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Pac-10 Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 08/25/2009

There have been a lot of talented teams coming out of the Pac Ten in recent years but they get no notoriety because USC is always taking center stage. The Trojans have won seven consecutive Pac Ten Championships and that says a lot for the program considering all of the good teams that have come out that conference. This year it will be no different as every team will be looking to dethrone USC but only a handful will have a shot. It seems as though every team that is on the outside looking in has some issue that could keep it from overtaking the Trojans and if any year you don’t want that, this is the one.

USC Trojans 12-1 SU, 7-6 ATS, 4-8-1 O/U

Summary: USC was arguably the most talented team and with that, the best team in the nation last season. The problem was that it lost at the wrong time and ran out of weeks to get back into the BCS Championship. The Trojans dropped from #1 to #9 after losing to Oregon St. and despite winning out, had to settle for its third straight Rose Bowl that did not have national title implications. Things will not be as easy this season as USC does not have a dependable quarterback for the first time in years and the defense took a massive hit with eight starters lost. The Trojans do not rebuild, they just reload and the talent is in place to win another title in the weaker conference this season.

Schedule: After playing San Jose St. to open the season, USC travels to Columbus to take on Ohio St. which will be one of the best early season games around. That is the first game in a span of four road contests in five games which also includes a game at Notre Dame. USC gets the Beavers at home for revenge but it must travel to both California and Oregon.

Bottom Line: This may be considered a down year for the Trojans with all of the turnover taking place but they cannot be picked to finish anywhere but first. If the quarterback position gets ironed out and there is production, USC can challenge once again for the National Championship. The defense may lack returning starters but there is still a lot of experience on that side of the ball.

Betting Forecast: USC is 11-1 ATS in non-conference games over the last three years and that will be tested at the Horseshoe. Watch the Week One chemistry against the Spartans.

California Golden Bears 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS, 8-5 O/U

Summary: Head coach Jeff Tedford has done an amazing job to turn this program around. In seven years, he has never had a losing season and this came on the heels of a 4-18 two-year run before he entered. The Bears have won four straight bowl games but none were big time bowls and they want to move to the next level. This could be the year that finally happens as everything looks to be in place for a conference and possible National Championship run. California has one of the best running backs in the nation in Jahvid Best to go along with an experienced offense and very solid defense. In total the Bears return 15 starters and the last two times they returned at least 14 was in 2004 and 2006 and those resulted in 10-2 and 10-3 records respectively.

Schedule: After facing Maryland and Eastern Washington at home, the Bears travel to Minnesota for their final non-conference game before opening Pac Ten action on the road at Oregon. If that wasn’t bad enough, they host USC the following week so we know right away if they are contenders or not. The remainder of the schedule is far from easy but there are not many roadblocks in the way.

Bottom Line: Because the game against USC is at home, you can make an argument that California is a good sleeper pick to win the Pac Ten. I agree with that but at the same time, the Trojans are reigning champs and they deserve to be at the top of the preseason rankings. California’s season could be over early with those two tough conference openers but it could also be looking at a magical season if all goes right.

Betting Forecast: The Bears are 0-2 ATS as home underdogs the last four years and both losses came against USC. This could be the year that string is broken.

Oregon Ducks 10-3 SU, 7-6 ATS, 7-4-2 O/U

Summary: Oregon will have a new head coach roaming the sidelines for the first time in 14 years as Chip Kelly takes over for Mike Bellotti who resigned to become the Ducks athletic director. The cupboard was not left bare as Kelly does have the talent in place to make a run toward the top. Last season, expectations were not high and the Ducks finished second in the Pac Ten so now that expectations are higher, will we see the Ducks fold under the pressure? It all depends on how the first one-third of the season shakes out. Oregon finished seventh in the nation in both total offense and scoring offense last season and the unit will be potent once again. The defense needs a big improvement if Oregon is to challenge USC and California for Pac Ten supremacy.

Schedule: Despite having four home games in their first five, the Ducks schedule is far from an easy start. The road game is at Boise St. on Thursday night and they are already listed as underdogs. The next three are at home against Purdue, Utah and California none of which will be easy rides. The next two games are against Washington St. and then at UCLA which comes two weeks prior to hosting USC.

Bottom Line: Oregon has had four straight winning seasons and even with the tough schedule, it will extend that run and make it to its fifth straight bowl game as well. The Ducks have a chance in the conference because their offense should be able to go score for score with anyone and that includes USC. The amount of complete success will come down to the defense has was a dismal 82nd in the country a season ago.

Betting Forecast: Oregon has had six straight winning ATS campaigns in the Pac Ten but none better than 5-3 ATS. While I do expect another positive, it won’t be by much.

