With the bowl season over for the Pac 10 it's time to take a close look at the returning talent and rank the teams going into spring drills based on their performances during the bowl games. The Pac was only 2-5 this holiday season which was a bit of a surprise.
The PAC entered the holiday season as the second rated conference in the country behind the SEC and that probably took a hit after the disapointing performances of Oregon, Oregon State, California, and Arizona.
1. Oregon...Everybody who matters is back for the Ducks in 2010 and on top of that they are on the verge of signing the best recruiting class in the history of the school. Chip Kelly handled himself well in his first year as head coach rebounding from the disaster against Boise State and building the team into a league champion.
The big keys for the Ducks are the return of QB Jeremiah Masoli for his senior year and a young maturing defense that played a lot better than people thought they would in 2009. The loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl gives Pac 10 coaches a blue print to beat the Ducks in 2010. that being said Pac 10 coaches need the same type of personel tOSU had up front to get the job done. Stuff the Ducks on first down and their offense gets challenged. The trick is accomplishing that.
2. Southern California...The Trojans fell to earth in 2009 and while they will always have talent there domination of the Pac 10 which lasted seven years is now over. The one thing that drove that domination was the recruitment of superstar talent. Each USC team up till last season was driven by that type of first round big money talent. If you look at the 2009 roster you didn't find a Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, or Mark Sanchez. Looking ahead to 2010 I don't see those type of players on the roster but you can't ignore the fact that SC has built up the most overall talent and depth in the conference.
Matt Barkley needs to make a quantum leap for SC to be a BCS contender in 2010. Finding somebody to run the rock to take pressure off him is also anothe rneed issue even though the Trojans always seem to have a stable at the position. The spectre of probation is another thing to consider. If the Trojans get tagged this spring they could continue falling.
3. Oregon State...2009 ended with a thud for the Beavers when they went down in a lackluster performance against Utah to end the season. The overachieving Beavers finally under achieved and the reason was related to another loss in the Civil War to Oregon which once again knocked them out of the Rose Bowl. On offense the Beavers return the electric Rodgers brothers but need to find a QB to run the offense. The thinking here is that Lyle Movao who sat out last season with injury will be granted a sixth year by the NCAA. Defensively the Beavers should be improved with good depth up front and more experience in the secondary.
4. Washington...Jake Locker returns for a fifth year with the offense basically intact so you should expect and get improvement on that side of the ball. Things seemed to really click for Jake in the final two games as the UW offense tend to roll up and down the field. Chris Polk rang up the first thousand yard season by a Husky freshman RB in program history. He will have shoulder surgery once again but the consensus is that he is one of the best RB's in the conference going into 2010.
Defensively Washington has a little rebuilding to do. The Huskies replace both defensive ends and possibly two starting LB's if EJ Savannah is not granted a sixth year by the NCAA. Safety Jason Wells who made an impact during the last third of the season is also leaving. If Washington can fill the holes left by Donald Butler and Daniel Teo Nesheim on defense they should be able to contend for a first division finish and a bowl game.
5. Stanford...Jim Harbaugh has another big time class arriving at the farm but likely will lose Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL draft. QB Andrew Luck is going to be a big time player over the next three years but the Cardinal needs to find someone to replace Gerhart to keep on an upward track. Defensively Stanford continues to build depth and improve. Count on the the Tree to contend for a first division finish in 2010.
6. California...The Bears cashed in their chips and finished with two straight losses after beating Stanford in the big game. Cal has the talent to finish in the top division but the question is do they have the heart it takes to get by teams on the rise such as Washington, Arizona, and Stanford? Jahvid Best is leaving for the NFL but the Bears retain plenty of speed int he backfield. They need to get the passing game going again to really threaten for a title.
7. Arizona...The Wildcats lose some talent here and there from this years team. That loss of talent will also extend into the coaching ranks UA's two coordinators should be on the move this off season. Nick Foles had a fine first season and will continue to improve. If Sonny Dykes takes over at Texas Tech expect the offense to take a step back under a new OC.
8. UCLA...The Bruin offense was terrible in 2009 but Rick Neuheisel was able to get the Bruins to a bowl where they pulled out a victory over Temple. The defense was the strength of this team in 2009 and there will be some key pieces that have moved on when 2010 starts. Rumors coming out of Westwood are saying that OC Norm Chow may be on the move again. I think Neuheisel will get it done but he needs another year.
9. Arizona State...Dennis Erickson needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat in 2010 to keep his job. Early indications aren't that good since nobody graduates as many starters as the Sun Devils do this season. Maybe that is a good thing when you consider how his offense played last season. ASU will also be breaking in a new QB and OC in 2009. Tim Lappano's name has been mentioned.
10. Washington State...Paul Wulff finds himself on the hot seat to start his third season at WSU. He hasn't been able to reverse the slide that started before he arrived and now that he is in the last year of his contract the Coug administration has no reason to extend him unless he pulls off a miracle season. Recruiting players that are ready to contribute immediately is the key for putting together that miracle. Improved play at QB and the return to health of RB James Montgomery wouldn't hurt either.