2007 Pac-10 Conference Preview

2007 Pac-10 Conference Preview

2007 Pac-10 Conference Preview
by T.O. Whenham

The story in the Pac-10 is the same as it has been for longer than nine of the teams would like to admit - USC is the class of the field, and everyone else is trying to catch up. Last year the Trojans were as vulnerable as they have been in a long while, but both Cal and Oregon State, the two teams in position to knock them off of their perch, failed to get it done when they needed to. Those two teams should be competitive again this year, and the biggest challenge could come from UCLA. Beyond that, though, there is a pretty severe drop off in quality.

With the exception of John David Booty and potentially Nate Longshore, the conference is full of quarterbacks that have lots of potential but have something to prove this year. Success in the conference will come down to which teams can get their offense on track quickly and get some wins under their belt. There will be some easy wins available in the conference for the better teams if they are able to get their act together.

An interesting subplot in the Pac-10 this year will be the success of two high profile coaches in difficult situations. Dennis Erickson takes over an Arizona State program that has a solid foundation but a world of problems. Jim Harbaugh has the thankless task of trying to turn around Stanford and return them to respectability. One or both of those coaches has the potential to exceed expectations, and that could provide some value in the middle part of the schedule.

Team on the rise:

UCLA. I have been predicting that it is UCLA's time for a few years now, and they always disappoint. I obviously don't learn, because I am doing it again. They were just 7-6 last year, and their bowl loss to Florida State was very disappointing, but things should be better this year. QB Ben Olsen is finally healthy and ready to live up to his potential, and he will have the luxury of a strong defense that should reduce his need to score points. The team has to work on one major thing - it has to learn to win on the road. Six of the team's last seven regular season losses have been away from home. Trips to Oregon State, Arizona and the theoretical road game against USC are all potential pitfalls, but they should have the ability to win them all if they approach them properly.

Teams on the decline:

Washington. For a supposedly talented guy, Ty Willingham sure is a lousy coach. His team was far from scary last year at 5-7, he has just seven wins in two years, and on paper at least he has taken a pretty big step backwards this year. Washington faces a very difficult schedule, and it seems unlikely that they will come out of it in good shape. QB Jake Locker has loads of potential, but he seems doomed by the terrible offensive line that will struggle to protect him and provide opportunities. The Huskies stand a good chance of beating Syracuse and Stanford, but any other victories will be a surprise to me.

Treading water (hasn't done much to improve):

Arizona. Mike Stoops should have stayed in Oklahoma. At least there he got to be called a genius and he didn't have to prove it as a head coach. Arizona has made one important change - they brought in a new offensive coordinator to try to fix their sad offense that managed less than 17 points per game. They should have a decent defense again, but the offense doesn't have the talent or the depth to be more than just adequate. It certainly doesn't help that they have to make trips to Cal, Oregon and USC.

Money player (player to bet on):

John David Booty, QB, USC. The QB followed two Heisman winners, but he certainly didn't seem bothered by the pressure. Despite little real game experience, Booty stepped in and looked, for the most part, like a natural. He put an exclamation mark on his season with a dominant performance against a supposedly stout Michigan defense. This year, the senior is more experienced, well supported at all positions, and poised to have a huge season that will make him millions in the draft.

Bankroll Buster (player to avoid betting on):

Rudy Carpenter, QB, Arizona State. Carpenter was handed an opportunity on a golden platter last season, and he did little to capitalize on the chance. All he did, instead, is get his coach fired. His completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio were significantly worse in his second season. Now Carpenter has to get used to a new system and a new head coach, and I am not willing to bank on a smooth transition.

Important betting trends:

USC rarely struggled to score points, but they often didn't meet public expectations - they were under the total eight times in 13 games. They were also a dismal 3-6 ATS against their own conference. That's pretty much the definition of a public team.

Potential Conference Champ:

USC. The Trojans have to compensate for a lot of impressive lost talent, but, like always, Pete Carroll has found a way to bring in a stunning load of talent to fill the gaps. It won't be a cakewalk, but there is no game on the schedule that the Trojans can't win if they are at, or even close to, their best.

Key games:

Oregon State at California, Oct. 13. If USC or UCLA falter then the winner of this game should be in position to pick up the pieces.

UCLA at USC, Dec. 1. If, and this is a big if, the Bruins live up to their potential then this could be the game that decides which team wins the Pac-10, and potentially more. It could also provide betting value because UCLA won this game last year.

Predicted order of finish:

USC, UCLA, Cal, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, Stanford.

www.docsports.com

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No surprise: USC tops early Pac-10 poll
July 26, 2007

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's preseason rankings have the Southern California Trojans at No. 1 -- possibly of all time.

"There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and may be the best team in the history of college football," Harbaugh said Thursday at the Pac-10 football coaches' annual media day.

USC coach Pete Carroll smiled when he came to the podium later and was told of Harbaugh's assessment, which might put some added pressure on the Trojans.

"You've gotta love Jim, huh? I'm glad he thinks that," Carroll said. "There's no way I would have any way of understanding what that's all about.

"We're just a bunch of guys trying to put together a terrific team, and we'll see how far that takes us."

After pausing for a moment, Carroll grinned and added quietly, "Thanks, Jim."

The four-time defending Pac-10 champion Trojans were selected for the fifth year in a row as the favorite to win the conference title. They received all 39 first-place votes in a preseason poll of media members who regularly cover the conference.

Only three times in the 46 years of the poll has a team been an unanimous preseason pick to win the title -- and it's been USC every time, including 2004 and 2005.

For the fourth consecutive year, California was picked to finish second. The Golden Bears tied USC for the league championship last season when both finished with 7-2 conference records.

The Trojans got 390 points in this year's balloting, with 10 points for No. 1 in the conference and one point for No. 10. Cal received 323 points, and UCLA was third with 305.

Arizona State (242 points) and Oregon State (237) rounded out the top five, followed by Oregon (226), Arizona (162), Washington State (115), Washington (98) and Stanford (47).

The poll has correctly predicted the Pac-10 winner 24 of 46 years, and has been right seven years in a row.

Former Washington State, Miami, Oregon State and NFL coach Dennis Erickson, back in the Pac-10 with Arizona State, said the Trojans should be in the NFL.

"They're as good as there is in the country," he said.

Washington State coach Bill Doba considers the Pac-10 relatively well-balanced, with the exception of the Trojans.

""USC obviously is the cream of the crop right now. I think the rest of the league is pretty even," Doba said.

Asked what it would take to beat the Trojans, he said, "I think SC has to beat themselves. I think he (Carroll) just has to guard against overconfidence or not being prepared or having really, really, really bad luck."

He added, "They're a really good team. They're something."

The Trojans also were loaded last season, but they still lost twice in the Pac-10. Oregon State upset them 33-31 on Oct. 28, then UCLA beat them 13-9 in the regular-season finale on Dec. 2.

USC went on to defeat Michigan 32-18 in the Rose Bowl to finish 11-2.

While not talking specifically about USC, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said he expects the Pac-10 to "be a close race, and I think there will be some surprises."

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Washington St. guard out after DUI
July 27, 2007

Associated Press

PULLMAN, Wash. -- Andy Roof, listed as Washington State's starting offensive right guard in the spring, will be out for the season because of a citation for drunken driving, coach Bill Doba says.

"Washington State has a policy that, after your third alcohol violation, you are suspended from school for a semester," Doba said Thursday at the Pacific-10 Conference football media day in Los Angeles. "He had a couple of MIPs (minor in possession citations) when he was younger -- then he had a DUI this spring.

"The good thing is he recognized he had a problem, he went to treatment and he's doing very, very well."

In another blow to the Cougars' offensive line, doba said reserve Derek Hunter, a fourth-year tackle, decided to transfer.

Roof, a redshirt junior from Spokane, started five games last year after recovering from a broken thumb in preseason camp. He missed two games later in the season with a heel bruise.

He plans to continue working "to pay back his bills" during the suspension this fall and hopes to return in January, Doba said.

"I talked to him yesterday and asked him what he wanted me to say," Doba said. "He said, 'Tell them the truth."'

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Pac-10 gives teams two more bowl games
July 23, 2007

Associated Press

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- The Pac-10 Conference agreed Monday to send teams to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego and the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu.

Following the 2008 season, the sixth-place team will play against a Western Athletic Conference school in the Hawaii Bowl and the seventh-place team will face a Mountain West Conference opponent in the Poinsettia Bowl.

The following year, the Pac-10's sixth-place team will play in San Diego and the seventh-place team in Hawaii.

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Scouting the Pac-10 at its media days
July 26, 2007

Three questions with Oregon TB Jonathan Stewart

Who is one player you like to watch when you're not playing?
"It would have to be Darren McFadden. He's a running back, I'm a running back; it's natural. He's fast and strong. He plays hard. I don't know if I could run out of that (Wildcat) formation, though."

What's up with Les Miles' low blow on the Pac-10?
"It's a little insulting, you know? All I know is we've got athletes, too. We've got guys who run fast, hit hard, play every play. All we can do is play well whenever we play teams from the SEC. You have to prove it when you're on the field."

What's it like playing in front of that crazy crowd at Autzen Stadium?
"It's like nothing you've ever experienced. I remember when I returned a kick for a touchdown. The whole time I'm running, I'm hearing the crowd get louder and louder -- the oohs and ahhhs. You wouldn't think you'd be focused on anything but that goal line, but you hear it. You feel it."

The quarterback league

The league nickname rarely has been more fitting. Eight of the 10 teams return starters from last season, but no situation is more intriguing than Oregon.

