PAC-10 Preseason Media Poll
As a whole, the PAC-10 was relatively unimpressive last year. Only Oregon (10-3) hit the 10-win plateau and USC (9-4) was the only other conference member to garner more than eight victories. PAC-10 teams finished the year by going just 2-5 in bowl games, including the conference's first Rose Bowl loss to a Big Ten team since 2000.
Last year's preseason computer projections nailed the overall records of Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State. More impressively, it correctly forecasted the final conference records of Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington State. Like every other preseason forecast, however, it missed on its pick of USC winning an eighth straight conference title. That glory went to Oregon, thanks to a 37-33 comeback victory at Autzen Stadium over state rival Oregon State in the final game of the season.
Oregon State last shared the conference title in 2000 and hasn't represented the PAC-10 in the Rose Bowl since 1964, its last of three appearances in the Pasadena classic.
The computer says the PAC-10 title will once again be decided at the Civil War rivalry game between the Ducks and Beavers, which this year is slated for Corvallis. Nonetheless, Oregon gets an ultra slim 0.10-point nod to win the game and a second consecutive outright PAC-10 title, even without QB Jeremiah Masoli who was suspended for the season after pleading guilty to burglary charges and ultimately transferring to Ole Miss. Sophomore RB LaMichael James was suspended for the opener against New Mexico after pleading guilty to misdemeanor harassment of his girlfriend.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has experience dealing with such adversity. In his first game as head coach last season, RB LeGarrette Blount sucker-punched Bronco DE Byron Hout in front of ESPN's national TV audience after the Ducks had lost 19-8. Blount was put on indefinite suspension and didn't play another down until factoring prominently in the win over Oregon State. In Blount's absence, James set a new PAC-10 freshman rushing record with 1,546 yards and 14 TD's.
Aside from the toss-up at Oregon State, Oregon's run at the 2010 conference title doesn't have many possible stumbling blocks in the way. According to the computer's game-by-game picks, the Ducks are favored by less 13 points in only three other games - at Cal (-5.41), at USC (6.41), and at home against Stanford (9.36).
They open the season just a little more than 3 power points ahead of Oregon State, and more than 6 points in front of Stanford.
Oregon State's only projected conference loss is to the Ducks in the season finale, but it is favored by only 0.26 points at Stanford the week before that clash. The Beavers will be breaking in a new QB to replace Sean Canfield, the PAC-10's passing leader in 2009.
Stanford is the computer's pick for 3rd place, even though it loses last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up in RB Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal are forecasted to win 9 of their first 10 games before narrowly falling to the Beavers, and then at Cal (+0.96) in "The Big Game" the following week.
The projected 4th through 8th-place teams are separated by just 4.57 power points with Arizona heading off Cal, UCLA, USC and Washington.
The computer gives Arizona the 4th-place nod with a projected tie-breaking win at home over Cal. And UCLA is given 6th place in the conference with a 0.82-point win at home over the Trojans in the season finale.
A loss to the Bruins is the final peg in an 8-5 computer forecast for USC that includes road losses at Stanford (+6.05), Arizona (+2.38) and Oregon State (+9.31), and a Coliseum defeat at the hands of Oregon (+6.41).
USC, of course, enters the season on NCAA probation and without Pete Carroll as its head coach. Carroll returns to the NFL to coach the Seattle Seahawks after posting a ridiculous 97-19 (.836) record in nine seasons with the Trojans. Of his 19 losses, 6 came in his first season (2001) and 4 in his last. Carroll previously coached in the NFL with the New York Jets (1994) and the New England Patriots (1997-1999), compiling a 33-31 record.
Replacing Carroll is the often-controversial Lane Kiffin, who served as an assistant at USC from 2001-2006, including offensive coordinator from 2005-2006. Now 35 years old, Kiffin spent a little more than one season (2007-2008) as the head coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders where he was 5-15 when he was fired. He then landed at Tennessee where he was 7-6 in his only season as a college head coach - a season which unceremoniously ended in a 37-14 blowout loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. His brash personality drew sharp dividing lines among Volunteer faithful, and Tennesseans found a new reason to dislike him when he hired NFL Titans' running backs coach Kennedy Pola a week before training camp opened.
Kiffin's first year in L.A. became more problematic when the NCAA hit the school hard with sanctions that were announced June 10. A 2-year postseason ban and a substantial reduction in scholarships were among the penalties imposed after the NCAA found that former football star Reggie Bush received improper benefits. The fallout saw a handful of players flee the program, including prized offensive line recruit Seantrel Henderson who bolted for Miami, and junior DE Malik Johnson who transferred to (ouch!) Tennessee. USC has since replaced its Athletic Director and filed an appeal seeking to soften the NCAA's penalties.
Some expect Washington, behind QB Jake Locker, to make a run toward the upper echelon of the conference. But the computer has the Huskies mired in 9th with a projected record of 4-8 overall (3-6, PAC-10), a small step backward from the 5-7 (4-5, PAC-10) finish in Steve Sarkisian's first year as head coach.
Arizona State and Washington State are forecasted to bring up the rear, just as they did last year.
PAC-10 schedules hold several interesting non-conference matchups, led by Washington's scheduling of BYU, Syracuse and Nebraska; Washington State, the worst defensive team in the FBS last year, opens at Oklahoma; Oregon State opens against TCU in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium and visits Boise State on September 25; Stanford hosts Wake Forest and visits Notre Dame; UCLA visits Kansas State and Texas and hosts Houston; and USC's 13-game season includes visits to Hawaii and Minnesota and home games against Virginia and the Fighting Irish.
Thanks to its round-robin league format, PAC-10 members generally have to schedule just three non-conference games. Unfortunately, six league teams still filled one of those dates with FCS squads. Arizona State opens with consecutive home games against FCS members Portland State and Northern Arizona.
USC is one of just two teams in the country that will face 13 FBS opponents. UNLV is the other.