ESPN.com has started their early conference previews for this upcoming college football season, and yesterday they posted their Pac-10 preview, courtesy of Ted Miller, right here. Let’s tackle this point by point.
Post-spring picks, predictions and prognostications:
4. Oregon State
7. Arizona State
8. Washington State
I’d say that all sounds about right. USC is still the favorite within the conference until they lose their crown, and while I’d say we have a good shot at beating them at home on November 10th, it would be just a bit presumptuous to install our Bears as the favorites in the conference just yet. Can we win it? Yes. But are we the favorites? No. The only minor quibble I’d have here is that I feel like Arizona and Arizona State should be flip-flopped. Dennis Erickson can coach (at least on the college level), and it seems like every year is the year that Arizona is supposedly about to break through. I’d say Arizona still deserves to be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, while it seems unlikely that Arizona State will be quite as bad again. Things can only look up with Dirk Koetter gone, you know?
"Toughest schedule: Washington might be a fairly respectable team this year and still not post a winning record for a fifth consecutive season. Not only is the Pac-10 as strong and deep as it has been in years, but the Huskies also face a brutal nonconference schedule: at Syracuse and home to Boise State and Ohio State. That’s a 2,500-mile road trip to play inside an unusual domed stadium and against two teams that finished in the top five and combined for one defeat last year. The Huskies close the season on the road against Heisman candidate Colt Brennan and Hawaii. The good news? Nearly all the marquee games, including visits from USC, California and rival Washington State, are in Husky Stadium."
I’m not sure how brutal a trip to Syracuse really is at this point - they’ve been a joke since Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney left campus, 2,500-mile road trip and unusual domed stadium aside. Still, hosting Boise State and Ohio State will be brutal, as will the trip to go play the Rainbow Warriors. It doesn’t seem like this is going to be the year that Tyrone Willingham takes the Huskies back to glory.
For the record, the Bears’ non-conference schedule includes a trip to Colorado State (hopefully DeSean remembers to stay away from the crazy punters in that neck of the woods), and home against Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. That’s not quite the same as Boise State and Ohio State.
"Offensive player of the year: There are lots of choices here, but the safe bet is USC quarterback John David Booty, who figures to be a leading Heisman Trophy candidate if the Trojans live up to their preseason hype. Caveat: His receivers are talented but untested, so matching last year’s numbers — compiled while throwing to a pair of second-round NFL draft choices — is not a sure thing."
100% correct - John David Booty is the safe pick here, if the Trojans play up to their capabilities. I wouldn’t exactly put my money on that happening though. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least some dropoff in the play of their receivers with Dwyane Jarrett and Steve Smith leaving, even with the pedigrees of Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton. Sure, there’s a great chance that USC will do well and Booty will put up gaudy numbers, but I think DeSean will only get better from here with another year of experience playing with Longshore. He’s more of a big-play guy and will get his chances on returns as well. If the Bears win the conference or come within one game of the conference lead, I’d really expect him to win the honor this year.
"Defensive player of the year: Let’s go out on a limb and not tap one of the six or seven Trojans who could win this honor … how about Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason, whom coach Mike Stoops called the nation’s best cover corner. Cason owns 10 career interceptions and plays on an experienced defense that returns 10 starters."
Given all the hype that the Trojans’ individual defenders have received, it does seem like that one of their guys (Lawrence Jackson? Keith Rivers?) will win this. I know we have some talented linebackers in Felder, Williams, and Pimentel, as well as our usual complement of Samoan defensive linemen, but I don’t think we’ll be keeping the conference defensive player of the year this year.
"Newcomer of the year: Ladies and gentlemen, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, the man upon whom the long-delayed resurgence of Huskies football hangs. Locker, a redshirt freshman, is being touted as the second coming of Marques Tuiasosopo, only with more speed, more size and a bigger arm. And, most important: He’s a dynamic, charismatic leader, which the beleaguered program hasn’t had since Rick Neuheisel’s demise. Coach Tyrone Willingham proclaimed him the starter before spring practices began. Caveat No. 2: Senior Carl Bonnell, whose career has been marked by fits and starts, clearly outplayed Locker during spring practices."
I’ll take your word for it, Ted.
"Comeback player of the year: Jeff Byers was everybody’s prep All-American in 2003 when he signed with USC. A first-team USA Today and Parade All-American, he also was named Gatorade Player of the Year — as an offensive lineman! He started four games as a true freshman in 2004 and appeared poised to vie for All-American honors as a sophomore. Then he suffered a hip injury and missed the 2005 season. Then he suffered a back injury and missed the 2006 season. Was he done? Nope, he survived and then thrived this spring, emerging as the starting guard who also could play center."
Somebody give Mike Tepper some love. I know it’s been two years now since his leg was broken when a couple of thugs ran over it, but he’s slated to start at RT.
