Best offensive player:
Cal WR DeSean Jackson.Jackson gets the nod in part because of his versatility, which includes a Pac-10 record five career punts returned for touchdowns. Even without his prowess in the return game, he's the top receiver in the conference. He had 1,060 receiving yards last season, and averaged 18 yards per catch. He's a touchdown machine ? he has 21 scores in 24 career games.
Best defensive player:
Arizona CB Antoine Cason. Cason will be a Thorpe Award candidate in 2007 after finishing as a semifinalist last year. He's among the Pac-10's most experienced players. He has started 34 games and has collected 10 career interceptions. Cason is the next defensive back to join the long line of first-round NFL Draft picks coached by brothers Mike and Mark Stoops.
Best player you don't know yet:
USC receiver Patrick Turner. USC loses players to the NFL on a yearly basis, but no position on the roster lost more to last year's draft than receiver. There's no shortage of talent, though. Turner, the No. 2 prospect in the class of 2005 according to Rivals.com, had 29 catches for 272 yards last year. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound wideout will get the first shot to replace Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.
USC RB Joe McKnight. McKnight was ranked behind Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the class of 2007, but he could be a better pick to make an instant impact. He may not become USC's top option at running back, but McKnight will be too good to keep of the field. In addition to sneaking into offensive plays, he could be a factor in the return game.
Arizona State LB Morris Wooten. The Sun Devils need instant help on the defensive side of the ball if they are to challenge for the Pac-10 title. Wooten, a junior college transfer, has claimed a starting spot at middle linebacker.
THE PAC-10'S BEST ...
Running backs: USC
Wide receivers: Cal
Tight ends: Cal
Offensive line: Oregon State
Defensive line: USC
Defensive backs: USC
Special teams: Cal
Assistant coach on the rise:
UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. Walker engineered one of the best turnarounds in the country last season. He brought respectability to a defensive unit that was previously one of the worst in the country. In Walker's first year on the job, the Bruins led the Pac-10 in rush defense and allowed 21 fewer touchdowns than the previous year.
Assistant coach on the hot seat:
Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. Few coordinators will be under more pressure in their first seasons than Dykes. Coach Mike Stoops hasn't taken his team to a bowl game in three seasons in Tucson, in part because of poor performances by the offense. Dykes will be in charge of bringing Texas Tech's air attack to the desert. Part of his assignment is to resurrect the promising career of quarterback Willie Tuitama.
Best position battle:
USC running backs. The USC running back battle has already claimed one casualty with reports that Emmanuel Moody (459 yards last year) will transfer. That still leaves nine scholarship tailbacks on the roster, including six Rivals100 members. Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gable took the bulk of the carries last year, but Pete Carroll won't hesitate to play more running backs if they offer different dimensions to the offense.
Boom or bust player:
Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon. Dixon has had a tenuous hold on the Ducks' starting quarterback job in each of the last two years, trading snaps with backup Brady Leaf. He spent part of the summer playing minor league baseball, but Dixon should still be the starter for new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Dixon will need to cut down on his turnovers (14 interceptions last year) if he hopes to effectively run Oregon's high-powered offense.