The top teams in the nation have been gearing up all summer to make a run at the BSC championship trophy. (Photo by Jeff Lewis)
Ohio State’s Trevor Pryor will be making a run at both the national championship and the Heisman trophy. (Photo by Jeff Lewis)
Sentinel Sports Writer
After an offseason of listening to pundits, recruiting battles, message board rants and endless practices and scrimmages, college football squads across the nation will finally gear-up tonight and collide with one another in hopes of hoisting the crystal Bowl Championship Series trophy on January 2011 in Glendale, AZ.
Defending national champion, Alabama, despite losing numerous talent on the defensive side of the ball to the NFL, has thus far been the consensus No. 1 ranked team in the preseason polls. They will attempt to defy the odds by winning back-to-back titles, led by Heisman running back Mark Ingram.
Gunning for the Crimson Tide’s top spot will be teams from other BCS conferences and a couple of potential spoilers in Boise State and Texas Christian who are legitimate threats to crash the party.
Here are my Pac-10 favorites, Heisman hopefuls and national title contenders. Along the way, I’ll throw in a few teams and players off the national radar.
The 2010 Pac-10 campaign may end up being a mirror image of last season’s as the conference clearly lacks a dominant team, but features several capable of winning it.
Prior to last year, the conference resembled USC and the nine little dwarfs as the Trojans reigned during the Pete Carroll era. The Trojans’ dominance was thwarted last season as it dropped four games in conference.
Currently on probation, USC is eligible to win the conference, but can’t advance to the Rose Bowl or any other postseason contest. With just 71-players on scholarship, early injuries could send the Trojans into a tailspin. Matt Barkley’s growth at quarterback will be key as well as the performance of a thin line backing core and young secondary.
The Oregon Ducks are heavily favored to compete with USC. After a tumultuous off season in which the Ducks dismissed several players from the program for disciplinary reasons, including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the defending champs will be led by running back LaMichael James.
Replacing Masoli will be Darron Thomas, who may alternate at times with senior Nate Costa. Defensive end Kenny Rowe (Long Beach Poly HS), who led the conference with 11.5 sacks last season, will anchor the defense.
Stanford’s quarterback Andrew Luck is generating Heisman buzz for good reason. Despite posting modest numbers last year, Luck is expected to improve exponentially with the departure of running back Toby Gerhart to the NFL.
Replacing Gerhart’s 343 rushing attempts for 1,871 yards and 27 touchdowns won’t be easy. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad will be helped in that department by an experienced offensive line and explosive receiver Chris Owusu.
Oregon State’s final record may not be an indicator for how good it is. The Beavers play a murderer’s row schedule as it visits Boise State, Texas Christian, Arizona, Washington and Stanford.
With quarterback Sean Canfield gone, the brother duo, Jacquizz and James Rodgers, may have to shoulder more of the offensive load this year. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea, an almost sure-fire top 10 pick in the next NFL draft, has a chance to be a dominant force.
After bypassing the NFL, Washington senior quarterback Jake Locker is expected to lead the Huskies back to a bowl game after its been M.I.A. for more than several seasons.
UCLA has the defense to compete, but a make shift offensive line will make or break their new “pistol” offense. If the line can prove to be good, the Bruins might be in the running for the conference title.
The pick: USC Trojans
Ingram will attempt to accomplish what Ohio State’s tailback Archie Griffin did, and that’s win two trophies. But, Ingram’s numbers are sure to fall as sophomore tailback Trent Richardson gains more carries and wide receiver Julio Jones is featured more in the offense.
After being won by three sophomores in succession, the once exclusive junior and senior dominated Heisman Trophy may be held at season’s end by another sophomore.
Three sophomore running backs sure to electrify the country and make their cases on the highlight shows are Oregon’s LeMichael James, Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis.
James, who set a Pac-10 freshman record with 1,546 rushing yards last season, has a Reggie Bush-like quality that may win over voters. His biggest obstacle will be gaining attention from other regions because the Ducks play most of its games during Pacific Standard Time.
Williams, who piled up almost 1,700 rushing yards to go along with 17 touchdowns, may be hampered by the return of teammate Darren Evans, who is expected to gain carries after sitting out last season with an injury.
Lewis churned out 1,799 yards on the ground last year and has a chance to capitalize on national television exposure when the Panthers play Utah, Miami (FL.) and UCONN.
Not to be left out are junior quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State); Jacory Harris (Miami, FL); Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Kellen Moore (Boise State).
The Pryor-led Buckeyes have a good chance of finishing undefeated and playing for the title. If Pryor improves his 57 percent completion rate, and racks up standout plays featuring his scrambling ability, he could capture the trophy ala ex-Buckeye Troy Smith in 2006.
Moore was perhaps the most prolific quarterback in the nation last year. He posted 3,536 passing yards with 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Mallett and Harris are long shots at best and their chances may hinge upon overall team performance.
The Pick: Ryan Williams
National title contenders
Aside from Boise State and TCU, the traditional powers are expected once again to tussle for the No. 1 spot in the nation.
If Boise State can defeat Virginia Tech in its opening game on a neutral field, the whole college football dynamic could be turned topsy-turvy. The Broncos would be favored in all of its remaining games and could force the BCS to allow it to play for the title.
The same could play out in the case of TCU which returns a bunch of starters from a dominant defense.
But if the big boys win-out, the non-BCS Cinderella story will be all for naught. Ultimately, strength of schedule, tradition and the ability of fans to travel to bowl games will be the deciding factor.
Programs such as Oklahoma, Texas and Florida all lost numerous players to the NFL, but there’s a reason they’re perennial contenders. Look for the next wave of blue chip athletes to be featured in prominent roles at these schools.
Sleepers to capture the BCS are North Carolina, Nebraska and Auburn.
The pick: Ohio State