Breaking down the Pac-10

Updated: May 22, 2007, 5:45 PM ET
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

Will the USC offense click? Can defenses handle the Cal air attack? Will new coaches Dennis Erickson and Jim Harbaugh put some life into their respective programs? Take a look at what Pac-10 questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Arizona Wildcats
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Brigham Young
Sept. 8 Northern Arizona
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 22 at California
Sept. 29 Washington State
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 at Southern California
Oct. 20 Stanford
Oct. 27 at Washington
Nov. 3 UCLA
Nov. 15 Oregon
Dec. 1 at Arizona State


2006 overall record:
6-6
Conference record:
4-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 10; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Willie Tuitama; WR Mike Thomas; OT Peter Graniello; CB Antoine Cason; LB Spencer Larson; DE Louis Holmes; P Nick Folk
Key losses
WR Syndric Steptoe; RB Chris Henry; DL Marcus Smith; S Michael Johnson
Top newcomer: DE Apaiata Tuihalamaka Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chris Henry (581 yds)
Passing: Willie Tuitama* (1,335 yds)
Receiving: Mike Thomas* (597 yds)
Tackles: Spencer Larsen* (89)
Sacks: Louis Holmes* (4)
Interceptions: Michael Klyce* and Antione Cason* (3)

Spring answers: 1. How's Tui? Tuitama appears fully recovered from the multiple concussions that had him in and out of the lineup last year. That's good for him, because redshirt freshman backup Tyler Lyon raised some eyebrows this spring.

2. Spread it out: New offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes brought his high-flying spread offense from Texas Tech and reviews were generally good. It's clear that balls will fly this fall. In two scrimmages, 125 out of 180 plays were passes.

3. Good hands people: While Thomas and Anthony Johnson are solid front-line receivers, the Wildcats are sorely lacking the depth typically required by the spread's four- and five-receiver sets. That's why tight ends, H-backs and running backs will see a lot of passes, not just the wideouts.

4. Running Cats: Coach Mike Stoops hasn't seen an adequate running game during his three years. Despite adopting a spread, he expects that to change. With all five starters back on the offensive line, it would figure the holes will be wider for Chris Jennings, Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons.

5. Getting defensive: Nearly the entire defense is back and there's good depth pushing for playing time. Holmes is expected to break out at one end, while redshirt freshman ends Ricky Elmore and D'aundre Reed should push into the playing rotation. Cason and Larson are potential All-Americans, and MLB Ronnie Palmer stepped up this spring.

Fall questions: 1. How's Tui? Tuitama not only needs to stay healthy, he needs to prove he can handle the nuances of the spread and lead an offense that has been mediocre to bad for a long time.

2. Wide receiver depth: The spread will sputter if there aren't multiple threats to stress a secondary. That means youngsters such as Terrell Turner, Terrell Reese and Delashaun Dean need to grow up, and veterans like B.J. Dennard need to step up.

3. Alternative receivers: Without loads of talent at receiver, the Wildcats are going to use double-tight end formations and H-backs. That means it's a near certainty that hot shot freshman tight end Rob Gronkowski will work his way into the mix.

4. Got to run: None of the tailbacks separated themselves, so that competition continues, though the 225-pound Jennings did push ahead of the talented but inconsistent Smith, who may even be challenged by Longbons.

5. Stoops to conquer: The Wildcats need to qualify for a bowl game in order to quash gathering frustration with the deliberate pace of improvement under Stoops. A challenging road schedule lies in wait: BYU, California, Oregon State and USC.

Arizona State Sun Devils
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Colorado
Sept. 15 San Diego State
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Stanford
Oct. 6 at Washington State
Oct. 13 Washington
Oct. 27 California
Nov. 3 at Oregon
Nov. 10 at UCLA
Nov. 22 Southern California
Dec. 1 Arizona


2006 overall record:
7-6
Conference record:
4-5

Returning starters
Offense: 10; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Rudy Carpenter; TB Ryan Torain; C Mike Pollak; S Josh Barrett; DT Michael Marquardt
Key losses
TE Zach Miller; WR Terry Richardson; K Jesse Ainsworth; DE Kyle Caldwell; S Zach Catanese
Top newcomer: OG Po'u Palelei Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ryan Torain* (1,229 yds)
Passing: Rudy Carpenter* (2,523 yds)
Receiving: Zach Miller (484 yds)
Tackles: Josh Barrett* (82)
Sacks: Dexter Davis* (5)
Interceptions: Josh Barrett* (3)

Spring answers: 1. The Devil in Dennis: While new coach Dennis Erickson clearly suffers from wanderlust, and his NFL experience wasn't scintillating, no one would say his track record in college is anything but impressive. For a program that often appears uninterested, Erickson's presence should rekindle some fire.

2. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy: Enviable quarterback depth was transformed into a mess in 2006 -- remember the whole Carpenter-Sam Keller imbroglio -- and Carpenter was wildly inconsistent when he was handed the job. He appears for the most part to be back on track this spring, though he wasn't terribly impressive during the spring game.

3. Got to be a catch: It might seem surprising, considering their pass-happy reputation, but one of the Sun Devils' weaknesses last year was at receiver. That may change after sophomores Kyle Williams and Brandon Smith emerged this spring, displacing more experienced players in the process.

4. Rugged Torain: Torain is the best back no one has heard of, and he'll be running behind a line with significant starting experience.

5. Line of defense: Marquardt and end Dexter Davis give the Sun Devils defense a good start up front, and JC transfer Morris Wooten made an immediate impression at linebacker.

Fall questions: 1. Cornered: Justin Tryon has locked up one cornerback spot, but the other is a gaping void, particularly after Chad Green suffered significant head injuries in a car crash. JC transfer Jarrell Holman may be the front-runner at this point, but true freshman Omar Bolden could get into the mix.

2. Spots for athletes: The Sun Devils' offense currently has four outstanding athletes listed as backups: tailbacks Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance and receivers Rudy Burgess and Rodney Glass. Erickson figures to be looking for ways to get these guys touches.

3. Thin on the edge: The Sun Devils need JC transfers Luis Vasquez and Eric Tanner, both defensive ends, to prove they are ready for Division I-A competition. They need at least to provide quality depth on a questionable D-line. Otherwise, teams will gang up on Davis and challenge the Sun Devils to muster a pass rush elsewhere.

4. Is Rudy back? Sure, Carpenter played fairly well toward the end of the 2006 season and fairly well this spring. But he has a tendency to think too much, and that's the sort of thing that can lead to brain cramps.

5. Kick me: It seemed like kicker Jesse Ainsworth would never leave. But he did. And now ASU doesn't have a field goal kicker. That job could fall to punter Jonathan Johnson or freshman Thomas Weber.

California Golden Bears
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Tennessee
Sept. 8 at Colorado State
Sept. 15 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 22 Arizona
Sept. 29 at Oregon
Oct. 13 Oregon State
Oct. 20 at UCLA
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Washington State
Nov. 10 Southern California
Nov. 17 at Washington
Dec. 1 at Stanford


2006 overall record:
10-3
Conference record:
7-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Nate Longshore: WR DeSean Jackson; C Alex Mack; OT Mike Gibson; TE Craig Stevens; LB Worrell Williams; DT Matt Malele
Key losses
RB Marshawn Lynch; DT Brandon Mebane; CB Daymeion Hughes; LB Desmond Bishop; DL Nu'u Tafisi
Top newcomer: RB Jahvid Best Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Marshawn Lynch (1356 yds)
Passing: Nate Longshore* (3,021 yds)
Receiving: DeSean Jackson* (1060 yds)
Tackles: Desmond Bishop (126)
Sacks: Nu'u Tafisi (5.5)
Interceptions: Daymeion Hughes (8)

Spring answers: 1. Toss the rock: Longshore could push for all-conference honors and his stable of receivers might be the best in college football, topped by the sensational Jackson, though we shouldn't slight Robert Jordan or Lavelle Hawkins. The Bears often threw deep this spring, and they should stress just about any secondary.

2. New Lynchpins: Justin Forsett, who's posted 1,674 yards rushing with six 100-yard games, will move out of the sidekick role behind Lynch and will be the lead tailback. Redshirt freshman James Montgomery, who was outstanding this spring, will be the No. 2.

