Five predictions for the Pac-10 in 2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Peering into the Pac-10 crystal ball for 2009.

1. Better quarterback play, better conference: If Mark Sanchez elects to return at USC -- a big if -- the Pac-10 will welcome back eight starting quarterbacks. Experience at the position is important anywhere, but in the Pac-10, where offenses are far more sophisticated, it's critical. More than anything else, this would indicate an upward trend in 2009.

2. The conference will produce a serious Heisman Trophy candidate -- or two. If Sanchez comes back, he would join California running back Jahvid Best as two conference candidates near the top of preseason Heisman lists. And Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli might be a guy to toss in as a dark horse.

3. No coach will be fired in 2009: The only coaching change this season was Tyrone Willingham getting fired at Washington and Steve Sarkisian leaving USC to take his place. There won't be any firings next season. That doesn't mean, however, there won't be any changes: Designated Mike Bellotti heir Chip Kelly may take over at Oregon (if he doesn't do so entering 2009) and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh might become a hot prospect and get lured away from The Farm.

4. The nonconference schedule is again brutal, and the results won't be much better: The Pac-10 redeemed a mediocre regular season with a 5-0 bowl mark in 2008, but the nonconference slate may be nearly as rugged in 2009. There are a lot of tough road games -- at Iowa (Arizona), at Georgia (Arizona State), at Minnesota (California), at Boise State (Oregon), at Wake Forest (Stanford), at Tennessee (UCLA) and at Ohio State (USC). As well as some tough home foes: BYU (Arizona State), Utah (Oregon), Cincinnati (Oregon State) and LSU (Washington). A .500 mark would be impressive.

5. The final order in 2009 will ... look a lot like 2008: USC will again be the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-10, and most will project Washington and Washington State at the bottom. California, Oregon and Oregon State will be the top challengers for the Trojans. And that challenge could be legit if Sanchez opts to enter the NFL draft.