The pro-style offense is alive and well in the Pac-10. And, with respect to the Big XII, the Pac-10 is the real home of offensive football in the college ranks. With a couple of notable exceptions, these teams don’t feel the need to spread the ball out or stay in the shotgun for an entire game to score. I won’t lie, after a lovely fall Saturday of watching spread offense after spread offense (I’m in the Eastern time zone), it’s nice to watch the late Pac-10 games and actually see a I-formation occasionally. Unless Oregon is playing. Or Arizona. Or Washington State. Or Cal.
Who will win the conference this year and get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl? This season, it’s USC’s lead to blow. Duh. Unless they completely shit themselves all season, they should pretty much cruise to a conference title. Again. They’ll probably be at least 10 point favorites in every conference game they play. Partially because they’re that good, but also because the conference is that mediocre this season. For similar positivity, read on.
Now with 100% less John David Booty, which may be the team’s biggest offseason move. It’s amazing how often major programs have starting quarterbacks who absolutely cripple them for their entire tenure as the starter. And the teams can’t get rid of them because they’re just good enough to not lose their jobs. JDB was one of those guys and thus he has joined the pantheon of program-killers along with Zack Mills, Anthony Morelli, Matt Lovecchio, and Chris Leak. He was a quarterback with a mediocre arm who couldn’t throw deep to his talented receivers, thus destroying the USC passing game as we knew it. But, since this is USC, their program killer led them to two dominating wins in the Rose Bowl. Now Mark Sanchez is back there and he’s no JDB, if you know what I mean.
Every season I adopt one linebacker who is usually described as “football player” instead of some sort of circus freak a la Rey Maualuga. In 2006 it was Jon Abbate from Wake Forest. Last season it was J. Leman from Illinois. This season, it just might be new starter Kaluka Maiava (in case you didn’t know, his uncle is also Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Not to jump the gun on every announcer USC gets this season, but the guy is a football player. He’s the only Trojan I’ll root for.
In other news, USC is evil and everyone should hate them. It’s not their fault, consciously anyway. They’re deeper now at every position than they were three years ago when they were rolling toward their second-straight BCS title game. They’re so talented, Sanchez can dislocate his kneecap in fall practice and no one panics. Pete Carroll all but said, “F*ck it, we’ve got other guys,” when asked about the injury. And yet they’re not nearly as good as they were three years ago, but their unbearable fans think they are. That, friends, is college football-evil personified. This team has become too good. They must be stopped. I did have the pleasure of watching USC/Stanford last season sitting right next to Phillips, our blogfather and resident USC Homer. That was a good time.
On the other hand, it IS fun to watch them play. Why? I don’t know. YOU try watching the damn Big Ten all morning, then watch the SEC set offensive football back 20 years. Then see if you don’t want to watch a bunch of uber-recruits do their thing for a quality team and a likable coach who always looks like he’s having a great time. Listen, year in and year out, if USC isn’t contending for a national title, that season is a failure. This one is no different.
Win forever, Phillips. Win forever.
2. Arizona State
Another prime candidate for a hangover season. They also have the double-whammy of being in a coach’s second season, which is when the drop-off usually happens. New coaches can win with seniors and juniors on the roster unless they’re absolutely gawd-awful. The Sun Devil’s players last season weren’t half bad so a competent-ish coach like Dennis Erickson could win with that. But now it’s been a full year, some of those upper classmen are gone and the letdown could be imminent.
It’s funny how all Erickson had to do to win in Tempe was run the ball and occasionally make them play defense. Ironically, his pass-happy predecessor, Dirk Koetter, is now the OC for the Jacksonville Jaguars…a team that likes to run the ball and play defense. He managed to make David Garrard into a legit NFL starter, so I’m not ragging the guy, just saying. Then again, if he’d had Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew at ASU, he probably would have run more.
I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt this year. Rudy Carpenter is still there, so as long as he’s not still concussed from the USC/ASU game last season, the offense should be good to go. Get rid of the ball, Rudy! If they can stop anyone – anyone at all – on defense, they should be just fine.
Don’t sleep on Willie Tuitama! Again! I’ve been on this bandwagon since before last season (also notice how I picked Oregon to be 6th in the Pac-10 last season and mocked their offense), but it looks like I was a year early. Now that Mike Stoops is on the hot seat, the team should have the proper motivation to become a respectable Pac-10 team again. And they’ve got Willie, who is money in the spread offense they run. It’s simply a question of consistency. They looked good in spots last season, but they looked like Stanford for long stretches too. If my boy Willie lives up to his potential, then Arizona is going to roll on quite a few surprised teams this season. If not, Mike Stoops is probably back in Norman, OK next season. Not coaching, just caddying for Bob.
