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College Football Preview: USC Looking To Maintain Pac-10 Dominance

Posted on September 04, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Jahvid Best is the top returning rusher in major college football.

Jahvid Best is the top returning rusher in major college football.

Overview: The complexion of the 2009 Pac 10 season changed in one fateful moment following the season opener between Boise State and Oregon. The punch thrown by Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount not only ended his season, but probably ended any hope for the Ducks to contend for the Pac 10 Championship. That leaves perennial champion USC and the University of California as the primary contenders for the title.

Who’s Hot?: After posting a 9-4 record a year ago, the California Golden Bears appear poised to make a run at their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1958. Junior running back Jahvid Best is the top returning running back in the country and a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The defense returns eight starters, including ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu. Arizona was 8-5 a year ago and returns 14 starters, including running back Nic Grigsby and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The defense returns the entire front line, including Brooks Reed, who emerged as a standout after switching from offense.

Who Will Struggle?: At every level, the season opener for the Oregon Ducks was a disaster. Not only did the team struggle with only eight points in their first game under head coach Chip Kelly, but leading running back LeGarrette Blount was lost for the season as a result of his frustration following the end of the game. The Ducks must regroup and try to regain the offensive form that saw them rank seventh in the nation with an average of 41.9 points per game a year ago. Their next three games are against Purdue, Utah and California, so the top 20 expectations could take a serious hit very early if the Ducks are not able to regroup.

Taylor Mays is one of the top defensive players in the country.

Taylor Mays is one of the top defensive players in the country.

Team To Watch: By virtue of their 88-15 record in eight seasons under head coach Pete Carroll, the USC Trojans have earned the benefit of the doubt regarding their level of talent. With a freshman quarterback and only three returning defensive starters, this would appear to be a rebuilding season for the Trojans. But the reality is that they are merely reloading. If quarterback Matt Barkley can display the ability that Carroll obviously believes he possesses, the offense should be fine. Running backs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight should help take some of the pressure off the young quarterback. The defense was the best in college football a year ago, but the only starters returning are tackle Christian Tupou and safeties Josh Pinkard and Taylor Mays. The unit still has some excellent players, but they must gain game experience.

Offensive Players To Watch: While Best is the top offensive talent and could challenge the talented crop of quarterbacks in the nation for the Heisman Trophy, there are other excellent offensive players in the conference. The brother tandem of running back Jacquizz Rodgers and wide receiver James Rodgers gives Oregon State two dynamic performers. Toby Gerhart rushed for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns for Stanford a year ago.

Jacquizz Rodgers is an explosive offensive threat for Oregon State.

Jacquizz Rodgers is an explosive offensive threat for Oregon State.

Defensive Players To Watch: All-American Taylor Mays is the leader of the inexperienced Trojans defense. Cornerbacks Syd’Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan give California a strong set of bookend defenders. Defensive end Dexter Davis is the leader of the Arizona State defense.

Key Games: USC learned last season that every game is a big one, but the Trojans must win at hio State on September 12 if they want to contend for a national title. They then play at California on October 3 in a game that could decide the conference title. The September 19 matchup between Oregon State and defending Big East Champion Cincinnati could be an intriguing contest. In their second season under head coach Rick Neuheisel, UCLA will be tested early as they travel to Tennessee on September 12 and then host Kansas State on September 19.

Predictions: What looked like it might be an interesting battle between three teams now appears to be down to USC and California. The Golden Bears are an exciting team, but it is hard to bet against the Trojans claiming another conference championship.


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