2004 Pac 10 Preview

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2004 PAC-10 Preview
By Ted Sevransky
Whocovers.com

Arizona St Wildcats

Coaching
This will be Dirk Koetter’s fourth season in Tempe, trying torevive a program that has fallen on hard times in the post BruceSnyder era. Koetter put Boise State on the map, a program thatthrived under his tutelage and has continued to dominate theWAC ever since. But Koetter has not been able to achieve thesame level of success in the PAC-10. The Sun Devils showed signsof improvement in the 2002 season, winning eight games, andearning a berth in the Holiday Bowl against Kansas State. Butthe 2003 season was nothing short of an unmitigated disasterfrom a team expected to compete with USC for the PAC-10 title.Now 17-20 in his three years with the Sun Devils, Koetter’shead could be on the chopping block if Arizona State underperformsagain in 2004. Koetter served as the play caller on offensefor Arizona State in his first three years at the helm. Thisyear, Koetter promoted former quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrichto ‘passing game coordinator’, and brought in former Utah andWashington assistant Brent Myers as the ‘running game coordinator’.Koetter had been known for his aggressive playcalling strategies,consistently looking for big play opportunities, regardlessof down and distance concerns, so we may see a more conservativeapproach from the Sun Devils offense in 2004. Defensive coordinatorBrent Guy has been with Koetter since his days at Boise, ensuringconsistency from a defense that must improve against the runfor the Sun Devils to be contenders in the PAC-10.

Offense
Arizona State averaged 34 points per game in 2001 and 32 ppg.in 2002, but the offense dropped off dramatically last year,producing only 25 points per game. The culprits were a weakrunning game, and a rash of turnovers. Arizona State ranked96th out of 117 Division 1-A teams in rushing yards per game,and committed 22 fumbles, 16 of which were recovered by theopposing team. Quarterback Andrew Walter returns for his senioryear as a top tier NFL prospect, a likely first rounder. Walterthrew for over 3000 yards last year, with 24 touchdown passes,but his 6’5″ 220 pound body took a beating behind an underperformingoffensive line. Walter put on 15 pound of muscle in the off-season,which should improve his durability. His top returning targetis deep threat Derek Hagan, who averaged 16.3 yards on his 66catches last year. The Sun Devils will look to athletic sophomoreTerry Richardson and steady junior Matt Miller to replace speedsterSkyler Fulton on the other side. Sophomore running backs LorenWade and Randy Hill will have to hold off challenges from juniorsHakim Hill and Cornell Canidate at the running back position.But even with all of that talent at the skill positions, ArizonaState’s offensive potency will likely be determined by theiroffensive line. On paper, that unit looks rock solid, with threereturning starters and a host of top prospects – if they liveup to expectations, the Sun Devils could have one of the mostpotent offenses in the conference.

Defense
After struggling to implement a new 4-2-5 defensive scheme lastyear, the Sun Devils have scrapped that approach, returningto a more traditional 4-3 alignment for the 2004 season. Lastyear, this defense was fundamentally sound, but they had a strongpropensity to give up the big play at the absolute worst possibletime. In five of their seven 2003 losses, the Sun Devils allowed34 or more points, so the unit clearly needs a fix – they allowed34 points or more six times in 2002 and six times in 2001 aswell. The line looks to be the strength of the defense in 2004,with four seniors projected at the four starting positions,led by pure speed rusher Ishmael Thrower, who led the team insacks last year. The linebacking corps is solid and experiencedas well, with a pair of senior starters to go along with playmakerMatt Fawley. Cornerbacks RJ Oliver and Chris McKenzie are bothundersized, neither standing above 5’9″, and both havestruggled defending the long pass. In the pass happy PAC-10,that’s never a good thing.

Schedule
The Sun Devils begin the season with a trio of winnable non-conferencegames. The campaign starts with a relatively easy matchup againstUTEP, then a road trip to Northwestern, one of the Big 10’sweaker entrants, before ASU returns home in a revenge matchupagainst Iowa, hoping to avenge last year’s ugly 21-2 loss tothe Hawkeyes. Their PAC-10 slate features a trio of tough roadgames in October, facing Oregon, Cal and USC. If the Sun Devilsstruggle with those tough road tilts, they could provide plentyof value for their supporters late in the season, with homegames against Washington State and Stanford before their roadfinale at Arizona.

Prediction/Forecast
I was very high on Arizona State prior to the start of lastseason, but the Sun Devils did not live up to expectations,finishing the season with a dismal 2-9 record against the spread.With a top rated senior NFL prospect at quarterback, an amplesupply of playmakers on offense around him, and a line thatshould be dramatically improved from last year, this year’sversion of the Sun Devils is poised to score points in bunches.If the defense can avoid the big play nightmares that have plaguedthem in recent seasons, there’s no reason to think that ArizonaState won’t win eight or more games, and go back to a bowl game.While USC is still clearly the class of the conference, ArizonaState is more than capable of competing for runner-up honorsin the PAC-10.

