by Chris, the Impaler - 08/19/2005
The Pac-10's stock as a tough conference has risen in recent years and this year it looks to have its most competitive season in recent memory. It is practically impossible to analyze the Pac-10 and not spend a major portion covering the USC Trojans. For good reason, USC is the bookmakers 7/5 favorite to win their third consecutive National Championship. The Trojans seemingly have a stranglehold on the Pac-10 title despite the two crucial losses on Pete Carroll's coaching staff. We'll see what happens, but something about good coaching makes a team look like your grandmother could coach them and they could still win by 25 points. Lets face it, a plethora of questions exist regarding the teams in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Northern California. If you add a few coaching changes and player losses to the NFL draft, deciphering the PAC-10 can be reduced to the haves and the have-nots; those that have the skills to win and those who do not.
It is also quite likely that the Heisman Trophy winner will come out of the Pac-10 this year; although it might not be Trojans QB Matt Lienart. This is not a surprise to followers of the Pac-10; several players in the conference are also competing for this honor. Lienart's compatriot RB Reggie Bush should put up Heisman-like numbers even without Norm Chow running the offense; WR Derek Hagan (83 recs, 1,248 yards and 10 TDs LY) of Arizona State should make the final podium as well as UCLA Bruins' RB Maurice Drew -- they should all garner serious consideration from Heisman voters this year. Jerome Harrison of the Cougars should also be looked at as he showed a lot of promise last year in his Herculean 257-yard effort at UCLA last year. On the outside of the Heisman race is Oregon RB Terrence Whitehead who notched 1,144 yards last year with 6 TDs.
The Pac-10 is not only about Heisman Trophy candidates this year. Pac-10 teams won six out of seven bowl games last year (UCLA lost to Wyoming) and look to carry over their successes in the BCS into conference play. Expect some bitter battles as rivals meet on the gridiron for an exciting season of Pac-10 football. Consider also that ABC just signed a deal with the Pac-10 to extend coverage through 2011 and deals worked out with various broadcast networks for more coverage, fans of the Pac-10 living on the East Coast can see the games as well with a basic cable package.
The Pac-10 begins and ends with USC. But, I look to high-powered Arizona State to put its troubles from this spring in the past when they host USC on Oct. 1. USC brings back one of the strongest teams in the NCAA as it goes for a third consecutive National Championship. I cannot see any team in the conference or out of conference beating USC this year. Even with the departure of Offensive Guru Norm Chow to the NFL and Defensive Coordinator Ed Orgeron to Ole Miss, the Trojans until proven otherwise are the team to beat.
The UCLA Bruins look to dismantle USC as well and bring a team hungry for success and media coverage as their cross-town rivals. These are some big maybes considering that SC is on the road at the Sun Devils, an upset is not out of the absurd. I predict that the games of the conference this year will be on Oct. 1 at Arizona State and on Dec. 3 when UCLA travels to USC for more than the rights to the Jim Murray trophy and the Victory Bell; the rights to the Pac-10.
The conference welcomes two new coaches, Ty Willingham at Washington and Walt Harris at Stanford. Both programs are in desperate straights and need a turnaround ASAP. I think there is bound to be some disappointment in the Pacific Northwest as the Ducks, Cougars and Beavers find themselves in the middle of the pack as they beat up on each other. I am not sure that Willingham's first year as a Husky will mirror the success he had at Notre Dame in his first year there. All eyes are on the Sept. 24 game when the Huskies will host Notre Dame. Stanford should beat out Arizona in the lower third of the Pac-10 standings as Walt Harris will need at least a year to turn that program around from the disaster that was Buddy Teevens. The Pac-10 is one of the few conferences left the same after re-alignment although in June the Pac-10 announced they would go to a nine team round robin system in 2006.The Pac-10 will use instant replay on an experimental basis this year so don't let it surprise you if a re-play kills your play; or vice-versa.
