2006 NCAA Football Preview

The PAC 10 conference has been the USC Trojans and everyone else over the last three seasons, with the combination of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush running rough shod over the competition. While USC is still the dominant team in the PAC 10, the rest of the conference is slowly closing in on them in talent and performance. The University of California Bears, the Oregon Ducks, and the two Arizona schools will look to give the Trojans a run for their proverbial money in the 2006 season. No matter how this conference ends up in the standings, it should be fun to watch considering the offensive potency of many of the PAC 10 schools.

1. USC- To most teams, the loss of such great talents as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Lendale White (among many others) would be devastating for subsequent seasons. However, Pete Carroll has kept his cupboard well stocked and in a year or two the Trojans may be as good as they were in the past three seasons. The big question is quarterback, with upperclassmen backup John David Booty looking to beat out freshmen Mark Sanchez for the starting position. However, either quarterback will benefit from outstanding receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith who can make the big plays down field. The defense may be what is able to win them games, however, with Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis bringing experience to the defensive line and a slew of talented linebackers and defensive backs.

2. California- Jeff Tedford has to be seeing the top of the PAC 10 as a realistic goal over the next two seasons. With a USC team determining how good their young talent is, California may be able to get close enough in 2006 to position themselves in 2007 for the PAC 10 championship. Tedford has great talent in the offensive backfield, with quarterback Nate Longshore returning from season-ending injury in 2005 and the double running threat of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Lynch and Forsett may be the next Bush and White, with Tedford devoting more time to the run in 2006. The Golden Bears’ defense is outstanding and is one of the few in the conference that is solid all around. Look out for Cal in 2006.

3. Oregon- The loss of Kellen Clemens may hurt the passing game a bit but coach Mike Belotti’s spread offense provides a solid system to whomever (in this case, Dennis Dixon) is at the helm. However, Belotti will be focusing more on the running game in 2006, with outstanding backs Jeremiah Johnson and Jonathan Stewart getting more carries to make up for the loss of Clemens. Look for Johnson and Stewart to give the Ducks a more hard nosed approach on offense, with perhaps 2,000 to 2,200 yards between the two of them. The defense of the Oregon Ducks is what is keeping them from leapfrogging the Cal Bears, with only a couple of starters returning to an already weakened secondary. Look for the Ducks to be in a lot of high scoring games, with the edge going to them in games where they can scrounge up a turnover or two.

4. Arizona State University- The Sun Devils have two great quarterbacks in Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, who combined for an outstanding quarterback rating of 175 in 2005. Coach Dirk Koetter will pick one of the other to start the entire season instead of having them switch off series or quarters. Look for Keller, who is probably the better leader of the two, to take the offensive reigns in 2006 and have a great season. Koetter is counting on the loss of most of his starting defense, which ranked 114th, for an improvement in pass and rush coverage in 2006. Hopefully, that is not his only plan on defense as they leave much to be desired in terms of talent.

5. Arizona- Coach Mike Stoops has to begin proving his coaching ability in 2006, as the highly touted assistant coach has had two consecutive 3-8 seasons. Arizona has a solid quarterback in Willie Tuitama and the offense looks like it will be able to finally put up some points. This will aid an improving defensive squad led by cornerback Antoine Cason. With the combination of improved offensive output and a solid defense, Mike Stoops looks like he will finally make progress with his Wildcats program.

6. UCLA- The Bruins lost running back Maurice Drew, quarterback Drew Olson, and tight end Mercedes Lewis to the NFL Draft, leaving the cupboard a little bit bare for coach Karl Dorell. However, the Bruins get BYU transfer Ben Olson to start at quarterback and they do have some good young talent at the running back and receiver positions for 2006. The Bruins will need to adjust quickly to not having their three big offensive weapons from 2005 and it may take them until 2007 to become a threat in the PAC 10 again.

7. Oregon State University- The Oregon State Beavers have some troubles and with their underachieving performance in 2005 may have missed a window to move up in the conference. Running back Yvenson Bernard will give the Beavers steady performances from the backfield, but their passing game is not nearly where it should be to win games in the PAC 10. As well, while the Beavers have a veteran secondary, their front eight is not very good nor are they experienced. Expect Mike Riley’s Oregon State team to struggle mightily in 2006.

8. Washington State University- Quarterback Alex Brink continues a tradition of solid quarterbacks in Pullman (including Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf), but the defense was 106th overall in 2005 and Washington State has little to no running attack. Brink will need to be comfortable throwing the ball two-thirds of the time in order for the Cougars to have a chance on offense. However, even if Brink does get comfortable in the pocket, teams like USC and Oregon will pick their defense apart and run up some high scores.

9. Washington- Ty Willingham’s coaching ability and determination to turn the Huskies program around will get them past the Stanford Cardinal in the PAC 10, but won’t be able to get them more than three wins in 2006. The one hope for Willingham is that he can turn quarterback Isaiah Stanback into a great, versatile quarterback in one offseason. Considering Stanback’s numbers last season and the weak talent around him Willingham will be hoping for a swift end to the 2006 PAC 10 season.

10. Stanford- The combination of quarterback Trent Edwards and receiver Mark Bradford could be potent for the Cardinal in 2006, but will be limited by the fact that they have no running game and their defense is relatively weak. Edwards won’t be able to use play action passing with Bradford and other PAC 10 teams will tear apart the Cardinal defense all season long.

Best NFL Prospect- CB Antoine Cason, Arizona- Cason is an extremely talented defensive back that will make the Wildcats more competitive on the defense in 2006. In a conference with some great quarterbacks, Cason’s talents are at a premium. His talent and leadership will allow him to put up some big numbers and make NFL scouts jump at the opportunity to take a look at this potential NFL Pro Bowler.

Most Improved Team- Arizona- Mike Stoops’ third season at Arizona needs to be an improvement over the consecutive 3-8 seasons that he has put up for the Wildcats. The 2006 PAC 10 season will feature an improved Arizona team simply because Stoops’ first recruiting class is now upperclassmen and he has a good group of freshmen and sophomores on the sidelines. As well, Coach Stoops has a team that will run through walls to get to the end zone and his tough nosed attitude is infectious. Look for the Wildcats to be even more competitive in 2007 and 2008.

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