Also See: PAC 10 Preview In-Depth Extra
The Bears have hovered right around the top of the league standings the past few seasons, winning 8 or more games the past three years, and with USC seemingly in somewhat of a rebuilding stage, it may be Cal's chance to take the PAC 10 reins for at least one season. Fifteen starters return this fall, including star RB Marshawn Lynch. One of the best ball carriers in the country, the junior dashed for over 1200 yards and 10 TDs last fall. Also back is fellow 1000-yard rusher Justin Forsett, QB Joe Ayoob (1700 yards and 15 TD but 14 INT), and four of the squad's top five wideouts. Ayoob isn't guaranteed to take the starting snaps however, as coach Jeff Tedford has a trio of talented QBs to choose from.
A season-opening road trip to Tennessee will tell a lot about where both teams stand. A win in Knoxville would make Cal a legitimate national title contender early on. The schedule doesn't ease up any after that, though four of the next five are in Berkeley. Home games with Arizona State and Oregon will be key, as will the November road trip to USC. If the Bears can win at least seven of their first eight, they'll be playing the rest of their schedule with legitimate national title game hopes.
Projected Wins: MINN, PortSt, at OSU, OR, at WSU, WA, UCLA, at AZ, STAN
It's pretty much been the Trojans and then everybody else for the past four seasons out West. USC has earned at least a share of the PAC 10 title every year since 2002, but with QB Matt Leinart and RBs Reggie Bush and LenDale White all gone, this season will be a bit more challenging. Just ten total starters return to L.A. this fall, though two of those include star wideouts Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. That pair combined for over 2200 yards and 21 scores a season ago, though they'll be catching passes from a new QB in 2006.
Many are projecting an opening-weekend upset at Arkansas, and that's not all that far-fetched. A home game with Nebraska the next weekend won't be easy either, nor will a home game with Arizona State in mid-October. Oregon, California, and Notre Dame all visit USC in consecutive weeks in November, a three-game stretch that will surely determine how successful this year's Trojans will be.
Projected Wins: at AZ, at WSU, WA, at OSU, at STAN, OR, at UCLA
The Sun Devils have rather quietly been on a good run as of late, winning 29 total games and making three bowl trips over the past four seasons. A dozen starters return this fall from last year's squad that went 7-5. Among those back are QBs Rudy Carpenter and Sam Keller. Both saw action last season, and that will likely be the case once again this fall, though Keller is the favorite to take the starting reigns. Also back are RBs Keegan Herring and Rudy Burgess. That pair combined to run for 1500 yards and a dozen scores in 2005. Star WR Derek Hagan has left for pro ball, but TE Zach Miller, one of the country's best at his position, is back for his junior year.
Non-conference games at home against Nevada and on the road at Colorado early on will not be easy. A pair of tough PAC 10 battles at California and at home against Oregon close out the month of the September, which means just surviving the first five weeks of the season will be a challenge. A road trip to USC comes in mid-October, but once ASU gets past that, the schedule gets much easier the rest of the way. A 3-3 start wouldn't be all that bad, as a 6-0 finish to the campaign is very possible.
Projected Wins: N.AZ, NEV, OR, STAN, at WA, at OSU, WSU, UCLA, at AZ
The Ducks won conference championships in both 2000 and 2001 but slid down the standings just a bit for a couple seasons before returning to the top last fall, finishing just a single game behind league champ USC. Though thirteen starters are back this year, many of the squad's top playmakers from a season ago have left campus. Gone are QB Kellen Clemens, RB Terrence Whitehead, and WR Demetrius Williams. However, Dennis Dixon looks to battle Brady Leaf for the starting position under center, while Jonathan Stewart, also a special teams threat, should hold his own at RB.
Early-season non-conference games at Fresno State and at home against Oklahoma will be a challenge, as will back-to-back road trips to Arizona State and California a few weeks later. A 2-3, or even 1-4, start to the season is very possible, though the schedule does get a bit easier by mid-October. A road trip to USC in November is the only other game the Ducks can be counted out of at this point, meaning a winning season should still be expected even if that rough schedule gets the team off to a bad start.
Projected Wins: STAN, UCLA, PortSt, WA, AZ
The Cougars have won just nine games the past two seasons after winning 30 contests the previous three seaons. That trend seems to be reversing, though, as it appears Washington State should work their way back towards bowl eligibility here in 2006. Fourteen starters return this fall, including 8 on defense. Among those back on the offensive side are QB Alex Brink and his favorite target, WR Jason Hill. The latter had nearly 1100 yards receiving and 13 scores a year ago. The team will have to replace star RB Jerome Harrison (1900 yards, 16 TD), however.
