Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Official Pac-10 Media Poll Ballot

The Pac-10 gives some of us media members the opportunity to vote in the annual poll, and since I don't get an AP Top 25 vote, this is as close as my voice gets to be heard. The best part about that situation, is this season, this poll means as much as the AP Poll-in other words NOTHING! But I did take this seriously since the Conference only has 41 of us vote, although I think it is just a representation of those of us who spend four hours every Tuesday participating in the weekly coaches conference call.
Two years ago I was the lone vote for Oregon State at #1 (but as strange as that seemed-keep in mind ABC changed their game with USC to the first weekend in December that season, the Beavs had what ended up being the first RB taken in the following NFL Draft, along with Richard Siegler and a great group of linebackers) which resulted in me not being asked to vote last year. But no such luck this year Beaver fans. So here it is. Comments welcome below-but try to not be a complete ass since you never know who is reading this thing-in other words no worse than PG-13.

Ian's Official Pac-10 Media Poll Ballot (actual ranking listed second)
1. (actual pick #1)USC-I could be real clever here and make some funny comment, but what else is there to say? They are USC! Returning starters: ONLY 14 which is second fewest in the Pac-10, but among those 14 returning starters are the Heisman Trophy winner and the Trojans return their top four rushers and top four receivers. Oh, and the best part about the 14 returning starters-Reggie Bush, the Pac-10 leader in all purpose yards, doesn't count as one of those players! The potential problems could come on defense where last year's number one unit in the country has to replace four defensive first-team All-Americans, but with that offense, somehow I don't think they are too worried. KEY GAMES: September 24th at Oregon and October 1st at Arizona State. That schedule is tough, even for the great USC, but if they get by those two games, the rest of the conference can officially begin playing for the Holiday Bowl.

2. (4)Oregon-This is the pick that will probably be tagged as the "homer" pick by the Pac-10 and keep me from getting a vote next year. But it is hard to be a "Duck Homer" when I am a Coug (see the #4 pick). This is as much about "if not Oregon, then WHO" as it is about the Ducks, but simply put-there isn't an offense in the Pac-10 that has the potential to be as explosive as Oregon's, except the one that plays in the LA Coliseum. I covered Gary Crowton's BYU team his first year when his offense was scary. That team featured the best running back in the country in Luke Staley, a clipboard NFL QB in Brandon Doman, good tight ends including Doug Jolley, one other skill position NFL player in Reno Mahe, and a tough, solid offensive line without any impact NFL players. So who cares about the Blue Cougars? Not me, but the point is Oregon's players at all of the positions above have the potential to be better. Terrence Whitehead ran for 1,144 (#2 in the Pac-10) and 6 touchdowns AND was the team's second leading receiver. He also told me at Media Day that he had put on 15 pounds. He must be on the Luke Staley math plan (math 099 was the class Mr. Doak Walker took at BYU) because 15 looked more like 30, and it wasn't fat. I guess he wants to prove to the THE FRESHMAN who the man in the backfield still is. Whitehead looked bigger than the Marvin Phillip, Cal's all-everything center. The advantage Crowton has with this offense compared to his great one at BYU is depth-when Staley was hurt, again, the offense died too. If TW slows down there are at least three other solid backs who can step in, including the kid who stiffed WSU who I refuse to mention by name-but they say he is pretty good. A Conference assistant coach told me Kellen Clemens is the QB who scares him the most in the Pac-10, even more so than the Heisman Trophy winner, and Dennis Dixon seems to be a perfect fit for Crowton's offense. Tim Day is among the best tight ends in the country, although in the Pac-10 that just makes you one of many who are the best in the country at that position. The receivers are potential game breakers. The offensive line was a disappointment last year but most of those stiffs are gone-so how much worse could they be? Doesn't matter, Crowton's offense is so quick he can work around the potential problems there. On defense, Haloti Ngata could be the most dominant player in the country, which means Long, Trucks and Phinisee could have huge years. KEY GAMES-Sept. 17th Fresno State (can't look ahead to.....) Sept. 24th USC which TW mentioned at media day in LA. DON'T THEY REMEMBER INDIANA LAST YEAR? But hard to blame anyone, the USC game at Autzen has the feel of the Michigan game two seasons ago, except much, much bigger.

