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A sport-by-sport and team-by-team look ahead

Labor strife, rebuilding franchises and college teams in transition will mark 2011.

December 25, 2010

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Repeat, part deux: Duke won't need a fan wearing only a Speedo behind the basket to discombobulate its opponents. The Blue Devils are headed for a second consecutive national title for the second time, having also won in 1991-92.

Gobbling Pac-Men: Washington is a good team. We'll give the Pacific 10 Conference that much. Beyond that, there's … what, exactly? UCLA, which lost to Montana? Arizona, which has one star in Derrick Williams? Sending two teams to the NCAA tournament will be as good as it gets again for the Pac-10.

Here's … Lavin! Steve Lavin, in his first season as the coach of the Red Storm, will take New York by force, if not Westwood. St. John's will beat the Bruins in February at Pauley Pavilion and Lavin will celebrate with a late-night milkshake at old haunt Kate Mantilini.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Northwestern has never been to the NCAA tournament, despite hosting the first Final Four in 1939. No longer. Coach Bill Carmody will take the Wildcats to a place where none of his predecessors (including Tex Winter and Kevin O'Neill) could, becoming as legendary a figure on campus as Otto Graham and Stephen Colbert.

--Ben Bolch

UCLA

Speed thrills: Ben Howland sounds like a delivery-room nurse these days. "Push, push, push!" the UCLA coach can be heard repeatedly exhorting his team. The Bruins are pushing the pace off opponents' turnovers and missed shots, a departure from the more deliberate offensive style long favored by Howland.

Baggage claim: A year after off-the-court issues plagued the Bruins, UCLA is passing its chemistry test. The freshmen and sophomores get along. The sophomores and juniors get along. If there were any seniors on this team they might lead a group rendition of Cumbaya.

Tourney time: There will be a reason to gather around the television come Selection Sunday in March, though it may be to learn the Bruins' first-round NIT opponent. A weak Pac-10 and a lack of marquee nonconference victories will likely spell UCLA's first appearance in the "other" postseason tournament since 1986.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

At his heaviest, Joshua Smith weighed more than 350 pounds. That was before Smith coined his own phrase: the freshman 50. The 6-foot-10, 305-pound center lost about 50 pounds after arriving at UCLA but still packs the kind of clout the Bruins sorely need in the paint.

--Ben Bolch

USC

Joneses trying to keep up: USC Coach Kevin O'Neill needs freshmen guards Maurice and Bryce Jones (roommates, but no relation) to avoid a mid-season slump and not wear down despite heavy minutes for the Trojans to remain competitive.

Different day, same zone: The Trojans lack shooters, so they're usually stuck in quicksand against a zone defense. But recently, O'Neill moved 6-foot-10 forward Nikola Vucevic to the top of the key to spread it out. It has worked, so far. That could change come Pacific 10 Conference play.

Calling Mr. Jackson: With his developing inside game, mid-range shooting touch, and solid defensive instincts, freshman forward Garrett Jackson will play a lot. What and how much he'll contribute is unclear.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Jio Fontan, a junior guard who transferred from Fordham, assumed a starting role as soon he became eligible in mid-December and his leadership, defense, three-point shooting and ability to attack the basket gave the Trojans a much-needed boost.

--Baxter Holmes

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Ten equals 12: Nebraska becomes the 12th member of the Big Ten, if that makes any sense. It will be the league's biggest shakeup since Penn State became the 11th member of the Big Ten.

Twelve equal 12: Utah and Colorado are heading west to join the newly-configured Pac 12 Conference, the league's first expansion since Arizona and Arizona State joined in 1978. The Pac 12 will stage a title game at the home field of the higher-ranked divisional winner.

Where's Texas: Can Texas and coach Mack Brown rebound from their worst season since 1997? The Longhorns finished 5-7 only a year after playing in the BCS title game, prompting the scapegoat resignation of offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

NECOMERS TO WATCH

Start with the newcomer coaches at Miami, Florida, Pittsburgh taking over programs that have won national titles. The new Pac-12 has to replace several top quarterbacks, including Washington's Jake Locker. Will it be Keith Price or Joe Montana's son, Nate?

--Chris Dufresne

UCLA

Staff changes: A 4-8 season led to defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough and wide receivers coach Reggie Moore getting fired. Coach Rick Neuheisel has a 15-22 record since coming back to UCLA, the worst three-season start by a Bruins' coach since 1922. The biggest change will likely be Neuheisel having a greater say play-calling in 2011.

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