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The PAC-10 turned PAC-Man this past off-season, trying to gobble up disgruntled football programs from other conferences (most notably the Big 12) as well as NCAA black sheep looking to join the BCS ranks.
At one point it seemed a West Coast super conference was inevitable. The PAC-16 could have led to an East Coast versus West Coast gridiron turf war as they would compete with the Big Ten and SEC for national prominence and dominance.
But all the media hype in the world couldn't detract the ringleader, Texas, from jumping of the Big 12 ship and at the end; the PAC-10 added only two, Colorado and Utah, to join the party in 2011.
As for the here and now, the storylines are prevalent and numerous. The sanctions handed down by the NCAA on USC makes first-year head coach Lane Kiffin's job a bit more stressful than he had probably expected. The Whatifsports.com college football computer really likes the Oregon Ducks to win the conference this season, even as quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's departure leaves a gaping hole in the Ducks' offense.
Using our college football simulation engine, Whatifsports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this PAC-10 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of July 31st. What you see in the WIS-PAC-10 Predictions table is the most-likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Duck HuntOregon has a lot to overcome to win the PAC-10
"Oregon had a terrific 2009 season, dethroning USC as the Pac-10 champion and playing a thrilling brand of offensive football. Then the calendar turned."
"It's been pretty much nothing but bad news since Jan. 1, when the Ducks lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 26-17. After that came a series of off-field problems, including court-room drama involving starting running back LaMichael James and starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- two easy candidates for preseason All-Pac-10 honors."
"Scratch that for Masoli, who has been suspended for the entire season after he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree burglary for stealing two laptops and a guitar from a fraternity house in January. Coach Chip Kelly has said Masoli could stay on with the team and redshirt, returning as a senior in 2011."
"Meanwhile, James pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of harassment and is suspended for the season-opener. Linebacker Kiko Alonso is suspended for the season because of a DUI arrest."
"Combine this with the LeGarrette Blount stuff from last season, and Kelly has spent a lot of time dealing with discipline and explaining his responses to all the problems."
"Spring practice was set to begin March 30, a welcome diversion to the legal issues." "Whether you had a tumultuous offseason or not, we haven't done football since Jan. 1," Kelly told the Eugene Register-Guard. "To get back out on the field, run around and coach, that's the fun part of the job."
2010 Oregon Ducks
|1||New Mexico Lobos||95||46-6|
|3||Portland State Vikings||95||68-6|
|4||@Arizona State Sun Devils||95||32-11|
|6||@Washington State Cougars||95||41-10|
|11||@California Golden Bears||82||32-25|
|14||@Oregon State Beavers||67||30-26|
"When Ryan Katz replaced Sean Canfield late in Oregon State's loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, it was a sign of change coming for the Beavers. When the NCAA turned down Lyle Moevao's appeal to be rewarded another year of eligibility because he missed last season with two injuries, it meant there was no question OSU was searching for a new starting quarterback for 2010."
"Canfield and Moevao had shared the starting position for the previous three seasons, one taking over when the other was injured in two of those years. Now, the battle is between Katz, a sophomore who played in four games last season, and junior transfer Peter Lalich, who hasn't played since 2008 when he was dismissed from the team at Virginia after two games."
"Changing quarterbacks is "always a big issue," as OSU coach Mike Riley noted. It's even more so with the Beavers, who seem set at virtually every other offensive position, save one starting spot in the line."
"Defensively, the Beavers could put 10 returning starters on the field for the opener Sept. 4 against TCU, but again, it's a key spot that needs to be filled, at middle linebacker. The candidates there are all sophomores, Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson and Feti Unga."
"That opening was the most unexpected as returning starter David Pa'aluhi decided to forego his final two seasons of eligibility to enlist in the military."
"We think we have ability there and we will get a good (starter)," Riley said. "That group will be pretty good athletically."
"Riley is also optimistic that ability will overcome the lack of experience at quarterback. Lalich did start two games in his two seasons at Virginia, and Katz will be in his third season with the Beavers."
