Tuesday, June 14, 2005

2005 College Football Preview: Pac-10

By Avery Smith

The Pac-10 has always been one of the most overlooked conferences in all of college football. Even though the national champion resides within its borders, the conference still yearns to get the respect that it deserves. In this article, the Pac-10 gets the red-carpet treatment. Let's take a look at the teams that will separate themselves from the rest of the "Pac."

5) Washington State (Projected Record: 7-5; League: 4-4)

I think that there will be a three-way tie for fifth-place in the Pac-10 between Washington State, Oregon, and Oregon State. Luckily for the Cougars, I feel that they will own the tiebreakers. Washington State's 2004 campaign was a great example of inconsistency. They struggled against teams they should have destroyed, and played much better teams tough. They have a decent chance at a bowl game this year, and it will depend on their offensive production.

Josh Swogger and Alex Brink were both unimpressive last year and they will have to improve if the Cougars have any shot of a bowl game. The best way for them to get better is to throw to Jason Hill. He might end up being the best receiver in Cougar history. Jerome Harrison can also catch the ball, but he will do most of his damage running through and around opposing defenders. Harrison was a nice surprise for the Cougs and he should continue to solidify the running back position.

Pullman, the home of the Cougars, has always been a tough place to play, but will be even tougher this year because of Wazzu's defense. This year's squad will be led by Will Derting. Derting just might be the best linebacker in the conference. He is the "Ray Lewis" of WSU's defense and his playmaking abilities should allow for this squad to continue improving. The front seven is similar to Cal's in that it is very strong against the run. The key point of improving will be in the secondary. If Washington State's can get contributions from Wally Dada and Eric Frampton, the Cougars might win as many as eight games.

4) California (8-4; 5-3)

The 2004 California Bears had one of the most successful years in the school's history. Their 11-2 record was truly unexpected, and they also had an excellent shot of beating the Trojans last year. This year, expectations have been revised downward with the departures of Aaron Rodgers.

The good news for Bears fans is that there are two capable looking men hoping to take his place. Nate Longshore and Joe Ayoob both impressed Jeff Tedford during spring workouts. One thing is for certain, whoever comes out of camp as the primary quarterback will inherit a team with the cupboards bare at the skill positions.

I'm sure Jeff Tedford wishes his new quarterback would have the luxury to throw to Geoff McArthur and Chase Lyman. These two receivers combined for over 1,200 yards last year, and their departure leaves the Bears uncomfortably slim in that area. At running back, Marshawn Lynch as the unenviable task of replacing J.J. Arrington, one of the all-time greats. Last year, Lynch did a solid job filling in for Arrington as needed, but can he continue his success as a starter? This will be a very important question for Cal to answer.

On defense, only three of the Bears' front seven return from last year. The good news for Cal fans is that Brandon Mebane is one of them. The sophomore will star in a rejuvenated front seven that will continue to be one of the best in the country. This will take some pressure off of Jeff Tedford's offense because they won't have to put up 40 points to win. If they can average over 24, the Bears will have an excellent 2005.

3) Arizona State (8-4; 5-3)

Last season for Arizona State was a successful one. They were consistently ranked in the top 20 and defeated Purdue in the Sun Bowl. There was much reason for optimism for Dirk Koetter's team until the tragic arrest of Loren Wade for murder this spring. Loren Wade was one of my picks to really excel at running back this year. He would have given ASU many reasons to smile, but unfortunately, all he has given them is heartache.

Also, having Andrew Walter at quarterback would help, but ASU's new QB, Sam Keller, will surprise some people. He has a strong arm and understands this offense well. Another positive for Keller is that he will have Derek Hagan to throw to. Hagan is one of the top 10 receivers in the country. He is, by far, the best receiver in the country that no one has heard of. He is primed for an All-American run this year, and if Keller can be consistent, ASU's offense will be nearly as dangerous as it was last year.

On the other side of the ball, the Sun Devils must improve strongly if they have any hopes for a Pac-10 title. Jordan Hill, Jamar Williams, and Dale Robertson must give solid contributions or ASU's defense may be even worse than last year. The secondary, decimated by injury, will have to step up or the team will most definitely suffer. If ASU can apply pressure on the quarterback and cover better, the Sun Devils might end up in the top 20 again.

2) UCLA (9-3; 6-2)

In 2004, UCLA came about as close as anyone to beating USC. They outplayed the Trojans and had it not been for an interception on their final drive, the Bruins might have pulled off the most shocking upset last year. Let's take a look what UCLA brings to the table in 2005.

Drew Olson will spearhead an offense that will continue to improve. At running back, Maurice Drew will anchor a position that has strong for the Bruins for the last 10 years (Skip Hicks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and DeShaun Foster, to name a few). The receiving corps for the Bruins will be led by a tight end. Marcedes Lewis will no doubt be Olson's favorite target, and if he stays healthy, could be a first or second round draft choice. The Bruins will be hurt on offense by the departures of Manuel White and Craig Bragg, who were both selected in this year's NFL draft.

On defense, Spencer Havner and Justin London are two of the best linebackers in the country. The loss of Ben Emanuel hurts the Bruins in the secondary, but Jarrad Page will be more than ready for the task. The Bruins have their toughest matchups (Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Cal) all in the Rose Bowl this year, and if their run defense and offensive line can improve, the Bruins will give the Trojans all they can handle.

1) Southern Cal (12-1; 7-1)

Is there anyone that will argue me on this point? The Trojans come into 2006 with depth at just about every position. Matt Leinart, the Trojan quarterback, is coming back for his senior campaign after winning the Heisman last year. He will have an experienced group of receivers to throw to, including Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett.

However, the most deadly Trojan of all is Reggie Bush. I truly feel that this young man has to be the frontrunner for this year's Heisman. He can, of course, carry the ball, but he is most dangerous when he lines up as a receiver. Even the best linebackers in the Pac-10 have no shot of guarding him.

Speaking of defense, the Trojans are still solid, even with the departures Shaun Cody and Lofa Tatupu. Darnell Bing will anchor a defense that will once again be the true strength of the team. The Trojans' only Achilles heel is the continuity of the team after the loss of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and line coach Ed Orgeron. These two coaches were invaluable to the success of USC last year, and depending on the success of this campaign, they may be sorely missed.

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