PAC-10 Preseason Media Poll
The computer's (about the computer) 2008 preseason projections pegged the exact records of USC, Oregon State and UCLA, and missed by 1 on Cal and Washington State. It also correctly tabbed USC as the conference champions, predicted the correct finishing order of the top three teams, and successfully picked the winner in 86% (104-17) of the games involving PAC-10 teams.
This season's forecast offers no surprise at the top, with USC expected to claim another title. The Trojans have either won, or shared, the last seven PAC-10 championships and are 52-7 in conference games (82-9 overall) during that span. Their only home conference loss in that period came against Stanford in 2007. They haven't lost a non-conference regular season game since falling at Kansas State on September 21, 2002.
However, USC has lost at least one conference road game in each of the last three seasons. UCLA and Oregon State stung the Trojans in '06; Oregon did the favor in '07; and Oregon State did it again in '08.
USC begins the 2009 season rated more than 12 points higher than any other team in the PAC-10. The visit to Oregon on Halloween is the only conference game in which the Trojans do not have a double-digit edge. Still, they are hefty 9.05-point favorites in that affair.
It doesn't take a computer to figure out that USC's stiffest contest should come at Ohio State on September 12 when the Buckeyes will host a rare night game in Columbus. The computer edge goes to the Trojans in that game by just 5.68, even though USC rolled 35-3 over Ohio State in Los Angeles last year.
The computer has four teams waging a heated battle for second with no more than 3.57 points separating Arizona, California, Oregon and Oregon State. Cal and Oregon each host USC, giving those two schools the best opportunity to hang a conference loss on the Trojans. Oregon State gets the toughest draw with just one home game (vs. Arizona) against the other highly-rated conference teams.
Oregon is still expected to be a factor in the race, despite the late switch in head coach from Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly. It wasn't until March 13 that the school announced Bellotti, the school’s all-time winningest coach (116-55), was stepping aside after 14 seasons to become the director of athletics. Since coming to Oregon from New Hampshire in 2007, Kelly's offense has established new school records each season in scoring, rushing yards and total offense.
UCLA and Arizona State will be vying with Stanford for 6th place in the conference, while Washington and Washington State bring up the rear.
A projected 6-6 finish for Stanford may land it in a bowl game for the first time since 2001. The Cardinal will have to navigate through the nation's 16th-toughest schedule that includes forecasted road losses at Wake Forest (+4.39), Oregon State (+8.71), Arizona (+9.79) and USC (+24.33). The home slate features losses to Oregon (+6.28) and Cal (+4.86). Surprisingly, the computer likes Stanford (-2.21) at home over Notre Dame in the season finale.
The Huskies and Cougars will open the 2009 season with paltry power ratings of 50.15 and 50.14, respectively. That puts both schools over 40 points behind USC, and more than 14 points behind the teams projected to finish 6th, 7th and 8th.
USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian replaces Tyrone Willingham at Washington where he inherits a team on a 14-game losing streak. The Huskies were a miserable 10-37 in 4 seasons under Willingham, including 0-12 last year. They were 6-29 in PAC-10 games and 1-3 against rival Washington State. Last season, they were the only FBS team that the Cougars managed to defeat.
Washington State's 2008 campaign was so bad that it shattered the PAC-10 record of 333 points allowed (41.625 per game, 8-game schedule) by surrendering 453 (50.33 per game, 9-game schedule). Under first-year head coach Paul Wulff, six different PAC-10 teams scored at least 58 points against the Cougars.