Pac-12: Pac-10 2009 final team reviews

Arizona season recap

December, 9, 2009
Arizona took another step forward under coach Mike Stoops in 2009.

Last year, the Wildcats earned their first bowl berth since 1998. This year, the Wildcats, picked eighth in the preseason media poll, tied for second in the Pac-10, despite breaking in a new quarterback, and earned a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

They also beat rival Arizona State for a second-consecutive year and ended a seven-game losing streak to USC.

The key moment was the decision to change quarterbacks from Matt Scott to Nick Foles after the offense looked terrible at Iowa on Sept. 19. Foles almost immediately established himself as a budding star, and his precise passing and quick release were critical when running back Nic Grigsby suffered a shoulder injury that killed most of his season.

Offensive MVP -- Quarterback Nick Foles.

Foles, a sophomore, didn't make his first start until the season's fourth game but he made up for lost time, completing 66 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,420 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Ricky Elmore.

Yes, Arizona fans, it stinks that Elmore didn't earn All-Pac-10 honors. He would have been second-team for the Pac-10 blog if the Pac-10 blog had a second-team. Elmore basically came out of nowhere to lead the Wildcats -- and the Pac-10 -- with 10.5 sacks, and he was particularly important because Brooks Reed battled a sprained ankle much of the season.

Turning point -- The obvious turning point is the decision to go with Foles over Scott, who started the first three games. But, really, the the story of the Wildcats season was perseverance. Multiple times they suffered dispiriting losses -- at Iowa, at Washington, at California and in double-overtime against Oregon -- but in each case they bounced back and didn't suffer a hangover. That is the sign of a maturing program, which in itself is a turning point.

What's next -- The Wildcats figure to be in the thick of the Pac-10 race next year, particularly if tight end Rob Gronkowski opts to return after missing the entire 2009 campaign with a back problem. The defense will take a few significant hits -- safety Cam Nelson, cornerback Devin Ross, tackle Earl Mitchell and all three linebackers -- but that shouldn't be insurmountable, particularly with Reed and Elmore back. Of course, the biggest hit might be defensive coordinator Mark Stoops getting hired away.

Arizona State season recap

December, 9, 2009
Arizona State was a lopsided team this year -- good defense, bad offense. And the good wasn't good enough to cover for the bad.

The Sun Devils ranked first or second in the conference in just about every defensive category, while they ranked eighth or worse in just about every offensive category.

Senior quarterback Danny Sullivan fought hard to make things work, but there wasn't enough talent around him to make up for his shortcomings. ASU was a play or two away from winning much of the year, see four losses by five or fewer points.

The end-result was a season ruined for a second year in a row by a six-game losing streak, not to mention a second-consecutive losing season for the program for the first time since 1946-47.

That landed coach Dennis Erickson on the hot seat by season's end, which is probably the reason he fired longtime coaching pal Rich Olson, the beleaguered offensive coordinator.

Offensive MVP -- Receiver Kyle Williams.

Williams caught 57 passes for 815 yards with eight touchdowns. His 48 points led the Sun Devils.

Defensive MVP --Linebacker Mike Nixon.

Nixon not only was the leading tackler for the stout Sun Devils defense, he also was a mature, stabilizing leader on a unit that sometimes showed too much youthful energy (hello, Vontaze Burfict). Nixon finished with 73 tackles. He also had six tackles for a loss, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

Turning point -- Arizona State was fighting all season to find its rhythm, but the game that seemed to ensure it wouldn't be found was the 23-21 loss to California on a last-second field goal on Oct. 31. That was the second and most heartbreaking loss of a six-game losing streak to end the season -- at least until the finale vs. Arizona.

What's next -- The Sun Devils need to get better on offense -- duh -- and that starts on the offensive line and then moves on to what figures to be a spirited quarterback competition this spring between Brock Osweiler, Samson Szakacsy and Michigan transfer Steven Threet, who may be the frontrunner. Erickson figures to start next season on the hot seat, so the Sun Devils may need to get to a bowl game to keep him secure.

