Jake Locker: the Next Jevan Snead (just cut) or Tim Tebow (rich)?

There are few things that peeve Oregon fans more than Jake Locker hype.

Tim Tebow became the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman trophy, led the Gators to a national championship, finished his career with 10 times as many touchdowns as interceptions, and he was still considered a massive reach for the Broncos in the first round.

Snead never lived up to his Heisman hype. We're still waiting for Locker to live up to his.

Locker, on the other hand, only has two more career wins than Tebow had losses, yet the St. Louis Rams were champing at the bit to draft him first overall and hand him $50 million guaranteed. All because scouts think his abilities translate better to the NFL. Or something like that.

Why do I bring this up?

Earlier this afternoon, former Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead was cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A reader brought up Snead as a comparison to Locker — and it makes sense.

Snead was a media darling entering the 2009 season. Nearly every publication in the country — including ESPN and Sports Illustrated — projected him as a Heisman favorite.

He was a top recruit and Texas Longhorns transfer. He had a rare combination of speed, arm strength and accuracy. And his team seemed to have enough supporting pieces to enable him a special season. But just a year earlier, Snead posted a 56% completion rate, 13 INTs and 20 sacks. Not exactly Heisman-hype worthy numbers.

In what shouldn’t have come as much of a shock, Snead crumbled up the pressure and never lived up to the expectations. Then Snead decided to cut his losses, enter the NFL draft, and hope teams would think more about his pre-2009 hype than his on-field production. He didn’t get drafted.

Does this sound like a possible scenario for our rival to the north?

Locker hasn’t proven he can do anything — except induce the salivary glands of NFL scouts with his athleticism. But then again, scouts salivated over JaMarcus Russell, Tony Mandarich and even our very own Akili Smith.

All I’m saying is, while Locker would need an impressively bad season of epic proportions to not get drafted, no one deserves to be a guaranteed No. 1 pick without proving productive on the field.

Locker should have entered the draft last April (his stock will never be higher), Snead probably should have stayed another year to revamp his draft stock– and in a weird twist of fate, Snead’s decision allowed Ole Miss to make room for Jeremiah Masoli.

Washington fans are hoping that Snead’s misfortune isn’t a sign of things to come. I couldn’t be hoping the opposite any harder.

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Quarterback Face-off: The Argument for Nate Costa

With fall just about upon us, the debate turns to the biggest question in every Duck fan’s mind – who will be standing under center come September 4th?  In what might be the biggest quarterback debate of the decade in Eugene (since this is the first year of the decade, that’s a fair assumption), there stand two candidates: senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas.  To ensure that each guy is given a fair shot and reasonable argument, Keith and I have each picked one of the candidates, described their credentials and explained why they deserve the starting job.  That said, here’s the case for Nate Costa…

With so much offensive fire power surrounding him, Costa's clutch performances and in depth knowledge of Chip Kelly's intricate playbook make him the best fit to be Oregon's new quarterback.

Nate Costa enrolled at the University of Oregon in the Fall of 2006 as a 3-star recruit and the 19th best dual-threat high school quarterback in the nation. As a freshman, Costa impressed in garbage time going 5-5 for 73 yards passing and 39 yards on the ground. Duck fans everywhere were excited by Costa’s potential, dubbing him the white Dennis Dixon, if you will. And then he had knee surgery. And then he had another knee surgery. And suddenly, there was a new hotshot on campus fulfilling the same hope that Costa had presented just two years prior.  His name was Darron Thomas.So where does all this leave Costa today? While his mobility and stability can both easily be called into question, I’d go as far as to say neither one of these are his biggest concern. The biggest obstacle standing between Costa and the love and affection of most Duck fans is the performance he had against UCLA last fall, a game in which the quarterback who can no longer be mentioned was unable to play. Costa inherited an offense which appeared unstoppable, and yet he gave the Ducks an uninspiring performance. He completing nine of his 17 passes for just 82 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. While many will argue that he did enough for the Ducks to win that game, those same people may remember that the Ducks tallied more points from their defense and special teams than from the offense, to squeak by the Bruins 24-10. Even so, I think come fall, the Ducks are best off with Nate Costa calling plays.

