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Marc Lawrence’s 2009 Pac 10 Conference Football Preview

PAC 10 2009 FOOTBALL PREVIEW

Marc Lawrence

Marc Lawrence

Marc Lawrence • PLAYBOOK.com

On the heels of a brilliant 5-0 bowl season last year, the PAC 10 CONFERENCE features 146 starters (out of a possible 240, including kickers) returning for the 2009 campaign.

The league spotlights five 1000-yard running backs, including the top-three from 2008. New to the scene will be a pair of first-year head coaches, Chip Kelly at Oregon and Steve Sarkasian at Washington.

Here is my take on the Pac 10 Conference for 2009.

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PAC 10

ARIZONA – 7 / 7
Team Theme – WILDCAT STRIKE

It’s been said that playing defense in the PAC 10 comes down to one basic: give your offense a chance to score the winning points and ignore the in-between. That wasn’t the case with the Wildcats last season. They finished No. 2 in total team defense in the conference behind USC. Seven starters return, including the entire defensive front. If they are able to improve on last year’s numbers, they likely won’t suffer three losses by a touchdown or less, like they did last season. The major concern is the graduation loss of talented QB Willie Tuitama. 6’5″ SO Nick Foiles, a Michigan State transfer and Tuitama’s backup last season, assumes the reins. With RB Nic Grigsby (1195 yards), AA TE Ron Gronkowski and all three receivers back as targets, expect the offense to score more winning points than not in 2009. PLAY ON: vs. USC (12/5)

ARIZONA STATE – 7 / 4
Team Theme: HOME COOKED

If Dennis Erickson were in Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen he would have been given the boot last season. Long one of college football’s best home-cooking coaches, Erickson’s offense hit the skids last year, slipping nearly 100 YPG, resulting in a six-game losing skid and a 2-4 ATS effort at home. That effort kept them for the holidays for the first time in 5 years. In the process, the Devils became the highest ranked team (No. 16) in the SI preseason poll not to make a bowl game. That makes them a ‘Mission Team’ in 2009. With QB Rudy Carpenter’s dorm room having been reassigned, the quarterback battle appears wide open with SR Danny Sullivan, two sophomores and a freshman in the mix. Suddenly in a pinch, they will need to find a way to spice up the recipe. PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCLA (11/21)

CALIFORNIA – *7 / 8
Team Theme – 7-YEAR ITCH

With nary a losing season in his 7 years with the Bears, Cal coach Jeff Tedford realizes fans and alumni alike are getting itchy for more. Somehow 59 wins are not enough. What they want is a PAC 10 championship. While conference kingpin USC continues to reload each season, the feeling from those in the know is this is the year the Trojans could prove vulnerable. That being the case, the Bears will look to a ‘Tinactin defense’ that improved 64 YPG last season as a remedy. In 9 conference games last year the Golden Boys allowed more than 20 points only twice. FYI: Cal is 23-2 SU and 21-4 ATS when they hold conference foes to 20 or less points with Tedford. The offense will feature 1st team All-PAC 10 RB Jahvid Best who rushed for 1580 yards at 8.14 YPR (best in the nation) last year. PLAY ON: vs. Maryland (9/5) – *KEY

OREGON – *5 / 5
Team Theme – CHIPS AHOY

Mike Bellotti, one of our favorite coaches (read: 83-68-1 ATS), has departed. Bellotti has assumed the Athletic Director post with Oregon, so his prints will remain on the program. Enter Chip Kelly, the Ducks’ coach-in-waiting. Since being assigned the task of masterminding OU’s spread attack in 2007, Kelly’s offense has led the Pac 10 in scoring and overall offense each of the last two years. His well-balanced attack has seen the Ducks run and pass the ball for better than 200 YPG in each of his two years in Eugene. QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrett Blount (rushed for 1002 yards last season) return to a team that finished No. 2 in the land in rushing offense. Meanwhile, seven home games virtually assures that they will be bowling for the 5th year in a row. PLAY ON: vs. as a dog vs. USC (10/31)

OREGON STATE – *6 / 3
Team Theme – TAKE THE QUIZZ

Go figure. In a must-win season-ending home game with the Rose Bowl (for the first time since 1965) on the line, the Beavers defense came apart like a dress on prom night in a 65-38 loss to arch rival Oregon. Almost miraculously, OSU followed that meltdown with a 3-0 shutout win over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl a month later. Rest assured, Mike Riley is a bright coach. That’s confirmed by his 28-12 record the last three years in conference play, second only to USC – a team they have beat two of the last three years. Riley knows SO RB Jaquizz Rodgers is his ticket to success. The lightning-quick scat back rushed for 1253 yards, the second-most in the country by a freshman last season. Riley will run his offense out of the “Wildcat Formation” in order to maximize Rodgers’ abilities. Now that’s a smart man. PLAY ON: vs. Oregon (12/3)

