For most of the last decade, Pac-10 spring previews -- or postseason reviews, or any assessment, at any time -- could be summed up thusly: Who can possibly challenge USC? (Or maybe: Which guy will become the Trojans' next superstar?)
Welcome to the new storyline.
First, Oregon broke the Trojans' seven-year stranglehold on the Pac-10 title. Playing a freshman quarterback and featuring a suddenly porous defense, USC lost four times before ending on, uh, a positive note with a victory in the Emerald Bowl.
Then the turmoil started.
So yeah, the window of opportunity for the rest of the league seems open.
"The guy before us raised the bar here," Kiffin recently told
Sounds good. But now we get our first look at Life After Pete. And the biggest question for spring football in the Pac-10 is whether Kiffin can back up the boldness, because his limited head-coaching experience at Tennessee and with the Oakland Raiders doesn't provide much evidence.
Or, as Kiffin suggests, better it?
That's a lot to ask of anyone, because USC was the nation's top program over the last decade. Prediction: No one will win seven straight Pac-10 titles in the near future.
A coaching change would be drama enough, but there's more intrigue here. Carroll's final USC team bore little resemblance, after September, to the previous juggernauts.
We'll begin to know more this spring. Is the quarterback position (along with every other) truly an open competition? Is Barkley the right guy? Or could
Can Kiffin rebuild Troy? He brought in his father, noted defensive guru
And can the offseason end fast enough?
This assumes they're all available for spring practice, and then the actual season, because the offseason has been, well, troubling. Since Jan. 24, five Ducks have been arrested for various allegations; two more are under investigation. The program's reputation is under siege.
Oregon must rebuild its defensive line, but at most positions, the Ducks enter spring practice with the luxury of building on 2009. At this point, a return to the football field, even for practice, would provide a respite from the offseason.
Stanford's rise last season was a pleasant surprise. As was the way the Cardinal did it. In knocking off Oregon and USC en route to the program's first bowl game in eight years, Jim Harbaugh didn't employ a fancy offense. Operating behind a big, strong offensive line that powered opponents downfield, running back
Luck is back, and the broken finger that kept him out of the Sun Bowl has healed; he's cleared for full participation this spring, and he might be the Pac-10's best returning quarterback. But in order to build on its success, the Cardinal must identify a suitable replacement for Gerhart, who rushed for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns. The contenders:
"I'm hoping we can find some tandem that adds up to one Toby Gerhart," Harbaugh told the
Stanford's offense was a potent force last season, but the defense wasn't, ranking ninth in the league. Seeking a more aggressive style, Harbaugh hired defensive coordinator
At long last,
Then came the Holiday Bowl, a 33-0 undressing by Nebraska. Offensive coordinator
Good vibrations? Arizona enters spring practice wondering whether that annoying rattle is a serious malfunction. The task: figure out who's calling the plays. And which plays might work to erase the Holiday Bowl slump.
But you want names: Mike Stoops elevated offensive line coach
On the field, the Wildcats thought they had an emerging star in quarterback
We'll go with Washington. The Huskies were much improved last season, but after going 0-12 in 2008, they needed to win only one game to make that statement true. Well, how about beating USC? And then winning four more games?
Steve Sarkisian infused energy and enthusiasm that had evaporated during
At times last season, it seemed the coaches weren't doing enough to utilize the talents of Locker, who's not a classic dropback passer, but more of a hybrid who doesn't fit neatly into the pro-style attack Sarkisian brought from USC. The challenge this spring is to further develop Locker while adapting the system to his skill set.
The Huskies will also try to find a backup at running back for sophomore