"We've got two guys who are a little bit older and have been in the program," Riley said. "I like the talent there and now we'll see who emerges as the quarterback."
"It will help that the offense still has the Rodgers brothers, Quizz to run the ball and James to run or catch passes. The Beavers are deep in receivers, though the starters besides James Rodgers need to be decided. And it will help the quarterback to have four of five offensive lineman back in 2010."
"The returning part is good," Riley said. "We can talk about a lot of things but whenever there's a changing of the guard at quarterback, that'll be big news."
2010 Oregon State Beavers
|1||@TCU Horned Frogs||33||29-36|
|4||@Boise State Broncos||40||34-40|
|5||Arizona State Sun Devils||95||35-14|
|9||California Golden Bears||67||35-31|
|11||Washington State Cougars||95||44-11|
Wildcat FormationThe computer likes Arizona to compete in Pac-10
"The offense was ahead of the defense throughout spring, which is not the typical state of affairs for Arizona."
"Throughout the Pac-10 years, the Wildcats almost exclusively have been known as a defensive-first outfit. But the big questions at the end of spring were on that side of the ball. The depth chart remains fluid at linebacker -- where Arizona lost three starters -- and in the secondary, where it was mix-and-match all spring, except for Trevin Wade at one cornerback spot."
"If we can get our linebacker group solidified over the next three months, then definitely I think we can make some improvement," coach Mike Stoops said after the spring game."
"The Wildcats return almost every key offensive player, although it was a blow when tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed last season because of a back injury, decided to leave early for the NFL. Still, as it is, Stoops called the quarterback position the strength of the team, followed by a very deep receiving corps."
"Junior Nick Foles returns at quarterback, backed up by junior Matt Scott, a running threat who featured a much-improved throwing motion this spring. That was a credit to new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo, who came to Arizona in a "trade" for former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. Dykes became the head coach at Louisiana Tech in the offseason, which left Scelfo, the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator, looking for a new job."
"In Stoops' first six years at Arizona, the quarterbacks coach also was the offensive coordinator. That's not the case with Scelfo, who is able to focus just on being a position coach. As an assistant at Tulane, he sent four quarterbacks to the NFL."
"I think it's a different aspect that we haven't had for the quarterback position," Stoops said. "You can have all the ability, but you still have to have the proper mechanics to throw the football accurately. Frank's expertise in that area has definitely helped."
"It's helped make offense the projected strength of the team."
2010 Arizona Wildcats
|4||California Golden Bears||49||26-31|
|6||Oregon State Beavers||47||30-28|
|7||@Washington State Cougars||95||44-11|
|14||Arizona State Sun Devils||95||33-14|
"With Southern Cal showing signs of losing its dominance after a shaky 2009 season and the departure of coach Pete Carroll, and Oregon looking vulnerable with the suspension of standout quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, Stanford finds itself as one of the chief contenders for the 2010 Pac-10 title."
"Stanford is one of the few Pac-10 teams that has no worries about the quarterback position, with gifted QB Andrew Lucky taking over as the face of the team. But the Cardinal needed to address two concerns during its spring practice. One was finding a replacement for Toby Gerhart; the other was shoring up a defense that was a major shortcoming last season, especially against the pass."
"The Cardinal spring game on April 17 showed the Cardinal may be on its way to solving the latter, but has some work to do to satisfy the former. No touchdowns were scored in the Cardinal's uniquely-structured spring game, indicating that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio may be on his way to creating the kind of defense the Cardinal needs to win a conference title."
"But nobody looked ready to assume the role of primary ball-carrier, and the Cardinal will head into the fall with four players (Stepfan Taylor, Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Usua Amanam) still hoping to land the job as the No. 1 back and all four probably getting playing time early in the season. It also means the Cardinal ended its spring still searching for an identity. Last season, the Cardinal's identity was as a punishing running team that could run the ball against defenses stacked to stop the run because it had the battering-ram of a tailback in Gerhart."