Senior Dennis Dixon, who has rotated with Brady Leaf for much of the last two seasons, has been playing minor league baseball for the Atlanta Braves all summer and won't return to the team until next week.

That, of course, doesn't sit well with Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.

"Dennis Dixon is our quarterback, but Brady Leaf will compete for the job," Bellotti says. "There is nothing written in stone."

Bellotti wanted Dixon to stay all summer and throw with receivers and build chemistry as a senior leader. Instead, Dixon -- drafted in the fifth round by the Braves -- tried to hit a curveball.

"He says he threw (a football) every day," Bellotti says. "Maybe that's why he hit .174."

If it works once, it'll work again

UCLA coach Karl Dorrell came to the last year's Pac-10 Media Day touting new coordinator DeWayne Walker as a guy who would change the face of the Bruins' defense.

This time around, Dorrell says new coordinator Jay Norvell will do the same with the Bruins' offense. The scheme will be similar to what Dorrell wants from his offense: a balanced unit that can stretch the field in the passing game.

"They're very similar guys -- well organized, strong communicators," Dorrell says. "(Norvell) and I speak the same language. He's the only one who I've had in my career whose expectations are the same as my expectations."

If Norvell's impact is similar to Walker, UCLA will be playing for the Pac-10 title in the season finale against USC. In one season, the UCLA defense went from 113th in total defense in 2005 to 35th last season.

UCLA was 71st in the nation in total offense last year, and 64th in scoring offense.

High praise or high expectations?

New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was talking again about USC -- and that usually means something interesting is soon to follow.

Harbaugh said this spring that his NFL sources said USC coach Pete Carroll had one more season with the Trojans before he was leaving for the NFL. Carroll scoffed at the notion, and scoffed with Harbaugh's latest statement.

"I think USC could be the greatest team in the history of college football," Harbaugh says.

To which Carroll responded: "You gotta love Jim, don't you? We're just a bunch of guys trying to put together a championship team."

One game can't make a season

Suddenly, whether they like it or not, the Cal Bears are the Pac-10's answer to LSU coach Les Miles' rant.

Miles' insult of the Pac-10 last month -- and, specifically, the teams USC must play to reach the national title game -- was the talk of the day.

And now Cal, a year removed from an emasculating loss to Tennessee in last year's season opener, is back in the barrel again. The Bears have a chance to liven the debate -- or end it very quickly and humbly -- in the season opener against the Vols in Berkeley.

"We're not out for revenge," says Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "We want redemption."

Quote of the day

USC coach Pete Carroll: "At a time when sports needs something good to happen, college football is coming."

Extra points: Oregon State coach Mike Riley didn't make the trip because of a death in the OSU athletic department. Jim Gilstrap, coordinator of support services for the football team, died Thursday. Yvenson Bernard, OSU's star tailback, made the trip to Los Angeles: "We won 10 games last season, and we've got a better team this year." ... Ty Willingham created a buzz this spring when he announced that heralded redshirt freshman QB Jake Locker would start from Day 1. Count Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson as a guy who's not surprised: "I've seen a lot of good quarterbacks in my day. Jake may be the best high school quarterback I've ever seen." As for the ever stoic Willingham: "Jake is a very unique individual. I don't want to place too much on him." ... Harbaugh, an All-Big ten quarterback at Michigan as a player, says he asks three things of his team: "Play hard, play hurt, play to win." Then he added, "The things that come out of my mouth, I can hear Bo (Schembechler) saying the same things."

Predicted order of finish
Pac-10 media poll
1.USC
2.California
3.UCLA
4.Arizona State
5.Oregon State
6.Oregon
7.Arizona
8.Washington State
9.Washington
10.Stanford

TSN predictions
Offensive player of the year: John David Booty, USC
Defensive player of the year: Antoine Cason, Arizona
Coach of the year: Karl Dorrell, UCLA

www.sportingnews.com

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2007 Pac Ten Football Preview (Part One)
by The Beast

With Pac Ten Media day yesterday, I thought it was fitting that I start the first part of a two part 2007 Pac Ten football preview.

Player of the Year: The favorite coming in is USC's John David Booty. Booty was impressive as a first-time starter in 2006, throwing for 3,347 yards and 29 touchdowns. He's an experienced quarterback and knows how to get the ball to all of his playmakers on offense. Many of the "experts" are regarding Booty as one of the nation's top quarterbacks and a Heisman contender. Elsewhere in the conference, Cal is led by WR DeSean Jackson, who might be the fastest player in college football with 13 total touchdowns in 2006. Jackson is known for his big play ability, returning four punts for touchdowns last season. The biggest darkhorse in this race could be Rudy Carpenter from Arizona State, who looks to improve upon a shaky 2006 season where he completed just 58% of his passes and threw 14 interceptions. Despite a terrible '06 season, Carpenter was extremely efficient as a freshman. In 2005, he threw for 2,273 yards, had a 17:2 touchdown to interception ratio, and completed 68% of his passes, while just starting five games and appearing in nine. Without a quarterback controversy this season and a new coach in Dennis Erickson, don't be surprised if he returns to the 2005 form. But in the end, I think it will come down to John David Booty being the quarterback and the best player on the conference's best team, USC. I like him to be the Conference Player of the Year.

Freshmen to Watch: It'll be really interesting to watch the new Washington Huskies quarterback, freshman Jake Locker. Locker is being anointed by many Husky fans as the savior of the program. I'll be curious to see if he can match the hype. He'll have his chance to prove himself early, September 15th versus Ohio State. The USC freshman will always be exciting to watch, particularly Joe McKnight. The Louisiana native is already being dubbed as the next Reggie Bush.

Breakout Players: There are some solid young QBs in the Pac-10, and perhaps none more than the two from Arizona, Willie Tuitama and Rudy Carpenter. Carpeter was outstanding in 2005. With a new coach and without a quarterback controversy, expect Carpenter to revert to his 2005 form. The other, Willie Tuitama of Arizona struggled mightily in 2006, as the Wildcats finished 115th nationally in total offense. However, Arizona brings in Texas Tech assistant Sonny Dykes to implement the spread offense. Dykes's spread attacks was very successful at Texas Tech, where the Red Raiders' quarterbacks routinely threw for over 4,000 yards.

Other Things to Watch: Can anyone in the Pac-10 beat USC? It will certainly be tough but the Trojans will have to play at Cal, at Oregon, and at Arizona State. These three teams will certainly give the Trojans everything that they have. Another interesting thing is to see whether Oregon State was a won-hit wonder in 2006... The Beavers won ten games in 2006 and return 15 of 22 starters, including star running back Yvenson Bernard. If they can get some consistent play at the quarterback position the Beavers should have some success. And sorry Washington States fans, despite an experienced QB in Josh Brink, don't expect the Cougars to claim the Pac Ten food chain.

Best Games:- Tennessee at Cal - Last year the Volunteers destroyed Cal at Neyland Stadium. This year the Bears will get the Vols at home and they are looking for revenge. (September 2nd) - USC at California - Cal is regarded as the team that will seriously challenge the men of troy, and getting them at home will certainly help. (November 10th) - UCLA at USC - With the loss to UCLA last year the Trojans will be looking for revenge.(December 1st)

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2007 Stanford Cardinal Football Preview
byThe Beast

Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh

Home Field Advantage: Stanford Stadium 10 out of 10 in Pac Ten

Season Opener: September 1st versus UCLA

Pac Ten Forecast: 10 out of 10

Offense: Senior Quarterback T.C. Ostrander has been here before. He has played in twenty-two games over his career, usually after Trent Edwards got hurt. Last season he threw for 918 yards and three touchdowns. What makes his job even more challenging is the fact that he will have to throw begind the Pac 10’s worst offensive line. Last season, Stanford quarterbacks were sacked fifty times, the most in the country. If he does have time to throw, he’ll have a solid receiving group to thow to. The Cardinal feature one of the Pac Ten’s better groups in Evan Moore, Mark Bradford, and Richard Sherman. However, both Moore and Bradford have been prone to foot injuries. Health will certainly be a concern. Tailback will be a major issue for the Cardinal. New Head Coach Jim Harbaugh will have to decide between Junior Anthony Kimble and Sophomore Toby Gerhart. Kimble started eleven out of twelve games last season, but barely rushed for 400 yards and only had two touchdowns. Gerhart showed some promise as a true freshman in 2006 as he rushed for 375 yards.

Defense: While the Cardinal were busy giving up fifty sacks in 2006, they only had fourteen itself. Senior Defensive End Udeme Udofia is being counted upon by Harbaugh to be “like a Dwight Freeney.” Unrealistic expectations to say the least. Pannel Egboh return as the other starting defensive end. The Cardinal must replace All-Pac 10 Linebacker Michael Okwo, as a playmaker and a leader. Sophomores linebacker Brian Bulcke and Clinton Snyder, will be depended upon to do just that. Saftey appears to be the biigest problem facing Harbaugh. No starters return at either free safttey or strong safety. Carolos McFall is pegged in at free safety based on his limited experience.

Special Teams: The Cardinal should be fine here. Punter Jay Ottovegio and Kicker Aaron Zagory both return.

X-Factor: Offensive line. Last year they have up the most sacks in the entire nation and averaged just 65.1 rushing yards per game. This must improve if the Cardinal are going to escape the Pac Ten cellar.

