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HOW THE WEST WILL BE WON
September 1, 2005

ONE MORE TIME

SCS.comComedian Robert Orben once said, "Spring is God's way of saying, 'one more time!'" To a college football fan, the fall seems more of an appropriate time to think of renewal, refreshing, and another chance for some teams. Finally, it's time for rivalries to be revisited, fresh controversies to arise, and old smack to be thrown out for new. Out west, new rivalries will be created as conference realignment takes place for the Mountain West and the WAC. Rivalries seem unnecessary in the Pac-10 as every team will be gunning for the chance to claim that they took out the defending National Champion USC Trojans.

It would seem that south central Los Angeles has become a media vacuum of sorts with USC receiving all of the attention out west. Returning last years Heisman Trophy winner QB Matt Leinart, in addition to a runner-up who figures to be in the hunt for the honor this fall in RB Reggie Bush, the USC Trojans have enjoyed an off-season in the limelight.

The Pac-10. Even though most preseason prognosticators are picking USC to win the Pac-10, those same experts pose the biggest questions against the possibility of another undefeated season and an appearance in the Rose Bowl, this year's BCS National Championship game. The Trojans have lost four defensive All-Americans in linebackers Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu and D-Line veterans Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, all to the NFL. The defending champs must also replace both line coaches and an offensive coordinator in Norm Chow.

Further north, the Oregon Ducks figure to be a part of the conference championship picture, having the luxury of taking on USC in Eugene. The Trojans have not fared well in conference openers on the road in recent years and this year must face the Ducks and the Arizona State Sun Devils on back-to-back weekends on the road. The Ducks welcome in new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton who brings a wealth of experience with him from his days calling plays for BYU. Crowton has the chance to make something special happen with Kellen Clemens, a steadfast veteran at QB, and Jonathan Stewart, coming in at the running back position to run alongside senior Terrence Whitehead. Look for WR Cameron Colvin to break out this season and for Derrick Jones to make an impact as well. The team is young in some places but has the veteran leadership it needs to make a big splash in conference play.

California and Arizona State figure to be the other front-runners for the Pac-10 crown this fall. The surprise team will be UCLA as they return 15 starters and some much needed offensive experience from senior QB Drew Olson and RB Maurice Drew. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is drawing national attention and could possibly be the best tight end in Pac-10 and amongst the top 5 tight ends in the nation. Aside from UCLA, Arizona will be a team to watch with second year coach Mike Stoops bringing in a strong recruiting class and having his players in his defensive scheme for over a year now.

The trick for the Pac-10 this year will be somehow for the top teams to gang up on the lower tier teams and force them to absorb more of the losses in league play. The conference schedule has often been criticized as weak in recent years and that could perhaps be true, but the amount of parity in college football today is especially apparent in this conference with teams beating up on each other and each coming out with a 6-4 record in the end. With that said, Washington and Stanford should really struggle this season. The OSU Beavers look to break in QB Matt Moore, a recent transfer from UCLA, as he tries to fill the big shoes of the departed Derek Anderson. He'll have talented WR Mike Hass to throw to, and the Beavers have the fortune of not playing #1 ranked USC this fall. Washington State looks on paper like a .500 team but Bill Doba is excited at his prospects as his team lost a handful of games by a touchdown or less last season. This Cougar team is loaded with wide receivers, but Michael Bumpus stands out as a deadly playmaking possibility with his incredible speed.

WELCOME TO OUR WORLD

This fall, the Mountain West Conference and the Western Athletic Conference welcome new members as each conferences membership now stands at a total of nine teams. The Horned Frogs of TCU leave Conference USA to join the eight existing Mountain West teams, and the WAC will bid farewell to UTEP, Southern Methodist, Tulsa, and Rice as they head to Conference USA and welcome in New Mexico State, Utah State, and Idaho from the Sun Belt Conference.

The Mountain West Conference champion Utah Utes have lost all-world coach Urban Meyer to the SEC and their Heisman runner-up QB Alex Smith as an early NFL Draft entrant but still figure to be in the thick of things to claim the conference title for a second straight year. Their schedule is rather favorable but they will have to face the CSU Rams on the road and also play BYU in Provo. Whereas the Ute offense was what powered them through their schedule last year, look for their defense to carry more of the load if they are to be successful this fall. DB Eric Weddle is one to keep an eye on. He had four interceptions a year ago and is hungry for more. Now replacing an All-American at free safety, he will see much more time on the field.

