Ten things to watch for in the Pac-10
The good news for the Pac-10 so far this season is only one team has been eliminated from the national title race.
Of course, only one game has been played, and California looked like road kill against Kansas State.
Few folks expect the Pac-10 to be a player in the national title hunt. Just one conference team, No. 8 USC, earned a preseason ranking in the top-18 of the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Four Bowl Championship Series conferences have at least three top-18 teams, while the Big Ten has two.
And that leads us to the first of our 10 things to watch for this fall in the Pac-10.
1. The Pac-10 won't win the national title
Of the six BCS conferences, only the Pac-10 hasn't celebrated a national championship over the past six seasons, nor has it played in the national title game. The Pac-10, in fact, hasn't won a consensus national title since USC did in 1972, though it split crowns three times (USC, 1974, '78; Washington, 1991).
Yes, that exact same paragraph has appeared in previous stories in this space, and it will again next year.
2. A storm in the desert
Arizona coach John Mackovic will be fired ... and he'll blame former coach Dick Tomey. Arizona is in a shambles, and Mackovic continues to blame everyone but himself. Perhaps it's Bill Clinton's fault. Or Enron. Or R-rated movies. Fortunately, we and Wildcats fans and players know where to point the finger.
3. Tommy Trojan is whistling "Conquest" again
USC plays another vicious schedule, and it might not win the Pac-10, but coach Pete Carroll has resurrected a program that is ready to again dominate the West Coast. There's so much young talent on both sides of the ball that USC will be a national title contender in 2004 ... and beyond.
4. There will be a Herbie recount
It will be revealed that affable, incisive ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit was misinterpreted, misquoted and it was just a plain mistake that Washington receiver Reggie Williams wasn't on his list of the nation's five best receivers: Williams is the most physically dominant receiver in football, including the NFL. Forget his 94 receptions against constant double coverage last year. Just watch him block.
5. There won't be back-to-back Heismans for the Pac-10
The Pac-10 will have two players on Browadway for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, but neither will win. Washington has Williams and quarterback Cody Pickett. Oregon State has tailback Steven Jackson. Arizona State has quarterback Andrew Walter. USC has receiver Mike Williams. All should record stratospheric numbers this fall.
6. The Bay Area will be in the toilet
California was a great story last year under new coach Jeff Tedford, but the Bears welcome back just nine starters, tied for the fewest in the nation with Florida and South Carolina. Stanford has just three starters returning from the Pac-10's worst offense, and eight starters back from a defense that surrendered 34.3 points per game won't help much.
7. Experience not necessary
Warning! Seven Pac-10 teams are unsettled or inexperienced at quarterback (That's like saying Michigan coach Lloyd Carr can't find his frown). Pickett, Walter and Oregon State's Derek Anderson combined for 11,684 yards passing last year. The cumulative total all returning hurlers: 6,460 yards. Arizona, Cal, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington State each figure to play more than one quarterback.
8. A lot of coaches will need name tags
Oregon's Mike Bellotti is the only conference coach who has been with his team since 2000. Four teams, UCLA, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State, have new coaches. That typically means an adjustment period, though Washington and Washington State promoted from within and retained most -- and in the Huskies case all -- of their assistants.
9. One yard and a cloud of bust
The Pac-10 certainly lived up to its billing as a pass-happy league that eschews physical football last year. Out of 12 Division I-A conferences and Independents, the Pac-10 was the worst on the ground (114.3 yards per game, 3.18 yards per rush) by a wide margin. Oregon State led the conference with 148.7 yards per game, but it ranked 56th in the nation, while four teams - California, Arizona State, Washington and Arizona -- ranked from 102nd to 117th (last).
10. The Pac-10 will notch a huge non-conference road upset before long
Just because a Pac-10 team isn't headed for the Sugar Bowl doesn't mean one can't ruin big plans for someone else. USC is at Auburn and Washington is at Ohio State this weekend. Washington State visits Notre Dame on Sept. 6, and UCLA will go to Oklahoma on Sept. 20. At least one of those supposedly soft Pac-10 teams will slap a contender silly. How do you think Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops would feel about losing to a team in pastels?
Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.