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In Predicted Order Of Finish

August 26, 2000|JIM HODGES


Coach: Rick Neuheisel, second season

1999 record: 7-5, 6-2

Case for: If, after warming up against Idaho on Sept. 2, Tuiasosopo lights up Miami and Colorado on successive Saturdays, look for the Washington to start a Heisman Trophy campaign. It's a longshot, but games like his 207-rushing-yard, 302-passing-yard effort against Stanford last season are certainly selling points. And his having tailback Paul Arnold and an offensive line that returns four starters to work behind should make Tuiasosopo's job even easier.

Case against: Losses of leading receiver, Chris Juergens (broken leg) and NFL-quality tight end Jerramy Stevens (rape investigation) mean fewer targets for Tuiasosopo. A defense that generated only 13 sacks last season and lost starting cornerbacks Roderick Green (academics) and Anthony Vontoure (apparently an attitude problem) could struggle at times.

If it all breaks right: Tuiasosopo gets through the season unscathed and the Huskies get through the Miami and Colorado games without injury. Then Washington can negotiate a Pac-10 schedule that doesn't include USC.

2. USC

Coach: Paul Hackett, third season

1999 record: 6-6, 3-5

Case for: Zeke Moreno and Markus Steele are big-play linebackers. Both are physical, both have speed and both can dominate a game as witness Moreno's performance a year ago against Oregon State when he scored on a 17-yard fumble return and 71-yard interception runback. All Steele did against San Diego State was to make nine tackles--two for lost yards--intercept a pass and force, then recover a fumble. With a defense that returns 10 starters, USC can handle most of what the Pac-10 throws at it.

Case against: Opening against Penn State and Colorado is admirable, if a bit foolhardy for a team trying to claw its way back from mediocrity. And USC learned a year ago what can happen when a team is so dependent on its quarterback. Carson Palmer should be taken over to nearby Dedeaux Field and given sliding lessons.

If it all breaks right: Nothing on Palmer breaks at all and the Trojan tailback-by-committee gets a chairman, instead of three guys wanting more carries. And USC finds a way to win back-to-back games against UCLA and Notre Dame for the first time since 1978.


Coach: Dennis Erickson, second season

1999 record: 7-5, 4-4

Case for: Ken Simonton has successive 1,000-rushing-yard seasons and he's only a junior. That has folks in Corvallis almost as excited as the Beavers earning the first winning season since 1970 and going to their first bowl since 1964. Erickson could be elected mayor of Corvallis and would get votes for governor after lending legitimacy to a program that has been written off for more than a generation.

Case against: Quarterback Jonathan Smith struggled in a Saturday scrimmage against the Oregon State defense, and the Beavers need him to be sharp to take some of the pressure off Simonton. Erickson's suspension of three receivers--Robert Prescott, James Newson and Junior Adams--after they were charged with assault speaks well of the program, but all three return for league play, against USC at Corvallis on Sept. 30.

If is all breaks right: The Oregon State offense catches up to the defense in time for Pac-10 play, and the Beavers go into their game against USC with a 3-0 record. Then new T-shirts will come out defining history as a time when Oregon State couldn't win.


Coach: Bob Toledo, fifth season

1999 record: 4-7, 2-6

Case for: DeShaun Foster is back on two feet and will run behind an offensive line that returns intact--discounting Oscar Cabrera's ankle injury that will keep him out a while--and for all of the attention given the quarterback competition, the running game is the key. Last season was the first in which Toledo didn't have a 1,000-yard back since he came to UCLA, and that can't happen again if the Bruins are to be successful. When receivers Freddie Mitchell and Brian Poli-Dixon are covered, look for Cory Paus to get the ball to Foster with some room to run.

Case against: Some day UCLA is going to recruit a 6-foot cornerback. The Bruin defense, which could have been called The Sieve a year ago, has a lot of the same bodies back that gave up 55 points against Oregon State. And opening against Alabama, then playing hungry Fresno State before Michigan doesn't help in developing confidence in a unit that needs some.

If it all breaks right: UCLA finds a way to compete with Alabama, beats Fresno State and survives the Michigan game. After that, conference games look like a series of breathers.


Coach: Mike Bellotti, sixth season

1999 record: 9-3, 6-2

Case for: No Pac-10 team has the experienced depth the Ducks do at quarterback with Joey Harrington and A.J. Feeley. When Feeley was injured, Harrington won win the final four games of the season. Feeley passed for 1,951 yards and 14 touchdowns, with six interceptions; Harrington for 948 yards and nine touchdowns, with only three picks.

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