Here is how I predict the standing will look like in late December:
Doc's 2005 PAC-10 Preview -- Projected Standings
The following is Doc's detailed analysis of each PAC-10 team highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and strength of schedule.
USC TROJANS (11-0, 8-0)
They're talking 'three-Pete' in Troy, but the toughest challenge HC Pete Carroll will have this year is getting over the losses the of Offensive Guru Norm Chow to the NFL and Defensive Coordinator Ed Orgeron to Ole Miss. Or was Carroll actually the Grand Master behind Chow's Wizard of O? We'll find out soon enough. The Trojans return eight starters from an offense that scored 38.2 points per game and ranked sixth in the country in yards per play. Just as huge for the Trojans was QB Matt Lienart's (412/269 3,322 yards and 33 TDs) decision to comeback for his senior year as well as Heisman finalist RB Reggie Bush (143/908 6 TDs). While the Trojans dominated last year, their defense returns only five starters and will have Pete Carroll running the defense this year. Last year, USC had four games that were decided by eight points or less and were it not for some questionable calls by the refs at Virginia Tech, Stanford, Cal and Oregon State the Trojans season would have been different. In all those games, USC had as much as they could handle. This year with Carroll mentoring 29-year-old OC Lane Kiffin as well as serving as DC and HC, will have his hands full. It is a good thing Carroll has surrounded himself with an incredible body of talented new players and capable back-ups. Keep in mind that while not featured, LenDale White carried the workman's share of the duties and led the team in rushing 1,103 yards on 203 carries with 15 TDs. Back from a one year suspension is '03 OL starter RT Winston Justice which will help the numbers of Bush and White. On Defense Junior SS Darnell Bing is considered an early favorite to win the Thorpe Award this year. While perhaps not as strong as two years ago, looking at the Trojans' schedule this year it is quite possible that USC will have put together a 35 game win streak by January. But they will have to get by two tough road contests at Oregon and Arizona State early in the season and then travel to California in November before closing out the year with a tough home game against UCLA. With the Pac-10 adopting instant replay on an experimental basis this year, those questionable calls last year might not go their way. Still we expect USC is the team to beat in the Rose Bowl this year come January. This year's schedule is favorable in that there are no major powers, however, this means that any loss is considered an upset.
Strengths: The Trojan offense is considered one of the most talented in college football with or without OC Norman Chow. Simply put there are no weaknesses on the offense. With four starters on the OL returning, the "hands" team of Lienart, Bush and White, as well as potent deep threat wide-outs Dwayne Jarrett (55 recs, 849 yards, 15 TDs) and Steve Smith (42 recs, 660 yards, 6 TDs) the Trojans have all their weapons in place to challenge last years' 38.2 points per game.
Weakness: If there is a weakness on this USC team then it is quite possibly the MLB position on defense. Lofa Tatupu's departure for the NFL was unexpected and will force back-up Oscar Lua to fill the role - very big shoes to fill. Moreover, the departure of OC Chow is a loss no matter how hard Carroll tells us it is not. Carroll could end up spending more time coaching the coaches this year as he compensates for the coaching losses on both sides of the ball.
Best Bet: vs. Arizona on Oct. 8, 2005. The Trojans are 8-2 as favorites against the Wildcats.