Overall: Harbaugh has established a new attitude up on The Farm. He was 29-6 as the Head Coach at the University of San Diego. However, he still has to deal with many of the same players that went 1-11 under Walt Harris. With no pushovers on the schedule, another long season awaits Cardinal fans.

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DIRECT FROM VEGAS
NICK BOGDANOVICH

PAC 10 COULD GET INTERESTING WITH CAL, UCLA, AND OREGON CHASING THE USC TROJANS

There's been a lot of talk here in Vegas about many of the big Pac 10 games coming up this season. For some reason, many sharps have very strong opinions about certain teams this year. What's funny is that they're not really agreeing on which team is the biggest threat to USC at the top of the Pac 10.

We've been sprinkling some college football articles through the summer here at the website. The Hilton sportsbook posted some early game lines for marquee matchups a couple of weeks ago. Rather than running through the full board at the time, I thought it would be better to focus on particular teams or conferences. We've already discussed Notre Dame, and the very interesting Big Ten. Be sure to check the archives for those articles if you missed them.

Today, let's look at the Pac 10:

* USC is picked by some to win the national championship this year. I know some sharps that think they might not even win the Pac 10! That's how competitive the league could be this season.

* CALIFORNIA is seen by the sharps and the oddsmakers as the second best team in the conference. Some preseason magazine pundits have them as low as fifth. You'll see in a moment that the early game lines suggest Cal is more highly regarded among wagerers than other competitors for the throne.

* UCLA is getting a lot of respect from the sharps in early action. Many have been urging friends to take the Bruins NOW plus the points against USC because the Hilton line of 16 may be much lower by the time that late season meeting rolls around. UCLA returns a ton of starters to a team that upset USC last year. The problem is, they were just 6-6 in their other 12 games counting the bowl loss to Florida State.
     
* OREGON is respected by pundits, but not sharps at this point. Maybe that's because the Ducks looked so awful in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, getting routed by Brigham Young. They were also non-competitive against USC last season. Maybe the magazines think the rematch in Eugene will be a different story.

Those are the big four getting the most respect in terms of title talk. Arizona State, Arizona, and Oregon State are seen as dangerous teams who could jump up and bit somebody. Washington, Washington State, and Stanford aren't expected to be too dangerous overall. Anything can happen on any given week though.

Let's focus on the big four for now. Here are the early Hilton lines for games matching up those teams.

Games matching the big four (early Hilton line I parenthesis)

9/29: California (-1) at Oregon
10/18: California at UCLA (-1)
10/27: USC (-13) at Oregon
11/10: USC (-7.5) at California
11/24: Oregon at UCLA (-4)
12/1: UCLA at USC (-16)

You can see why things get muddled up a bit here. Back in the Big Ten, the home teams were favored in all the meetings. Here in the Pac 10, favored USC has to go on the road to play both Oregon and California. Cal has to go on the road to play both Oregon and UCLA. Many magazine pundits seem to be favorite Oregon over Cal because of the scheduling situation rather than because Oregon is the better team.

Based on those numbers:

* USC is currently seen as double digits better than the other contenders on a neutral field. That line of 7.5 at Cal would be over 10 on a neutral field, and almost two touchdowns at home. That's consistent with USC being national championship material.

* California is seen as being better than both Oregon and UCLA, but they've got to play both of those games on the road...resulting in virtual pick-ems. There's a decent chance the "second best" team in the league won't finish second at the end of the season.

* UCLA is seen as slightly better than Oregon. The combination of the returning starter edge plus Oregon's collapse late last season is weighing heavily on the minds of the sharps. I want to see those guys take the field before making any betting determinations.

* Oregon gets two games against the other three at home, which could give them a boost in the standings that isn't justified by power ratings.

Those USC road challenges could loom very large this season. Last year they were thought of as a national championship contender much of the season...and some thought they would have fared well against either Ohio State or Florida in a championship game. The Rose Bowl win over Michigan was impressive. Let's not forget these road efforts by the team last season though:

* USC (-21) beat Arizona 20-3
* USC (-16) beat Washington State 26-20
* USC (-10) lost at Oregon State 33-31
* USC (-11) lost at UCLA 13-9

The win at Arizona wasn't by a margin you'd expect from a national power. The Trojans barely survived lowly Washington State...then couldn't survive either Oregon State or UCLA! They did play great in the Rose Bowl...and in a three-game home stretch against Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame late in the season. Those weak road efforts could very well hint at issues that may pop up on the road at Oregon or Cal this season (or at Nebraska, Notre Dame, or Arizona State too for that matter).

Another issue to remember here is how being in the BCS race can mess up your focus late in the season. I wrote about that at length last season. USC was one of the few teams to dodge a few bullets in that regard (the home wins) before ultimately getting nailed by UCLA in the regular season finale. California was sitting at 8-1 straight up and getting a lot of BCS respect before losing as a double digit favorite at Arizona. They got caught reading their press clippings and looking ahead to USC. After a poor showing against the Trojans, Cal barely got by Stanford 26-17 as a 30-point favorite.

Teams are more evenly packed than the public realizes. The distractions of the BCS race have helped magnify that in recent seasons. You can expect USC to be in the BCS race again this season. Whoever survives the conference wars to be second in the Pac 10 will is likely to also be in the BCS top ten come November. There are only six major conferences...and there are 10 spots in the top ten. Look for the #2 team, whoever that ends up being, to get distracted as well.

I think this is going to be a very interesting race this year. The matchups amongst Cal, Oregon, and UCLA should be very exciting. And, really, any of the three could rise up and knock off USC. UCLA did it last year as a big dog. So did Washington State.

I can tell you this. The sharps are all over UCLA right now. They think the Bruins are the darkhorse to make a run at the Trojans. If you want to bet like the sharps do, that would mean taking early positions on UCLA on the assumption that the lines will move against you later. Some have taken BIG early positions so they can shoot middles after the line moves. Personally, I'm not as excited about UCLA as the professional wagerers are. It's one of those teams that starts kicking the ball around as soon as you believe in them. I think the Bruins will have at least one great game head to head amongst the big four...and maybe two. I'd be surprised if they looked good in all three games. Matchups with Oregon and USC come back-to-back at the end of the season. Hard to see the Bruins thriving in BOTH of those matchups.

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Oregon State CB Francies reportedly dismissed from team
August 2, 2007

PORTLAND, OREGON (TICKER) -- Oregon State cornerback Coye Francies was dismissed from the football team Thursday, according to a report on The Oregonian's web site.

Francies, a senior, was arrested for illegal weapons possession in early June, but the charges were dropped last month.

However, Francies apparently has run his course with Oregon State coach Mike Riley, who told The Oregonian that the talented defensive back was dismissed for violation of team rules.

"I thought of Coye as a starter, I really did," Riley told the newspaper. "I thought of him as a third starting corner and capable of a lot of things."

Francies appeared in all 14 games last season for the Beavers, recording 39 tackles, two sacks and one interception. He also was the team's top kickoff returner, collecting 493 yards on 22 returns.

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Pac-10 - Can USC go undefeated?
August 10th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Trojans head into 2007 as the clear- cut number one team in the nation, but unlike last season, they have four tough contests away from Memorial Coliseum where they have not lost since 2001. Both UCLA and Oregon State got the best of Southern Cal last season when the Trojans were double-digit road favorites so anything can happen.

The Pac-10 fared poorly as a whole in non-conference games, winning only 63% as opposed to 74% in '06. The league barely finished above .500 ATS at 16-15-1, but posted 10 SU wins in 17 games vs. other BCS schools. With Arizona State, Oregon and Arizona on the way up, there's a good chance the league can improve on last year's records.

Here is my take on the Pac-10, with odds to win the National Championship in parenthesis:

1) USC (5-2 favorite) - Last season, the Trojans had to replace 13 starters. This year that number falls to six, which is why many in the media are calling for USC to reach the title game.

Strengths - John David Booty had a fine season replacing Matt Leinart, throwing 29 TDs with nine picks. The running game, which fell below USC standards due to multiple injuries, will rebound to help offset the lack of veteran receivers. Ten starters return to a defense which in many circles is rated the best in the land.

Weaknesses - It will be up to Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton and David Ausberry to replace the 141 catches for 2,098 yards from Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. That's asking a lot from a junior, sophomore and redshirt freshman. USC averaged +20 in turnover differential from 2003-05, but only produced a +4 last season.

Bottom line - The Trojans are the best in the country, but will not finish the regular season 12-0. Nevertheless, 11-1 (8-1) should be good enough to make it to the BCS National Championship Game unless Louisville and LSU both go undefeated. Southern Cal has finished an even 13-13 ATS the past two years and won't be that much better in '07 since Pete Carroll's club will be heavy favorites on a weekly basis.

2) ARIZONA STATE (50-1) - Mediocrity is the exact word that described the Sun Devils during the Dirk Koetter era. Arizona State will be a completely different team under Dennis Erickson.

Strengths - Last year was a nightmare from the start, with Koetter's pathetic handling of QBs Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Still, his decision to hand Carpenter the reins will have a much more positive effect in 2007. His receiving core was a merry-go-round of players last season and that position will improve dramatically. There's no denying that the defense was the reason the Sun Devils went bowling, as the unit gave up just 305 yards per game in Pac-10 play and held opposing league QBs to a 49.5% completion rate.

Weaknesses - One area that must be rebuilt is on special teams. ASU lost their kicker and top return man.

Bottom line - The new coaching staff will mold this talented squad to a 10-win season and a second place tie with Oregon at 7-2. Arizona State will be one of the top-rated clubs ATS, so stick with the Sun Devils on a week-to-week basis.

