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Maize n Preview: A Misguided and Misinformed 2007 PAC 10 Preview!

Maize n Preview: A Misguided and Misinformed 2007 PAC 10 Preview!

With a shot to go to the national championship game on the line and 7-4 hated rival across the field, USC laid one of the bigger pressure induced turds in recent memory. Despite compiling over 400 yards in total offense including 325 in the air, the Trojans managing only 9 points. As a result, Florida snuck into the National Championship game over various voices of protest and walloped Ohio State.

The common refrain was "It could've, probably should've been USC pantsing OSU, if they'd gotten their act together."

The fact that UCLA beat USC, at least in my opinion, simply goes to show the overall level of defensive play in the PAC 10 in on par with any major conference. No one will argue that the boys on the West Coast can ring up the points, but the fact that five teams were at or below allowing 20 points a game is pretty impressive.

The secondaries at USC, UCLA and Oregon can hang with anyone and I'm not sure anyone with the exceptions of Miami, Oklahoma and Penn State can claim they're as good. While the pass happy nature of the Pac 10 can be credited for these collections of sterling silver DB's, the Conference is just as strong on the ground as it is in the air. Four backs topped 1000 yards last year, and six are expected to top it this year. Oregon's star running back was criminally underused last year. If let lose, he'll top 1,500 yards by the ninth game (I'm not just blowing BS, this kid is that good). USC is chalked full of HS all Americans, but expect Chauncey Washington to eclipse 1000 yards with a pair of 500 yard rushers in behind him.

The conference's top teams are just as adept at stopping the run as the pass (with the exception of Oregon). USC manhandled Michigan's run game in the Rose Bowl and no one will forget the beating Cal gave a strong Texas A&M team in the Holiday Bowl. (I will ignore the disinterested prison knifings of Oregon and UCLA in their bowl games intentionally, as there is really no explanation for how badly either team played in those competitions.) This year USC, UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State all have the ability to keep their opponents below 100 rushing yards a game.

Not bad for an all offense conference.

The More Things Change...

The irony that Dennis Erickson is now coaching a team called the Devils is hopefully not lost on anyone. Erickson is an excellent coach, but seems to have Pacino in The Devil's Advocate type ability to temp capable and troubled people into his clutches. With the possible exception of his stint in Miami, this could be his greatest play ground. Cheerleaders turned porn stars. A school desperate to be relevant on the national football scene. Easy access to Tiajuna. Sodom and Gomora will look like Salt Lake City by the time he leaves for a higher profile job.

Jeff Tedford was put in the unenviable position of having to replace his OC this summer. A difficult task normally, but having to replace an OC who's averaged close to 33 points a year makes things a little more difficult. Taking the reigns will be former O-line coach Jim Michalczik.

UCLA has a little bit of a catch 22 on their hands as well. They get back Uber-QB Ben Olson, but replace their OC. Nothing like learning a new system over the summer, eh, Ben? New OC Jay Norvell has a solid reputation from his time in Nebraska with Bill Callahan, and steps into a great situation with 10 returning starters including all the skill positions.

The More They Stay The Same

Another year, another OC or DC at USC. Seriously, how in God's name does Carroll keep replacing these guys. The Orgeron leaves to be HC at Ole Miss, Norm Chow heads to pilot the starship known as Vince Young, and now Lane Kiffin is coaching the friggin Raiders. What the hell!? Steve Sarkisian moves up from the assistant HC/QB coach position to assume control of the offense. Given his success with quarterbacks over the last few years, do we have any reason to doubt him?

