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August 16, 2004

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.

USC QB Matt Leinart wants the national title all to himself in 2004.
In a desperate attempt to expose a weakness and to find question marks, I could point out that the Trojans have to replace three spectacular offensive linemen, which could leave the offense far less explosive than the superstar skill players would suggest. Or I could point out that they lost both their starting cornerbacks, which is always dangerous in the pass happy Pac-Ten. I would only be kidding myself, though, because this is, in fact, the best team in the country. They will probably have a close game somewhere down the line, but when it happens, it will be due solely to a lapse on their own part, because nobody outside of Norman, Baton Rouge, or perhaps Athens has the talent to challenge this team when they play their best.

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)

Arizona State:

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)

Oregon State:

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)

Washington State:

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)

Conference Bests:

  • Best Team: USC, and I'm not bothering to explain this one.
  • Best Coach: Jeff Tedford, orchestrator of the instant turnaround from doormat to contender. Mike Stoops will try to steal the title away, though, with a similar run this year in Arizona.
  • Best Player: Mike Williams was the best player in the country last year, and if the NCAA lets him play, which is looking likely, then he will be again this year. If he doesn't get his eligibility back, then USC's other Heisman candidate, Matt Leinart, gets the nod instead.
  • Best Stadium: The Rose Bowl will always be the best stadium in the conference. No matter how bad the team gets, or how apathetic the crowd becomes, the tradition and grandeur of the stadium itself will still reign supreme.
  • Best Game of 2004: USC versus Cal will get the most hype, but the Trojans will have no trouble getting their revenge at home. The best game of the year will be the battle for second place when Oregon plays at Cal, with the Golden Bears probably winning a close one.
  • Best Fans: Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in all of college football, as Michigan learned last year, and the reason is the fans. With no pro team nearby the fans in Eugene have turned to college sports full force, and when the Ducks are playing on Saturday fully a third of the town is filling the stadium, with most of the rest wishing they could have gotten tickets.
  • Best Tradition: Current power, traditional power, Running Back U, the most storied program in the Pac-Ten is without a doubt the USC Trojans.
  • Best Bet to Underachieve: Washington State fans have gotten used to 10 win seasons, and when they find themselves fighting just to stay bowl eligible, they won't know what to do.
  • Best Bet to Overachieve: Arizona will be a much more immediate player in the conference race than anyone expects them to be. Mike Stoops will have this team playing like a contender immediately.
  • Preseason All-Pac-Ten Team

    QB: Matt Leinart, USC

    RB: Mike Bell, Arizona
    RB: Reggie Bush, USC
    WR: Mike Williams, USC
    WR: Geoff McArthur, Cal
    TE: Troy Bienemann, Washington State
    OL: Adam Snyder, Oregon
    OL: Doug Nienhuis, Oregon State
    OL: Grayling Love, Arizona State
    OL: Khalif Barnes, Washington
    OL: Eyoseff Efseaff, UCLA

    DL: Shaun Cody, USC
    DL: Haloti Ngata, Oregon
    DL: Bill Swancutt, Oregon State
    DL: Mike Patterson, USC
    LB: Will Derting, Washington State
    LB: Matt Grootegoed, USC
    LB: Spencer Havner, UCLA
    CB: Brandon Browner, Oregon State
    CB: Derrick Johnson, Washington
    S: Donnie McCleskey, California
    S: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Stanford

    Special Teams:
    K: Jared Siegel, Oregon
    P: Tom Malone, USC
    Returner: Kenny Washington, Oregon

    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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