Well, folks. I submitted my Pac-10 predictions to the conference office. The media preseason poll will be announced at Pac-10 media day on July 26. I thought I would share my picks with you, and you can proceed to rip them all you want. Here goes:
1. USC. Not much to go over here. Some think this might be the best Trojans team ever. On paper, it certainly looks as though they are deeper than ever before at so many positions. The only good news for their opponents is they can only play 11 of them at one time.
2. Cal. The Bears have questions about their defense, but they’ve had questions before and come through. If Cal can get respectable defensive play, its offense should be good enough to carry them to an elite level. The season-opener against Tennessee may go a long way toward setting the tone for what kind of season this may be.
3. UCLA. The Bruins are getting a lot of love from the prognosticators because they have 20 starters returning. But experience doesn’t always guarantee success. Let’s not forget that UCLA was only 7-6 last season and was beaten handily by Florida State in the Emerald Bowl. Still, they won three of their last four, including an upset of USC that knocked the Trojans out of the national championship picture. The big question for UCLA: Can its offense catch up to its defense?
4. Oregon State. It seems many tend to forget the Beavers finished last season ranked No. 21 in the final AP top 25. They have 18 starters returning to a team that went 8-1 during its final nine games. Unfortunately, one of those starters is not the quarterback. If likely starter Sean Canfield can produce, it should be another good season in Corvallis.
5. Arizona State. This is where things get a bit dicey. Arizona State and Oregon appear to be the next two best teams, and the Sun Devils get the edge, partly because of their schedule. Arizona St. gets USC and Cal at home and one of its road games is at Stanford. The Sun Devils also begin the season with four straight home games, which should do wonders for their confidence.
6. Oregon. Big things were expected of the Ducks last season but they disappointed with a 7-6 record, including four losses in a row to end the season. Oregon still has offensive firepower with quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart. An early nonconference showdown at Michigan will be a stern test.
7. Arizona. Coach Mike Stoops may start feeling the heat if the Wildcats don’t break through in his fourth year. Arizona had an impressive defense last season and Stoops brought in spread offense guru Sonny Dykes as offensive coordinator. If Arizona doesn’t get much out of talented quarterback Willie Tuitama, Stoops may be out of a job.
8. Washington. Even though they had a six-game losing streak before beating Washington State in their season-finale, the Huskies showed signs last year that they are starting to turn the corner. Two of their losses during the streak — at Cal and against Arizona State — came in overtime. They also lost a close game at UCLA. Washington has talent, including new quarterback Jake Locker, who could become a star if he gets any help.
9. Washington State. Trivia question: Who ranks second among the country’s active quarterbacks in touchdown passes? That’s right, WSU’s Alex Brink with 50. The four-year starter has been a pretty good kept secret in Pullman. Unfortunately, for him, he won’t have playmaker Jason Hill around anymore. Hill was drafted in the third round by the 49ers.
10. Stanford. New coach Jim Harbaugh talks a good game. It doesn’t appear the Cardinal has the ammunition to back him up. Harbaugh has a huge task ahead of him, and he will have to prove he can succesfully recruit to Stanford before any judgement is passed. For now, only a minor improvement from last year’s 1-11 record can be expected.