The New Year hasn’t started out great for the PAC-10. Going 2-5 in bowl games wasn’t the worst thing that has happened to the conference since the calendar turned. Most people expected a record amount of underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft, but the PAC-10 didn’t expect Pete Carroll to join them on Sundays. Could the balance of power be shifting from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest? We shall see.
The PAC-10 lost seven players early to the NFL (Toby Gerhart, Jahvid Best, Joe McKnight, Damian Williams, Rob Gronkowski, Everson Griffin, and Brian Price) but the league won’t be without star power as it returns eight starting quarterbacks. The bonus of teams having to rely on a lot of young gunslingers last season is that those players should step up and give the conference something to brag about next season. Three of the top four rushers and receivers are set to return as well. Also, there should be some early Heisman buzz around the two running backs from the state of Oregon. Jacquizz Rodgers and LaMichael James are about to become household names. Expect to see their names on a ton of preseason All-American teams.
2009 Record: 8-5 overall, 6-3 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 3 O-Line, 4 Defense
Who They Lose
The biggest loss is a guy who didn’t even play last season. Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the season due to a back surgery but entertained ideas of returning. After being medically cleared for the NFL Combine he decided to leave Tucson. His return would have made the Wildcats one of the top offenses in the conference. Without him expect them to finish in the middle of the pack again. Wide receiver Terrell Turner led the team with 48 catches but won’t be a huge loss as the Wildcats have some young talent at the position.
Arizona returns three starting offensive linemen, but loses both of its tackles. Finding replacements for them will be the top priority in the desert this spring.
Even though Mike Stoops has a reputation as a defensive guy, this unit might be one to stay away from. They lose both defensive tackles and all three linebackers to graduation.
It all starts with quarterback Nick Foles. The Shaggy look-alike didn’t start until the fourth game of the season but went on to throw for 2486 yards and 19 touchdowns. A full offseason knowing he is the starter should only boost his confidence. Despite only starting five games, wide receiver Juron Criner tied for the PAC-10 lead with nine touchdown catches. While the running back tandem of Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin didn’t match the 2008 production, they should bounce back and form a formidable pair this fall.
The Sonny Dykes Effect
Offensive Coordinator Sonny Dykes was brought over from Texas Tech three years ago to install a wide-open passing attack that would light up scoreboards. They appeared to be headed in the right direction after averaging 36.6 points last year, but 2009 saw the offense regress to 27.4 points. While a lot of that decline can be attributed to breaking in two new quarterbacks, the offense scored 21 points or less in 4 out of the last 5 games including an embarrassing shutout in the Holiday Bowl. Expect the offense to open it up next year if Dykes is to save his reputation.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Neutral. They are a mid-level PAC-10 offense that doesn’t have anyone that should garner national attention. Foles could be a real sleeper if the team opens up the aerial attack.
Arizona State Sun Devils
2009 Record: 4-8 overall, 2-7 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 4 Offense / 3 O-Line, 6 Defense
Who They Lose
The Sun Devils had a hard time getting out of their own way on offense which can be mostly explained by poor quarterback play. Inconsistency and inaccuracy led to quarterback Danny Sullivan’s benching after nine games. He won’t be missed by the locals. Chris McGaha will be missed though. He finishes his career third on the all-time receptions (168) list for the school. Kyle Williams led the team in catches (57), yards (815) and touchdowns (8). Needless to say the passing game isn’t expected to improve.
What about the running game you ask? It will also be in bad shape as Dimitri Nance moves on. He was a tough, grind-it-out rusher who also was a big factor in the passing game.
With this team being so bad offensively and losing so much production, what could be the cause for optimism in 2010? Well for one, the quarterback couldn’t possibly be any worse. So who is going to be the quarterback next season? This decision might play a lot into whether or not Dennis Erickson retains his job after 2010. Brock Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy saw starts toward the end of the season and will battle it out in the spring. Not to be overlooked is Michigan transfer Steven Threet.
Wide receiver will be an area of need and the Sun Devils are expecting big things from Gerell Robinson. He has elite size (6’4, 230 lbs) and turned down offers from just about every school in the country. Oregon transfer Aaron Plufgrad could be a real sleeper to emerge as a possession guy. Cameron Marshall is the probable starting running back after rushing for 294 yards as a true freshman.
Best Fantasy Player on the Team is…
The defense. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the team’s 4-8 record but the Sun Devils have quietly built a stout defense. They finished 13th in the nation in total defense, 19th in rush defense, and 26th in pass defense. Dennis Erickson finally has the speed and athleticism he covets. The star is linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whom Erickson has compared to Ray Lewis. He is a nasty, vicious hitter who is the highest rated recruit to ever set foot in Tempe. Defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, Corey Adams, and James Brooks all have NFL caliber talent as well.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Look away, nothing to see here unless you like defense.
