NCAA Football Previews Since our launch in 1997,
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College Football Preview: Pac-10 - Can USC go undefeated?
Sportsbook) - The Trojans
head into 2007 as the clear- cut number one team
in the nation, but unlike last season, they have
four tough contests away from Memorial Coliseum
where they have not lost since 2001. Both UCLA
and Oregon State got the best of Southern Cal
last season when the Trojans were double-digit
road favorites so anything can happen.
The Pac-10 fared poorly as a whole in non-conference
games, winning only 63% as opposed to 74% in
'06. The league barely finished above .500 ATS
at 16-15-1, but posted 10 SU wins in 17 games
vs. other BCS schools. With Arizona State, Oregon
and Arizona on the way up, there's a good chance
the league can improve on last year's records.
Here is my take on the Pac-10, with odds to
win the National Championship in parenthesis:
1) USC (5-2 favorite) - Last season, the Trojans
had to replace 13 starters. This year that number
falls to six, which is why many in the media
are calling for USC to reach the title game.
Strengths - John David Booty had a fine season
replacing Matt Leinart, throwing 29 TDs with
nine picks. The running game, which fell below
USC standards due to multiple injuries, will
rebound to help offset the lack of veteran receivers.
Ten starters return to a defense which in many
circles is rated the best in the land.
Weaknesses - It will be up to Patrick Turner,
Vidal Hazelton and David Ausberry to replace
the 141 catches for 2,098 yards from Dwayne Jarrett
and Steve Smith. That's asking a lot from a junior,
sophomore and redshirt freshman. USC averaged
+20 in turnover differential from 2003-05, but
only produced a +4 last season.
Bottom line - The Trojans are the best in the
country, but will not finish the regular season
12-0. Nevertheless, 11-1 (8-1) should be good
enough to make it to the BCS National Championship
Game unless Louisville and LSU both go undefeated.
Southern Cal has finished an even 13-13 ATS the
past two years and won't be that much better
in '07 since Pete Carroll's club will be heavy
favorites on a weekly basis.
2) ARIZONA STATE (50-1) - Mediocrity is the
exact word that described the Sun Devils during
the Dirk Koetter era. Arizona State will be a
completely different team under Dennis Erickson.
Strengths - Last year was a nightmare from the
start, with Koetter's pathetic handling of QBs
Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Still, his decision
to hand Carpenter the reins will have a much
more positive effect in 2007. His receiving core
was a merry-go-round of players last season and
that position will improve dramatically. There's
no denying that the defense was the reason the
Sun Devils went bowling, as the unit gave up
just 305 yards per game in Pac-10 play and held
opposing league QBs to a 49.5% completion rate.
Weaknesses - One area that must be rebuilt is
on special teams. ASU lost their kicker and top
Bottom line - The new coaching staff will mold
this talented squad to a 10-win season and a
second place tie with Oregon at 7-2. Arizona
State will be one of the top-rated clubs ATS,
so stick with the Sun Devils on a week-to-week
3) OREGON (50-1) - The Ducks sandwiched a 10-2
campaign in '05 with two putrid seasons of 5-6
in '04 and 7-6 last year. With 14 starters returning,
look for a return to dominance for the fans in
Strengths - Despite the step backwards in '06,
Oregon still averaged 28 ppg, good for second-best
in conference play. Incidentally, that's where
the Ducks finished in their 10-2 season. The
Ducks sport the top 1-2 running back combo in
the league in Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson,
and the odds of QBs Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf
under-performing like they did a year ago is
extremely low. Defensively, the team finished
second in Pac-10 play in yards allowed for the
second straight season.
Weaknesses - With numbers like those, it's a
wonder how this team lost its last four games.
The reason? Turnovers. Oregon ended up last in
league play with 25 offensive miscues, and after
forcing 24 in '05, the Ducks could only gain
13 last year.
Bottom line - Mike Bellotti will lead his team
to 10 victories, seven in the Pac-10 and the
Ducks will be a great team to bet on throughout
the season, even at Michigan in week two.
4) UCLA (30-1) - Run defense was the number
one story in Westwood last year, especially against
USC. The Bruins held the Trojans to 55 yards
rushing on 29 carries in their 13-9 upset victory.
Strengths - No team
in college football improved as much on defense
as UCLA did, allowing two TDs less per game,
and the "D" returns
10 starters. The Bruins offense averaged just
23 ppg, down 16 points from '05, but that was
mainly due to the losses of Drew Olson and Maurice
Jones-Drew. Look for much- improved numbers in
'07 with 10 returning starters.
Weaknesses - The Bruins finished 5-4 in the
Pac-10 outscoring their conference opponents
22-19, but were outgained by an average of six
yards per contest. Interestingly enough, the
year before they were outgained by 73 yards despite
a 6-2 league mark! Despite the 20 returning starters,
UCLA loses a prime weapon in kicker Justin Medlock,
who nailed 31-of-42 FGs from 40 yards and out.
Bottom line - The offense will be better, but
it's doubtful the defense will sustain its monster
numbers. Look for eight wins, five in the conference.
Bettors have loved the Bruins the previous three
seasons, with 23 covers and only 14 defeats.