The biggest reason is Costa’s performance this spring. The competition between Thomas and Costa might seem relatively even after spring practices, but I think Costa did his best to answer to his critics. All reports out of spring practices are that Costa’s mobility has improved significantly, and while he isn’t on par with the more athletic Thomas, he appears plenty capable of running the Oregon offense.

The second reason that Costa deserves the job is because of all the weapons the Ducks supply around him. With a stable of running backs more stocked than the Kentucky Derby, it’s almost as if the Ducks don’t need a playmaker at quarterback, but more of a game-manager (Trent Dilfer, FTW!). Look at defending champion Alabama: they had Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in the backfield alongside a quarterback that half of America had — and maybe still — never heard of.   The point is, that with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, the Texas trio of freshman, and all the starting wide receivers back, Costa appears to be the better fit. Sure, he’s had more than his share of knee problems, but he appears mobile enough to sell the option read, and given his superior passing ability, Costa makes the Ducks a more well-rounded team. If Costa’s knee is healed to the point where he can be a threat on the ground (as reports say), his passing ability far outweighs the gap in athleticism when compared with Thomas. Imagine if Oregon forced defenses to defend the pass as well as the run. The holes would open right up for the speedy Duck backs to burst through. While the “Ole Miss transfer” was nothing more than tolerable as a passer, Costa offers an arm that Eugene hasn’t seen since Dennis Dixon, and we all remember how dangerous that was. For comparisons sake, think about Chris Harper in 2008, or even the younger version of Dennis Dixon. While both of these players were remarkable athletes, it took even Dixon a couple years to settle in to a comfort zone, and Harper’s notorious 0/3 with 2 interceptions against Boise State shows that he failed to ever settle in.

Most importantly, Costa brings intangibles to the table that Thomas doesn’t have. When looking back at the best moments in Duck football last season, almost all of them took place out of improvisation rather than design. Organized chaos, if you will. When the Ducks need a big play, they look to someone they can trust and someone they know will always make the right decision, and last season that player was He Who Must Not Be Named. This season, the Ducks will be looking for that player again, and those qualifications describe Costa better than any player on the Duck roster. As a guy who’s been around the system as long as anybody (Costa probably knows the playbook better than a few coaches), and someone who the Ducks relied on for clutch two-point conversion decisions last season, Nate knows the pressure of being in games that matter, and having the ball when the game’s on the line. Think of the most important play last season. It wasn’t the Guy We Can’t Name’s demolition of the Beaver defensive back, or even his performance in overtime of the Arizona game. No, neither of those plays even matter if not for the miraculous PAT hold that Costa had to extend the Arizona game. While that was just one point, and just one play, Costa’s proven that he’s the guy I want with the ball at the end of a football game. The reason isn’t because he’s the most talented player in the world, but because he’s cool under pressure and he’s clutch, and those are two things you just can’t teach (And unlike Thomas, he’s proven able unite over 500 people on Facebook to worship his hands — you can’t teach that either).

As the Ducks enter this new season full of high expectations, the decision of who takes snaps is a critical one. While Thomas definitely offers Chip Kelly more upside and playmaking ability, my pick would be the well-groomed, reliable Nate Costa. A more adept passer, and having a better understanding of the offense, Costa has everything the Ducks are looking for in the man who will be orchestrating the beautiful symphonies that Chip Kelly draws up. His mistakes will be fewer, and his leadership will be greater, and because of all this, I’m taking Nate Costa.

Note: On Monday, Keith will make the case for Darron Thomas.

More Like Zinedine Zidane than Ted Williams, Jeremiah Masoli’s Abrupt Goodbye Leaves Us Aching and Him Public Enemy One

Editor’s Note: As some of you might know, UOSportsDude.com is expanding from beyond just me in order to bring to you deeper, more extensive and definitely better coverage of the Oregon Ducks this coming season. Please welcome our newest writer, Jonathan Adams, and Resident Old Man, to the blog. Although he is 33-years-old, not quite “Dude” territory anymore, Jonathan is a former Oregon student who is married to an OSU grad and lives in Washington surrounded by Husky fans. Needless to say, he misses Eugene. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Zidane's abrupt head-but left the French heartbroken and trophy-less. Although maybe not of equal grandiosity, Masoli might have done the same to Oregon.