SOUTHERN CAL – 9 / 3
Team Theme – TROJAN HORSES

You know the numbers… seven-consecutive AP Top 4 finishes, BCS bowls, Pac-10 titles, 11-win seasons and Top 10 recruiting classes. The latter is the main reason Pete Carroll’s stable is continually replenished. Surprisingly, the last national championship title won by the Trojans was in 2004. If the Trojans were a horseshoe, they’d be accused of leaning on the peg. Close, but no cigar. Despite losing 11 players to the NFL draft this spring (Ohio State, Oregon State and South Carolina had the 2nd most with 7), the roster is still loaded with plenty of ringers. 58 returning lettermen, including all 5 starting offensive linemen and last year’s top 4 running backs. “We’ll be very stout up front with our deep, experienced line and our skill guys are fast, exciting, veteran playmakers,” said Carroll. And the beat goes on. PLAY ON: vs. Oregon State (10/24)

STANFORD – *8 / 7
Team Theme – STAN AND DELIVER

The best measure of a coach’s success is his record. Unlike the majority of politicians that roam our nation’s capitol, numbers don’t lie. In his two years with Stanford, head coach Jim Harbaugh has improved the Cardinal each season. Last-second losses at UCLA and Oregon last year denied his team an opportunity to bowl for the first time since 2001. If he stays on course behind a bevy of returning lettermen and starters this season, Harbaugh should have Stanford in a post-season game. Included in the mix are thirteen 5th-year starters. Sure, they will face seven teams that won bowl games last year, but the final four are games that conclude the season. According to Harbaugh’s mantra, “Nothing stands still. You are either getting better or getting worse.” By our calculation, there is no question which direction Stan is headed. PLAY ON: vs. California (11/21

UCLA – *9 / 7
Team Theme – LOADED FOR BEAR

After suffering just his 2nd losing season as a college football head coach last year, Rick Neuheisel (70-38) declared, “We have to play the QB position better than we did a year ago.” Listed as one of 10 returning starters on offense in 2009, QB Kevin Craft lost his starting slot in spring camp to redshirt FR QB Kevin Prince. The strength of the team will be the running game, where everyone other than Kahill Bell is back. “We have a lot of talent and depth in the backfield,” said Neuheisel. Behind an offensive line that returns in tact, OC Norm Chow’s playbook should be loaded this season. While we’re not keen on laying points with the Slickster, (Neuheisel is 25-40-1 ATS as a favorite), we’re all for grabbing them (Neuheisel is 26-15 ATS as a dog) wherever possible. PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Oregon State (10/31)

WASHINGTON – *8 / 10
Team Theme – STAR BUCKS

When the Huskies lured USC OC Steve Sarkasian away for the Trojans for a reported $1.85M per for five years, he was given an open checkbook to fill out his staff. A reported $2.1M later, Sarkasian lured USC DC Nick Holt ($500K per), Arizona State TE coach Dan Cozzetto ($300K per) and new OC and former NFL QB Bob Nussmeier ($275K Per), among others. Nussmeier will work with QB Jake Locker, the 2007 PAC 10 Freshman of the Year, who suffered a season-ending thumb injury in Game Four in 2008. Meanwhile, a glut of returning talent is back (18 starters) from last year’s abysmal 0-12 team. “The thing we need to get back is a belief in winning,” said Sarkasian. Look for Locker, who was 16-for-18 in the spring game, to put up 2007-like numbers this year. For this kind of money, he’d better. PASS

WASHINGTON STATE – *8 / 6
Team Theme – BEHUDDLED

Paul Wulff’s rookie campaign was one for the ages. As a result, his defense went down as the most scored upon in college football history, worse than the 2002 Eagles of Eastern Michigan. FYI: EMU allowed 15 PPG fewer in 2003 than it did in its record-setting effort. Wulff will take that improvement in a heartbeat. “Last year was difficult for everyone. Players, coaches, everyone in the program… We all have to take part of the accountability, and I really see positive changes in all phases of our program,” commented Wulff. The most obvious change will be a new no-huddle offense in 2009. A rigid off-season conditioning program should also serve the Cougars well. Coach Paul went on to say, “Our players will be stronger this year and the benefit will be improved play on the field.” He’s not just crying Wulff. PLAY ON: vs. UCLA (11/14)

Note: Marc Lawrence is a 30-year veteran handicapper. He finished No.1 in the nation (88-63 +25.7 Net Units) in MLB during the 2007 season as documented by Sports Watch in Las Vegas.

Comments are Welcome!!!

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Marc Lawrence Has Been Handicapping Sports Professionally Since 1975 – Check Out His Weekly Picks & His DAILY MLB PLAYS Today Here at Capperspicks.com >>>

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