5) ARIZONA (300-1) - The last two years the
Wildcats have upset two top 10 teams in UCLA
and California, and should have their best season
in almost a decade.
Strengths - It's a new era in Tucson, as offensive
coordinator Sonny Dykes comes over from Texas
Tech to institute the spread offense. Expect
QB Willie Tuitama to have an explosive campaign
with the changeover. The defensive backfield
received great news earlier in the year when
top cover corner Antoine Cason announced he would
return for his senior season. Nine starters return
from a defense that finished second in conference
play allowing just 18.6 ppg.
Weaknesses - The Wildcats are also 8-17 in the
Pac-10 under Mike Stoops so history is not on
Bottom line - The schedule is immensely difficult
with road games at BYU, Cal, Oregon State, USC
and ASU, but the 'Cats are moving in the right
direction. If the offense jells quickly, look
for an 8-4 (5-4) record and a solid ATS mark.
6) CALIFORNIA (50-1)
- Last season opened on a sour note as the
Bears got hammered at Tennessee, but they rebounded
to finish 10-3, with a victory over Texas A&M
in the Holiday Bowl.
Strengths - The running game will not drop off
as one might think without Marshawn Lynch. Remember,
Justin Forsett gained 999 yards back in '05.
The combo of Nate Longshore and the top receiving
corps in the conference will guide California
to another successful offensive season.
Weaknesses - There's no doubt the defense underachieved
last year. After ending up third in league play
in '05 allowing 375 ypg, they finished eighth
last year with seven starters returning! The
Bears bring back just two starters from their
front seven in '07, including just one career
sack from its defensive line. Pass defense was
a problem in '06 after Tim Mixon was lost prior
to the season, and this season will be even tougher
without top cover man, Deymeion Hughes.
Bottom line - The offense will sparkle and the
defense will fizzle. Cal falls to 7-5, 4-5 in
the Pac-10 and will fail to finish above .500
ATS for the third straight year.
7) OREGON STATE (300-1) - The Beavers posted
10 wins for the first time since 2000, but will
falter this season as they did in '01 when they
won just three conference games.
Strengths - Sixteen starters return, including
1,307-yard rusher Yvenson Bernard, and the receiving
unit is extremely deep. The defense led the nation
with 47 sacks and OSU returns 87% of them in
Weaknesses - The Beavers were a +8 in turnover
margin. The last two seasons they finished at
that number or higher, they fell to -7 and -8
the following years. Quarterback Matt Moore must
be replaced, as well as the top defensive player,
safety Sabby Piscitelli.
Bottom line - A lot of things went right for
Oregon State last season, including winning its
final three games by a combined six points. Mike
Riley's club will not be as fortunate in '07,
but will still finish over .500 at 7-5, 4-5 in
the Pac-10. The Beavers are 6-1 as road favorites
the last three years.
8) WASHINGTON (100-1 - Field) - Can the Huskies
improve on their 5-7 record with perhaps the
toughest schedule in the nation?
Strengths - If redshirt freshman QB Jake Looker
is the real deal, look for Washington to have
its most productive offense since 2002. The Huskies
running game will be solid with Louis Rankin
and J.R. Hasty, and the offensive line is the
biggest in school history.
Weaknesses - Of the eight defensive backs in
spring practice, three were walk- ons. Not a
good sign in the pass happy Pac-10. In addition,
the club lost five of its top six tacklers to
Bottom line - Washington will be lucky to win
five games, as the team must face Ohio State,
Boise State, Hawaii out of conference. Expect
a 4-9 record, with three of those victories coming
in league play. If Looker looks sharp early on,
the Huskies will be a viable team to follow ATS.
9) WASHINGTON STATE (100-1 - Field) - The Cougars
look to rebound from losing their final three
games in '06 after starting the campaign with
six wins in their first nine games.
Strengths - Alex Brink
rarely pleases the Pullman faithful, but all
he does is produce "W's" and
improve each and every season. Washington State
was number one in Pac-10 play with 24 forced
turnovers and third in sacks with 26.
Weaknesses - Unfortunately for Cougar fans,
most of the defensive playmakers have departed,
especially in the secondary, which will leave
the unit in a state of flux. The offensive line
must improve after allowing 22 sacks the final
Bottom line - The Cougars have five conference
road games, which will leave them at 2-7 in the
Pac-10 and four wins overall. They are 11-11
ATS the last two years, but will fall below the
.500 mark in '07.
10) STANFORD (100-1 - Field) - Nowhere to go
but up after a miserable 1-11 season.
Strengths - The run
defense improved as the year went on allowing
908 yards on 3.8 ypc the last six games after
giving up 1,618 yards on 5.8 ypc the first
six. In addition, the "D" produced
10 sacks the final six contests after registering
just four in the first six.
Weaknesses - The offense didn't help the improved
defense any with just 10.6 ppg and 232 ypg. Those
numbers were even worse (8 ppg and 199 ypg) in
Bottom line - It will be another long season
in Palo Alto with only one win, a home victory
over San Jose State. Stanford finished 0-4 as
a home underdog last year, but could pick up
one or two ATS victories later in the season.
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