3) OREGON (50-1) - The Ducks sandwiched a 10-2 campaign in '05 with two putrid seasons of 5-6 in '04 and 7-6 last year. With 14 starters returning, look for a return to dominance for the fans in Eugene.

Strengths - Despite the step backwards in '06, Oregon still averaged 28 ppg, good for second-best in conference play. Incidentally, that's where the Ducks finished in their 10-2 season. The Ducks sport the top 1-2 running back combo in the league in Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson, and the odds of QBs Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf under-performing like they did a year ago is extremely low. Defensively, the team finished second in Pac-10 play in yards allowed for the second straight season.

Weaknesses - With numbers like those, it's a wonder how this team lost its last four games. The reason? Turnovers. Oregon ended up last in league play with 25 offensive miscues, and after forcing 24 in '05, the Ducks could only gain 13 last year.

Bottom line - Mike Bellotti will lead his team to 10 victories, seven in the Pac-10 and the Ducks will be a great team to bet on throughout the season, even at Michigan in week two.

4) UCLA (30-1) - Run defense was the number one story in Westwood last year, especially against USC. The Bruins held the Trojans to 55 yards rushing on 29 carries in their 13-9 upset victory.

Strengths - No team in college football improved as much on defense as UCLA did, allowing two TDs less per game, and the "D" returns 10 starters. The Bruins offense averaged just 23 ppg, down 16 points from '05, but that was mainly due to the losses of Drew Olson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Look for much- improved numbers in '07 with 10 returning starters.

Weaknesses - The Bruins finished 5-4 in the Pac-10 outscoring their conference opponents 22-19, but were outgained by an average of six yards per contest. Interestingly enough, the year before they were outgained by 73 yards despite a 6-2 league mark! Despite the 20 returning starters, UCLA loses a prime weapon in kicker Justin Medlock, who nailed 31-of-42 FGs from 40 yards and out.

Bottom line - The offense will be better, but it's doubtful the defense will sustain its monster numbers. Look for eight wins, five in the conference. Bettors have loved the Bruins the previous three seasons, with 23 covers and only 14 defeats.

5) ARIZONA (300-1) - The last two years the Wildcats have upset two top 10 teams in UCLA and California, and should have their best season in almost a decade.

Strengths - It's a new era in Tucson, as offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes comes over from Texas Tech to institute the spread offense. Expect QB Willie Tuitama to have an explosive campaign with the changeover. The defensive backfield received great news earlier in the year when top cover corner Antoine Cason announced he would return for his senior season. Nine starters return from a defense that finished second in conference play allowing just 18.6 ppg.

Weaknesses - The Wildcats are also 8-17 in the Pac-10 under Mike Stoops so history is not on their side.

Bottom line - The schedule is immensely difficult with road games at BYU, Cal, Oregon State, USC and ASU, but the 'Cats are moving in the right direction. If the offense jells quickly, look for an 8-4 (5-4) record and a solid ATS mark.

6) CALIFORNIA (50-1) - Last season opened on a sour note as the Bears got hammered at Tennessee, but they rebounded to finish 10-3, with a victory over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl.

Strengths - The running game will not drop off as one might think without Marshawn Lynch. Remember, Justin Forsett gained 999 yards back in '05. The combo of Nate Longshore and the top receiving corps in the conference will guide California to another successful offensive season.

Weaknesses - There's no doubt the defense underachieved last year. After ending up third in league play in '05 allowing 375 ypg, they finished eighth last year with seven starters returning! The Bears bring back just two starters from their front seven in '07, including just one career sack from its defensive line. Pass defense was a problem in '06 after Tim Mixon was lost prior to the season, and this season will be even tougher without top cover man, Deymeion Hughes.

Bottom line - The offense will sparkle and the defense will fizzle. Cal falls to 7-5, 4-5 in the Pac-10 and will fail to finish above .500 ATS for the third straight year.

7) OREGON STATE (300-1)
- The Beavers posted 10 wins for the first time since 2000, but will falter this season as they did in '01 when they won just three conference games.

Strengths - Sixteen starters return, including 1,307-yard rusher Yvenson Bernard, and the receiving unit is extremely deep. The defense led the nation with 47 sacks and OSU returns 87% of them in '07.

Weaknesses - The Beavers were a +8 in turnover margin. The last two seasons they finished at that number or higher, they fell to -7 and -8 the following years. Quarterback Matt Moore must be replaced, as well as the top defensive player, safety Sabby Piscitelli.

Bottom line - A lot of things went right for Oregon State last season, including winning its final three games by a combined six points. Mike Riley's club will not be as fortunate in '07, but will still finish over .500 at 7-5, 4-5 in the Pac-10. The Beavers are 6-1 as road favorites the last three years.

8) WASHINGTON (100-1 - Field) - Can the Huskies improve on their 5-7 record with perhaps the toughest schedule in the nation?

Strengths - If redshirt freshman QB Jake Looker is the real deal, look for Washington to have its most productive offense since 2002. The Huskies running game will be solid with Louis Rankin and J.R. Hasty, and the offensive line is the biggest in school history.

Weaknesses - Of the eight defensive backs in spring practice, three were walk- ons. Not a good sign in the pass happy Pac-10. In addition, the club lost five of its top six tacklers to graduation.

Bottom line - Washington will be lucky to win five games, as the team must face Ohio State, Boise State, Hawaii out of conference. Expect a 4-9 record, with three of those victories coming in league play. If Looker looks sharp early on, the Huskies will be a viable team to follow ATS.

9) WASHINGTON STATE (100-1 - Field) - The Cougars look to rebound from losing their final three games in '06 after starting the campaign with six wins in their first nine games.

Strengths - Alex Brink rarely pleases the Pullman faithful, but all he does is produce "W's" and improve each and every season. Washington State was number one in Pac-10 play with 24 forced turnovers and third in sacks with 26.

Weaknesses - Unfortunately for Cougar fans, most of the defensive playmakers have departed, especially in the secondary, which will leave the unit in a state of flux. The offensive line must improve after allowing 22 sacks the final seven games.

Bottom line - The Cougars have five conference road games, which will leave them at 2-7 in the Pac-10 and four wins overall. They are 11-11 ATS the last two years, but will fall below the .500 mark in '07.

10) STANFORD (100-1 - Field) - Nowhere to go but up after a miserable 1-11 season.

Strengths - The run defense improved as the year went on allowing 908 yards on 3.8 ypc the last six games after giving up 1,618 yards on 5.8 ypc the first six. In addition, the "D" produced 10 sacks the final six contests after registering just four in the first six.

Weaknesses - The offense didn't help the improved defense any with just 10.6 ppg and 232 ypg. Those numbers were even worse (8 ppg and 199 ypg) in Pac-10 play.

Bottom line - It will be another long season in Palo Alto with only one win, a home victory over San Jose State. Stanford finished 0-4 as a home underdog last year, but could pick up one or two ATS victories later in the season.

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Pac-10 Preview: As usual, Pac-10 is stacked with quarterbacks

USC's Booty among eight top passers returning
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES -- From Jim Plunkett to John Elway and Drew Bledsoe to Matt Leinart, the Pac-10 has long been the conference of quarterbacks.

This year's crop may turn out to be the best of all.

Eight of the top nine passers from last fall are back, led by Southern California senior John David Booty, who has emerged as a preseason Heisman Trophy contender. Booty is only one reason the Trojans were a unanimous pick by West Coast media to win their fifth consecutive conference title.

"To me it's by far the best that I've seen as far as depth quarterback-wise," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, who previously coached at Washington State and Oregon State. "I mean, everybody's got their quarterback coming back."

Erickson paused, then smiled.

"What that tells me is that whoever has the best defense is probably going to win the league," Erickson said during Pac-10 media day.

Defense? They play defense in the Pac-10?

Last year, only one Pac-10 team ranked in the top 25 in scoring defense -- USC, which allowed 15.2 points per game, 11th in Division I-A. Meanwhile, four schools -- USC, Washington State, California and Oregon State -- were among the top 25 in passing offense.

There may be some debate over whether Pac-10 offenses are that good or Pac-10 defenses are that bad. But it seems clear that this year's title will be won in the air.

"I don't think there is any conference in the country that can claim the skill-position players that we do, particularly at quarterback," Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said.

Passing has always been a fancy on the West Coast. One reason is that Pac-10 programs don't have to go far to find prospects; California annually produces bumper crops of passing and receiving prospects.

California junior Nate Longshore is "another coach on our field," Bears coach Jeff Tedford said. "Nate is a student of the game."

Tedford knows quarterbacks. In 15 years as a college assistant and head coach, he is credited with developing six quarterbacks who were first-round NFL draft picks, including Cal products Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller.

WSU coach Bill Doba said Cougars senior Alex Brink "knows more about this offense than I do."

Brink has been a worthy heir to the Pullman quarterback tradition established by Bledsoe, Jack Thompson, Ryan Leaf and Jason Gesser, all of whom led the Pac-10 in passing. Brink threw for 19 touchdowns and had 10 interceptions a year ago, earning a spot on the second-team all-conference squad.

Then there's Booty, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder who came to the Pac-10 from Shreveport, La., in the heart of Southeastern Conference country.

Booty spent two years behind Leinart, but he has thrown 32 touchdown passes in three seasons. If Booty matches last year's total (29) he would finish third on the school's career list behind Leinart and Carson Palmer, both Heisman winners.

The soft-spoken Booty is quick to credit his teammates for his success, but he said he welcomes comparisons to previous Trojan stars.

