2008 Pac-10 Football Prospectus

April 30, 2008

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THE RETURNEES: A total of 140 starters return to the Pac-10 football squads in 2008. That's out of a possible 240 (including kickers). It is a tad below the average of 148 returnees over the last 10 years. Arizona State and Stanford return the most starters with 16. Oregon State returns the fewest starters with 10, followed by UCLA with 12. Some other noteworthy numbers--Arizona has 10 starters back on offense and Stanford returns nine on defense. On the flip side, Arizona and Oregon State return just three defensive starters. The 'average' Pac-10 team returns 14 starters--6.5 on offense, 6 on defense and 1.5 kicker.

THE HEADLINERS: Among those 140 returnees are a number of headliners. A total of 12 first-team and 10 second-team All-Pac-10 performers return. Among those receiving national attention was Arizona State PK Thomas Weber, who was named winner of the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top placekicker as a freshman last year. In addition to the Groza Award, Thomas was named first-team All-America, Freshman All-America and All-Pac-10. Not bad for a first year player. . . . Other returning first-team All-America selections are USC FS Taylor Mays and California C Alex Mack, who also won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-10's top offensive lineman. The Oregon defensive duo of ROV Patrick Chung and DE Nick Reed were named second-team and third-team All-America selections, respectively, and Reed also was an Academic All-America selection. . . . In addition to Weber, Chung, Reed and Mack, other returning first-team All-Pac-10 performers include SS Kevin Ellison and MLB Rey Maualuga of USC, FL Brandon Gibson of Washington State, WR Mike Thomas and P Keenyn Crier of Arizona, C Max Unger of Oregon, punt returner Kyle Williams of Arizona State and Jahvid Best of California for special teams work. 10 second-team selections return--OT Eben Britton of Arizona, DE Dexter Davis and SS Troy Nolan of Arizona State, OL Alex Fletcher and special teamer Wopamo Osaisai of Stanford, OLB Zack Follett of California, CB Brandon Hughes and OT Andy Levitre of Oregon State, C Juan Garcia of Washington and OT Fenuki Tupou of Oregon. . . . Also back is Oregon State WR/PR Sammie Stroughter, coming off a medical redshirt year. In 2006, Stroughter was named second-team All-Pac-10 after leading the league in receiving yards and second-team All-America as a return specialist who averaged 15.7 yards with three touchdowns on punt returns. . . . Also returning is QB Jake Locker of Washington, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season, who also is the leading returning rusher in the Conference after going for 986 yards last year, most rushing yards ever by a quarterback in the Pac-10. Other freshmen making a mark last season by being named to Freshman All-America teams were Weber and CB Omar Bolden of Arizona State, Crier and TE Rob Gronkowski of Arizona and DE Everson Griffen of USC. . . . As noted, Nick Reed of Oregon was an Academic All-America selection and he was joined on the Academic All-District Team by returnees Alex Mack of Cal, RB Anthony Kimble of Stanford, LB Mike Nixon of Arizona State and OT Micah Hannam of Washington State. . . . Jake Locker is the leading returning rusher in the Conference. Two 3,000-yard passers from last year return in Arizona's Willie Tuitama, who completed a Pac-10 record 327 passes for 3,683 yards and 28 TD, and Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter with 3,202 yards and 25 TDs. . . . The two leading receivers from last year return in first-team All-Pac-10 picks Mike Thomas of Arizona (83 rec-1,038 yards-11 TDs) and Brandon Gibson of Washington State (67-1,180-9). . . . Also returning is the league leader in interceptions--Oregon CB Jairus Byrd with seven--and Duck DE Nick Reed, who led the Pac-10 in tackles for loss (22.5) and QB sacks (12). . . . Positions of strength in the Pac-10 this year would seem to be the offensive line, where seven first- or second-team All-Conference selections return, and the defensive backfield, where five come back.

