Who can take down the USC Trojans in 2009? Pete Carroll’s team will aim for its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title this season. A couple of teams have a shot to dethrone the champs, with Cal, Oregon and Oregon State leading the way. The problem is that USC never rebuilds, it simply reloads. Even with one of Carroll’s most inexperienced defenses since he took over as Trojans’ head man, and breaking in a new quarterback, USC is the clear favorite to take down the title again.
1.) USC Trojans – A veteran offensive line, along with plenty of talented skill players, should make up for inexperience at quarterback offensively. But this is one of Pete Carroll’s least experienced defenses under his watch, and the loss of Mark Sanchez will certainly hurt. Until further notice, this is still the team to beat in the Pac-10.
2.) Cal Bears – 15 returning starters, including the league’s most dangerous player in running back Jahvid Best, gives the Bears a fighting chance in ‘09. The QB situation is uncertain, and Cal has trouble in big games, especially on the road. It will take a step up by QB Kevin Riley, but they could possibly put more than a scare on the Trojans.
3.) Oregon Ducks – Some players and a head coach change, but the system remains the same. They still have Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback to lead this squad. Just 10 starters return, and will they miss head coach Mike Belloti most of all? Consistent talent keeps the Ducks contending, assuming the offensive line comes through.
4.) Oregon State Beavers – The Rodgers brothers and QB Lyle Moevao make this OSU offense very dangerous. Just three starters return on defense, though, and the offensive line also took a hit. Give Mike Riley the benefit of the doubt and assume the Beavers will find a way into a bowl again.
5.) Arizona Wildcats – Mike Stoops has finally quieted the critics, for now, and the defense should be rugged this year. The offense has to replace a lot of firepower, most notably QB Willie Tuitama and WR Mike Thomas. The offensive losses and a tougher schedule put the Cats back on the bowl fringe.
6.) UCLA Bruins – Sixteen returning starters, including nine on defense, will have the Bruins showing improvement this season. But they must break in another new QB, and the offensive line is still a big question heading into the fall. One of the best Pac-10 defenses could have UCLA back in the bowl business.
7.) Stanford Cardinal – Seven home games, a veteran team and a solid running game could offer a breakthrough season. Uncertainty at quarterback doesn’t help an already shaky passing attack, though. The Cardinal is close, and some good (Andrew) Luck could get them to a bowl.
8.) Arizona State Sun Devils – The league schedule is favorable for ASU this season, and Dennis Ericson-coached teams don’t stay down long. But quarterback Rudy Carpenter is gone, and the running game is still a mystery. The balance of the Pac-10 has the Devils within reach of fourth place, but we have them finishing near the bottom of the pack with too many questions on offense.
9.) Washington Huskies – Steve Sarkisian has brought a new energy to the program, and all-everything in QB Jake Locker returns from injury. The secondary and the offensive line may probe that coaching wasn’t the only reason for an 0-12 mark in ‘08. The Huskies figure to be more competitive, maybe even an upset or two along the way, but it’s still a long road ahead to get back to the top.
10.) Washington State Cougars – A second year in Paul Wulff’s system will help, as should an influx of new talent. But no proven playmakers on offense and a defense that still has holes everywhere will make the going tough. We doubt WSU gives up 58 or more points seven times again, but the Cougars won’t win much, either.