As the 2008 season approaches, fans are officially in preview mode. Everyone, everywhere, has their thoughts on the upcoming season of Pac 10 football. Now it's time for FanHouse to weigh in. And what better place to start than to look back at the biggest stories from 2007.
|Most Ridiculous Moment|
Have you heard the one about the 41-point underdog, on the road against mighty USC, yet somehow managing to win the game? Talk about ridiculous, but seriously, it happened. And there's some juicy back story here too. Seems that Stanford's hot shot new coach, Captain Comeback Jim Harbaugh, started a mini war of words between himself and the rockstar of rockstars, Pete Carroll. Harbaugh even floated a not-so-secret rumor making the rounds that Carroll wouldn't mind a return to the NFL. Who is this rookie Pac 10 coach to say such things? Carroll will keep his foot on the gas pedal from kickoff to QB kneel-down. They might as well not even get off the bus. Stanford will be fed to the lions in front of 90,000 blood-thirsty fans in the Coliseum.
Wait, there's more. USC played uninspired football the week before, only beating Washington by three points in Seattle. The win actually dropped them from number one to number two in the polls. Surely they would use that slight as even more motivation against Harbaugh. Meanwhile, Stanford was just 1-3 on the season and coming off an absolute beating from ASU, 41-3, in Palo Alto.
Well, funny thing happened on the way to the guaranteed blowout. It never materialized. Despite USC out-gaining Stanford 459-235 in total offense, the Trojans were sloppy this evening in LA, turning the ball over five times to just once for the plucky Cardinal. Stanford hung around and hung around, and finally topped USC 24-23 on a last-minute TD pass. The stunner of all stunners, USC fans are still sifting through the wreckage of this moment that clearly defines the term ridiculous.
Whether or not you are a fan of Oregon, it's hard to get past what happened to their 2007 season. The Quack Attack were a legit BCS title game contender as late as the 10th game of the season, sitting at number two in the BCS polls. They were 8-1 and just three wins away from a date with destiny, but it all amazingly fell apart on one simple play against Arizona. Dennis Dixon went one way, his knee stayed planted in the Arizona Stadium turf, and that was it.
Oregon would go on to not only lose against Arizona that evening, but also lose the rest of their regular season games, forced to swallow the bitter pill that is the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Not that the Sun Bowl is the worst thing in the world. But when you are a few wins away from playing for the national title, well, you can imagine what fans were feeling when the bowl pairings were announced. Oregon did get up off the mat, however, and took out their frustrations by steamrolling South Florida 56-21 in one of the biggest blowouts of the bowl season. But Oregon fans will always wonder what could have been if Dennis Dixon stayed healthy.
When ASU suffered through another mediocre 7-6 season in '06, enough was enough for Sun Devil fans. Here you had a program in Tempe, with great weather, excellent facilities, the Phoenix media market, the list just goes on and on. But the football program couldn't take the next step. Then AD Lisa Love relieved Dirk Koetter of his job, and stunned many by going out and landing the ultimate hired gun, Dennis Erickson, away from Idaho. The Sun Devils are now poised for a new era of sucess on the football field.
How's it working out so far? Not too shabby. ASU broke through to a 10-3 record in 2007, including their first Co-Pac 10 title since 1996. QB Rudy Carpenter had a breakout season with over 3200 yards and 25 TD passes. Even though ASU was blasted in the Holiday Bowl by Texas, there is major momentum building behind the Sun Devils, as fans and alumni have cleary caught the Erickson excitement. The honeymoon is still on in Tempe.
Through the first five games of 2007, the Berkeley Bears of Cal were as good as anyone in the country. They opened the year by getting some revenge against Tennessee at home to make up for an embarrassing wipeout in Knoxville to open 2006. But even more impressive was Cal's road win at Oregon in week five, a victory that had them sitting at number two in the rankings. Even better, Cal was actually poised to take the top spot in the polls the following week when USC was shocked by Stanford. All they had to do was beat a reeling Oregon State team in Berkeley, and Cal would be number one.
But Cal blew their chance when backup QB Kevin Riley suffered a brain lock against the Beavers, failing to stop the clock at the end of regulation when a short field goal could have sent the game into overtime. Had Cal won that game, not only would they have been number one the following day, they would have been the first Cal team to be 6-0 in 57 years. But it was not to be.
The season spiraled down the drain from that point forward, as Cal would lose five of their last six regular season games, including a blowout loss to Washington and to Stanford for the first time in six seasons. Cal did circle the wagons to win the Armed Forces Bowl over Air Force. But considering where they were halfway into the season compared to where they finished, it's hard to argue against Cal as the biggest fraud of 2007.
Not such an easy choice here, and there are a lot of different ways this could go. How do you define best player? Oregon's Jonathan Stewart was the best running back, running for 1722 yards and 11 TD's. Yet when they lost QB Dennis Dixon, Oregon's season fell apart. ASU QB Rudy Carpenter led the Devils to 10 wins, but after starting the year 8-0, ASU did go 2-3 to close the season, including losses to USC and Oregon. Oregon's Nick Reed led the conference in tackles for loss (22 1/2) and sacks (12), but was he the best player? QB John David Booty led USC to an 11-2, Rose Bowl winning season, but he missed three games due to injury and, oh by the way, tossed four interceptions in that horrible loss to Stanford. USC Linebacker Rey Maualuga gets a ton of ink for his huge hits and intimidating style, but his numbers, while strong, weren't out of this world with 79 tackles and six sacks. Of course Maualuga has first-round NFL talent in front of him, next to him and behind him, so it's hard to separate yourself from the pack with pure stats.
But all that out of the way, let's go with QB Dennis Dixon. Through the first nine games of 2007, nobody was better in the conference. Dixon led the Pac 10 with a fantastic 161.2 passer efficiency rating, completing over 67 percent of his passes. He threw 20 TD's to only 4 interceptions. Dixon was also a threat on the ground in the new spread read-option offense, rushing for 583 yards and nine more TD's. But the biggest proof is what happened to Oregon after Dixon went down on that fateful night in Tucson. Oregon couldn't rally without Dixon, their MVP and legit Heisman candidate, and a season of dreams disappeared.