"Breakout player of the year: After a standout performance from junior receiver Brandon Gibson in the spring game, Washington State fans aren’t so worried about the departure of Jason Hill to the NFL draft. With three-year starting quarterback Alex Brink, four returning starters on the line and an uncertain pecking order at tailback, the Cougars figure to throw early and often. Gibson will be the breakout playmaker alongside known quantity Michael Bumpus."
I really think Forsett could break out this year (if you think he hasn’t already). Forsett put up gaudy numbers two years ago when Lynch had to miss a few games, albeit against subpar competition, but maybe knowing that he’s not going to be the main man and not the sidekick will give him added incentive. He doesn’t have ideal size, but he’s done well enough in the past that there’s reason to believe that he can put up 1,300-1,400 yards if given the chance.
"Most overrated player: This space has touted Oregon tailback Jonathan Stewart since he signed with the Ducks three years ago. Stewart may be the nation’s most physically talented running back, a rare combination of size (5-foot-11, 234 pounds) and speed (sub-4.4 40-yard dash). The sight test? Dude looks like he was cut out of marble. But durability issues combined with middling instincts have prevented him from breaking out. He’s become a good back, just not a great one. If he gives the Ducks 20 carries a game over 12 games, he should rush for over 1,500 yards. The operative word being "if."
I’d have said Trent Edwards before this year, but now that he’s gone to go carry Marshawn’s jock and hang out with the rest of the Bills, I can’t think of another perenially pumped-up player who never actually accomplishes anything.
"Most underrated player: This honor is typically reserved for Oregon State tailback Yvenson Bernard, but Bernard is so often touted as underrated, despite owning 2,648 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, that it’s become a reflexive cliché. So, being the crazy devils that we are, we’re instead tapping Arizona State’s junior tailback Ryan Torain, who quietly rushed for 1,229 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last year. With experience on the offensive line offsetting questions at receiver and uncertainty over the trajectory of inconsistent quarterback Rudy Carpenter’s career, Torain may become the centerpiece of the Sun Devils offense."
"Most dynamic player: When California receiver and return specialist DeSean Jackson has the ball, he’s just scary. He led the nation in punt returns last year, returning four for touchdowns. He also caught 59 passes for 1,060 yards — 18 yards per reception — with nine touchdowns. If the Bears start fast — read: beat Tennessee — Jackson could become a Heisman Trophy candidate."
The only problem here - Jackson is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
"Coach on the hot seat: Washington State’s Bill Doba is one of the warmest, most genuine men in Division I-A college coaching. But if the Cougars don’t qualify for a bowl game this season, he may step aside — or be pushed aside. Runner-up for this dubious honor is Arizona’s Mike Stoops. The Wildcats faithful are getting restless with the deliberate pace of the program’s improvement. With Stoops welcoming back 18 starters for his fourth season, fans expect a bowl berth."
While doing research a couple months back for a post about college coaches, I looked up every coach in the Pac-10 for their pro experience. The only coach whose name I couldn’t remember off the top of my head was Bill Doba. I feel as if this is not a coincidence.
"Team that may surprise: Dennis Erickson takes over an experienced Arizona State team with plenty of talent. If the Sun Devils can just play respectable defense, there’s no reason they can’t post a winning record and earn a bowl berth. And, perhaps, knock off some big dogs along the way with that ole Erickson magic."
I don’t disagree here. A team that has a quarterback who led all of college football in passer rating two years ago and just hired a coach with two national championships on his resume absolutely can surprise. Except that if you expect them to surprise, is it really a surprise any more?
"Team that may disappoint: California coach Jeff Tedford has laid very few eggs in his five years in Berkeley, quickly transforming a moribund program into a budding national power. Oh, the Bears went belly-up in the 2004 Holiday Bowl against an inferior Texas Tech team, but other than that things have been mostly smooth. At least until that 35-18 humiliation at Tennessee that made Cal look ill-prepared for the big time and set tongues wagging on Pac-10 mediocrity. The Volunteers visit Strawberry Canyon this fall. If Cal wins, buckle up for a banner season. If it loses, things could become unsteady. A potential Achilles’ heel: Six marquee starters from last year’s underachieving defense need to be replaced."
I can’t see why things would necessarily become unsteady with a loss to Tennessee. If anything, you’d think that the fact that the team bounced back so strongly last year after being humiliated on national television would make them realize that starting out 0-1 isn’t the end of the world. Granted, it may mean a little more with the loss coming at home this year, but this year’s game can’t possibly go worse than last year’s did. Then again, Miller may have chosen the Bears because outside of USC, any other team not doing well wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
"Pac-10 champion: USC, with 18 starters back from a team that drubbed Michigan in the Rose Bowl and then signed a fourth consecutive top-rated recruiting class, is about even money to capture its third national championship since 2003."
We’ve gone over this before, and I agree. To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man. WHOOOOOOO. But can we do it? I think so. Go Bears.