College football expansion has become a lot clearer. Texas is in the driver’s seat (sorry Notre Dame) and everybody else is waiting to see where the chosen one decides to go.
The Longhorns’ decision will impact the Big 12 (what’s left of it), but it will also reverberate throughout the college football landscape.
So let’s project a bit. What if the Pac-10’s rumored offer to invite Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado come true and all six are overwhelmed with the possibility of joining the highly respected conference.
Now if they could all join immediately, how would the Pac-16 Power Rankings look today?
16. Washington State
Even in an expanded league, the Cougars are cellar dwellers.
On a positive note, Washington State has played a huge number of young players over the past two years under Paul Wulff. The most notable is QB Jeff Tuel, who won the starting job as a true freshman.
It looks like expansion is not the answer for the Cougars.
An immediate transfer to a new conference would not save Dan Hawkins’ job. Playing Washington State 12 consecutive weeks would help.
The Buffaloes are strong on the defensive front and they return enough experienced players to pull off an upset or two.
But Hawkins’ track record in Boulder is shaky so it’s hard to predict Colorado finishing any higher than this in a new conference.
The Bruins upset Tennessee in Knoxville last season and improved by three wins in Rick Neuheisel’s second season.
Expectations are much higher in Year 3 for Neuheisel, but it may be daunting for the Bruins to be a serious contender in the regular Pac-10, much less one that adds six additional programs.
UCLA’s defense should be stout, but maybe not as good as last year with the loss of Brian Price. The focus is on the offense. It’s time for Neuheisel’s offense to finally contribute. A lot will depend on the development of sophomore QB Kevin Prince.
13. Arizona State
The Sun Devils struggled to win close games, even with one of the Pac-10’s best defenses. But Dennis Erickson needs to focus on ASU’s offense, which could be in real trouble this fall.
Youngsters Cameron Marshall and Ryan Bass will be called on to jumpstart the running game. If either or both can exceed expectations then the Devils could move up in the power rankings.
A third-straight losing season will not be a good omen for Erickson.
12. Texas A&M
Reaching a bowl game (despite losing) was a good step for the Aggies, who have struggled recently. But finishing 6-7 is not the type of season A&M fans are accustomed to.
QB Jerrod Johnson caught the national eye with a great showing in a shootout loss to No. 2 Texas last year. A&M’s season may ride on Johnson’s ability to outscore opponents.
The Aggies’ defense needs to stiffen against the run to have a serious shot at moving up the rankings.
Just when it looked like the Wildcats were making a positive step for a second consecutive season under Mike Stoops, Arizona was embarrassed by Nebraska 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl.
The Wildcats have never represented the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl and it’s not going to happen in 2010.
However, following back-to-back winning seasons and bowl invites Stoops is given a little leeway. The recent success has also given Arizona a jolt of confidence and it returns solid experience led by QB Nick Foles.
The first year under Steve Sarkisian was a total surprise. It has translated into recruiting success and high expectations. With top-rated QB Jake Locker choosing to come back instead of being a first-round NFL selection, the Huskies are considered by some a long shot to win the Pac-10.
That’s too optimistic for this season, but Washington could be a bowl team in 2010. OK, so the offense is in good shape, but how about the defense? Not so good. The defensive front is inexperienced and another poor showing could temper the Huskies optimism.
Washington is tough at home (it should have upset LSU to start last season). If that trend continues the Huskies could be an even bigger surprise in 2010.
9. Texas Tech
Getting Tommy Tuberville to step in as the coach to replace the enigmatic Mike Leach was a great catch. Tuberville is likely to keep the Red Raiders playing at a high level, and many believe he could lead them to a conference title.
The change of leaders, in the long run, may prove to be a positive move. Tech played inconsistent under Leach last season.
The Raiders offense should be just fine with a slew of returners, including QBs Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. Even defensively, Texas Tech should be solid.
Life after RB Toby Gerhart will not be easy for the Cardinal, but QB Andrew Luck should take on a larger role with the offense.
Coach Jim Harbaugh has also done a nifty job of recruiting some top-notch talent to Stanford, so expectations are high.
A more seasoned Luck will hook up with receivers Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen should be one of the conference’s best pass-and-catch teams.
Putting the Trojans at No. 7 may be more on long-term history than what we all saw last year with USC, which was woefully lacking depth at many positions.
Now throw new coach Lane Kiffin into the mix and everything with USC is simply a best-guess. DC and father Monte Kiffin is probably why I’m putting the Trojans this high.
Sophomore QB Matt Barkley was so-so last year, but the talent is apparent and he oozes cockiness. If his swagger rubs off on the other Trojans then maybe they can regroup and get back on top.
This is the right spot for the Bears. While Jeff Tedford and Cal have been a trendy pick in recent years, but the Bears never live up to the hype. Pick them in the upper half and Cal won’t disappoint.
It’s easy to like California’s offense with QB Kevin Riley back for his third season and he’ll get plenty of help from RB Shane Vereen, who was a surprise back up to Jahvid Best last year.
Defensively the Bears are weak, especially in the secondary. If Tedford can figure out a way to get his team to step up on D then, and only then, Cal could be better than the hype.
5. Oklahoma State
With the off-the-field problems with players like Dez Bryant, the Cowboys didn’t falter too much and were able to give a number of younger players serious experience.
The concern has to be the mass losses on an explosive offense that did underachieve in 2009. The biggest loss may be QB Zac Robinson, but the offensive line must also be rebuilt.
The defense also loses nine starters and many feel the Cowboys are going to drop off a bit. I’m showing a little more faith in Coach Mike Gundy.
4. Oregon State
Closing out last season with back-to-back losses to Oregon (37-33) and BYU (44-20), left the Beavers limping into the offseason.
Oregon State should be better, though. The Beavers return James and Jacquizz Rodgers and QB Ryan Katz is the leader to replace Sean Canfield.
Mike Riley is the key to the Beavers’ success and he returns to the sidelines and could lead OSU to a Pac-10 title.
Our lasting memory of the Ducks was that disappointing Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State. Then came the offseason and all of the off-the-field issues. Chip Kelly is probably looking forward to the season getting started so life will feel normal again.
With so many returners it’s very likely the Ducks will win the Pac-10 and could compete for the top spot in the Pac-16.
The Ducks will thrive on their offense, but defense could be their downfall. Right now, though, Oregon is the highest ranked current Pac-10 member.
After playing in the BCS Championship Game, the Longhorns aren’t even on top of the Pac-16 Power Rankings. But the Longhorns are easily a top-five program, though.
Replacing Colt McCoy will not be easy, but QB Garrett Gilbert gained experience in the title game. To be successful Gilbert will need to display more consistency for the Longhorns to be a serious contender.
Despite the question marks, the Longhorns still have some of the best talent and would be a legitimate title contender.
After a topsy-turvy 2009, the Sooners are primed to return to the top and get beat by an SEC team in the BCS Championship. It was easy to pick on the Sooners and Bob Stoops as they struggled, but Oklahoma is loaded with talent and should rebound quickly.
Replacing Sam Bradford, the NFL’s top pick, won’t be easy. But QB Landry Jones filled in a lot last year and that experience will pay off in 2010. Making his life easier is WR Ryan Broyles, one of the most exciting players in the nation.
If Oklahoma can cut down on turnovers and win on the road the Sooners should win the Big 12 and the fictional Pac-16.