One of my favorite pieces of sports journalism is “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” by John Updike. It was written in 1960, published in The New Yorker, and tells the tale of Ted Williams’ last appearance at Fenway Park. In it Updike writes: “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories.” While that quote is specifically about Teddy Ballgame and his up-and-down relationship with the Boston fans and media, I’ve always thought it more generally described how we all feel about our favorite athletes, regardless of what team they play for or what city they play in. And even though Williams wasn’t the easiest guy to root for, at least Red Sox fans got to say a proper goodbye when Williams hit a home run in his final at-bat. But what happens when the “marriage” ends abruptly and we don’t get to revel in the “mellowing hoard of shared memories”?

Jeremiah Masoli is back in the news. He is going to enroll at Ole Miss. He’ll probably see significant playing time because he is instantly be the best quarterback on the roster. He is officially no longer a student at the University of Oregon, no longer a Duck. For a majority of Duck fans he’s Public Enemy Number Two (just behind Lane Kiffin). Most Duck fans have moved on. Me? I’m the guy still pining for the girl who left me at the altar and went on “our” honeymoon with the best man. While everyone else is debating Thomas vs. Costa, I’m still thinking about Masoli.

I keep imagining November 26, 2010 at Autzen Stadium. Senior Day. The Ducks are 10-0, 9-1, whatever. Masoli is the last of the seniors to be introduced. The ovation is amazingly loud, amazingly long. If Joey Harrington is number one in the annals of Oregon quarterbacks, Masoli is at least 1A. He’s about to cap the greatest 3-year run ever by an Oregon QB. Some of the same fans who booed him in 2008 are cheering the loudest in 2010. His last game at Autzen is Ted Williams-esque. He still sails his first couple of pass attempts, just like always, and just like always he – and we – shrug it off. He picks apart the Arizona defense with his arm and his feet and moves the Ducks one game closer to the National Championship, or at the very least a second straight Rose Bowl berth. If I close my eyes I can see it. But the harsh reality is that it’s all what-might-have-been.

Through it all, the accusations, the arrest, the hearing, it’s been difficult to separate fact and rumor. Jeremiah Masoli is no doubt a bright young man and a hard worker. He has earned enough credits to graduate from the University of Oregon. He mastered Chip Kelly’s intricate offense, worked his up the depth chart to be the engineer of the most prolific offense in the nation. He was tireless in games, getting better in the second half, taking on bigger defenders. Is this really the same knucklehead who lied to the police, lied to his coach and couldn’t keep himself out of trouble after Kelly didn’t throw him off the team for his initial transgression? I don’t understand it, probably never will, and I’m tired of thinking about it. I need to move on.

It would have been easier to move on, for me at least, if there would have been a proper goodbye. Senior days, retirement tours, heck, even a final game at an old stadium, I’m a sucker for all of that stuff. But when the end comes out-of-the-blue and during the offseason no less, it’s like a Zinedine Zidane-style headbutt to the chest

Look, this isn’t a knock on Thomas or Costa. Every time Thomas breaks off a long run, or Costa makes a great throw, Masoli will become smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. But highlights of the 2008 Holiday Bowl or thinking about The Drive 1 against Arizona and The Drive 2 against Oregon State will still make me wistful, like seeing pictures of an ex and thinking about all the good times. Yeah, you’ve moved on and your current girlfriend is great, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have a lot of great memories of your ex. Even if she did break your heart.

Six Months Later, Jeremiah Masoli Offers His Side of the Story; Let’s Break it Down

Oh the difference a year makes.

The August 18th, 2009 cover of Sports Illustrated dawned a fierce looking Jeremiah Masoli preparing to take a snap behind center Jordan Holmes.

This isn't quite what Masoli had in mind for his second big Si.com feature story.

He stood stoically, with eye black under each eye, pointing with both hands directly at the reader.