"Now with Luck as the centerpiece and with a running game that relies on a group of finesse runners, it remains to be seen whether the Cardinal can maintain its identity as a physical team."
"It may have to be the Cardinal's defense that provides that physical identity in 2010, and with linebackers like Marecic and Shayne Skov and 290-pound NG Sione Fua, it could happen."
2010 Stanford Cardinal
|1||Sacramento State Hornets||95||63-8|
|3||Wake Forest Demon Deacons||89||41-22|
|4||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||60||38-37|
|8||Washington State Cougars||95||49-14|
|11||@Arizona State Sun Devils||86||33-21|
|12||@California Golden Bears||46||33-36|
|13||Oregon State Beavers||47||33-34|
"Coach Jeff Tedford knows the 2010 season could be a turning point for his program and himself, and he stepped up the pressure during spring practice accordingly."
"After finishing 8-5 and tied for fifth in the Pac-10 for their second disappointing season in the past three years, the Bears are unlikely to be picked among the conference contenders next season after losing a few key players from last season's team. That is an unusual and uncomfortable position for Tedford, who will start feeling the heat if Cal has another lousy season in 2010."
"It's unlikely Tedford will get fired no matter what the Bears do next season, but there will be considerable grumbling if the team falters again because Tedford is being paid a big salary by Cal standards, and the expensive athletic facilities being constructed around Memorial Stadium were initiated largely to satisfy Tedford. If attendance drops, the finger will be pointed at Tedford."
"Tedford has put nearly every position up for grabs, including quarterback, even though starter Kevin Riley returns. It was also the most physically demanding spring of Tedford's tenure, with one-on-one competitions set up often. This is all because Tedford wants his players to compete harder, something they did not seem to do in some games last season when they inexplicably fell flat."
"Quarterback and pass defense are the major issues for Cal, and the Bears have a new defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, who is trying to fix the defensive woes. He has installed a more aggressive defense that suits Tedford, who has wanted more pressure on the opposing quarterback. It also seems to suit the players, who seem excited about the attacking style. Pendergast has to find some competent cornerbacks, especially since the team's only reliable corner from last season, Syd'Quan Thompson, is gone."
"The Bears are expecting additional help at linebacker when some highly touted freshmen arrive next fall, and at least one could be a starter. At the moment, inside backer Mike Mohamed is the only proven linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 defense."
"But the key is Riley. When he played well, which he did sometimes, the Bears usually won. When he played poorly, which happened too often, the Bears lost, often in lopsided fashion. Tedford has said he will continue the competition for a starting quarterback into the fall, but Riley demonstrated in the spring that he is so much better than the Bears other two quarterbacks that it will be a competition in name only. The mission for Riley is to play well game after game, whether the team is ahead or behind."
"If not, the Bears may be looking at a second-division finish, which would continue a downward trend in the Cal program."
2010 California Golden Bears
|3||@Nevada Wolf Pack||60||39-37|
|8||Arizona State Sun Devils||89||34-15|
|9||@Oregon State Beavers||33||31-35|
|10||@Washington State Cougars||95||40-17|
"Coach Rick Neuheisel wanted to get the Bruins back into a bowl last season. He did. Barely. UCLA, at 6-6, was the last team into the postseason when Army failed to qualify on the last day of the regular season."
"This season, Neuheisel is talking about getting up to eight victories in the regular season."
"Is it doable?"
"No doubt, Neuheisel is getting the raw materials from which to craft a Top 25 team. His latest recruiting class was ranked eighth nationally by Rivals.com. The class before that was 14th. His first class was ranked No. 13."
"I think it is clear to anybody paying attention that there are two options in this town," Neuheisel was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times, referring to recruiting. "It's important to us to become a championship-caliber team, so the option becomes even more obvious."
