Pac 10 Preview: The Dregs

So we come to the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. The less-than-mediocre,
the outhouse,
bottom-feeders, however you want to word it is fine. It is what it is.
And in the Pac 10, the climb out of Dregs-ville can be a long, slow, steady incline
vs. the hope of quickly sprinting up the ladder. Of course there is always hope for
the Dregs, but reality usually hits once things get going as the season rolls on.
With that, we present the Dregs of the Pac 10.


It is hard not to like the future of Jake Locker. Big, strong, and exceptionally gifted, Locker has a set of tools rarely seen at the quarterback position. But Locker isn't all the way there, at least not yet. While he was fantastic as a running QB last year, nearly turning in a 1,000-yard season (986), throwing the ball was another matter. Locker completed a conference-low 47% of his pass attempts last year, and his QB rating of 105 placed him only ahead of Tavita Pritchard among Pac 10 passers. The worry for UW is the talent around Locker. While there is promise among a group of youngsters in Anthony Boyles, Devin Aguilar, Curtis Shaw and others, seven of the top eight receivers from last year have graduated. Factor in the loss of Louis Rankin, the first UW running back to top the 1,000-yard mark since 1997, and you can see there could be some serious growing pains early.

Defensively, UW was a mess last year. 446 yards allowed per game in '07, only the worst in school history. But UW didn't sit still, firing defensive coordinator Kent Baer and bringing in former NFL coordinator Ed Donatell. But while the buzz so far has been positive on the new defensive look, there are still some big holes. The defensive line is young and inexperienced, and now we have word that leading tackler EJ Savannah is out for the time being with academic issues. Factor into everything the schedule, which includes an opener at Oregon, plus out-of-conference matchups against BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame? And five Pac 10 road games to boot? It looks like another year down the ladder for UW.


I know, we should probably lay off Harbaugh's heroes after last year's shocker over USC. Couldn't that victory have carried them out of the bottom region of the conference? After all, Stanford did improve from 1-11 in 2006 to 4-8 in 2007. Is it outside the realm of possibility that Harbaugh and company could squeeze out a few more wins and approach bowl-eligibility?

Well, anything is possible. The Cardinal do boast big-play WR Richard Sherman, a physical 6-3 specimen who led the team in receiving yards, yards per catch and TD's. The QB situation is still unsettled, and a starter will have to emerge from the group of Tavita Pritchard, Michigan transfer Jason Forcier, or true frosh phenom Andrew Luck from Texas. But overall the offense is a major work-in-progress. 102nd running the ball, 105th in scoring offense, and overall, 107th in the nation in total offense. That's good for "bottom ten" in the country.

The defense should be improved, as nine starters return. The defensive line is experienced, and middle linebacker Clinton Snyder is a force inside, racking up 96 tackles to go with a team-high eight sacks. But like the offense, there isn't anywhere to go but up for the defense. 107th against the pass, 98th in total defense.

The schedule will probably keep Stanford down in 2008. Combine all their offensive and defensive issues with the idea that they have seven road games this year, well, it's not a stretch to expect another four-win season. But Harbaugh has them pointed in the right direction. The down times may not last much longer.


It is a new era in Pullman. Favorite son Paul Wulff has returned to his old stomping grounds, ready to change the culture in Pullman where losing had become acceptable and hard work not necessarily the norm.

Wulff has his work cut out for him. QB Alex Brink is gone, the passing yardage and total offense leader in the conference last year. Brink graduates WSU as not only the leading passer in school history, but the only WSU QB ever to beat UW three times as a starter. Senior Gary Rogers finally gets his shot after serving as Brink's understudy the last few years, but there is a real unknown element here. Rogers has had very little in-game experience in his career, and was just 4-for-16 for 18 yards in limited duty last season. With a brand new no-huddle offense installed by Wulff, it could be a bumpy ride early on for the new regime.

Rogers will have some weapons however, as both Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory are back to share the load at running back. The offensive line looks solid with four returning starters, but best of all, top WR Brandon Gibson returns for his senior year. Gibson flirted with the NFL last year, but decided to stay for one more shot at improving his draft stock. Gibson led the Pac 10 in receiving yards, yards per catch and yards per game, the only Pac 10 receiver last year to average at least 100 yards per game (107).

The defense leaves a lot to be desired. The Cougs were 93rd against the pass, 97th in scoring defense and 85th in total defense, giving up 418 yards per game. Andy Mattingly is a potential breakout star for 2008, as he moves to defensive end. Mattingly had a team-high 91 tackles and eight sacks last year, and is the biggest impact defensive player on the roster. All told, eight of the top nine tacklers are back from last season, so improvement is expected.

The schedule is unkind. 13 games total, with just one bye in the middle of the season. They open with Oklahoma State in Seattle, then host Cal. Later in the month Oregon comes to town. With a lack of depth all around and a new effort to change the culture, it could be a long, tough first season for Paul Wulff.

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