Favorable Line Loser: vs. UCLA on Dec. 3, 2005. Since the 1960's the battle for the Victory Bell, the 'dog is 24-10-2. Count on USC to be favored in this match-up.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (9-2, 7-1)
The Sun Devils appear as one of the two teams that have a chance of beating USC in conference play this year. However, most likely the Sun Devils will be fighting it out with Cal for second position in the Pac-10 rather than first against USC. Arizona State is coming off of a Sun Bowl win over Purdue and sports one of the liveliest offensive attacks in the Pac-10. In fact last year they were ranked No. 1 in passing offense with 35 TDs and an average of 317.33 yards a game or 13.18 yards per pass. Sun Devils HC and OC, Dirk Koetter, hopes to build on last year's success with a team that is being billed as one of the best ever in Tempe - even rivaling the Rose Bowl team led by Jake Plummer. However, that is preseason and a lot will hinge on Oct. 1 when the Sun Devils host USC in a Pac-10 match-up of the year. This year the Sun Devils will be led on Offense by Sam Keller who will no doubt rely upon Derek Hagan who managed 1,248 yards on 83 receptions with 10 TDs. A lot of the Sun Devils success this year will be if QB Keller can play like he did against Purdue (MVP and 25/45 370 yards passing, 3 TDs). The defense was much more improved last year and now new DC Bill Miller (from Florida) will continue to use the 4-3 Cobra package that was so successful last year and produced 36 sacks. However, for the Sun Devils to win the Pac-10 they'll need to avoid miscues like their upset loss to Arizona. No doubt, Arizona State has their work ahead of them if they want a major bowl bid this year. For that to happen, they'll need to go to Baton Rouge and win and then beat SC at home; easier said than done, but not impossible.
Strengths: On offense the Sun Devils are loaded with all five OL returning starters as well as the top six receivers return for the Sun Devils in '05 this will help Keller continue putting up numbers like he did at the end of last season. Another unlikely strength is the possibility of 221-pound ex-linebacker Antone Saulsberry at starting RB. All special teams personnel return as well.
Weakness: I see the weakness for the Sun Devils on defense; specifically at the corners. DC Miller will have his hands full trying to stop larger, taller receivers against his 5-9 average height cornerbacks. While their defense will be an issue this year at LSU and USC, the Sun Devils should be able to outscore everyone else on the schedule.
Favorable Line Loser: at Stanford on Oct. 22, 2005. The Sun Devils have failed to cover the number six out of the last seven games.
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (9-2, 6-2)
You try to be a good guy and not run up a score on Southern Miss in the last game of the year and next thing you know you are on the outside looking in during these convoluted BCS days. This is exactly what happened to Jeff Tedford's Cal Bears last year. This was followed by a Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech and an otherwise amazing 10-2 season with a +20.8 points per game differential goes to waste. But ignoring the inglorious end to their season, the Bears were potent last year and won five games by 30 or more points and finished sixth in the nation in total offense and 24th on Defense. Meanwhile not so good is the fact that the Bears lost 13 starters to the NFL including first round pick QB Aaron Rodgers and stud RB JJ Arrington and most of the Bear's Defense. With Rodgers gone to the Green Bay Packers, Nate Longshore, the 6-5, 230 lbs sophomore will likely do well under Tedford as he'll be aided by the return of four starting OL that kept Rodgers safe last year. The Bears also feature the return of key 'hands' player in Marshawn Lynch. The main concern at HQ in Berkeley is defense. DC Bob Gregory has his hands full replacing almost an entire defense. One thing for sure is that with the loss of team leaders Matt Giordano and Ryan Guitierrez will be hard to replace. Jeff Tedford has compiled a 25-13 record in three years at Cal amazing when you consider he took over a 1-10 program. Even with significant player losses on both sides of the ball, Tedford coached teams have a way of winning games and this year should be no exception. The Nov. 12 game when they host the Trojans will be crucial. The last team to defeat USC in conference play was the Golden Bears in a thrilling 34-31 OT win in '03. Somehow we don't see that happening this year at home against Southern Cal, but it could be close. Cal gets the Beavers at home but travels to rival Stanford to close out there season, they should be able to win both those games. Once again we'll see Tedford create a team out of the NFL ashes and battle ASU for second in the Pac-10.
Strengths: Sept. 3 vs. Sacramento State. Home opener at Memorial Stadium is a great way to build success with a team. Tedford's team enjoys a relatively easier schedule than their conference counterparts and it will be five games into the schedule when the Bears will play the more difficult portion of their slate. By then, the Bears will have had six weeks to gel and will have worked out a lot of the kinks. The running game could be the strongest component on this team this year. Count on a few highlights from RB/KR phenom Marshawn Lynch who has a startling 8.8 yards per carry and rushed for 628 yards on 71 attempts last year.
