Feature: Conference to Display Near-Unprecidented Depth and Overall Strength in 2007

July 30, 2007

By Steven Dunst
Daily Californian

July 30, 2007

Berkeley, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- LOS ANGELES-LSU coach Les Miles made incendiary comments earlier this offseason that grabbed national headlines and echoed the sentiments of many people east of the Mississippi River.'I would like that path for us,' Miles said of No. 1 USC's conference slate. 'I think the SEC provides much stiffer competition.'

In case the teams of the Pac-10 should need to defend themselves, in addition to playing top-notch nonconference schedules which include powers such as Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio State, they can boast about another fact: the already-prolific offensive Conference returns nine of last season's 10 starting quarterbacks.

For the first time in five years, Cal coach Jeff Tedford will have his previous season's starting field general in the person of junior Nate Longshore. But even Longshore, who threw for over 3,000 yards last season, is going to have a difficult time competing for the spotlight, as USC welcomes back senior John David Booty, one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.

The Pac-10 has more than just a few stars at the top. Oregon's Dennis Dixon will return, along with Washington State's Alex Brink, who coach Bill Doba said 'is about to break every school record this year.'

He has the luxury of throwing to senior receiver Michael Bumpus.

Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason would know better than most. Rated as one of the top defensive backs in football, the challenge of facing so many stellar passing offenses is one of the factors that drove him to bypass the NFL and return for his senior season.

'It's a great challenge to know that everyone is coming back,' Cason said. 'It brings the best out of me as a player and the best out of them as a player. I like the challenge against every receiver in this league.'

Seven Pac-10 quarterbacks last season had passer ratings of over 120. Five of them return, including Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who led the nation in that category in 2005 but struggled to duplicate his performance last season as a full-time starter.

New Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson is switching to a primarily shotgun offense and said he has focused on taking pressure off of Carpenter so that the quarterback can get more comfortable in the pocket.

'You have to put him in a situation where he doesn't have to make a play every down,' Erickson said. 'He's a different guy. What we said in spring was, 'Hey Rudy, you don't have to win every game (by yourself).''

Dixon on the other hand has proven himself adept at making plays both on the gridiron and on the baseball diamond. After completing 61.2 percent of his passes for the Ducks last season, the Atlanta Braves drafted the senior in the fifth round of this year's MLB draft despite Dixon not having played baseball since high school.

Dixon returned to Eugene earlier than expected to get ready for the upcoming season.

'It may be because he is hitting .174,' said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said of Dixon's minor league performance.

Dixon will likely receive the starting nod, although he faces competition from backup Brady Leaf, who has thrown for nine touchdowns in his career.

Aiding the returning quarterbacks' are some of the nation's top receiving corps.

The Bears welcome back their top three wideouts from 2006, including Heisman candidate DeSean Jackson, who was named to many preseason all-American first teams.

With the Conference stacked offensively from top to bottom, the key determinant in standings could come down to which team has the ability to shut down its opponents' passing attack.

'Our corners have to step up,' Erickson said of ASU's unproven secondary. 'You cannot win without being good on defense.'

(C) 2007 Daily Californian via CSTV U-WIRE

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