“PARTY CRASHERS,” read the headline. “THE DUCKS HAVE THE FIREPOWER TO SHAKE UP THE BCS.”

Just under a year later, that same face adorns the homepage of SportsIllustrated.com.

And while the editors could’ve easily reused the “PARTY CRASHERS” headline, they chose something a bit more dramatic.

“THE LIE,” it said. “THE UNTOLD STORY OF JEREMIAH MASOLI’S DOWNFALL AT OREGON.”

The story adds an angle to the saga of Masoli’s fall from the power not told before: his. One that needed to be heard. The only problem: it should’ve been told many months ago.

In the article, Masoli accounts his recollection of what happened on January 27th.  He admits to being inside the fraternity house with Garrett Embry. He admits to lying to the Eugene Police Department and his coach about being in that house.

But he never admits to stealing a laptop that night. He denies it, and a sworn statement from football player Jeff Palmer indicates that the entire theft incident rests on Embry’s shoulder alone.

And that Masoli wasn’t even involved.

We know by now that Chip Kelly runs his program with an expectation of pure honesty from his players, as he very well should. Masoli was all but honest as he told Chip he wasn’t in that house that night. Had he been honest, he very well might still be a Duck.

If all this is true, it leaves one question. How could the Eugene Police Department arrest and charge Masoli without any hard evidence that linked him to the stolen MacBooks?

Either the EPD is incredibly incompetent or Masoli isn’t telling the whole truth in his Sports Illustrated article. Both aren’t too far fetched. The EPD has displayed a certain level of incompetence in recent months, one example being the police department’s use of Tasers in seemingly non-violent situations. And I think we all know by now that Masoli has lied before.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between these two scenarios.

Regardless of whatever happened that night, Masoli is on a serious push to fix up his image. The Masoli family hired a San Francisco based crisis management firm for some much needed public relations work. Its efforts resulted in the websitewww.jeremiahmasoli.net.

The site lists a fair amount of what either the agency or Masoli calls “Media Mistakes.” One thing the site fails to list is an account of Jeremiah’s mistakes. Even if his four page long story on Sports Illustrated is 100 percent true, he’s still made a few of them.

Perusing through the site, one sees quotes from Masoli’s coaches, teachers, and pastors, among other people. The quotes offer an unsung amount of praise.

“In 2007 Jeremiah Masoli was one [of] my team captains. The qualities I look for in a team caption are trust, integrity, sincerity, accountability and responsibility,” Masoli’s old coach, George Rush, is quoted as saying. “In his role as captain Jeremiah met these expectations and even surpassed them.”

Trust. Integrity. Sincerity. Accountability. Responsibility. The trust is gone. Integrity maybe not. He was less than sincere. And it’s finally now that he’s taking the responsibility of being held accountable for his actions.

“I made a few very poor decisions in the past year, and I apologize to my family, friends and fans for them. But I am not the person who has been portrayed in many media stories,” Masoli says on his website.

This brief apology is all Masoli offers to his supporters: the fans, the Eugene community, the University of Oregon. They are the ones who stood behind him until they felt they couldn’t any longer. The ones who believed that this could be made right, until he proved it couldn’t.

Again, I ask, what took ya so long?

Forget About Masoli for a Second, We’re 37 Days Away From Oregon Football

While everyone is busy digesting the absurdity of all things Jeremiah Masoli this morning — my favorite being the “Media Mistakes” page on his new PR site (I don’t know if I should be happy or disappointed that my initial report didn’t make the cut, yet Wikipedia did) — I’m here to get you excited about the thing that actually matters, you know, that things that starts in 37 days.

It’s time to bring out the firepower: probably the most important win in Oregon’s recent history. The one that shut up Beaver fans, led to a giddy month of December and then massive heartbreak on New Years Day.

Ensuing massive heartbreak aside, the 37-33 victory over Oregon State in the 113th Civil War is one of the greatest moments in the history of our program.

And it’s the best I can offer to get your minds off Masoli and onto the new season, in which the Pac-10 media just rated us tops in the conference.

I smell roses…

Go Ducks!!