"But this group of Bruins might still be a bit in-between, perhaps another season away from being championship-caliber. UCLA continues to grow on offense and find playmakers, while the defense loses three first-team All-Pac-10 players in DT Brian Price (the league's Defensive Player of the Year), LB Reggie Carter and CB Alterraun Verner."
"Defensively, we lost some important contributors but we are excited about our returning nucleus of starters," Neuheisel said."
2010 UCLA Bruins
|1||@Kansas State Wildcats||89||32-20|
|5||Washington State Cougars||95||43-10|
|6||@California Golden Bears||44||29-31|
|10||Oregon State Beavers||39||28-29|
|13||@Arizona State Sun Devils||84||26-16|
"There's so much focus on what USC no longer has: Pete Carroll, postseason eligibility, an eight-year streak of Pac-10 championships, a total of 30 scholarships in 2011 and 2012, a reason to celebrate Reggie Bush."
"In fact, new athletic director Pat Haden, in response to a two-year postseason ban handed down by the NCAA over violations centered on Bush's time at USC, returned the school's copy of the running back's 2005 Heisman Trophy."
"USC, one of the elite programs of the past decade, appears headed for tough times."
"Whether that is true or not could very well depend on new coach Lane Kiffin. He is a link to that recent success, but about the only thing he has found as he has branched out as a head coach with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers is controversy."
"His penchant for saying the wrong things and stepping on toes continued into late July when he poached Tennessee Titans running backs coach Kennedy Pola to be his offensive coordinator. Kiffin didn't give Titans coach Jeff Fisher, a USC alum, the courtesy of asking permission to speak to Pola. The Titans responded by filing a lawsuit for breach of contract."
"Just more drama around the USC program. Through it all, USC was still picked to finish second in the Pac-10 behind Oregon."
"USC has to prove it is more than reputation. The Trojans, after all, only tied for fifth in the league last season with a 5-4 record. And they return 13 starters, the second-lowest figure in the conference."
"So, what does USC actually have?"
"Well, the Trojans still have the best collection of recruits in the Pac-10, and sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley could be ready to make a big jump in his second season as the starter. Potential stars are scattered through the roster -- running back Allen Bradford, freshman running back Dillon Baxter, wide receiver Ronald Johnson, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback Shareece Wright."
"Health and motivation figure to be the main issues as USC chases a Pac-10 title without hope of a bowl game."
"Depth in general is going to be an issue," Kiffin said. "We have to be extremely intelligent and smart."
2010 USC Trojans
|3||@Minnesota Golden Gophers||84||35-20|
|4||@Washington State Cougars||95||37-16|
|7||California Golden Bears||46||33-34|
|10||Arizona State Sun Devils||82||34-18|
|12||@Oregon State Beavers||33||28-35|
|13||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||44||33-34|
Devil DogsArizona State lost its last 6 games in 2009
"The Sun Devils were ninth in the conference in total offense last season, eighth in scoring (22.33), unable to take advantage of a salty defense that allowed a Pac-10-low 297.58 yards per game. Coach Dennis Erickson, coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his career, changed offensive coordinators."
"Gone is Rich Olson and in is Noel Mazzone, which will mean more of a no-huddle approach and more spread offensive principles. Mazzone spent the past four years with the New York Jets -- as a receivers coach for three of those years and as a personnel consultant last season."
"He has extensive college experience, including serving as the offensive coordinator at Mississippi, Auburn and North Carolina State."
"With the new coordinator and some new philosophies comes what should be an intense quarterback battle when spring practice opens March 30. There are three prime candidates to replace Danny Sullivan."
"Sophomore Brock Osweiler was the primary backup for most of last season. He's an intriguing 6-8 prospect who earned raves from Erickson for most of the season but made only one start and still has a lot to prove."
"Junior Samson Szakacsy started the final two games, but was ineffective. He adds a running threat, but the thing to watch with him is the health of his throwing elbow, which wasn't 100 percent, even when he started."