Arizona Wildcats

Coaching
No program in college football created a bigger splash thanArizona did this past off-season when they hired former Oklahomadefensive coordinator Mike Stoops as their new head coach. TheStoops family have been media darlings since their revival ofthe Oklahoma football program over the last five years, andStoops arrival in Tucson has been heralded as a major coup fora program has hasn’t had a winning season since 1998. But thisprogram has a long way to go to become competitive, and Stoopsdoesn’t have the same top tier staff at Arizona that he coachedwith at Oklahoma – even with eleven returning starters on offense,Arizona is not likely to break through with a bowl berth typeseason in 2004. Mike Canales comes over from the New York Jetsas the new offensive coordinator, although the majority of hisexperience has been on the collegiate level as the quarterbackscoach for legends Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards. Mike’s youngerbrother Mark Stoops is the new defensive coordinator, aftercoaching the defensive backs for the Miami Hurricanes for thepast three seasons. With a completely new staff implementingnew systems on both sides of the football, the Wildcats willbe hard pressed to make much noise in the PAC-10 in Stoops’first season at the helm.

Offense
There’s no nice way to phrase this – everything about the Arizonaoffense stunk last year. The Wildcats scored 42 points in theiropener against UTEP, then needed their next five games to matchthose 42 points, losing all five. The Wildcats were held toless than two touchdowns in eight of their twelve games. KrisHeaver was the starting quarterback as a true freshman lastyear, struggling with 15 interceptions and only eight touchdowns,the lowest rated starter in the PAC-10. He’ll have to hold offchallenges from three quality backups if his numbers don’t improvein a hurry. Receivers Biren Early and Ricky Williams returnafter leading the team, combining for 78 receptions last year.But the offense will likely be a run based unit this year. Stoopsis expecting big things from the top recruit of the John Mackovicera, junior Mike Bell, who led the team with 920 yards and 5.5yards per carry last season. The key to the success of the offensewill be on the line. Four starters return to that underperformingunit from last year, along with impact linemen Brandon Phillipsand Tanner Bell both returning to the mix from major injuries.

Defense
There’s nowhere to go but up for this dismal defense that allowedmore than 35 points and 460 yards per game last year, especiallyconsidering the arrival of the defensive-minded Stoops brothersin Tucson. Last year, the Wildcats began the season with a 3-4scheme, but it morphed into a confusing hodge-podge before theyear was over, none of which were the slightest bit successfulat stopping opposing offenses. Stoops installed a 4-3 schemein the spring that relied heavily on zone coverage – the Arizonadefenders will at least have some semblance of an idea of wherethey are supposed to be on the field by the time the seasonstarts. This defense has some solid returning starters and somevery athletic prospects, so we could see a major improvementas the season progresses. The secondary, however, remains anarea of weakness. Unproven junior college transfer Kiel McDonaldand redshirt freshman Wilrey Fontenot earned starting cornerbackroles in the Spring, but they’ll have to live up to their promiseonce the real games begin.

Schedule Analysis
Aside from their opener against 1-AA Northern Arizona, the Wildcatsschedule is devoid of sure wins. Arizona got a break from theschedule maker with seven home games this season, but five ofthose seven games come against teams that went bowling lastfall, including tough non-conference tests against Utah andWisconsin in early September. Arizona also misses lowly Stanfordfrom their schedule this year – their eight games against PAC-10opposition are against the toughest eight teams in the conference.

Prediction/Forecast
When Bob Stoops took over the Oklahoma program in 1999 and installedhis younger brother Mike as the defensive coordinator, it tookthe entire first season for the program to make real progress,finishing the campaign with only a two win improvement overtheir previous year. While hopes are very high in Tucson thisoff-season, I don’t share that unbridled optimism. Stoops issecure with his long term deal, and is in no rush to turn aroundthe fortunes of this once proud program – rebuilding the Wildcatswill be a process, not an immediate achievement. Don’t be surprisedif this team pulls off a home upset or two, but four wins isprobably the maximum that this team can achieve.

California Golden Bears

Coaching
Head Coach Jeff Tedford enters his third season at Berkeleyin 2004 as arguably the single most effective head coach incollege football over the last two seasons. No, Cal isn’t competingfor national championships yet, but a moribund program has beenrevived in a hurry. Prior to Tedford’s arrival, the Bears hadn’tfinished above .500 since 1993, and they hadn’t appeared ina bowl game since 1996. All the former Oregon offensive coordinatordid was take a team that had finished 1-10 the previous yearand turn them into contenders. In 2002, Cal had some experiencedtalent to work with, and Tedford guided them to a winning season.In 2003, Tedford took what looked to be a major rebuilding seasonand turned it into magic. Cal was the only team in the nationgood enough to beat USC and they capped off the season withan impressive, come-from-behind Insight Bowl victory over VirginiaTech. Coordinators George Cortez on offense and Bob Gregoryon defense both return in 2004, leaving the coaching staff virtuallyintact from last year. Cortez, in particular, must be laudedafter his offense produced enough points to pull four outrightupsets against superior opponents last season.
Offense
California returns seven starters to an offense that averagedover 32 points per game and 432 yards of total offense in 2003.The young offense improved by leaps and bounds as the seasonprogressed last year, piling up more than 50 points three timesin their final five contests. Quarterback Aaron Rogers transferredto Cal from the junior college ranks, and was an immediate impactplayer. Rogers set a school record with five 300 yard passinggames, and should be even better in 2004. Led by star wideoutGeoff McArthur, Rogers will have no shortage of weapons, asthe Bears have one of the deepest wide receiver corps in thePAC-10. McArthur, who missed all of spring ball recovering froma broken arm, exploded onto the scene last year, catching 85balls for over 1500 yards. He averaged 17.7 yards per receptionas one of the nation’s most dangerous deep threats, trailingonly Larry Fitzgerald in yards per game at the wide receiverposition. One-thousand yard rusher Adimchinobe Echemandu graduatedin the offseason, but backups JJ Arrington and Marcus O’Keitheach averaged better than five yards per carry last season,helping the Bears lead the conference in rushing. The lone weaknesscould be on the offensive line, where a pair of new startingtackles must provide enough protection for the offense to operate.Eve with that potential weakness, the Bears should be able toproduce more than 30 points per game again in 2004, for thethird consecutive season.