3. Plenty of backers: Though Williams is the only full-time starter returning at linebacker, the unit is hardly green. Justin Moye, Zach Follett and Anthony Felder are talented and experienced (injuries have held them back), while Eddie Young played well this spring.

4. Betting line: The O-line needed to replace two starters but it appears to be a fairly salty group with solid depth. Tackle Mike Tepper and guard Bryan De La Puente, the likely left-side tandem, are veterans, while Chet Teofilo and Kevin Bemoll were impressive at times and will provide good depth.

5) New DL blood: The defensive line will be green after losing three starters but the early returns are encouraging. Malele is a 335-pound load, and ends Tyson Alualu and Cody Jones showed flashes last year. Redshirt freshman tackles Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo will need grow up quick because they are being counted on to provide depth.

Fall questions: 1. Replacing Daymeion: Hughes was a true shut-down corner, and it's not clear whom his replacement will be after spring practices, though sophomore Robert Peele topped redshirt freshman Darian Hagan, Charles Amadi and Brandon Jones on the depth chart.

2. Calling Tedford: Coach Jeff Tedford will be calling plays again this fall after the one-year experiment with coordinator Mike Dunbar, who bolted for Minnesota. It will be interesting to see if he picks up where he left off, particularly his fondness for trick plays.

3. Who's the backup QB? Injuries halted the competition between redshirt freshman Kevin Riley and sophomore Kyle Reed. Considering that Longshore missed all of 2005 with a leg injury, this is not an insignificant issue.

4. Getting defensive: The Bears lost three first-team All-Pac-10 performers on defense as well as three other starters. Considering that talented unit was surprisingly inconsistent last year, fingers are probably crossed in Berkeley that the touted but unproven youth movement will do any better.

5) Any Volunteers? Tennessee humiliated Cal -- and, by extension, the Pac-10 -- last season in Knoxville. If the Golden Bears are going to be a serious national presence and legitimate foil to USC, they need to man up and take revenge.

Oregon Ducks
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Houston
Sept. 8 at Michigan
Sept. 15 Fresno State
Sept. 22 at Stanford
Sept. 29 California
Oct. 13 Washington State
Oct. 20 at Washington
Oct. 27 Southern California
Nov. 3 Arizona State
Nov. 15 at Arizona
Nov. 24 at UCLA
Dec. 1 Oregon State


2006 overall record:
7-6
Conference record:
4-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
TB Jonathan Stewart; QB Dennis Dixon; WR Jaison Williams; OT Max Unger; CB Jairus Byrd; ROV Patrick Chung; CB Walter Thurmond
Key losses
C Enoka Lucas; WR Jordan Kent; OG Palauni Ma Sun; TE Dante Rosario; S J.D. Nelson; DT Matt Toeaina; LB Blair Phillips
Top newcomer: DE Kenny Rowe Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jonathan Stewart* (981 yds)
Passing: Dennis Dixon* (2,143 yds)
Receiving: Jaison Williams* (984 yds)
Tackles: Blair Phillips (105)
Sacks: Darius Sanders (9)
Interceptions: Jairus Byrd* (5)

Spring answers: 1. Chip off the 'ole offense: Chip Kelly, late of New Hampshire, became the Ducks' third offensive coordinator in four seasons, and the initial returns are it was an inspired hire by coach Mike Bellotti.

2. Dennis not menaced: Dixon lost his confidence and his job at the end of the 2006 season, but he bounced back well during spring and Bellotti has made sure that everyone knows he's the starter.

3. Cornered: Byrd and Thurmond give the Ducks a strong combination at the corners, which is a good thing in the Pac-10.

4. Making Bacon: LB John Bacon showed good quickness and instincts, which is enough to fill a critical vacancy, considering the Ducks atypical struggles against the run last year.

5. Big boots: Newcomer Josh Syria appears to be the answer at punter after the Ducks ranked 90th in the nation in net punting in 2006.

Fall questions: 1. Chip shot for Dixon: Has Dixon really regained his mojo? We'll know before the end of September, with a visit to Michigan and a home date with California on the slate.

