It's never been like this in the Pac-10.
The conference that gave us Elway, Leinart, Plunkett, Aikman and Fouts, also has given us Best, Blount, Rodgers, Gerhart, and Grigsby. The first set of five names you recognize as some of the best quarterbacks in Pac-10 history. The next five represent another bit of history. According to the conference, there have never been five returning 1,000-yard rushers in the Pac-10.
Jahvid Best, Jr., Cal -- Despite missing a game, Best rushed for 1,580 yards last season and will be on everyone's Heisman list. Or should be.
LeGarrette Blount, Sr., Oregon -- Chip Kelly has made Oregon into an offensive powerhouse, particularly on the ground. The Ducks have finished in the top six in rushing each of the last two seasons. Kelly lost one 1,000 yard rusher (Jeremiah Johnson) and gets another. The punishing Blount ran for 1,002 yards.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Soph., Oregon State -- The Pac-10's offensive player of the year ran for 1,253 yards as a freshman despite missing two games. How could we forget that Thursday night against USC?
Toby Gerhart, Sr., Stanford -- Set the school rushing record with 1,136 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in '08.
Nic Grigsby, Jr., Arizona -- The Cats' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
Picking the Pac-10 ...
1. USC -- Expect at least a share of an eighth consecutive Pac-10 title. Expect an eighth consecutive BCS bowl (probably Rose). Don't expect me to tell you the starting quarterback. Aaron Corp started the spring game, but true freshman Matt Barkley has made tremendous strides. Corp may start the season but Barkley might be the guy by the end. The defense and offensive line (Pete Carroll's best ever at USC) can hold the Trojans in the national championship race if the qbs struggle.
2. Oregon -- Kelly has gone from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to Oregon head coach in less than three years. He will take over officially on July 1. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli started as a fifth-stringer, then accounted for 23 touchdowns under Kelly in 2008. Normally, a head-coaching change would signal a drop in the standings. But Kelly has had enough time in the program to get familiar. Don't forget the Ducks were a top 10 team last season. Welcome to the big time, Chip .The season kicks off at Boise.
3. Cal -- Jeff Tedford has brought stability to Berkeley, but no Rose Bowls. It's been 50 years and counting for the Bears since their last trip to Pasadena -- for a bowl game. Tedford, the quarterback wizard, has been pumping out running backs in recent years while quarterback play has slipped. Aaron Rodgers was the last serviceable signal caller. That was five years ago. Inconsistent Kevin Riley gets the job this season. Best will have to relieve the pressure.
4. Oregon State -- Twenty-eight victories the past three seasons. Two wins over USC. Never, ever doubt Mike Riley. Even though his defense has to rebuilt, the Beavers are going to be a pain again this season. Four of the five starters on the offensive line are back. Rodgers' shoulder is healed. Lyle Moevao is a veteran quarterback. Expect at least eight wins.
5. UCLA -- The Bruins could be the most improved team in the Pac-10. Interception machine Kevin Craft is gone. In his place is redshirt freshman Kevin Prince. Sixteen starters return and defense is not the problem. The Bruins had the second-best total defense in Pac-10 play. Until Neuheisel actually performs in Westwood, though, I will relegate them to this spot.
6. Arizona State -- The Sun Devils (5-7) were one of the most disappointing teams in the country last season. Don't be surprised if Arizona State repeats that record. The strength lies with the defense where end Dexter Davis has 10-plus sacks each of the past two seasons. Chris McGaha is a fine pass catcher who led the Devils two years ago (830 yards). Dennis Erickson must first get some consistency out of an offensive line that has surrendered a staggering 89 sacks the past two seasons.
7. Arizona -- The Wildcats have the worst Pac-10 record this decade (24-51) but seem to be on the rebound. Despite losing firestarter Willie Tuitama, coach Mike Stoops could make it to a second consecutive bowl. He will have to deal with a non-conference trip to Iowa, plus having only four conference home games (five away). Either Matt Scott or Nick Foles, both sophomores, will replace Tuitama. They have 11 career pass attempts between them.
8. Stanford -- Jim Harbaugh might be the most coveted 9-15 coach in the country. His name continues to come up when other jobs open up. The Cardinal have improved, coming within a season-finale loss to Cal of being bowl eligible. Gerhart and Andrew Luck give Stanford a chance this season. Luck, a sophomore, threw five touchdowns in the spring game. They're here because the Cardinal open with back-to-back road games (Washington State and Wake) and have to play seven teams that won bowl games.
9. Washington -- Steve Sarkisian can't lose. Well, he can but certainly at the level of last season's worst Husky team ever. Sark starts his head coaching career with Washington on a 14-game losing streak. Three wins would make him the mayor of Montlake. The Huskies have the talent to go 5-7. A healthy Jake Locker will make a difference under Sark. Everyone is looking forward to redshirt freshman tailback Chris Polk. Part of Sarkisian's job is getting the Huskies to believe they can win. The streak breaker should come in Week 2 against Idaho.
10. Washington State -- The Cougars won twice last season (one of them against Washington) but are in worse shape than their rivals. This could be one of the nation's worst programs again this season. Second-year coach Paul Wulff loses five starters from one of the worst defenses in Pac-10 history. That might be a good thing. The offense turned it over a staggering 25 times and gave up 43 sacks.