Defense
Last year, Cal had just two returning starters on defense, butthey’ve got a unit loaded with experience this time around,with eight returning starters to begin the 2004 campaign. Thebiggest weakness in 2003 was the lack of a pass rush. It ledto difficulties in the secondary who suffered from a lack ofconsistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This year, thecornerbacks are experienced and the safeties, led by all PAC-10selection Donnie McCleskey, are among the best in the conference.The key to the defense will be the play of the line. Seniorends Tosh Lupoi and Ryan Riddle, along with junior college dynamoJustin Johnson have to step up their play in order to make asolid defense into a great one, giving the Bears a chance ata truly dominant season. If the pass rush improves, Cal couldlegitimately be a dominant team in 2004.

Schedule Analysis
The early part of the Golden Bears’ schedule is positively brutal,with four tough road contests in their first five games. Theystart out with a visit to Air Force, return home for a laugheragainst New Mexico State, then head back on the highway forgames at Southern Mississippi, Oregon State and USC on threesuccessive weekends. Facing a USC team primed for revenge aftergoing to Southern Miss and Oregon State will be a challenge,to say the least. Although a late November visit to Washingtonwon’t be an easy trip, the schedule eases up considerably downthe stretch, with four of their last six games coming at home.If the Bears struggle with their early season slate, there willbe plenty of value supporting them against the pointspread duringthe latter stages of the campaign.

Prediction/Forecast
If it wasn’t for their tough schedule, expectations here mightbe higher, and a second place finish in the PAC-10 might bea reasonable prediction. After all, this team is loaded offensively,experienced on defense, and their head coach is a proven winner.But considering the tough slate of games that Tedford has scheduledfor them in 2004, matching the eight wins they had last yearwould be a major accomplishment. Anything more than that, whileunlikely, would be downright impressive.

Oregon State Beavers

Coaching
Head Coach Mike Riley began the turnaround for the long sufferingBeavers faithful during his first stint in Corvallis in thelate 1990’s, but it wasn’t until Dennis Erickson took over thatOregon State ended their 35 year bowl drought. In fact, Riley’sbest season with the Beavers was a five win campaign. Afterfailing mightily in his first NFL head coaching job with theSan Diego Chargers, Riley returned to Corvallis last seasonand led Oregon State to an 8-5 record including a blowout LasVegas Bowl win over New Mexico. Riley’s pro style offense featuresa solid balance between run and pass. Offensive CoordinatorPaul Chryst held the same position during Riley’s first tenurehere, while Defensive Coordinator Mike Banker is also a longtime Riley assistant. Don’t expect much change from this trioin 2004, a veteran coaching staff comfortable with their roles.

Offense
Oregon State might have been a preseason Top 10 team had runningback Stephen Jackson decided to return for his senior season,but Jackson will be playing on Sunday’s instead of Saturday’sthis Autumn, as the first round pick of the St Louis Rams. Inhis stead are a trio of talented backs vying for playing time.Dwight Wright is the quick back, Ryan Cole is the power back,and Yvenson Bernard is a third down back who moved up on thedepth charts following a strong spring. Quarterback Derek Andersonis a third year starter, alternating flashes of brilliance withmaddeningly inconsistency. His 24 interceptions last year ledthe PAC-10 by a wide margin and his 51 percent completion percentagewas lowest among full year starters in the conference. Andersondid lead the PAC-10 in passing yardage, but he’ll be withoutstar target James Newsom, who led the team with 81 receptionslast season. Big play wide receiver Mike Hass will be expectedto pick up the slack. The offensive line may well be the strengthof the Beavers attack. Senior offensive tackle Doug Nienhuisis a future NFL prospect, and he’s joined by a pair of returningsenior starters. This year, protected by that strong line, Andersonwill have no excuses if he continues to make poor decisionson the field.

Defense
The Beavers defense was not an area of strength last year, asthey allowed 34 points or more in all four of their conferencelosses. The defense appeared to make major strides in springpractice, dominating the offense during numerous scrimmages,despite the absence of four-year starting free safety MitchMeeuwsen and sophomore starting defensive tackle Ben Siegert,both of whom are expected to return from injury induced layoffsin the Fall. Senior defensive end Bill Swancutt is the emotionalleader of the defense, with big play capability. Swancutt’s25.5 career sacks, 41 tackles for loss and 113 tackles placehim at the head of the Oregon St class. There are still questionmarks lingering in the secondary, particularly depth concerns,but the starting corps has the potential to be rock solid. OregonState’s defensive schemes often put their cornerbacks in one-on-onecoverage – sophomore Brandon Browner and senior Aric Williamswill be tested early and often by opposing quarterbacks.

Schedule Analysis
Oregon State certainly isn’t taking it easy this year with theirnon-conference slate. They open up the season at LSU, then travelto Boise St before returning home to face New Mexico. Thosethree foes went a combined 34-7 last year; none are expectedto drop off dramatically in 2004! Oregon State plays their toughestPAC-10 games at home, with conference contenders USC, WashingtonState, California and Oregon all coming to visit Corvallis.If the Beavers struggle early, there could be plenty of valuebacking them later in the season, particularly at home againsttough competition. Oregon State is 27-4 straight up at homeover the past five seasons, with a 19-7 record against the spreadin those games!