"I give my best and work hard, and I want to be a winner because of the great players who came before me," Booty said. "If I can be half as good as some of them, I will be happy about my career at USC."

USC coach Pete Carroll said he expects a big year from Booty, who has had elbow and back injuries but is now healthy.

Not every returning starter is as decorated as Booty, Longshore and Brink.

Oregon is looking for more consistency from senior Dennis Dixon, who threw more interceptions (14) than touchdown passes (12) a year ago. Dixon entered fall camp as the starter, but if he falters, the Ducks can call on another experienced senior, Brady Leaf, the younger brother of Ryan Leaf.

Arizona junior Willie Tuitama had an outstanding freshman season but battled concussions last year. The Wildcats hope Tuitama won't take as many hits in new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes' quick-trigger attack.

Only two teams -- Washington and Oregon State -- are breaking in new starters. Washington starter Jake Locker, a redshirt freshman, has supplanted senior Carl Bonnell, who started the last five games in 2006.

If Erickson's scouting report is valid, Locker looks like he'll fit nicely in the Pac-10.

"Coming out of high school, probably the best I've ever seen," Erickson said.


PAC-10 PREDICTIONS

A capsule look at the Pac-10 in order of predicted finish:


USC -- A trio of potential NFL linebackers leads a defense that might be the best in the country. OLBs Brian Cushing and Keith Rivers and ILB Rey Maulaluga could all be All-Americans. ... Trojans have tricky road schedule with games at Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State.


CALIFORNIA -- All-American DeSean Jackson has returned five punts for TDs in his career. ... TB Justin Forsett, who ran for 626 yards as Marshawn Lynch's backup last season, becomes the starter. ... Pass defense ranked 103rd in the nation last season and must replace CB Daymeion Hughes.


UCLA -- Remember the defense that shut down USC in the final regular-season game and kept the Trojans from playing for a national title? Well, 10 starters from the defense are back, led by DE Bruce Davis and LB Christian Taylor. ... New offensive coordinator is Jay Norvell, who held that same job at Nebraska.


OREGON STATE -- No returning starter at QB here. Left-hander Sean Canfield takes over for Matt Moore. ... Canfield has one of the top backs -- if not so well-known -- in the country in Yvenson Bernard, and top-notch receiver Sammie Stroughter.


OREGON -- Lots of talk about who's playing quarterback, but if RB Jonathan Stewart stays healthy, he'll be the Ducks' best offensive weapon. The 240-pounder has scored 20 touchdowns in two seasons. ... Ended last season with four consecutive losses.


ARIZONA STATE -- QB Rudy Carpenter had an erratic sophomore season after a brilliant freshman year. He passed for 2,523 yards and 23 touchdowns, but had low efficiency rating of 133.68. ... RB Ryan Torain is another under-the-radar star. He ran for 1,229 last year.


ARIZONA -- Coach Mike Stoops has shown some signs of getting the Wildcats going in the right direction, but he's still just 12-22 in three seasons in Tucson. ... CBs Antoine Cason and Wilfrey Fontenot might be the top duo in the league.


WASHINGTON -- Coach Tyrone Willingham appeared to have the Huskies ahead of schedule early last season. But QB Isaiah Stanback's injury ruined the season and Washington lost six consecutive games. ... Schedule is brutal with home games against Boise State and Ohio State.


WASHINGTON STATE
-- The Cougars will be breaking in two new cornerbacks, scary stuff in a league with so many good passers. ... Slotback Michael Bumpus (60 catches) and WR Brandon Gibson (49 catches) give QB Alex Brink two reliable targets.


STANFORD -- Coach Jim Harbaugh has already made headlines, first saying Pete Carroll would be leaving USC after this season and then by calling the Trojans potentially the greatest team ever.

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Pac-10 Sleeper Candidates    
       
In our last look at BCS sleepers for the 2007 season, we will embark on a journey out west. Go west young man! USC should dominate the Pac-10 in 2007 (yes, once again) and it would take a complete upset for the Trojans to lose the conference title or an appearance in the national title game. Outside of the Trojans, there are fantasy options a plenty at California, Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State. Additionally, you can bet all eyes will be on the offense at Washington, where the highly touted Jake Locker will start the year as the number one quarterback. In addition to Locker, fantasy owners will want to watch how the Dennis Dixon saga unfolds in Oregon, while which USC receiver will emerge behind Patrick Turner?

-- Quarterbacks --

Jake Locker, Washington

It may not be fair to give Locker a sleeper title, especially after he’s been highly touted and head coach Tyrone Willingham gave him the job before spring ball opened. However, considering he’s a redshirt freshman and probably has some learning to do, he’s probably undervalued in your league. What’s most intriguing about Locker is his dual-threat potential. The Huskies did a good job when Isaiah Stanback was healthy of producing quality fantasy points, but things went downhill after he was injured. The sky’s the limit for Locker and he should make plenty of noise in 2007.

Nathan Costa & Brady Leaf, Oregon

The Ducks have Dennis Dixon, so why do Costa/Leaf make this list? With Dixon spending his time on the diamond this summer, instead of being in Eugene with the football team, Leaf and Costa have had time to close the gap for the starting nod. The Ducks like Dixon’s ability, but he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet. If Dixon struggles early in the year, Leaf or Costa will get a shot and considering the Ducks offensive friendly system – don’t count them off your roster.

Sean Canfield, Oregon State

Replacing Matt Moore won’t be easy, but the Beavers potentially have a good one in Canfield. Canfield played a little bit last year – completing 28 of 45 for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Canfield will have to hold off a challenge from Lyle Moevao, but his fantasy prospects are pretty good. When you consider the Beavers have running back Yvenson Bernard, receivers Sammie Stroughter, Brandon Powers and Anthony Brown – he’s got potential to put up the points in bunches.


-- Running Backs --

Chris Jennings & Xavier Smith, Arizona

The Wildcats are switching to the spread offense, but that doesn’t mean the running game will be gone. Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes wants to get the backs involved in the receiving game – think Texas Tech’s Shannon Woods. While Jennings or Smith probably won’t post monster statistics like Woods, they will be a factor on the field. Don’t expect huge rushing totals, but the winner of the starting job could be a 40-50 catch back in 2007.

James Montgomery & Javid Best, California

Marshawn Lynch is gone, which means Justin Forsett will become the Golden Bears starting running back. Forsett has been very good in the number two role for the team, so the team has no doubt about his abilities. The question comes at the number two spot. Will Montgomery or Best rotate in the backfield like Forsett did with Lynch? Forsett isn’t very big (5’8, 186 pounds) so the Golden Bears will probably want to rotate carries with another player to keep him fresh. Montgomery has a slight edge on Best for the number two role, but college football recruiting services considered Best one of the fastest players in the country last year. It will be hard to keep that type of speed off the field.


-- Wide Receivers --

Mike Jones, Arizona State

Everyone knows about the Sun Devils struggles last year and there is reason for concern and reasons for a rebound in 2007. As long as quarterback Rudy Carpenter is healthy, he’s capable of leading this offense to a top 10-20 ranking in scoring. If Carpenter gets going, he’ll need his receivers to step up and at times, Jones was the team’s best receiver. His statistics indicate he was Carpenter’s favorite wide receiver target, as tight end Zach Miller got most of the work through the air. Considering the struggles of the team last year, you can’t put too much stock in the Sun Devils, but if Carpenter shakes off the demons from last year, Jones will be a fine pickup as productive fantasy receiver.

Anthony Johnson, Terrell Turner, Terrell Reese & Delashaun Dean, Arizona

With the Wildcats switching to the spread offense, we know someone outside of Mike Thomas has to step up in the receiving department – we just don’t know who yet. Johnson is the veteran in this group, but Dean is believed to be the one with the biggest upside. At this point, it’s hard to guess which guy might emerge as the number two and three options – although Johnson looks like a good pick – watch this battle closely in fall practice and early in the year. Whoever starts to collect receptions will be a fantasy option.

USC

We know Patrick Turner is locked into one receiver spot, but is Vidal Hazelton going to lock down the number two spot? Head coach Pete Carroll likes the potential of his receivers and with the talent in place, there’s really no reason to be concerned. I think you have to consider Hazelton the #2 option and Travon Patterson/David Ausberry battling for the #3 spot. It will be important for fantasy owners to monitor this battle. If you pickup the right one – you could have the next Steve Smith on your hands.


-- Tight Ends --

Rob Gronkowski, Arizona

There is a sleeper candidate from Arizona in three levels of this writeup. Interesting isn’t it? Gronkowski was one of the nation’s top tight end recruits and Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops was glad to see him head to Tucson. The Wildcats may be installing a spread offense, but Stoops and offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes have stated the tight end will be involved with the offense. Gronkowski has excellent hands and he’ll have no trouble starting right away this year. Definitely a nice sleeper candidate with the change in offenses.

Howard Croom, Oregon State

The Beavers have cranked out a couple of quality fantasy tight ends in recent memory, so I think it’s worth seeing how Croom does in 2007. You never know, Croom could be the next Joe Newton. The Beavers are breaking in a new quarterback, which is a bit of a downside, but head coach Mike Riley wants to keep his tight ends involved with the offense. Croom is definitely the deepest pick at sleeper on this list, but not someone you should ignore.

profantasysports.com

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Trojans tailback Moody decides to transfer
Associated Press

Emmanuel Moody, the second-leading rusher for Southern California last season as a freshman who is caught in a glut of highly regarded tailbacks, has decided to transfer.

