2004 looks to be a down year for the Pac-Ten as a whole, despite having the preseason favorite for the national title. In all likelihood, the conference will not fill all seven of its bowl tie-ins, with only four teams that are locks for the postseason. After the first spot, though, anything could happen; there are a ton of question marks across the board, and any team could surprise. The talent gap this year is much smaller than you would imagine from looking at past results, and the difference between the top and bottom teams is primarily in the coaches, not the players.
Predicted Record: 12-0 (8-0) – Orange Bowl
The Golden Bears of 2004 look a lot like Arizona State from 2003. They had a couple of unexpected wins late in the year, and now are being hyped to have a breakout year thanks to a projected superstar quarterback. So what's the difference? Why will Cal succeed where ASU flopped? Jeff Tedford. Tedford is not only excellent at developing young quarterbacks, which is a common ability in the Pac-Ten, but also has a tremendous winning instinct and the ability to establish that instinct in his players. Cal is ready to live up to the hype.
Predicted Record 9-2 (6-2) – Holiday Bowl (losses to USC, ASU)
Inconsistent does not even begin to describe the Ducks over the last two seasons, and if the trend continues, they will probably lose at least one game they shouldn't this year. On the other hand, the fiasco that was Jason Fife's career is now over with, and Kellen Clemens looks ready to right the ship. Upperclassmen playing cornerback is another nice addition that should lead to increased stability, and this might be the only team in the country whose defensive line can improve after having a pair of tackles drafted in the second round. Expect far more consistency on both sides of the ball. Oregon would be 7-1 if the Civil War were in Autzen.
Predicted Record: 8-3 (6-2) – Sun Bowl (losses to Oklahoma, CAL, OSU)
Lack of experience, rather than lack of talent, killed this team last season, and while they won't contend for the title like they were supposed to in 2003, they will rebound with a solid year. Andrew Walter is back and ready to shine.
Predicted Record: 8-3 (5-3) – Insight Bowl (losses to USC, ORE, ARI)
That's right, I said it. The Wildcats have been horrible recently, yes, but their personnel has not been the reason. This team has far more talent than most people realize, and Mike Stoops will not have to wait for his own recruits before he can begin the road to success. There will be no title hunt this year, but there will be more than one upset.
Predicted Record: 5-6 (4-4) - (losses to Utah, Wisconsin, ORE, CAL, WASH, USC)
If Derek Anderson pulls a Carson Palmer and figures everything out and has a stellar senior season, then the Beavers will be a great team. Before that happens, though, Baylor will win the Big XII. We're talking about a quarterback who has spent his entire career playing against defenses that had eight men in the box on every play (thanks to Simonton and Jackson), and still completed less than half of his passes while throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns last year to his NFL caliber receivers. This year he has the worst receiving corps he's ever had to deal with, and the running help will be weak enough to allow opponents to actually play pass stopping defensive schemes, all of which spells trouble. While the defense will once again be extremely talented, it will spend far too much time on the field to make a difference.
Predicted Record: 5-6 (4-4) - (losses to LSU, Boise St, ARI, ASU, CAL, USC)
Every year the Cougars lose key players, every year detractors say that the team will be unable to overcome the losses, and every year Wazzou wins 10 games. Well, at least for the last two years. This year, though, the detractors are finally right. Sophomore Josh Swogger will be the starter, but Freshman Alex Brink is being touted as the star of the future, and maybe even the present after he looked great in the spring game, but that was against the Washington State defense, and when Brink lights you up, you know you have problems. The Cougs lost too much this time, and are poised to return to mediocrity, at least for one season. With a year of experience, this team will return to the top next year, but this season will be a painful hiccup.
Predicted Record: 6-5 (3-5) – Las Vegas Bowl (losses to OSU, ORE, USC, ASU, ARI)
The Bruins are a program on the downswing, and while Karl Dorrell stays, the failures will intensify. There is potential to do better, with some experienced players and a good secondary, but I don't see it happening. I expect the worst case scenario, to balance out the best case results of that other LA team.
Predicted Record: 4-7 (2-6) - (losses to Oklahoma St, USC, CAL, ORE, ASU, ARI, WSU)
An abusive schedule only compounds the problems for the Huskies who I'm betting would love to have Rick Neuheisel back. Gilbertson showed he does not know how to win, somehow mismanaging his team out of a bowl game when he had no excuse not to go to one. The players are a little bit worse this time around, and the record will be as well.
Predicted Record: 3-8 (2-6) - (losses to Fresno St, Notre Dame, USC, CAL, ORE, OSU, WSU, UCLA)
Every conference has a doormat, and the Cardinal is it. A 1-0 start will get fans pumped up, but after San Jose State, a second win is unlikely.
Predicted Record: 1-10 (0-8) - (losses to BYU, Notre Dame, USC, CAL, ORE, ASU, OSU, WSU, UCLA, WASH)
Preseason All-Pac-Ten Team
The bottom line in the Pac-Ten this year is coaching. Although this was a ranking of the teams, it also fits very closely to how I would rank the coaches; swap Doba of Washington State (who has less talent than usual) with Koetter of Arizona State (who has more) and this would be a valid, if not perfect, ranking of the coaches. There is a ton of talent across the West Coast, and the primary difference between teams isn't how many good players they can get, it's how they use them. Don't expect Dorrell, Gilbertson, or Teevens to stick around their schools much longer.
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