RB Stafon Johnson will try to lead USC to a 10-win season.
Southern Cal has won seven straight conference titles and there’s no reason to believe No. 8 isn’t on its way. But the Pac-10 has some other talented teams that can make things interesting.
A look at the conference’s top teams, based on odds to win the conference title, appears below. We also have some things to consider when playing ‘over/under’ season win totals, which appear courtesy of Diamondsportsbook.com. Only regular season are counted.
Southern Cal – 10 wins
The Trojans have questions at quarterback, but have so much talent at the skill position that it may not make a difference. They return eight starters, including running backs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight. They also have Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson at wide receiver to go with one of the nation’s best offensive lines. Sophomore Aaron Corp was poised to take over for Matt Sanchez, but broke his fibula and may not be ready for the opener. True freshman Matt Barkley will get the call if Corp can’t go.
The defense is relatively inexperienced and will be tested early at Ohio State. This is a team that has had its hiccups in the Pac-10, losing at least one league game in each of the last four years on its way to the Pac-10 title. That Ohio State game makes the win total an interesting play.
LIKELY WINS: San Jose State, at Washington, Washington State, at Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona
UP FOR GRABS: at Ohio State, at California, at Notre Dame Oregon State, at Oregon
NOTEWORTHY: A year after getting the toughest Pac-10 foes at home, the Trojans have to visit Eugene and Berkley – not to mention Columbus and South Bend.
Cal – 9 ½ wins
The Bears were a mess at quarterback last year, but still managed a 9-4 mark. With Nate Longshore out of the mix behind center, this is clearly Kevin Riley’s team. He was inconsistent, but still threw 14 touchdowns against six interceptions. Even if Riley struggles, the offense won’t, not with junior Jahvid Best carrying the ball. Best ran for 1,580 yards last year, or 8.1 yards per carry.
Cal, returning eight starters to a defense that held opposing running backs to 3.2 yards per carry, is stout along both lines. The Bears have played USC close and won’t be intimidated.
LIKELY WINS: Maryland, Eastern Washington, at Minnesota, at UCLA, Washington State, at Arizona State, Arizona, at Stanford, at Washington
UP FOR GRABS: at Oregon, USC, at UCLA, Oregon State
NOTEWORTHY: The Bears get USC, but it comes a week after a trip to Eugene. Can you say trap game?
Oregon – 7 ½ wins
The Ducks’ offense is nothing if not exciting. Led by fleet-footed and strong-armed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon posted 41.9 points per game last year. The architect of that defense, coordinator Chip Kelly, succeeded Mike Bellotti as head coach this year. However, the Ducks return just four starters – including just one offensive lineman. Senior LeGarrette Blount averaged 7.3 yards per carry on his way to 1,002 yards on the ground.
If Oregon is going to live up to the hype of being able to challenge USC, it needs to get much better on defense. The Ducks return five starters to a unit that was torched for 28.2 points per game.
LIKELY WINS: Purdue, Washington State, at Washington, at Stanford, Arizona State, at Arizona
UP FOR GRABS: at Boise State, Utah, California, at UCLA, USC, Oregon State
NOTEWORTHY: The Ducks are giving the non-BCS foes a chance – opening at Boise State and hosting Utah two weeks later.
Oregon State – 7 1/2
The Beavers stunned USC and nearly won at Utah the next week, but they also lost at Stanford. And a team that allowed 65 points to Oregon in its regular-season finale, shut out Pitt in the Sun Bowl.
OSU is loaded on offense with the ultra-exciting Jacquizz Rodgers back to carry the ball. His brother, James, will make the plays at flanker. The defense returns just three starters.
LIKELY WINS: Portland State, at UNLV, Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State
UP FOR GRABS: Cincinnati, at USC, UCLA, at California, at Oregon
NOTEWORTHY: The Beavers could get off to a fast start, with Cincinnati the most formidable foe in the first six weeks. But, after a bye week, it’s at USC, hosting UCLA, and at Cal.