"We've talked about it for a couple days. It was not a snap decision," Trojans coach Pete Carroll said after practice Thursday. "He's of the mind that he needs to move on. He's looking for an opportunity where he can be a featured guy.

"I feel bad he's been banged up and not looked his best lately in camp. He did well for us last year, and the first part of camp before getting hurt."

Moody, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore from Texas, gained 458 yards on 79 carries last season before missing the final four games because of a sprained ankle. He entered camp as one of 10 players competing for playing time at tailback.

"This will make the opportunities better for the kids still here," Carroll said. "Guys come here and know they'll play. If they lose that feeling, they're not going to fit. (Moody) didn't leave here disgruntled — he's a great kid. He just thought he'd get a chance somewhere where the competition is different. He was at peace with his decision and said he had no regrets.

"It's tough here," Carroll said. "It's as challenging as it can get. That's the central theme of our program — competition. This place isn't for everyone. Guys can have a change of heart."

Moody bruised his knee in a scrimmage Sunday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and didn't practice after that.

"He had had a tremendous fall camp until he got banged up," Carroll said. "I'm not surprised if someone wants to leave. But we're not as right (at tailback) as it seems. We're not practicing with 10 guys because some guys have been banged up. And we're losing four guys off this depth chart next season.

Carroll referred to Moody along with seniors Chauncey Washington, Hershel Dennis and Desmond Reed. Dennis isn't practicing because of knee soreness, and it doesn't appear freshman Marc Tyler, who broke his leg as a high school senior last season, will be ready to play any time soon.

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Pac-10 Conference Preview

In a conference riddled with offensive firepower, USC, Cal and UCLA make it a top-heavy group

Say what you want about Washington State coach Bill Doba's job security, but there's no denying he's usually dead-on in his assessments.

Asked about the quality of returning quarterbacks in the Pacific-10 Conference and the impact nine returning triggermen will have on offenses, he admitted he hadn't realized how many were back, but the former defensive coordinator didn't mince words when discussing the offensive firepower of the conference.

"It's grass basketball," Doba said at the Pac-10 Media Day. "People throw the football.

"It makes the defensive coordinator's job pretty dang tough."

Quarterbacks like John David Booty, Nate Longshore and Alex Brink are going to give the Pac-10 an Arena League feel this season, but don't take it to mean defense is an afterthought. USC has an experienced defense with enough talent to leave crusty NFL scouts drooling on their cell phones. UCLA isn't a pushover under defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who has the Bruins' defense playing like a bunch of kids who got tired of letting the bully take their lunch money.

"You cannot win without being good on defense," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.

That's probably why USC was a unanimous pick to win the conference title in the preseason media poll. Most Pac-10 football fans might tell you any game is up for grabs, but it looks like the conference could be a little top-heavy this season.

California and archrival UCLA are both poised to take on Pete Carroll's championship factory. UCLA knocked off the Trojans last season while Cal shared the Pac-10 title with USC.

Teams like Arizona State, Oregon State and Oregon are probably a step behind the top three, although all are capable of surging toward the top of the conference.


USC - 2006: 11-2 Overall, 7-2 Pac-10

Offense

Quarterback John David Booty is an early Heisman frontrunner after putting together an impressive Rose Bowl performance and earning All-Pac-10 honors last year. He'll clearly miss wide receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, both on to the NFL, and could hand off to as many as 10 running backs. Still, few doubt this unit won't be among the best in the land by the end of the season. RB Chauncey Washington has cut weight and is looking good early on in camp.



Sam Baker is a returning All-America left tackle and guards Chilo Rachal and Drew Radovich are both returning starters, as well.



Tight end Fred Davis could battle with wide outs Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton for the team lead in catches this year. The Trojans like to use a fullback but multiple injuries at the position limited the offense's ability to run its two-back sets last season. Booty will benefit from a healthy Stanley Havili, as well as the addition of the shotgun to the playbook.

Defense

Returning 10 starters is usually a sign of a unit ready for a strong season, but at USC it's considered the makings of a national championship. Last year, teams averaged 15.2 points per game against this bunch and if that number goes down, the Trojans could earn a trip down to the Big Easy for the BCS Championship game.

There might not be a better defensive end in the country than Lawrence Jackson, who surprised some when he decided to return for his senior season. Sedrick Ellis and Fili Moala are run-stuffing tackles who make it difficult for any offensive line to establish a running game - and any tailbacks who get past the line might regret it. Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing make up the nation's most feared linebacking corps.

Coach Pete Carroll knows slowing down a good Pac-10 passing attack requires a serious pass rush, but he's got plenty of athletes in the secondary in case the quarterback gets the ball in the air. Junior Kevin Ellison and sophomore Taylor Mays are physical safeties while cornerbacks Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas are both experienced.

The Skinny

Carroll's bunch is the nation's preseason No. 1 team for good reason. As usual, it's more talented than most, if not every, team in the country. Plus, Carroll has proven himself to be among the best coaches in the nation, leading the Trojans to a 33-game win streak at the Coliseum. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh called USC one of the best teams of all time at the conference's media day.

Of course, the Trojans do have a tough schedule - playing at Nebraska and Notre Dame in the non-conference while trips to Oregon, California and Arizona State are potential flaws for a team shooting for perfection.

The Trojans hope to have their kicking game in place after the tragic death of kicker Mario Danelo, who fell off a cliff near his hometown of San Pedro during the offseason. Booty might not have an experienced bunch around him, but he can't complain about a lack of talent.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 9-0 Pac-10


California - 2006: 10-3 Overall, 7-2 Pac-10

Offense

In another part of the country, Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson would probably earn his own Web site claiming his greatness along the lines of a Tim Tebow or Chuck Norris. It might still happen for Jackson, who, along with USC quarterback John David Booty, is one of the West Coast's biggest Heisman Trophy candidates. The 6-foot speedster set the conference's record returning four punts for touchdowns and is already the league's career leader with five scores.

Jackson emerging as quarterback Nate Longshore's favorite target might sound as sure as a sunrise but Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan are both experienced, talented receivers coming off top-notch seasons. Jordan has started 25 games in his career, a school record, and his streak of 30 games with a catch is the fourth-longest in the country.

"He's an experienced guy who has a great understanding of all of our positions and what we're doing," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said.

Tight end Craig Stevens is another experienced senior who has already earned all-conference honors twice in his career. Stevens is a standout blocker for the Bears, who will look to Justin Forsett to emerge as the next great Cal running back. Forsett is a proven commodity, rushing for over 1,600 career yards (6.4 yards per carry) with six 100-yard games.

If Longshore is going to surpass the 3,021 passing yards he had last season, he'll need his offensive line to hold up, especially since he's not known for his mobility. Center Alex Mack, right guard Noris Malele and right tackle Mike Gibson are all returning starters.

Defense

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory lost a trio of all-conference starters, including the conference's defensive player of the year, Daymeion Hughes. Senior defensive tackle Matt Malele is the most experienced returner with 21 starts in 33 career games. He dropped 23 pounds in the offseason and should be joined by Mika Kane in the middle.

Linebacker Worrell Williams, the younger brother of Broncos linebacker DJ Williams, is emerging as a leader for the Bears' defense. The secondary lost Hughes but returns sophomore cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, free safety Bernard Hicks and rover Brandon Hampton, who began his career as a walk-on running back before starting all 13 games last season on defense.

The Skinny

Cal shared the Pac-10 title with USC, reached a bowl game four years in a row for the first time in program history and has every reason to believe this year is going to be even better. There might not be a better offense in the country and the defense isn't as far behind as some might expect. The Bears are far from a shoe-in, opening the season at home against Tennessee and then traveling to Colorado State.

The Bears' hopes of a conference title and BCS bowl bid likely ride on the outcome of its last two games in October, when they travel to the Rose Bowl and Sun Devil Stadium to face UCLA and Arizona State. Win both of those and don't be surprised to see www.the1towatch.com emerging as one of the most popular Web sites heading into a Nov. 10 showdown with USC.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-1 Overall, 8-1 Pac-10


UCLA - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 6-4 Pac-10


Offense

New offensive coordinator Jay Norvell takes the reins with plans to help the Bruins improve after finishing seventh in the conference with 23 points and 330.1 yards per game last season. Norvell assisted in Nebraska's transition to the West Coast Offense after working in the NFL for six years.

Running back Chris Markey believes he's faster than last season, when he rushed for 1,107 yards. He'll get a chance to prove it as the focal point of the run game. Coach Karl Dorrell declared Ben Olson the starter at quarterback in the spring although backup Pat Cowan was the one who led the Bruins over cross-town rival USC, which had won seven straight in the rivalry game.

Either way, the Bruins return 10 starters on offense, including offensive guard Shannon Tevaga. Wide receivers Marcus Everett and Brandon Breazell need to emerge as more consistent threats. Senior flanker Joe Cowan, Pat's older brother, is back after missing all of last season with a knee injury

Defense

It might sound bizarre, but go ahead and say it - UCLA has one of the best defenses in the country. Defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker might have been a question mark before last season but after coaching a Bruin defense that held foes to 19.9 points and 91.1 rushing yards per game, Bruins alumni Rob Reiner or Heather Locklear might nominate him for his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Losing defensive end Justin Hickman hurts but having Bruce Davis back after sharing the Pac-10 lead with 12.5 sacks last year dampens the blow. It doesn't hurt having tackles Brigham Harwell and Kevin Brown back to control the line of scrimmage, either. Former walk-on Christian Taylor is the unit's leader at middle linebacker.