Weakness: Kicking game. Last year, PK Tom Schneider missed an eye-popping seven of 16 FGs. This has to improve if the Bears hope to contend this year. Concerns revolve around the defense this year. The entire front seven that played defense in their Holiday Bowl loss are gone and the Bears will rely heavily on back-ups and junior college transfers to duplicate last year's top-25 defensive ranking. Another concern is in the secondary where the losses at safety will figure prominently as to how the defense holds up this year.
Best Bet: Nov. 15, 2005 vs. Southern California. The dog bites as the favorite has only covered four of the last 15 games in this series. You can count on USC being at least an 8-point favorite in this match.
Favorable Line Loser: at Washington State on Oct. 22, 2005. The Cougars have covered five out of the last six games.
UCLA BRUINS (7-4, 5-3)
How do you lose to the Wyoming Cowboys in the Las Vegas Bowl? Easy, you are not as good as you think you are. As hard as it is to believe, UCLA got a bowl bid last year and with that some sort of weird validation that HC Karl Dorrell is doing something. That's not necessarily right, however, since the Bruins lost both Bowl appearances, but they are heading in a direction although right now which direction is anyone's guess. The Bruins under two years with Dorrell have managed to do it on offense in 2003 while winning with defense in 2004, now if Dorrell can put both of these components together, he'll have a pretty decent ball club. On defense, DC Larry Kerr has the good fortune to return eight starters -- the bad news is that these same starters were ranked in the as one of the lowest 13 teams in the nation. The Bruins should improve defensively over an injury ravaged '04 and compliment the offense that features possible Heisman contenders in QB Drew Olson (341/196 2,565 yds, 20 TDs, 13 Ints) if he is healthy from his ACL surgery and RB Maurice Drew (160/1,007 yards, 12 TDs) who averages an astounding 6.3 yards per carry. TB Michael White has left the team so it will be up to Drew to absorb the punishment that White took. Regardless, the Bruins are poised to score a lot of points this year, and they'll need to since there are many questions on defense. To start with the Bruins are undersized on the DL and are still young and learning. DC Kerr has done an amazing job bringing them along from last year's patchwork defense, it will be interesting to see how they hold up when they play host to a tough non-conference foe Oklahoma on Sept. 17. We also see losses for the Bruins at Southern Cal and at home against the Sun Devils and the Golden Bears. For the Bruins to get out of the trench of Pac-10 mediocrity they will need to find a way to win at least one of these conference games.
Strengths: The Bruins feature strengths on both sides of the ball. Offensively they appear to be able to score frequently. Look to the 6'6 TE Marcedes Lewis to have a break down year as he and Olsen exploit the shorter cornerbacks in the conference. The Bruins also return a defense that is a year older and more experienced should prove a pleasant surprise for Bruins fans.
Weakness: Questions remain on defense whether the Bruins defense can hold the line this year. With the Sooners, Arizona State and California all coming to the Rose Bowl, UCLA will hope to pull at least on upset on their home turf, but it will all depend on whether the defense has gelled by then.
Best Bet: at San Diego State on Sept. 3, 2005. The Bruins have covered 10 of the last 12 games in this series.
Favorable Line Loser: at Stanford on Oct. 29, 2005. The Bruins have only covered three of the last ten in this series.
OREGON STATE BEAVERS (6-5, 3-5)
Remember the Beavers season defining moment last year? If you blinked you would have missed it. However, a series of extra point misses cost the team a shot at an upset at LSU in their season opener; a devastating loss which the team seemed to carry with them throughout the first half of the season. After that emotionally devastating moment the Beavers fell quickly to a 1-4 record and finally recovered with a 6-1 record over the final seven games. Oregon State looks to build on beating Notre Dame 38-21 in the Insight Bowl, but will have to do it without senior quarterback Derek Anderson (career passing leader at OSU). And this was in a year when HC Mike Riley had to replace 12 starters from 2003. This year the Beavers will bring back-up Ryan Gunderson to lead the offense and expect him to find his partner in speedy WR Mike Haas. The Beavers defense should be solid this year, but the Beavers will have to work hard if they want to realize a bowl bid. But we see to many questions on both sides of the ball to think that OSU will continue their recent winning percentage. While the Beavers enjoy a more favorable schedule this year, they do face tough non-conference battles against Boise State and Louisville. In Corvallis the Beavers will look to beat Washington State and Arizona while most likely falling to upper-echelon teams like Arizona State and California. This year they'll have to travel to Oregon for the Civil War and you can bet that the Ducks will be looking to avenge their 50-point loss last year.
