Pac-10 Positive Outlook

30 08 2010

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.

Oregon

  • 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.

Cal

  • 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.

Oregon State

  • 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.

Arizona

  • 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.

USC

  • 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.

Stanford

  • 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 StewartTyler 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.

Washington

  • 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.

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Pac-12 Playoffs: Elite 8

25 06 2010

#5 Cal vs #12 WSU This one ended before it even started with the Washington State team showing up in their favorite World Cup soccer jerseys. Coach Paul Wolff of the Cougars was quoted before heading back into the tunnel “When we heard about the Pac-12 playoff, we thought that we would be playing soccer to celebrate the the World Cup.” The uniform change didn’t help their cause as the Bears built a 35-3 lead at halftime with Shane Vereen scoring 2TD runs of 21 and 35 yards and Kevin Riley displaying some accuracy by connecting on 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and a TD. Bears Roll On in this one 49-17.

#6 UW vs #11 Colorado Jake Locker kicked off his Heisman campaign in a big way and did a little bit of hazing of the new Pac-12 member in the process.  After Locker’s third TD in the game he turned over to the Colorado sideline and threw the ball at head coach Dan Hawkins. The Huskies were powerful on offense racking up 515 yards, but they gave up 425 to an average CU offense. Huskies rolled 38-14.

#7 Stanford vs # 10 Arizona St. This game looked more like an SEC low-scoring snooze fest than a Pac-12 shootout as the defenses dominated the game.  The Stanford offense really struggled with their new running backs failing to gain positive yardage on the ground until the third quarter. The Arizona St defense was aggressive with their blitzes and Andrew Luck couldn’t capitalize on his opportunities. Chris Owusu had Stanford’s only TD on a kickoff return, which wasn’t enough to overcome two Cardinal turnovers in their own redzone. Arizona St took advantage of the short field and took a 14-13 lead with 7 minutes to play and the defense didn’t allow another first down to finish up the game.

#8 Arizona vs #9 UCLA

Nick Foles and Juron Criner connected on 9 passes for 121 yards and a TD and the Wildcats ground game picked up 220 yards against UCLA’s rebuilding defense. Kevin Prince and the UCLA revolver offense were firing blanks all afternoon as the sophomore finished just 7 of 18 passing to go with 25 yards rushing. Coach Rick Neuheisel says they need more target practice. Arizona 27 – UCLA 13

Round two of the playoffs features so get your picks in.

#1 Oregon vs #8 Arizona – Who can forget the battle that these two had in the desert last year with Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli stealing this game like it was a Macbook Pro in a fraternity. Oregon overcame a 24-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to win this one in double OT. Arizona should be playing with passion in this game, but the Ducks are favored by 4.

#2 USC vs #10 ASU – USC is anxious to start its new era of Trojan football with Lane Kiffin leading the helm and he’s literally riding that white Trojan horse into the stadium to get the fans energized. USC is favored by 17.

#3 OSU vs #6 Washington – This one pairs two Heisman candidates in Jake Locker and Jacquizz Rodgers. Will it be Locker’s arm or Jacquizz’s legs that steal the show? Beavers are 3 point favorites.

#4 Utah vs #5 Cal – The Mormons and Hippies battle it out again in a rematch of the Poinsettia Bowl. Jordan Wynn is excited after dominating the Bears and coming home with the MVP honors of the bowl game. Utes favored by 2.

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Ahead of the Pac

21 06 2010

After the Pac-12 Bottom Feeders and Middle of the Pac , we finally present you with the penultimate 2010 Pac-12 Rankings with the top four teams in the conference. These are not to be confused with where we think the teams will finish the season ranked. Starting it off is the newest member of the conference:

#4 Utah Utes

Returning Starters Offense 8, Defense 4, punter/kicker 2

Strength – Quarterback- Jordan Wynn didn’t start until the 9th game of the season, but he had his best performance in the Poinsettia Bowl against Cal, throwing for 338 yards on 26 of 36 passing and earning the MVP award. He was a true freshman last year and he should improve with some experience under his belt. The backup Terrence Cain will provide some quality depth at the position as he has started 8 games with a 7-1 record.

Weakness – Linebacker – The Utes lost all of their starting LB’s from last year, but their D- line returns all four starters (Sealver Siliga, Dave Kruger, Lei Talamaivao, and Christian Cox) and should take some pressure off of the inexperienced players.

#3 Oregon State Beavers

Returning Starters Offense 8, Defense 7, punter/kicker 2

Strength – Rodgers Brothers – Oregon St has the Pac-12’s best RB – Jacquizz Rodgers, and the best WR – James Rodgers. These two should ease the transition of a new QB after the loss of first team All-Pac 10 QB Sean Canfield.

Weakness – Quarterback – When a conference is loaded at the QB position, it doesn’t help to be the only team with an inexperienced player at the helm. Ryan Katz is the favorite heading into the season, but his only action last year was in mop-up duty. The Rodgers brothers will make his job easier, but he still needs to prove himself.

#2 USC Trojans

Returning Starters Offense 6, Defense 6, punter/kicker 1

Strength – Linebacker – The Trojans welcome back all three starters from a year ago (Malcolm Smith, Chris Gallipo, and Michael Morgan) with possibly the best player of the bunch backing up a couple positions, Devon Kennard. This group will need to be more consistent this year, because there’s not much depth outside of Kennard.

Weakness – Secondary – It’s been five years since Taylor Mays hasn’t lined up in the secondary for USC, but they also lost the rest of their starters in the secondary. Shareece Wright was the #1 CB on the team before being ruled academically ineligible last season, but made an impact when he returned for the bowl game. USC has stockpiled talent up and down their roster for years, but their secondary was inconsistent last year even with Mays in the lineup. With the conference stacked at the QB position, their new defensive coordinator – Monte Kiffin, will have his hands full in the fall.

#1 Oregon Ducks

Returning starters Offense 9, Defense 9, punter/kicker 1

Even though the Ducks lost arguably their best player and a handful of others to off-field troubles, the Ducks bring back plenty of key pieces from their 2009 Pac-10 championship team. They have a tougher schedule ahead of them this year, and less depth than a year ago, but the experience gained should make up for it.

Strength – Running back – LaMichael James quickly made people forget about LaGarrette Blount when he stepped right in and ripped off 1,600 yards rushing. The Ducks also brought in the highly touted blue chip recruit Lache  Seastrunk who should provide some depth at the position.

Weakness – QB – While it’s tough to find a weakness from a team that just won the conference championship and returns 18 starters, the quarterback position is still unknown. Chip Kelly’s spread offense relies on a QB that can run the ball and that’s where Jeremiah Masoli excelled, (even though he couldn’t run from the law). Nate Costa was ahead of  Masoli on the depth chart before tearing his ACL, but he’s in a tight battle with Darron Thomas heading into the fall.

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