Over and over again, one term has been used to describe the upcoming Pac-10 football season.
That wasn't thought to be the case at the end of last season. Oregon was coming off its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1995 and set to return virtually every starter on both sides of the ball, making the Ducks the prohibitive favorite to become the first team other than USC to repeat as conference champ since they pulled the feat back in 2000 and 2001.
But then their quarterback decided he'd rather make a series of really bad decisions than make a run at a national championship and a Heisman Trophy, and the race for the Pac-10 championship was thrust into "wide open" status.
Truly, you can make a compelling case for at least half of the teams in the conference to end up on top. Heck, you can even make at least a marginal case for just about everybody else, too, save for Washington State. Oregon is still the favorite, but only barely, and the fact that USC can actually win the crown but not advance to the Rose Bowl only adds to the intrigue.
In front of that backdrop, here's your comprehensive breakdown of the conference, courtesy of SB Nation's amazing cast of Pac-10 writers.
Predicted Order Of Finish
As voted on by SB Nation's Pac-10 writers; compiled by Avinash Kunnath at California Golden Blogs.
|1||Oregon (5 first place votes)||73|
|2||Oregon State (2)||70|
Top Three Pac-10 Heisman Trophy Candidates
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian believes that for a player to have a chance to win the Heisman these days, a player needs to be the best player on the best team in the conference. Following that reasoning, Locker has a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy if he can lead Washington to at least nine wins and contend strongly for a conference title. We all expect Jake to put up monster numbers, but the question is: Will those numbers translate into enough wins to give him a shot?
- John Berkowitz, UW Dawg Pound
Rodgers has two things going for him besides talent in his quest for the Heisman Trophy: Opportunity and visibility. Rodgers will be "the" back for the Beavers, who have limited depth in the backfield. As a result, he'll get plenty of touches. He also has four high-profile games against teams in the preseason top 20: TCU and Boise St. on ESPN, USC (the team he first burst onto the national stage against) and Oregon.
- Andy Wooldridge, Building The Dam
James is the best back in the Pac-10. He has every attribute you want in your running back: speed, agility, power ... you name it. He led the nation in runs over 20 yards last season, but also has underrated power and tackle breaking ability. When he played the entire game, no team was able to stop him. James' consistency and explosiveness will put him in the minds of a lot of voters. If he continues his production and if Oregon as a team is successful, as the best player on the team, he will have a shot.
- Jared Light, Addicted To Quack
Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
By Dave Piper, Addicted To Quack
Team Overview: Despite losing QB Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon comes into the season as the most talented team in the Pac-10. The Ducks return their entire offensive line, two gamebreaking running backs, all three starting receivers, and the bulk of a defense that was the best in the Pac-10 on a per play basis. If Darron Thomas can come in and do a servicable job as the new QB, Oregon has the weapons that a return trip to Pasadena should be expected.
Key To Success: Thomas' play at quarterback. We know what we're going to get from the running game; it's Oregon's bread and butter and will continue to be so. But Thomas has to come in, be a credible running threat out of the read option, not turn the ball over, and make plays when needed in the passing game. He has a much better arm than Masoli, so the passing game could actually improve, but the play of Thomas will determine if another Pac-10 title is in the cards.
Potential Achilles Heel: See above, but also see kicker. The Ducks return nobody with any experince after the graduation of Morgan Flint, and all kickers on the roster have looked pretty terrible during fall camp.
When The Ducks Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: LaMichael James. One of the best running backs in the country, he is a threat to take it to the house on every run, but also underrated as a tough, physical runner who will get positive yardage on almost every play.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Eddie Pleasant. The second-fastest guy on the team behind James, Pleasant makes the switch from outside linebacker to rover this season, which should give him free reign to lay a lot of wood on some poor Pac-10 receivers.
This season will be a success if: Oregon makes a return trip to the Rose Bowl. I hate to sound like an entitled Husky fan, but having the most talent in the league would make anything less a disappointment.
2. Oregon State
By Andy Wooldridge, Building The Dam
Team Overview: After coming up a Civil War loss short of the Rose Bowl for two straight years, Oregon St. has one more chance with the Rodgers brothers combination intact to get over the top.
It's no secret that the Beavers will go as far as senior wide receiver/kick returner James Rodgers and junior running back Jacquizz Rodgers can take them, but sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, who will take his first meaningful college snap in the opener at TCU, is the distributor for the OSU engine.
