Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 Pac-10 Season in Review

It was a season of change in the Pac-10 with the USC star fading somewhat, their streak of seven straight Pac-10 championships coming to an end. Despite this, the conference proved as strong and deep as it has ever been. Many experts (including myself), for the first time, placed the Pac-10 ahead of the SEC as the best conference in America (Here's a great analysis). Former cellar dwellers like Arizona and Stanford emerged at title contenders in one of the most hotly contested Pac-10 races in recent memory. Going into the last two weeks of the season, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Southern Cal all had a chance to smell the roses. But in the end, the title came down to the Ducks and Beavers in a winner take all Civil War for the roses.

1. Oregon 10-2 (8-1)
The Ducks began their season in nightmarish fashion. But first year head coach Chip Kelly held this team together until Oregon's spread option offense finally exploded against Cal, routing the Golden Bears 42-3. The Ducks followed suit with a 47-20 beat down of USC on Halloween night, handing the Trojans their worst loss in twelve years. Oregon fell short in a horse race against Stanford, but earned a trip to Pasadena by finshing with a double OT win against Arizona and a Civil War victory. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was the conference's most dynamic player while freshman tailback LaMichael James made everyone forget about LeGarrette Blount.

2. Arizona 8-4 (6-3)
The Wilcats played with their usual toughness on defense, but the story of this team was the offense, as the spread attack of Sonny Dykes found it's true expression through sensational sophomore quarterback Nick Foles. His leadership and poise steadied a team hit hard by injuries. Arizona put up big-time wins over conference heavyweights Stanford, Oregon State and USC to nail a Holiday Bowl birth and the program's best finish in 11 years.

3. Stanford 8-4 (6-3)
Head coach Jim Harbaugh deserves a ton of credit. This Stanford team plays with determination, toughness and excellent execution. Their offensive line overpowered opponents. Heisman runner up Toby Gerhart was the nation's most dominant player. In my opinion however, it was freshman quarterback Andrew Luck that made the difference. His execution on third down and ability to consistently make teams pay on play action propelled their offense to another level. They looked unstoppable late in the season after after back to back wins over Oregon and USC, before being tripped up by Cal.

4. Oregon State 8-4 (6-3)
The Beavers under Mike Riley continue to amaze as they re-load rather than re-build no matter how many players they lose. The Rodgers brothers were once again the heart and soul of the team, accounting for more than 60 percent of the team's total yards. But the team's success this year can most be attributed to senior all Pac-10 quarterback Sean Canfield who played as well as any Beaver quarterback ever has. The Beavers were one win away from the Rose Bowl, but narrowly lost the Civil War to Oregon.

5. USC 8-4 (5-4)
As I predicted before the season, the Trojans weren't able to overcome the loss of eight starters on defense, both coordinators, and a whole mess of players to injuries. Add a true freshman to start at quarterback and you've got a recipe for a rebuilding year. USC started well with a road win against Ohio State, but were bushwacked by the Huskies in Seattle. The Trojans rolled up four straight wins before suffering their worst loss since 1997 in Eugene. They never recovered, getting steamrolled by Stanford and finishing with a loss to Arizona. Although a supremely talented team, losses to Oregon State and Stanford in 2006, Oregon in 2007, the Beavers again in 2008, the Trojans have shown themselves beatable in recent years. With the overall improvment of the conference, it will be interesting to see if USC can regain its place at the top.

6. Cal 8-5 (5-4)
Before the season, I said this team would win the conference if quarterback Kevin Riley could be consistent and make plays when it mattered. He didn't. They didn't. This team was such a disappointment after going 3-0 to start the season with impressive wins over Maryland and Minnesota. Then came the back to back beatings by Oregon and USC. Cal managed to rally however, winning five their next six games, including a huge win over Stanford in the Big Game. But then they traveled to Seattle only get completely outclassed by the Huskies

7. Washington 5-7 (4-5)
Something changed in Seattle with the arrival of first year head coach Steve Sarkisian. It was apparent when the SEC powerhouse LSU came to town. The Huskies played with a confidence and determination not seen on Lake Washington in quite a few years. It all came together with a monumental upset win over the 3rd ranked USC Trojans. They followed it up with a near miraculous win over Arizona. The Huskies finished with five wins, but it was five more than last year. Coach Sarkisian did an amazing job, especially helping dynamic quarterback Jake Locker make more plays from the pocket. With Locker's commitement to return in 2010, the Huskies could shake up the conference.

8. UCLA 6-6 (3-6)
The Bruins started off hot with a tough win over Tennessee in Knoxville and a rout of Kansas State. Once in conference play however, the struggled. The Bruins fielded an excellent defense, but couldn't score points, despite the efforts of offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

9. Arizona State 4-8 (2-7)
Another disappointing season for the most underachieving team in the Pac-10 (Cal?). Despite loads of talent and high expectations, this program cannot put together a team that can compete at the top of the conference. Erickson's clock is ticking.

10. Washington State 1-11 (0-9)
What can you say? This team was never competitive in a conference game and appear no closer to turning the corner than they were last year.

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