THE PAC-10 CONFERENCE
BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
Conference Champ: Southern Cal vs. UCLA: The Bruins beat the Trojans last season and should be even better this year, as they return ten starters on both sides of the ball. Bruce Davis recorded 12.5 sacks as a junior and returns to lead a stellar defense, putting the ball in the offense’s court. If UCLA is to fulfill their potential, quarterback Ben Olsen will have to reach his. Their biggest problem? The Trojans will be better as well, as USC returns 18 starters from last year’s team. The defense is unquestionably the best in the land. This may sound ridiculous, but the defense could have eight or nine future day one picks, with one of the best linebacker corps I have ever seen. The schedule is tough, so John David Booty will have to be on his game week in and week out.
The Sleeper: Arizona St.: Coach Dennis Erickson is in town and he knows how to win. The Sun Devils underachieved last season and are due to bounce back. With a more consistent Rudy Carpenter and nine starters returning on offense, ASU has the potential to be explosive. The defense is underrated as well and if some of the talented youngsters such as Dexter Davis (6 sacks as a freshman) gel with transfers such as Luis Vasquez (31 sacks in two seasons of JC ball), they could have a Cinderella season in Coach Erickson’s first year back in the Pac-10. They play USC, California, Oregon St. and the rival Wildcats of Arizona all at home.
Offensive Player of the Year: John David Booty (USC) vs. Jonathan Stewart (OU): With predecessors Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart winning the Heisman Trophy before departing Southern California, you would think winning Offensive Player of the Year should be a cinch for Booty. He will need receivers to emerge after losing Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, a duo that played a big role in Booty’s successful season. If any player can step up and put up the type of numbers that could outshine the Hollywood boy, it is the highly touted Stewart. Built like a NFL back (5’11”/230), with the moves and speed to match, he was among the most acclaimed prospects coming out of high school. Stewart is a workout warrior, a combine star in waiting. Now he must translate that talent to the field on a consistent basis.
Defensive Player of the Year: Lawrence Jackson (USC) vs. Ray Maualuga (USC): Jackson was supposed to win this honor last season on his way to the NFL, but things did not quite work out as planned. Due partly to a groin injury, the defensive end went sackless for the first eight games of the season. Now healthy, the expectation is that Jackson will dominate the line of scrimmage, terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Playing behind him is the very productive MIKE backer Maualuga, who as a sophomore supplanted a senior starter and become the leader of the Trojans defense. He covers sideline-to-sideline and no one makes a more memorable introduction when they arrive. He was a first team All-Pac 10 performer last season, as was OLB Keith Rivers, with Brian Cushing (OLB) joining Jackson on the second team, two more SC candidates.
Breakout Seasons: Patrick Turner (USC), Reggie Carter (UCLA), Willie Tuitama (ASU): Turner only made 29 grabs as a sophomore and somehow he averaged less than ten yards per reception as USC’s number three receiver. At 6’5”/230 with explosive speed, Turner has more physical ability than the record setting Dwayne Jarrett did. With Jarrett and Steve Smith gone, Turner steps up to the number one spot, which will reflect on his numbers. Carter started at the WILL position last season as a freshman for the Bruins. He was solid and showed some flashes, using his speed to chase down ball carriers and he was more physical than his size would indicate (218 pounds). With a full season under his belt, Carter will flourish as a sophomore, joining Bruce Davis to lead the Bruins defense. Tuitama was ticketed to break out last season, but injuries (concussions) that caused him to miss significant playing time, also contributed to his inconsistency. This season, new coordinator Sonny Dykes brings the spread offense to Tucson from Texas Tech. The wide-open quick strike attack should bring out Tuitama’s talent, as well as help keep him upright.
Best Pro Prospect: Taylor Mays (USC): So many choices, just on USC’s defense alone with Lawrence Jackson, Ray Maualuga, Keith Rivers and the overlooked Brian Cushing…so why go with a sophomore safety? Because he is that good. As a freshman last season, Mays stepped into the starting lineup and excelled, making three interceptions and laying the wood on anyone who dared to lurk near his territory. The former track star has speed with the ideal size (6’4”/220) to flourish in the league where they play for pay.
College Football Insiders Picks:
Conference Champion: Southern Cal Trojans: You didn’t think I was going anywhere else with this pick…did you? Hands-down the most talented team in the land, the Trojans look to win their first National Title since 2004.
Offensive Player of the Year: DeSean Jackson (Cal): Going with an upset here. Jackson is so good he may live up to Ted Ginn’s hype. The Cal receiver is a threat to score on every play, maybe the most feared man with ball in hand.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ray Maualuga (USC): The 6’3”/250 MIKE for USC plays with intensity and uses all of his ability. He may not run the fastest 40-time, but don’t tell that to the players he is chasing.
Check back tomorrow for Part VI: The SEC