"The candidate that perhaps most excites the fan base is Michigan transfer Steven Threet, who started eight games for the Wolverines in 2007. He sat out last fall as a transfer but reportedly looked good in practices."
2010 Arizona State Sun Devils
|1||Portland State Vikings||95||39-8|
|2||Northern Arizona Lumberjacks||95||41-7|
|5||@Oregon State Beavers||5||14-35|
|8||@California Golden Bears||11||15-34|
|9||Washington State Cougars||88||29-12|
"Entering the second spring of the Steve Sarkisian era, the Washington Huskies have little doubt about what are their strengths and weaknesses."
"Jake Locker, a quarterback who would have been among the top picks in the 2010 NFL Draft had he decided to come out early, and a set of offensive skill position players that could be among the best in the Pac-10, if not the country."
"Just about everything else."
"The Huskies return four starting offensive linemen and could be good up front if everyone stays healthy. But there is little known depth."
"And the front seven on defense is shy of both experience and numbers, though the secondary, while young, could be a plus if everything works out okay."
"A few recent offseason issues -- the suspension of defensive Andru Pulu after an assault charge and injuries to defensive ends Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich -- are especially troublesome."
"We were thin (up front) to begin with and now we are even thinner," said defensive coordinator Nick Holt."
"Locker, though, provides a certain level of comfort for the Huskies, now likely to be regarded as the top passer in the Pac-10 heading into the season with the recent suspension of Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli."
"Locker threw for 2,800 yards last season, second in the Pac-10 and third in school history, while also rushing for 388 to lead the conference in total offense."
"UW loses only two significant players on offense -- fullback Paul Homer and guard-tackle Ben Ossai."
"The defense, however, could return just four full-time starters at the position they played a year ago as the Huskies will shuffle things a bit to try to field the best defense possible."
2010 Washington Huskies
|1||@Brigham Young Cougars||21||22-34|
|6||Arizona State Sun Devils||35||24-26|
|7||Oregon State Beavers||5||21-39|
|13||@California Golden Bears||11||21-42|
|14||@Washington State Cougars||63||29-24|
"There's nothing that can happen in the offseason that will convince anyone on the outside that much has changed about Washington State's football team as it enters the 2010 season."
"The Cougars will likely be a unanimous pick to again finish last in the conference, having gone 1-17 the last two years -- the one win being the only time the Cougars came within double-digits of a conference opponent."
"Those stark stats have third-year coach Paul Wulff squarely on the hot seat entering 2010, especially with a new athletic director in the fold -- Bill Moos -- who helped turn Oregon into a perennial Pac-10 contender."
"Wulff, though, says he's not concerned about his status, recently telling The Seattle Times that "it's about them (his players), not about me."
"And the players, he feels, are well positioned to break the Cougars out of the doldrums this season."
"This team still has work to do for us to get to where we want to be," he said after the Cougars concluded spring practice. "But in our 15 practices this spring, WSU football got better."
"It could hardly have gotten worse as the Cougars are 3-22 in Wulff's tenure, and never held a lead in regulation last season, winning its one game only when it forced overtime late and then emerged victorious."
"But the Cougars lost only four seniors who were significant contributors last season -- two on each side of the ball -- and Wulff feels the depth is finally to the levels needed to be competitive."
"This is by far the best spring we've had since we've been here," he said. "We had more guys participating, which gave us competition at every position, and we got better."
"The most noteworthy competition was at quarterback, where sophomore Jeff Tuel battled with junior Marshall Lobbestael. Wulff insisted as spring closed that there was no clear leader. But Tuel, who impressed in four starts last season before being sidelined with a knee injury, appeared ahead."
2010 Washington State Cougars
|1||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||11||14-34|
|2||Montana State Bobcats||95||34-8|
|3||@Southern Methodist Mustangs||9||19-35|
|9||@Arizona State Sun Devils||12||12-29|
|10||California Golden Bears||5||17-40|
|11||@Oregon State Beavers||5||11-44|
Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.