The 2009 college football season officially kicks off Friday when Oregon takes the field for the team’s first practice. On Thursday the Pacific-10 Conference held its media day to ramp up the anticipation. A few key things emerged from the day: USC is favored to win the conference again, the Pac-10 has a lot of good running backs, and Duck head coach Chip Kelly feels right at home in his first season at the helm. The question is whether the Ducks will be able to navigate their toughest schedule in years to claim their first Pac-10 title since 2001. Here’s the Emerald’s prediction on how it will all play out.
University of Southern California Trojans
Breaking it down: Until proven otherwise, Los Angeles’ pro football team is still the team to beat in the conference. The Trojans will have it tough, replacing eight starters on defense, but the offense returns nine starters and head coach Pete Carroll always has good recruits.
2008 record: 12-1 overall, 8-1 Pac-10
Prediction for 2009: Pac-10 Champion, BCS bowl berth
What it means for Oregon: Yes, the Trojans are favored, but many in the conference believe there are a few teams who can challenge them. The Ducks play them in Eugene, where they beat USC in 2007. If there was a year to upset the Trojans, this is it.
Quote: “It’s a new year. There’s a new feel around the Pac-10. We’re trying to maximize our potential. I’m fired up for the season.” — USC head coach Pete Carroll
University of Oregon Ducks
Breaking it down: The Ducks have the potential to make a run at a conference title if things fall into place. If the team can make it through its non-conference schedule, which includes a trip to Boise State to start things, followed by home games against Purdue and Utah, they will be set up very nicely. The Ducks play USC, California and Oregon State at Autzen Stadium this year.
2008 record: 10-3, 7-2
Prediction for 2009: Second place, bowl game.
Quote: “Our goal is to be the best and do things that have never been done before.” — Oregon head coach Chip Kelly
California Golden Bears
Breaking it down: The media picked the Bears to finish second behind USC, but with a new quarterback and a tough schedule that includes back-to-back games against Oregon and the Trojans, the Bears will be challenged. But with potential Heisman candidate Jahvid Best in the backfield, anything is possible.
2008 record: 9-4, 6-3
Prediction for 2009: Third place, bowl game.
What it means for Oregon: The Golden Bears are going to be tough. It helps that the Ducks have them in Eugene this year, but that should just be a small consolation until they can actually beat Cal, which hasn’t happened since 2005.
Quote: “It’s going to be a challenging season. But we know how to handle high expectations and we’re welcoming them this year.” — Cal head coach Jeff Tedford
Oregon State Beavers
Breaking it down: The Rodgers brothers are back and will give the team a significant boost, but with trips to USC, Cal and Oregon, the Beavers will have a tough time trying to repeat their success from last season, especially after losing their entire secondary.
2008 record: 9-4, 7-2
Prediction for 2009: Fourth place, bowl game
What it means for Oregon: The Civil War could again have major implications if things play out as predicted. The Beavers could be in position to exact some revenge for the beatdown the Ducks put on them in Corvallis in 2008. Anything is possible in this rivalry.
Quote: “It’s a big time of year going into fall camp. It’s always exciting … We’re looking to get off to a good start this year. That would be nice.” — OSU head coach Mike Riley
Arizona State Sun Devils
Breaking it down: The Sun Devils are still trying to regroup after a sub-par 2008. They lost veteran QB Rudy Carpenter and are still young. It could be another tough year for head coach Dennis Erickson, but if the defense comes through the Devils could sneak into a bowl game.
2008 record: 5-7, 4-5
Prediction for 2009: Fifth place, possible bowl berth.
What it means for Oregon: The Sun Devils are young, but they have a tendency to play well against the Ducks — last year’s 54-20 Oregon win being the exception. ASU could cause an upset in Eugene on Nov. 14 if the Ducks aren’t careful.
Quote: “This season is very exciting. In my experience after coming off a low season it puts a fire in you and the team.” — Dennis Erickson
University of Arizona Wildcats
Breaking it down: The media gave the Wildcats no love in 2009, predicting they will finish eighth in the conference. But they very well could finish fifth instead of ASU. They’ve made a habit out of surprising a few teams. Plus, they’re coming off their first bowl win in years.
2008 record: 8-5, 5-4
Prediction for 2009: Sixth place, possible bowl berth.
What it means for Oregon: The Ducks exacted revenge on the Wildcats in 2008 after two straight losses, but Oregon has to travel to Tucson this year — the site where the team’s 2007 national championship hopes were destroyed.
Quote: “We at Arizona feel like we’ve gotten to a better place. It’s been a tough five years. This is our best team since I’ve been here.” — Arizona head coach Mike Stoops
Breaking it down: With running back Toby Gerhart leading the way, the Cardinal will surprise a team or two in 2009. They have 17 returning starters. Just don’t expect them to play beyond the regular season — they will miss out on the post-season yet again. Maybe next year.
2008 record: 5-7, 4-5
Prediction for 2009: Seventh place
What it means for Oregon: Stanford hasn’t come close to Oregon in a few years. Maybe this year the Cardinal can keep it within 14 points … maybe.
Quote: “We are ready to kick the door open and start swinging. Our foundation has been built on bedrock — not on shifting sands.” — Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh
Breaking it down: With 44 freshmen/redshirt freshmen and 20 sophomores/redshirt sophomores, the Bruins are going to have a tough year full of growing pains.
2008 record: 4-8, 3-6
Prediction for 2009: Eighth place
What it means for Oregon: UCLA hung with the Ducks last year in Eugene, but don’t expect Oregon to lose in the Rose Bowl this year.
Quote: “We will have to grow up and get through that in a hurry. But the work ethic is there to get better.” — UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel
University of Washington Huskies
Breaking it down: A winless season hurts. Even new coach Steve Sarkisian won’t be able to coax too many more wins this season, besides one against equally woeful rival Washington State.
2008 record: 0-12, 0-9
Prediction for 2009: Ninth place
What it means for Oregon: Quarterback Jake Locker has given the Ducks problems in the past, but it’s hard for one guy to beat 11.
Quote: “It was an 0-12 football team last year. I’ll say it once. Fortunately me and my coaches weren’t 0-12 last year.” — Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian
Washington State University Cougars
Breaking it down: If it’s possible, the Cougars looked worse than the Huskies, even though they beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup. Things won’t be much better this year; let’s just hope the Cougars won’t have to hold campus-wide tryouts for a new QB again.
2008 record: 2-11, 1-8
Prediction for 2009: Last place
What it means for Oregon: If the Ducks lose to Washington State they should end the season right there.
Quote: “We’ve come a long ways in the last 18 months. We’re moving in the positive direction. We wi
ll be a much more competitive team this season. We have the opportunity to surprise some teams.” — WSU head coach Paul Wulff