Aug. 16, 2000
LOS ANGELES - The Pac-10 turned pathetic last year, leaving a lot of red faces out west - and great incentive for the 2000 season.
"The Pac-10 kind of lost its respect," USC linebacker Zeke Moreno said. "This year, they kind of laugh at the Pac-10. We've got to turn things around and earn that respect back."
The Pac-10 had a 20-18 record in nonconference games last year, including a 69-17 loss by eventual league champion Stanford at Texas, a 45-0 loss by California at Nebraska, a 42-20 loss by UCLA at Ohio State, and a 41-7 loss by Arizona at Penn State.
"I know as a conference we'll play better, improve our image this year," Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo said.
Pac-10 schools went a combined 53-20 against non-league foes in 1997 and '98.
No. 15 USC, one of the teams to beat in the conference along with No. 13 Washington, can set the tone Aug. 27 against No. 22 Penn State in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium.
"It's more than a USC game," Trojans coach Paul Hackett said. "It's about West Coast football, and what's going on with West Coast football."
It was Penn State that set the tone in terms of the Pac-10 last year, overpowering then-No. 4 Arizona on Aug. 27 in the Pigskin Classic.
"We contributed greatly to the image of our conference by the way we played at Penn State," said Wildcats coach Dick Tomey, whose team finished a disappointing 6-6.
The dean of Pac-10 coaches as he starts his 14th season at Arizona, Tomey hopes to improve upon what he called "probably the worst job of coaching I've done since I've been here."
Four Pac-10 teams were ranked among the Top 25 in last year's preseason poll, and just one, Oregon, was ranked at season's end.
The Ducks won their final six games, including a 24-20 victory over Minnesota in the Sun Bowl, and were ranked 19th.
Four other Pac-10 teams played in bowl games, and all lost.
It was that kind of year.
USC and Washington are the only Pac-10 teams ranked in this year's preseason Top 25. Pac-10 schools get one major break - they're at home against several tough opponents.
Among the teams visiting Pac-10 sites are No. 3 Alabama at UCLA on Sept. 2, No. 5 Miami at Washington on Sept. 9, No. 6 Michigan at UCLA on Sept. 16, No. 7 Texas at Stanford on Sept. 16, No. 16 Ohio State at Arizona on Sept. 9, and No. 24 Colorado at USC on Sept. 9.
USC, 6-6 last season, returns 10 starters on defense along with quarterback Carson Palmer, sidelined for the season after breaking his right collarbone in the third game,
"It's nice to have him back, Carson has been teasing us for two years," Hackett said. "He's come back with a renewed understanding for being healthy.
"We have the good fortune of being strong on defense, we have the ability to lean on our defense early in the season."
Washington also returns Tuiasosopo, who last season threw for 302 yards and ran for 207 yards against Stanford as he became the first Division IA player to have a 300-200 game.
"I just think he's a remarkable athlete," Washington coach Rick Neuheisel said. "It's sad we only have him for one more year. We're going to live it up while we have him."
The Huskies, 7-5 last season, return 15 starters.
"Offensively, we've got a lot of people back who as the season progressed became proficient," Neuheisel said. "The question marks on our team are on defense."
Stanford, 8-4 and the surprise Pac-10 champion last year, doesn't figure to repeat, having lost four all-conference players on offense along with Joe Borchard, who figured to start at quarterback.
Borchard recently signed to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox and has given up football, leaving inexperienced Randy Fasani as the starter.
Oregon, 9-3 last year, returns only nine starters including quarterback Joey Harrington, who took the job away from another returnee, A.J. Feeley, late in the season.
UCLA embodied the Pac-10's fall, dropping from 10-2 in 1997 and 1998 to 4-7 last year.
"That's behind us," said Bruins coach Bob Toledo, whose team returns 17 starters. "We were a young, inexperienced team that had a lot of injuries. We had 45 different players start last year."
Arizona State may play without quarterback Ryan Kealy, a three-year starter who has passed for 6,274 yards. Kealy was suspended indefinitely July 26 and ASU coach Bruce Snyder hasn't made a final decision.
"I don't feel much anguish because I like my team," Snyder said.
Oregon State returns 14 starters from a team that went 7-5 under first-year coach Dennis Erickson, its first winning record since 1970.
"I think we can be even more successful, we have a lot of returnees, a great attitude," Erickson said. "The big thing at Oregon State is we got past winning six games, now we want to be consistent."
By JOHN NADEL
AP Sports Writer