BOWL PARTNERS: Only minor shuffling in the Pac-10 bowl picture this season as the Pac-10 has tie-ins with a record seven bowl partners. The champion is slated to go to the Rose Bowl, unless ranked one or two in the final BCS standings, in which case it would go to the BCS National Championship Game hosted by the FedEx Orange Bowl. The rest of the Pac-10 bowl lineup features the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, Brut Sun Bowl, Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, Emerald Bowl, Hawai'i Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl.

NEW COACHES: Technically, two new head coaches in the Pac-10 this season, although one can hardly be called new to the league. Rick Neuheisel takes over at his alma mater UCLA. Neuheisel has compiled a record of 66-30 in eight years as a head coach, four at Colorado (1995-98) and four at Washington (1999-2002). He directed his teams to seven bowl games during that span. A member of the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame by virtue of leading UCLA to a stunning upset of Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl Game, Neuheisel has spent the last three years on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens. . . . Paul Wulff takes over as head man at his alma mater, Washington State, moving up after a very successful stint at Eastern Washington, where he compiled a record of 53-40 in eight years as head coach and was named Big Sky Coach of the Year three times. Wulff was a four-year starter at center for the Cougars from 1986-89, where he played under Jim Walden, Dennis Erickson and Mike Price.

TURNSTILES CLICKING: Pac-10 football has never been more popular as the Conference set a record for overall attendance for the third straight year in 2007. A total of 3,825,179 fans attended games at Pac-10 stadiums last year, an average of 57,957 per game, also a record. That 57,957 average figure is impressive considering it is more than the capacity of five of the league's 10 stadiums. Leading the way were the Los Angeles schools as USC averaged 87,486 fans per game, followed by UCLA with 76,379 per contest.

SCHEDULE (as of April 30)

Thu., Aug. 28
OREGON STATE at STANFORD

Sat., Aug. 30
WASHINGTON at OREGON
Idaho at Arizona
Northern Arizona at Arizona State
Michigan State at California
Oklahoma State at Washington State (at Seattle)
USC at Virginia

Mon., Sep. 1
Tennessee at UCLA

Sat., Sep. 6
STANFORD at ARIZONA STATE
CALIFORNIA at WASHINGTON STATE
Toledo at Arizona
Utah State at Oregon
BYU at Washington
Oregon State at Penn State

Sat., Sep. 13
UNLV at Arizona State
Hawai'i at Oregon State
Ohio State at USC
Oklahoma at Washington
Arizona at New Mexico
California at Maryland
Oregon at Purdue
Stanford at TCU
UCLA at BYU
Washington State at Baylor

Sat., Sep. 20
Georgia at Arizona State
Boise State at Oregon
San Jose State at Stanford
Portland State at Washington State

Thu., Sep. 25
USC at OREGON STATE

Sat., Sep. 27
ARIZONA at UCLA
OREGON at WASHINGTON STATE
STANFORD at WASHINGTON
Colorado State at California
Fresno State at UCLA

Thu., Oct. 2
Oregon State at Utah

Sat., Oct. 6
WASHINGTON at ARIZONA
ARIZONA STATE at CALIFORNIA
WASHINGTON STATE at UCLA
Stanford at Notre Dame

Sat., Oct. 11
ARIZONA at STANFORD
ARIZONA STATE at USC
UCLA at OREGON
WASHINGTON STATE at OREGON STATE

Sat., Oct. 18
CALIFORNIA at ARIZONA
OREGON STATE at WASHINGTON
STANFORD at UCLA
USC at WASHINGTON STATE

Sat., Oct. 25
USC at ARIZONA
OREGON at ARIZONA STATE
UCLA at CALIFORNIA
Notre Dame at Washington

Sat., Nov. 1
ARIZONA STATE at OREGON STATE
OREGON at CALIFORNIA
WASHINGTON STATE at STANFORD
WASHINGTON at USC

Sat., Nov. 8
ARIZONA at WASHINGTON STATE
ARIZONA STATE at WASHINGTON
CALIFORNIA at USC
STANFORD at OREGON
OREGON STATE at UCLA

Sat., Nov. 15
ARIZONA at OREGON
WASHINGTON STATE at ARIZONA STATE
CALIFORNIA at OREGON STATE
USC at STANFORD
UCLA at WASHINGTON