UCLA Bruins 4-8 SU, 7-5 ATS, 4-7-1 O/U

Summary: UCLA missed out on the postseason last year for the first time since 2001 but things are looking up. The Bruins suffered numerous player losses last season due to injury but a healthy group with 16 returning starters along with numerous other contributors could mean a trip back to a bowl game. The problem is that UCLA has not been to a major bowl game since the 1998 Rose Bowl so playing in the Emerald and Silicon Valley Bowls are getting a little old for this once glorified program. Head coach Rick Neuheisel is in his second season and he is already making strides as his recruiting class was ranked 2nd behind USC and some of that Trojans talent was taken by UCLA. Slowly but surely, the Bruins should make a big move back to the top.

Schedule: Two of the three non-conference games are at home against San Diego St. and Kansas St. and those are sandwiched around a rematch against Tennessee in Knoxville. The Pac Ten schedule is the same for all teams with the only differences being where and when and in the case of UCLA, it does have to travel to USC this year but it does get Oregon and California at home.

Bottom Line: With all of the injuries last season, UCLA could get nothing going as far as momentum and team chemistry. The same can be said the year before as it was down to the fourth string quarterback at one point. Last year, those injuries hurt the offense the most as the Bruins were 111th in total offense and 109th in scoring offense so they are bound to improve this season – if they can stay healthy.

Betting Forecast: UCLA is 11-2 ATS since 2003 as a home underdog and we could see that role in back-to-back weeks against Oregon and California.

Arizona Wildcats 8-5 SU, 7-5 ATS, 6-60 O/U

Summary: Arizona busted out of a nine-year bowl drought last season as it made it to the Las Vegas Bowl and took out BYU. The eight wins were the most since 1998 when it won 11 games and while the Las Vegas Bowl is nothing fantastic, it is all about baby steps at this point. Head coach Mike Stoops promised a winner and he is delivering it even though it did take five years. Of the five losses last season, four were by eight points or less while two came by a combined three points. Now, it needs to make the big jump back to national prominence where it used to be. That may not happen this year with a tough schedule and the need for a new quarterback but the Wildcats are close. Don’t be surprised to see them in a second straight bowl game for the first time since 1993-1994.

Schedule: The schedule doesn’t set up well for a big improvement but another eight-win season looks doable. Central Michigan and Northern Arizona come to visit before the Wildcats hit the road for three straight games including tough ones at Iowa and Oregon St. Arizona gets a mid-slate breather before closing tough with California, Oregon and USC as well as rival Arizona St., three of which are on the road.

Bottom Line: If Arizona falters this season, it may not spell the end of Swoops just yet but it might show that Arizona may never make it back to where it once used to be. The defense, ranked 24th last season, will be better making it the best in the Swoops era and that alone should carry this team. If the Wildcats can excel at quarterback, and that is a big if, really big things are not far off.

Betting Forecast: After going on a 3-14 ATS run as a home chalk, the Wildcats rebounded with a 4-1 ATS mark last season. Look for that to continue again in 2009.

Oregon St. Beavers 9-4 SU, 9-3 ATS, 6-6 O/U

Summary: Oregon St. could finish anywhere from third to seventh in the Pac Ten so it is rather difficult as to where it should be placed. The Beavers have gone 10-4, 9-4 and 9-4 over the last three seasons and while those records could be matched, I don’t think it will happen. Two reasons come to the forefront and those are a rebuilt offensive line and a rebuilt defense. The line must replace three starters while the defense must replace eight including the entire secondary. The Beavers have playmakers on offense so if the line comes around quickly, they can surpass their 30th ranking in total offense from last season. The defense was ranked 23rd overall last year and that will be tough to even come close to this time around.

Schedule: The schedule does Oregon St. no favors. The non-conference part of it is not bad with games against Portland St., UNLV and Cincinnati, the latter being the toughest but at home. It is the Pac Ten slate that is going to be a challenge as the Beavers have to face USC, California and Oregon on the road. The only soft spot is facing Washington and Washington St. in consecutive weeks followed by a bye.

Bottom Line: Head coach Mike Riley always seems to get the best out of his players as he has had a lot of success with teams that were not supposed to be successful. He may have to do one of his best jobs this season but it is far from impossible. Oregon St. has won five straight bowl games although they have not come in consecutive seasons. The Beavers should be able to make it to a fourth straight.

Betting Forecast: The Beavers are 8-3 ATS over the last three years following a loss. This will be something to keep a close eye on as they will respond in those spots again.

Stanford Cardinal 5-7 SU, 7-5 ATS, 9-3 O/U

Summary: The Cardinal started last season 5-4 and there were aspirations of a bowl game for the first time since 2001. The problem was their last three games came against the three top teams in the Pac Ten and Stanford quietly home for the winter. Still, the five victories tied for the most wins since 2001 so there is a lot of optimism on the farm. And there should be as head coach Jim Harbaugh is turning the program around in a hurry and has his team poised for a possible bowl berth. 16 starters are back this season including running back Toby Gerhart, the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Cardinal in 16 years. Improvements need to be made in the passing game as well as on defense for Stanford to be taken too seriously but the pieces are in place for it to happen eventually. It may just not be until next year.

Schedule: Unlike most other Pac Ten teams, the non-conference games are spread throughout the schedule. Stanford opens the season with a conference game at Washington St. before traveling to Wake Forest and then playing its home opener against Washington. A 3-3 conference record is possible before closing out against Oregon, USC and California. The Cardinal end the season hosting Notre Dame.

