Out west in the Pac-10 there's USC and then there's everyone else. Pete Carroll's charges are the very best the conference has to offer on the gridiron and should have no trouble taking top prize again in '09.
So, how many games will USC win this year? Eleven? Twelve? Or maybe even Lucky 13?
The Trojans are the class of the Pacific-10 Conference and have been since 2002, winning at least 11 games for coach Pete Carroll in each of the last seven seasons. Carroll’s dynasty includes two national championships, four Rose Bowls, two Orange Bowls, three Heisman Trophy winners and one perfect 13-0 season in 2004. Excuse the hyperbole, but it’s a deadbolt lock the Trojans will win the Pac-10 again.
It’s also safe to say the two Washington-based programs will once again be fighting it out for the basement suite. But what happens to that wonderfully anonymous middle class of seven teams who lined our wallets at a combined 50-34 ATS last year? Our 2009 Pac-10 preview lays it all out in order of expected finish, with the betting odds for the BCS championship attached.
1. USC Trojans (6-1): You know the Trojans are loaded at quarterback when Mitch Mustain can’t get a job. Sophomore Aaron Corp and freshman Matt Barkley have already passed Mustain on the depth chart. They get to play behind a superior offensive line, and USC always churns out new stars on defense. The Trojans also invariably find a way to lose at least one game they should win. But a spot in the BCS title game is still on the horizon.
2. California Golden Bears (35-1): Cal has the best shot at pulling off the Pac-10 upset. The Bears defense is much better in the new 3-4 configuration coordinator Bob Gregory installed last year. Now it’s up to the offense to find a way to get the most out of QB Kevin Riley (14 TDs, six INTs), who was reportedly in good mental form during the spring session.
3. Oregon Ducks (50-1): The Ducks are being touted as a potential Top-10 team, thanks to the development of QB Jeremiah Masoli (13 TDs, five INTs). But they’ve lost three offensive linemen, including center Max Unger, and the secondary has more holes than Tillamook Swiss cheese.
4. Oregon State Beavers (100-1): The Beavers have a lot of rebuilding to do, although they have two ideal cornerstones in game-changing RB Jacquizz Rodgers (4.8 yards per carry) and his lesser known brother James (51 catches). The schedule is tough – OSU faces all three of the previously mentioned teams on the road.
5. Arizona Wildcats (100-1): Arizona has a chance to play the sleeper this year, after winning eight games and finishing No. 37 in the nation in Fremeau efficiency last year (ahead of teams like Navy and Michigan State). But six road games, including a non-con stop at Iowa, will make cracking the Pac-10 elite very difficult.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils (125-1): There’s potential for ASU to move up the charts after finishing 5-7 SU and 4-6 ATS last year. Senior QB Danny Sullivan should be able to manage an effective game in place of the departed Rudy Carpenter; however, Sullivan won’t get much protection from his offensive line.
7. Stanford Cardinal (150-1): Stanford already has a powerful running game and a strong front seven on defense. Incoming freshman QB Andrew Luck looked great this spring and should add to the Cardinal passing attack. But how will the secondary perform with converted RB Delano Howell playing safety?
8. UCLA Bruins (75-1): This program appears to be heading in the right direction under Rick Neuheisel, but the Bruins are still in transition as Neuheisel’s recruits come in and older players leave the team. The offense is about as green as can be, led by freshman Kevin Prince at quarterback. Another strong under season is a possibility after going 7-4-1 in 2008.
9. Washington Huskies (200-1): The Huskies didn’t win a game last year and went 1-11 ATS. We’ll give them the nod over the Cougars this time because of first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, Carroll’s assistant at USC the past two seasons. Sarkasian will work with the returning QB Jake Locker, the 2007 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year who missed most of 2008 with an injured thumb.
10. Washington State Cougars (Field 40-1): Washington State set an FBS record by allowing 570 points last year. The Cougars offense was also one of the worst in the nation, and not likely to improve as coach Paul Wulff employs the no-huddle. They have to play the Huskies in Washington for the Apple Cup and their only real chance at a Pac-10 win in 2009.