Strengths: USC is not on the schedule this year and the Beavers return a featured PK Alexis Serna that hit 17 of 20 last year. On defense, the OSU features an all-senior LB corps that threatens to be one of the most dominant foursomes in college football.
Weakness: The Beavers' running game is one of the most anemic in the nation at 71 yards per game. With the consistency at QB over the years and Anderson most recently, it didn't need to be huge, but now combine low production with breaking in a new quarterback and it is likely that the offense could sputter under new OC Danny Langsdorf. Defensively, OSU has lost two shutdown corners and is faced with the grim reality that they do not have a corner that has ever played in a game for OSU and in the aerial minded Pac-10 this will really hurt the Beavers chances this year.
Best Bet: Oct. 29, 2005 vs. Arizona Wildcats. The favorites have covered eight out of the last nine games and somehow we don't see 'Zona as the favorite.
Favorable Line Loser: Sept. 10, 2005 vs Boise State Broncos. This will be the Broncos second week on the road after a tough road tour at Georgia to begin the season, but with Bronco's firepower, the Beavers might not have found a way to remedy last year's 53-34 loss.
OREGON DUCKS (7-4, 5-3)
Last year, the Ducks endured their first season without a bowl bid since 1996. If it were not for that dropped pass against Cal in their 27-28 loss, perhaps things would have ended up much differently for Mike Bellotti's troops. That loss affected the rest of their season and they lost their last two games against UCLA and got blown out in Corvallis 50-21 in the Civil War. However, the damage was done long before that in the Ducks season opener; an upset loss at home to Indiana as an 18.5 point chalk. It wasn't that the Ducks played terribly; in fact they out gained their opponents by 60 yards per game. It is not that the Ducks lack weapons on offense; QB Kellen Clemens tossed the pigskin for 2,548 yards and notched 22 TDs with 10 INTs on the year. RB Terrence Whitehead ran the ball for 1,144 yards on 200 attempts. Both of these important "hands" players are seniors this year. Furthermore, the Ducks return 12 starters, which should make Bellotti's team as good if not better than last year. But there are rumblings in Eugene that Bellotti's time has come to put up or move on. Over the winter, OC Andy Ludwig left the nest for Utah and was replaced with former BYU HC Gary Crowton who wasted no time changing the Ducks' offense to a spread, one back set. Crowton will also use the option this year which should employ suit the talents of RB Whitehead. On the defensive side, seven starters return for DC Nick Aliotti. However, he must work out the problems with the secondary that got burned last year too many times.
Strengths: The defensive line and backfield appear to be strengths on the defensive side of the ball. They'll be led by 338 lbs defensive tackle Haloti Ngata much needed defensive wall. The new look offense should do well confusing defenses with multiple receiver sets and a quality TE Tim Day was money last year with 8 TDs and 457 yards receiving. QB Kellen Clemens is back and should provide the leadership that the Ducks need to get back to a bowl.
Weakness: The Ducks defense is still vulnerable to big plays and it appears that DC Aliotti needs to do something to stop the run since hopefully his secondary will be better than they were last year. On the Offense, it all depends on how quickly QB Kellen Clemens adjusts to the new Crowton playbook. But he might not have much time to think about it since the Ducks lost four OL starters last year (the same line that gave up 41 sacks last year).