Prediction/Forecast
Oregon State has the pieces to make a run at the PAC-10 titlein 2004. The Beavers should be very strong in the trenches,with an offensive line capable of giving Derek Anderson theprotection that he needs, and a defensive line capable of puttingpressure on opposing quarterbacks. It may take three backs toreplace Stephen Jackson, but the Beavers have the trio of backsto do so. Considering the way the defense played during springball, as long as the offense limits their mistakes, this teamshould be in position to win some tight games in the fourthquarter. With their tough non-conference slate, don’t expecta quick start for the Beavers, which should give bettors someadded value with this team once PAC-10 play begins. The Beaversprobably don’t have the talent to beat USC for the conferencecrown, but they should be right there with California and ArizonaState in a spirited fight for second place.

Oregon Ducks

Coaching
Mike Bellotti took over a downtrodden Ducks program ten yearsago, and has transformed it into a perennial PAC-10 contender.In his nine years at the helm, Bellotti has guided the Ducksto nine winning seasons, compiling a 75-34 record, best in thePAC-10 during that span. In short, this coach is a winner, plainand simple, making the most of the talent that he has availableevery single season. Yet Bellotti gets little national recognition,because his Ducks are far from the college football media spotlightin Eugene, Oregon. Bellotti has had the benefit of relativelylight turnover among his coaching staff. Offensive coordinatorAndy Ludwig is entering his third year on the job, while defensivecoordinator Nick Aliotti has held the job for six seasons.

Offense
The Ducks used a two quarterback system for the majority ofthe 2003 season, but with the departure of Jason Fife, the jobappears to be firmly in the grasp of Kellen Clemens. Clemenswas solid, not spectacular, last year, completing 60 percentof his passes for 2400 yards with an 18:9 touchdown to interceptionratio. Those are solid numbers for a first year starter splittingtime, to be sure, but Clemens will need to show continued improvementto hold off challenges from a pair of highly touted redshirtfreshman prospects. Junior running back Terrence Whitehead wasa disappointment last year, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry,so true freshman Terrell Jackson could see the majority of snapsin 2004. The receiving corps lost their best player, SammieParker, to the NFL, but Demetrius Williams averaged over 18yards per reception in 2003, and highly touted freshman CameronColvin should have an immediate impact. While the Ducks haveconsiderable promise among their young skill position players,the strength of the offense is on the line, with four seniorstarters returning. Guard Adam Snyder was a 1st team PAC-10selection last year, but his unit must improve their pass protectionfrom last year when they allowed 35 sacks.

Defense
With the exception of three ugly losses (55-16 to WashingtonState, 59-14 at Arizona State and 42-10 at Washington), Oregon’sdefense was an area of strength in 2003. For the 5th consecutiveyear, Oregon held their foes under 3.5 yards per carry. And,for the 5th time in six seasons, the Ducks held their foes to53 percent completions or less. But, after winning the turnoverbattle for four consecutive seasons, the Ducks finished minusfive in turnovers last year. That led to 27 points per gameallowed, their second highest total in the last six years. Withonly five starters returning, the defense will be hard pressedto improve on last year’s numbers. The line must replace 2ndround NFL draft choice Igor Olshansky, the linebacking corpsmust replace leading tackler Kevin Mitchell and the secondarymust replace star cornerback Steven Moore. But there is no shortageof quality players to insert in the starting lineup. Defensivetackle Haloti Ngata was the top prospect in the nation at hisposition coming out of high school, but he missed the entire2003 season with a knee injury. Senior Jerry Matson is a fixtureat middle linebacker. And five players with starting experiencereturn in the secondary. This defense isn’t likely to be muchbetter than last year’s version, but it’s not going to be muchworse either.

Schedule Analysis
Mike Bellotti always schedules an early test for his ballclub,and this year is no exception. After facing Big 10 basementdweller Indiana in their season opener, the Ducks travel toOklahoma to face the Sooners. The Ducks have done very wellin early season road games, particularly against the spread,covering the number in their first road contest of the seasonin each of the last five years, so this could be a good earlyseason spot to back the Ducks. Oregon got a major break fromthe schedule maker, avoiding PAC-10 favorite USC, but they onlyplay two consecutive home games once all season, so it may behard for this team to get into a positive rhythm. One majorconcern for the Ducks is the lack of a bye week. After startingthe season, Oregon plays on eleven consecutive Saturdays. Don’tbe surprised if the Ducks wear down late in the season, muchthe way they did in 2002 when they closed out the season withsix losses in their final seven games.

Prediction/Forecast
The Ducks have won 45 games over the past five years, an averageof nine wins per season. Even without facing USC, Oregon willbe hard pressed to achieve those types of results in 2004. Theoffense lacks experience while the defense has some major holesto fill. And the lack of a bye week at any point during theseason make the Ducks vulnerable to nagging injuries that getworse as the season progresses. Look for the Ducks to be a goodteam in 2004, winning seven or eight games. While Bellotti isa great football coach, this year’s squad is not likely to bea great team.