2. Stewart ready for close-up: Stewart has put up good numbers and has been brilliant at times, but he hasn't become the All-American many supposed he'd be sooner rather than later. Well, he's a junior now -- Ann Arbor might be a good place to say howdy to the nation.

3. Safety in numbers: Replacing Nelson hasn't proven easy, with Ryan DePalo going down with a knee injury. Is Matthew Harper the guy or might there be a reshuffle?

4. New blood breakthrough: Insiders are high on youngsters like sophomore TE Ed Dickson and redshirt freshman DE Brandon Bair, but they will need to prove themselves under fire.

5. Nothing special: The Ducks' special teams generally have been bad across the board, and it's still up in the air who will kick field goals in 2007. That's never good.

Oregon State Beavers
2007 Schedule
Aug. 30 Utah
Sept. 6 at Cincinnati
Sept. 15 Idaho State
Sept. 22 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at California
Oct. 27 Stanford
Nov. 3 at Southern California
Nov. 10 Washington
Nov. 17 at Washington State
Dec. 1 at Oregon


2006 overall record:
10-4
Conference record:
6-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
RB Yvenson Bernard; OG Jeremy Perry; C Kyle DeVan; WR Sammie Stroughter; K Alexis Serna; LB Derrick Doggett; DE Jeff Van Orsow
Key losses
QB Matt Moore; TE Joe Newton; OT Adam Koets; DT Ben Siegert; SS Sabby Piscitelli
Top newcomer: CB David Ross Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Yvenson Bernard* (1,307 yds)
Passing: Matt Moore (3,022 yds)
Receiving: Sammie Stroughter* (1,293 yds)
Tackles: Joey LaRocque* (98)
Sacks: Dorian Smith* (8.5)
Interceptions: Sabby Piscitelli (5)

Spring answers: 1. The linebackers are really good: While Doggett, Alan Darlin and Joey LaRocque won't get the attention of USC's amazing fleet of linebackers, they aren't that far behind. This troika is a big reason the Beavers might surprise some folks on defense.

2. Portrait of Dorian Smith: DE Smith wasn't considered a starter last year, but it's kind of silly to see him as a newbie. Heck, he led the Beavers with nine sacks. Wonder what he might do as a full-time guy.

3. Learning curve: Two years ago, cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes were part of a secondary that yielded 31 touchdown passes. Last year, it gave up just 14. There's reason to believe the improvement might continue.

4. This might be the conference's best OL: With four of five starters back -- and all four earned some sort of all-conference honors -- the line should be able to make things fairly easy for whoever wins the quarterback job.

5. Message to QB? Don't blow it: The Beavers won't need whoever wins the quarterback job to win games. They will need him to avoid boneheaded mistakes.

Fall questions: 1. Canfield takes the field? While touted sophomore Sean Canfield is expected to win the QB job over Lyle Moevao, he didn't separate himself in the spring. Will he step up during preseason practices, or will the scrappy Moevao score the upset?

2. A little tight: Redshirt freshman Brady Camp often looked like the Beavers' best tight end during spring practices, which means more experienced sophomores Howard Croom and John Reese need to pick up the pace in the race to replace Newton.

3. Will Tavita beat-ya? With four of five starters returning from one of the conference's best lines in 2006, the only issue is whether incoming junior Tavita Thompson will be a weak link or not.

4. Is strong safety Drayton's place? The biggest issue -- perhaps the only real issue -- is the void left by the departure of strong safety Piscitelli, who led the Beavers with five interceptions and was a three-year fixture in the secondary. Senior Daniel Drayton is far from green, but at 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, he's not the physical presence Piscitelli (6-3, 225) was.

5. Ride the mo': Oregon State has a good chance to record its first back-to-back 10-win seasons in program history. It could become a special season if the Beavers ride the momentum of an 8-1 finish from 2006 and avoid their typical slow start.

