Monday, August 21, 2006
After a short hiatus, I'm back (though probably not better than ever), and ready to get back into the college football previews with the season right around the corner. Now the Pac-10, which features my favorite team (UCLA), but it hasn't really been all the competitive of late, as USC has looked down on everyone else for the past few years. They have the talent to do that again, but they'll be very young. Let's take a look.
Player of the Year: The favorite coming in is Cal's Marshawn Lynch. He's an explosive runner, has a good offense around him, and will get the ball (even with fellow RB Justin Forsett there). He is one of the top returning RB in all of college football. Elsewhere, USC has great athletes once again, led by WR Dwayne Jarrett, who might be the best WR in the nation, coming off of 29 TD in his first two years. The biggest darkhorse in this race could be John David Booty, who looks to be stepping in as the USC starting QB. Remember what happened the last time USC replaced a star QB? There are no shortage of weapons for Booty (including the best WR corps in the nation), so if he stays healthy, he could be a candidate here. Lastly, whoever wins the ASU QB job will be in the running. Right now, it looks like Sam Keller has the inside track, but Rudy Carpenter showed last year he can put up big numbers and win ballgames. But in the end, I think it will come down to Marshawn Lynch being the most talented player in the conference, playing on a good Cal team. I like him to be the Conference Player of the Year.
Freshmen to Watch: It'll be really interesting to watch the trio of freshman RBs for USC - Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody, and CJ Gable - because all of them could get chances this year. The frontrunner to get the most carries of the 3 is probably Stafon Johnson, one of the top RB prospects in the nation. For other freshman, we don't really have to look further than the Trojans skill players, because WR Vidal Hazelton could also have an impact on offense and special teams. Sure, the receiving corps is loaded (Jarrett, Steve Smith, Patrick Turner), but they were loaded last year and Patrick Turner got on the field. Pete Carroll is not shy about playing freshman, so Hazelton should get his chances.
Breakout Players: There are some solid young QBs in the Pac-10, and perhaps none of them is better than UCLA's Ben Olson, at least on paper. We've probably all heard the story - he was a top prospect, went on his Mormon mission, then came to UCLA - so he has the talent. If he can pick up the offense well, he should be very productive replacing Drew Olson. Another young QB is Willie Tuitama of Arizona. He was very productive for Arizona once Mike Stoops took the redshirt off, and that should just create momentum for this year.
Other Things to Watch: Can anyone in the Pac-10 beat USC? The three best teams other than UCLA are Cal, Oregon, and Arizona St... which all go on the road to play USC this year. In other words, my guess is a resounding no. Another interesting thing is to see who will be Cal's starting QB... Nate Longshore was it last year until he got hurt, and then Joe Ayoob came in an struggled. If they can get any type of reliability and consistency there, they will be firing on all cylinders. And sorry Washington fans, despite an experienced QB and improving D, Washington doesn't have enough to crawl much higher than the depths of the Pac-10.
UPDATE: All of this ASU QB talk is null becuase now it looks like Sam Keller may have been released from his scholarship, and possibly plans to transfer. Needless to say, this is big news for the Pac-10, Rudy Carpenter, and whichever team Sam Keller might possibly go to (Nebraska?) Very interesting stuff indeed.
- Arizona St. at USC - The Sun Devils gave USC a tough test last year, and with their talented QBs, they have a chance to do that again. (October 14th)
- California at USC - Cal remains the last Pac-10 team to beat USC way back when. (November 18th)
- Arizona St. at Arizona - The in-state rivalry should be made better as Arizona gets better. (November 25th)
Projected Order of Finish
3. Arizona St.
8. Oregon St.
9. Washington St.