May 8, 2010

Which Big Six conference race will be best?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport. This week, we'll have two roundtables, one today and one Sunday. Here is today's question:

Spring practice is over for every team, leading to a two-part question (the other comes Sunday). The first part of the question: Which Big Six conference race are you most looking forward to this fall?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
The easy answer should be the SEC because recent history shows the SEC champion more than likely will emerge as the national champion. But Alabama may not be seriously threatened in the West, and Florida figures to win the East. Alabama-Florida is the likely championship game matchup. So what else is new? I find the Pac-10 particularly intriguing after Oregon suspended QB Jeremiah Masoli, which made the league race wide open. USC figures to bounce back from a subpar year by its standards. Stanford beat both Oregon and USC last year and still has QB Andrew Luck. Oregon State has the Rodgers brothers and always seems to get better under Mike Riley. Arizona may be ready to take the next step in its progression and seriously contend for the championship. No one really expects much from California, which is when the Bears are most dangerous. Arizona State may have the best defense in the conference, and Washington is as good or better than any team in the league at the skill positions. Oregon is the team to beat, but it should be an interesting race on the West Coast.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I can't wait to see how the Big Ten race plays out. This looks like the best collection of teams at the top of the league in a number of years. I expect Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin to be ranked in many preseason top 10-12s, with the Buckeyes being a legit top-five team. But I wouldn't be shocked if the Hawkeyes or Badgers won the Big Ten. Making things juicer is that all three teams play each other. Bottom line: There's a good chance the Big Ten will have a team playing for the national championship in Glendale, Ariz., in January.

David Fox's answer:
I'm either going to be very right or very wrong. The ACC Coastal is loaded with potential. The problem is all that potential could fizzle by the end of September. Virginia Tech has questions on defense for a change, though QB Tyrod Taylor and RBs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans return to the offense. Under Bud Foster, though, the Hokies' defense always will keep Virginia Tech in contention. North Carolina's defense, on the other hand, is loaded with draft picks. The Tar Heels' offense just needs to improve to "adequate" from bad. Miami returns 19 starters from a nine-win team. Georgia Tech might have trouble contending after losing RB Jonathan Dwyer and every defensive playmaker, but the Yellow Jackets did win the league last year. Here's the rub, though: The top three contenders could lose a non-conference game early in the season -- Virginia Tech opens with Boise State, North Carolina opens with LSU and Miami visits Ohio State and Pittsburgh before October. If two of them win those non-conference tests, we'll be talking about the ACC in the national title hunt.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
The Pac-10 race should be fascinating because only one league team -- Washington State -- goes into the season with no hope for a bowl. While each of the other nine league teams may not be thinking it can win the conference title, each can get to a bowl. Had QB Jeremiah Masoli not been suspended, Oregon would be the hands-down preseason pick. But his suspension makes things interesting. This truly should be a league where anybody can beat anybody (well, except for Washington State).

Steve Megargee's answer:
I'm going to be interested in following the Pac-10 this season. The Pac-10 wasn't an interesting conference race for most of the Pete Carroll era because USC dominated the league so thoroughly. Now that USC has taken a step back and Carroll has moved on to the NFL, I don't know quite what to expect. Oregon probably is the favorite to win the conference title, but the suspension of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and all the other off-field issues make me wonder whether the Ducks will be as good as expected. Lane Kiffin has such a short track record as a head coach that I don't know what kind of success he will have at USC. I'm interested in seeing whether two of the nation's top quarterback prospects -- Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck -- can put their teams into title contention. California has teased its fans so often the last few years by failing to live up to expectations. Now that they're entering a season under the radar, maybe the Golden Bears are poised for a breakthrough. I'm also interested in seeing whether Arizona can build upon its recent successes and if Arizona State or UCLA can finally put together some semblance of an offense.

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