Maize n Brew's PAC 10 Predictions

Rank Team Rationale
1 This is the best team on talent alone in the country. If there was ever a team where an outstanding defense can carry a somewhat suspect offense, this is that team. I don't mean for this to come off as a tongue bathing, but after the whipping Big Ten Uber Offense 1b received at the hands of USC in the Rose Bowl I find it hard to believe they'll be worse this year than last year with 10 returning defensive starters. The offensive line replaces one guy and I think Booty is one of the better quarterbacks in the country at this point. Will the go undefeated? Nah. This team has a Michigan-like tendancy to lose games it shouldn't (e.g., Oregon State & UCLA). They'll drop one to, oh... say Oregon, just to screw with us, you know, make us think they're beatable. Then pain. 11-1 (8-1).
2 Everything's in place for a title run at UCLA. 20 returning starters. Good God. Ben Olson is back at QB, the defense returns 9 of its top 10 including concussion maker Bruce Davis, and a tour of Utah! UCLA's schedule has both BYU (who outright molested Oregon) and a Utah squad with 16 returning starters. In addition, they host what should be an improving Notre Dame squad on October 6. If UCLA drops any of their OOC games, blame it squarely on the coaching (which I'm counting on Bruins Nation to do). This is a stacked defense with and outstanding back 7. If Kevin Brown and Brigham Harwell continue to improve at the line's interior, this could be one of the best defenses in the country. Of concern is a shake up at OC with former Nebraska OC Jay Norvell. I think this should help trendously and get the UCLA offense back up into the 30ppg level. If not it's a waste of talent. The PAC 10 season boils down to UCLA and USC on December 1st. UCLA can win it, but right now I'm picking the Trojans. 11-1 (8-1).
3 The Ducks are a flashy pick to contend this year, but after previewing them extensively, I've gotta wonder if they've truly got the horses to win it all. Dixon is going to take half the season to show any signs of improvement and the defense is going to have a lot of trouble putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run. The Ducks do have the PAC 10's best secondary, but the lack of production from the DL and LB corps will hurt them. They'd better be careful, because Oregon State returns an excellent RB in Yvenson Bernard and if the Ducks can't shore up against the running game this will look like a sucker's pick. So why do I have them at 3? Jonathan Stewart. Certified bad ass and the premier running back in the PAC 10. His under use last year bordered on the felony level. If he gets 230-250 touches, the Ducks are in business. 9-3 (7-2).
4 It's tough to pick Cal at 4 when they could be 3 or 2. The loss of Marshawn Lynch and 7 defensive starters will do that to you. In the Bears' favor, Junior QB Nate Longshore returns after hoisting 3021 yards and 24 TDs. The Bears also return their top three wideouts and despite starting two new lineman, both have starting experience. Even with the losses on defense, Tedford's units have given up 19.3, 21.2, and 16 points a game in the last three years. I can't believe he'll somehow forget how to coach and Cal's defense will go down the crapper. The Defensive line is a question mark with 3 new starters, but they're all fairly high level recruits and the guys behind them are rated even higher. The offense will be big play heavy at the wings without a rushing attack to speak of. Justin Forsett is slated as the starter, but hot recruits Jahvid Best and redshirt freshman James Montgomery should push for playing time. I think the defense and offense will be down a notch, and Cal's weaknesses play into Oregon's strengths, which is why I have them 4th. 9-3 (6-3)
5 With 16 returning starters I probably should take them higher, especially after a 10-4 season. But breaking in a brand new signal caller costs you some points. Regardless, the PAC 10 should be very wary of Oregon State. With outstanding skilled veterans like Bernard at RB and Sammie Stroughter (who caught 74 passes last year!) there's enough talent in key positions to put up some points. Match that with a decent offensive line and you've got the recipe for success. However, the line is a little suspect after giving up 35 sacks last year. Anchored by Jeremy Perry at one of the guard slots (1st TM All P10) and Center Kyle DeVan (2nd TM All P10) the line should improve on its sacks and the paltry 3.5 a carry. Oregon State brings back 9 of their 10 top tacklers and sack machine Dorian Smith moves into a starting role. Oregon State's defense racked up 47 sacks last year without a standout quarterback killer or massive lineman thanks to unheralded DC Mark Banker. If new QB Sean Canfield or Lyle Moevao seizes the position and comes to his own, Oregon State could challenge for a piece of USC, again. Tough pick but looking at the schedule and road visits to USC, Oregon and Cal, I've got them fifth. 8-4 (5-4)
6 Picked here solely because they made a deal with the devil and signed Dennis Erickson to a contract. But then again, they are devils, sun devils at that, so what the hell. While Erickson's appearance is notable both for the cloud of sulfur and his coaching ability, ASU does return one of the PAC 10's better offenses. Rudy Carpenter is mentioned as one of the up and coming quarterbacks you've never heard of and Ryan Torian is a solid back with a stable of talent behind him. ASU also (sort of) benefits from the return of a veteran line. Everyone has starting experience, but this same line gave up 37 sacks last year. Passing was not their strong suit but they rushed to the tune of 4.4 a carry. Weird. If the Devils are to contend, it's going to take the defense's continued improvement. That'll be hard with five of your top ten tacklers gone and a brand new linebacking corps. They'll be fun to watch and Erickson will give then an edge, but I think they'll need a year or two to seriously contend. 7-5 (4-5)
7 Seventeen returning starters on a team that demolished Oregon and topped #8 Cal. You might say they're starting to build something in Tuscon. 8 of the top 10 tacklers return on a senior heavy squad. If they can get even a semblance of a pass rush, Arizona could reach 8 wins, but 15 sacks isn't going to scare anyone. The line is undersized and underquicked, but all of the starters have good motors so there is the possibility of improvement. On offense the biggest question will be whether Junior QB Willie Tuitama is really healthy. He got the snot knocked out of him last year and has a history of concussions. After him there is experienced back up Kris Heavner but he didn't win a game in 2.5 tries. One thing that is destined to improve is the Cats' offensive line. Last year three freshmen saw starting time and return as starters this year. Look for improved numbers out of this group and some running lanes for freshman RB Joe Reese, HC Stoops big get last year. 5-7 (3-6)
8 The Cougars return 55 lettermen from last year's 6-6 squad, so there is some depth in terms of bodies. However, the defense is undersized and returns only 4 of their top 10 tacklers (1 of their top 6!). Sadly, the linebackers weigh more than their DEs do. Not good. On the plus side the offense should be fairly good and is in the capable hands of Alex Brink. Brink was 2nd TM All P10 last year with almost 3000 yards and 19 TDs. If the line can stay healthy (spring injury to stating LT), this should be a good offense with Dwight Tardy coming into his own. If the line can improve on their 3.9 a carry and get it back to 2005's 5.3, the Cougars are in business. Unfortunately, 6 road games make it a difficult year. 4-7 (2-6)
9 I'd say I think Washington will improve, but I'd be lying. The Huskies replace all their key skill position players and 5 of their top 10 tacklers (5 of their top 6!). Match that with the nation's toughest schedule, yeah, you're pretty much screwed. In Willingham's defense, he did have some success on the recruiting trail and is starting to keep some of Washington's plentiful talent in state. But there's no way in hell they pull off a winning record this year replacing that many key starters. 2-10 (2-6)
10 Jim Harbaugh's a jackass, but a decent coach. Stanford should improve under his guidance but it'll be a while before the come close to reaching the Ty Willingham level from a few years ago. 2-10 (1-8)

So, based on the above, I'll take USC to capture yet another PAC 10 title.