Stanford Cardinal

Coaching
When Stanford lost Tyrone Willingham to Notre Dame, and broughtin tired retread Buddy Teevens to coach the team prior to the2002 season, it was arguably the biggest net loss in coachingability in the past twenty years of PAC-10 football. Willinghamwas a low key, conservative coach who consistently got his teamsto overachieve. For a program that can’t recruit many of theathletes that top programs attract because of their higher academicstandards, Willingham’s record of four bowl berths in his finalseven years at the helm would have been difficult for any othercoach to achieve. For Teevens, it’s practically impossible.Yes, the third year head coach does have a bubbly, energeticpersonality, the antithesis of Willingham in that regard. Butafter watching two seasons of downright futility on both sidesof the football, it’s pretty clear by now that Teevens is nota capable recruiter, motivator, or schemer. His teams get worseas the season progresses, not better. In the final three yearsof the Willingham era, Stanford closed out their final threeregular season games with an 8-1 record. Under Teevens, theCardinal are 0-6, including a 30-7 season ending loss to Calin 2002 and a 57-7 season ending loss to Notre Dame last year.Teevens has struggled finding the right coaching staff as well.Bill Cubit is the third offensive coordinator in three seasons,and his resume is less than impressive. Cubit held the samejob at Rutgers in 2001 and 2002, but the Scarlet Knights finisheddead last in the nation in total offense both seasons, not exactlythe type of resume that normally warrants a second chance. AJChristoff returns for his second season as the co-defensivecoordinator, sharing duties with Tom Williams, last year’s linebackercoach.

Offense
In 2002, the Cardinal had the seventh worst offense in collegefootball, getting outgained by 120 yards per game in PAC-10play, and outscored by 20 points per game. Last year, the offensehad nowhere to go but up. Instead, somehow, they got worse.In 2003, the Cardinal ranked 116th out of 117 Division 1-A teamsin yards per play, ahead of only winless Army. In PAC-10 play,the Cardinal were outgained by 185 yards per game, and for theseason, they produced less than 17 points per game. So onceagain, the offense has nowhere to go but up. There is some causefor hope entering the 2004 season. Quarterback Trent Edwardswas a top prospect coming out of high school, but he struggledin his first collegiate season, completing only 45 percent ofhis passes, with nine interceptions and only four touchdowns.But Edwards had a fantastic spring, leading up to his dominantperformance in the Cardinal’s Spring game, completing 20 ofhis 25 pass attempts for 270 yards including five touchdowns.Stanford has four running backs that were ranked in the top25 in the nation coming out of high school, but nobody on theteam averaged better than four yards per carry last season.The Cardinal also have talent at wide receiver, led by sophomorespeedster Mark Bradford. But the offensive line is as inexperiencedas you’ll find in college football, with four freshmen and sophomorespenciled into starting roles. There’s some talent on this offense,and some potential, but Teevens and his coordinators have hada tough time turning talent and potential into points over thepast two seasons.

Defense
The defense was the strength of the team in 2003, and nine startersreturn to a unit that must be considered ‘decent’ heading intothe season. Both departed starters came from the defensive line,a unit that will be expected to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacksafter producing only 22 sacks last year. The linebacking corpsis loaded with experienced veterans, as seven players returnwith starting experience. Michael Craven was the #1 linebackingprospect in the nation coming out of high school, but he losthis roster spot in the spring after struggling academically.If he is able to regain his eligibility in the fall, it shouldmake a solid linebacking corps even better. The entire secondaryreturns as well, with all four projected starters standing atleast six feet tall, making speed much more of a question markthan size.

Schedule Analysis
The Cardinal start off the year with four consecutive home games,giving them a real opportunity to work themselves into a solidearly season rhythm. Even last year’s 4-9 team was able to openup the season with wins against BYU and San Jose State, theirfirst two opponents again in 2004. Things toughen up considerablyafter that, with USC and Washington coming to visit prior toroad dates at Notre Dame and Washington State. The Cardinalthen face Oregon at home, prior to another tough duo of roadgames, at UCLA and Arizona State. The Cardinal didn’t receiveany favors from the schedule makers with those four tough roadgames in a five week span, and the other PAC-10 bottom feeder,Arizona, is not on their slate. Perhaps the Cardinal will offersome value to bettors early in the season, but they are likelyto be a bet-against team by November, just as they have beenfor the last two years, without enough quality depth to withstandthe rigors of a demanding season.

Prediction/Forecast
Since Willingham left for South Bend, the Cardinal have beenamong the worst major conference teams in college football.Only the decline of the Arizona program has kept Stanford frombeing the laughing stock of the PAC-10. In 2004, the defenselooks solid and the offense has some promise – this team couldsteal a conference win or two, just like they did in 2002 and2003. But expecting the Cardinal to make a significant moveupwards in the standings is expecting too much. Three or fourwins is probably the most that this year’s Stanford squad iscapable of achieving.

UCLA Bruins

Coaching
Karl Dorrell’s first year as the Bruins head coach was anythingbut a success. The offense sputtered; the defense regressedas the season progressed; and the Bruins lost five straightto close out the season, finishing with a losing record aftera 6-2 start. To make matters worse, UCLA suffered from a myriadof injury concerns, and there was more than one report documentingteam chemistry problems. Clearly, it was an inauspicious debutfor a head coach charged with returning the UCLA football programto national prominence. The success of cross-town rival USChas only intensified the pressure on Dorrell, who, frankly,looked lost at times in 2003 in his first year as a head coachat any level. Predictably, Dorrell shuffled his staff in theoffseason, bringing in former Idaho head coach Tom Cable ashis new offensive coordinator. Larry Kerr returns for his secondseason as defensive coordinator, charged with shoring up a unitthat fell apart during the latter stages of the 2003 campaign,allowing 126 points in their final four games.