Key To Success: How well do Katz and the rest of the Oregon St. "role players" do at preventing opponents from being able to focus on ‘Quizz and James Rodgers and putting them in position to make the game winning plays? Watch for more out of the Beavers' passing game this year, as Katz has the deepest stable of receivers in program history. In addition to James, and more passes to ‘Quizz out of the backfield, Jordan Bishop and Marcus Wheaton have both speed and length, stretching defenses. And Aaron Nichols has emerged in fall camp. Nichols, a senior, has followed in the pattern of Shane Morales and Damola Adeniji, coming from deep on the depth chart to earn a starting job. Nichols runs all the routes, and catches any ball that comes close.
Potential Achilles Heel: It could be a defense that has to convert depth and potential into results in huge games. 6-foot-1, 311-pound senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea anchors a defense that will be able to rotate players at linebacker and in the secondary, but could be thin up front should injuries occur. Keith Pankey anchors a linebacking corps that will regularly utilize a half dozen players, but is bouncing back from a torn Achilles. Junior safeties Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell anchor what in now an experienced secondary.
However, the defense is composed mostly of the same players that formed last year's unit, and Oregon State lost three conference games by a touchdown or less, when the Beaver defense could not get off the field at the end of the game, leaving the Rodgers brothers, and all-Pac-10 first team quarterback Sean Canfield -- a 70 percent completion passer -- watching from the sidelines. The defense has to find a leader, and a way to make the big play with the game on the line.
When The Beavers Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: James Rodgers. Everybody, especially including opposing defenses, will be (wisely) watching ‘Quizz, but big brother James is a game-plan changer. Already a threat as both a receiver and running the fly sweep, James, the fastest Beaver, is also the hardest working one, and has spent the off-season working on footwork, handwork, and fine-tuning route running.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Jordan Poyer. Everyone will be watching Paea, projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft. But Poyer, a sophomore cornerback who also is a key player on special teams, is Oregon State's definition of a "football player." Poyer was originally supposed to redshirt last season, but was too good to keep off the field. Now, Poyer -- who could conceivably play any position outside lineman on either side of the ball -- has switched from safety to cornerback, the opposite transition that most defensive backs make, because that's what helps the team the most.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: Oregon State is again playing for a Rose Bowl in the Civil War. After preseason road trips to play sixth-ranked TCU and third-ranked Boise State, Oregon State also has back-to-back tough road games at Arizona and Washington. If the Beavers can survive that, the schedule could set up for another of coach Mike Riley's late-season runs, with California, USC, and Oregon all visiting Reser Stadium in the games that will settle the last Pac-10 race.
By Matt Ortega, Arizona Desert Swarm
Team Overview: Arizona comes off of back-to-back 8-5 seasons with two bowl berths, including one win, as well as a second place conference finish last season. However, an embarrassing 33-0 rout at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in last year's Holiday Bowl left a bad taste in the mouths of the players, coaches, and the fans. Head coach Mike Stoops enters his seventh season (33-39, 23-29 Pac-10) in Tucson with all new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Much of the Wildcasts' offensive core returns in 2010. Quarterback Nick Foles emerged as the team's top quarterback after taking over for Matt Scott in the loss to Iowa. Foles started 10 games during the season and produced respectable numbers despite a late-season slip. The running back trio of Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin, and short-yardage back Greg Nwoko return, having spent the offseason bonding. Wide receivers Juron Criner and David Roberts anchor the wideout position after the departure of Delashaun Dean due to a team suspension for weapons charges. Center Colin Baxter ranks among the best in the nation.
A top defense last season, Arizona faces a difficult task of replacing standout safeties and their entire linebacker corps. In interviews, Stoops gave reason for concern, stating that the team's young players will have to step up and make big plays on defense. The strongest facet of the defense is the defensive end combo of Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed. Cornerback Trevin Wade returns to anchor the secondary and continues to rack up preseason accolades.
Keys To Success:
- The "three-headed monster" in the backfield will be expected to carry a load. The trio expects big things this season as all three hope to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing apiece. That's a tall order, but Nick Foles and the offense will count on them to help put points up on the board in large quantities.
- Nick Foles must regain his midseason form from last year. His production began to slip as the season went on and culminated in an abysmal 9-for-29 performance in the Holiday Bowl, including an interception.
- The defense needs to make stops, plain and simple. If the defense cannot piece together strong stands, each game will devolve into shootouts, putting even more pressure on the offense to put up huge numbers to eek out close wins.