Best Bet: vs California Golden Bears on Nov. 05, 2005. Not only is this a revenge game for last year's heartbreaking loss, the Ducks have covered seven of the last ten games against the number.
Favorable Line Loser: Nov. 19, 2005 vs Oregon State. Oregon has only covered four games in the last 17 in the Civil War.
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS (5-6, 3-5)
Last year was a rebuilding year for second year HC Bill Doba's Cougars. In fact, in two years at the helm Doba is 15-9 as a Cougar and looks to get his offense in synch as he tries to remedy an anemic ground game and a passing game that completed less than 50 percent of their passes last year. However, the Cougars will still ranked in the middle of the pack on offense and on defense in the Pac-10 in 2004. Washington State went 3-8 against the spread last year that could be attributed to 2003's 10-win season. But what was really bad for the Cougars was how poorly they played at WaSu. The Cougars only won one game and burned backers by an atrocious 0-5 ATS at Martin Stadium. This year the Cougars have the 64th toughest schedule (out of 119) but have the lightest non-conference schedule in the Pac-10. As the Cougars roll into October, they could well go 3-0 beating up on watered down non-conference teams Idaho, Nevada and Grambling. However it all changes when the Cougars travel down to Corvallis on Oct. 1. They lost there last year 38-19 as an 8-point underdog and I don't expect much to change this year. There are questions at QB as neither Brink nor Swogger looked well in OC Levenseller's offensive packages. The Cougars bring back TB Jerome Harrison (174 for 900 yards, 9 TDs) with an 5.2 yards per carry put the conference on notice with his 257-yard display at UCLA last year. Harrison will have to stay healthy though since the Cougars are weak on depth at the TB position.
Strengths: A streamlined playbook should give Doba and OC Levenseller a better chance to be competitive this year. The Cougars' offense features weapons like wide-outs Jason Hill and Michael Bumpus who give the Cougars huge deep threat potential. Then there is TB Jerome Harrison who showed last year he can bust defenses weak against the run wide open.
Weakness: Without question the defense remains as one of the biggest weaknesses at WaSu Ranked ninth out of ten teams in points allowed in the Pac-10. The Cougars were bitten by the injury bug and had a hard time recovering. For years Doba was the DC for the Cougars so he knows what he needs and for the time being he will most likely have to rely upon freshmen for depth on Defense as well as starting two juco recruits at safety. In the pass-happy Pac-10 problems in the secondary is one reason why we don't see huge improvement in the Cougars conference record this year.
Best Bet: Sept. 1, 2005 vs. Idaho. The Cougars have posted a respectable 3-1 record against the number in the past four years, with the only non-cover a 25-0 win missing the spread by 2 points.
Favorable Line Loser: Oct. 8, 2005 vs. Stanford. WAZZU is a cash burner in the last 13 games against the Cardinal posting a measly 3-9-1 record against the spread.
STANFORD CARDINAL (3-8, 1-7)
Buddy Teevens is a mere memory and they are rejoicing in Palo Alto as the Cardinal welcome new HC Walt Harris from Pitt on the Farm. Of course it will take more than just stepping onto the field to change the Cardinal fortunes, for now let the honeymoon begin. Lets look at the numbers in three years Teevens managed just ten wins, not the same pace as during the Ty Willingham years. Harris is off eight years at Pittsburgh where he led the Panthers to five straight winning seasons and the Big East title in 2004. Keep in mind, that Harris will coach a Cardinal team that lost its last five games last year, three games by five points or less. However, this is still a rebuilding year for the Cardinal as they adapt to Harris' system. There is huge upside potential for the Cardinal, but with a team comprised mostly of junior starters we should see a real turnaround for Harris' crew in 2006. I can see the Cardinal winning two of three non-conference games, with a season ending loss at Notre Dame. Looking at their conference schedule, Stanford will be lucky to keep pace as they try to shed the specter of the Buddy Teevens era.
