The Pac 10 had a tremendous bowl season with Arizona beating BYU, Oregon State beating Pitt, Oregon beating Oklahoma State, California beating Miami, and USC beating Penn State, and now the league will try to parlay that into more national respect. However, that will only come with winning big non-conference games in the regular season.
While the ACC does a good job of scheduling some decent non-conference games and the SEC deserves a better reputation for stepping up lately with the big out-of-conference battles, no one takes on the world like the Pac 10. The problem is that the league didn’t step up last season, especially against the Mountain West, with too many teams, outside of USC, getting tagged with a big loss.
It’s one thing for Oregon State to lose at Penn State, but it was another for Oregon to lose at home to Boise State and for Arizona to lose to New Mexico. As always, there are several big non-conference games, and these are the make-or-break dates.
Arizona – at Iowa
Arizona State – at Georgia
California – Maryland, at Minnesota
Oregon – at Boise State, Purdue, Utah
Oregon State – Cincinnati
Stanford – at Wake Forest, Notre Dame
UCLA – at Tennessee, Kansas State
USC – at Ohio State, at Notre Dame
Washington – LSU, at Notre Dame
Washington State – Notre Dame (in San Antonio)
It might not be fair, and it might make Pac 10 fans shake their fists in disgust, but the league has to shine in most of those games and has to win at least ten of them. Of course, if USC can go into Columbus and beat Ohio State, that could set the stage for a national title run. But the issue isn’t about USC, it’s about getting a second Pac 10 team into the BCS for the first time since 2002 and for only the third time since the current format started in 1998.
For right or wrong, the SEC has built up so much respect, partly fueled by the media and partly helped by three straight national championships, that it can had a bad non-conference season, like it did last year, and it gets largely ignored. The ACC and Big East don’t get the respect the Pac 10 does, and the Big Ten and Big 12 don’t exactly tax themselves, with their non-league schedules, with a few key exceptions. The Pac 10, because most fans and pollsters east of the Mississippi don’t pay attention to non-USC games, have to do a little more to stand out. There isn’t an East Coast bias; there’s an East Coast ignorance.
What the 5-0 bowl season did was get the Pac 10 on the radar going into this year. If the league starts out hot and comes up with a few splashy early non-conference wins, the storyline and the attention will quickly shift to the league and the unbeaten bowl season will be viewed as a jumping off point to big things. However, with so much turnover at quarterback, with USC rebuilding and reloading, and with Oregon having issues on the lines, the league could need a little while to shine.
However, there is hope. Remember, a one-loss Oregon team had a shot to play for the national title, and Dennis Dixon had the Heisman for the taking, until a knee injury and a three-game losing streak ended all of that. The world paid attention then, and it will now if a non-USC team rises up, beats the Trojans, and has a great record. Of course, if USC goes unbeaten, it’ll almost certainly play for the whole ball of wax.
The Top 5 Players Who Need A Big Spring
1. Mitch Mustain or Aaron Corp, QB USC
2. Kevin Riley, QB California
3. Danny Sullivan, QB Arizona State
4. Jake Locker, QB Washington
5. Jordan Bishop, WR Oregon State
The Top 5 Position Concerns/Battles
1. USC quarterback
2. USC linebacker
3. Oregon defensive line
4. UCLA quarterback
5. Oregon State secondary
The 5 Biggest Pac 10 Spring Storylines
1. The USC quarterback situation. There are some major quarterback battles for several Pac 10 teams, but none will impact the national title chase more than the fight between Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp, and Matt Barkley.
2. Will UCLA have an offense? Getting more production out of the quarterback, whomever that’ll be, will be job one. There are more options this year, so if Kevin Craft isn’t far better, the Bruins will go with a new starter.
3. Can Jake Locker handle the new offense? Washington will need its star quarterback to work well right away with new head coach Steve Sarkisian.
4. Is Kevin Riley ready? He’s been the on-again, off-again main man for the California offense over the last few years, and now he’ll have to show that he can make the team his or else he’ll be looking over his shoulder at Brock Mansion.
5. Can Oregon keep up the running game? After ripping up Oregon State in the regular season finale and following it up by dominating Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, the Ducks need to replace four starters up front and loses RB Jeremiah Johnson.
The Spring Pac 10 Team Rankings
4. Arizona State
6. Oregon State
10. Washington State
The Pre-Spring Call For Player Of The Year
1. Jahvid Best, RB California
2. Taylor Mays, S USC
3. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB Oregon State
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB Oregon
5. Jake Locker, QB Washington