Stanford Cardinal
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 UCLA
Sept. 15 San Jose State
Sept. 22 Oregon
Sept. 29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 at USC
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 at Oregon State
Nov. 3 Washington
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 24 Notre Dame
Dec. 1 California

2006 overall record:
1-11
Conference record:
1-8

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
WR Mark Bradford; WR Evan Moore; CB Wopamo Osaisai
Key losses
QB Trent Edwards; LB Michael Okwo; CB Brandon Harrison; S Trever Hooper
Top newcomer: K David Green Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Kimble* (470 yds)
Passing: Trent Edwards (1,027 yds)
Receiving: Richard Sherman* (581 yds)
Tackles: Michael Okwo (95)
Sacks: Trevor Hooper (2.5)
Interceptions: Bo McNally (2)

Spring answers: 1. New boss: First-year coach Jim Harbaugh makes a big jump from I-AA to the Pac-10 and it appears he's injected life and perhaps some hope into a moribund program. He's certainly more outgoing and charismatic than Stanford's two previous coaches, Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris.

2. Ostrander the man: After serving as a four-year understudy behind Trent Edwards -- and seeing significant action when Edwards was hurt -- T.C. Ostrander finally gets a shot to run the Cardinal's offense on his own.

3. Receiving strength: With the healthy return of receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore as well as 2006 leading receiver Richard Sherman, Ostrander will have an above-average troika of pass-catching targets.

4. Getting defensive: The defense lost the three best players from the worst unit in the Pac-10, but at least in the spring game, the unit looked decent. It held the first-string offense to just one touchdown in 12 possessions and forced three turnovers while recording seven sacks.

5. Lorig no longer tight: With solid depth at tight end and issues on the defensive line, it was probably smart to move sophomore Erik Lorig, a former hot shot tight end recruit, to defensive end. He showed some spurts of athleticism and should earn playing time behind Udeme Udofia.

Fall questions: 1. Is the offensive line really this bad? Despite the return of four players with significant playing experience, the offensive line looked terrible during spring practices, particularly in the spring game, when it yielded seven sacks.

2. What's behind Ostrander? Considering Edwards couldn't stay healthy behind a woeful OL, it's not unreasonable to wonder if Ostrander will start every game. If he goes down, it will either be junior Tavita Pritchard or redshirt freshman Alex Loukas. Neither was terribly impressive this spring.

3. Will the defense be at least mediocre? Last year, the Cardinal gave up 211 yards rushing per game. That's embarrassing. And that was with Okwo, a first-team All-Pac-10 linebacker. The defense looked fairly salty during spring drills, but that likely was due to facing a bad OL.

4. Might Tyrone McGraw inject some explosiveness into the offense? The diminutive redshirt freshman had six carries for 147 yards -- including an 85-yard touchdown scamper -- to lead the charge in the spring game, albeit against the No. 2 defense. While Anthony Kimble is the top tailback, McGraw might offer some scatback skills.

5. How long before Harbaugh provides wins? Probably not this year, particularly with a deep Pac-10. It's hard to imagine the Cardinal will exceed last year's one conference victory.

UCLA Bruins
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Stanford
Sept. 8 BYU
Sept. 15 at Utah
Sept. 22 Washington
Sept. 29 at Oregon State
Oct. 6 Notre Dame
Oct. 20 California
Oct. 27 at Washington State
Nov. 3 at Arizona
Nov. 10 Arizona State
Nov. 24 Oregon
Dec. 1 at USC


2006 overall record:
7-6
2006 conference record:
5-4

Returning starters
Offense: 10; defense: 10; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
DE Bruce Davis; SS Chris Horton; DT Kevin Brown; CB Trey Brown; LB Christian Taylor; TB Chris Markey; OG Shannon Tevaga; QB Ben Olson
Key losses
DE Justin Hickman; K Justin Medlock; C Robert Chai; WR Junior Taylor
Top newcomer: QB Chris Forcier Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chris Markey* (1,107 yds)
Passing: Patrick Cowan* (1,782 yds)
Receiving: Marcus Everett* (450 yds)
Tackles: Chris Horton* (95)
Sacks: Bruce Davis*, Justin Hickman (12.5)
Interceptions: Trey Brown* (4)