Achilles Heel: Stoops is a former defensive player and he's a defensive-minded head coach, but the simple truth is that the Arizona defense has a lot of pieces that have still yet to fall into place. Opposing offenses will look to exploit the linebacker corps' lack of Division I football experience. None of them have ever played a game of football at this level.
When Arizona Has The Ball, Keep Your Eye On: Nick Foles. If he can regain form and continue to increase his stock, Arizona may find it's first NFL quarterback.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Keep Your Eye On: Elmore/Reed anchoring the defense will be fun to watch but what Arizona fans will be paying attention to is how the new linebacker corps fares against opposing offenses. They're an unproven commodity that could make the difference between crucial defensive stops and games that eventually slip away.
This Season Will Be Considered A Success If: After posting back-to-back 8-5 seasons, including a second place finish last year, the talk at camp in Arizona has been all about roses. It is difficult to see another 8-5 season and a runner-up finish in the conference being considered a step forward. With USC out of postseason contention, Jeremiah Masoli out at Oregon, a new quarterback in Corvallis, stagnation at Cal, and a Toby Gerhart-less Standford, the feeling in Tucson is that this is the season for a Rose Bowl berth.
By Joey Kaufman, Conquest Chronicles
Team Overview: USC fans finally will get a sense of whether Lane Kiffin knows what he's doing on the field. So far, the Trojans' new headman has proven capable of reeling in top recruiting classes and assembling a top-notch coaching staff, but questions still surround Tennessee's favorite son and the rest of program. Will Kiffin be able to fill the shoes of the departed Pete Carroll? How much will the sanctions impact the current team? Was last season's 5-4 mark in the Pac-10 a sign of things to come, or just an aberration? Many questions, few answers.
Keys To Success: In a statement that is rather obvious: everybody needs to stay healthy. With a relatively high number of transfers, as well as a depleted offensive line, it's crucial this team stays relatively injury-free. There is a reason Kiffin greatly limited tackling during training camp. Depth could become a serious issue late in the season. But provided everyone remains healthy, and Barkley continues to mature as a signal caller, this could team could surprise some people.
Potential Achilles Heel: Lack of depth.
When The Trojans Have The Ball, Keep Your Eye On: Robert Woods. The freshman wide receiver was named the starter opposite Ronald Johnson last week. Guys such as Johnson and Matt Barkley get most of the attention, for obvious reasons, but guys like Woods will be instrumental if ‘SC is going to go anywhere in 2010. A year ago, USC didn't get a ton of production from its receiving core outside of Damian Williams. With Williams now playing for the Tennessee Titans, Barkley will need some of the young skill players like Woods to step up.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Keep Your Eye On: Devon Kennard. The sophomore linebacker is replacing last year’s starter Chris Galippo at MLB. Granted, he’s relatively inexperienced, but many believe his athleticism could make him one of the best in the conference.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: USC wins the conference. Granted, Troy won’t burn if the Trojans don’t finish atop the Pac-10 standings at the end of the year, but nonetheless, this is still USC and winning is to be expected. Don’t expect fans to drastically lower expectations simply because of the NCAA sanctions and the two-year bowl ban. It may not be fair or remotely realistic, but that’s what you get when you have a track record full of national championships and conference titles.
By Scott Allen, of the soon-to-be launched SB Nation Stanford site, Rule of Tree
Team Overview: Stanford is out to prove that its success last season was about more than Toby Gerhart. While the Cardinal's record-setting running back and Heisman runner-up now plays on Sundays, head coach Jim Harbaugh returns plenty of offensive firepower, led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck. The Cardinal scored impressive victories over USC and Oregon in a 2009 season that culminated in the school's first bowl bid since 2001, but Stanford also suffered letdowns at Wake Forest and Arizona, and at home against Cal. The Cardinal needs its defense to improve this season if Harbaugh, who isn't interested in sustaining a gosh darn thing, thank you very much, is to guide Stanford to its first Rose Bowl since 2000.
Key To Success: Only Oregon ran the ball more often among Pac-10 teams than Stanford last season, and for good reason. When your starting running back is averaging 5 yards per carry, you give him the ball. Sophomore Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart headline a running back committee that should produce another strong rushing attack behind the Tunnel Workers Union Local 88 -- Stanford's veteran-laden offensive line -- but the offense figures to be more balanced this season. That means more opportunities for Luck, whose performance in his second year as the starter will determine just how far the Cardinal will rise. Luck threw 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 2009 and returns an experienced receiving corps that includes sure-handed Ryan Whalen and deep threat Chris Owusu.
