If anything, the last five years of Pac-10 football have seemed like the same tired rerun looped several times over.

With Pete Carrol steadily moving the Trojan war machine forward with no signs of stopping or even slowing down, predicting the West Coast's premier conference has become dull at best.

Even so, there is a definite fluidity to the middle of the Pac, as no other team has distinguished itself. That could be a bad thing, but it does lend some credence to a dogfight for an outside chance at the Rose Bowl or a little bit further south in the Holiday Bowl.

1. Southern California lost its starting quarterback and has some lingering questions along the offensive line, but the defense is loaded with All-America candidates, including linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez's health is of concern with a dislocated kneecap he received a couple of weeks ago. But even if backup Mitch Mustain is not up to the task, there is a stable of young running backs ready to carry the load. That group is led by veterans Stephon Johnson and C.J. Gable and young talent Joe McKnight.

2. A stout defense by Arizona State is led by the front seven that is always in the opponent's backfield, but the key to this season is the offensive line making sure the same thing does not happen to Rudy Carpenter. Last season Carpenter was sacked 54 times.

3. This is the tricky part as many teams could fill this role by season's end. Washington gets the nod in my opinion. This is not a popular pick in the least, and despite my severe homerism, there are good reasons for optimism.

Hope is purely pinned on the chest of quarterback extraordinaire Jake Locker. He is the conference's second leading rusher returning this season and with a year under his belt and one of the strongest offensive lines in the league he should improve on his 47 percent completion percentage.

As with most other teams in this power ranking, there are big questions. Mostly those hinge on defensive coordinator Ed Donatell's ability to turn around a defense that gave up more than 400 yards per game last year.

4. Oregon could just as easily claim the third spot in the conference, but losing Nathan Costa to a knee injury during daily doubles certainly hinders that hope.

Replacing Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart was already a tall task, but the Ducks may be forced to start Justin Roper - who performed well in the Sun Bowl against South Florida - but the sophomore does not possess the same skill set to allow the spread option to work as effectively.

Combine that with a defense that allowed more than 31 points on five different occasions last year and is replacing its middle linebacker and both defensive tackles, and first-year running back LaGarrett Blount may just have to exceed already lofty expectations.

5. Arizona will only win if the offense is clicking. In that case, embattled coach Mike Stoops had better hope his offense is clicking a whole lot this fall.

Quarterback Willie Tuitama is poised to make another leap offensively after throwing for 3,683 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2007.

The question is, can they play defense? Early indications say no as during a scrimmage this week, the first team defense allowed 303 yards in the air and five touchdowns.

6. Oregon State will improve on this list one way, and one way only - defense. Gone is Yvenson Bernard and his steady performance as a Beaver over the last four years.

The offense will now hinge its hopes on either Sean Canfield or Lyle Moevao to lead under center and Sammie Stroughter coming close to 100 percent after a lacerated kidney last year.

Defensively, losing juco transfer Simi Kuli was a tremendous blow to the front line, but if there is one thing Mike Riley is automatic at, it is crafting a stout defense.

7. Rick Neuheisel is back in the Pac-10 with UCLA, but is inheriting a train wreck at quarterback. Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson are both gone after injuries that will sideline them for most of the season.

That leaves incoming transfer Kevin Craft - named the starter for the opener - and Chirs Forcier on the depth chart.

The biggest challenge for Jeff Tedford and California is going to be getting the train back on the tracks. Once the perennial bridesmaid to USC, Cal hit the skids at the end of 2007.

8. The Golden Bears lost six of their last seven games and barely made a bowl game. The new face at quarterback, Kevin Riley (who beat out Nate Longshore) will have to maneuver around a depleted backfield and a receiving corp trying to make due without any of its top three performers from last year.

Stanford is somewhat of an enigma entering the season. With only one full recruiting year under second-year head man Jim Harbaugh, it is tough to see a drastic increase in talent.

9. But last year the Cardinal proved something by overcoming surreal odds and beating the Trojans. With Harbaugh as a motivator, there is no doubt this team can build on that, but it will take time for the talent to meet the enthusiasm.

Paul Wulff had no illusions when he was hired at his alma mater at Washington State. It was a team needing direction (as evidenced by the 25 arrests in 18 months) and a team needing discipline (they also lost six scholarships due to academic shortcomings).

10. Wulff has brought excitement back to a program that needed it with a strong recruiting surge, but still has plenty to prove on the field.

Gone is four-year starter Alex Brink and in come several more question marks.

Gary Rodgers is the man under center, but has almost no experience - despite being a senior. And the defense will have trouble plugging holes yet again, replacing at least five starters, including Andy Roof, who was kicked off the team.


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.