Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Sorting out the Pac-10 final pecking order heading into the off-season.
|Jody Gomez/US Presswire|
|Mark Sanchez and the Trojans rolled to another Rose Bowl win.|
1. USC: Led by a defense for the ages, the Trojans won a seventh consecutive Pac-10 title and finished ranked in the top-five for a seventh consecutive season, but the nation's most talented team should have played for -- and likely won -- the third national championship of the Pete Carroll era. Yet after all the debate about the BCS and playoffs and comparing one-loss teams, the Trojans must look in the mirror and recall the debacle at Oregon State.
2. Oregon: The Ducks overcame a bizarre string of injuries at quarterback and became an offensive juggernaut by season's end with Jeremiah Masoli running their spread-option attack. They won their final four games, averaging 49.3 points during the streak, to finish with a 10-3 record, the program's fourth 10-win season over the last nine years.
3. Oregon State: The Beavers began slowly (again) with another 2-3 start (three in a row) but they ended up with another bowl victory (five in a row) and final national ranking (third consecutive season). The highlight, of course, was beating USC (second time in three years) on national television, 27-21. The lowlight was the blowout Civil War defeat to rival Oregon that knocked the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl.
4. California: The Bears were up-and-down much of the season, but they showed a resiliency that surely was re-assuring to their fans after 2007's implosion. A bowl victory, a final 9-4 record and a No. 25 ranking in the coaches' poll in what looked like a rebuilding year is a solid finish. The quarterback carousel was the biggest issue, with neither Nate Longshore nor Kevin Riley establishing himself as the starter. Both, in fact, seemed to regress amid the uncertainty. But running back Jahvid Best broke out to win the conference rushing title and establish himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2009, when the Bears should be in the conference championship mix.
5. Arizona: Coach Mike Stoops needed to lead Arizona to its first bowl game since 1998 in order to retain his job and he did just that. Sure, the soft nonconference slate made things a lot easier. And, sure, there were bad losses -- New Mexico and late leads squandered against Stanford and Oregon State. But the Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak to rival Arizona State, beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl with a strong performance and ended up with eight wins and votes in the final national polls.
6. Arizona State: A huge downer of a season in Tempe. The Sun Devils were coming off a 10-win season in 2007 and earned a No. 15 preseason ranking, but it quickly became clear that they were overrated and the offensive line was even worse than suspected. The horrible overtime loss to UNLV was the first defeat in a six-game losing streak, the program's worst since the Great Depression. Three wins once the schedule hit a soft spot restored flagging bowl hopes, but those ended with a 31-10 loss at Arizona in the season finale.
7. Stanford: Stanford showed signs of life in its second season under Jim Harbaugh, developing a physical approach on both sides of the ball, particularly with the running game. But the lack of game-breaking athletes -- and four losses in the final five games -- kept the Cardinal from reaching bowl eligibility. The highlight was a comeback win over Arizona. The lowlight, a late surrendered lead at UCLA, though some might wince over the blowout loss to Cal in the Big Game to conclude the season. Stanford seems to be building nicely for the future, though the biggest question now is how much of that future Harbaugh will be around for.
8. UCLA: No team in the nation experienced such dramatic highs and lows to start the season as the Bruins, who upset then 18th-ranked Tennessee in overtime in the opener, then went belly-up in a 59-zip loss at BYU in game No. 2. The Bruins' problems were twofold in the first year of the Rick Neuheisel era: 1. They weren't very talented; 2. They had lots of injuries. A third issue grew out of those two: They got little out of the quarterback position. While Kevin Craft led a couple of comeback wins, he also tossed 20 interceptions vs. just seven touchdown passes. In Craft's defense, the offensive line was lousy so there was no running game to take the pressure off him. Neuheisel is scoring elsewhere, though. It appears he's about to land a highly rated recruiting class. On the worrisome side, defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker bolted for New Mexico State.
9. Washington State: First-year coach Paul Wulff didn't inherit much talent and it showed, particularly when he couldn't keep any of his top three quarterbacks healthy. For much of the year, the Cougars looked like the nation's worst BCS conference team. They finished ranked last in the nation in six statistical categories, including rush defense (247.6 yards per game) and turnover margin (minus-1.9) and lower than 100th in 23. Oh, but in the Apple Cup against Washington the Cougars roared, staging an improbable comeback in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to force overtime, where they outlasted the Huskies for a 16-13 victory, thereby relegating their chief rivals to the inglorious spot at the bottom of college football.
10. Washington: What is there to say about a 0-12 season that ends, not unreasonably, with the coach being fired? Recall that the season started with speculation that Tyrone Willingham needed a bowl game to save his job. A bowl game? Ha. The Huskies were blown out at Oregon to start the season, then fell an extra point short against BYU in game two. When quarterback Jake Locker, the team's unquestioned leader went down with a season-ending thumb injury in a loss to Stanford -- the Huskies' last competitive game until the Apple Cup -- the season was completely lost. New coach Steve Sarkisian inherits a once-proud program that has lost its way. The biggest reason for optimism is this: It can't get any worse.