Pac-10 football should stay status quo for 2006 season
Among the sobering realities of designing a football program on the way up is this: To facilitate the ascent, it helps if there are some...
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Among the sobering realities of designing a football program on the way up is this: To facilitate the ascent, it helps if there are some folks on the way down. That's a nice way of saying that the two most bottom-feeding outfits in the Pac-10 in 2005 are likely to be seen as cannon fodder again next season.
(Fellows in purple-and-crimson T-shirts, respectively, to each other: "He talkin' 'bout us?")
Not only will Washington and Washington State try to dig out from 1-7 league records, they must do it absent any obvious candidates to plummet past them.
Don't infer too much from USC's hairbreadth loss to Texas in the Rose Bowl, other than the Trojans were too young on defense to get over that last hump. They'll be back, and quickly, assuming coach Pete Carroll doesn't get swept off his feet by an NFL owner with resources in place.
Arizona? Quarterback Willie Tuitama, and Mike Stoops' persistent recruiting, gives the Wildcats obvious hope. Stanford? Walt Harris showed this year he can coach. Oregon State? Maybe, but the Beavers looked like a 10th-place candidate in '05 and nearly went to a bowl game.
Not to rain on any state-of-Washington parades, but when UW coach Tyrone Willingham took Stanford to the Rose Bowl in 1999, it was a different Pac-10. WSU was bottoming out after its 1997 Rose Bowl run. Cal was wallowing through the Tom Holmoe regime, USC ditto with Paul Hackett. The Pac-10 went 1-4 in bowl games that season.
Long story short, there's a high likelihood Washington and WSU are going to be dismissed in a lot of preseason prognostications, although crimson faithful can argue they just recruited the best receiver not named Dwayne Jarrett with Jason Hill's announcement he is returning to WSU for his senior year.
The good news is, nobody ever went to a bowl game based on what was written in a magazine or newspaper.
The general lay of the land, seven months before fall practice:
Arizona: Here's why things are looking up in Tucson, to the point where a bowl game in '06 is likely: Carroll and assistants Lane Kiffin and Jethro Franklin recently spent three hours in the office of Scottsdale CC coach Ken Giovando, trying to get an "in" with defensive tackle Louis Holmes, an original signee with Ohio State.
Later, Holmes was 45 minutes delayed announcing for Arizona, because Carroll and Franklin were on a three-way call with him, making an 11th-hour pitch. Already in the fold at that spot is former USC signee Gabe Long, and they should fit nicely with a possible top 10 recruiting class, the hotshot Tuitama and 16 other starters.
Quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel returned to alma mater Oklahoma, and Arizona is expected to replace him with former Houston and Wyoming head coach Dana Dimel.
Arizona State: Rudy Carpenter's Insight Bowl stats qualified him for the NCAA title in pass efficiency, which augurs a great quarterback battle with Sam Keller, rehabbing from a thumb injury.
They'll have seven other offensive starters to work with. On defense, the attention will be on three four-year transfers on the line — Loren Howard (Northwestern), Michael Marquardt (BYU) and Tranell Morant (Florida).
California: Bears could be a national player, and we'll find out quickly; they open at Tennessee.
Coach Jeff Tedford has been stockpiling talent, and lots of parts are in place for a BCS-style year — running back Marshawn Lynch, big-time receivers, defensive tackles Matt Malele and Brandon Mebane — if only he can solve the quarterback shortfall that dragged down Cal in '05. At QB, Nate Longshore returns from injury and Joe Ayoob from funkdom. They'll be pushed by touted redshirt freshman Kyle Reed.
Oregon: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata announced he will leave a year early, and the starting corners are among the departed. The attention on an experienced offense will center on whether coach Mike Bellotti chooses between Dennis Dixon or Brady Leaf at quarterback. In either case, look for a big role for Timberline product Jonathan Stewart at running back. A testy nonleague schedule includes Fresno State on the road and Oklahoma, conqueror of the Ducks in the Holiday Bowl, at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon State: OSU tantalized fans with a solid start, then depressed them late by falling out of the bowl picture. That raised grumbling about coach Mike Riley, but he's safe with a guaranteed four more years.
The only key loss on offense is Biletnikoff Award winner Mike Hass, and OSU will return a terrific tight end in Joe Newton, injured in '05. Defense is more of a problem, with the loss of both tackles, solid linebackers Trent Bray and Keith Ellison, and the need to find pass-rushing ends.
Stanford: Cardinal may see a flip-flop toward the traditional kind of Stanford team — better offense, lesser defense, as 10 starters will be back on offense, including quarterback Trent Edwards. The defense won't easily replace standouts like Babatunde Oshinowo, Julian Jenkins and Jon Alston.
The program might even begin to realize a home-field advantage, with construction of a new, downsized stadium.
UCLA: Coach Karl Dorrell's seat is cooler now, and the Bruins appear on the right track, even with the loss of quarterback Drew Olson. Long-awaited Ben Olson should fill that spot.
All-purpose exploder Maurice Drew backed off earlier statements and Saturday announced for the NFL draft, so along with departing tight end Marcedes Lewis, there are some sizeable voids.
The defensive line, long the subject of smirks, should be a strength but safety Jarrad Page and linebackers Justin London and Spencer Havner must be replaced.
USC: Only their (prospective) agents know for sure. The Trojans are a complete guess until we know the NFL intentions of players like safety Darnell Bing, offensive linemen Winston Justice, Fred Matua and Ryan Kalil plus running back LenDale White. Heisman winner Reggie Bush is assumed gone.
The defensive front seven could be dominating. At quarterback, John David Booty's long apprenticeship behind Matt Leinart may mean nothing; freshman Mark Sanchez (6-4, 215) is expected to push him severely. Whoever wins it, he throws to the most imposing tandem of wideouts in the country in Jarrett and Patrick Turner, both 6-5.
Given the attrition, it's entirely possible the Trojans surrender ownership of the Pac-10 title they've won or shared for four years.
Washington: The unending search for superior quarterback play continues. It could end at Isaiah Stanback or at the mystery man, junior (in '06) Carl Bonnell, or even with Jake Locker, the hot Ferndale recruit. But the offensive line is iffy, the most gifted wideout, enigmatic Craig Chambers, transferred, and running back is murky, although freshman J.R. Hasty should enliven the position.
Eight starters are back on defense, where the biggest hits departing are at linebacker.
Washington State: Speaking of enigmatic, do you take the Cougars at face value (1-7 in the Pac-10) or what they appeared capable of in a star-crossed season?
Hill's return is a big plus, no doubt aided by the return of the quarterback who threw to him, Alex Brink. Replacing 1,900-yard back Jerome Harrison will be a load, but DeMaundray Woolridge, redshirting freshman Dwight Tardy and JC recruit J.T. Diederichs of Ballard High could somewhat ease that loss. Three of five linemen are back.
Seven starters return on defense, which almost has to be better. Linebacker Will Derting will be gone, but then, he was for much of the past two seasons with injuries.
Bud Withers: email@example.com or 206-464-8281.
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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