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Times reporter Bob Condotta keeps the news coming about the Montlake Dawgs.

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July 23, 2008 9:37 AM

Poll time

Posted by Bob Condotta

The Pac-10 media poll will be out by this time tomorrow, so time for me to unveil mine --- as well as provide a space for you to present yours, as well.

In fact, one reader had a good idea after reading the link the other day from the Spokesman-Review, where Cougar fans almost unanimously had the Huskies last. He said I should solicit the views of UW fans to see how they think the Pac-10 will do, thinking Husky fans might see the league a little more fairly. So go ahead and give me yours below and I'll tally them up and provide a consensus.

As for my poll, faithfully submitted to the Pac-10 home office a few days ago, here it is:

1, USC --- Really just no other team makes sense to put here, boring as it is to pencil in the Trojans every season (though I'm told at least one person in the Pac-10 poll has voted for someone else). USC has some questions on offense, but the defense should be all-world, and that should be enough to win the Pac-10 again, though I envision another stumble somewhere along the way in conference play.

2, Oregon --- Sorry UW fans. But hey, I heard even Dave Mahler say he had put Oregon here in his poll the other day. The Ducks admittedly have a QB issue, but I don't think they have a lot of others. The RB spot should be just fine with the platoon of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, the O-line will be one of the best in the conference as should the secondary, and the front seven should also be solid --- it's nothing but juniors and seniors who have all played a lot. And for those who say Oregon's offense fell apart last year after Dennis Dixon got hurt, I'll point out it scored 87 points in its last two games against two bowl games --- OSU and South Florida. This is a coaching staff that has shown it can adapt to its personnel well. I do see Oregon losing a few games --- I think there's a pretty big gap from USC to everyone else --- but assuming a QB is found who is at least serviceable, I don't see a huge dropff in the Ducks.

3, Arizona State --- My biggest trepidation in putting ASU here is the offensive line, which was bad last year and essentially loses four starters. But Dennis Erickson is also one of the best I've ever seen at adjusting to his personnel, and after getting an in-action view of this unit last season, I think he'll have done some things to make it better. Rudy Carpenter gives ASU the Pac-10's most experienced QB, the receivers are great, and the defense should also be pretty dynamic. Going to Cal and USC on consecutive weeks in October will tell the tale on the Devils.

4, Cal --- Sure, the Bears folded a bit at the end of last season --- though I'd resist a little bit the notion that they do it every year. But they also rallied to win their bowl game, and Jeff Tedford then made some pretty significant changes to his coaching staff after a disappointing 7-6 season. There do seem to be some holes here --- not a lot of experience at RB, none at all at WR, and while a lot of the defense is back, it wasn't very good last season. But injuries also played a role in what happened to Cal last season and the Bears have recruited well of late. The O-line could be dominating, to help make up for some of the offensive inexpererience, and the defense can't help but be better.

5, Arizona --- Here's where picking the Pac this year really gets challenging. I think Arizona could be picked anywhere from fourth to ninth. Arizona has tended to underperform the last few years,and has some significant holes to fill on defense. But the offense could be one of the best around after finally settling in late last season, and it was something of a hard-luck year for the Wildcats last season --- they lost four games by seven points or less, three by three points or less. The heat is on Mike Stoops, but he has the schedule to make it work, with Idaho, Toledo and at New Mexico to start, then games at UCLA, home to UW and at Stanford to begin Pac-10 play. A 6-0 record isn't out of the question and anything less than 4-2 and Stoops will be all but fired by mid-October. Here's thinking Arizona will finally get over the hump and save Stoops.

6, Oregon State --- The Beavers are another enigma, having lost a lot off of last year's team, but also with a track record of recent success. But a lot of the losses are on defense --- just three starters officially return. And one thing that gets lost is that OSU tends to rotate players quite a bit on defense, meaning a lot of the new guys have played quite a bit, particularly the linebackers. I know the feeling in Corvallis is that the dropoff won't be what everyone assumes on that side of the ball just because of the lack of starting experience. The offense was a struggle at times last year, but OSU returns seven starters from a unit that averaged 35 points in its last four games. Mike Riley always seems to figure out a way to keep the Beavers afloat.

7, Washington --- As a beat writer for a team, you sometimes worry that you are almost too close to the situation to make adequate comparisons with teams on the outside, one reason I like hearing the viewpoints from elsewhere. When things are going bad, for instance, you can forget everyone else has injuries or defections, as well. Conversely, when you hear about all the excitement over new players, it's easy to forget that everyone else thinks all of their new guys are really good, as well. So in trying to find a middle ground on the Huskies, I've settled here. The defense has to be better, and Jake Locker gives the Huskies a puncher's chance in every game they play. But the lack of experience at RB, WR and DL can't be ignored. I think the D-line is the biggest issue heading into the first few games as I can envision teams like Oregon just trying to ram it down UW's throat, a strategy that on paper would appear to work. Depth in a lot of spots also has to raise some concerns, and in 12-game college seasons, it's bound to come up. What happens if Locker gets hurt, even for a game or two? Or one or two more of the O-linemen? And the much-discussed schedule obviously won't make it easy to build early momentum. That said, I do like the O-line and the fact that Locker in year two should be a lot more consistent, and if the defense shows the expected improvement, a few more wins will come. But against that schedule, just hard to see enough to move UW much past this spot.

8, UCLA --- Certainly a new way for Rick Neuheisel to take over a college team. At Colorado and UW, he inherited fairly veteran teams and provided a complete change in approach that worked fabulously in the short term. He doesn't get that here as the Bruins officially have just nine returning starters and are battling personnel issues all over the place. One thing the Bruins have going for them will be the low expectations --- UCLA is often accused of underperforming, something that won't likely happen this year. And this is still UCLA, where the recruiting classes are always pretty good, meaning a lot of the new faces might turn out to be pretty good. The defensive front seven could be particularly good, and if the Bruins can find a running game, maybe the Bruins can turn into a ball-control type team. The key will be a three-game home stretch early featuring games against Arizona, Fresno State and WSU.

9, Stanford --- There are actually a lot of things I like about Stanford, particularly nine returning starters on a defense that quietly got a lot better as last year went on (with the stats sometimes not showing it due to an anemic offense that kept the defense on the field too long). Stanford could also have a pretty good O-line --- four players who have at least nine starts return. But the QB situation is uncertain, there aren't a lot of proven offensive playmakers, and this is still a team that needs to learn to win. Stanford could also be 0-2 in Pac-10 play before many teams even play one game, opening at home against Oregon State and then at ASU. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if Stanford finished higher than this.

10, Washington State --- The general word on the Cougars is pretty good front-line talent, maybe better than everyone thinks. But it's pretty scary after that, and with 13 games and just one bye, depth is bound to become an issue at some point. It's also hard to know how Paul Wulff's no-huddle offense will take in the Pac-10, though the early vibe on everything else Wulff-related seems pretty positive. You could make a case for picking WSU a little higher if the QB were proven. But he's not, so for now, the Cougars are looking up.

So there are my picks. Now give me yours and we'll add them up.

Later, I'll also compare how I picked them the last few years with how things actually turned out.


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