USC Tops Pac-10 Preview





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As Henry Hill points out in the movie Goodfellas:

"Everyone takes a beating sometimes."

After being roughed up in nonconference play a year ago, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Pac-10 has come back strong in 2000.

But unlike last year, when a dart board with a Pac-10 media release tacked on it would have served more useful in predicting the conference's order of finish than actually reading the release might have been, this year, the Daily Cal's crystal ball looks a little more clear. We see USC playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

The Trojans look to recapture the glory of yesteryear and are loaded with young but talented weapons on offense, and a solid corps of veteran defenders. Led by junior Carson Palmer at quarterback, USC opened the season with a drubbing of Penn State in the Kickoff Classic and hasn't looked back since.

Palmer is leading the conference in passing with 233.3 yards per game while tailback Sultan McCullough is second in rushing at 118.3 ypg. Palmer's favorite target is sophomore Kareem Kelly, who caught 10 passes for 145 yards against Colorado earlier in the season.

Linebackers Markus Steele and Zeke Moreno lead a Trojans defense that returns seven of 11 starters from a year ago.

Because of a scheduling quirk, USC will not play Washington, our pick to finish second in the conference.

In the year of the do-everything quarterback, the Huskies have one of the best in Marques Tuiasosopo. The senior signal-caller is a yardage fiend, averaging 215.3 through the air and 56.0 on the ground.

The Huskies play in one of the toughest venues in the country as then-No. 4 Miami learned earlier this season in one of the conference's four wins against a team ranked No. 5 or higher.

Washington will have its mettle tested tomorrow against Oregon, our pick to finish third. The Ducks are looking for its second huge home win in as many weeks.

They have a balanced offensive attack with quarterback Joey Harrington and tailback Maurice Morris, who at 118.2 ypg is the top junior college transfer running back in the nation.

Oregon has the longest home winning streak in the Pac-10 at 17 games, with the last win coming against UCLA, which will finish fourth.

The Bruins had the best preseason of any team in the country with wins against two teams that were ranked No. 3 at the time.

But having survived a tough nonconference schedule, UCLA's run for the roses won't be any easier. Already saddled with a Pac-10 loss, the Bruins have to head back to the Pacific Northwest to face Washington in November.

UCLA has proven that it can work its way though an unsettled quarterback situation and will be bolstered once starter Cory Paus returns.

For the second year in a row, Oregon State has started off 3-0 on the strength of a weak schedule. But the Beavers won't falter once conference play begins this season, and we think they will finish in the top half of the conference.

OSU is led by Ken Simonton, the best running back in the Pac-10 and a stingy defense that has only given up 198.7 ypg.

Arizona State is also another team with a dominating defense and should make a run at a bowl game.

Stanford has enough fire power left over from last season's Rose Bowl run and has a shot at making some noise this season, while Arizona is clearly in the rebuilding stage and will finish eighth.

Cal can expect another dismal year and a ninth-place finish if the Bears' offense keeps up its current pace.

Washington State will always have the 1998 Rose Bowl.

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