4. Oregon State
God I hate picking Mike Riley teams. This team could be 9-3 or 5-7 and look exactly the same. I’ve complained about it since he was Oregon State’s coach the first time, before the Chargers tried to commit franchise suicide by hiring him. Mike Riley teams always do the basic things you want out of your team: run the ball, make some plays in the passing game, and even play decent defense. However, they will never do all of those at the same time in one game, and they will absolutely rip your heart out in crunch time. Riley’s teams are among the least clutch you will ever watch. Oh, they’ll hang around with the good teams, even take the lead maybe. But that lead won’t hold because you can see the opposition’s game-winning drive coming all the way back at halftime. It’s a given. Those Mike Riley years with the Chargers were hell for me, and I didn’t even have to watch every game for work like Phillips did. The worst part? Mike Riley is a really, really good guy who I’d want my kids to play for. I don’t think I can pick an Oregon State game all season because I just don’t have the heart to.
My “swing” team. Much like Oregon State, the Ducks could be 9-3 or 5-7 based on about five plays out of their entire season. The offense that was so productive last season won’t look anything like it did before. Gone are Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart: the guys that made the spread-option go last season. They might have some receivers back, but honestly, they weren’t all that great last season anyway. The defense is also extremely suspect every season, even from game to game. They’ll probably play with a good team one week and then lose to Washington the next. The one constant: those fugly uniforms.
I originally had the Bruins finishing 8th in the conference, due to their being cursed and all. Apparently the karmic retribution for hiring Rick Neuheisel is getting your entire offensive line and top two quarterbacks hurt. Patrick Cowan will be the “big fish story” for UCLA fans for years to come. He showed flashes of brilliance all the way back in his sophomore season, but basically hasn’t been right since Rey Maualuga did this to him.
On the other hand, the Bruins are deep as hell at running back, which will somewhat compensate for Kevin Craft winning the starting job over the happy-footed Chris Forcier. Plus, there’s a decent chance they’ll be able to pull a 2007 Arizona State with a coach in his first year. Also, the always gregarious Norm Chow is pretty good at throwing something together on offense. Hell, he made Vince Young into a respectable starter. Thus, I think the Bruins will manage to throw together a 7-5 season, which will include a couple of nice wins and some major early-season losses to Tennessee and BYU. Cheer up, Booter, the Gunners look decent and it’s almost basketball season!
They’ve lost so much, it’s hard to say exactly what Cal is bringing to the table this season. They didn’t lose Nate Longshore, which is actually a bad thing. Other than that, they’re stuck with a lot of no-name guys who may or may not prove to be as good as MEsean Jackson and everyone else on last season’s disappointing Cal Bears team. I’ve never understood why Cal isn’t better every year. I’ll say this about Jeff Tedford, he may not care about defense, recruiting, or grooming his quarterbacks for the NFL, but he sure can, uh, umm…
If Tim Tebow is the college football Jesus, then Jake Locker is the college football John the Baptist. He’s the kind of creative, talented, dual-threat player Ty Willingham loves to strangle with his staid, conservative brand of football. He’s even put up pre-Weis Brady Quinn-like statistics, though that 47% completion percentage and only 2,062 passing yards are especially hideous; yet another reason he’s John the Baptist instead of Jesus. Plus he’s probably going to get beheaded by the Romans (a.k.a. USC). He’ll have to do better than that if he is going to singlehandedly save Willingham’s job. Other than that, I’ve got nothing. There’s not a whole lot of talent on this team, and the natives are getting restless.
* Image courtesy of The Dawg Dude
November 15 might be the only Stanford game you watch this season, which is kind of a shame since they’re going to get thoroughly smashed by USC that day. I haven’t seen a revenge game like this, well, ever. Jim Harbaugh is a decent coach and might even be able to salvage the mess he inherited, but it can’t happen in two seasons. Another 4-8 record seems to be in the works, though I’d bet they upset some one on their schedule. It just won’t be USC.
10. Washington State
Wazzu is the most difficult place to be successful in the entire conference. Even tougher than Stanford. Getting recruits to come to the middle of nowhere in Washington isn’t exactly the easiest job a head coach can get. It takes a special guy like stripper-aficionado Mike Price to make it happen. Since the end of his days in Pullman, the Cougars have been hilariously bad and will be again this season. Maybe they can build and be decent in a couple of years, but this season, they’re the Baylor of the Pac-10.
Offensive Player of the Year: Willie Tuitama, QB, Arizona
Defensive Player of the Year: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Newcomer of the Year: Damian Williams, WR, USC*
*Transfer from Arkansas