Pac-10 Preseason Power Rankings: Volume II

Editor’s Note: As some of you might know, UOSportsDude.com is expanding the site in order to bring to you deeper, more expansive and hopefully better coverage of the Oregon Ducks this coming season and beyond. Please welcome our newest contributor, incoming freshman Matthew Thill, to the mix. Despite growing up in Beaver country, Matt managed to grow up a Duck fan. He was the co-editor of his high school newspaper, but more importantly, Matt brings a brash, youthful exuberance to the blog. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Earlier this week, Jeff Spiegel laid out his Pac-10 power rankings. Now it’s Matt’s turn. See if you can find the common denominator.

Sophomore quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck are the two of the biggest keys in the Pac-10 race.

1. Oregon – Sure the loss of Masoli will hurt temporarily, but in the long run I see LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and crew picking up the slack and carrying this team. Brandon Bair will clog up the middle and do his part in leading yet another high-octane Duck D. Oh, and for my 2 cents, I think Darron Thomas should get the nod.

2. USC – Aside from all the legal troubles they’re going through, they’ve still got a heck of a football team. The loss of 5* frosh Seantrel Henderson bites, but they have a burgeoning star in Matt Barkley at QB, a stable of highly rated running backs (Dillon Baxter looks special), and Brice Butler at wideout, so they’ll be plenty dangerous. Good, but not quite great; that’s why they’re in my #2 spot.

3. Oregon State – Mike Riley has proven he can win without a top-flight QB,  and the Rodgers brothers remain 5-star threats, but I just don’t see enough overall talent for the Beavers to be Rose Bowl contenders. Look for Quizz to put up huge numbers though.

4. Stanford – With Gerhart gone, their chance of a Rose Bowl berth is nearly nil; however, they do have one hell of a QB in Andrew Luck. The Cardinal will be solid this season, but without the threat of the run game, a top three finish would be considered a good year for Harbaugh and Co. Look out for incoming freshman LB Shayne Skov, though. He’s my pick for breakout player of the year.

5. Washington – Husky fans should be excited to watch Locker this season. Whether or not he lives up to the hype, every time he touches the ball there’s a chance something special will happen. Despite my anti-Husky bias, he is a legitimate candidate for the No. 1 overall pick next year. With Sark starting to settle in, these guys are definitely on the rise.

6. Arizona – The Wildcats always bring a scrappy, competetive team to the table every year. Nick Foles is extremely talented and will turn heads this season – in case you missed on him last year. But with the loss of seven defensive starters and nearly every single assistant coach, expect a drop-off from their impressive third place finish last season. Although they do still have the offensive firepower to pull an upset any given Saturday.

7. UCLA – With Kevin Prince running the offense these guys should be another solid team. With the talent they bring in, UCLA will always be looked at as a program that should contend. Neuheisel is eagerly awaiting the chance to prove his doubters wrong and show people UCLA is legit. Will this finally be the year?

8. Cal – Kevin Riley has had a roller coaster ride of a career as the Golden Bear’s signal caller. Now a senior, can he finally put it all together and deliver a full season of consistent play? Because of all the talent Cal lost – including now Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best – he will have to if there’s any chance for them to finish in the top half of the conference.

9. Arizona State – Just like Cal, ASU will be doing some rebuilding this year. The Sun Devils are breaking in a new quarterback this season, in an offense that doesn’t exactly return much talent from last season – the unit finished 9th in the conference with 18.1 points per game (thank God for WSU). While not expected to be a factor this year, ASU may be worth watching just because of Vontaze Burfict alone. Only a sophomore, the linebacker was named to the 2010 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List.

10. Washington State – Ahh, finally we get to the Cougs. While they are improving, and moving from “they just suck” to “likable underdog” territory, they are still a long ways off from making noise in the Pac-10. Jeff Tuel is a talented QB and does offer some much needed hope for the future to the depressed WSU faithful.

28 iPhone Apps That Will Help You Get the Most Out of Oregon Football

This summer I’ve been lucky enough to intern at an awesome tech PR agency in San Francisco. Besides from the fact that they pay me, provide all the free coffee I can drink and this sweet view from my desk, the work is actually pretty cool too.

