1. – Forget Pete Carroll’s infamous meltdown after Mark Sanchez left for greener pastures. Forget the fact that the Trojans are starting their first true Freshman at quarterback in the history of the program. Forget that the Trojans go on the road to play every seemingly important game this year. The Men of Troy are still poised to win the Pac-10 for an eighth consecutive time behind the strength of the greatest offensive line in all of college football. All five starters from last season return in the trenches looking to pummel their opposition into submission (as usual). The fearsome five average a 6’5″ 292lb frame that is tailor-made for protecting QB Matt Barkley. With that gargantuan line, Barkley may not even get hit once all season long. If Barkley can settle in early and stay comfortable in the pocket, he should perform on the highest level. The Gatorade Player of the Year has all the tools to be a future Heisman Trophy winner – and even Mel Kiper Jr. said he would be the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. Most importantly this season, the o-line must re-shift its focus from last year’s all-out aerial attack with Mark Sanchez to controlling the line of scrimmage this year, allowing USC to return to their roots as “Tailback U”. The Trojans legitimately go six deep – yes six deep, I know it’s sick, right? – at the running back position starting with the elusive Joe McKnight. McKnight’s electricity is unmatched, but hopefully Pete has taught him two things this offseason: 1. he needs to hang on to the football at all costs – that pigskin is gold, don’t ever let it hit the ground. 2. McKnight is possibly the shiftiest slasher in college, but that still doesn’t mean he’s on the same level as Reggie Bush. He’s a close second, but sometimes McKnight has the problem of thinking he is actually Reggie himself. McKnight needs to realize that he can’t run the entire width of the field, juke seven players out, and blaze by the safety like he’s not even moving as he did in high school. He needs to be willing to put his head down and pick up the extra two yards when there’s isn’t a hole as opposed to juking like crazy, losing yardage and carelessly handling the ball. Stafon Johnson should also be prominently featured as a short yardage, inside runner, while C.J. Gable looks to spell McKnight. You also can’t forget about fullback Stanley Havili, who is a great lead blocker and a deceptively great receiver out of the backfield. Defensively, the Trojans lost eight starters including four on first day of the draft. The front seven has undergone a complete revamping, but if any team can send out seven more blue-chippers, it’s USC. The secondary looks good and is very experienced, led by two-time All-American Taylor Mays, who most thought would turn pro last season. USC does the unthinkable – they go 12-0 with a Freshman quarterback to setup an epic showdown with the Gators at the Rose Bowl.
2. – Jeremiah Masoli (5’11”, 214lbs) may not have the average frame for a quarterback, but the last thing this guy is – is average. He came all the way from fifth on the depth charts last season to take the job. Masoli won’t throw the rock around like Matt Barkley, but he should do a great imitation of his predecessor Dennis Dixon. Masoli fits in great with Chip Kelly’s spread offense, but watch out if the Ducks have to rely on his arm to win. I’m not sure Masoli has the accuracy to lead this team should they get down by a couple of scores. Masoli is joined by the big-bruising LeGarrette Blount in the backfield. For those who don’t know him, Blount is pretty much Brandon Jacobs version two. The 6’2″, 240lb rumbled for 1,002 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. This season he will become the featured back with the departure of Jeremiah Johnson. On defense, safety T.J. Ward leads the team (105 tackles last season) while DE Will Tukuafu (17.5 TFL last season) will also be a major senior leader for a unit that only returns five starters. Oregon is actually set to play non-BCS powers Boise St. and Utah this season, which should be applauded especially considering teams like Florida scheduled Charleston Southern, Oklahoma scheduled the juggernaut that is Idaho St. and Texas scheduled that football powerhouse UL Monroe. The Ducks go 10-2 this season looking to make the Rose Bowl as so many undeserving Big Ten teams have done in recent years. They fill the void left by the Trojans who will appear in the national championship game.
