July 27, 2007

Pac-10 Notes: Dixon returns to Ducks early

Returning Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon, who has been playing minor league baseball this summer, is expected to be back in Eugene this weekend to take part in the team's senior day.

"We knew when we recruited Dennis this was a part of his life," coach Mike Bellotti said. "What we did not expect was for him to be drafted in the fifth round. That was a surprise."

Dixon, who completed 61.2% of his passes last season, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the fifth round of this year's draft. He will be back in Oregon to work with teammates earlier than expected - upperclassmen were not required to be back to practice until Aug. 5.

Bellotti is cautiously optimistic about his quarterback situation. "Dennis Dixon is the quarterback of our team, even though Brady Leaf will compete. There is nothing set in stone," Bellotti said.

The Ducks, who lost their last four games of the 2006 season, rotated quarterbacks with mixed success last year. Dixon threw for 2143 yards and 12 touchdowns. Leaf completed 86-of-155 passes for six touchdowns.

While Bellotti is glad to have Dixon back, has offered a simple reason why his quarterback returned to Oregon early.

"It may be because he is hitting .174."

Pac-10 reacts to Les Miles

LSU coach Les Miles put the coachspeak to bed last week on a Baton Rouge radio show by calling out the Pac-10 conference, and specifically the Southern California football team.

"I can tell you this, that they (USC) have a much easier road to travel," Miles said on air. "They're going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford — some real juggernauts — and they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title [game]."

At Pac-10 Media Day, some of the league's coaches disputed Miles' comments.

"Our toughest games by far last season were in our conference," USC coach Pete Carroll explained. "This is an extraordinary conference. There's great coaching and excellent offenses and excellent football players. We're challenged every week. Our score spreads make it obvious."

The results from last season do lend credence to Carroll's argument. His Trojans outscored non-conference opponents Arkansas, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Nebraska by an average score of 38.5 to 16.5. USC went 7-2 against the Pac-10 with a scoring margin of 29-12.

Furthermore, the USC and LSU shared common opponents in Arkansas and Notre Dame. USC outscored the foes 94-38 in their two victories, while LSU won by a combined score 72-40.

Lumped into the "juggernaut" category by Miles, California Bears coach Jeff Tedford said, "We're not going to be motivated by something Coach Miles said. He has an opinion and he's welcome to his opinion."

Tedford's Bears have a more difficult argument than USC. Cal lost 35-18 in Tennessee while Miles' Tigers defeated the Vols 28-24 on a last-second touchdown in Knoxville.

Ya'll come back now…

The Pac-10 is a conference that will have strength in their returning stars.

The 10-team league boasts 165 returning starters and 31 members of their first and second all-conference teams from last season. Maybe more importantly, eight of the 10 teams return starting quarterbacks.

"It's a great challenge to know that everyone is coming back," all-conference cornerback Antoine Cason said. "It brings out the best of me as a player and the best of them as a player."

One of the top returners is quarterback John David Booty of USC.

Booty, who passed for a Pac-10 best 3347 yards and 29 touchdowns, said of the quarterback situation: "They are all great players. Nate Longshore, Alex Brink, all the guys. I am excited to get the season started and see what happens."

Air Raid

When Arizona coach Mike Stoops hired former Texas Tech offensive guru Sonny Dykes to implement a new offense, the Wildcats fans let out a collective sigh of relief.

In 2006, Arizona's offense was ranked in the middle of the conference. However, unlike the majority of the conference, the Wildcats had limited success through the air.

Arizona threw for the fewest touchdowns and had the lowest quarterback rating in the conference last season.

This year is expected to be much different. "We are going to implement the whole system," Stoops said of Dykes' Air Raid offense. "Whether we go four wides, three wides, we'll have to see. I think this system gives us a unique protection for our quarterback."

Protection for the quarterback will be a welcomed change for Willie Tuitama, who was sacked for the second most yards in the Pac-10 last season.

Staying a Pack of 10

With recent speculation regarding the Big Ten possibly adding another team, Pac-10 commissioner Jim Muldoon ended any questions about his league possibly expanding.

"Unlike the Big Ten which plans to expand so it's not 11, we have no plans to expand the Pac-10 at this time."

Dallas Jackson is a the Pac-10 conference producer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at djackson@rivals.com.

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