College Football 2001: History Says Pac-10 Is Wide Open

Aug. 16, 2001

  • AP Conference Notes

    By JOHN NADEL
    AP Sports Writer

    LOS ANGELES - The Pacific-10 has become the most wide-open conferencein the country - on the field and in the standings.

    'If you don't score points, you don't have a chance to win the Pac-10,' saidStanford coach Tyrone Willingham, whose team won the title two years ago.

    Stanford is one of seven different schools to win the championship since1994, and Oregon State is a viable candidate to make it eight this fall.

    Southern California used to dominate the Pac-10, with crosstown rival UCLAand Washington usually its main challengers.

    That hasn't been the case for years - USC has one title since 1989,Washington won last year for the first time since 1992, and UCLA has wonjust twice since 1985.

    'Things have changed,' said Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson, who helpedturn one of college football's poorest programs around in the last twoyears. 'The 85 scholarships are probably the biggest difference. You can'tget every player in Los Angeles, they go other places. That's why there'sparity.'

    Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington has another theory.

    'How many players have ever left Oregon early to play in the NFL? KennyWheaton is the only one, in 1996,' he said. 'How many guys have left SCearly?

    'SC and UCLA are springboards to the NFL. The guys who come to Oregon cometo play college football. We've got four years to grow as a team, someschools have two.'

    Oregon State tailback Ken Simonton, a senior from Northern California,wasn't recruited by USC or UCLA, and neither was Beavers quarterbackJonathan Smith, a senior from the Los Angeles area.

    'It's not really a surprise, it was fate,' Simonton said of Oregon State'sbreakthrough last season, when the Beavers went 11-1 including a 41-9victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. 'This is what I went there for.'

    Washington, Oregon and Oregon State each had 7-1 Pac-10 records, and allthree finished in the Top 10 after bowl wins.

    This year, Oregon, No. 7 in the AP preseason poll, and No. 15 Washingtoneach return 12 starters, No. 11 Oregon State returns 10 - fewest in theconference.

    'Offensively, I think we have a chance to be a special team,' Oregon coachMike Bellotti said. 'The question marks on our team are in other areas.'

    Like Harrington, Oregon tailback Maurice Morris could be one of the best athis position.

    The same situation exists at Oregon State with Smith and Simonton.

    'We lost some awfully good players, but we have some awfully good onescoming back,' Erickson said.

    Washington must replace quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, MVP in Washington's34-24 Rose Bowl victory over Purdue. The candidates are Cody Pickett, whocompleted two passes in a brief appearance in the Rose Bowl, and TaylorBarton.

    'Certainly there's a lot of inexperience,' Huskies coach Rick Neuheiselsaid. 'The party line is we're going to be a great team eventually. Ourchallenge is to make that happen in a hurry.'

    No. 17 UCLA got off to a terrific start last season, beating twothird-ranked teams - Alabama and Michigan. Then, injuries took a toll alongwith a vulnerable defense, and the Bruins lost five of their eightconference games - four by eight points or fewer.

    UCLA allowed a school-record 368 points, prompting coach Bob Toledo to hirePhil Snow as defensive coordinator.

    'I told Phil Snow one thing - just teach them how to tackle,' Toledo said.'We'll be better. Hopefully we'll stay healthy, hopefully we'll make playsat the end.'

    A disappointment in three seasons under Paul Hackett, USC hired former NFLcoach Pete Carroll to run the program. He is one of three new coaches in thePac-10, along with Dirk Koetter at Arizona State and John Mackovic atArizona.

    Carroll will also be the Trojans' defensive coordinator, with Norm Chowrunning the offense.

    USC went 5-7 last season mainly due to a minus-19 turnover ratio (36committed, 17 forced), a horrendous kicking game, and other special-teamproblems.

    Carroll hopes quarterback Carson Palmer will be effective under Chow.

    'Carson's ability to make good decisions is going to make the difference forus,' Carroll said.

    California coach Tom Holmoe, whose team tied for last place in the Pac-10with USC and Washington State a year ago, admitted his job was on the line.

    'It's a darn good team I'm going into the season with,' he said.

    Three of Washington State's six conference losses last year were inovertime.

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