Offense
On paper, the Bruins look loaded offensively. There’s amplespeed and athleticism at the skill positions, and the entireoffensive line returns intact from last season. But games aren’tplayed on paper – UCLA was loaded with talent last year as well,yet couldn’t even average 20 points or 300 yards of offenseper game. The key to the offense will be the improvement ofhighly touted junior quarterback Drew Olson, who suffered througha miserable injury plagued season in 2003. If Olson struggles,look for junior college transfer David Koral to get a shot atwinning the job. Both Olson and Koral have great arm strength,so there will be no excuse if UCLA throws only 15 touchdownpasses for the entire season like they did last year. The runninggame will be spearheaded by senior Manuel White and sophomoreMaurice Drew, but the unit will have to produce better thanthe 2.6 yards per carry that they managed in 2003. Wide receiverCraig Bragg caught more than twice the number of passes as anyother wideout last year – he’ll need someone to step up on theother side to avoid constant double teaming. More than anythingelse, the five returning starters on the offensive line aregoing to have to step up their game from last year, when theyallowed 51 sacks and couldn’t open holes for the running game.

Defense
The defense was the strength of the team for much of the 2003season, before collapsing down the stretch. Still, the defensefinished as the eighteenth ranked unit in all of college football,with five starters returning in 2004. The defensive back sevenshould be solid, but the line must be completely rebuilt aftergraduating all four starters. There’s no way the line can replacethe 16.5 sacks that Dave Ball got for them last year, and there’sa complete lack of proven depth among the candidates to manthe line in 2004. Junior linebackers Spencer Havner and JustinLondon are an underrated duo capable of producing 200 tacklesbetween them. Cornerback Matt Clark was credited with only onepass breakup last year, while Nnamdi Ohaeri is recovering fromoffseason knee surgery, leaving the secondary as an area ofconcern, despite the return of star safeties Ben Emanuel andJarrad Page.

Schedule Analysis
The 2004 season begins with a pair of tough non-conference challenges,at home against Oklahoma State, then halfway across the countryat Illinois. Those two games are the type of contests that willtell us if this team is capable of having a much needed breakoutseason after suffering at least five losses in every year since1998. The Bruins could win both of those games, or they couldlose them both – either way, we’ll be able to ascertain if UCLAis going to be a legitimate contender in the PAC-10. The conferenceschedule is tough, with road contests at Washington, Cal, ArizonaState and Oregon, all of whom should be solid teams. The Bruinsget a three week vacation prior to their season finale vs. USC,plenty of time to prep for a rivalry game that they have lostin each of the past five seasons.

Prediction/Forecast
Anything is possible for this UCLA team. A ten win dominantseason that returns them to national prominence is not out ofreach. Neither is another sub .500 campaign. UCLA’s biggestproblems over the last five years have come late in the season.In the last five games of the regular season during that timeframe,UCLA is just 7-18. If Dorrell is going to take the Bruins tothe next level, he’ll have to avoid the annual November collapsethat has become an unwelcome part of the UCLA scene. A winningseason and a third straight bowl bid seems like a reasonableprediction to make for a team with a load of talent, but notmuch experience in using that talent to its maximum potential.

USC Trojans

Coaching
Pete Carroll was not a successful NFL head coach, but his threeyear tenure at USC has been nothing short of outstanding. TheTrojans won 11 games including the Orange Bowl in 2002, thenfollowed that up with a Rose Bowl victory earning them a pieceof the national championship in 2003. That’s one heck of anaccomplishment for a program that had lost at least five gamesin every season between 1996 and 2001. Carroll’s enthusiasmresonates well with his collegiate audience, and his recruitingprowess should keep the Trojans as one of the nation’s eliteprograms for the immediate future. The legendary Norm Chow returnsas the offensive coordinator after flirting with other jobsin the offseason, while Carroll coordinates the defense himself.It’s surely worth noting that unlike many recent national titlewinners, USC’s staff was not raided by other schools in theoffseason, providing real continuity for a program that is rapidlyreaching an elite level.

Offense
Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never an easy task, butthat’s exactly what quarterback Matt Leinart did last season.When the smoke had cleared, Leinart was every bit the quarterbackthat Carson Palmer had been, throwing for over 3500 yards with38 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions. He returnsfor his junior season in 2004, but his top receiving targetsdo not, unless wide receiver Mike Williams miraculously retainshis NCAA eligibility after declaring early for the NFL draft,only to be denied that opportunity by the courts. Young wideoutsSteve Smith and Whitney Lewis topped the wide receiver depthcharts following spring ball – they’ll have big shoes to fill.USC is loaded at running back, with Reggie Bush as the speedrusher, LenDale White as the power back, and Hershel Dennisas the best blend of both power and speed. Only one starterreturns from the outstanding offensive line from 2003, the lonemajor question mark offensively for the Trojans. There’s notmuch time for the line to jell into the cohesive unit that allowedjust 15 sacks last year, but there’s certainly no shortage oftop notch talent to carry the load after an influx of highlyrated recruits arrived in the offseason.

Defense
Six starters return to a defense that positively stifled opposingattacks last season. The USC offense was so good, averagingmore than 41 points per game, that Pete Carroll emptied hisbench in the second half on a regular basis. That trend resultedin USC not having the best defensive numbers in college football,but it also resulted in bringing back a defense that has plentyof experience even at positions where the starters don’t return.Senior Shaun Cody moves from tackle to end this season, anchoringa potentially dominant defensive line. Linebacker Matt Grootegoedwas the team’s leading tackler in 2002, but his production droppedoff last year thanks to a nagging ankle injury. Safeties DarnellBing and Jason Leach might be the best starting duo in the country,but there’s little depth behind them. USC must replace bothstarting cornerbacks from last year, leaving the secondary asan area of concern, particularly if injuries start to mountat some point during the season.