Sat., Nov. 22
OREGON STATE at ARIZONA
STANFORD at CALIFORNIA
OREGON at USC
WASHINGTON at WASHINGTON STATE

Fri., Nov. 28
UCLA at ARIZONA STATE

Sat., Nov. 29
OREGON at OREGON STATE
Notre Dame at USC
Washington State at Hawai'i

Sat., Dec. 6
ASU at ARIZONA
WASHINGTON at CALIFORNIA
USC at UCLA

TEAM-BY-TEAM NOTES

ARIZONA

Offense: Arizona returns 10 starters on offense, the most of any offensive unit in the Pac-10. Included are four starters on the offensive line and a large contingent of playmakers. The ringleader is QB Willie Tuitama, who ranked second in the Pac-10 in passing yards at 306.9 yards per game and had a league-high 28 TD passes as the Cats implemented a new spread offense. He has plenty of targets as the Cats return six different players who caught at least 20 passes last year. The leader is All-Pac-10 WR Mike Thomas, who led the Pac-10 with 83 receptions good for 1,038 yards and 11 TDs. He is complemented by WR Terrell Thomas, who had 50 catches, and TE Rob Gronkowski, who was a standout starting as a freshman last year. While not a run oriented team, RB Nic Grigsby, another freshman in `07, went for 704 yards on the ground. Four starters return on the offensive line led by second-team All-Pac-10 OT Eben Britton.

Defense: While the offensive side of the ball is flooded with returning starters, the same cannot be said of the Wildcat defense, which sees just three starters returning. Gone are such stalwarts as All-America CB Antoine Cason, All-Pac-10 LB Spencer Larson and DT Lionel Dotson. The entire front four needs to be replaced and only MLB Ronnie Palmer returns among the front seven. One area of experience is safety, where FS Nate Ness and SS Cam Nelson return.

The Schedule: Arizona gets seven home games, including four of the last six. Expected league contenders USC, California and Arizona State all travel to Tucson. The Wildcats schedule is broken up nicely by three byes.

ARIZONA STATE

Offense: Seven starters return on offense for the Pac-10 co-champions led by senior QB Rudy Carpenter, who in three years as a starter has passed for 65 TDs and almost 8,000 yards. Carpenter has more than capable targets in WRs Chris McGaha and Michael Jones and a talented running back in TB Keegan Herring. On area needing some work is the offensive line where three starters need to be replaced.

Defense: Seven starters also return on defense. Leading the way along the defensive front are DEs Dexter Davis and Luis Vasquez. The secondary needs to replace two good starters, but still returns standouts CB Omar Bolden and SS Troy Nolan.

The Schedule: The Sun Devils hope to jump out to a good start again this year with four home games to open the season. Then some road pitfalls present themselves as ASU must travel to the likes of California, USC, Oregon State and Arizona.

CALIFORNIA

Offense: California returns just five starters to the offensive unit and has some questions to answer for 2008. A quarterback battle is expected to be waged by incumbent starter Nate Longshore and mobile sophomore Kevin Riley, who led the Bears to victory in the Armed Forces Bowl with a dynamic performance. Whoever lines up under center will be looking at an inexperienced group of receivers as the Bears do not return a wideout who had double digits in receptions last year. A replacement also must be found for 1,500-yard rusher TB Justin Forsett. If soph TB Jahvid Best is recovered from a hip injury he will provide an explosive force both running the ball and returning kicks. Three starters return along the offensive line led by first-team All-America C Alex Mack.

Defense: Seven starters return on defense led by a trio of senior linebackers that should be the strength of the unit. OLBs Zack Follett and Anthony Felder and MLB Worrell Williams are veteran performers and all potential honors candidates who will key the defense. DE Tyson Alualu is a force on the defensive line and CB Syd'Quan Thompson and ROV Bernard Hicks return in the secondary.

The Schedule: Cal gets seven home games and has nice balance in the schedule in never having more than two road or home games in a row.