Potential Achilles' Heel: Stanford allowed more than 26 points per game last season, in large part due to a pass defense that ranked 110th in the nation. While the team's high-powered offense often masked the defense's deficiencies -- Stanford went 2-3 in games in which it allowed at least 34 points -- the unit needs to step up in 2010. The defense underwent a makeover this offseason under new coordinator Vic Fangio, who was most recently an assistant on John Harbaugh's staff with the Baltimore Ravens, switching to a 3-4. The biggest strides to be made are in the secondary, where Stanford returns three of four starters.
When Stanford Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Owen Marecic. The senior fullback had only eight carries last season, but he established a reputation as one of the Pac-10's best blockers while clearing holes for Gerhart and keeping pressure away from Luck. At the Pac-10's football media day, Harbaugh referred to Marecic as "the perfectly engineered football player." You can watch Marecic when the other team has the ball, too. He's one of a handful of two-way players for Stanford and is slated to start at linebacker.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Shayne Skov. As a true freshman last season, Skov finished third on the team with 62 tackles, including 15 in the Cardinal's Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma. The prized recruit of Harbaugh's 2009 recruiting class could flourish as an inside linebacker in the 3-4. Skov is the most experienced of Stanford's starting linebacker corps, which features two converted defensive ends and Marecic.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: Stanford finishes 9-3, including wins over USC and Cal. Of course, Harbaugh would consider anything less than a conference championship a disappointment.
By Avinash Kunnath, California Golden Blogs
Team Overview: Cal loses its three main stars from last season (Jahvid Best, Tyson Alualu -- both first round draft picks -- along with Syd'Quan Thompson), and with it seemingly the national respect that it earned over the past decade. A disappointing 8-5 campaign after talks of finally capturing the elusive trip to Pasadena have left most media pundits racing away from the Bears (most of them swimming across the Bay to latch onto their hated Cardinal rivals), and the general consensus is that Cal will finish 7th in the conference. The buzz is off of Jeff Tedford and has moved onto the younger breed of Pac-10 coaches. That being said, the Golden Bears quietly have the makings of a very good team coming together for 2010.
Potential Achilles Heel: The question on offense still remains the O-line. Cal's offensive line got ground to pieces on way too many occasions last season (particularly against the Oregon schools and in the final two losses), giving up 31 sacks and 86 tackles for loss, terrible marks for a unit that has enjoyed great blocking in the early Tedford years. Will Steve Marshall get his guys fighting off the line of scrimmage early and open up lanes for Vereen and give Riley the protection he needs to deliver his throws with confidence? Experienced Mitchell Schwartz takes over at left tackle and talented Matt Summers-Gavin moves over to right tackle, but the interior still remains a question mark.
When The Bears Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Shane Vereen. When Jahvid Best went down last year, everyone thought the season was over and the Bears would tank to finish the season. Vereen contributed to proving the pundits wrong, showing that he could carry the workload as well as any Cal running back. Vereen isn't as physically talented as Best but he has his own skills. He runs very well between the tackles and he can show shiftiness similar to another Cal alum (Justin Forsett), but he also has impeccable footwork that makes it hard for a defender to take him down unless he makes a perfect form tackle. There is serious potential for Vereen to break out and have an All-American season.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Mike Mohamed. He won't necessarily be the flashiest Golden Bear on defense -- undersized and not exactly built like a prototypical linebacker, he struggles through blocks and has a lot of active feet. However, he is one of the smartest Cal linebackers we've ever had, and as the quarterback of the defense at the Mike linebacker position, he could be as valuable to Cal's efforts this season as Riley in calling the plays, identifying offensive formations and audibling the defense.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: Cal wins eight to nine games (not including the bowl) and keeps the Axe. Cal fans have been predicting about an eight-win season since the spring. They figure to be underdogs in two games (home against Oregon, at USC), but several other games (at Arizona, at Oregon State, the Big Game) will be toss ups. With seven home games (Cal is a silently dominant team at Memorial, going 31-6 since 2004), the schedule sets up very favorably for the Bears at the end of the year. Obviously, most Cal fans have a different view of success, and it involves Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day, but a lot of things would have to come together, and I'm pretty sure eight to nine wins would satisfy everyone tremendously. Oh yeah, and keeping the Axe in Berkeley from the "hottest team in the Pac-10" again would be so sweet. Keep on winning, keep on building.