Schedule Analysis
A year after missing out on the Sugar Bowl largely because ofa relatively weak non-conference slate, the Trojans staff didnot make that mistake again in 2004. USC will be tested earlyand often, facing one of the tougher non-conference schedulesin the nation. The Trojans open up the season a week earlierthan most teams, facing off against Virginia Tech in the BCAclassic in Landover, Maryland. From there they must travel toBYU before coming home to face perennial Mountain West titlecontender Colorado State. Their PAC-10 campaign begins in lateSeptember with a trip to Stanford, but their toughest conferencegames, against California, Washington and Arizona State, allcome at home. The Trojans end their season with a visit fromNotre Dame and the season finale at UCLA, both played afterThanksgiving. But after covering the pointspread in 18 of theirlast 20 games, attentive bettors will be looking for spots togo against USC this year, as they have become a very publicteam.

Prediction/Forecast
USC won all thirteen of their games by two touchdowns or morelast year, the lone loss coming in triple overtime at Cal. Thisteam didn’t just beat their opponents – they dominated them,start to finish. Sure, the PAC-10 is not as tough as the Big10 or the SEC, but USC beat Auburn and Michigan by a combinedmargin of 51-14, proving that they were capable of beating upon top notch schools from top notch conferences as much as theybeat up on their PAC-10 foes. If the highly touted recruitsthat Pete Carroll has brought in can live up to their promiseon the offensive line and in the defensive secondary, an undisputednational championship is within reach for this rapidly ascendingprogram.

Washington State Cougars

Coaching
Washington State has very quietly won 30 games over the pastthree seasons, despite a coaching change, an under-performingquarterback, and several particularly ugly losses in some verybig games. In fact, if you subtract the three straight AppleCup losses to in-state rival Washington, the Cougars have onlylost five games over the last three seasons, with two of thoselosses coming to the eventual national champions (Ohio Statein 2002, USC in 2003). Head Coach Bill Doba took over the helmafter Mike Price’s ugly departure, and guided the team to tenwins last year including an impressive Holiday Bowl victoryover Texas. Doba shared PAC-10 Coach of the Year honors withUSC’s Pete Carroll, no small accomplishment. Offensive coordinatorMike Levenseller took over the play calling responsibilitieslast year and guided the offense to more than 30 points pergame. Defensive mastermind Robb Akey returns for his secondseason as coordinator after his attacking defense led the nationwith 48 takeaways in 2003.

Offense
Senior quarterback Matt Kegel had all kinds of receiving talentto work with last year, but injuries plagued his season, givingbackup Josh Swogger the opportunity to learn on the job. Swoggerwas not very good, throwing five interceptions and only onetouchdown while barely completing half of his passes. This year,Swogger will have to show immediate signs of his promise, orhe’ll be pushed for the starting job by redshirt freshman AlexBrink. 1000 yard rusher from 2003, Jonathan Smith, is gone aswell, leaving a big hole to fill for senior power back ChrisBruhn and junior college transfer Jerome Harrison. The widereceiver position, too, suffered major offseason losses withall three starters gone. Unfortunately for the Cougars, topnotch replacements are not waiting in the wings. The receivingunit clearly lacks the playmaking speed that they’ve had forthe past few years, and the youngsters slated for the startingjobs will have their work cut out for them. The strong pointof the offense is on the line, led by massive senior tacklesCalvin Armstrong and Sam Lightbody. The strength of the offensiveline should give the Cougars young skill players some time todevelop, but this offense is not capable of putting up morethan thirty points per game, like it has in each of the pastthree seasons.
Defense
No team in the nation created more turnovers than WashingtonState did last year, forcing 48 takeaways. No team in the nationhas more sacks since the turn of the millennium than do theCougars. Coordinator Rob Akey has the most fearsome blitzingschemes on the West Coast, but his Cougar defenders may haveto take a step back towards a more conservative approach followingthe departure of nine defensive starters from last year’s squad.The line was outstanding in 2003, helping the team register50 sacks and hold opponents to 90 rushing yards per game. Now,all four starters need to be replaced, building around seniorSteve Cook in the middle. Senior linebacker Will Derting isthe unquestioned defensive leader, coming off a breakthroughcampaign with 86 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.The offseason losses in the secondary are probably too greatto overcome in a single year, as the unit struggles to replaceplaymakers Erik Coleman and Jason David, but the lone returningstarter, senior cornerback Karl Paymah, is a big, physical defendercapable of anchoring the unit. It’s hard to picture the Cougarsshowing anything but a dramatic decline defensively – last year’snumbers are simply not achievable for this young group.

Schedule Analysis
Many folks will look at the Cougars schedule and expect themto start the season 6-0, picking up right where they left offlast season. I am not one of those folks. The season beginswith a tough test at New Mexico, a bowl team in each of thelast two years with something to prove after getting annihilatedby Oregon State from the PAC-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl. ThenColorado pays a visit to Pullman, another talented team withsomething to prove after a very tumultuous offseason. Idahoat home can be penciled in as a win prior to the start of theirconference campaign. The Cougars will get Arizona in early October,just when the Wildcats should be getting comfortable with MikeStoops new systems. And the back end to their season is as toughas it gets in the PAC-10, playing at Oregon State, UCLA andArizona State, with home games against USC and Washington squeezedin between. Even if the Cougars play well early on, the brutallate season stretch should be an opportune time to bet againstthem.