OREGON

Offense: Replacing Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year QB Dennis Dixon and league-leading rusher TB Jonathan Stewart is the most daunting and obvious task facing the Oregon coaching staff on offense. But the cupboard is hardly bare. The Ducks hope QB Justin Roper will be as good as he appreared in leading UO to a win in the Brut Sun Bowl. He will likely battle QB Cody Kempt and QB Nick Costa for the starting posistion and a potent receiver is on hand in WR Jaison Williams. Three starters are back on the offensive line led by standouts Max Unger and Fenuki Tupou.

Defense: Oregon returns seven starters in what should be a veteran and talented unit. All Pac-10 DE Nick Reed led the Pac-10 in tackles for loss last season and will anchor the line. The Duck secondary is one of the strengths of the team. Junior CBs Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III have both been starting since they were freshmen and ROV Patrick Chung is an All-Pac-10 performer who ranked third in the league in tackles last year.

The Schedule: The road could be treacherous for Oregon this season as the Ducks must travel to expected conference powers USC, Arizona State, Oregon State and California.

OREGON STATE

Offense: Oregon State returns seven starters on offense, but has some question marks. The biggest is who will get the nod at starting quarterback, Sean Canfield, the starter before being injured last year, or Lyle Moevao, who performed well starting in Canfield's stead. Plus the Beavers must find a replacement for stellar tailback Yvenson Bernard. James Rodgers showed explosiveness at both flanker and running the ball as a freshman last year and an experienced offensive line, led by OT Andy Levitre and OG Jeremy Perry, is a plus.

Defense: Eight starters, including the entire front seven, are gone from a defensive unit that was the strength of the OSU team last season. Certain to be missed in particular is the talented trio of starting linebackers that formed the backbone of the defense in `07. Although not a starter last year, DE Victor Butler saw enough action to lead OSU in quarterback sacks and should be a focal point up front. One area that is a strength is the secondary where three senior starters return in CBs Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis and S Al Afalava. All are considered honors candidates.

The Schedule: Oregon State's pattern in winning 19 games over the last two seasons is to open slowly and close with a rush. This season has the potential for more of the same as OSU opens with a pair of road games at Stanford and Penn State and then comes home for Hawai'i and USC. After that, the Beavers are never away from home for consecutive games. Among the visitors to Corvallis are expected Pac-10 contenders USC, Arizona State, California and Oregon. Three thursday night games are included on the schedule.

STANFORD

Offense: Stanford had a three-game improvement under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh last season and another such jump would land the Cardinal in a bowl game. Stanford returns seven starters on offense and is proven in some areas, less so in others. QB Tavita Pritchard started seven games last year and earned himself a place in Stanford lore by leading an epic upset win at USC. However, he will have to compete with Michigan transfer Jason Forcier and soph Alex Loukas for the starting job. Whoever lines up a QB will not find much experience at wide receiver with only WR Richard Sherman having significant playing time. Veteran Anthony Kimble returns at running back and Owen Marecic is an emerging force at fullback. The line should be a strength with three returning starters, led by Alex Fletcher, who is returning to center this season after starting at guard in `07, and OT Chris Marinelli.

Defense: Stanford returns nine starters on defense, the most of any defense in the Pac-10. The defensive numbers from last season are not stellar, but the Cardinal have some building blocks and the experience factor should make this an improved unit. DE Pannel Egboh is the leader up front, linebackers Clinton Snyder and Pat Maynor are standouts and FS Bo McNally is a leader from his safety position.

The Schedule: The Cardinal have seven games on the road, including four of the first six. Included are trips to non-conference foes Notre Dame and TCU and league games at Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and California.

UCLA

Offense: The UCLA offense was devastated by injuries at the skill positions last year and the first task for new offensive coordinator Norm Chow will be sorting out the quarterback position. Ben Olson, Pat Cowan and Osaar Rasshan all started games last year and will be in the mix and JC transfer Kevin Craft may get a look as well. The Bruins hope leading rusher TB Kahlil Bell will be sufficiently recovered from a knee injury to headline the running game. WR Marcus Everett and TE Logan Paulson lead the receiving corps. Some rebuilding needs to be done to an offensive line that returns just two starters.