By John Berkowitz, UW Dawg Pound
Team Overview: The Huskies enter their second season under coach Steve Sarkisian with a lot of optimism. As Sark put it the other day, the Huskies are light years ahead of where they were at this time last year. The offense, led by Jake Locker, could be one of the most explosive in the country. The defense does have some question marks, which will be answered quickly on the road against BYU and at home against Nebraska. Overall, the Huskies should win more than they lose this season and go bowling for the first time since 2002.
Key To Success: Washington's offense is going to put a lot of points on the scoreboard, but the defense needs to prove it can take the ball away from the opposition and stop the big play.
Potential Achilles Heel: The last time Locker went down with an injury, this team finished 0-12. The team is infinitely deeper and better coached than it was two years, ago but losing Locker would be catastrophic.
When The Huskies Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Chris Polk. The tailback is one of the best in the country at picking up yards after contact.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Alameda Ta'amu. The defensive tackle has been dominating the line of scrimmage in practices this fall.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: Washington has a winning record and goes to a bowl game.
By Ryan Rosenblatt, Bruins Nation
Team Overview: Entering Rick Neuheisel's third year in charge of the UCLA program, the Bruins look to combat a difficult schedule with the maturity of the talent that Neuheisel recruited since taking over the program. While the defense does lose a host of starters, there is still depth and talent throughout. The offense is still trying to figure out what to do on the offensive line, but there are plenty of skill position players who can step up if the offensive line gives them a chance. Get the Bruins in a close game and they can beat you with arguably the nation's best special teams, but getting into those close games will be a chore against the better teams on their schedule.
Key To Success: What will determine the fate of UCLA in 2010 will be up front on both sides of the ball. This season was supposed to be the season that Rick Neuheisel finally had an offensive line that made things possible for Norm Chow to get creative and show off what made him such a big name in football circles. Now, the Bruins are without a huge chunk of their offensive line -- Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jeff Baca will miss the year, and Kai Maiava is out for at least a couple of months -- and I don't think anyone knows what to expect from the unit, but it'll have to at least be solid to compete in a Pac-10 where there are few bad teams.
There was a lot of reason to be concerned about the front four on defense for the Bruins and there still is reason for concern, but the positive steps made by Justin Edison, David Carter and Damien Holmes gives the Bruins a chance, even after losing Brian Price. Of course, with those steps came a broken foot for Datone Jones, the guy who was supposed to be the new go-to guy along the defensive front. If the defensive line can be decent, the Bruin defense can be good, but they'll need a few guys to step up.
Potential Achilles Heel: The offensive line, where the Bruins are hurting for depth right now. Two freshmen, Chris Ward and Wade Yandall, are currently in the two-deep, and Yandall is still very raw, even if he is talented. Injuries happen in football and especially along the offensive line, so it's unnatural to expect an injury-free season for the UCLA front five, but the Bruins really can't afford more than one or possibly two because there isn't a ton of depth there.
When The Bruins Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Nelson Rosario. He has the potential to be an All-American for the Bruins at wide receiver. Standing 6-foot-5 with speed to burn, Rosario is a defensive back's worst nightmare. He came on strong in the second half last season and made Oregon State take notice with a 152-yard game in Corvallis, then he reeled in seven catches against Washington. Rosario's problem is in between the ears, where he loses focus at times and appears to be disinterested. When he brings it though, you will be hard-pressed to find a way to stop the junior.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: There are two options here, either super freak linebacker Akeem Ayers, who made one of the more remarkable plays in the country last year when he snagged a pick in the Oregon end zone for a touchdown, or Rahim Moore. When it doubt, go with the guy who led the country in picks a year ago, Moore. An uber-intelligent player, Moore is always in the right place at the right time and showed that he knows what to do when he gets there by grabbing 10 interceptions in 2010.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: With a brutal schedule, the Bruins will have to play extremely well to best their 7-6 record from a year ago. Trips to Kansas State and Texas with a visit from Houston make for an unenviable non-conference schedule that will undoubtedly test the Bruins from the get-go. What UCLA and Neuheisel need to show is that the program is making progress, as they made from year one to year two under the head coach. To do that, UCLA is going to have to finish the conference season over .500 and go to another bowl game.
9. Arizona State
By Cory Williams, House Of Sparky
Team Overview: Arizona State is coming off a tumultuous 2009 campaign where it finished 4-8. While that record certainly looks ugly, the Sun Devils lost four games by five points or less. What was missing? The kicking game. Thomas Weber was out for weeks with an injury, leaving the kicking duties to true freshman Bobby Wenzig. Additionally, coach Dennis Erickson was forced to use three QB's over the course of the season.