Spring answers: 1. No QB controversy: Coach Karl Dorrell killed any possible mystery heading into fall by naming, as expected, Ben Olson the starting quarterback over Pat Cowan, who played fairly well after replacing the injured Olson in 2006.
2. A Norvell idea: Three new offensive coaches were added, topped by new coordinator Jay Norvell. Nonetheless, the offense sputtered most of spring.
3. Pastel power: With 10 starters back, the Bruins' defense was dominant throughout spring. That should continue into the season.
4. One vacancy: While Nikola Dragovic is the favorite to replace Justin Hickman at end, Tom Blake, a walk-on transfer from UC Davis, has raised eyebrows and should see significant action.
5. New kicks: USA Today prep All-American kicker Kai Forbath will replace first-team All-Pac-10 kicker Justin Medlock. Or he'll try. Forbath struggled at times.

Fall questions: 1. Is the offensive this bad? The Bruins laid an egg most of spring and were particularly impotent during the spring game, scoring only a field goal before being placed into red-zone situations. That could be growing pains with a new coordinator or it could be …
2. Is the defense this good? With 10 starters back from a defense that led the conference stopping the run and was second in scoring -- and throttled USC -- it's hard to imagine this unit won't be among the nation's best.
3. Is this OL good enough? Four starters are back on the line, but that might not necessarily be a good thing. Though they were adequate in pass protection, the line struggled to consistently open holes for the tailbacks.
4. Walker away: Considering he transformed the personality and production of a unit in just one year, it's fairly obvious that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is a hot coaching property. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis tried to lure him away, but Walker is likely holding out for a head coaching job.
5. Will the Bruins build on last year's victory over USC or more resemble the bunch that choked in their bowl game? Last year the Bruins were infuriatingly inconsistent, losing to teams like Washington and Washington State while beating the Trojans and Oregon State. The same focus and intensity has to be present every week.

USC Trojans
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 Idaho
Sept. 15 at Nebraska
Sept. 22 Washington State
Sept. 29 at Washington
Oct. 6 Stanford
Oct. 13 Arizona
Oct. 20 at Notre Dame
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Oregon State
Nov. 10 at California
Nov. 22 at Arizona State
Dec. 1 UCLA


2006 overall record:
11-2
2006 conference record:
7-2

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 10; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB John David Booty; OT Sam Baker; TB C.J. Gable; TE Fred Davis; OG Chilo Rachal; NT Sedrick Ellis; LB Keith Rivers; LB Rey Maualuga; LB Brian Cushing; DE Lawrence Jackson; CB Terrell Thomas; FS Taylor Mays
Key losses
WR Dwayne Jarrett; WR Steve Smith; C Ryan Kalil; LB Dallas Sartz
Top newcomer: RB Joe McKnight Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Chauncey Washington* (744 yds)
Passing: John David Booty* (3,347 yds)
Receiving: Steve Smith (1,083 yds)
Tackles: Keith Rivers* (85)
Sacks: Dallas Sartz (7)
Interceptions: Taylor Mays* (3)

Spring answers: 1. Better to receive: It's hard to lose a couple of NFL second-round draft choices at receiver, but the Trojans don't seem concerned. Patrick Turner has experience, and Vidal Hazelton appears poised for a breakout. Meanwhile, Travon Patterson and David Ausberry would probably start for most Division I-A teams.
2. Safety in numbers: Many NFL teams won't be able to boast a threesome of safeties as good as USC's Taylor Mays, Josh Pinkard and Kevin Ellison. So who ends up on the bench? Pinkard, a Pete Carroll favorite, has successfully returned from knee injury. Mays earned freshman All-American honors and led the team in interceptions. While the 220-pound Ellison is no slouch, though he sat out spring after knee surgery.
3. Center of attention: Matt Spanos, academically ineligible last year, emerged as the front-runner to replace Ryan Kalil at center.
4. Byers back: Offensive lineman Jeff Byers was everybody's prep All-American in 2003 when he signed with USC, but after starting four games as a true freshman, injuries (back, hip) killed his past two seasons. Some wondered if he was done, but he emerged this spring as a starting guard, who could see action at center.
5. Buehler in: The tragic death of kicker Mario Danelo, who died after falling off a cliff in January, means that David Buehler takes over. Buehler has a stronger leg than Danelo did, so he may offer more range. He connected from 49 yards on his only field-goal attempt of 2006.