A road trip to Auburn to open the season will be tough, but three wins should follow before a difficult stretch of games vs USC, at Oregon State, vs California, and vs Oregon comes around in October. With quite a few tough games at home, capturing a couple victories on the road will be key to WSU's run for six wins in 2006.
Projected Wins: Idaho, BAY, AZ
The Beavers had won at least seven games in five of the past six years but came up a single victory short of bowl eligibility last fall. Sixteen starters return in 2006, including nine on offense. Among those back are QB Matt Moore and RB Yvenson Bernard, who ran for more than 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns a season ago. Moore must improve his TD:INT ratio this year, which won't be all that easy considering the loss of star WR Mike Hass. Seven defensive starters return, including four of the team's top six tacklers from '05, and K Alexis Serna is back as well.
A road trip to Boise State in week two will be a huge challenge, as will a home game with California in late September. The Beavers go on to host USC and Arizona State in consecutive weeks later in the season, meaning pulling some huge home upsets or picking up a few road wins along the way will be crucial if OSU is to go bowling in 2006.
Projected Wins: E.WA, Idaho, at STAN
It appears that a recent run of Bruin success, including four straight bowl games, could come to an end this fall. Though Karl Dorrell's squad won 10 games in 2005, many of the key parts from that team have now left campus. A dozen starters return, but star RB/PR Maurice Drew (900 yards, 13 TD), QB Drew Olson (3200 yards, 34 TD), and TE Marcedes Lewis (750 yards, 10 TD) will all have to be replaced. QB Ben Olson (no relation) looks to step in under center, while last year's back-up Chris Markey looks to take over at RB after running for nearly 600 yards and 3 TDs in '05.
The season-opener at home against Utah will be a tough test, but the next four games on the schedule are all winnable, which could mean Olson and some of the other new guys can get their feet wet before the schedule gets a bit tougher later in the season. A good start could mean this prediction under-estimates UCLA's success in 2006.
Projected Wins: Rice
Mike Stoops is entering his third year as the head coach in Tucson and is hoping to take the 'Cats to the next level after a pair of 3-8 seasons to begin his tenure. Seventeen starters are back this fall, including QB Willie Tuitama. The sophomore stepped in last fall and gave UA fans a reason for excitement, completing nearly 58% of his passes and tossing 9 TDs. He will take full control of the reigns this season, and though stud RB Mike Bell is gone, Tuitama's top four wideouts from last fall all return, including leading WR Mike Thomas.
A 1-3 start to the season is possible if the opener against BYU doesn't go well. A trip to LSU and home date with USC follow later in the month. However, the schedule eases up a bit after that opening run, meaning the squad could pick up some confidence - and some wins - before a tough closing stretch that sees Stoops' team host Cal, visit Oregon, and host rival ASU. Though some are hoping this is the year things change for the better, a winning record doesn't appear to be in Ariznoa's sights just yet.
Projected Wins: SFAustin
Walt Harris took a Stanford team that had won four games each of the past three seasons and moved them to within one victory of bowl eligibility in his first year on campus last fall. With sixteen starters returning this year, including 10 on offense, the expectations are even a bit higher for 2006. One of those back is QB Trent Edwards. The senior threw for almost 2000 yards last season and had a solid 17 to 7 TD:INT ratio. The squad's top two RBs, as well as leading WR Mark Bradford, are back this season as well.
The opener at Oregon likely won't be a win, but the three-game stretch at SJSU, vs Navy, and vs Washington State that follows will tell a lot about where this team stands. Five of the first seven games are winnable, but at this point, I can't see the squad winning more than a half-dozen games at most. However, a good start could lead to the Cardinal performing better than this prediction indicates.
Projected Wins: at SJSU
Things simply haven't been pretty for UW as of late. The team has won just three games over the past two years, but second-year coach Ty Willingham is hoping to bring the squad out of a cloud of controversy and take them a step up in the PAC 10 race sometime soon. Fourteen starters are back this fall, including senior QB Isaiah Stanback who threw for over 2100 yards and 9 TDs a season ago. Also back is second-leading rusher Louis Rankin, as well as six of the team's top seven wideouts.
The opener against SJSU should be a win, though the next two at Oklahoma and at home against Fresno State won't be easy at all. The best-case scenario has the Huskies winning five games and looking ahead towards 2007 with bowl hopes. However, a much more likely scenario sees UW right around the three-win mark once again.
Projected Wins: SJSU
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