The biggest story in the Pac-10 has been the sanctions laid down on USC, now ineligible for bowl games the next two seasons and also weakened by the loss of 30 scholarships.
Oregon and Oregon State appear to be the favorites in a wide open Pac 10 race this season. But it’s the team that won’t win that continues to make the majority of the headlines in the conference.
The NCAA ruled that USC’s athletic department exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009 for a wide array of rules violations and came down hard accordingly. The Trojans received a post-season ban for 2010 and 2011 plus and potentially more crippling to the program was the loss of 30 football scholarships over the next three seasons.
It could take several years for SC to recover from the sanctions and while the severity of the punishment is open for debate, there’s no arguing that the marquee team in the conference is now a big non-factor. It appears now the road to the Rose Bowl now goes thru the Beaver State.
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Here’s a look at the Pac Ten prognosis with odds of winning the conference in parentheses.
Arizona State (+1500): The prognosis is not good for the Sun Devils who just don’t have the horses to compete in the up tempo Pac Ten. Arizona State (4-8, 2-7) ranked 91st in scoring (22.3), 90th in total offense and 93rd in rushing. They did average 215 yards per game passing last season but enter the season with a question mark at QB with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler the leading candidates.
The defense ranked 13th nationally in total yards and were tough against the run allowing 108.6 yards per game. When you add it all up this is a team with too many holes to fill and not enough players. Come November veteran coach Dennis Erickson will likely be polishing up the old resume.
Key betting trend: The Sun Devils were 9-2 to the ‘under’ last season.
Arizona (+700): Coach Mike Stoops and the Wildcats saw their 2009 campaign end with a disappointing 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl but progress was made. Arizona (8-5, 6-3) has made great strides under Stoops who has turned the ‘Cats program around albeit not to the degree of success enjoyed by his brother Mike in Oklahoma.
Arizona is a good team in an average conference and that should equate to another winning season. Quarterback Nick Foles threw for 2,466 yards and 19 touchdowns last season for the Wildcats. He’s the key if Arizon is to take the next step.
Cal (+700): The Bears continue to be one of the most inconsistent teams in all of college football. Year in and year out, Cal (8-5, 5-4) lands some of the great skill players in the nation only to end up in the middle of the pack come the end of the season. This year they’ve got 15 returning starters but you won’t find many people who give this team much of a shot at winning the conference. Jeff Tedford might be one of the most overrated coaches in CFB.
Oregon (+265): Try as they may Oregon (10-3, 8-1) is having a tough time “ducking” the bad publicity. Less than a year after taking a PR hit thanks to LeGarrette Blount’s punch heard round the world in Boise, Oregon got sacked again this time by Jeremiah Masoli.
The Ducks mercurial QB was suspended by the school in March after pleading guilty to a charge of second degree burglary in the theft of computers and a guitar from a campus fraternity. Masoli, who threw for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 668 yards and 13 touchdown’s had been mentioned as a possible Heisman candidate.
Now Kelly will choose a new QB either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas. The Ducks (10-3, 8-1) return a total of 18 starters including RB LaMichael James who rushed for 1,456 yards and 14 touchdowns. Masoli or not the Ducks are the cream of the crop in this conference.
Oregon State (+300): Coach Mike Riley is widely viewed as an offensive guru but it’s his defense that will be the key to the Beavers overtaking Oregon this season. OSU will likely have ten returning starters take the field in their opener against TCU with the middle linebacker spot the only real question mark.
Offensively, either Ryan Katz or junior Peter Lalich who was kicked off Virginia’s team two years ago will likely lineup behind center. I’ll say one thing about Oregon State they didn’t load up on cupcakes in the non-league schedule. How does TCU and Boise State on the road grab you?
Stanford (+800): The Cardinal hopes for a conference title took a big hit when running back Toby Gerhart gave up his final year of eligibility at Stanford for the NFL. Now Coach Jim Harbaugh needs to find a way to replace the 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns that Gerhart gave them last season.
Harbaugh has a good young QB in Andrew Luck who threw for 2,575 with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Stanford’s biggest concern entering the new season, even bigger than replacing Gerhart, is fixing a defense that ranked 90th overall in yards allowed (402.7) and was 110th in pass defense (264.8).
UCLA (+600): The Bruins had the 8th ranked recruiting class in the nation only to see three of those newcomers get arrested for stealing another student’s backpack. The players were dismissed post haste by head coach Rick Neuheisel but the PR damage was done. I’m not implying there’s anything he could have done to stop the alleged “Three Stooges” in their criminal undertaking but they were his recruits.
On the field, UCLA was 7-6 overall and 3-6 in conference play. The Bruins defense which ranked 28th in the nation against the pass and 32nd overall last year should be good again. Unfortunately the UCLA offense which ranked 94th in scoring and 98th in rushing will also be back. It’s official! UCLA is in for another long season.
Key betting trend: UCLA was 9-2 to the under in 2009.
USC: Trojan fans, there’s no need to beat yourself up about the NCAA probation. Your team wasn’t going to be much of a factor this season anyway. New head coach Lane Kiffin inherits a team that lost its leading rusher, receiver and two top offensive linemen from a 9-4 (5-4) team that wasn’t as good as the record would indicate.
Six starters are expected back on defense, but the entire secondary has to be replaced. Quarterback Matt Barkley returns following a freshman campaign in which he threw for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns. After playing in seven consecutive BCS bowl games from 2002 to '08, the Trojans finished the '09 season in the Emerald Bowl. The name, location and YEAR of Troy’s next bowl game now that would make for a great prop bet.
Washington (+600): Jake Locker is the man in Seattle and under the guidance of coach Steve Sarkisian should only get better. Locker is a dual threat. He threw for 2800 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for 338 yards and seven scores. Sarkisian definitely has this team moving in the right direction. Washington (5-7, 4-5) has 17 returning starters but has a pair of brutal non conference games against BYU and Nebraska. If they get a split they’ll get my attention.
Washington State (+3000): You know the old saying: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t…..”
Washington State (1-11, 0-9) is one of those teams that won’t surprise anyone and will be lucky to get thru the conference schedule alive. It’s a bad situation in Pullman and sadly neither the school nor the fans seem to care much about the program.
Key betting trend: The Cougars were 8-4 to the under in 2009.