I can’t remember a time when the conference was as wide open as it is this year with seven teams legitimately competing for the championship. Some people have UCLA as a dark horse, but their offensive line has been decimated in the off-season from players leaving for missions, injuries, and now academic ineligibility.
I’m tired of ESPN plugging the SEC as the top conference in the country just because they signed a $2.0 billion deal to cover their games. That conference is always top heavy with a couple teams that can beat anyone, but they also have six bottom feeders that would be average in any BCS conference. I don’t think Florida or Alabama could go undefeated against the top 7 in the Pac-10, but both of them somehow came out of the SEC unscathed until the conference championship. If I was betting on these Pac-10 teams to win the conference championship it would be due to the reasons mentioned below.
- Darron Thomas will be a household name by the end of the year, but not because he’s being mentioned on the police blotter like a former Ducks QB. Oregon fans will tell you about how awesome he was in the spring game and that he’s a more accurate passer than Masoli. He will also be playing behind a talented offensive line and a stronger LaMichael James. If he’s anything near Dennis Dixon 2.0 then the Ducks could repeat as conference champion.
- This team has all of the pieces in place, but the one thing that will make them a contender for the championship is the bump in production that typically happens to Pac-10 quarterbacks. Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer, Kyle Boller, Derek Anderson and Sean Canfield all know what it’s like to trod with mediocrity for three years only to see things slow down like Neo in the Matrix during their senior season. Kevin Riley is capable with the weapons he has at his disposal which could push the Bears over the top.
- The Beavers have as much firepower as any team in the conference, but this year they will combine that with increased production in the trenches. Last year’s team ranked 8th in the conference in sacks allowed and the defense ranked 9th in sacks. Ryan Katz will have a much smoother transition with a more experienced offensive line and defensively the new linebackers will be looking for Stephen Paea to create gaps for them by taking on double teams.
- This team is replacing their defensive coordinator, both starting defensive tackles and their entire linebacking corps, but their defensive ends (Brooks Reed & Ricky Elmore) will be the best pass-rushing tandem in the conference. Combined with the fact that they have one of the best secondaries in the conference, they’ll have a solid defense to match their powerful offense.
- There’s been coaching turnover, players transferring, and the distractions of Reggie Bushgate, but USC still has the talent to contend for the Pac-10 championship. The best USC teams of the decade had monsters on the defensive line that could get to the quarterback with a four man rush which allowed the linebackers and secondary to create turnovers. Jurrell Casey is one of the top defensive tackles in the country and Armond Armstead has shown big upside at defensive end.
- Kirk Hirbstreit already put the dreaded curse on Stanford by predicting that they will win the Pac-10 championship, but Jim Harbaugh wants to know what his deal is for adding pressure to an under the radar Stanford team? They have the best quarterback in the Pac-10, but for them to compete for the Rose Bowl it will be because of their currently underrated stable of running backs Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal offensive line proved that they’re one of the best in the conference, but even moderate production from the ground game will allow Andrew Luck to do whatever he wants through the air.
- The Huskies have the most balanced offense in the Pac-10, but if they’re going to compete for the championship it will be due to a scrappy defense that creates turnovers. Nick Holt has seven returning starters which should translate into a better understanding of his schemes. With two all-conference calibur players in cornerback Desmond Trufant and linebacker Mason Foster, I’m anticipating a much more aggressive campaign from the Huskies.