Strengths: A veteran offensive line returns five starters. This should help protect either QB Ostrander or Edwards. As of yet Harris has not decided who will be his starting QB, but whomever it is will definitely benefit from 6'7"Evan Moore at WR. JR Lemon can also provide fireworks on the ground as he tries to build on last year's 440 yards and 6 TDs.
Weakness: Last year, the Cardinal defense was ranked 33rd in total defense and gave up a paltry 21.2 points per game, too bad the offense couldn't score more than that. This year on defense the Cardinal will have to replace six starters including five NFL draftees. That is a big task for Harris and DC Tom Hayes. CB's Leigh Torrence and FS Oshiomogho Atogwe departure will hurt the secondary though.
Best Bet: vs UC Davis on Sept. 17, 2005. First Navy now the Cardinal should have a field day at the Farm in this non-conference game and go 2-0 before they host the Ducks.
Favorable Line Loser: at Arizona on Oct. 15, 2005. The Cardinal could be in for a tough battle against the Wildcats on the road.
ARIZONA WILDCATS (2-9, 1-7)
Head coach Mike Stoops is in his second year at Arizona after posting a 3-8 record in his inaugural year as a Wildcat. Despite his 3-8 record, hopes were kindled after last year's stunning 34 point victory over rival Arizona State. The 34 points that the Cats tallied represented the only game that UA surpassed the 23-point total. So Cats fans had something to cheer about last year and help them forget heartbreaking losses to Wisconsin and Washington State earlier in the year. Stoops' influence was in effect as Arizona's defense allowed 10.8 ppg fewer than they did in the 2003 campaign. Stoops improved the Cats' defense remarkably by lowering their national ranking from 108 to 62 in just one year so there are high hopes for Cats' fans that a bowl bid will be forthcoming shortly - but for all intents and purposes not this year. And while the defense is starting to gel under brother DC Mark Stoops, the Cats' offense still has a way to go including finding a starting QB to implement OC Mark Canales offense. As of now, sophomore Kovalcheck is the starting QB, his back up is a junior walk-on Adam Austin and true freshman Willie Tuitama so there is work to be done at this position. While we see the Cats' defense with the talent and ability to keep the 'Cats competitive with most opponents this year, it is the offense that needs to improve before there is any serious talk about a bowl bid in the Wildcats' future.
Strengths: On offense, the Wildcats will ride Mike Bells back as the Wildcats hope to garner the same if not more production from stud RB Mike Bell who had 941 yards on 205 carries and 5 TDs last year. But the real strength of the Cats this year will be on the defensive side of the ball. The defense under Stoops managed to reduce the tally by 12 points and 80 yards per game last year.
Weakness: There are many lingering questions on offense. OC Mike Canales has his work cut out for him this year as the pressure is on his offense to match the power of their defense. If the defense can keep the Cats in games it is up to the offense to score enough points to win games, but at this point with indecision at QB it will be probably more of the same for the Wildcats on O.
Favorable Line Loser: vs Northern Arizona on Sept. 10, 2005. It is hard to imagine that the Cats will be favored in any games this year. If there is one, however, it might be when the Cats host the Lumberjacks. With a 3-8 SU record last year I see the Cats wining this game but not covering the number.
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (0-8, 3-8)
After turning in their worst season in recent memory, 1-10 SU and 2-8-1 ATS, Probation Nation went out and got themselves a good old Pac-10 coach; nope not Jeff Tedford, not Dan Hawkins, nor did they look at USC OC Norm Chow, but decided in putting their faith in Ty Willingham. Truth is that UDUB has wasted away since the gambling scandal that was Rick Neuheisel and needed to do something to turn around a flailing program. Now the Huskies look to Coach Willingham to bring back pride and integrity to a program that reached new lows last season. Willingham comes from his unceremonious departure at Notre Dame and will replace 'interim' HC Keith Gilbertson. Hopefully for Husky nation, Willingham can turn around the program in a hurry as the Huskies bring back more starters than any team in the conference. But will that be enough, or is that returning starters statistic a paper lion? Considering that these same bunch of starters had recorded a 1-10 record, Willingham might not be so inclined to call that a positive for UDUB. Willingham will also find that his returning starters were last in the nation in points scored and second to last in the nation in turnover differential. Essentially, the honeymoon was over before it started for Willingham at Washington. He is under the gun from the get go and a tough conference schedule will do nothing to alleviate the anxiety of Husky fans. Even their non-conference games are tough with Air Force coming to Husky Stadium for the home opener. Of course, most eyes will be on the Sept. 24 game against Willingham's old team Notre Dame, who pummeled the Huskies last year to a tune of 38-3 in South Bend. Bettors should also realize that last year the Huskies failed to cover one home game.