California Golden Bears
2009 Record: 8-5 overall, 5-4 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 7 Offense / 4 O-Line, 5 Defense
Who They Lose
Star running back Jahvid Best is taking his game-breaking ability to the NFL. Every time he touched the ball he was a threat to take it to the house, which he did 16 times last year. Unfortunately, his career ended on a down note after he suffered a concussion following a terrifying fall on a leap into the end zone.
While Best will be missed, his backup was no slouch. Shane Vereen accounted for 1988 yards and 17 touchdowns as a backup the last two seasons. That, my friends, is called production. He should be a high fantasy pick in 2010. Quarterback Kevin Riley’s return should give the offense some stability. He threw for 2850 yards with an 18 to 8 TD:INT ratio. Leading receiver Marvin Jones (43 catches, 651 yards, 6 touchdowns) gives Riley an experienced weapon on the outside.
Who Will be the 2nd RB?
This is a running team that requires two backs to carry the load. Who emerges from the back to be the primary backup is anyone’s guess. Dasarte Yarnway missed all of 2009 with a torn tendon in his foot but he could provide the bake to Vereen’s shake. His 222 pound frame could make him the ideal vulture near the goal line.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Warm. The Bears offense scored 29.1 points per game last season and might be better in 2010. They return their quarterback, leading rusher, leading receiver, and four starting offensive lineman. If the passing game grows up, they could easily produce viable fantasy starters across the board.
2009 Record: 10-3 overall, 8-1 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 10 Offense / 5 O-Line, 9 Defense
Who They Lose
The Ducks should be the preseason favorite because they are returning 19 starters from last year’s Rose Bowl squad. First Team All PAC-10 tight end Ed Dickson (42 catches, 551 yards, 6 touchdowns) will be extremely difficult to replace but is the only offensive starter that won’t be back. While he is technically the only starter that won’t return, LaGarrette Blount will be missed in short yardage situations. Of course this team got a glimpse of life without LaGarrette after he missed 10 games due to suspension last season.
This section could be three pages long, but let’s focus on the main characters. Jeremiah Masoli is a true dual-threat quarterback. He passed for 2147 yards, rushed for 668 yards, and accounted for 28 touchdowns. He is the perfect trigger-man for Chip Kelly’s high powered offense.
LaMichael James took advantage of Blount’s abeyance to burst onto the scene with one of the best seasons ever by a freshman in school history. James ran for 1546 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should be a first round pick in almost every fantasy league next year. Jeff Maehl led the team with 53 catches, 696 yards, and 6 touchdowns. He became Masoli’s security blanket down the stretch, scoring five of his six touchdowns during the last month of the season.
After being a concern going into 2009, the entire offensive line returns to give the Ducks reason to think big things again.
The expectations are going to be sky-high in Eugene. On paper, this team should be better than last year. Anything less than a repeat trip to the Rose Bowl would be considered a disappointment. No one outside USC in the last seven years has been the favorite. Will the pressure crack them? Also, the schedule won’t do them any favors. The Ducks don’t play Boise State this year (phew!) but they do have multiple road games that will test the will of this team. Trips to Tennessee, USC, CAL, and Oregon State aren’t going to be easy.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Scorching. They finished eighth in the nation in scoring offense and sixth in rushing offense. They are no signs of them slowing down with 10 starters returning on offense.
Oregon State Beavers
2009 Record: 8-5 overall, 6-3 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 4 O-Line, 8 Defense
Who They Lose
The Beavers only had 13 seniors on their roster but that included their top two quarterbacks. Sean Canfield was selected First Team All PAC-10 and set a school record for completion percentage (67.9). Lyle Moevao, the 2008 starting quarterback, missed his senior season after shoulder surgery and has asked for a sixth year of eligibility but the Beavers don’t think it will be granted. Wide receiver Damola Adeniji (57 catches, 807 yards, 5 touchdowns) leaves a hole opposite James Rodgers.
Junior defensive tackle Stephen Paea will return for his senior season. Losing him would have been a huge hit for the defense, especially against the run where the Beavers finished 25th in the country.
The Rodgers Brothers, both of which were named 2nd Team All-Americans in 2009. Wide receiver James had 2,371 total yards and scored 10 touchdowns. His 91 receptions set a school record. Not to be outdone, little brother Jacquizz set his own school record with 21 rushing touchdowns. He had an almost unbelievable year of 1,440 rushing yards to go with 78 receptions for 522 yards. Whoever takes over at quarterback should feel safe with offensive tackle Michael Philipp watching his blind side. Philipp was named a Freshman All-American after starting all 13 games at left tackle.