Prediction/Forecast
Washington State had a great team in 1992, winning nine gamesincluding a Copper Bowl victory against Utah. But the Cougarswere incapable of following up that success with more winning,suffering a losing record in three of the next four years. In1997, Ryan Leaf led the Cougars to the Rose Bowl, but again,it was one and done for Washington State, as they won only threeconference games over their next three seasons. Former headcoach Mike Price was unable to recruit well enough to win everyyear, concentrating his efforts on building a great team twicea decade or so. But Bill Doba was able to avoid that dreadedfalloff campaign last year, after back-to-back ten win seasonsin 2001 and 2002. Unfortunately for Doba, he only delayed theinevitable – Washington State is going to fall back to mediocritythis season. The only question is how far they will fall. Withonly six returning starters and a tough schedule start to finish,we could see a return to the last place finishes that this programendured in the late 1990’s.

Washington Huskies

Coaching
After Rick Neuheisel was forced out of his head coaching jobat Washington following his involvement in an NCAA tournamentbetting pool, former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbertsontook over a team that was expected to compete for the PAC-10title in 2003. They didn’t even come close, failing to earna bowl bid thanks to untenable losses to bad teams like Arizonaand Nevada, finishing the campaign with a hugely disappointing6-6 mark. This program was a national power for the better partof the last decade and a half, including a perfect season backin 1991, and an 11-1 season in 2000, but with the rest of theconference improving as a whole, another season like last year’sand Washington could continue to fall in the PAC-10 peckingorder. Gilbertson serves as his own offensive coordinator, chargedwith the task of improving an attack that averaged better than30 points per game in his first three years on the job untilfalling to 24 ppg. last year against PAC-10 foes. Tim Hundleyand Phil Snow will share the defensive coordinator duties forthe second straight season. Hundley is one of four assistantswho arrived with Neuheisel from Colorado, while Snow is theformer defensive coordinator at both UCLA and Arizona.

Offense
The biggest early season question for this offense will be thedevelopment of a new starting quarterback, after Washingtonenjoyed three solid seasons from departing starter Cody Pickett.Junior Casey Paus is not much of a scrambler, but he’s got tremendousarm strength and the inside track at the starting job, despitethrowing only 23 passes as a collegiate quarterback thusfar.Top prospects Isaiah Stanback and Carl Bonnell could competefor the starting job if the highly rated Paus fails to liveup to expectations. As with any new quarterback, the play ofthe offensive line will be key to his development. While startersKhalif Barnes and Clay Walker both return on the left side ofthe line, the right side of the line needs to be completelyrebuilt and there’s not much depth if the line gets banged up.Paus won’t have the luxury of finding Reggie Williams to throwto, as the Huskies top receiver from 2003 is now playing onSunday’s. Charles Frederick will have the un-enviable task ofreplacing Williams as the #1 receiver, while youngsters CoreyWilliams and Charles Smith will have to step up their own production.Washington hasn’t been able to run the football effectivelyfor three seasons now, averaging less than three yards per carryduring that span. Sophomore running back Kenny James will needto have a breakout year after struggling with injuries lastseason for the Huskies offense to achieve balance for the firsttime since their tremendous 2000 campaign.

Defense
Washington’s defense wasn’t horrible last year, but it certainlywasn’t very good either. And following the graduation of severalkey contributors, this defense will be hard pressed to improveat all. The front seven is extremely young and inexperienced,particularly the defensive line which has three new startersjoining defensive end Manase Hopoi. That means that the Huskiesare likely to struggle against the run again this year, afterallowing more than 200 yards per game on the ground over theirlast five games in 2003. Washington does have one of the bettersecondaries in the PAC-10 on paper, led by second team PAC-10selection Derrick Johnson at cornerback and senior playmakerJimmy Newell at safety.

Schedule Analysis
Washington was primed for a Rose Bowl run in 2003, with a favorableschedule that featured seven home games and few tough road tests.But the Huskies only won once on the road all season, and struggledplaying in Seattle as well, with ugly home losses to Nevadaand USC. This year, the schedule toughens up considerably, thanksto a late September road game at Notre Dame, as well as a brutalroad slate in conference, playing at USC, Oregon and WashingtonState over the final five weeks of the campaign. If Washingtonis good enough to win at Notre Dame, they could start the seasonwith five consecutive victories. If the Huskies do start outstrong, there will be plenty of value and opportunities to betagainst them during the second half of the season.

Prediction/Forecast
The rest of the PAC-10 is improving by leaps and bounds. USChas become a national powerhouse. Washington State was in theTop 10 for a good portion of the 2003 season. Cal, Arizona andArizona State all have top tier, energetic young coaches. UCLAhas an enormous amount of talent on their roster. Oregon andOregon State have both become perennial bowl teams. In short,the Huskies football program has fallen back to the rest ofthe pack, and is in danger of falling further unless Gilbertsonstems the tide in a hurry. With a tough schedule, an unprovenoffense, and a defense that has struggled mightily in recentyears, it’s easy to picture the Huskies continuing to slidedown the PAC-10 ladder. A six or seven win season is probablythe best that this squad can hope to achieve.

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Jay has been watching and following sports since he could walk and turned to betting in his late teens. His favorite sport is MLB and has been producing winners on UltimateCapper for almost 15 years. Follow Jay's free sports picks and enjoy the winners.