Fall questions: 1. Can you ever have too many great tailbacks? This fall, the Trojans will have seven first- or second-year running backs who earned Parade Prep All-American honors, including three true freshmen. Unless something has changed we don't know about, there's only one ball. Count on more than a few coaches eyeballing the eventual pecking order, hoping to pick up a marquee transfer.
2. Will the offense click? The defense is a sure thing, and the offense is loaded with talent. But there's no guarantee that the passing game will click early on without Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, and the Trojans didn't run the ball exceptionally well last year, even with All-American center Ryan Kalil.
3. Road Warriors: The road schedule is far from a gimme: Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State. Each of those teams figures to be at least a threat for a Top 25 ranking.
4. Will they believe the hype? If the Trojans start fast and quickly justify their No. 1 preseason ranking, then the hype will go into full swing -- you know, all that "best team ever" stuff. Carroll is great at keeping his team above the fray and focused. But if too many guys start reading their own press clippings, that could mean trouble.
5. Whither Carroll? If Carroll and USC win their third national title together and play in their sixth consecutive BCS bowl, what is there left for Carroll to conquer? Will he be able to resist NFL overtures, particularly ones that include complete franchise control?

Washington Huskies
2007 Schedule
Aug. 31 at Syracuse
Sept. 8 Boise State
Sept. 15 Ohio State
Sept. 22 at UCLA
Sept. 29 USC
Oct. 13 at Arizona State
Oct. 20 Oregon
Oct. 27 Arizona
Nov. 3 at Stanford
Nov. 10 at Oregon State
Nov. 17 California
Nov. 24 Washington State
Dec. 1 at Hawaii


2006 overall record:
5-7
2006 conference record:
3-6

Returning starters
Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
C Juan Garcia; RB Louis Rankin; DE Greyson Gunheim; LB Dan Howell
Key losses
QB Isaiah Stanback; OG Clay Walker; WR Sonny Shackelford; CB Dashon Goldson; SS C.J. Wallace; LB Scott White
Top newcomer: TE Chris Izbicki Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Louis Rankin* (666 yds)
Passing: Isaiah Stanback (1,325 yds)
Receiving: Sonny Shackelford (666 yds)
Tackles: C.J. Wallace (105)
Sacks: Greyson Gunheim* (6)
Interceptions: Scott White (4)

Spring answers: 1. Jake's the man: Instead of allowing his quarterbacks to compete during spring practices, coach Tyrone Willingham made a pre-emptive strike and named touted redshirt freshman Jake Locker the starter over experienced senior Carl Bonnell.
2. Big target: Marcel Reece may be ready for his close-up. He arrived at Washington amid considerable hype last year, but he was overweight and didn't contribute much until late in the season. Based on his spring -- he caught three touchdown passes in the spring game -- he could be a major breakout performer, particularly if he gets his weight down to around 230 pounds.
3. On the Savannah: The biggest move on defense came from LB E.J. Savannah, who passed Chris Stevens on the depth chart. Savannah is bigger and plays with better instincts, though Stevens' speed means he'll still see plenty of action.
4. Moving up the Rankin: Louis Rankin, who jitterbugged in too many holes last year, had a good offseason in the weight room and ran with more purpose, which helped him hold off a challenge from J.R. Hasty.
5. Big is inside: Having to replace both guards, the Huskies will go with a pair of big guys -- perhaps as big as any two guards in the country. Morgan Rosborough tips the scales at 375, while Casey Bulyca is a svelt 320.

Fall questions: 1. Locker combination: Is Jake Locker ready? Should it matter that Carl Bonnell outplayed him throughout spring, particularly during the spring game? Locker is a poised young man with amazing skills, but few redshirt freshmen jump right in and thrive.
2. Schedule of death: It's hard to imagine any team will play a tougher schedule. The Huskies' nonconference slate includes trips to Syracuse and Hawaii and visits from Boise State and Ohio State, a pair of top-five teams in 2006. Not to mention the fact that the Pac-10 is as deep as it's been in years.
3. Passing defense: While it modestly improved last year, the Huskies' pass defense has been terrible the past two seasons, and now they have to replace their best safety and best cornerback. Willingham has basically said that no position is won until the newcomers arrive this fall.
4. Un-special teams: The Huskies lost both their kicker and punter, and spring practices didn't produce anything to write home about. JC transfer Jared Ballman has a big, but inconsistent foot, while true freshman Erik Folk is expected to take over the kicking duties when he arrives.
5. Is patience running out for Willingham? It's hard to imagine the Huskies can post a winning record with this schedule. While there's been progress heading into Year 3 under Willingham, UW fans are restless.