3. (3)Arizona State-My guess is everyone except me will have either ASU or Cal second. Here are some numbers as far as the Sun Devils are concerned: 7, 6, 7, 3. Those are the numbers of losses each year for Dirk Koetter in his ASU tenure. They have never lost fewer than 3 Conference games in his four years, including a 5-3 mark last year. Why would they be better this year with Andrew Walter gone? They probably won't be, but some reason's for optimism include the return of Derek Hagan (#2 in the Pac-10 in receiving yards), the underappreciated Terry Richardson (#9 in Pac-10 in receiving yards) and
Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Zach Miller. Some of the depth at receiver was banged up in the spring, and Sam Keller has people excited at QB after his Sun Bowl MVP performance. Grayling Love is one of the best OL players in the country-but will he be at center of tackle? He has played all three line positions and that dude can probably dictate where he plays this season-he will be
All-Pac-10 no matter where he is. Oh, and at a school with major issues off the field, the big man is also an All-Academic selection as well. Off the field, no joke about that situation-other than Koetter looks like he went to the Lou Holtz school of character selection. With their top RB in jail awaiting a murder trial, WR turned RB Randy Burgess may be the guy unless Randy Hill or Preston Jones comes back from their injuries, or a young guy steps up. Koetter said at Media Day that they will have NINE players line up at the TB position, so they have bodies, but do they have capable bodies? The defense was middle of the Pac in most categories last season, but Jordan Hill is a MAN and the linebackers and safeties should be real good. Hill went on a mission and while most Mormon missionaries wear white shirts, knock on doors, and don't work out, this guy had a different "calling" because he came back a BEAST. Still, I will stand by my earlier thoughts-in a battle between Koetter and Belotti, I will take "the mustache", even though he is still clean shaven, with the deciding factor being Gary Crowton. KEY GAMES: Sept. 10th at LSU (we will find out how good Sam Keller really is), Oct. 1 vs. USC and Oct. 8th vs. Oregon (nice schedule-the two big hitters at home) plus if they are both still hanging around, Nov. 5th in Pullman---(damn Dirk it's cold there in November).

4. (6)Washington State- One through 22 this team is as talented as anyone in the conference not named USC. But the problem is, as is usually the case in Pullman City, depth. If any of the three linebackers go down, or Jerome Harrison, Jason Hill or Michael Bumpus, it could be a little scary. But that is life in God's Country, where the Crimson Cougs always seem to be one play or one injury away from glory or disaster. Easy non-conference schedule should help, and Swogger and Brink along with Gary Rogers give the team three solid QB's. Basler is a weapon, as is the fact that "The Mustache" has to play in Pullman AGAIN, and this time he doesn't have a choice-it WILL be at night. KEY GAMES: Oct 1. at OSU (key to Conference play is go get off to a good start, and the Cougs got whacked there last year) Nov. 12th vs. Oregon ("The Mustache" hates night games in Pullman).

5. (5)UCLA Karl Dorrell is apparently on the hot seat at UCLA, but one area I see a change in is his personality. While most players bulk up in the offseason, this guy found a personality. Enough so where when you watch him, listen to him, and see his presence on the podium, it is scary to think that as he evolves and grows as a head coach, with UCLA being behind his name, it is no wonder he got Ben Olson and the balance of recruiting after USC could tilt across the city to Westwood. But he has to win, probably this year, and with Mo Drew, Junior Taylor, and Mercedes Lewis at the skill positions, and three fifths of a good offensive line back, with any QB play they could be good. Defensively they were horrible in 2004-last against the run, last in first downs allowed, and last in total defense-in other words they were the Washington of the Pac-10's defensive numbers. Can they be better this year? They should be. Spencer Havner is one of the best linebackers in the country, they return 7 of the front 8, and the only question marks seem to come in the secondary in terms of experience. But they are UCLA, they were light blue uniforms and they play like they look-soft! Fifth may not be enough for Dorrell to stay employed at UCLA, but if they turf him, it will be a mistake.

6. (2)California This is the pick that will either make me or break me, but to quote the great Karl Malone in his reference to Larry Johnson's big contract "What have Jeff Tedford did that The Mustache and Bill Doba have not did?" What does that mean? I think what the great third person philosopher Mr. Malone meant, and what I mean here, is Tedford really hasn't accomplished anything in the Pac-10 as a head coach, yet he gets more respect, more money, and more accolades than any of his peers who were the previous challengers to USC's Crown. One ten win season, 5 and 6 losses the previous two years, no BCS bowl appearances, an embarassing bowl game loss, and the media picks this Bears team to finish SECOND? They return fewer players than anyone else in the conference, and I know Marshawn Lynch will be the best football player ever (almost Tedford's exact words-he said "potential to be the best player I ever coached" at Media Day), Donnie McClesky and David Gray will actually stay healthy, and DeSean Jackson will be the best freshman in the Pac-10, but come on. Sixth is probably too low, but why would this team be so much better than the other challengers in recent years? One reason could be Tedford is a really, really good coach. Another is the offensive line rivals ASU's and USC's, and may actually be better. Marvin Phillip looks like a "small" 6-2, 305, but he reminds me of Big Suke when he played at BYU-not the biggest, not the most athletic, but he just kicks your ass. How do you replace Ryan Riddle and Lorenzo Alexander? A JC player is what the Berkley Bears hope is the answer. Again I ask: Why did this team get picked second? They lost all but one receiver from last year. JC players and a true freshman are the answer. Any other team not named USC in the Pac-10 and people are saying there will be a drop off. Not with the Tedford magic though. His real magic will be getting to a BCS bowl for the first time, something WSU, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford with Mr. Personality coaching, and UCLA with the now fired Bob Toledo have all done since 1998. But the old farts who have been covering the Pac-1o for a million years and think a blog is the stain on their double-knit pants think Tedford is much smarter than the rest of the conference and will finish second. I don't think so.