California season recap

December, 9, 2009
It was a strange football season in Berkeley.

California began 2009 touted as the team most likely to knock off USC, and the Bears were dominant in their first three nonconference games.

Then the Bears went to Oregon. Splat.

Then USC visited Berkeley. Mush.

Yet, just when it seemed reasonable to write them off, the Bears won five of six, including a surprisingly convincing effort in the Big Game against rival Stanford. At that point, a nine-win regular season and perhaps a Holiday Bowl berth were possible.

Then Cal went to Washington and got stomped 42-10.

Like we said, a strange football season.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Jahvid Best

Perhaps Best should share this award with backup Shane Vereen, who filled in admirably when Best went down against Oregon State on Nov. 7, but Best was the Bears leading rusher with 867 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP -- Linebacker Mike Mohamed

Mohamed led the Pac-10 with 105 tackles. He also had seven tackles for a loss with three picks and a forced fumble.

Turning point -- The Bears ranked sixth in the country and looked like national title contenders when they visited Oregon on Sept. 26. They lost 42-3. Things didn't feel the same thereafter.

What's next -- California won't have to worry about being a Pac-10 frontrunner in 2010, but there are a good deal of starters returning, particularly on offense, even if Best, as expected, enters the NFL draft a year early. Quarterback Kevin Riley and the offensive line will need to take another step forward, while the defense will need to replace a couple of key starters.

Oregon season recap

December, 9, 2009
It didn't start out like it was going to be one of the greatest seasons in Oregon football history, but every coach will tell you it's not where you start, it's where you finish.

And Oregon finished atop the Pac-10 and is headed to the Rose Bowl to play Ohio State.

It's testimony to good leadership from first-year coach Chip Kelly and a solid locker room that the Ducks held together after being embarrassed at Boise State, both by the performance during the game and by LeGarrette Blount's performance afterward.

But the Ducks won seven in a row after that, including a 47-20 beatdown of USC. And when they slipped at Stanford, they immediately bounced back with wins at Arizona and against rival Oregon State to win the conference title.

Offensive MVP -- Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli

It's understandable why so many Oregon fans are bent about Masoli not being first-team All-Pac-10. He's about more than his numbers running the Ducks' spread-option offense. Masoli completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,066 yards with 15 touchdowns and he rushed for 659 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Kenny Rowe

This was a tough one because Oregon played great team defense this season. Still, Rowe's numbers stood out. He led the Ducks with 8.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He also forced three fumbles.

Turning point -- Oregon bounced back from its terrible performance at Boise State with wins over Purdue and Utah, but the Ducks truly broke through when they whipped No. 6 California 42-3 on Sept. 26.

What's next -- The Ducks should start the 2010 season ranked in the preseason top five, particularly if they beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Nearly the entire two-deep returns, topped by Masoli and LaMichael James -- both of whom figure to make a number of preseason Heisman Trophy lists. A Sept. 11 visit to Tennessee should be intriguing.

Oregon State season recap

December, 9, 2009
It was deja vu all over again for Oregon State.

The Beavers started slowly -- 2-2 instead of the 2-3 start of the previous three seasons -- and finished fast.

And, for the second consecutive season, a loss to Oregon in the Civil War cost them the Rose Bowl.

Still, it would be fair to say that a fourth consecutive finish in the top-third of the Pac-10 has established the Beavers as a conference power instead of that cute little overachieving team in Corvallis. (We may have said that last year, too, but it won't be an issue in 2010.)

The key in 2009 was the play of quarterback Sean Canfield and the gradual development of a defense that replaced eight starters from 2008.

Canfield went from Lyle Moevao's backup in 2008 to first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback, while the defense overcame a mediocre pass rush and questionable secondary.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Jacquizz Rodgers

Rodgers not only rushed for 1,377 yards and 20 touchdown, he also caught 74 passes for 509 yards and a score.

