Is this the year that USC gets dethroned?
With a significant number of personnel losses following yet another Pac-10 championship, many wonder if this is indeed the year in which Pete Carroll’s team sees their run atop the conference end. The Trojans have won at least a share of every conference title since 2002, and it would be borderline foolish not to peg them as the favorites. True freshman Matt Barkley will be the starter under center, beating out Aaron Corp for the job. The nation’s top-ranked quarterback in the 2009 freshman class, Barkley has a maturity beyond his years and could eventually join the list of great Trojan passers.
Talent abounds at the skill positions with the likes of Joe
McKnight, Damien Williams and many others in the running back and receiver
rotations. Defensively, USC has one of the nation’s best in free safety Taylor
Mays, who hits like a Mack truck while possessing the speed of a Lamborghini.
If they can find ample replacements at linebacker (all three starters are now
in the NFL) look for this group to round into shape under Coach Carroll and
defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The big game on their schedule: a trip to
In a league that on paper breaks down into three tiers, the
midsection promises to be something to watch as well.
The question is who will hand the ball off to the combo of
Nick Grigsby and Keola Antolin, as well as throw the ball to some talented
receivers (and Mackey Award candidate Rob Gronkowski). Matt Scott and Nick
Foles were engaged in a competition through fall camp, and there still hasn’t
been a concrete answer at the position. If the answer is the correct one for
UCLA struggled mightily on offense last season, but you get the feeling that head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow will solve the quarterback issue pretty soon. Kevin Prince was considered to be the front-runner for the job, and with seventeen starters back the Bruins have some talent. WR Terrence Austin is one of the better special teams players in the conference, and he also led the team with fifty-three receptions last year.
Defensively UCLA has one of the best cornerbacks in the nation in Alterraun Verner, who led the team with eighteen pass breakups while also ranking second on the team with seventy-three tackles. Senior middle linebacker Reggie Carter also returns to help lead a defense that returns seven starters and the goal will be to improve a defense that ranked eighth in the Pac-10 against the run.
As for the Sun Devils, Danny Sullivan takes over at quarterback for Rudy Carpenter, who lost a bit of his luster following a very good sophomore campaign. Two years later, some fans weren’t exactly dreading the final appearance for Carpenter. With four starters back on the offensive line and talented playmakers such as receivers Chris McGaha and Kerry Taylor, and running backs Shawn DeWitty and Dimitri Nance, Dennis Erickson’s team could put some points on the board. A solid defense returns six starters, led by linebacker Mike Nixon, but if ASU can’t run the football (9th in the Pac-10 in rushing offense in 2008) they’ll struggle to qualify for a bowl game.
Rounding out the conference are the two Washington schools,
both of which hope that this year’s Apple Cup won’t be a showdown to see who
gets their first win of the season. Steve Sarkisian takes over in
Paul Wulff’s Cougars return fifteen starters, and the hope
is that running backs James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy can take some of the
pressure off of quarterback Kevin Lopina. Four starters are back on the
offensive line, which should help with the continuity of the entire offense.
Defensively four of the top five tacklers from last season return, and they’ll
need some substantial improvements in 2009. Just like their bitter rivals from
someone dethrone USC? Teams have beaten the Trojans, but winning the conference
has been an entirely different animal. A challenger such as
Players of the Year: RB Jahvid Best (Cal) and FS Taylor Mays (USC)
How they’ll finish
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