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August 17, 2009

Pac-10 preseason unit rankings

MORE: Pac-10 preview: Can anyone stop USC's title run?

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. California: There might not be a better tailback duo than Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. There's a lot of pressure on QB Kevin Riley.

2. Oregon: Stopping QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount is difficult enough; the Ducks have a new threat in redshirt freshman RB LaMichael James.

3. USC: The Trojans have a stable of horses at running back, but the quarterback situation raises questions.

4. Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers passed the test in '08 and proved himself as an elite runner.

5. Arizona: Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin give the Wildcats a strong one-two punch.

6. Stanford: Toby Gerhart is coming off a year in which he reached 1,000 rushing yards - a rare feat for the Cardinal.

7. Washington: If QB Jake Locker stays healthy, the Huskies likely move up on this list.

8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils' running backs are unspectacular, and the quarterback is new.

9. Washington State: RB James Montgomery, a transfer from Cal, should give the Cougars a boost.

10. UCLA: There's no concern that the Bruins have new starters at running back and quarterback because they can't fare any worse than their predecessors.

RECEIVERS

1. USC: WR Damian Williams has All-America potential, and Ronald Johnson is also a deep threat.

2. Arizona: Three Wildcats had more than 40 catches in '08. TE Rob Gronkowski is outstanding.

3. UCLA: Terrence Austin, Taylor Embree and Ryan Moya form a nice trio. Now, someone needs to get them the ball consistently.

4. Oregon State: James Rodgers is even more explosive than his younger brother.

5. Arizona State: It's time for Kyle Williams to shed the "underachiever" label.

6. Oregon: Speed isn't as issue at wide receiver, but production is. TE Ed Dickson is strong, though.

7. California: Seniors Nyan Boateng and Verran Tucker need to raise their performance.

8. Washington: D'Andre Goodwin had 60 catches in '08.

9. Stanford: With some Luck - QB Andrew Luck, that is - the Cardinal receivers should be better.

10. Washington State: WR Jeshua Anderson had 33 catches in '08, but no other receiver had more than 11.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. USC: G Jeff Byers and C Kristofer O'Dowd are All-America candidates. All five starters return, but two could lose their jobs, giving the Trojans excellent depth.

2. California: Getting an extra year for T Mike Tepper was a big boost.

3. Stanford: The Cardinal didn't average nearly 200 rushing yards by accident.

4. Oregon State: Three starters return from a good unit. G Gregg Peat is the standout.

5. Arizona: C Blake Kerley's return from injury will help.

6. Oregon: The Ducks are rebuilding what was one of the country's best fronts; just one starter returns.

7. UCLA: With Colorado transfer Kai Maiava at center and T Sean Sheller coming back from injury, the Bruins should be much improved up front.

8. Washington: G Ben Ossai heads a list of three returning starters.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils have made sweeping changes up front to bolster an abysmal unit.

10. Washington State: Cougars quarterbacks were sacked 43 times in '08, by far the most in the Pac-10. C Kenny Alfred is a good one, though.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. California: The Golden Bears were third in the Pac-10 in sacks and rush defense last season, and all three line starters are back.

2. Arizona State: E Dexter Davis provides a strong pass rush, and sophomore T Lawrence Guy is an emerging star.

3. USC: Trojans coaches have plenty of material for their rebuilding project along the line.

4. UCLA: T Brian Price will contend for All-America acclaim.

5. Stanford: The Cardinal is experienced up front; NT Ekom Udofia is tough to move.

6. Arizona: This is a solid unit with experienced starters.

7. Oregon: With only one returning starter, the pass rush doesn't project to be as strong as in recent seasons.

8. Oregon State: The Beavers are in the same boat as their in-state archrivals.

9. Washington: E Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will lead a charge to improvement.

10. Washington State: The Cougars were last in the Pac-10 in rushing defense and sacks a year ago.

LINEBACKERS

1. Arizona State: Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel are underappreciated but not underproductive.

2. Oregon State: Keaton Kristick has a chance to be among the best in the country.

3. UCLA: Reggie Carter is an established star, while Akeem Ayers is a developing one.

4. USC: You know the Trojans have plenty of talent to step in for the three lost starters, right?

5. Oregon: The Ducks are strong against the run.

6. California: Three of the four starting jobs are open. Coaches love the potential of sophomore Mychal Kendricks.

7. Arizona: No linebacker remaining on the roster reached 60 tackles in '08.

8. Washington: Back from a year's suspension, E.J. Savannah will upgrade the Huskies at this position.

9. Stanford: The Cardinal have experienced starters, but the '08 performance was average at best.

10. Washington State: Louis Bland was a freshman All-American, so there is hope.

SECONDARY

1. USC: FS Taylor Mays' presence ensures the Trojans' secondary will be strong.

2. California: The Golden Bears led the Pac-10 with 24 interceptions last season. CB Syd'Quan Thompson is a standout.

3. UCLA: CB Alterraun Verner is coming off a solid season in which he was credited with 18 pass breakups.

4. Oregon: CB Walter Thurmond III is a playmaker, and SS T.J. Ward is a sure tackler.

5. Arizona: CB Devin Ross has outstanding coverage skills, and he's a good tackler, too.

6. Arizona State: The Sun Devils have experienced cornerbacks, but the safeties have to prove themselves.

7. Washington State: The Cougars' top three returning tacklers play in the secondary.

8. Oregon State: The most experienced player in the rebuilt secondary - senior CB Tim Clark - has made just six career starts.

9. Stanford: The safeties are solid, but better play is needed on the corners.

10. Washington: The Huskies allowed 24 touchdown passes last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. UCLA: Kai Forbath is the reigning all-conference kicker; Terrence Austin is excellent on returns.

2. California: Punting and the return teams are strong. Kicking needs an upgrade.

3. Arizona State: Thomas Weber is a reliable kicker and punter.

4. Oregon State: James Rodgers is a big-time kick returner. K Justin Kahut and P Johnny Hekker are adequate.

5. Arizona: P Keenyn Crier is top-notch, and there is K Alex Zendejas. Zendejas is Spanish for "good kicker with long range."

6. USC: The Trojans will have a new kicker and a new punter, but the return teams are good.

7. Oregon: Walter Thurmond III excels on kickoff returns, but there are questions elsewhere.

8. Stanford: The Cardinal are decent on kick returns, while P David Green led the Pac-10 with a 37.7 net average.

9. Washington State: K Nico Grasu's field goal won the Apple Cup last season.

10. Washington: The Huskies were inept in almost all phases of special teams in '08.

COACHING STAFFS

1. USC: Pete Carroll has led the Trojans to at least a share of the Pac-10 title in seven consecutive seasons.

2. Oregon State: Mike Riley has two wins over USC in the past three seasons and three consecutive seasons with at least nine wins. At Oregon State.

3. Arizona State: Dennis Erickson never has experienced back-to-back losing seasons at the college level and has two national championship rings.

4. California: Jeff Tedford is seeking his eighth consecutive winning season in Berkeley.

5. Oregon: As offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly made Oregon one of the most explosive teams in the nation. Now, he's coach.

6. UCLA: Give Rick Neuheisel time. He won at Colorado and Washington.

7. Stanford: The Cardinal have regained respect under Jim Harbaugh. A bowl appearance may be next.

8. Arizona: Mike Stoops finally brought an end to Arizona's 10-year bowl drought.

9. Washington: Steve Sarkisian faces a tall task in turning around the winless Huskies.

10. Washington State: Paul Wulff's debut season at his alma mater netted just two victories.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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