1. USC - Do I need to bother explaining this? The only debate I had was whether to pick a 8-1 or a perfect 9-0 conference record. And, since I'm picking them to bomb in Columbus I've figured them for a perfect conference run.
2. Cal - I really like this Bear squad in '09. Jahvid Best might be the best offensive player in the conference and with a returning QB and a solid O-line he could do some serious damage on his way to downtown NYC. Defensively, the Bears are in good shape. They have one of the best D-lines, which they'll need to control the line as they won't be getting much productivity out of a soft LB corp. Hagan and Thompson will have the corners on lock while commanding arguably the best defensive b'field on the West Coast.
If the Golden Bears upset the Men of Troy on October 3rd, they'll be in the driver's seat to the conference championship. For some reason, though, I see Cal as more unreliable than USC, which should result in a loss and a 8-1 conference record - good enough for 2nd in the league.
3. Arizona State - The Devils are in recovery mode after a disappointing 2008. Lapses in focus and offense kept them out of the post season, but that should be cleaned up this year. The D is underrated and will catch some high fliers off guard, but it might not be enough to knock off the top tier teams. A 6-3 record will be a welcome improvement in Tempe and lock the Devils into 3rd place.
Now, here's where it gets tricky. The parity here makes a nightmare out of prognostication, as many teams will be clocking in with similar records. You ready?
4-ish - UCLA - Neuheisel's '08 squad left a lot of room for improvement. They went a lowly 3-6 in the conference and had the worst offense outside the state of Washington. By now, the new systems should be in place and with 9 returning starters on offense, look for the Bruins to be near the top this year statistically. They'll split games in the states of Oregon and Arizona to finish up around 5-4 and right in the middle of the pack.
4-ish - Stanford - There's not much to this other than the gut feeling I get when I look at their schedule, coach and returning starters. They're solid up front on both sides, which should allow them to control tempo in tight games and take the pressure off skill players offensively and a soft backfield defensively. By now, the Cardinal should be adapted to Harbaugh's schemes, as well as his unique coaching style. All this should give Stanford the confidence needed to blast their first 4 games heading into the meat of their conference schedule. With a little luck, which I have a hunch they'll get, the Cardinal will knock off a couple big boys en route to a 5-4 league record and a long awaited return to the post season.
4-ish - Arizona - Stoops is really beginning to turn things around here. Last season the 'Cats lost 4 games in conference, but 2 were thisclose against USC and Oregon St. I almost went out on a fat limb and picked them for 2nd, but their focus scares me a bit. The skill players return for the most part, but the offense will come down to a new QB gelling with a rebuilt line. While the defense returns 7, they'll be soft enough up front to give up big plays to better teams. I see them dropping 3 games in the last 5 weeks to finish up in a 3-way tie for 3rd with a 5-4 record.
7. Oregon - Many a preseason picker is shying away from the Ducks because of the new coach. That doesn't really scare me. Chip Kelly has been the offensive mastermind here for years and Oregon has had some amazing seasons in recent memory. What does scare me is the lack of experience. There's 9 starters back and a mere TWENTY starts on the O-line. Defensively, a Duck squad placing near the bottom gets only 5 players back and looks to be seriously rebuilding. Look for Oregon near the top in '10, but this year I think they're lucky to be considered this high. As the home team, they'll have the leg up in the Civil War and that could be the difference between these two teams' end of the year positions.
8. Oregon State - I love the skills players in Corvallis. The Rodgers boys will be making more noise in '09 and returning QB Moevao should be able to produce good numbers. Look for the Beavers to finish near the top of the stat sheet offensively. That's the good news. While the Beavers played solid D last season, they're only getting 3 players back, making them one of the most inexperienced D in the nation. That won't be enough to push out of the bottom half of the league or get State over the hump. Despite dropping the Civil War and a probable 3-6 mark, they could go bowling if they run the non-conference table.
And, the bottom. What do you need to know? Lackluster players, no discipline, off field troubles abounding, and nothing to build off of. It'll come down to the Apple Cup to see who wins a conference game, and I'm taking the Huskies this time.
10. Washington State