3. – Even though Jahvid Best may very well be the best running back in the land, Kevin Riley at the quarterback position is highly suspect. Jeff Tedford relies upon his QB as much as anybody, and that is the reason why the Bears have struggled a bit lately – he hasn’t had a top-tier QB in a while. With that said, Best will obviously carry the load offensively averaging 131.7 yards on the ground last season, and finishing the season with ridiculous video game numbers – 698 yards and eight touchdowns his final THREE GAMES!!! Backup Shane Vereen is also no slouch adding 715 more yards to Best’s 1,580 last year. On defense the Bears return eight starters, and one of the best secondaries in the nation, led by flashy CB Syd’Quan Thompson, who picked off four passes and contributes as an electric punt returner too – taking one back to the house last season. The problem defensively will be the linebacker position. All three starters the Bears lost are linebackers, which is quite worrisome considering the linebackers are the heart of the defense. It will be quite tough against the likes of Joe McKnight, Jacquizz Rodgers and LeGarrette Blount if the inexperienced linebacking corp can’t step it up and punish the rushers. Cal has another solid, but not great season. They finish 10-2 with the inevitable loss to USC and a loss at Autzen Stadium – one of the toughest places to play in America. They may also be susceptible to another mind-boggling loss later in the season, as has been the normalcy in recent years.
4. The Beaver brother tandem of Jacquizz and James Rodgers is back and ready to wreak havoc on the Pac-10 once again, but this season, things are a little different – the Beavers are certainly not going to sneak up and catch anyone by surprise (especially USC). Both brothers, only standing a mere 5’7″ do just that, sneak around until they accelerate through the hole as if they were shot out of a canon. If there’s one word to use to describe Jacquizz, it’s jitterbug. The guy dances around the field effortlessly and fearlessly – one second you see him, the next you don’t. The offense should be fine with seven returning starters, but the defense might be a bit of a concern for Beaver fans. The D only returns three starters from last year’s team that was only ranked 47th in scoring defense. Yikes, the Rodgers Bros. better light up the scoreboard for 35 a game. Their schedule won’t really help causes either. The Beavers travel to USC, Cal and Oregon this year – all games they should lose. The Beavers go 9-3 with aspirations of finishing in the top 25.
5. – You got to like the way Jim Harbaugh prepares his troops. It seems like he’s starting to turn the program around with his fiery demeanor. The Cardinal return seven starters on each side of the ball and will add explosive wide receiver Chris Owusu along with QB Andrew Luck to the fray. You might call me crazy, but I say Harbaugh gets the team to 6-6 and the first bowl appearance since 2001.
6. – Mike Stoops seems to know how to keep his job. Turn in one good season in five years and you’re money. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they lack speed and experience on offense. I see an average 6-6 year in store for them.
7. – When your home stadium is nearly burnt to the ground the week before the first game, that’s never a good harbinger of the possibly tumultuous season ahead for Rick Neuheisel. Neuheisel and his 111th ranked offense from a season ago will inevitably falter again. This season they’re counting on a Freshman, Kevin Prince, to carry the load at the QB position – but anything has to be better than former third-string SDSU quarterback Kevin Craft…right? Look for the Bruins to struggle to make a bowl game again. They may finish the year 6-6 if things can fall in place out in Pasadena.
8. – The Sun Devils have lost 12 of their 22 starters from last season, and it seems that Dennis Erickson’s act is getting old in Tempe. The Sun Devils will struggle to finish the season 6-6, but it is a possibility considering they have four gimme wins in Idaho State, UL Monroe, Washington and Washington State, while UCLA, Stanford and Arizona are all beatable.
9. – Jake Locker has real talent at the QB position. If the Huskies have any chance of winning a game this year, the key firmly lies within a healthy Locker. Look for the Huskies to get two wins this season after not winning a single game last year.
10. – Tough schedule for the Cougs, but I’ll have to say between Hawaii and SMU – there is at least one win available for the taking.
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