The secondary returns all four starters in cornerbacks Rodney Van and Trey Brown and safeties Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes. Plus, Alterraun Verner is back after being honored as co-freshman of the year in the Pac-10.

The Skinny

UCLA has been competitive but not a serious conference title contender during Dorrell's four years. Walker proved to be a great hire last year and Dorrell hopes Norvell emerges as a similar success story for the offense. Besides a 10-2 campaign in 2005, he's coached the Bruins to .500 football and is 1-3 in bowl games. So don't be surprised if Bruins fans get a little anxious if Dorrell doesn't have his team in position to win a Pac-10 title down the stretch this season.

September is a big month with five games but October is when the Bruins will prove they're ready for the big time with games against Notre Dame and California in the Rose Bowl as well as a spooky Halloween weekend trip to Washington State. Of course, if everything goes wrong, Dorrell could still keep most Bruins fans happy with a win over USC in the last game of the year. After all, by then, most Bruins will be busy cramming themselves into Pauley Pavilion.

Regular Season Prediction: 10-2 Overall, 7-2 Pac-10


Arizona State - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10

Offense

Rudy Carpenter is the clear and definitive starter at quarterback and coach Dennis Erickson wants to make sure his junior quarterback isn't putting too much pressure on himself after suffering a turbulent year last season. Carpenter lost the starting job to Sam Keller, only to have then-coach Dirk Koetter change his mind a few days later. Keller left for Nebraska and Carpenter tried to do too much.

"I want Rudy to know he doesn't have to win every game," Erickson said.

Carpenter should feel as safe as a cub in its mother's den with all five starting offensive linemen back to protect him. Center Mike Pollak was an All-Pac-10 second-team pick last season and is one of five Sun Devil linemen who have already graduated, including left guard Robert Gustavis and right tackle Julius Orieukwu. ASU also has Zach Krula, who hasn't played since breaking his ankle against Northwestern Sept. 17, 2005, but is set to start at right tackle in front of Orieukwu. The line is adjusting to running more plays out of shotgun formations, but don't assume that means they'll have fewer opportunities to run block.

Ryan Torain is one of just three returning backs in the Pac-10 to run for over 1,000 yards with 1,229 yards. Torain and Keegan Herring are the league's top returning 1-2 punch as well. Carpenter will miss tight end Zach Miller but still has senior wide receiver Rudy Burgess and sophomore Chris McGaha back, although Erickson does consider this an inexperienced part of the team.

Defense

If Erickson is going to turn ASU into a legitimate title contender in the conference and on the national scale, this is where he needs to make his biggest footprint.

"The best defense is probably going to win the conference," Erickson said.

If it's true, the Sun Devils have plenty of work to do to compete for the league title. Last season, ASU surrendered 326 points in conference games, more than every team except Oregon and last-place Stanford.

Six starters are back from a unit that didn't have one first- or second-team all-conference defensive player. Safety Josh Barrett, defensive tackle Michael Marquardt and cornerback Justin Tryon were all-conference honorable mention and should be back in the starting lineup, barring injuries. Sophomore defensive end Dexter Davis had six sacks last season and an improvement on that performance would make a serious impact.

Junior college transfer Morris Wooten is expected to start at middle linebacker while sophomores Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon both return with starting experience. Senior Robert James is expected to start in the 4-3 defense on the weak side.

The Skinny

It's probably not a matter of if, but a matter of when Erickson puts ASU at or near the top of the Pac-10. He's a proven winner with a pair of national championship rings from his time at Miami and Pac-10 Coach of the Year trophies with his name next to both Washington State and Oregon State. The offense is ripe for a bountiful season. Too bad the defense doesn't exactly appear ready to handle a conference filled with high-wattage offenses. Chances look good for ASU to open the season 5-0 before heading to Washington State. That's where things start to get tricky.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-4 Overall, 5-4 Pac-10


Oregon State - 2006: 10-4 Overall, 6-3 Pac-10

Offense

The Beavers are the only Pac-10 team without a returning starter at quarterback. Sophomores Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao are engaged in a vis-à-vis encounter for the right to replace Matt Moore. Both have spent time with the first-team offense during the early part of camp, and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf didn't deny sharing the top spot shows potential. It appears to come down to not only ability but personality. Canfield is a laid-back surfer type while Moevao is an upbeat leader who played defensive end in high school.

Both will be overshadowed by the Beavers' running game, which features Yvenson Bernard, the top returning rusher in the conference after gaining 1,307 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The 5-foot-9 senior can add to those totals while following an offensive line with four returning starters. Left guard Jeremy Perry earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season while center Kyle DeVan is back after a second-team nod last year. Right guard Roy Schuening and right tackle Andy Levitre were both named honorable mention.

When Canfield or Moevao do go to the air, they'll both probably start their progressions with wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, who led the league in receiving yards with 1,293 and was considered an All-America second-teamer for his punt returning skills after he returned three for touchdowns.

Defense

The Beavers didn't win too many games with defense last season but it shouldn't be a problem this season. Oregon State returns eight defensive starters, including all three linebackers. Derrick Doggett was named all-conference second-team after tallying 14 tackles for loss. Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque are two more seniors who should help Oregon State maintain a strong run defense, which held foes to 110.1 yards on the ground.

Defensive tackle Curtis Coker and defensive end Jeff Van Orsow are both back up front as well as William `Akau'ola Vea, who is the oldest player in the Pac-10 at 26. The secondary will miss Sabby Piscitelli but shouldn't be in too much trouble with free safety Al Afalava as well as cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes back in starting roles.

The Skinny

Coach Mike Riley was starting to feel a little heat when the Beavers started last season 2-3 with blowout losses at Boise State and at home against California. But instead of flinching, the Beavers turned a pair of road wins at Washington and Arizona into a house party with a shocking win at home over USC. Oregon State won eight of its last nine, including a trio of nail biters over Oregon, Hawai'i and Missouri in the Sun Bowl by a combined six points. Oregon State was 6-1 in games decided by 10 points or less last season.

Riley needs to see a quarterback emerge as the starter between Canfield and Moevao before the idea of splitting time settles in at Corvallis. Neither is going to reach Moore's senior season, when he threw for 3,022 yards and 18 touchdowns. The winner needs to prove he can protect the ball and deliver the big-play balls to Stroughter for the Beavers to make waves in the Pac-10. Even if it happens, expect the Beavers to still fall back into the pack.

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10

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Oregon - 2006: 7-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10

Offense

The Ducks quacked in opposite directions last season, opening the season 4-0 before losing their final four games. If they're going to return to the conference title conversation, it's going to begin on the ground, with running backs Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson. The pair of juniors helped Oregon lead the Pac-10 with 182.2 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground and with those two, nobody would blame Oregon for adopting Woody Hayes' "Three yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy. Returning starting tackles Max Unger and Geoff Schwartz should open some holes.

The quarterback situation could have been thrown for a loop when projected starter Dennis Dixon signed a minor league contract to play baseball for the Atlanta Braves organization this summer. Some thought it would reopen a quarterback controversy between Dixon and fellow senior Brady Leaf but coach Mike Bellotti seems to be set with Dixon.

Both would be pinpointing 6-foot-5, 240-pound wide receiver Jaison Williams and senior Brian Paysinger. Williams caught 68 balls for 984 yards last season, and set the school record with five 100-yard receiving games.

Defense

Seven starters is a good nucleus for defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and three of them, cornerback Jairus Byrd, rover Patrick Chung and cornerback Walter Thurmond, were named all-Pac-10 honorable mention. Byrd and Thurmond, who were also named freshman All-America, should give opposing receivers a serious challenge as the Ducks attempt to lead the conference in pass defense for the third year in a row. Chung is the team's top returning tackler after delivering 84 stops last season.

Junior defensive end Nick Reed appears on the cusp of a big season after tallying 3.5 sacks last year. Linebacker A.J. Tuitele is the team's most natural playmaker, scoring two touchdowns last season and his experience and instinct are going to be needed if Oregon wants to improve its run defense.

The Skinny

Stewart called the team "hungry" at Pac-10 Media Day, which is to be expected since the Ducks haven't won since Nov. 4 of last year. The offense has been handed over to Chip Kelly, who spent the past seven seasons at New Hampshire. Kelly will try to push the tempo in the spread offense but could also experience some growing pains if he forgets Stewart is in the backfield.

Kelly would do himself and Oregon a world of good by limiting turnovers. Oregon played hot potato last year, committing a conference-high 32 turnovers and its minus-10 turnover margin was ninth in the conference. Holding the football through the ground game could also improve the team's time of possession, which was less than 29 minutes per game.

Defensively, the secondary is in good shape but it becomes irrelevant if the Ducks continue to let teams run for nearly 150 yards per game. Oregon does have seven home games, including Arizona State, California, USC and Civil War rival Oregon State. Those four games are likely the difference between another mediocre season and a serious crack at the Pac-10 title.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10


Arizona - 2006: 6-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10


Offense

Coach Mike Stoops told reporters in the spring he's not a miracle worker, but maybe he thinks Sonny Dykes will be as the Wildcats' new offensive coordinator transitions this unit to the spread offense. Dykes gets the keys to an offense that averaged a measly 16.6 points per game and finished ninth in every major offensive category in the conference. Quarterback Willie Tuitama threw just seven touchdown passes in 211 attempts last season. Dykes came from Texas Tech, which routinely throws for seven touchdowns in one game.

