Commentary

Disappointment the theme of Pac-10 season

Updated: December 14, 2007, 4:21 PM ET
By Ted Miller | Special to ESPN.com

The 2007 season started with great promise for the Pac-10, which at one point appeared poised to claim the chimerical "Best BCS Conference" title, but one unhappy word best describes the final outcome.

Failure.

Five different conference teams at one point were ranked among the nation's top 11, four of those crawled into the top six, three pushed to No. 2 and one spent five weeks at No. 1.

At season's end, however, only two remained in the national polls.

[+] EnlargeDennis Dixon
AP Photo/John MillerOregon could not overcome the loss of quarterback Dennis Dixon.

No team handled prosperity well, and a couple seemed to lack the will to fight through adversity.

Blowout nonconference victories over Tennessee and Michigan looked good. Providing woeful Notre Dame two of its three wins, not so much.

Injuries are the main excuse, and they were horrendous. Seven teams were forced to start their backup quarterback at least once. Oregon started the nation's best quarterback, Dennis Dixon, its first 10 games. By game 12, it was using its No. 5 guy.

Standout players who missed significant action included Arizona State tailback Ryan Torain, Oregon receiver Brian Paysinger, Oregon State tailback Yvenson Bernard, Oregon State receiver Sammie Stroughter, UCLA quarterback Ben Olson and a sparkling fivesome from USC: quarterback John David Booty, offensive tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Josh Pinkard and offensive guard Chilo Rachal.

USC, the consensus preseason No. 1, again was touted as a potential team for the ages, but the only history the Trojans made was losing to Stanford, a 41-point underdog.

While a sixth consecutive Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth isn't anything to sniff at, the Trojans probably are jealously eyeballing the BCS title game knowing they'd be favored by Vegas oddsmakers against either LSU or Ohio State.

Of course, they feel a lot better than Oregon, California and UCLA.

California and Oregon both climbed to No. 2 in the national polls. Both went belly-up shortly thereafter.

California started impressively with wins over Tennessee and Oregon but completely imploded after backup quarterback Kevin Riley suffered a brain cramp in the waning moments against Oregon State, running with the ball instead of throwing it away as time expired. That started a shocking run of six defeats in seven games.

For much of the season, Oregon showcased a nearly unstoppable offense and was poised to play for the national title. But Dixon hurt his knee late during a win over Arizona State and then crumpled in the first quarter the following game against Arizona.

From then on, the Ducks' offense was horrible, most glaringly in a white-flag effort, 16-zip loss to UCLA.

As for UCLA, shutting out the Ducks was the highlight of a dreary, underachieving campaign, which explains why coach Karl Dorrell was fired after five inconsistent seasons.

He joined Washington State's Bill Doba, also dispatched after his fifth year, in the unemployment line.

It looked like Washington and Arizona also might go that route, but the Wildcats posted another late-season rally, thereby saving Mike Stoops, and the beleaguered Huskies spared Tyrone Willingham and took succor from the sometimes thrilling debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker.

Not everything was a downer, however. In his first season, Dennis Erickson instantly transformed Arizona State into a contender, nearly driving the Sun Devils to a BCS bowl.

The conference's other first-year coach, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, gave the thinning ranks of the Cardinal's fan base victories over USC and Cal (Stanford's first win in the Big Game in six years).

Oregon State imploded at Cincinnati with seven turnovers, but the Beavers showed admirable resiliency on their way to a third-place finish.

Still, these are merely sidebars for a conference that won't welcome back much star power in 2008.

With five teams suiting up enough talent to finish among the nation's Top 25, only two did.

That underachievement can only be classified a failure.

Most Valuable Player


QB Dennis Dixon, Oregon
A year after he lost his confidence and was benched, Dixon bounced back and became the ultimate spread-option artist. His sleight of hand with ball fakes and his running and passing ability made him the nation's most dangerous player much of the season.

No further illustration of his value is needed than this: With him, Oregon might have been the best team in the nation. Without him, the Ducks were just mediocre.

He finished the season ranked fourth in the nation in passing efficiency and rushed for 583 yards, producing 29 total touchdowns.

Coach of the Year


Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
Most believed Erickson would lead a turnaround at Arizona State, just not this quickly. Sure, he didn't inherit a bare cupboard from Dirk Koetter, but the Sun Devils showed a mental toughness that had been missing in recent years.

Scrappy and opportunistic, they trailed eight times this season after the first quarter, often by double digits, but still managed to win 10 games, capping their season with a win over rival Arizona.

With Erickson's eye for talent and ability to prepare and inspire his team, it's quite possible that a true rival for USC is rising in the desert.

Newcomer of the Year


QB Jake Locker, Washington
Locker became the West Coast version of Florida's Tim Tebow, a quarterback with a huge arm who runs with power and speed. Despite sitting out one game with a neck injury, he rushed for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns and passed for 2,062 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He needs to improve his accuracy -- see 15 interceptions and a 47 percent completion percentage -- but that will come. The biggest question is whether Washington will cobble together a supporting cast like Tebow has.

Biggest Surprise


Stanford over USC
Stanford's 24-23 victory over then-No. 2 USC was stunning in a year that was uniformly stunning.

Stanford did it with backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard twice converting on fourth-and-long on the game-winning drive, which ended USC's 35-game home winning streak.

Toss in Stanford's win over rival Cal, and the Cardinal beat teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at some point this season.

Not bad for a 4-8 team.

Biggest Disappointment


Cal
Cal's tumble was stunning.

On Oct. 13, the Bears, who'd already whipped Tennessee and Oregon, were poised to move up to No. 1 with Oregon State visiting. In position for a field goal that would send the game into overtime, backup quarterback Kevin Riley lost his head and tried to scramble for a touchdown.

He was stopped and the clock ran out, inspiring typically levelheaded coach Jeff Tedford to spontaneously combust on the sideline.

The Bears never recovered, losing six of their final seven games.

All-Pac-10 Team
Offense
QB Dennis Dixon, Sr., Oregon
RB Jonathan Stewart, Jr., Oregon
RB Justin Forsett, Sr., California
TE Fred Davis, Sr., USC
WR Mike Thomas, Jr., Arizona
WR Brandon Gibson, Jr., Washington State
OL Sam Baker, Sr., USC
OL Juan Garcia, Jr., Washington
OL Chilo Rachal, Jr., USC
OL Max Unger, Jr., Oregon
OL Alex Mack, Jr., California
K Thomas Weber, Fr., Arizona State

Defense
DL Lawrence Jackson, Sr., USC
DL Sedrick Ellis, Sr., USC
DL Nick Reed, Jr., Oregon
DL Dexter Davis, So, Arizona State
LB Keith Rivers, Sr., USC
LB Robert James, Sr., Arizona State
LB Spencer Larson, Sr., Arizona
DB Antoine Cason, Sr., Arizona
DB Terrell Thomas, Sr., USC
DB Patrick Chung, Jr., Oregon
DB Kevin Ellison, Jr., USC
P Keenyn Crier, Fr., Arizona

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

Ted Miller | email

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