Bottom Line: Stanford is a very sexy pick to be a sleeper team in the Pac Ten as well as nationally. The problem is that it isn’t going to be sneaking up on any teams as the secret is out. Even with that, the Cardinal can now compete which could not be said just three years ago. This is still a young team even with 16 starters back so Stanford is definitely a team on the rise.

Betting Forecast: Stanford is 9-4 ATS in its last 13 games as a home favorite and it will be in that role more often this year and that should translate to more covers.

Arizona St. Sun Devils 5-7 SU, 4-6 ATS, 3-7 O/U

Summary: Head coach Dennis Erickson came to Tempe with a solid nucleus two years ago and he produced a double-digit winner that included a national ranking as high as seventh after a 7-0 start. Since then however it has been a struggle as the Sun Devils have gone 8-10 in their last 18 games and there does not seem to be a chance to make a big improvement. The defense was above average last year and it will be better this year but the problems are on the other side of the ball. There are quarterback issues with Danny Sullivan who has been waiting in the wings but he has not proven anything when he came in. Even worse is the running game that finished 113th in the country last season and with no running back that looks like they will bust out. A strong start will help but it could be downhill after that.

Schedule: Arizona St. has an easy go of it early on in the year as four of its first six games are at home with the toughest game being against Oregon St. One of those early road games is at Georgia but the other is at Washington St. as a trade off. A 4-2 start is likely but a 0-6 finish could just as well happen as the backend of the slate is brutal that includes home games against California, USC and rival Arizona.

Bottom Line: The Sun Devils benefit from a very soft early season schedule and that can certainly be a blessing to try and establish some sort of offensive identity. The problem is that any slip up early could turn an average year into an absolute disaster. On the plus side, there are only 10 senior starters and they played 10 true freshmen last season so things could get better soon.

Betting Forecast: Arizona St. has been long known for high scoring games and he public might still buy that. It went 3-7 O/U last year and we should see more of the same.

Washington Huskies 0-12 SU, 1-11 ATS, 6-5-1 O/U

Summary: It didn’t take long for Washington to hit rock bottom. The Huskies are coming off their worst season ever as they went winless and are currently riding a 14-game losing streak heading into 2009. Things can only get better and it is pretty much a guarantee that they will. While not likely to make it to a bowl game, Washington could have a big turnaround for the good. The Huskies lost a ton of starts last year because of injuries and being 116th in the nation in turnover margin did not help. Those two factors should reverse themselves and that means more wins should be on the way. The Huskies have a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian, who comes over from USC, as well as a whole new coaching staff. He is blessed with one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in Jake Locker, who played only four games last season.

Schedule: The schedule is by no mean easy but it is certainly a lot easier than last season. Starting the season against LSU is no prize but at least the game is in Seattle. The Huskies then have another home game against Idaho before opening Pac Ten action at home against USC. The final non-conference game is at Notre Dame. Washington does get five of nine conference games at home.

Bottom Line: Rick Neuheisel had a winner going here before he was forced out. Keith Gilbertson and Ty Willingham did not come close to keeping it together as they have put the program down to one of its lowest points ever. Willingham did catch a lot of bad breaks in his four years, especially with injuries, but that didn’t seem to matter. Sarkisian has a chance to turn this program around but it will take time.

Betting Forecast: Washington went 1-11 ATS last season and that only means we will see more wins against the number in 2009 and don’t be surprised to see a winning ATS mark.

Washington St. Cougars 2-11 SU, 4-8 ATS, 7-5 O/U

Summary: As bad of a season Washington had, the Cougars arguably had a worse season despite winning two games. One of those victories came against FCS Portland St. while the other came against Washington by a field goal in double overtime. Scoring offense and scoring defense both finished second to last in the country as Washington St. was outscored by an average of 31.1 ppg. The defense allowed 58 or more points six times and many games will not be won with that stat. Head coach Mike Price took this team to the Rose Bowl in 2002 and Bill Doba got them to the Holiday Bowl the following year but it has been downhill ever since with five straight non-winning seasons. That will be extended to six after this year as there is not much in place as the rebuilding project is firmly in year two.

Schedule: Washington St. does not get the luxury of facing a FCS team this season as the schedule has only gotten tougher. Of the 12 games, five are at home, five are on the road and there are two neutral field games against Hawaii (Seattle) and Notre Dame (San Antonio). The other non-conference game is a home against SMU. The Pac Ten schedule is as tough as possible by facing the top three teams on the road.

Bottom Line: Head coach Paul Wulff has his hands full for a second straight season. There is depth as this team remains extremely young and the running game should be adequate but that is about it for the positives for the Cougars. The defense, as bad as it was last season, might not be much better as the front four is weak and the linebacker position was hit with injuries in the spring.

Betting Forecast: Washington St. is 7-13 ATS as a road underdog the last five season and it will be in that spot all season. Expect more major blowouts again.

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