- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are lots of reasons to check out the Pac-10 this fall, but here are five hot topics that top the list.
Elite quarterbacks: Jake Locker or Andrew Luck? Andrew Luck or Jake Locker? Who gets picked first in the NFL draft this spring (if, of course, Luck opts to enter the draft after his redshirt sophomore season). Neither has put up spectacular numbers -- yet -- but both have NFL scouts drooling over their talent. Do both, or either, live up to their considerable preseason hype? Or maybe you prefer USC's Matt Barkley or Arizona's Nick Foles. Both have NFL talent and both have good supporting casts on offense. Oh, and Cal's Kevin Riley, UCLA's Kevin Prince and Washington State's Jeff Tuel are returning starters with plenty of capability. The competition for All-Pac-10 quarterback figures to be heated.
Quarterback questions: Two of the top three teams in the preseason media poll -- No. 1 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State -- are breaking in new quarterbacks. The Ducks said an early goodbye to potential Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli, who's now at Ole Miss, and it's still not clear if senior Nate Costa or sophomore Darron Thomas will replace him. The Beavers are fired up about the big arm and athletic ability of Ryan Katz, but it's not easy playing TCU in Cowboys Stadium and at Boise State in two of your first three starts. Finally, Arizona State also hasn't figured out who will be its starting quarterback between Brock Osweiler and Steven Threet.
Is there a Heisman Trophy contender here? The Heisman Trophy hunt starts with Locker and Luck, and could include Barkley and Foles. But what about the running backs? Both Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Oregon's LaMichael James are All-American candidates and potential Doak Walker Award winners. And, you know, Rodgers' big brother, James, is a pretty fancy receiver, too. Or is there someone else, a dark horse who might emerge as Toby Gerhart did last year?
Is there a BCS title contender here? The Pac-10 hasn't played for a national championship since USC's bid to win three in a row fell just short in the 2005 title game. Based on the preseason rankings, it's not likely to happen in 2010: No conference team will begin the season ranked in the top 10. Oregon would have been viewed as a contender if Masoli were still around. And USC probably would have earned some mention -- mostly out of habit -- if it were eligible for the postseason. Based on how deep the Pac-10 is this year, it's going to be hard to lose just once -- much less go undefeated -- in conference play. So the conference champion might just have to settle on playing in the Rose Bowl once again.
After all the hullabaloo, can Lane Kiffin coach? Seems like everyone's got an opinion on Lane Kiffin, and most of them aren't too positive, to say the least. Even his defenders can't cite much from his body of work: a 5-15 record with the Oakland Raiders and a 7-6 mark in one season in Knoxville. But at some point there will be an accurate measure: wins and losses. If Kiffin wins, then he's a good coach. End of story. Further, if he leads USC out of major NCAA sanctions -- keeping his team motivated and competitive in the process -- then he will have accomplished something even a lot of good coaches couldn't. What to watch this season? Let's see how USC reacts after its first loss. If the Trojans fight all year -- unlike 2009 -- and win nine or 10 (or more?) games, then it might be time for Kiffin's critics to put a sock in it.
Extra credit: Pac-12 business? Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and the conference athletic directors have plenty of off-field concerns to discuss this offseason, from how to split up the conference into divisions when Utah and Colorado join, to where to play a conference championship game, to how revenue will be distributed. Firm answers likely won't be revealed until October. Oh, and once they are answered, then Scott can focus all his attention at the A-No. 1 item on the agenda: A new broadcast deal and/or Pac-10 network, contracts that need to keep the conference competitive with the mega-money the Big Ten and SEC are raking in.