We've decided to bring back the BN Pac-10 Power Poll a bit early with a pre-camp edition of the rankings. For those of you who may have forgotten, the BN Pac-10 Power Poll is voted on by the frontpagers of BN and ranks the Pac-10 teams, 1-10, each week during the season. The poll is not about ranking the teams based on best record, reputation or anything of the sort. It's simply a ranking of who we think the best teams are. Once we get into the season, we also start including Player of the Week, Stat of the Week and Game of the Week in the weekly post.
The one consensus that we got from these pre-camp rankings is that there really isn't a consensus. Six ballots came in and three different teams earned number one votes. Oregon St. got four of those, but were also ranked as low as nine on a ballot and aren't even the top ranked team. There was a lot of differences in each ballot because there is so much uncertainty in the conference. It looks as if the conference will be filled with great quarterbacking, but the presumed top two, Andrew Luck and Jake Locker, come from teams that lost a Heisman Trophy finalist and haven't been to a bowl game in years.
So, here is the pre-camp BN Pac-10 Power Poll. Make sure to chime in below with your own Pac-10 rankings or your thoughts on the conference's teams with kickoff just a tick over a month away.
Pac-10 Power Poll
1) Arizona Wildcats (one first place vote)- A year ago, the Wildcats finished in a tie for second in the Pac-10 along with two other teams and were in the running for the conference title late on in the season. This year, Arizona brings back one of the conference's better quarterbacks, Nick Foles, and will look to find enough defense to win them a conference that is truly wide open. As the only Pac-10 or Big 12 team to never make it to the Rose Bowl, the Wildcats are more than due for a New Years Day game in the Arroyo Seco and this year they could get it.
2) Oregon St. Beavers (four first place votes)- The Beavers haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1965, but they came damn close last year. A thrilling Civil War game to close the regular season went the way of their Oregon rivals and sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl instead of the Beavers, but in 2010, the Beavers appear to be one of the conference favorites. With Jacquizz Rodgers in the back field, Oregon St. has one of the country's best runners and Mike Riley always manages to put together quality lines, although it will all go up in smoke if they can't find someone to put under center.
3) Stanford Cardinal- Traditionally one of the worst teams in the Pac-10, Stanford has been reinvigorated by Jim Harbaugh and last year, finished tied for second place. Last year's edition of the Cardinal was led by Toby Gerhart, but now the 2009 Heiseman Trophy runner-up is gone and Stanford will have to find a way to replace over 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns. To offset that loss, Stanford will lean upon Andrew Luck, their hotshot quarterback who is making NFL scouts drool with his off-the-charts skills. If Luck can lead the team, the Cardinal will win their fair share of games because they will win up front on most days with a strong offensive line.
4) Oregon Ducks- This team took step one last year and was supposed to contend for a national title this year, then the offseason started. Last season's conference champions, Oregon was primed for bigger and better things with Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James leading a potent offense, but each was arrested and now James is suspended, while Masoli is out of the program. What was once going to be a dream season for the Ducks is now filled with uncertainty, although they do seem to have a stable defense that should keep them in most games. If they can weather James' suspension and get quality quarterbacking, they may jump back to the top of the Pac-10.
5) UCLA Bruins (one first place vote)- They're a dark horse, a very, very dark horse, but UCLA has some intriguing pieces. Kevin Prince showed flashes of being able to lead a high-powered offense and Nelson Rosario showed that he could be one of the best receivers in the conference. A more experienced offensive line might be what it takes to, A) keep Prince healthy, B) develop a solid running game and C) give the Bruins a consistent offense for the first time since 2005. If it comes together, the Bruins can make a run with the conference's best kicking game and several stars on defense, but that offensive consistency will only be a dream until UCLA proves it on the field. For now, navigating a brutal schedule and a conference record over .500 appears to be the goal.
6) California Golden Bears- The core group of players that were responsible for earning Jeff Tedford's Bear high expectations in past seasons only to fall short are gone, for the most part. The 2010 Golden Bears are missing the big names of year's past, most notably Jahvid Best so now the attention turns to Shane Vereen. The speedy tailback gives Cal a gamebreaker, but it will be their ability to handle the spotlight and adversity that will make or break Cal's season. They haven't been able to get it done in past seasons and talent or no talent, that will have to change if they are to find success in the wide open Pac-10 this season.
7) Washington Huskies- A once proud program has been the laughingstock of the conference recently, never more so than when they went winless in 2008, but after winning five games last year, the Huskies feel like they can turn things around in 2010 largely in part to one player. A Washington high school legend, Locker became a hero to Huskies when he chose to stay home for his college ball. Now, Locker is being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate and the purple clad Husky faithful hope that he can be the first Washington player to finish in the top three for the award. More than anything though, Washington is looking for a postseason return and tightening up their defensive fundamentals is step one.
8) USC Trojans- If USC is to take any positives from this offseason, it's that they've been in the headlines. The Trojans have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons though. They lost their head coach to the NFL, then hired one who has yet to prove he can win as a head coach. To top that the NCAA dropped sanctions on them that took away a good chunk of scholarships and banned them from the postseason. Now, USC will have to make do with what they have, even if transfers are making what they have weaker. The Pac-10's dominant team has been cut down and you can bet that the conference's other nine teams will not take it easy on them now that they're convinced they have a chance smack them around a bit. If the Trojans can figure out a way to win, they'll be bucking the entire history of sanctioned teams struggling so odds aren't on their side.
9) Arizona St. Sun Devils- They can tackle, but when you can't score or hold on to the ball, you're going to be in trouble. Last season, the Sun Devils had a fierce defense that was led by a freshman linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, and figures to be at least solid again this season. The question is what do you do about an offense that didn't even show sparks last year? After finishing in the bottom quarter of the nation in offense a year ago, Arizona St. will need to figure out how to score without much of a talent infusion or Dennis Erickson may be on the way out in Tempe. Maybe a coach on the hot seat is what it takes to to spark the sleepy offense because if not, it will be another long season in the desert.
10) Washington St. Cougars- Last place may be a sad spot, but being used to it may make it a little easier. For the past several seasons, if Washington St. wasn't in last place, they were in second to last place and this season doesn't appear to be any different. It took a comeback and overtime for the Cougars to get their lone win last season and they've won just three in the past two seasons combined. Their defense was ranked 118th in points allowed a season ago and their offense was even worse at 119th. A home game versus Montana St. in their second contest of the season gives the Cougars a chance to get a win under their belt, but they better cherish it because there isn't much reason to think they'll get more than that.