Who is Going to be the Quaterback?
Spring practice should tell us a lot about this competition. If Moevao isn’t given a sixth year of eligibilty, sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich are next in line. The strong-armed Katz played in four games this year and is the odds-on favorite to win the job, but don’t count out Lalich. The transfer from Virginia was a highly thought of recruit out of high school and became the first true freshman to play the position in over 10 years for the Cavaliers.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: High. The quarterback situation is unsettled, but the Rodgers brothers are almost unstoppable at times and should both be high fantasy picks. Beware that Jacquizz might not repeat last year’s ridiculous numbers. While they get the majority of tough conference opponents at home, they do open up the season with TCU and Boise State.
2009 Record: 8-5 overall, 6-2PAC-10
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 4 O-Line, 7 Defense
Who They Lose
Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart ran for 1871 yards and 28 touchdowns. He was the most decorated player since John Elway for the Cardinal. Stanford was the most physical team in the conference and Gerhart’s running style was a big reason why. His toughness and physicality will be sorely missed.
The biggest reason for optimism is quarterback Andrew Luck. The enormously talented quarterback led the conference with a 143 passer rating. He threw for 2575 yards, rushed for 354, and accounted for 15 touchdowns. More impressively, the redshirt freshman only threw four interceptions. He has future first-round pick written all over him.
Backup running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 314 yards and will get the first shot at becoming the lead horse. Ryan Whalen (57 catches, 926 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Chris Owusu (18.4 yards per catch) form the top pass catching tandem in the conference. Owusu is an explosive athlete that could hook up with Luck on plenty of deep balls next year. He averaged 31.5 yards per kick return which was good enough for fifth in the nation.
The offensive line returns four starters which should help keep the running game strong.
The obvious fantasy question is “Who replaces Gerhart?” While Taylor is the safest bet, watch out for Tyler Gaffney. He was a highly recruited prospect who could provide some of the power that Gerhart brought to the table. But if you ask me, I would answer Luck. He is the best player on the team and I would be shocked if Harbaugh didn’t use the pass to open up the run.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Slightly down. Don’t count on the offense repeating its offensive barrage (35.5 points) from last year. The Cardinal were one of the most balanced teams in the country, averaging 209 yards passing and 218 yards rushing.
2009 Record: 7-6 overall, 3-6 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 7 Offense / 4 O-Line, 5 Defense
Who They Lose
After starting all 13 games at left tackle as a true freshman, Xavier Su’a-Filo will be leaving the team to serve a two-year Mormon mission. Wide receiver Terrance Austin will be missed more on special teams than on offense.
The real losses are going to be on defense. The 33rd ranked defense in the nation loses six starters on defense, including five in the front seven. Junior defensive tackle Brian Price will enter the NFL Draft and leave a huge void along the defensive front. Price was selected as the PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-American after recording 23.5 tackles for loss (3rd in the nation) and seven sacks.
What does it say about your offense when your kicker is your best player? Of course, Kai Forbath isn’t just any old kicker. He won the 2009 Lou Groza Award and was named First Team All-American. He has made 72 of 83 career field goals.
Sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince showed outstanding poise and leadership despite being constantly harassed by opposing defenses. The hope is that with some better playmakers on the perimeter he can push this team to the top tier of the conference. Sophomore wide receiver Randall Carroll is a burner. He posted the fastest 100 meters time in California in 17 years as a high school senior in 2009. He should step into Austin’s spot and use his outstanding speed to open things up.
The defense will lean primarily on junior safety Rahim Moor,e who intercepted a nation-leading 10 passes.
Now That’s G
Although the Bruins return their top two rushers, watch out for Malcolm Jones. Jones was the Gatorade’s National High School Player of the Year after rushing for 2,477 yards and scoring 45 td’s as a senior in 2009. He is a 6-foot-1 220 lb specimen that has the body to be a feature back at the next level.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Medium. Forbath should be owned in every league and if a running back emerges the offensive should at least be average.
2009 Record: 9-4 overall, 5-4 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 6 Offense / 3 O-Line, 6 Defense
Who They Lose
Pete Carroll finally jumped to the NFL after years of speculation following the success the program enjoyed during his tenure. The hiring of Lane Kiffin should keep the system the same and provide some continuity.
The Trojans continue to pump out NFL players at an alarming rate. After having 11 players drafted last year, they could duplicate that total again this year. The offense loses leading receiver Damian Williams, tight end Anthony McCoy, and leading rusher Joe McKnight, who became the first Trojan to top 1,000 yards rushing since 2005. The passing game will be a huge question mark with the departures of Williams and McCoy, as they were the only consistent options quarterback Matt Barkley had all season.
