The Pac-10 is once again doing a preseason football poll of its beat reporters, and my deadline is coming up next Wednesday.
That gives me time to float my first thoughts past you guys, knowing you’ll weigh in in time for me to reassess before sending my final pick.
So, here’s the first draft:
1. USC – They lose a lot, including their quarterback. But this is USC, and I’ll need to see some hint of a stumble before predicting a fall.
2. Arizona State – I’m tempted to move them to the top. They return 16 starters – tied with Stanford for the most in the league. Rudy Carpenter is likely the league’s best quarterback, and Dennis Erickson’s second season in Tempe could be a breakthrough.
3. Oregon – They lose Dixon and Stewart, and they face a Pac-10 schedule that sends them on the road to USC, ASU, Cal and the Civil War. But QB Justin Roper showed something in the Sun Bowl, and seven returning defensive starters could keep things close while the offense finds itself.
4. Cal – I see lots of problems, including lots of offensive turnover and a looming quarterback question. So this is mostly a vote of confidence in Jeff Tedford.
5. Arizona – This feels high, but there seem to be at least five teams in the league that are even more flawed. At least the Wildcats can count on scoring points, with a league-high 10 offensive starters returning, including quarterback Willie Tuitama. Only three starters return on defense, but here’s a hunch that in his fifth season Stoops has defensive guys ready to step in and step up.
6. Washington – There’s no shortage of things to worry about. Jake Locker is only a sophomore, and there’s no experience behind him — just like there’s no experience at the other skill positions. Two of the stars you could have counted on — Juan Garcia and E.J. Savannah — are injured. There’s nothing proven on a potentially tiny defensive line. And the kicking game had big troubles in spring. But the league seems to have come back to the Dawgs a bit. And if Ed Donatell makes a difference on defense, the young offense has the potential to keep up.
7. UCLA – A new coaching staff, a decimated QB corps and more than half the starters gone on both sides of the ball. That much-anticipated game at Husky Stadium could determine which team goes bowling.
8. Oregon State – TB Yvenson Bernard is gone, only three defensive starters return, and there is a big question at quarterback. What the Beavers have going for them is coach Mike Riley.
9. Washington State – The Cougs will be breaking in a new coach — not only new to Pullman, but new the Bowl Subdivision. He has the mixed blessing of eight starters returning from a defense that gave up an average of 32 points last season. But that extra year of experience had better work wonders, because that’s setting the bar mighty high for an offense that will be finding its way without the most prolific passer in school history.
10. Stanford – The Cardinal returns the same quantity of starters as Arizona State, but not the same quality. The quarterback situation isn’t as settled as it looked like it might be when Tavita Pritchard got off to that dazzling start. It just still seems too early in a too tough rebuilding process.