Will the Pac-10 be defensive in 2009?

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Talked to Oregon coach Chip Kelly this morning -- he's the Wednesday Q&A -- and he told me he's not surprised in the least that his defense has been stout this spring.

It surprised me. The Ducks lost three starting defensive linemen and likely starting tackle Tonio Celotto quit football, not to mention rover Patrick Chung and corner Jairus Byrd are off to the NFL.

Yet it fits a pattern this spring. Everybody keeps telling me how good their defense looks.

So here's a guess that the Pac-10, a year after four teams ranked in the nation's top-26 in total defense, will play its best defense in years next fall.

Only two teams welcome back fewer than five starters: USC and Oregon State. And those two, with just three starters back apiece, have been the conference's most consistent units in recent years.

And I'll just go ahead and tell you USC will rank in the nation's top 10 in total and scoring defense next year. Promise.

But other than the Trojans and Beavers -- and perhaps also Oregon (we'll see Coach Kelly) -- the other seven teams appear poised to play better defense in 2009.

Washington and Washington State couldn't help but improve. The Huskies have 10 starters back, and that doesn't include linebacker E.J. Savannah, who's a legit difference-maker.

Arizona, Arizona State, California and UCLA each have defenses that could rank in the top-25 in the nation, and Stanford, with eight starters back and a much-needed injection of athleticism courtesy of some position switches, should be vastly improved.

It certainly looks like a particularly strong year for defensive linemen. Only Washington State doesn't have at least one player up front who is widely considered an NFL prospect.

And can any conference match this secondary: FS Taylor Mays (USC), SS T.J. Ward (Oregon), CB Walter Thurmond III (Oregon), CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA) and CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California) (You choose who's the nickel)? And that leaves out Arizona corner Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008.

If there is a position that may slide from 2008, it's linebacker, with USC, California, Arizona and Washington State taking significant hits at the position.

Yet what transpired this spring suggests each feels pretty good about the guys who will be stepping into the voids.

Toss in issues at quarterback throughout the conference, which might not bode well for a return to typical high-flying Pac-10 offenses, not to mention a number of teams with significant issues on the offensive line, and 2009 might be the year the conference hangs up impressive defensive numbers.

So if don't expect a return to the good ole days of 42-40 games next fall. It figures there will be more 20-17.

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