Hello Followers. Well, since today is Media Day for the wonderful Pacific 10 Conference, it is time to follow our annual tradition of providing you with how each of the Blogfathers see the Pac-10 playing out this year.
Mind you, these are only pre-camp predictions. We will have a full run-down with detailed conference and non-conference records as September 5th draws near....
5. Oregon State
Remarks: Alright, I am stepping out on the ledge here, and yes, Cal is my choice for PAC-10 champion. Why? Well, several reasons. But I'm hanging my hat on 1) seriously strong, deep, effective running game, 2) supremely talented offensive and defensive lines, 3) a veteran QB in Riley, who, while not great, will be good enough to not screw it up, but most of all, 4) a REALLY good defense full of size and speed. Even with the loss of some top tacklers at linebacker, Cal's still returning eight starters, plus a defensive front might be the best it's ever been under Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley. We know DC Bob Gregory is the current king of stopping the spread offense, so they should handle the quack attack's bells-n-whistles (as they always do). Plus they get USC at home. They won't be perfect, but to me, they have the "look" this year.
Now, the king ain't totally dead. USC is still going to steamroll folks, with layers and layers of five-star talent that comes at you in droves. They have 3rd-stringers who will probably make an NFL roster someday. But remember, USC for all their greatness has had only two undefeated PAC-10 seasons during this breathtaking ownage of the PAC since the turn of the century. They lost at least one PAC-10 game in six of the last eight seasons, and in '06 and '07, they lost two conference games (and those were still really good, Rosebowl champion USC teams!). This time the inexperienced QB stubs his toe a couple of times, and unlike Oregon State unable to close the deal last year, Cal will not only beat USC, but win enough of the other ones to claim the title.
Oregon has a sexy, trendy feel about them this year, and I bet a lot of people will pick them. The schedule sets up great, as USC and Cal both come to Eugene, and over the last quarter of the season last year, they were dynamite when Jeremiah Masoli took over the QB spot. But they've lost their best pass-rusher and really one of the all-timers in Nick Reed, plus some key players in the secondary with Patrick Chung and Jarius Byrd both moving on. Oregon will hang a ton of points on the board, but the D won't be quite good enough to win the conference.
As for a darkhorse, I LOVE Stanford. It may be a bit spotty early, but Andrew Luck is going to be a big-time QB and everyone will be talking about him by the end of the season. They play a tough, physical, no-nonsense brand of football and will hit you in the mouth from kick-off to kneel down. Next to USC and probably Cal, Stanford will be the most physical team in the conference this year.
And finally, the back end of the conference should remain the same. But I will contend that both Washington schools will be much better than their '08 counterparts. UW, if they keep Locker healthy, will be in a lot of games. He still has work to do as a west coast offense passer, and I am not sold on the offensive line nor the pedestrian weapons he will have at his disposal. And no, I am not drinking the Sark Juice just yet, but they will take some real strides this year (yes, it hurts to write that). They will get off to a rough start with that first month, and whether a UW homer will admit it or not, there is always a bit of an adjustment period with a new coach/staff. It might not be pretty. But I do believe they will be on the upswing by the end of '09, and '10 could see a real move up the ladder.
And our Cougs could, potentially, be the most improved team in the whole damn conference, but the record won't reflect it. We will see a bigger, stronger, tougher football team that will take care of the football in ways that won't even resemble '08's turnover-fest. But it won't be enough to climb out of the cellar. Depth will rear it's hideous head, as it always seems to do in the most inopportune times, and we still aren't deep enough to overcome the inevitable hits to the depth chart. The in-conference schedule is as tough as I can remember, playing the best of the best on the road (USC, Cal, Oregon), plus the Apple Cup in Seattle and Notre Dame in San Antonio in a game that will feel like a road trip in every way possible.
I apologize, Coug Nation, for the non-homerish pick. But fear not. Better days are coming.
Remarks: No way am I picking against USC until someone proves that it is actually possible to dethrone them with Carrol at the helm. However, this may be the swan song of their dominant run as the NCAA prepares to move in with a wrecking ball. WSU in the #7 spot is nothing but pure, crimson tinted optimism on steroids. I dread a 10th place finish, but from what I've seen, heard and read this team is moving dramatically in the right direction. Of course, I may have a totally different perspective after Fall camp. I expect UW to get a Sark bump with Locker back. But I doubt they start playing up to all those stars that Fetters and company dumped on them when they committed to the Dawgs. I would love to see Harbaugh make a run at a title this year, of course after a little set-back/wake up call on the Palouse September 5.
1. Cougs (Duh)
2. OSU (I predicted their upset over USC last year. Just so you know...)
3. USC (A third place conference finish and Sun Bowl victory in a "re-building year" - how novel.)
4. Cal (They still have that Best kid, right?)
5. UO (The Phightin' Phils will start slowly and phinish strong. This message has been brought to you by Nike.)
6. Stanford (Tough to overcome the demoralizing opening week loss to the Mighty Cougs.)
7. ASU (I couldn't name a single player on this team so don't quote me on this.)
8. UA (The veins in Stoops' neck will explode during the 2nd quarter of their 3rd game, throwing the program into disarray.)
9. UCLA (I see a second-half flop as clear as the mole on Hermie's chin.)
10. uw (Duh)
Remarks: I really don't pay enough attention to the other programs in the Pac-10 to speak to them with even the slightest bit of authority, but as for the Evergreen State, you can bet the farm on these predictions:
Cougs go worst to first and blow out Northwestern in the Rose Bowl, earning them 23 seconds of airtime on ESPN and a #24 BCS ranking.
While leaning on his trusty crutches on the sideline of another WSU Apple Cup victory, jake locker wishes he had signed a MLB contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
3. Oregon State
T7. Washington State
T7. Arizona State
Remarks: First of all, I love the idea that we could have a four way tie for last place in the conference that a) make us finish 7th and b) allows me to win my bet with Ted Miller while we still bring up the conference's rear (winning on a technicality is STILL winning, you know).
Its a tough race to call this year as all of the teams top and bottom have serious questionmarks. My deal is simple: IF USC or Ohio State had the type of skill position guys Oregon (RB/QB) has returning, they'd be picked to win the conference. So, this is a put-up or shut-up year for the Quackers this year because if they have the depth they say they have amassed over the years, then I think they beat USC at home and win the tie breaker as a result since both teams will have one conference L.
With regards to the others, well, I just see so much separation between the top half and the bottom half of the conference this year. And, the way that the schedule breaks, I see two conference wins being a real possibility for all of those lower division teams--although I think AZ is the most likely of those to surprise in a positive way. They are also the only team out of the bottom five that I think can become bowl eligible. But his year in particular, INJURIES or lack thereof in the pre-season will mean a whole lot--especially for the Washington schools who need just about everything to go right in order to have anything better than a 1-3 win season.
Feel free to give us your pre-season conference picks so we can look back as the season rolls along.