7. (9)Stanford I don' t think this is the place for personal attacks, but damn Walt Harris, while Karl Dorrell found his personality, Harris may define the bland, vanilla (or Cardinal) nature of his school. Good thing the kids he recruits are special, as in special GOOD. This guy goes into the average kid's house, and is followed by the "golly gee shucks" of the nice guys like Doba and Mike Riley, or the swagger or Pete Carroll, or the enthusiasm of Mike Stoops, and nobody in their right mind would want to play for him. So why 7th in my poll and 9th by the media? Because they aren't good. Harris said he wants to run the ball. OK, but your strengths are at the QB position and wide receivers. Walt my man, this ain't the Little East. Run if you like, but only Oregon State was worse than you doing that last season, and J.R. Lemon isn't among the elite RB in the Pac-10. Still, the offensive line is intact, so they may have some success. Defensively, Jon Alston is All-Pac-10, but they have to replace both cornerbacks and both defensive ends for a defensive that was second worst last year. Are they ninth? Probably not like the media voted them? Could be, but something tells me that may find a way to outsmart an opponent or two and avoid being Washington's neighbor at the bottom of the standings.

8. (7)Oregon State Mike Riley is a great guy, but he won't have a great season. Keith Ellison said on my show last week that the Beaver receivers are the "best group in the country." No, they aren't. Best in the conference? Ok, we all know the answer there. But they do have ONE of the best in the country in Mike Hass. And they do return 23 of 29 touchdown receptions which is more TD than six Pac-10 schools had TOTAL all of last year. But the problem is, who will throw the football to this group? To quote the Hanson brothers from the cult classic Slap Shot, "Is the answer Jesus?" No, not even close. Matt Moore. Not good enough or even tough enough to battle it out with Drew Olson at UCLA. Ryan Gunderson? Improved yes, Pac-10 QB, probably not. Oh, and don't forget, I am told by football people that you need to run the football a little bit. That summed up OSU's running game last year, A LITTLE. Little Dwight Wright was a breakaway threat with 6 TD, but the Beavs were last in rushing, and unless Patrick Fuller is the answer, they are in trouble running the football again. Even Walt Harris (see above) wouldn't want to run with this group. Joe Newton is first team all-conference anywhere else in the country where Byrd, Lewis, Day, WSU's twosome, Zach Miller, don't exist, but again, can someone get him the ball. Defensively they have to replace 3/4 of their secondary which in this conference, last I checked, isn't a good thing. Oh, and the schedule sucks footballs! 1-2 non-conference record is almost certain, then Pac-10 losses at home to ASU and WSU and thank you and goodbye to this season. For those of you who bring up last year's rally I have two letters for you: DA. YOU WILL MISS HIM THIS SEASON. Scary thought Beaver Nation. DISCLAIMER: Out of pure pride, I do hope I am right most of the time-but since I really like Mike Riley and the Beavs in general, outside of the WSU game, I hope I am dead wrong with this prediction.

9. (8)Arizona Mike Stoops scares me. Just a big, crazy dude who looks like he is ready to kick your ass at any time. He was first up at the media day festivities and by the time he was done, I was ready to check into camp. I can see why he is a solid recruiter. But how good will they be? 17 returning starters which I believe is what they returned last year as well, but they still only won three games. But Stoops probably won't make the same mistakes this season he did last year-the ones like pulling an "All The Right Moves" remake and running against WSU at the end of the game instead of taking a knee. He also said he will be more involved in the offense. Darrell Brooks has to be one of the favorite players of any real football fan in the country. He hits hard, and is a solid kid. At Utah to start the season should be interesting, since the Utes lost a lot, and Purdue at home could be a springboard into Pac-10 play.

10. (10)45th Street Trade School-AKA-UW Anything I write here is piling on but I can't help myself. Look, Willingham is about as exciting as Don James. The difference is DJ left the school as the all-time winningest coach in the Pac-10 and had six conference titles. So his bland, measured, and at times paranoid personality in terms of access was acceptable. Willingham will make them better, just not this year, or next, or hell maybe EVER. Hell Husky fans, it doesn't matter, you are a BASKETBALL school now-the Duke of the West. No, wait that is Gonzaga. Oh well, you are still Washington, and since most of the Husky fan base never actually attended the school, you can always change who you root for, or just become big supporters of the insitution you attended: Bellevue Community College, Northgate State, Central Washington, etc. When does basketball begin? Key Games: NONE, except when Air Force kicks their ass in Seattle or ND lays the wood to them September 24th. Idaho on September 17th could be THE win this year.

BONUS SECTION: My co-host on 1080 The Fan in Portland, "Big Suke" has the following for his UNOFFICIAL picks-in other words the only record of his selection is here:
1. USC
2. Oregon
3. WSU
4. ASU
5. Cal
6. UCLA
7. Stanford
8. OSU
9. Arizona
10. UW