Defense: UCLA returns five starters on defense. DTs Brian Price and Brigham Harwell will anchor the defensive line and LBs Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth are a dynamic duo at linebacker. The secondary lost three senior starters and will need to be rebuilt, although stellar CB Alterraun Verner returns as a starting point.

The Schedule: Rick Neuheisel's head coaching debut at his alma mater is a beauty as UCLA hosts Tennessee in a primetime TV game at the Rose Bowl on Labor Day. The Bruins get four of their first five games at home, but have the likes of Arizona State, Oregon, California and BYU on the road.

USC

Offense: USC returns just four offensive starters. Much attention will be at the quarterback position where Mark Sanchez will get first call in a battle with Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp for the starting job. As usual, the Trojans have depth at running back with exciting Joe McKnight, dependable Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable the most experienced of the group. There is experience at wide receiver, but SC must replace four starters on the offensive line as only OG Jeff Byers returns from last year. C Kristofer O'Dowd earned first-team Freshman All-America honors last year.

Defense: USC returns seven starters to a defensive unit the lead the Pac-10 and ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (16.0) and total defense (273.2) last year. The biggest area of concern is the defensive line where All-America selections Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson must be replaced. Steady senior starters DT Fili Moala and DE Kyle Moore return and soph DE Everson Griffen has the look of an emerging star. The Trojans are loaded at linebacker led by All-Pac-10 MLB Rey Maualuga and SLB Brian Cushing, the two Rose Bowl defensive player of the game the last two years. The secondary is similarly well stocked with talent. Three starters return with FS Taylor Mays a first-team All-America selection last year and SS Kevin Ellison a first-team All-Pac-10 pick. Senior Cary Harris returns to man one corner.

The Schedule: CSTV.com rates USC's 2008 schedule the toughest in the nation. The non-conference slate opens with a road trip to Virginia and features home games against Ohio State and Notre Dame. USC gets expected Pac-10 contenders Oregon, Arizona State and California at home.

WASHINGTON

Offense: The Huskies return seven starters on offense led by dynamic QB Jake Locker, who was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season. The dual-threat Locker passed for 2,062 yards and 14 TDs and rushed for 986 yards, a Pac-10 record for a QB, and another 13 scores. He lacks experienced receivers and UW needs someone in addition to Locker to establish the rush with the departure of 1,200-yard rusher Louis Rankin. Four starters return along the offensive line.

Defense: The Huskies return six starters on defense, but new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has some serious rebuilding to do up front. Only one starter returns to the defensive line, that being standout DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. E.J. Savannah, the Huskies' leading tacklers as a sophomore last year, returns at linebacker and there is experience in the secondary with three senior starters returning led by SS Mesphin Forrester.

The Schedule: Washington has a tough opener on the road at Oregon, but three of the first four and five of the first seven games are at Husky Stadium. An extremely attractive home non-conference schedule finds BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame appearing in Seattle.

WASHINGTON STATE

Offense: Six starters return to form the nucleus of new head coach Paul Wulff's spread offense. Gone is prolific QB Alex Brink, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection who threw 69 TD passes over his last three seasons as a starter. Big Gary Rogers, who has been waiting his turn as Brink's backup, appears poised to take over the starting job. The Cougs lost some experienced receivers, but the best of them is back in All-Pac-10 FL Brandon Gibson, who led the league in receiving yards last season (1,180 yards) and was the only receiver in the Conference to average more than 100 yards receiving per game (107.3). Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory provide some experience at running back and four of five starters return along the offensive line.

Defense: The Cougars need to shore up a defense that allowed 32.4 points per game last year and the potential is there with eight starters returning on that side of the ball. Sack specialist Andy Mattingly moves from linebacker to defensive end and senior LBs Greg Trent and Cory Evans provide veteran leadership.

The Schedule: With a road game at Hawai'i to close the regular season, Washington State has a 13-game schedule. The home schedule is very attractive with Conference foes California, Oregon, USC, Arizona and Washington all visiting Pullman.

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