New Mexico will field a strong team and should have their way in conference play with most teams but will find trouble as they play Utah on the road and also catch a strong Colorado State team at home the week before. Senior RB DonTrell Moore has a heavy load to carry but will be the difference in how far this Lobo team can go this year. He rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and now enters his senior year as one of the teams leaders. Coach Rocky Long will enjoy leading an improved Lobo team after a disappointing finish in the Emerald Bowl last season, losing to Navy.

Colorado State is the other team to look out for in the Mountain West this fall as they look to rebound from an up and down season. Last season, Sonny Lubick's team lost by 49 points in one outing and won by 35 in another. A heartbreaking loss to in-state rival Colorado to begin the season really set a talented Ram team off course last year, but returning veterans in the offense look to right the ship. Senior signal caller QB Justin Holland will lead the team out of the huddle and has his favorite target, WR David Anderson, to throw to. The two connected on 57 pass/receptions last season and are a solid combination.

The rest of the Mountain West looks to shake down quite the same way it did last year with BYU and newly arriving TCU in the middle of the pack, probably to be joined by a Wyoming team that finished 7-5 last year with a bowl victory over UCLA. At the bottom of the group will be the Air Force Falcons and then UNLV, followed by the Aztecs of SDSU. If Utah coach Kyle Whittingham can get his team to take care of business early in their schedule, they could build up enough momentum to finish their season with only one or two losses and uphold the respect the conference has recently earned placing it's first team into a BCS bowl game.

The Western Athletic Conference title will be a down-to-the-finish battle between Boise State and Fresno State. The rest of the field will be hashed out between the likes of Nevada, Louisiana Tech, and Hawaii. Boise State coach Dan Hawkins has the luxury of returning QB Jared Zabransky, who accounted for 29 touchdowns last year, to lead this offense. The Broncos have the unlucky draw of facing a strong Georgia team on the road to open the season, but should they emerge from that contest unscathed, they have a good chance at going into the Fresno State game in mid-November undefeated. That game, however, is at Fresno State. Perhaps the Bulldogs will be focused on their next opponent, USC, though and leave the door open for the Broncos to romp through their schedule without a loss.

The Fresno State Bulldogs, however, are the other team in the conference that could post a pretty good record with a returning backfield of senior RB Bryson Sumlin and senior QB Paul Pinegar. The Bulldogs also field a strong defensive back unit with juniors Richard Marshall and Marcus McCauley leading the way. FSU also faces a tough road test at the beginning of the season having to travel to Autzen Stadium to play the Oregon Ducks. Aside from that game, the only other trouble spots on the Bulldog schedule appear to be the two weekends in a row on which they will face the Broncos and USC.

Look for Boise State to triumph over the WAC with Fresno State nipping at their tails. The conference hasn't become much stronger or weaker with the teams departing and the new arrivals. In fact, the newly arriving teams will probably stay near the bottom as they adjust to the new conference. The WAC will be exciting to watch with two strong teams leading the way this fall.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Arizona @ Utah
Look for the Utes to begin the season strong defending their undefeated record at home against a still young and inexperienced Arizona Wildcat team. The game may end up being close and somewhat of a defensive struggle but will set the tone for where these two teams stand for the season to come.

UCLA @ San Diego State
The UCLA Bruins are chopping at the bit to get back onto the playing field after suffering a humiliating loss to Wyoming in the Vegas Bowl. The Aztecs will have to bear the brunt of the Bruin anger in the season opener.

Boise State @ Georgia
This matchup of two top 20 teams will be a sure to entertain game. The Broncos have the unfortunate task of going to SEC territory to play but these Bulldogs can't harm the conference schedule. Look for a high scoring affair in this one.

USC @ Hawaii
It"s always a game when the number one ranked team in the country travels to their opponents stadium. New defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville may have a hard time keeping up with the Trojan firepower in this game. Tune in to see the beautiful Honolulu scenery.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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