Even in down year, USC still looks like team to beat in Pac-10
Even with a new QB and eight new defensive starters, USC should outlast Cal
The Big 12 looks loaded again, but the ACC could be as competitive as the SEC
Penn State's schedule, Louisville's decline, Evangeline Lilly clarification, more
This week, we're talking USC football -- both on-field and off.
Last year, USC needed help from Oregon in the final week of the season to reach the Rose Bowl and, after losing so much talent to the NFL, seems to be ever-so-slightly down from its lofty standards. Meanwhile, Oregon, Cal and Oregon State all look improved from last season. So is this finally the year USC's streak of Pac-10 titles comes to an end?
It's highly unlikely the Trojans will be as dominant as last year, when they boasted a top five NFL quarterback (Mark Sanchez) and a world-class defense. Nevertheless, I still have more faith in a USC team featuring an untested QB and eight new defensive starters than in any of the teams you mentioned.
Of the three, Cal is the only one I feel reasonably certain will be improved. The Bears return the entire starting front four and secondary from the nation's 26th-ranked defense, a third-year QB (Kevin Riley) and a Heisman-caliber tailback (Jahvid Best). But not since Aaron Rodgers' 2003-04 tenure has Cal put any sort of scare into the Trojans, and we have to wonder at this point whether Jeff Tedford's otherwise successful program will ever get over that hump.
Meanwhile, Oregon's strong finish last season has earned it a whole lot of preseason acclaim, but I'm not sure people realize just how much attrition that team has endured. In addition to a head-coaching change, the Ducks lost most of their offensive line and receiving corps and nearly every big-name defender. Oregon State is always tough to predict, but my guess is the Beavers will put up another 9-4-type season.
USC's reign atop the Pac-10 will come to an end eventually, but I learned long ago to stop doubting Pete Carroll's ability to reload. Two years ago, the Trojans suffered as bad an injury rash as I've seen, lost to a 41-point underdog (Stanford), lost a second Pac-10 game (at Oregon) ... and still won the conference. So yes, USC may be somewhat vulnerable this season; the question is, will it matter?
Hey Stewart. Any update on how the USC "investigation" is coming along? Thanks.
No one from the NCAA, Pac-10 or any other involved party is allowed to speak about the "ongoing" investigation, but if I had to guess...
1) The investigation has shifted entirely to ex-coach Tim Floyd's rogue basketball program, which could be in big, big trouble if it did indeed pay for O.J. Mayo.
2) While it was abundantly clear to anyone who read the original Yahoo! reports Reggie Bush was ineligible while at USC, the NCAA was never able to nail down hard evidence due to Bush's non-cooperation and the fact he bought off one of the key witnesses. If it had, it would have announced something as far back as year or two ago.
3) Therefore, when the NCAA announced in April it was combining the football and basketball probes, it was probably doing so as a convenient way to save face. At some point in the near future, the NCAA will announce its findings, and while it may well result in severe penalties for the hoops program, football will likely be scantily mentioned or affected. The football team can't lose scholarships due to the basketball team's infractions.
This will surely cause no shortage of outrage among fans nationwide, who will accuse the NCAA of playing favorites (especially since it just nailed Alabama for the oh-so heinous crime of players selling textbooks). I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I just think the NCAA's enforcement department, which carries no subpoena power, is largely powerless. Unless a case involves active players with eligibility issues, or unless a related lawsuit or criminal case exists on which it can piggy back, investigators tend to curl up in a ball.
As a Kansas State fan, I will never forget the rags-to-riches success story Bill Snyder built in Manhattan. However, as much as I hate to admit it, I'm having a very difficult time convincing my fellow K-State fans that Snyder's second time around is not going to be anywhere near as successful. Maybe you could help me out here, Stewart, and see if you can convince them.
This has got to be a Mailbag first -- a fan seeking validation that his team won't be that good.
I have nothing but overwhelming respect for what Snyder accomplished at K-State the first time around, but no, it's not going to happen again. Can the Wildcats return to bowl games consistently? Absolutely. Will they become a perennial top 10 program again? Highly doubtful.
For one, Snyder's signature strategy -- supplementing his roster with a sizable dose of juco recruits -- is far riskier today due to the APR implications if those recruits don't pan out academically, and far more schools are competing for the elite prospects. Secondly, Snyder recruited heavily in Texas and built his program during a period of sustained mediocrity in Austin and at Oklahoma. It's no coincidence K-State's demise (a losing season in 2004, Snyder's second-to-last) began around the same time Mack Brown and Bob Stoops became entrenched at their schools.
Ultimately, however, the embarrassing financial revelations that rocked the K-State community this offseason may affect the program more than any of that. In case you missed it, former AD Bob Krause made an inexplicable, secret agreement to give fired coach Ron Prince $3.2 million in deferred payments. A subsequent audit by the Kansas Board of Regents uncovered another $845,000 in under-the-table payments over the years to numerous athletic officials, including Snyder. All of this happened under the watch of recently retired president Jon Wefald, a sports nut who was lauded for hiring Snyder back in 1989 but who apparently let the athletic department operate willy-nilly during his tenure.
Clearly, heads will roll and things will change, and I just can't see it working out well for Snyder. It would be a shame to see him tarnish a previously impeccable legacy.
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