Washington State Cougars
2007 Schedule
Sept. 1 at Wisconsin
Sept. 8 San Diego State
Sept. 15 Idaho
Sept. 22 at USC
Sept. 29 at Arizona
Oct. 6 Arizona State
Oct. 13 at Oregon
Oct. 27 UCLA
Nov. 3 at California
Nov. 10 Stanford
Nov. 17 Oregon State
Nov. 24 at Washington


2006 overall record:
6-6
2006 conference record:
4-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7; defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Alex Brink; WR Michael Bumpus; OT Bobby Byrd; DT Ropati Pitoitua; FS Husain Abdullah
Key losses
WR Jason Hill; DE Mkristo Bruce; S Eric Frampton; LB Scott Davis; CB Tyrone Brackenridge
Top newcomer: RB Logwone Mitz Insider
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dwight Tardy* (667 yds)
Passing: Alex Brink* (2,899 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Gibson* (731 yds)
Tackles: Eric Frampton (100)
Sacks: Mkristo Bruce (11)
Interceptions: Eric Frampton (5)

Spring answers: 1. On the Brink: Alex Brink has quietly put together an impressive career. A second-team All-Conference performer in 2006, he should surpass the career 10,000-yard passing mark this season. An experienced quarterback goes a long way in the Pac-10.
2. A new-old DC: Head coach Bill Doba, the Cougars' defensive coordinator under former coach Mike Price, has decided to take over his former duties again. With the departure of Robb Akey, now Idaho's head coach, Doba will coordinate his defense and coach linebackers.
3. Not up-Hill for receivers: The departure of receiver Jason Hill to the NFL won't strike a crippling blow to the passing offense. Michael Bumpus is back, for one, and Charles Dillon is pretty fair himself. But the breakout performer during spring drills was Brandon Gibson, who made play after play. Gibson led the team with 731 receiving yards last year.
4. Back the line: While the Cougars have a lot of questions on defense, two answers appeared this spring at linebacker: Cory Evans and Andy Mattingly, who both played well and should join Gary Trent in the starting lineup.
5. A tight end is near: The Cougars probably won't skip a beat at tight end, despite the departure of talented but oft-injured Cody Boyd. Jed Collins should step in seamlessly. He caught 22 passes last year and his three touchdowns actually was one better than Boyd.

Fall questions: 1. Cornered Cougs: Coaches were less than thrilled with what they saw at cornerback this spring, which means it's entirely possible -- perhaps even probable -- that both starting corners will be first-year players, with junior college transfer Devin Giles and freshman Chima Nwachukwu expected to immediately battle for starting jobs.
2. DL says "Ouch": Injury issues are riddling the Cougars' defensive line. For one, it's unclear whether tackles Fevaea'i Ahmu (foot) and Aaron Johnson (back) will be able to play in the fall. Ahmu is likely out after undergoing foot surgery. Also, end Lance Broadus could miss a few games after undergoing shoulder surgery, and end Matt Mullennix is coming back after missing the 2006 season with a knee injury.
3. Nothing special: Doba has divided up special teams coaching responsibilities among his assistants after the Cougars were just lousy last year. They ranked last in the conference in punt return and kickoff coverage and return, and were ninth in field-goal percentage.
4. The tail of the backs: Running backs Derrell Hutsona and DeMaundray Woolridge didn't participate during spring practices because of academic issues, which they need to square away in order to be eligible for next season. That left Dwight Tardy as the only experienced back practicing.
5. Hot seat: Doba is on the hot seat, no question. If the Cougars fail to reach a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, it's likely he will be forced to resign.

Ted Miller covers the Pac-10 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

ALSO SEE