The Pacific-10 might not have a giant in the group this year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For the first time since Matt Leinart was a backup, there should be competition for the title. USC has come back to the Pac's pack a bit, and there is reason to believe several other teams will take a step up and create one of the most powerful and balanced leagues in the country. Here are five Pac-10 predictions for 2006:
1. The league champion will have earned it like no other in America. With the addition of the 12th game, the league decided against scheduling another patsy and in favor of playing a full conference schedule. That means a remarkable nine league games for every team, and it means there will be no grumbling about anyone getting a preferential league schedule.
2. California will lead the league in rushing again, and the nation will realize that Jeff Tedford is the Mike Shanahan of college football. Shanahan's reputation was built as a West Coast passing-game guru, but his success has been built on the running game. Tedford has been thought of as a throw-it-around guy as well, but check his stats at Cal: His teams led the Pac-10 in rushing in 2003 and '04 and were second to USC in '05, and he's had a different 1,000-yard rusher in each of his four years. With uncertainty at quarterback and great talent at running back, look for the Golden Bears to pound the rock even more in '06.
3. The state of Oregon will flex its muscles. The Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers both return their entire starting offensive lines, which tends to be a strong harbinger of success. If Oregon has a quarterback emerge as its undisputed leader (Dennis Dixon is the runner, Brady Leaf the thrower) and gets a big year out of touted sophomore running back Jonathan Stewart, it will compete for the league title. Oregon State, not trendy pick Arizona, looks like the potential surprise team in the Pac-10 and opens with four of its first five at home.
4. Dwayne Jarrett will be impossible to cover. The big, strong USC receiver caught 16 touchdown passes last year. If he's on the same page with John David Booty, he could do better than that this year. That means first-team All-America status and legitimate Heisman contention.
5. Bill Doba will catch heat in Pullman. He'd already be in trouble in a more demanding climate, but the Washington State coach won't be able to avoid it if he has a third straight losing season. The sneaking suspicion that Doba was winning with Mike Price's players is starting to solidify, given his declining records each year (10-3, 5-6, 4-7). The Cougars went 1-5 in games decided by five points or less last season.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.