Who, if anyone, can stop Southern Cal from their 8th straight Pac-10 title? The Trojans will be replacing Mark Sanchez at quarterback, and a slue of linebackers, but looking at the Pac-10 as a whole; there is still really no team out there that looks to be able to dethrone them. The best bet as of this moment is California or Oregon, but with both of those teams come significant holes. The Ducks have an offensive line to replace and a backfield that accounted for most of their offense in 2008. Cal has Jahvid Best coming back at running back, but even the best running backs in conference can not make up for an inconsistent quarterback. UCLA is still a few years away, and Arizona and Arizona State are losing key players. Finally, the Oregon State Beavers do return running back sensation Jacquizz Rodgers, but they have too many holes in their secondary to contend. So unless the Trojans have more than one slip up in conference play; they should be on cruise control to their 8th straight Pac-10 title. Which brings me to my next question...
Can USC stay focused enough for the entire Pac-10 season, and not have their usual conference slip-up? In 2006, it was UCLA; in 2007 it was Stanford; and last season it was Oregon State. All three of those games cost USC a chance to play in the BCS Championship. In all 3 of those seasons, there was no doubt that after watching the Trojans play in their Bowl game, that they were one of the teams that should've been playing in the title game. So how does Pete Carroll keep this team focused? It's a tough task when you have so many 4 and 5 star recruits on your team, but if the Trojans ever want to play in a title game in the near future, they need to stop losing to these inferior teams in conference play. Carroll needs to keep this team on their toes week in and week out, even with the notion that the Trojans are far and away the best team in the conference, that doesn't mean a team couldn't sneak up on them. If this can be done, we can maybe finally see this team in the Championship game.
Who will be the starting quarterback for a number of teams in the confernce? No longer do we have familar name such as Mark Sanchez, Rudy Carpenter, or Willie Tuitama as quarterbacks. I can honestly say that every team, sans Washington with Jake Locker, has their quarterback situation in-flux. The most interesting battle takes place at USC, where incoming freshman Matt Barkley will battle both Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain for the starting job. Mustain left Arkansas (where he was the starter), for a chance at being the #1 QB at USC, but in the end he might never get there. UCLA returns starter Kevin Craft, but with only a handful of success last season, his job is not safe. Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince looks like he is the #1 threat to Craft's job but there are others including true freshman Richard Brehaut, sophomore Chris Forcier, redshirt freshman Nick Crissman, and senior Osaar Rasshan. Both Rasshan and Crismann had shoulder issues in the past year. At Arizona State, senior Danny Sullivan, sophomore Samson Szakacsy, sophomore Chasen Stangel, redshirt freshman Jack Elway, and true freshman Brock Osweiler are all fighting for Carpenter's old job. Sullivan was his back-up but nothing is etched in stone for him to be the starter in 2009 just yet. Stanford returns last year's starter, Tavita Pritchard, but given his less than stellar play in 2008; his job is in jeporady. Alex Loukas and redshirt freshman Andrew Luck are hoping to impress head coach Jim Harbaugh enough to unseat Pritchard. Matt Scott or Nick Foles will replace Arizona Wildcats' starter Willie Tuitama. Whoever gets the nod better have wheels because the Wildcats have a lot of questions on their offensive line. In Berkeley, Kevin Riley was given the job last season, but could not hold onto it throughout the season. Now with Nate Longshore gone the job should be his right? No, his inconsistency still plagues him and if he isn't careful Brock Mansion will unseat him.
Is there anything to look forward to out of the state of Washington? Both teams combined for two wins last season, one of those wins was a conference win against the other, and were outscored by their opponents by an average of 41-13 in all of their games. The Huskies fired Ty Willingham and replaced him with former USC coordinator Steve Sarkisian, while the Cougars have 2nd year coach Paul Wulff was just suspended for the first few practices of fall camp due to violations he had while at Eastern Michigan. Two once proud programs are now bottom dwellers in the Pac Ten, and I don't expect much to change this season. Besides Jack Locker, can you really name any other impact players of either school in Washington? Locker now has to deal with a new offense with Sarkisian at the helm and the fact that he hasn't been healthy for an entire season yet. Their linebackers are back (Mason Foster, Trenton Tuiasosopo and Donald Butler) but is that really a plus for a team that gave up 39 ppg last year? The Cougars are running into their own problems with injuries and suspensions. Quarterback Marshall Lobbestael was recently suspended for an alcohol violation. And if you think help is on the way, well you are mistaken. For the second year in a row, Washington State is ranked 10 out of 10 in the Pac Ten recruiting rankings. The Washington Huskies were 5th and 9th in the past two years respectively. Buckle up, it's going to be a long and bumpy ride in 2009.
Will Oregon see a smooth transition between Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly? On March 13, Mike Bellotti decided to become the Ducks' full time Athletic Director, therefore, handing the reigns over to assistant Chip Kelly. This wasn't a big surprise because in early December, Kelly was named the head coach in waiting. A lot of this sounds familar to Ducks' fans because it was Rich Brooks who named Mike Bellotti his successor when he left to go coach the St. Louis Rams. I think this should be an easy tranistion for the team. Kelly is a quality offensive coordinator who has been around the program for two years. It was Kelly who was the key coach that helped Dennis Dixon become a Heisman contender in 2007. Kelly has already had his hand in naming a few new assitants, but other than that little change, business should be the same as usual in Eugene.