Last year, the Pac 10 was the 2nd best conference in America, but with graduation, they've become the 3rd this season (rebuilding, if you will).
Here are my predictions for the hardest conference to predict.
The Trojans are always written down as #1, in ink no less, in the Pac 10. Sure, they had the biggest losses across the country to the draft, but who cares? They have raw talent in every direction, and it continues to come. The defense last year was incredible, and it could be better this year, even after losing Rivers, Ellis, and Jackson. They certainly won't be passed against. So, you're an opposing Pac 10 OC, and you have to run against them - have fun getting by Maualuga and Cushing. The offense, on the other hand, is worrisome. Sure, you expect WRs Hazelton and Turner to put it all together, and you have 72 running backs who were Parade All-Americans. But the two very serious concerns are quarterback, and more importantly, the offensive line. They return 1 starter, but have loads of talent waiting. Still, it takes time to adjust to playing every snap in serious college football. I think, in the end, they'll be fine, but growing pains will happen early. Not a pleasant thought when they go: v. Ohio State, BYE, @ Oregon State, v. Oregon, v. Arizona State. Yikes.
The middle tier of the Pac 10 is probably the most intriguing aspect of college football for me each year. Last year, I told you Oregon and ASU would be much improved, and they were. This year, it's much more difficult to say. Oregon lost Dixon and Stewart, but return a star WR and a solid backup RB in Jeremiah Johnson. Plus, they have 3 good offensive linemen returning. However, the way they win this year is through defense. The front 4 produced last year and should be just as good this year. The defensive backfield is no doubt going to be one of the best in the conference, after a subpar 2007. They need MLB John Bacon to return to full form after his injury last year. They could easily finish 6th as they could finish 2nd.
Again, they could finish 2nd-6th, but I like what the defense returns. They only generated 22 sacks last year, but they bring back 3 of their 4 starting DL with some talented backups. The linebackers are the 2nd best in the conference, but the defensive backs have to replace 2 starters, including Decoud, a draft pick. The offense will improve on Riley's mobility alone. Longshore was a statue with a slow release. They return 3 OL with a super super super fast back in Jahvid Best. Tedford will need to run more early while they break in 3 new starting receivers. I can't stress enough how volatile the 2nd tier of the Pac 10 is this year.
I really wanted to put the Sun Devils at #2, but the signs for regression are too plentiful. They were +3 in close games, lost a bit to the draft, and were 5th in the conference statistically. However, defense wins in the Pac 10, and the Devils have some. It's going to take time for Erickson to infuse talent into the defense, but the guys on hand can get some things done. They need more QB pressure, and should get it with 3 of 4 DL returning. They return 2 starting LB, but the group lacks athleticism. The DBs must replace 2 draft picks, and they have to do it with little talent. Offensively, anytime you return a senior QB the level of Carpenter, you have to be happy. Still, Torain is a big loss, but Herring can handle the load. The receivers look fine, but the offensive line needs to replace 3 starters. The OL is another place where Erickson needs to find talent. ASU could be anywhere from 2nd-5th.
This spot was between UCLA and Arizona, and it was a very difficult decision. Ultimately, I gave the decision to the better defensive team. UCLA, for all the offensive headaches, will have a stout defense (and defense wins in the P10). UCLA has a good front 7, which will hide some issues in the secondary. CB Alterraun Verner is a future player on Sundays, but the other CB spot and both safeties have new starters. On offense, they just need to feed the ball to Bell and Co. and pass from 3 step drops to talented receivers. The offensive line is so thin and bad, they can't consistently hold DLs for 5-7 step drops. I say run quick slants, quick hitches, and screens to get the ball out fast.
It's weird - the 2nd-7th place teams could all be shuffled around, and the 8th-10th could be in any order. The Pac 10's year to year changes are insane.