Defensive MVP -- Linebacker Keaton Kristick

The first-team All-Pac linebacker led the Beavers with 87 total tackles and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He also grabbed two interceptions and forced a fumble.

Turning point -- The Beavers got off to their usual slow start, opening 2-2. They played fairly well in a victory at Arizona State on Oct. 3 but what turned out to be the season's crucial win was when they jumped all over Stanford the following weekend -- they led by 24 points at halftime -- and coasted to a 38-28 victory.

What's next -- The Beavers should again be in the thick of the Pac-10 race in 2010. The biggest offseason question is replacing Canfield, with sophomore Ryan Katz and Virginia transfer Peter Lalich the top candidates. The defense takes a couple of hits, most particularly Kristick, but it for the first time in three seasons will welcome back a strong core of experienced starters.

Stanford season recap

December, 9, 2009
Stanford went 1-11 in 2006. The Cardinal last played in a bowl game in 2001. The program had become a national afterthought.

Enter Jim Harbaugh.

In his third season, Stanford finished 8-4, earned a berth in the Sun Bowl opposite Oklahoma and is sending Toby Gerhart to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

So, yeah, this was a nice season on The Farm.

The season was mostly about offense, with Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck giving the Cardinal great balance. Stanford finished first in the Pac-10 and 13th in the nation with 441 yards per game.

Of course, there is a what-could-have-been element to the season, too. The Cardinal lost three games by a combined 18 points, with losses at Arizona and against California coming down to the final moments.

Offensive MVP -- Quarterback Andrew Luck

Obviously, Gerhart was the Pac-10 offensive player of the year, but Luck is probably the biggest reason Gerhart went from very good running back to potential Heisman Trophy winner. The redshirt freshman gave an offense that couldn't keep a defense honest with a passing threat in 2008 balanced. He threw for 2,575 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions and already is inspiring buzz about his NFL potential.

Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Thomas Keiser

Keiser led the Cardinal with 14.5 tackles for a loss, which ranked third in the Pac-10, and nine sacks, which ranked third. The sophomore also had 42 total tackles.

Turning point -- Stanford's season was still up in the air following consecutive defeats to Oregon State and Arizona when Arizona State came to town on Oct. 24. The Cardinal's dominant 33-14 victory set the tone for the rest of the season, when they would win four of their final five games. After running up 33 points and 473 yards against one of the nation's best defenses, the Cardinal rumbled over Oregon and then USC, scoring 106 points in the process.

What's next -- The first order of business is getting Harbaugh to sign his contract and return next fall. It seems like that's going to happen. Meanwhile, Harbaugh appears poised to sign another top-25 recruiting class. The offense likely will lose Gerhart, but Luck and most everyone else returns. The defense will need to be rebuilt, but it was no great shakes in 2009. While the defense needs to improve, Stanford shows signs of being a rising program in 2010.

UCLA season recap

December, 9, 2009
If UCLA didn't have to play in the brutal Pac-10, it might have ended up nationally ranked.

The Bruins started 3-0 in nonconference play, holding San Diego State, Tennessee and Kansas State to 38 points combined, but once the competition amped up in conference play the wheels came off.

Starting with a loss at Stanford, the Bruins dropped five in a row before rallying late in the season for three victories that earned them bowl eligibility.

The defense was mostly good. The offense, while better than last year, again was inconsistent. The hope is the bumps and bruises redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince and a young offensive line took in 2009 will pay off in future seasons.

Offensive MVP -- K Kai Forbath

UCLA didn't have much offense this year, but Forbath, the consensus All-Pac-10 kicker, scored 100 points. He was 26-of-29 on field goals this year with a long of 53 yards. All of his misses came outside of 50 yards.

Defensive MVP -- FS Rahim Moore

Defensive tackle Brian Price was the Pac-10 defensive MVP, but Moore also deserves credit -- and All-American consideration -- after leading the nation with nine interceptions. He also had 45 tackles, three tackles for a loss and seven pass breakups.