Not being a tech geek, and coming to a tech agency presented a steep learning curve, but it also offered an opportunity to learn a lot about numerous awesome things/companies that I had no idea existed (like clients: Obama Girl, Evernote and Village Voice Media, for example – gotta get those plugs in!).

There are almost half a million app in the iPhone App Store.

And it also gave this idea for a post.

Just about everyone has an iPhone now, and if you’re anything like me, you use it for everything. So why not use it to get the most out of college football season?

You can extend your enjoyment of Oregon football (and other teams, I guess) even further with these apps that let you keep up with news, check stats, make wagers, support your team and much more, all while you’re on the go.

And off we go:

Sports News:

College Football Live: Now you can know how badly Washington State is losing by — in real time!

College Sports News: I think the name of this app sums up its purpose pretty well.

SI.com: The strength of the SI app lies in the same area that gives the print magazine the reputation that it has always enjoyed: well-written original content and world-renowned photography — just on a screen a fraction of the size.

SI.com Swimsuit: Sure, this might not have anything to do with college football, but don’t kid yourselves — hot girls in bikinis? Or sometime not even — I know you want it anyway.

NCAA Highlights: Just found out this app is only for hoops instead of gridiron. But still, you can still relive Michael Jordan’s career-changing jumper for the Tarheels in 1982. I call that a win.

ESPN Radio: Podcasts are the shit. Plus you can listen live to any college football games broadcast by ESPN.

CBS Sports Mobile: John Goodman and Gregg Doyel in your pocket — at all times.

BallHype: You could probably even find a way to read UOSportsDude.com on this app. Although the mobile version might be a little easier on the eyes.

Scores and Stats:

ESPN ScoreCenter: Stay on top of all the results you care about with one-tap access to your personalized set of scores.

Sportacular: If you want a solid sports scores app, but don’t want to support the World Wide Leader, the folks at Citizen Sports got you covered. Solid app.

QB Rater:  Use this to track your team’s quarterback during the game — just so you  can make sure Darron Thomas (or Nate Costa) is outplaying Jeremiah Masoli.

InGameNow: You don’t even have to open this app to get scores, it pushes them right too you. Here’s a preview: *beep beep* 3rd quarter: Oregon 37, New Mexico 13.

Clock:

Days to Game: You’ll never have to ask, “How many days ’till the Oregon game?” ever again.

Teams:

OregonDucks for iPhone: All Oregon all the time. Scores, news, stats, and schedules: A must have for following ALL — yes, it’s got all of them —  Duck sports!!

And in case you want to keep track of the enemy:

It’s shocking that Washington State doesn’t have one. Although not really now that I think about it — they’re still trying to figure out electricity in Pullman.

Betting:

ESPN Streak for the Cash: In case you want to become addicted to picking sports games — without the risk of wasting all your student loan money.

iOdds: You know, in case you actually want to lose all your student loan money. (Eds note: not advised!)

Spirit:

College Fight Songs: In case you want to be able to listen to Mighty Oregon 24/7. I couldn’t blame you.

FanFinder: Find your local pro-Oregon watering hole and enjoy Ducks football with overly intoxicated strangers.

Trivia:

College Football 101- Quizner’s Sports Trivia: So you know your Ducks, but how much do you know about the other 118 D1 teams?

Mascot Trivia: Answer: Shasta the Cougar, University of Houston’s mascot. Question: Who did Puddles open a can of whoop ass on (including elbow drops and tea-bagging) during a football game in 2007.

Just for Fun:

Extreme Paper Football: Brings back memories of 10th grade trig class.

iFootball: Try out this application to test the football skills of your fingers.

What College Are You?: Are you meant to be an Oregon Duck?

NCAA Football by EA Sports: The real thing, for your phone.

There you have it, a complete guide to college football season for your iPhone. Be sure to list any I missed in the comments.

Go Ducks!



Pac-10 Preseason Power Rankings: Is Oregon a Lock for Number One?

