech's offense shredded in the Holiday Bowl. Except for losing some cash for the Pac-10, weren't we all glad the Rose Bowl passed up Cal for Texas after watching that? The good news for the Bears may be that they return only three starters on defense. But the Pac-10 writers must know Cal will be relying on two redshirt freshmen linebackers and a rebuilt defensive line.

In fairness -- yes, such a thing once existed in journalism -- a significant factor for both Cal and ASU is the return of strong offensive lines, and it's nearly a constant that games are won in the trenches. Even a blind chimp in a monsoon could find this nut. I did.

SNIFFING THE Bears' and Sun Devils' backsides are Oregon and UCLA, rounding out the coveted upper division which, to Cougar fans' dismay, doesn't include Washington State. Before I get to all things Crimson and Gray, I will boldly predict Oregon will finish second to USC. However, all bets are off should the Ducks stumble in their season openers against Houston and Montana.

The Ducks do return their quarterback, running back, solid offensive and defensive lines and a very good receiving corps -- TE Tim Day, WRs Demetrius Williams, Cameron Colvin and JC transfer James Finley. Throw in man-child Jonathan Stewart and a pair of monstrous JC offensive line transfers in Pat So'oalo (6-4, 340) and Palauni Ma Sun (6-5, 365) and the Ducks should win games by just grinding people to smithereens in the fourth quarter. Remember WSU's fourth quarter against Oregon last year?

At UCLA, Karl Dorrell, the Perry Como of Pac-10 coaches, appears to at least now be in the REM stage of recruiting for the Bruins' future. But the nightmarish reality for now is he returns Drew Olson with one good knee at quarterback, and another Olson as backup named Ben who hasn't clocked a down in three years following a Mormon mission and a redshirt season at BYU.

Karl also returns a SpongeBob-like defense that ranked dead last in the conference. The linebackers are the strength (cough) of a unit that gave up 433 yards a game. Will it be any better by sticking a 265-pound defensive end (Brigham Harwell) in at tackle? Small AND soft, to call to mind the words of the late, great Mr. Leon Bender, is no way to shut down opposing offenses.

THIS LEAVES US with WSU in sixth place, an improvement over last year's actual seventh-place finish. I'm willing to acknowledge the Cougs lost two offensive linemen to the NFL and return one of the worst defenses in recent Cougar history -- still sixth best in the Pac-10 last year, and that both quarterbacks hardly stood out last season.

Jerome Harrison may be "The Ghost" at running back, but WSU may need to bring in paranormal specialists to detect the presence of another Pac-10 running back on its roster should Harrison disappear because of injury. Reggie Bush or Adrian Peterson notwithstanding, depending on true freshmen, DeMaundray Woolridge and Dwight Tardy, is never a good thing -- another blind chimp discovery here.

The good news is the Cougs look more athletic on the offensive line, boasts two solid tight ends and will be much improved on defense, thanks to maturity and the arrival of new talent.

Sophomores Ropati Pitoitua and Aaron Johnson and junior Odell Howard bring 900 pounds to the tackle position. At 6-4, 300 pounds, JC transfer Bryan Tarkington may remind some of Tai Tupai, according to position coach Mike Walker. Havoc in the middle should improve pressure from the outside.

WSU's sacks and quarterback hurries plummeted last season. As a result, the back seven looked average at best for much of the year. The Cougs will count on senior Adam Braidwood and junior Mkristo Bruce to bring on the outside heat, a task potentially made easier by considerable depth at defensive end. Watch for redshirt freshman Jason Roberts, a Fresno, Calif., product who spurned most of the Pac-10 out of high school to go crimson.

The early season schedule also allows for newcomers like Michael Willis and Dewayne Patterson to learn the safety positions before conference play begins. Lorenzo Bursey will get a long look at corner and speculation abounds that projected starting safety Husain Abdullah may move to the island with Tyron Brackenridge sitting out to regain his eligibility.

But these are the kinds of what-ifs that Pac-10 football writers aren't inclined to dig up if it's not stacked high on a buffet table for them. Then again, if it's not USC, this isn't exactly food from the Gods, so swallow everything you read with a grain or two of salt.

Oh, I failed to acknowledge Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona and Washington. So will the bowl game committees at season's end.


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