Turning point -- UCLA was 3-0 and on the cusp of a national ranking when it went to Stanford on Oct. 3. Then Toby Gerhart sliced a diced -- and rolled over -- a defense that had dominated previous competition for 134 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-16 Bruins defeat, the first of five consecutive Pac-10 losses. It's one thing to win at Tennessee and beat Kansas State, but the Bruins weren't ready to step up to elite Pac-10 competition.

What's next -- It looks like coach Rick Neuheisel is going to haul in another highly rated recruiting class, but next year could be tough for the Bruins, starting with an absurd nonconference schedule -- at Kansas State, Houston and at Texas (message to AD Dan Guerrero: That's genius for a rebuilding program. Good job!). The offense only loses two starters, but most of the big names will be gone on defense -- it's a near certainty Price joins LB Reggie Carter, CB Alterraun Verner and the Bosworth brothers, LB Kyle and DE Korey, in the NFL draft. The Bruins could be much improved in 2010, but they may not dramatically upgrade the win-loss ledger.

Washington season recap

December, 9, 2009
When a team comes off an 0-12 season, there's no other way to go but up.

But Washington almost immediately ditched that sort of talk under first year coach Steve Sarkisian and started thinking bowl game.

That's what happens when, a week after ending a 15-game losing streak, a team beats the No. 3 team in the nation, as Washington did with USC.

The Huskies fell short of a bowl game by the season's 10 game, but even that has a positive spin. After falling to 3-7, the Huskies rolled off two impressive victories over rival Washington State and nationally ranked California by a combined count of 72-10 to finish the season on a decided uptick.

Of course, that two-game winning streak was preceded by a stretch when the Huskies lost six of seven in the rugged Pac-10, so the program hasn't arrived yet.

Still, the Huskies sixth consecutive losing season feels a bit different than the previous five.

Offensive MVP -- Quarterback Jake Locker.

Locker passed for 2,800 yards with 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and rushed for 388 yards and seven scores. But even those numbers don't measure how important he was. He was the heart and soul of the team. Now, is he coming back next year?

Defensive MVP -- Linebacker Donald Butler

While end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim deserves note for a team-high 11 sacks, Butler led the Huskies with 15.5 tackles for a loss, which ranked second in the Pac-10. His 94 total tackles ranked third in the Pac-10. He also had two interceptions, three forced fumbles and four pass breakups. When the Huskies needed a play on defense, he was the guy who made it.

Turning point -- From the opening game against LSU on, it was clear Washington was going to be nothing like the team that finished 0-12 in 2008. The Huskies dominated statistically, though the Tigers held on for a 31-23 win. That game vs. what would end up being the third-best team in the SEC showed the Huskies they were almost ready to compete with top Pac-10 teams.

What's next -- The first issue is whether Locker returns. If so, the Huskies might get some top-25 consideration in the 2010 preseason, particularly with the skill players who would surround Locker. There will be some holes on defense -- Butler, Te'o-Nesheim and two others -- but the Huskies should be in the mix for a bowl game. Without Locker, things will be a little more iffy. On the plus side, Sarkisian appears on the cusp of signing a top-25 recruiting class. So help is on it's way.

USC season recap

December, 9, 2009
It was shocking to watch USC, college football's preeminent program since 2002, crumble during the season's home stretch, losing three of its final five games.

Sure, the schedule was brutal -- probably the nation's toughest. And the Trojans did have to replace their quarterback as well as eight starters from one of the best defenses in college football history. And they did suffer through significant injury issues throughout the season.

Still, this is USC, a program that had gone 6-1 in BCS bowl games under Pete Carroll, the lone defeat coming in a thriller with Texas when it was seeking a third consecutive national title. This was the program that struck fear in all others because it was bigger, faster and better than anyone else.

In the fourth quarter at Oregon on Halloween night, that notion disappeared. And when Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh went for two with a 27-point lead late in the fourth quarter, it seemed as though a dynastic run was over and some wanted an opportunity to dance on the ruins.