Editor’s Note: As some of you might know, UOSportsDude.com is expanding the site in order to bring to you deeper, more expansive and hopefully better coverage of the Oregon Ducks this coming season and beyond. Please welcome our newest writer, recent University of Oregon grad,  Jeff Spiegel, to the mix. He also writes for bumcitybloggers.wordpress.com and scoutingthesports.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The official Pac-10 preseason Media Poll comes out this week. That said, we thought it’d be a good time for our writers over here at UOSportsDude.com to give our individual predictions for the conference as well. Up first: Mr. Spiegel.

Make sure to leave your thoughts below in the comments!

As someone who made the trip to Palo Alto last November, I can tell you first hand that Andrew Luck is LEGIT.

1) Oregon – When the defending champion returns 17 starters, nine of whom were part of the best offense in the conference last year, they deserve to remain at the top. The loss of Jeremiah Masoli hurts the Ducks, but with a defense that will continue to improve, and the best running back corps in the conference (and maybe nation aside from ‘Bama), I don’t expect the Ducks to miss a beat this season.

2) USC – While many people are picking them to finish near the top, I think USC remains one of the biggest wildcards in the conference. Based on talent alone, they definitely deserve this ranking. However, it remains to be seen how motivated they will be without the possibility of a postseason, and how well Lane Kiffin can handle the pressure that comes with being the head coach at USC.

3) Stanford – While the Cardinal will severely miss Toby Gearhart this season, Andrew Luck is a dark horse candidate for conference player of the year.  While everyone is busy hyping up Jake Locker, many seem to forget how good Luck is. And with arguably the best coach in the conference in Jim Harbaugh, I’m predicting a big season in Palo Alto.

4) Oregon State – The biggest question mark this season will be who plays quarterback for the Beavers. Although whoever ends up under center will have some serious help in James and Jaquizz Rodgers. While the Beavers need both of these guys to stay healthy in order to remain successful, Mike Riley always seems to make things happen in Corvallis, and I don’t think this season will be any different.

5) Washington – Even though I mentioned earlier that I thought the Jake Locker hype machine was a little excessive, I must also add that it isn’t without reason. This guy has all of the tools you look for in a quarterback, and now in his second season in the Sark system, Locker could make the jump into the elite group of quarterbacks in conference history. Combine all that with the emergence of Chris Polk, and the Huskies know that their success hinge solely on whether or not their inexperienced defense can rise to the occasion.

6) California – The Golden Bears remain an interesting team to predict, given the history of quarterback Kevin Riley. No player in the conference has experienced such highs and lows over their career, and yet, here he stands as the starting quarterback for his senior year.  While I don’t think he has the tools to consistently lead an elite college program, the Bears have plenty of talent overall, and should remain in the middle of the pack this season.

On the other side of the Bay, Kevin Riley is no Andrew Luck.

7) UCLA – Call me an optimist, but I think this is the year that UCLA finally emerges under Rick Neuheisel as a serious competitor (Eds note: Since when did 7th place become seriously competitive?).  With the return of quarterback Kevin Prince, and a new offensive scheme, I think UCLA is poised to compete, as long as their defense can maintain their high level of play.  That said, this is a defense that loses Brian Price and Alterraun Verner – which is why I have them finishing seventh.

8) Arizona – Not much to say here other than that I’m not expecting much from the Wildcats this season. The offense does have some playmakers, but overall this team just doesn’t jump out at me. I have a hard time believing they’ll be anything other than bystanders in the conference race.  A player to watch this season, however, is quarterback Nick Foles, who quietly put together a very impressive rookie season last year, and emerged last season as the conference’s best kept secret.

9) Arizona State – Unfortunately for ASU, the quarterback competition between Threet and Osweiler – not exactly Rudy Carpenter vs. Sam Keller – may be the most exciting and talked about storyline for the program this season. The team lost seven players on each side of the ball, and with a new quarterback and a new system, folks shouldn’t be expecting much come fall.

10) Washington State – The Cougars will be much, much, much better this season, and may even sneak out of the cellar. However, it’d be a miracle for the Cougs to finish outside the bottom three. The Cougars are a young team with some nice pieces, but in the tough Pac-10, they’re still a long way from being relevant again.  Jeff Tuel has a chance to become a good college quarterback, but it remains to be seen if he has enough help around him to make a difference.