Strengths: The one Husky component that should please coach Willingham is experienced line backers which feature Evan Benjamin (105 tackles, 48 solo), Scott White and Joe Lobendahn helped the defense rank 55th in the country last year. Also defensive tackle Manase Hopoi ranked second in the country with 22 tackles for a loss. On offense, the OL is the strength as they return four starters that should help a ground game that managed just 120 yards per contest.
Weakness: The pathetic Huskies were a -19 in turnover ratio and ranked at the bottom at 116th in the country. Husky QBs accounted for 32 of the team's nation-leading 42 turnovers and the offense ranked 117th in scoring offense with just 14 points per contest. There is a long way to go on offence for the Huskies and it starts at the QB position. Give Willingham a year to improve on these weaknesses, but until then it will be a tough year for Husky fans.
Best Bet: vs Washington State on Nov.r 19, 2005. The Apple Cup has gone to the underdog as they have covered 9 of the last 10 games.
Favorable Line Loser: vs Idaho on Sept. 17, 2005. I am not sure if favorable line and Washington should be said in the same sentence, but if there is ever a game the Huskies can build on it will be a home dismantling of the Vandals. However, for this to happen they'll have to dismantle Idaho and it is hard to imagine UDUB dismantling anyone at this point.
This is an exciting year in the Pac-10 with so many teams poised to make positive strides. While there are a few changes in not only quarterbacks but at the head coaching positions as well; UDUB and Stanford won't see the immediate effect of these coaching changes like you might see in other conferences. Quite simply head coaches Willingham and Harris have too much to overcome in one year. Meanwhile, teams like the Arizona State Sun Devils and the UCLA Bruins have the best upside potential in the entire conference. Indeed, we love the fact that either of these teams has a realistic chance of beating Pac-10 super-power USC. And when we say realistic, we mean that given an opening one of these two teams might actually beat the Trojans. But until that happens, USC is the prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-10 and go on to play for the National Championship in their own back yard.
Certainly there are some key games this year of interest to college football fans everywhere. Most of the nations eyes will be upon the Huskies on Sept. 24 as Charlie Weiss' Fighting Irish come to town. Other exciting games include Arizona State - USC, UCLA - USC and California - USC. And don't forget the grudge matches of Arizona State-Arizona, Oregon State-Oregon and Washington State - Washington where indeed anything can happen and most of the time it is not the result you expect. It is no coincidence that USC figures prominently into several key Pac-10 games this year. Don't forget that USC has the biggest target of them all. While there is a chink in the armor at Troy, even the worst-case scenario (USC not covering as a DD favorite) I believe that USC still runs the table in the Pac-10 and goes undefeated entering the Rose Bowl for their third consecutive National Championship with the added sobriquet of Reggie Bush winning Heisman Trophy honors.
In conclusion, if Arizona State, USC and California don't live up to my expectations, and even if they do, this could be one of the more exciting Pac-10 seasons in recent memory; if not only for the potential of an upset loss by USC. I see the strongest teams in the Pac-10 winning all their non-conference games while Washington will have a hard enough time winning one game. This is going to be a very exciting year in the Pac-10 and I can't wait to see how the new Pac-10 head coaches and QBs do in 2005.
If you enjoyed Doc's 2005 Mountain West preview, check back throughout the week for more college football conference previews.
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