Welcome to Pac-10 football

Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat

University of Arizona meets Arizona State University in an NCAA mens football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2009. Arizona went on to win 20-17.

Michael Ignatov

Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets Arizona State University in an NCAA men’s football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 28, 2009. Arizona went on to win 20-17.

Tim Kosch

Welcome to a level of college football fandom you’ve never experienced before. The Wildcats might not be your favorite team right now and they still might not be in four years, but sitting in the Zona Zoo will make even a non-sports fan crazy about college football. So whether you’re a longtime follower of the game and need a refresher or you couldn’t tell the difference between down-and-distance and turnover-on-downs, here’s a quick guide to what the Pacific 10 Conference has to offer in 2010.

ARIZONA

The Wildcats finished second in the Pac-10 and finished with an 8-5 overall record last season. An embarrassing 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl ended the season on a sour note, but wins against Oregon State, Stanford and USC put the Wildcats back on the map. The 2010 team will be firing on all cylinders offensively, thanks to the return of eight starters, including quarterback Nick Foles and running back Nic Grigsby.

ARIZONA STATE

The Sun Devils were on the opposite side of the standings from their in-state rival, finishing second-to-last in the Pac-10 with a 4-8 record. ASU boasted a stellar defense all season long but struggled to find any rhythm offensively, cycling through three different quarterbacks. The Sun Devils are expected to struggle again in 2010, but a Vontaze Burfict-led defense could help ASU stay competitive.

CALIFORNIA

The Golden Bears had one of the most perplexing seasons of any team in the country last year ­— they were ranked in the top-10 of nearly every major preseason poll, yet were unranked before the midseason mark. Inconsistent play and an injury to All-American running back Jahvid Best crippled Cal in 2009. The silver lining, though, was that Shane Vereen emerged as the next great Golden Bear running back.

OREGON

Thanks to an offense that put up a staggering 469 points in 2009, the Pac-10 champion Oregon Ducks were a force to be reckoned with. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the country last year, as the Ducks sliced and diced almost every opponent they faced. The upcoming season had figured to be more of the same, but legal troubles forced head coach Chip Kelly to dismiss Masoli from the team.

While this is undoubtedly a major blow, the Ducks, led by running back LaMichael James and wide receiver Jeff Maehl, will still be one of the top teams in the Pac-10.

OREGON STATE

The Beavers were just a few minutes away from a Rose Bowl berth and although the team lost it at the hands of archrival Oregon, Oregon State continued to establish itself as a legitimate contender in 2009. The 2010 team is widely considered to be in the mix for the Pac-10 title again and although they lost quarterback Sean Canfield, the Beavers return with two of the most electrifying offensive players in the country — brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers.

STANFORD

Make way for the mighty Cardinal. Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s crew burst onto the scene in 2009, and tied for second in the Pac-10 with Arizona and Oregon State. Stanford loses 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, but stud quarterback Andrew Luck — a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft — looks to pick up where he left off last season.

UCLA

The Bruins eked out a bowl berth in 2009 and finished with a 7-6 overall record. UCLA was an enigma last season as it struggled to find its rhythm, despite premier talent and coaching. The Bruins return with a top-notch defense and an offense that is poised for a breakout year.

USC

Talk about a whirlwind offseason. First Pete Carroll, one of the most successful coaches in college football history, bolts for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. USC then steals head coach Lane Kiffin away from Tennessee to replace him, only to find out months later that NCAA violations committed in years past will limit USC scholarships and ban the Trojans from making the postseason for the next two years. Just because USC won’t be playing for a Rose Bowl in 2010 doesn’t mean that it won’t be a difficult game. In fact, the Trojans are arguably the most talented team in the country. Look for quarterback Matt Barkley and the red and gold to squash the Rose Bowl dreams of a team or two this season.

WASHINGTON

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Washington, led by quarterback Jake Locker, is the darkhorse to win the Pac-10 this year. People from coast to coast are making this bold claim, and while it’s far too early to tell if it is warranted, the hype is a testament to how far the Huskies have come since Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach. After going winless in 2008, Washington went 5-7 last year, despite inferior talent compared to other Pac-10 teams. Newfound success in recruiting, mixed in with Locker’s athleticism and big arm, have a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest chomping at the bit for the season to start.

WASHINGTON STATE

The Cougars finished 1-11 in 2009 and 2010 might yield a similar result. While Washington State has improved over the years, it hasn’t improved to the level that other Pac-10 programs have. Unfortunately for the Cougars, 2010 looks to be another long year.