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December 11, 2008

Pac-10 suffers through rough 2008 season

MORE: All-Pac-10 Team

Pac-10 quarterbacks took a beating this season, but not as much as the league's reputation.

That was battered beyond all recognition.

An argument could be made that mediocre play in the Pac-10, which didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams to supply the bowl games with which it's affiliated, was a result of a rash of quarterback injuries. UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Arizona State were affected.

Whatever the reason, there was no argument that 2008 was a substandard season.

That much became painfully obvious Sept. 13, when Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA went 0-4 against Mountain West Conference opponents and California lost to Maryland - which previously had fallen to Middle Tennessee.

But although the overall struggle might have been unforeseen, much of the season was predictable.

USC used a dominating defense filled with future NFL draft choices to clinch at least a share of the conference championship for the seventh consecutive season. Tyrone Willingham was fired as Washington's coach in the wake of a winless season. Arizona will make its first bowl appearance since 1998. Rick Neuheisel's first season as UCLA's coach, though opening with an upset of Tennessee, was a trying one. So was Paul Wulff's debut season at Washington State.

Also, the emergence of rising stars such as Oregon State freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers, USC sophomore receiver Damian Williams, California sophomore running back Jahvid Best and Oregon sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, among others, indicates next season could be a much better season for the Pac-10.

Maybe it will be for the conference's quarterbacks, too.

Here's a rundown of the best and worst of the Pac-10 in 2008.

Player of the year: Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers. A true freshman from Richmond, Texas, the diminutive Rodgers rushed for at least 94 yards in nine games and grabbed the nation's attention with 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-21 upset of USC.

Coach of the year: Oregon State's Mike Riley. The Beavers started the season with two losses but steadily improved as the season progressed. They won eight of nine after the slow start and went into the final game of the season with a shot at the Rose Bowl. They did that despite losing starting quarterback Lyle Moevao to injury for a couple of games late in the season, and they didn't have Rodgers in the loss to Oregon that ended their regular season.

Freshman of the year: Oregon State's Rodgers. He averaged 113.9 yards per game and scored 11 touchdowns. He also had 29 catches for another 247 yards.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Oregon's Chip Kelly. He faced a major project in rebuilding an offense that lost '07 quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart. Then, this year's top two quarterbacks were hurt. So what happens? The Ducks led the Pac-10 in scoring and total offense with sophomore Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback and Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount combining for more than 2,000 rushing yards.

Defensive coordinator of the year: USC's Nick Holt. Even when blessed with superior talent, a good coordinator has to coax the best effort from his players. No doubt Holt accomplished that. His defense is stocked with future high NFL picks and they played like it. The Trojans held 10 opponents to one touchdown or less, had three shutouts and led in the nation in total defense and scoring defense.

Best game: Oregon State 19, Arizona 17, Nov. 22 in Tucson. The Beavers trailed 17-16 after a missed extra point with 3:58 remaining. They regained possession at their 20 with no timeouts and 1:19 to play. Quarterback Sean Canfield connected with Sammie Stroughter for a 47-yard gain to Arizona's 7. Three plays later, Justin Kahut kicked the game-winning 24-yard field goal.

Biggest upset: Oregon State 27, USC 21, Sept. 25, in Corvallis. The Rodgers brothers Jacquizz and James combined for four touchdowns, including three in the first half that staked the Beavers to a 21-point lead. The top-ranked Trojans rallied to cut the margin to a touchdown, but a late interception by safety Greg Laybourn clinched Oregon State's first victory over a top-ranked team in 41 years.

Biggest surprise, player: Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State. He was the focal point of the Beavers' offense.

Biggest surprise, team: Oregon State. Few, if any, would have predicted the Beavers would have had a shot to claim a share of the Pac-10 championship going into the final week of the season. They did post nine wins in '07 but returned only three defensive starters and lost leading rusher Yvenson Bernard. Oregon State wasn't ranked until breaking in at No. 23 on Nov. 9.

Biggest disappointment, player: USC running back Joe McKnight. There was thought that this could be a breakout season for McKnight. Instead, McKnight rushed for 646 yards and just two touchdowns. He did have one TD reception, too. But he also lost a key fumble in the upset against Oregon State.

Biggest disappointment, team: Arizona State. The Sun Devils returned 13 starters, including quarterback Rudy Carpenter, from a 10-win team in '07. ASU was in almost all preseason top 25 rankings. But a stunning upset loss to UNLV in Game 3 was the first of six consecutive losses. A season-ending blowout loss to rival Arizona prevented the Sun Devils from becoming bowl eligible.

Underclassmen liable to go pro: Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount, Arizona OT Eben Britton, Arizona State DE Dexter Davis, USC FS Taylor Mays, California CB Syd'Quan Thompson, UCLA CB Al Verner.

Next season's conference champ: USC. The Trojans have won outright or shared the Pac-10 championship for seven consecutive seasons, and why should that change? There will be significant losses on defense, but the Trojans always have talented players ready to step in. Plus, quarterback Mark Sanchez leads a group of nine potential returning starters on offense.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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