A large part of the problem for USC was an unforgiving, deep Pac-10. While the Trojans still could win at Ohio State and Notre Dame, they only managed a 5-4 record in conference play.

True freshman quarterback Matt Barkley started the season looking like the "outlier" Carroll gleefully claimed him to be. By the end of the season, however, he probably ranked sixth -- at best -- in the conference's quarterback pecking order.

The defense also started out dominant but faltered over the season's second half.

Now the Trojans, who in recent years yawned at the prospect of another Rose Bowl, head off to the Emerald Bowl with the hopes of rediscovering their mojo.

Offensive MVP -- Receiver Damian Williams.

Williams was the Pac-10's second-leading receiver with 74.5 yards per game, and its second-leading punt returner with a 16-yard average per return. He caught six touchdown passes among his 58 receptions for 821 yards and returned two punts for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP -- Safety Taylor Mays.

Mays didn't have the season he wanted to -- as an individual and as a Trojan -- but it wasn't nearly as bad as some of his critics have made it out to be. Mays led USC and ranked second in the Pac-10 with 8.27 tackles per game. He also had an interception, four pass break-ups and a fumble recovery.

Turning point -- USC only trailed Oregon 24-17 at halftime, but the Trojans haven't been the same team since being outscored 23-3 in the second half in Autzen Stadium. That was the first of three defeats in five games and the point in which the Trojans' offense starting going south.

What's next -- The question that will hang over the Trojans this offseason is simple: Is this the end or merely a blip for the USC dynasty? Carroll needs to review a lot of areas, not the least of which is a coaching staff that didn't do a very good job this season. The schedule is far more manageable in 2010 -- the Trojans' stretch of six of eight on the road was the toughest any team in the nation faced this season -- and that should help. Still, there will be significant holes to fill on both sides of the ball, and it no longer appears that USC can simply reload and roll, particularly in the deep Pac-10.

Washington State season recap

December, 9, 2009
The kind way to put it is Washington State took a baby step forward in 2009 in its rebuilding process.

No, the Cougars record wasn't any better. They went 2-11 in 2008 and won a Pac-10 game. In 2009, they went 1-11 and 0-9 in the conference, an overtime win over SMU saving them from a winless campaign.

But they were more competitive this fall. Last year, they lost five games by 49 or more points and were shut out three times. This year, their worst loss was by 46 points and they were only shut out once -- the season finale at Washington.

Is that satisfying? Heck no. But it's all we got. The Cougars ranked last in the Pac-10 in every major statistical category. It's hard to sugarcoat where the program is in the second year with coach Paul Wulff.

Where's the hope?

Well, there are some promising young players, such as quarterback Jeff Tuel, one of 13 freshmen to start games this season, a 20-year high for the program. And it seems implausible that injuries will be as epidemic going forward.

Offensive MVP: Center Kenny Alfred

Alfred, first-team All Pac-10 selection for and second-team for the coaches, started 29 games in his career and was the Cougars offensive player of the week seven times this season.

Defensive MVP: Safety Xavier Hicks.

Hicks was second on the Cougars -- and ninth in the conference -- with 81 tackles. He added four tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a team-best three interceptions.

Turning point: The Cougars went to Oregon on Oct. 3 coming off a victory over SMU and a competitive game at USC -- recall that USC was still USC back then -- and it seemed like the program had taken a strong step forward. But the Ducks humbled them 52-6, making it clear that the divided between the Cougars and the top teams in the Pac-10 was still vast.

What's next: Only four seniors -- two on both sides of the ball -- topped the depth chart at season's end. Moreover, a number of injured players should be back in the mix in 2010, while a couple of junior college transfers should immediately bolster the depth. Still, the Pac-10 will be rugged next fall. It's hard to see where even a couple of wins will come from. And Wulff, already dealing with fan frustration and, even worse, apathy, figures to be under pressure to produce tangible improvement next fall or his seat could get very hot.