5. Arizona State
6. Oregon State
9. Washington State
-->TOP FIVE STORYLINES IN THE PAC TEN
5. Is Jim Harbaugh crazy? I mean, congrats to the guy on his first Division I-A coaching job, but he does realize that this is Stanford, right? Is he really so comfortable with his team that was 1-11 last year and hasn't had a winning season since 2001 that he can go to the media and pop off about Michigan? And annoy Pete Carroll? If there's any good for Harbaugh, one of two new head coaches in the league (Dennis Erickson of Arizona State, who should be much more successful in Year One, is the other), it's that Stanford gets their first four at home. Of course, that's balanced out by the bad news that UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State make up three of those games. With TCU, Notre Dame, and California also adorning the home schedule, Harbaugh might be cursed with the toughest imaginable schedule for a team with eight home games out of 12. Good luck, Jim. My advice? Leave Pete Carroll and the University of Michigan alone, because you have quite a mess to deal with without causing more trouble.
4. How hot is Mike Stoops' seat? I don't buy that it's scorching yet, but Stoops has some work to do this year. Repeated attempts to start up an offense in Tucson have failed. In Stoops' three years, Arizona has scored just 18.1 points per game. That won't get it done in the offense-happy Pac Ten. The defenses have improved, and last year's unit was very good, but Stoops has had no luck getting anything going on offense in three years. A Texas Tech disciple, Sonny Dykes, takes over the offense this year, and results are expected for QB Willie Tuitama. He hit just 56 percent of his passes and threw only seven touchdowns last year, but returns talented running back Chris Jennings and the entire starting offensive line. Some have suggested that Stoops is on the hottest of hot seats at Arizona, but I think the Wildcats will do well enough this year to keep him around.
3. Can California win the league? With so many losses on defense, it's going to be tough. But don't bank on the Bears squandering their opening game like they did last year, and it's fair to expect an even better year from 3,000-yard passer Nate Longshore. DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan combined for 151 catches last year, hitting the end zone 18 times, and all three return. Justin Forsett, who hit for over 600 yards and over five yards per carry as a backup to Marshawn Lynch last year, assumes the starting job. Expect big things on offense, where the Bears should easily top 30 points per game for a sixth straight year, all under coach Jeff Tedford. It's defense where Cal will probably struggle. Desmond Bishop is now hitting people for the Green Bay Packers, Daymeion Hughes is a Colt, and LB Mickey Pimentel also departs. The three take over 250 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 12 picks with them. With two freshmen possibly pegged to start, it might be a tough go.
2. Is Oregon or UCLA a better bet to dethrone USC atop the Pac Ten? UCLA actually beat the Trojans last year, but all it did was clinch the Bruins a winning season. Karl Dorrell's team was embarrassingly bad away from the Rose Bowl last year, winning only at Arizona State and finishing 1-5 when you count the bowl loss to Florida State. That home loss to Washington State (by 22??!!??) didn't look good, either. 20 starters back this year does, adn it really looks good when you consider that Ben Olson is back and healthy under center. Oregon has Dennis Dixon at quarterback, and the athletic (and horribly-attired) Ducks have high expectations for Mike Bellotti. Dixon has Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson back to run the ball, and the underrated Jaison Williams returns at wide receiver. On defense, the key will be replacing top performers Blair Phillips and J.D. Nelson.
1. Can Pete Carroll be stopped? This program is so good right now that a running back who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated is transferring because he won't play enough in USC's rotation. Carroll's recruiting is ridiculous, and so is the player development (all the #1 classes in the world won't do any good if you don't have the coaches to make the players better). QB John David Booty returns, as does top rusher Chauncey Washington. The depth chart at running back is silly: 23 Chauncey Washington (6-1, 220, Sr.*) OR 2 C.J. Gable (6-1, 195, So.) OR 13 Stafon Johnson (6-0, 210, So.) OR 21 Allen Bradford (6-0, 225, So.) OR 29 Broderick Green (6-1, 230, Fr.) 22 Desmond Reed (5-9, 185, Sr.*) OR 4 Joe McKnight (6-0, 180, Fr.). Good luck with that, Idaho. Oh, and good luck with this, Pac Ten. Finding a weakness on this USC team will be as difficult as it would be to pick out a Hollywood celebrity at a Washington State home game.
CISKIE BLOG PRESEASON PAC TEN AWARDS AND NOTABLES
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: John David Booty, QB, USC
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Preseason Coach of the Year: Mike Bellotti, Oregon
Coach on the Hot Seat: Karl Dorrell, UCLA
Bowl Bound: USC, Oregon, California, UCLA
Bowl Bubble: Arizona State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Washington State
Best Non-Conference Game: USC at Nebraska, September 15
Worst Non-Conference Game: Idaho State at Oregon State, September 15