The entire starting defensive secondary graduates, with the biggest loss being All-American safety Taylor Mays. The Trojans have recruited well the last couple years in the defensive backfield so it shouldn’t be a huge concern. Junior defensive end Everson Griffen’s early departure leaves a need for a pass rusher.
Barkley started all but one game as a true freshman and that should reap huge benefits for this offense. If he continues to grow and value the football, this team should be able to score a lot of points. His bowl game numbers (27-37 for 350 yards and 3 total touchdowns) could be a precursor of what is to come.
The ground game is in good hands with Allen Bradford. The 5-foot-11, 235 pounder ran for 688 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. After being in Carroll’s doghouse last year, keep an eye on running back C.J. Gable. Gable started as a true freshman when Kiffin was the offensive coordinator in 2006. Big things will be expected out of wide receiver Ronald Johnson and tight end Blake Ayles, two who haven’t quite lived up to the hype they had entering school.
With a need for playmakers in the passing game, expect freshmen to make a major impact in 2010. The Trojans have verbal commitments from five-star wide receivers Kyle Prater, Robert Woods, and Dillon Baxter. Prater’s 6-foot-5 frame and Woods’s 4.4 speed would allow the Trojans to get back to a more vertical passing game. Baxter accounted for 79 touchdowns last year as a quarterback in high school, but is expected to move to wide receiver. He would make an ideal slot man that can also create havoc in the wildcat formation.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Medium. The problem with the Trojans is that they seem to spread the ball around. Barkley should take a step forward in 2010 and become a more consistent player. Bradford could be a real sleeper next season, but he also might share carries. Stay away from the wide receivers unless you are in a dynasty league.
2009 Record: 5-7 overall, 3-6 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 9 Offense / 4 O-Line, 8 Defense
Who They Lose
The Huskies doubled their point production (26.1 points in ‘09 versus 13.3 points in ‘08) in Sarkisian’s first year. Offensive lineman Ben Ossai and fullback Paul Homer are the only starters that aren’t returning. In other words, watch out.
The city of Seattle must have felt like they won the lottery when quarterback Jake Locker turned down millions of dollars to jump to the NFL. Locker quickly became a national name after beating USC and might be the most talented quarterback in the nation. He passed for 2800 yards, ran for 388, and scored 28 touchdowns. Look for big things this year. Chris Polk rushed for 1113 yards and became the first freshman in Huskies’ history to top the 1000 yard barrier. Jermaine Kearse (50 catches, 866 yards, 8 touchdowns) leads a receiving core that returns every player that caught a pass last season.
Was the rise of the offense more about Sarkisian’s system or the return of Locker from injury? Most likely, a little of both. With the best recruiting class (headlined by Nick Montana, yes of that Montana family) in recent history about to step on campus, this team could sky rocket to the top of the conference rankings in offense in the upcoming years.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Rising quickly. With all the skill position players back, the sky is the limit and this team could easily approach 30 points a game. A 3000 yard passer, a 1000 yard rusher, and a 1000 yard receiver are distinct possibilities next season…so think “Huskies” on draft day.
Washington State Cougars
2009 Record: 1-11 overall, 0-9 PAC-10
Returning Starters: 8 Offense / 4 O-Line, 9 Defense
Who They Lose
Can a team that went 1-11 suffer any real losses? That was a cheap shot but the truth hurts sometimes. The offense will have a tough time replacing center Kenny Alfred. He started 44 games in his career and earned 2nd team All PAC-10 in 2009. The only other player of note that won’t be back is running back Dwight Tardy. He ran for 2,241 yards in his career (7th in school history) but only 417 yards in 2009.
The biggest question is whether running back James Montgomery can return from a knee injury. The team will need someone to take the pressure off sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel. Tuel was by far the most consistent passer of the three quarterbacks who started a game last year. The team’s top four pass-catchers return, with junior Jared Karstetter being the best. Offensive tackle Micah Hannam will be counted on for leadership along the front as he has started all 37 games in his career.
Keep An Eye This Spring On
Tuel. The Cougars are counting on him becoming a player that can lead this team back to respectability. He played in six games as a true freshman and flashed the ability to be a playmaker. He completed 59% of his passes and threw six of the team’s 11 touchdown passes. While not a fantasy option yet, he could blossom into a decent one down the road.
2010 Fantasy Outlook: Frigid. The Cougars only scored 12 points per game last year. Montgomery has some intrigue if he fully recovers from his knee injury but even then it is hard to own a running back on a team that is always losing.