Tuitama is one of nine returning starters, including the entire offensive line, which features tackles Eben Britton, a freshman All-America, and Peter Granville. Tuitama will miss Syndric Steptoe, his favorite receiver last year, but Mike Thomas returns and while he had five fewer catches, he actually gained more yards than Steptoe.

The running game won't be forgotten in the new offense but tailbacks Chris Jennings and Xavier Smith will need to prove they can catch the ball if they want to touch it on a regular basis.

Defense

While the offense failed to have a single player earn first or second-team All-Pac-10 honors, the defense returns its first-team pick, cornerback Antoine Cason, as well as second-team selections, defensive end Louis Holmes and linebacker Spencer Larsen.

Arizona welcomes back 10 defensive starters from a unit which limited opponents to 19.6 points per game. Cason was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award last year and is one of two three-year starters at cornerback with Wiley Fontenot. Larsen and middle linebacker Ronnie Palmer should make plenty of plays, especially considering coach Stoops' affection for using linebackers like battering rams.

Holmes might be the most well-known lineman but he's not the only one with experience. Yaniv Barnett and Lionel Dotson are both senior tackles while defensive end Jonathan Turner also started last year. Arizona finished plus-7 in the turnover margin and has every chance to improve on it this season.

The Skinny

It's almost hard to fathom it has been nearly a full decade since Arizona capped the best season in school history with a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. Since that 12-1 season the Wildcats are on their third coach and haven't had a better record than 6-6. Stoops led Arizona to a .500 record last season, but with 19 returning starters, including an experienced quarterback and stout, physical defense, the expectation for more is there.

It doesn't help matters that Arizona opens at BYU but if it wins there, it should be undefeated heading into Pac-10 play at 3-0 and with four winnable home conference games, Stoops could have his breakthrough bowl season.

Keep in mind all of this is only possible if serious improvements are delivered from an offense ranked No. 115 out of 119 teams in total offense last year. If not for Stanford, Arizona would have had the worst offense in a BCS conference. Dykes knows what it takes to generate yards and score points - check the Texas Tech stat sheets over the past seven years for proof - and he'll have to prove it again if Arizona wants to make waves in the Pac-10.

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 3-6 Pac-10


Washington State - 2006: 6-6 Overall, 4-5 Pac-10

Offense

Coach Bill Doba expects Alex Brink's third year as starting quarterback for the Cougars to be his best yet.

"[He] is about to break every school record this year," Doba said. "He knows more about this offense than I do." Doba wasn't joking either as Brink looks to expand on last season when he threw for 2,899 yards and 19 touchdowns.

His top target is senior slot receiver Michael Bumps, a speedy 6-footer who caught 60 balls last season. Brandon Gibson is also back after making 49 grabs for 731 yards and the pair can really expand the field for Washington State.

Three starting linemen are back, including senior guard Bobby Byrd, a 6-foot-7, 316-pounder, sophomore center Kenny Alfred and junior right guard Dan Rowlands. Sophomore running back Dwight Tardy was the leading freshman rusher in the conference last season.

Defense

Doba added the defensive coordinator duties to his plate this season.

"I had more fun this spring coaching the linebackers and coordinating the defense than I've had in all four years," he said. Doba said he has good players but is concerned about the secondary which has one lone returner, free safety Husain Abdullah.

Calling defensive tackles Ropati Pitoitua (6-foot-8, 291) and Aaron Johnson (6-foot-7, 317) massive does them an injustice. The Cougars will miss defensive end Mkristo Bruce and will need defensive end Lance Broadus to showcase his athleticism. Middle linebacker Greg Trent should emerge as the defensive leader.

The Skinny

Doba even played along when a reporter suggested it would be a slow start for the Cougars.

"A loss to Wisconsin, you were going to say?" Doba quipped at Pac-10 Media Day. If it happens, it would be the fourth loss in a row for Washington State, which was 6-3 before losing its final three games, including a 35-32 loss at home to Washington in the Apple Cup. Doba might be popular with the press but after missing the postseason three consecutive years, he can't afford to make it four years without a bowl trip.

Unfortunately, the defense has too many holes to manage the bevy of talented quarterbacks in the Pac-10. Washington State can't get by winning at home either. It needs to knock off somebody on the road to get over .500.

Regular Season Prediction: 5-7 Overall, 2-7 Pac-10


Washington - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 3-6 Pac-10

Offense

Washington will turn over the reins of the offense to sophomore Jake Locker, who beat out last year's part-time starter, Carl Bonnell, in spring practice. ASU coach Dennis Erickson called Locker the best he's seen coming out of high school and he'll need to live up to it for the Huskies to reach their first bowl game since 2002.

Junior college transfer Marcel Reese, a 6-foot-4 specimen, is going to be Locker's top target while four others, including returning starter Anthony Russo, are battling for the other spot. Russo could end up in the slot, which some are calling his natural position. Michael Gottlieb might be the returning starter at tight end but Johnie Kirton is a tremendous athlete who should see the field.

Tackles Ben Ossai and Chad Macklin are huge returners - literally. Ossai is a 6-foot-6, 300-pound sophomore at left tackle while Macklin is 6-foot-8, 300. Center Juan Garcia returns as well, so all three linemen should be ready to open holes for running back Louis Rankin.

Defense

The secondary will miss cornerback Dashon Goldson, who was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by San Francisco, and strong safety C.J. Wallace, who was an all-conference first team pick. Coach Tyrone Willingham didn't ask free safety Chris Hemphill back for a fifth year after he graduated in the spring, leaving senior cornerback Roy Lewis as the lone returning starter in the backfield.

Linebacker Dan Howell was named the team's most improved player last year and is expected to continue to grow as a player and lead this unit.

All four defensive linemen are returning starters, which normally would be considered a good thing, but the Huskies gave up 379.3 yards (139.2 rushing) and 25.9 points per game last year. Defensive end Greyson Gunheim, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior, led Washington in tackles and sacks the past two seasons. Defensive tackles Jordan Reffett and Wilson Afoa and defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim not only need to make tackles, they need to try and disrupt things in the backfield to force fumbles after Washington gained a league-low four fumbles last season.

The Skinny

Willingham showed significant progress last season and if not for an injury to quarterback Isaiah Stanback, the Huskies might have finished over .500 and spent the postseason playing a bowl game. Instead, the Huskies lost six of their last seven, ending the season with a 35-32 victory at Washington State. The Huskies, even with 12 returning starters, are actually one of the least-experienced teams in the conference.

To make matters worse, the schedule is the equivalent of the Iditarod, with Boise State and Ohio State coming to Seattle before back-to-back games against UCLA and USC to open Pac-10 play. If Willingham can coax a few home upsets out of his team, he could have the Huskies taking the next step in returning to their place as a national program.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-8 Overall, 2-7 Pac-10


Stanford - 2006: 1-11 Overall, 1-8 Pac-10

Offense

The Cardinal figures to show marked improvement under coach Jim Harbaugh with nine returning starters. Quarterback T.C. Ostrander grew up going to games at Stanford and now gets a chance to hook another young boy on the excitement of playing in Palo Alto. Ostrander said he's been learning nonstop since Harbaugh, who starred in the NFL and at Michigan, took over the program.

Seven seniors start for Stanford, including 6-foot-7 wide receiver Evan Moore and his counterpart, Mark Bradford, who missed most of last season due to injury. Senior running back Anthony Kimble will share backfield duties with Toby Gerhart, who is the all-time California high school rushing leader.

Stanford breaks in two new offensive guards while center Alex Fletcher and tackles Allen Smith and 6-foot-7 behemoth Chris Marinelli are all back in the starting lineup. Senior kicker Aaron Zagory and punter Jay Ottovegio are both experienced seniors, but Harbaugh clearly hopes to keep Zagory busier than Ottovegio.

Defense

Harbaugh explained at Pac-10 Media Day his plan to win would be built around the defense. So he moved Erik Lorig from tight end to defensive end and has Austin Yancy starting at free safety after he made 16 catches at wide receiver last year. Harbaugh probably wishes he could have implemented this play with All-Pac-10 first-team linebacker Michael Okwo, who is now in the NFL, but there are still three linebackers with starting experience. Plus there's always 6-foot-5, 270-pound Tom McAndrew, a linebacker so big, running backs wish they'd run into a brick wall before being tackled by him.

Senior Udeme Udofia is one of the three returning starters and he'll be joined by his brother, nose tackle Ekom Udofia. Defensive ends Chris Horn and Pannel Egboh must generate a consistent pass rush for Stanford to show any improvement.

Losing safeties Brandon Harrison and Trevor Hooper hurts but returning senior cornerbacks Wopamo Osaisai and Tim Sims gives defensive coordinator Scott Shafer something to work with in the secondary. Osaisai was named to the All-Pac-10 first team as a special teams player.

The Skinny

Harbaugh looked more like a politician than a coach at the Pac-10 Media Day. It might be by design as Stanford has a serious hole to dig out of after last season. Harbaugh said he wants to make sure his players do three things - play hard, play hurt and play to win. He'll probably get all three this season but it doesn't mean Stanford is ready to actually win.

Ostrander won't stand out in a conference loaded with excellent quarterbacks and Stanford finished last in every offensive category last season as its offense ran at an equivalent pace to the fuel economy of a Humvee. The defense wasn't much better, giving up over 31 points and nearly 400 yards per game. At least the Cardinal has its first four games at home. Too bad three of those are against conference opponents with more talent and the fourth is against San Jose State, which beat Stanford and won a bowl game last season.

Regular Season Prediction: 2-10 Overall, 1-8 Pac-10

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