Pac-10 preview: Former power Washington begins rebuilding
By Dennis Dodd
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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Something to do over beers as the season draws near: Put together a list of the top 10 football factories. You know, the schools that get their very identity from football excellence.
Most likely Washington will be in there somewhere.
1. Southern Cal
2. Arizona State
4. Washington State
7. Oregon State
Off. player of year:
Reggie Bush, USC
Def. player of year:
Spencer Havner, UCLA
Coach of the year:
Pete Carroll, USC
What happened to this once-proud program could fill a courtroom. In fact, it has. The unfortunate Rick Neuheisel saga dragged U-Dub down to a point that Tyrone Willingham became the program's third coach in 18 months.
The top story in the Pac-10 is Southern California chasing its third consecutive national championship. Right below it might be the plight of Washington. When was the last time the Huskies were picked last in the preseason as they were by media earlier this month?
Not surprising, really, when Washington finished 1-10 and winless in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1973 last season. But, still, Washington? The school of Don James, great quarterbacks, Rose Bowls?
Fortunately, the Huskies lucked out when Willingham was available. They won't be down for long in a conference that -- pre-USC dynasty -- was fluid (Washington won 11 games as recently as 2000). With less than two months to recruit after being fired, Willingham assembled a serviceable (if small at 13 players) recruiting class.
Tyrone Willingham is in Seattle to turn around a Washington program that went 1-10 in 2004. (AP)
The Huskies won't be going to any Rose Bowls anytime soon. The fact that four quarterbacks are still in the mix says something about the existing talent. Athletic Isaiah Stanback is thought to be the frontrunner after completing only 34 percent of his passes last year.
But the Huskies will be better because they can't get any worse. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer assembled the nation's best defense against the run last year at Notre Dame. The entire front seven return, which, in this case, could be as bad as it is optimistic.
The coaching changes, the Neuheisel distraction, the Keith Gilbertson disaster -- it all had a cumulative effect. Washington committed a staggering 42 turnovers last year. That's the second-most in I-A this decade (only Army in 2003 had more).
The climb back begins with the luck of the former Irish. Willingham needed a job and Washington provided the opening in Ty's old Pac-10 stomping grounds. He didn't run the program into the ground, as has been the mantra at Notre Dame.
Throughout his career he has been consistent, if not spectacular (65-62-1). Three games over .500. Really, what Husky wouldn't take that for 2005 right now?
Predicted order of finish in the Pac-10:
Big East Pac-10
Big Ten SEC
Big 12 Sun Belt
1. Southern California: Is it just me or is anyone else the least bit skeptical about seeing Matt Leinart throw for the first time since his elbow surgery? It has come to that. You have to search for reasons not to like the Trojans.
If the Trojans get through four tough roadies at Notre Dame, Arizona State, Cal and Oregon, pencil them in for the Rose Bowl and a shot at title No. 3 in a row. Norm who?
2. Arizona State: Dirk Koetter has the talent and the schedule to have the most impressive season of his career. Going 9-2 in the Pac-10 is a lot better than going 11-1 at Boise State.
Having quarterback Sam Keller is like a returning starter, even though he has only one career start. The question, again, will be the defense. If it can contribute at all, the Sun Devils will be tough.
3. California: OK, so Jeff Tedford has lost loads of talent but he is still Jeff Tedford. One of the top coaches in the country, and an offensive genius, Tedford will have Joseph Ayoob and Marshawn Lynch as part of the most potent offense this side of Troy.
4. Washington State: Despite a lack of depth, eight wins are not out of the question. The Cougars are never bad and they always seem to hang around. Bill Doba is 15-9 going into his third year after replacing Mike Price. If quarterback Josh Swogger comes back healthy from a broken foot, the Cougars should by flying, at least on offense.
5. UCLA: The trendy pick for second place. Still too many questions at quarterback and on defense. This is a big year for Karl Dorrell. He has 15 starters back, including future NFL Draft picks at running back, linebacker and tight end. The Bruins had better be good.
6. Oregon: The Ducks play host to Cal and USC, so this could be a really big season instead of one that results in six wins. With 14 starters returning, Mike Bellotti has few excuses. Ducks fans are waiting for the magic to return.
7. Oregon State: The Beavers miss USC but so what? They play Boise State and Louisville. Receiver Mike Haas is a preseason All-American. Mike Riley will need him after the departure of quarterback Derek Anderson.
8. Arizona: Slow and steady progress in Mike Stoops' second season. The Wildcats overachieved last year with their three victories, including the season finale against Arizona State. The 'Cats will be under .500 again but will win at least one game they shouldn't. The players are starting to believe Stoops.
9. Washington: Coming off the first season of double-digit losses in the program's history (115 years), Washington has nowhere to go but up. Willingham will run a conservative West Coast offense and the defense will be much improved. The turnovers will be cut dramatically.
10. Stanford: This is an indication of the strength of the Pac-10. The Cardinal have bought into Walt Harris but they're still going to finish last. Blame Ted Leland, who made the wrong call with Buddy Teevens. Now the understated, underrated Harris gets his chance. You know he'll develop a quarterback or two.