USC still reigns supreme, but Cal will put up challenge
How They'll Finish
Can't Miss Games
Oklahoma at Oregon SEPTEMBER 16
The Ducks get a chance to avenge their 17-14 loss to the Sooners in the Holiday Bowl last December and give the Pac-10 an early-season boost in stature against a nationally ranked opponent. Oregon must slow Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, but stopping the Ducks' passing game should be a challenge for the Sooners.
Arizona State at CalSEPTEMBER 23
The coaches, Dirk Koetter of the Sun Devils and Jeff Tedford of the Bears, are among the top offensive innovators around. They may throw their entire playbook at one other, so aspiring offensive coordinators might want to take notes. The winner could emerge as the top challenger to four-time defending conference champ USC.
Notre Dame at USCNOVEMBER 25
Last year's showdown between these two storied programs may have been the best regular-season game of 2005. Once again the teams will square off in late November and, like last year, the game should have major BCS implications. The roles have changed a bit, though, as this time it's ND on the road with all the star power and lofty expectations. Having lost its last two games against the Trojans, ND may be due for a win.
Players To Watch
Trent EdwardsQB - Stanford
He has had an uneven career, but in his second year in coach Walt Harris's system, and with the return of wideout Evan Moore, a 6'7" leaper who missed almost all of last year with a dislocated hip, Edwards could have a breakout senior season.
Yvenson BernardRB - Oregon State
Hardly anyone outside Corvallis seemed to notice, but Bernard rushed for 1,321 yards last season as a sophomore, more than any other Pac-10 back returning this fall. He could be even better this year, running behind a line that returns intact.
Mkirsto BruceDE - Washington State
A speed rusher who spends a lot of time in opposing backfields, Bruce had 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss last season. At 260 pounds, this senior can be overpowered, but he more than compensates with his knack for the big play.
Isaiah StanbackQB - Washington
Highly regarded recruit Jake Locker is waiting in the wings, but Stanback, an outstanding athlete who was chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in this year's baseball draft, has the experience and scrambling ability to energize the offense.
Willie TuitamaQB - Arizona
After the Wildcats started 1-4 last year, coach Mike Stoops pulled Tuitama's redshirt. The strong-armed Tuitama threw for 335 yards in an upset win at Oregon State and led Arizona to a 52-14 thumping of previously unbeaten UCLA.
UCLA, which has two new coordinators, is likely to use the shotgun formation more under Jim Svoboda and play more man-to-man in the secondary under DeWayne Walker. Svoboda was the Bruins' quarterback coach last season. Walker, a one-time USC assistant, spent the last two seasons as the secondary coach for the Washington Redskins. OREGON quarterbacks DENNIS DIXON (right) and Brady Leaf split playing time last season as sophomores, but Dixon appears to have the edge this year, based partly on his superior mobility and impressive spring performance.... STANFORD coach Walt Harris shook up his staff, bringing in A.J. Christoff, the San Francisco 49ers' secondary coach, as defensive coordinator along with three other new assistants. The coaching instability may be somewhat to blame for a recruiting class that was considered disappointing.... OREGON STATE brought in several junior college transfers to improve its defense, which was ranked 115th against the pass last season. With a 28-30 record after five years, coach Mike Riley is under pressure to improve his team in a hurry.... WASHINGTON suffered a major blow when redshirt freshman running back J.R. Hasty was ruled academically ineligible in July. Hasty, a high school legend in the state, was expected to emerge as the Huskies' top back by year's end. Louis Rankin, a steady but unspectacular junior (485 yards in eight games last season) is likely to be the Huskies' starter. -- Phil Taylor