Going into 2010, ASU has a new QB. Most likely, junior transfer Steven Threet will be under center for Saturday's game against Portland State, and brings big-game experience from his 2008 campaign with the Michigan Wolverines. Look for the improved quarterback play, healthy kicking game, and skill position recruits to step up and make ASU a more respectable team in 2010.
Key To Success: Déjà vu - it's the quarterback position. The defense is excellent and the players surrounding Threet have improved (especially with newcomer Deantre Lewis). The only concern, once again, is whether the crop of quarterbacks on the roster can get the job done in the desert. The new offense put in place by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone should give Sun Devil fans a reason to cheer.
Potential Achilles Heel: The offensive line. Injuries are mounting and the lack of protection for Threet/Brock Osweiler/Samson Szakacsy could be cause for concern. Without a solid line to open up holes and give the running game an opportunity to break loose, moving the chains will be very difficult.
When The Sun Devils Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Aaron Pflugrad. The junior transfer from Oregon has come to ASU to make a difference, and the skill set he provides will help the Sun Devils in the ball possession category. After not seeing the field much in his first two seasons as a Duck, Pflugrad should play a larger role in Erickson's spread offense. I would consider him to be 2010's version of Chris McGaha.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Who else? Vontaze Burfict. The guy is a freak of nature. He has a tendency to be a bit dirty, but I chalk that up to his incredible enthusiasm and motivation to be the best.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: ASU is able to win seven games. If that happens, 2010 will be considered a great year. Since the Sun Devils are playing two FCS teams, they must win five games between Wisconsin and the Pac-10 schedule in order to be bowl-eligible. The Pac-10 is strong across the board (with the exception of Washington State), and to win five games would be an accomplishment. It would also be a success if Threet and the offense are able to lay groundwork for 2011, when I anticipate ASU to be able to compete again. Either way, the situation has improved in Tempe for the 2010 season.
10. Washington State
By Craig Powers, CougCenter
Team Overview: Washington State is a little stronger and little faster coming into the 2010 season. There are improvements across the board, especially on defense, where the Cougs boast some solid young talent in the secondary to go with the best front four they've had in several years. If the unit is able to stay healthier than seasons past, they will be a massive upgrade over the "Ole!" defense of 2008 and 2009 and will give WSU a chance in conference games. On offense, sophomore Jeff Tuel leads the way coming off a positive (and possibly inspirational!) freshman year. He has got a stable of solid backs behind him with varying skill sets; the receivers are young, but capable; and the offensive line is revamped.
Key To Success: Staying healthy. Last year, WSU was the most injured team in the country. Not only does that lead to poor play on the field, but it makes it very difficult for coaches to develop players and execute their playbook. If most of the starters can play the duration of the season, the young guys can get some real experience, the coaches can be properly evaluated, and this team will have enough to give some of our Pac-10 friends a scare.
Potential Achilles Heel: The offensive line. A great disappointment from last year (as Paul Wulff himself admits), it has been quite literally at the core of the WSU's offensive failures. There are still so many question marks in the unit, another poor performance is a strong possibility. If that happens, the 2010 offensive unit will look very similar to 2009's version.
When The Cougs Have The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: James Montgomery. By all accounts, the running back has most of the "bounce" back from before his injuries. If he is healthy, Montgomery is the most talented player on offense. He can run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. The coaching staff have been giving him light work in fall camp to make sure he is fresh for the season, so that should tell you how much faith they have in Montgomery.
When The Other Team Has The Ball, Make Sure You Watch: Brandon Rankin. The J.C. defensive tackle received a late offer from Alabama, but decided to stick with the Cougs. He has impressed in camp and is more than likely WSU's best player, playing at one of the most important positions. He came to WSU as a defensive end, so don't be surprised if he spends a lot of time in the backfield.
The Season Will Be Considered A Success If: The offense scores more points and the defensive give up less points. Sounds too simple? Well, we would love to have "X" amount of wins as a goal, but the reality is this team has a long way to go from averaging a four touchdown deficit last year. Even great improvements may not be seen in the win/loss column. Coug fans want to have a reason to watch the game into the second half. We want to see the offensive playbook opened up. We want to be nervous again on Saturdays! We just want to see this team be competitive. If obvious strides are made on the field this year to the point where a jump in "wins" can be expected next year, this season will be a success. However, if a couple wins come along now with that improvement, we'll definitely take that too.