Around the Pac-10, last season was billed as the year of the
quarterback. But that expectation yielded more fizzle than
sizzle, and the magical run Oregon made to the Rose Bowl
eventually stole the headlines. The Ducks, the third team in as
many years to go to the granddaddy of 'em all, will most likely
pass the title torch this year to USC (page 60) and will be
hard-pressed to hold off Washington (page 97) and Arizona (page
109) in the conference.
This is an article from the Aug. 5, 1995 issue
Former Duck offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti, taking over as
coach from Rich Brooks, was smart enough not to tinker too much
with success. But Oregon will go with a more vertical passing
game to take advantage of new quarterback Tony Graziani's arm. A
junior lefthander, Graziani proved his mettle last season when
he stepped in for an injured Danny O'Neil (now graduated) and
led the key upset of USC. All the Ducks are in place at the
skill positions. Senior flanker Cristin McLemore is already
Oregon's alltime leader in touchdown receptions, with 20, and
junior split end Dameron Ricketts (team-high 42 catches last
year) is greased lightning in the open field.
The defense is expected to be as ornery as ever under new
coordinator Charlie Waters, the former Dallas Cowboy defensive
back. The Ducks have a knockout one-two combo in senior inside
linebackers Rich Ruhl and Jeremy Asher. The line is experienced
and talented, led by hard-charging senior end Troy Bailey.
Senior cornerback Alex Molden is a potential All-America, a
suffocating cover man and a forceful run stopper.
With a league-high 18 starters returning, UCLA (5-6 overall last
year) looks dangerous. But how far the Bruins go may be
determined by highly touted junior quarterback Ryan Fien, who
takes over for the graduated Wayne Cook. Fien looked shaky in
'94 relief appearances, but he has a rocket arm, and in spring
ball he displayed a newfound poise and grasp of the offense.
All-America senior flanker Kevin Jordan returns after the
second-best receiving season (1,228 yards on 73 catches and
seven TDs) in Pac-10 history. Explosive senior tailback Karim
Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Sharmon Shah) racked up 1,227 yards last
year. Senior left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a 6'8" 315-pounder,
anchors one of the country's best offensive lines.
Senior Donnie Edwards may be the nation's finest outside
linebacker (106 tackles, 12.5 sacks last year), and he is
certainly one of the most interesting. His dreadlocks are now
heading into their second season, and as for his wild style of
play, Edwards says, "I'm the product of an unresolved Oedipus
complex. Football is a way to let out my aggression."
The rug at Memorial Stadium has been replaced by plush grass,
but it comes a year late for California. The Golden Bears spent
most of last fall being pounded into the turf during a
disappointing 4-7 season marked by injuries, blunders and
on-the-job training for a number of youngsters. But talent
abounds, and Cal could be the league's dark horse.
Junior QB Pat Barnes is one of the Pac-10's most exciting
players. He is gutsy and creative, with a velvety touch, slick
wheels and a commanding presence. Iheanyi Uwaezuoke (56 catches)
and junior Na'il Benjamin (45 catches) are a dynamic receiving
duo with unforgettable names.
Cal's defense, 13th in the nation last year, could be an
overpowering bunch, particularly the line. Last season it
accounted for 29.5 of a school-record 40 sacks. Regan Upshaw, a
6'4", 255-pound junior end with 4.67 speed, is a ferocious pass
rusher, and he has four talented line mates, particularly super
sophomores Andy Jacobs and Brandon Whiting.
Oregon State, 4-7 last year, looks primed for its first winning
season since 1970. O.K., it's true the Beavers open up with
nonconference cupcakes Idaho, Pacific and North Texas. But
Oregon State beat UCLA and Washington State last year, and in
four other games it was driving for the potential tying or
winning score late in the fourth quarter only to come up short.
Thirteen starters are back, and the bench is deeper this year.
Coach Jerry Pettibone has finally decided to give the wishbone
offense a rest, and the Beavers will most likely go with a
double slot, showcasing four swift pass catchers and Don
Shanklin's secret weapon, his right arm. Says Pettibone with a
chuckle, "The coaches in this league are going to drop dead when
they see us."
Last season the Washington State defense was the second best in
the nation and carried the Cougars to an 8-4 record and a
victory in the Alamo Bowl over Baylor. "The offense was playing
not to lose last year," says junior QB Chad Davis. "But the
defense isn't there to bail us out now, and we're going to make
some things happen." Seven starters return, and Davis is a
scrappy QB who will open some eyes.
Graduation gutted the defense, with eight starters leaving.
There are some playmakers, however, in senior inside linebacker
Chris Hayes and Dwayne Sanders, a 6'7", 255-pound senior end.
The genius is out and the drill sergeant is in at Stanford. Bill
Walsh's three years on the Farm were a disappointment (3-7-1
last year), and in comes no-nonsense Tyrone Willingham. His
priorities are to develop a smash-mouth style on both sides of
the ball and to strip away the country-club ambience that
evolved under Walsh.
Stanford will emphasize the running game this season to take
advantage of a skilled offensive line and to offset the
graduation of quarterback Steve Stenstrom. The good news for the
defense is that nine starters are returning. The bad news is
that these are the same guys who gave up more than 32 points and
404 yards a game.
Arizona State, 3-8 last season, is thin on talent, with the
notable exception of junior quarterback Jake (the Snake)
Plummer, who throws a terrific long ball and is a daredevil
scrambler and a gritty leader. "I would take a bullet in the
head for this team," he says. Junior wideout Keith Poole is
Plummer's favorite target. He may be correct in assessing the
unpredictable nature of the Pac-10. "Everybody picked Oregon to
finish last in '94, and look what happened," Poole says. "So for
this year, who knows?"
7. Oregon State
8. Washington State
10. Arizona State