Friday, August 22, 2008
One big issue for each Pac-10 team
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Starting from the top, we're pointing out a big issue for every Pac-10 team heading into the final weekend before the regular season begins.
- USC: While the quarterbacks have received most of the preseason attention, it's the rebuilt offensive line that will determine if the Trojans are indeed national title contenders. Sure, the four new starters have seen game action, but the hope is for more than a mix-and-match unit. The play improved dramatically over the past week, so there's certainly reason to believe this will be a solid group.
- Oregon: At the beginning of preseason practices, the biggest issue with the Ducks was their up-the-middle defense due to questions at both defensive tackle positions and at inside linebacker. Yet, QB Nate Costa's knee injury (severity unknown) and his inability to decisively win the starting job outright in any event, leaves the position in flux. Justin Roper, who led the dominant effort in the bowl win over South Florida, could end up getting the starting nod, but that would limit much of the option game that was so effective with Dennis Dixon a year ago.
- Arizona State: Hate to sound like a broken record but it's the offensive line. Three starters needed to be replaced from a unit that surrendered 55 sacks in 2007. And then a projected starting tackle quit the team before preseason practices. Even with a new, quick-hitting passing scheme, it's hard to cover for a substandard O-line. Georgia's visit on Sept. 20 surely will provide a stern test.
- California: With Kevin Riley named the starting quarterback over Nate Longshore, a question has been answered, but a related issue remains: How sharp will the Bears passing game be with the less-experienced Riley running an offense featuring a completely rebuilt group of receivers?
- Arizona: If one can assume that getting 10 starters back from the best Arizona offense in recent memory means the Wildcats will score this fall, then the obvious issue is whether said offense can score enough to cover for a green defense. With only three starters back, the defense is a big question mark. Of course, a lot of folks at Arizona will say losing some of their 2007 starters was the best thing that could happen to the defense.
- Oregon State: It's not a question of whether Oregon State's completely rebuilt front-seven will be bad. The Beavers defense under coordinator Mark Banker has earned at least the benefit of the doubt. It's rather an issue of whether it will qualify as a work in progress or come out of the gate putting crazy pressure on opponents, as it did last year.
- Washington: There are lots of questions for the Huskies, but all of the ones on offense can be covered up with the expectation that quarterback Jake Locker can make everyone around him better. The defense is another issue. The 2007 crew put up the worst numbers in school history, and only five starters are back, not including suspended linebacker E.J. Savannah, the defense's best player. Sure, new coordinator Ed Donatell should help. But how much?
- UCLA: The Bruins issue should read much like Arizona State's, only worse. While the Sun Devils are hoping for their offensive line to be better than the low-end of mediocre, the Bruins would settle for that. UCLA is replacing four O-line starters and it's severely lacking depth and experience.
- Stanford: Stanford is the most experienced team in the conference with 16 position players back, including nine on a defense that was impressive in spurts a year ago. The fundamental question though is this: Can the Cardinal score? Stanford finished last in the Pac-10 in scoring (19.6 ppg) and yards per game (322.5) last year. Can't win if you don't score.
- Washington State: If the Washington State defense can be deemed adequate, climbing out of the conference cellar likely will depend on how fast QB Gary Rogers & Co. figure out new coach Paul Wulff's no-huddle spread offense. Because of its newness -- and early reviews have been positive -- it might give some teams fits, and that could lead to some upset wins.