Is Oregon still the Pac-10 favorite?

March, 15, 2010
3/15/10
11:28
AM ET
When the Pac-10 blog published its spring power rankings on Feb. 10, it included this disclaimer: "Expect these to change, perhaps dramatically, before the 2010 season."

So, Oregon -- the easy top choice five weeks ago -- any drama in the conference between then and now?

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe offseason has been anything but dull for Chip Kelly.
The question at present is does the order at the top change?

Here's what we wrote on Feb. 10:
1. Oregon: All the pieces are here for another Rose Bowl run, the only question being the defensive line. The Ducks also had a top-25 recruiting class, with a number of incoming players appearing capable of immediately contributing.

2. USC: A top-10 recruiting class bolsters USC and provides momentum for new coach Lane Kiffin. On the downside, three offensive linemen and the entire secondary need to be replaced. Still, the depth chart hints the Trojans will be in the conference -- and perhaps national -- mix.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers lose just five starters, but all eyes will be on the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring. Young quarterbacks thrived in the conference in 2009, so there's no reason to believe the Beavers can't find a guy who can be productive.

These three still seem to be the most likely contenders to win the 2010 conference title. But how far does Oregon drop with the loss of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, who was supposed to be heading into his third year as a starter in coach Chip Kelly's spread-option offense?

The natural reaction, particularly outside of Pac-10 country, will be to promote USC. The Trojans have experience at quarterback and plenty of intriguing talent. And, you may recall, they've done fairly well in conference play in recent years before the Ducks stepped to the fore in 2009.

And the Trojans play host to Oregon next fall, which becomes an even bigger advantage when Masoli is removed from the equation and replaced by a quarterback who's never played in the Coliseum.

Of course, USC has its own off-field issue to contend with. And it's returning roster is hardly perfect, not to mention the program is breaking in a new coaching staff.

Oregon State is a legitimate candidate, but it's even less experienced at quarterback than Oregon without Masoli. And the Beavers lost two linebackers during the offseason who were expected to be back in 2010.

On the other hand, the Beavers play host to both USC and Oregon next year. We all know how much the Trojans enjoy their trips to the state of Oregon.

Despite all of this, jumping off the Ducks' bandwagon might be a mistake.

Recall how well -- and quickly -- Kelly develops quarterbacks. Dennis Dixon, pre-Kelly, looked nothing like the Dennis Dixon of 2007. And the Ducks finished in the top 10 in 2008 after walloping Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl with an emergency starting quarterback by the name of Jeremiah Masoli, who was a late roster addition when he transferred from a junior college.

We won't "officially" redo the power rankings until after spring practices. I'm going to visit all three of these teams this spring, so I'll get a first-hand look at what things might look like.

But at this point, I'd rate myself a slight USC lean with a nagging suspicion that Kelly is going to spin the off-field issues and Masoli suspension into a powerful motivator -- and unifier -- inside his locker room.

And those Beavers, hmm.

Ted Miller | email

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