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Fully Loaded Pac

Expanded season means teams will play everyone in the conference

September 01, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

With the college football season expanding to 12 games this fall, the teams of the Pacific 10 Conference could have used the extra week to schedule more nonconference patsies.

Such as Temple or Sacramento State, to name two teams that recently passed through.

Instead, the Pac-10 chose to dump its long-standing policy that had each team playing only eight conference games, skipping one rival at random. Now everyone plays everyone else.

And if that seems like a technicality, ask Oregon, which got to skip USC last season. Or California, which did not have to face Arizona.

"With Pac-10 games, there's more emotion, more rivalry," Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said. "That's one more game where someone can knock you off."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Pac-10 football: An article in the football special section on Friday said Oregon did not have USC on its schedule last year. USC defeated Oregon. It did not play Oregon State.

Or, as Arizona State Coach Dirk Koetter put it, "No more luck of the draw."

The full schedule adds spice to a conference race that already figured to be close. USC and Cal don't seem far ahead of the pack, and underdogs such as Arizona and Washington State appear capable of making a move.

"I think you are going to see a lot of close games," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said. "This is the most competitive year we've had in a long time."

The teams, in predicted order of finish:

USC: The Trojans are favored to win a fourth consecutive Pac-10 title but must do so minus Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Look for Coach Pete Carroll to rely on a favorite weapon: a tough, veteran defense that features what might be the best set of linebackers in the nation.

Cal: Loaded on both sides of the ball and featuring two dangerous runners in Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, this team figures to have the best shot at ending USC's title run. There is, however, a potential glitch: The Golden Bears have an unproven trio of quarterbacks -- Nate Longshore, Joe Ayoob and Steve Levy. Longshore was named the starter this week.

Oregon: The Ducks are still smarting after going 10-1 in the 2005 regular season and being passed over for a Bowl Championship Series slot. The offensive line returns, meaning this could be a big year for sophomore tailbacks Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson. The defense features safety J.D. Nelson but must reload quickly -- especially at cornerback -- for a string of tough early games.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils must rebound from a training camp mini-drama that started with two talented quarterbacks, Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Koetter selected Keller the starter, then 48 hours later -- after reportedly meeting with disgruntled players -- switched to Carpenter, which prompted Keller to transfer to Nebraska. Add a leaky defense from last season and Arizona State has issues.

UCLA: For a team that finished 10-2 last season, the Bruins have much to prove. Can they replace the triumvirate of Drew Olson, Maurice Drew and Marcedes Lewis on offense? Can new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker shore up a squad that ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in 2005?

Arizona: Two years ago, Stoops brought hope to this sagging program with hard-nosed defense. Now the Wildcats look to take the next step with Willie Tuitama. The sophomore quarterback took over late last season and guided the team to two victories, including a 52-14 stunner over UCLA. Stoops says that Tuitama lacks experience but can't help adding, "I like the way he's developing."

Washington State: The Cougars slipped to 4-7 last season because of five close losses. Coach Bill Doba -- maybe on the hot seat in chilly Pullman -- hopes the return of quarterback Alex Brink, a year older and wiser, will make the difference. But in the pass-happy Pac-10, he has to find a pair of cornerbacks.

Oregon State: For the Beavers, it's all about the pass. Can quarterback Matt Moore avoid throwing too many to the other team? Can the secondary stop the long gains that doomed last season? "One play can make a game," safety Sabby Piscitelli said. At least kicker Alexis Serna, the 2005 Lou Groza Award winner, is back.

Stanford: The defense, which struggled through much of last season, must replace five starters, and the running game must improve from a woeful 2005. But this could be the year that senior quarterback Trent Edwards gets the hang of Coach Walt Harris' offense.

Washington: The good news? Quarterback Isaiah Stanback returns. The bad? Quarterback Isaiah Stanback returns. The highly talented, occasionally erratic senior might have to carry the team, because tailback Kenny James will be playing with a barely healed broken arm.



Quick Facts

* AP preseason Top 25: USC No. 6; California No. 9; Oregon No. 21; Arizona State No. 24.

* AP final 2005 ranking: USC (12-1) No. 2; Oregon (10-2) No. 12 (tied); UCLA (10-2) No. 16; California (8-4) No. 25.

* 2005 bowl record: 3-2.

* 2006 favorite: USC.

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