Being partial to the University of Washington, it can sometimes be tough for me to take the emotion out of a story and run with the facts. I will try to do my best in evaluating the Pac-10 as best a die-hard Husky can.
This year is a tough year to pick the PAC, because of the lack of a dominant team, and the depth of talent in the conference. Realistically, I could see 5 or 6 different teams being able to win the conference with some breaks, and I think it is very wide open this year.
As tough as this is for me, I think Oregon is the best team going into this season. They are the defending Pac-10 Champions, and while losing their Quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli hurts, I think they still return enough talent to take the wide open conference.
They have 17 returning starters, including 8 on defense, where the Ducks were excellent last season. Last season they returned only 5 starters, but were good enough to allow just 23.8ppg. Expect them to improve on that, and trot on one of their best defenses ever.
With an offensive line returning completely intact with LaMichael James running behind it, the offense will be explosive with-or-without Jailbird Masoli.
The only thing that makes me worry is their schedule. They play 5 road conference games at WSU (who cares though), ASU, USC, Cal, and OSU. Home games against Stanford, your dawgs, Arizona, and UCLA should all be winnable, but they will have to perform on the road in order to repeat as champions. Key games are vs. Arizona and @Oregon State.
Though Lane Kiffin's tenure as Head Coach for the Trojans hasn't gotten off to the most peachy start, USC still returns a ton of NFL-level talent and a lot of experience on the defense.
USC returns great depth on their defensive front, led by Nick Perry and Jurrell Casey. Their front-7 is fortified by returning LBs Galippo, Morgan, and Malcom Smith. They don't have a lot returning in the secondary, but the kids there are still extremely talented, and the pressure from the front-4 will help ease the pressure on them.
Matt Barkley leads an offense that will have experienced some turnover. Look for them to have new starters everywhere except one WR spot, LT, FB, and of course QB. As long as they can score some points on a short field, they will be okay.
USC also has 5 road conference games, but 3 of them should be fairly easy with Arizona, WSU, and UCLA. All of their home games, as usual, they should be favored to win. Key games are @Arizona and vs. Oregon.
Arizona returns 8 guys on an offense that was explosive, at times, last season. While they do lose their OC, they bring back rSO QB Nick Foles who had a great freshman season last year. They also return their RB Grigsby, both WRs, and 3 of the 5 OL.
They bring back some ferocity rushing the passer in Elmore and Reed, and their secondary should be great, as always. Every year they seem to lose significant starters, and still throw out a solid defense, and I expect the same thing this year. Watch for Golden to make a big impact at the safety spot.
They play a favorable schedule, with 5 home games, and one of their road games being at WSU. Their only tough road environment is at Autzen, and they get the big guys at home. They may not be the 3rd best team in the conference, but they are good and they have an easy road to being in the top-3 of the Pac. Key games are vs. USC and @Oregon.
4. Oregon State
Oregon State will have a new starter at QB, which doesn't bode great for them, but they return a lot of people everywhere else which will help. They get back the Rodgers Rockstar brothers and they return 9 of the top 10 OL, so they will be solid in the trenches.
Their defense will go through some turnover in the front-7, but Riley always puts out a physical defense. They had a good defense last year that allowed 25.0ppg, and I expect it to be slightly better. This is the most experienced their defense has been since 2007. They get the big boys at home (and WSU), but all of their road games are winnable. Key games are vs.Oregon, and @ Washington.
5. YOUR WASHINGTON HUSKIES
While I could envision the Huskies finishing anywhere from first to 6th, I had to go with the facts and put them behind who they should be behind.
Obviously, Jake Locker is returning for his senior season, and he comes back with tremendous offensive firepower. He's hoping to pad his Heisman stats by throwing to returning WRs Kearse, Aguilar and James Johnson. Chris Polk and the two incoming freshmen runningbacks should help ease the load, and UW should have its best OL in several years. They return 4 of 5 starters, with Ben Ossai graduating (finally, he sucked).
The defensive front is the real question mark. Lack of depth at DE forced Sark to try Elisara there. Incoming freshmen Potoa'e, Lagafuaina, Shirley, and Burnett should shore up depth and compete for starting spots on the front 7. The secondary will be good, as long as the front can provide some pressure, with everyone returning, including Trufant. The defense was able to save itself last year by playing well in the redzone and timely T/Os, they will need to do the same this year.
They have a tough schedule with 5 road games, including @ USC and @ Oregon. Key games are vs. Oregon State and @Oregon.
Stanford will go as Andrew Luck goes this season. Without Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart, all of the pressure will be on the sophomore to produce. His job is still pretty simple though, throwing to both returning WRs, behind an OL unit that returns 4 of 5 starters, and should be one of the nation's best. They scored 35.5 ppg last season, and while they lost their horse, I think they should be very good again this year.
Their defense was okay last year, and it returns 7 starters. But they will not have a top-half of the pac defense, and this is why I picked Stanford here. They need a good, dominant defense to be able to win against the likes of Oregon, Washington, and Cal on the road. Stanford will be good, but a 5 game road schedule (with WSU at home) plays against them.
They return 7 on offense and 6 on defense. They have a favorable schedule which should help this season, with only 4 road games (one of them at WSU). If they finish in the top half of the conference, it will be because of their schedule. They didn't have much of a HFA last year, going 3-2 in conference (2-2 if you count BCS calibur teams, sorry WSU). Look for them to start off promising, as always, but fizzle out once they play Oregon, Stanford, and Washington.
This will probably be Slick Rick's most talented team yet, but they have a brutal schedule and a defense that is going through some turnover. They return Kevin Prince at QB, and he should captain an offense that will be explosive at times, while they work out the pistol offense. Their front-7 looks to be the team's weakness and it will be tough to win with it against some of the conferences experienced OLs.
9. Arizona State
Dennis Erickson's seat is beginning to heat up down in Tempe, with his teams failing to meet his expectations. He doesn't have much hope thiss year, breaking in 7 new starters on offense including the QB, and 6 new starters on defense. They do return feisty LB Vontaze Burfict and talented CB Bolden. They have a tough schedule going to OSU, UW, USC, CAL and, UA. This may be Erickson's last season ever as a head coach.
10. Washington State
I considered putting their name in a smaller font, as opposed to bold, but again, I'm trying to be non-partial here. WSU had one of the nation's worst offenses, and one of the worst defenses lst year, but somehow they let HC Wulff to try once more, amid excuses of injuries and lack of talent. They return 15 starters, including QB Jeff Tuel who looked good when healthy last season. They should be favored to lose in every conference game by at least a touchdown, and I don't know if I see them winning a game. They were outscored by almost 30ppg last season, and I don't see that being fixed in one year. If you don't see significant improvements out of the Palouse Princesses, watch for Coach Wulffy's seat to heat up quickly.