Pac-10 hot team: Stanford

It seems like everybody's got their favorite "hot" team in the Pac-10.

By that we mean a team outside the Oregon-USC-Oregon State triumvirate that most folks pencil in atop the conference, an interloper that might break into the top-third.

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples thinks it's Arizona. The L.A. Times Chris Dufresne ranked Washington No. 25 in his preseason national poll, the same program that went winless in 2008.

But the Pac-10 blog is tapping Stanford.

Why? Couple of reasons.

Traditionally in Pac-10 play, experience at quarterback is vital. Stanford has that. It doesn't hurt that its experienced quarterback, Andrew Luck, might be the top overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Further, "offensive-line experience is one of the telltale predictors of success in college football," says no less than the Wall Street Journal. Stanford has four starters back on its offensive line. And it doesn't hurt that the crew might be the best unit in the Pac-10.

Luck and his line have plenty of help: There's solid talent at receiver and tight end. The loss of Toby Gerhart? That's big, but the backfield-by-committee we're likely to see appears at least passable.

The big question, of course, is the defense. It was pretty bad in 2009. But a switch to a 3-4 look, seven returning starters, some intriguing young talent and a decent performance last spring suggest the D can at least improve to mediocre. That might be enough for 10 wins.

Finally, coach Jim Harbaugh has changed the culture at Stanford. There's a bit of a swagger now. There's certainly confidence. And there's a notable edginess. It wouldn't be surprising if a few of the guys brawled at biker bars after a tough afternoon in Philosophy 160A: "First Order Logic" and Computer Science 154: "Automata and Complexity Theory."

As it is: If you're looking for a Pac-10 team that could mount a darkhorse charge: Among several candidates, Stanford might be your best bet.

At least this week.