Season keys in the Pac-10
September, 2, 2009
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Trying to pinpoint the single most important key for every Pac-10 team. You might notice lots of commentary on offensive lines and quarterbacks here.
Arizona: The Wildcats are solid to good at just about every position group, but Mike Stoops has yet to name a starting quarterback. That tells you everything you need to know about the biggest key to the season. If Arizona gets solid game management from its quarterback, it will have a good season.
Arizona State: While some might want to dump the Sun Devils season on new starting quarterback Danny Sullivan, the offensive line is a bigger issue. If Arizona State can run a little and pass protect, it will give Sullivan a much better chance to make plays in the passing game.
California: All the pieces are there for a great season, but Kevin Riley needs to take the next step as a quarterback. He doesn't need to be spectacular, but when there are chances to make plays in the passing game, he needs to be on target more often than not.
Oregon: Oregon is going to score points, even with a rebuilt offensive line. That's just what the Ducks do. But the defense needs to be more disciplined this fall. That means not biting on play-action fakes or freelancing outside of the scheme.
Oregon State: The defense might experience some growing pains with just three starters back -- the 2008 unit did in the same situation -- but the real concern is the offensive line, where a true freshman and walk-on are slated to start on the left side. The line needs to jell quickly so the Beavers can recreate their balanced attack from 2008, led by Jacquizz Rodgers.
Stanford: You never know what you will get with a redshirt freshman quarterback, but odds are favorable that the Cardinal will be far more balanced in 2009 with Andrew Luck running things. But what would really help Luck out is not needing to score 30-plus points a game. So the key for Stanford is improving a pass defense that ranked ninth in the conference last year. There are three new starters around safety Bo McNally in the secondary who need to make that happen.
UCLA: Coach Rick Neuheisel has said the Bruins are going to run or "die trying" this fall. Last year, UCLA ranked 116th in the nation in rushing -- so they died, trying or not. If the Bruins are forced to pass, as they were last year, it's hard to believe redshirt freshman Kevin Prince will have much luck throwing the football every down. So the Bruins obviously need to upgrade their offensive line play, first and foremost.
USC: The rebuilt defense is going to be good, though it almost certainly won't match the extraordinary numbers of last year's unit. There are nine starters back on offense. So, as much as you hate to dump it on a true freshman quarterback, so much depends on what the Trojans get out of the position, which presently belongs to Matt Barkley. If Barkley plays well, this is a national title contender, simple as that.
Washington: A team coming off an 0-12 season has a lot of critical areas, but the biggest one in 2009 is playing better in the secondary. The Huskies ranked 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense last year, with opponents completing 67 percent of their throws, 24 of which went for touchdowns. The first priority -- because you can't magically create better speed -- is playing soundly and not blowing coverages.
Washington State: The Cougars lack depth. They need to stay healthy. Their starting 22 has a chance to be competitive and perhaps even pull an upset or two. But a few injuries here or there -- say on the defensive line -- could leave the team reeling. Injuries drain enthusiasm and could lead to some of the white flag performances that ruined the 2008 season.