Seldom did the Pac-10 have better balance than last season, when every team had at least two wins and two losses and the league's Rose Bowl representative wasn't determined until almost the last minute.
More of the same can be expected this year, along with probably the finest group of quarterbacks a conference known for its quarterbacks has ever had."This league, from top to bottom, is a nightmare and it's a minefield every week," Oregon State coach Jerry Pettibone said. "Anybody can beat anybody."
UCLA, Arizona and Southern Cal had 6-2 conference records a year ago to tie for the Pac-10 championship. The Bruins qualified for their first Rose Bowl game in eight years by beating both the Wildcats and Trojans.
UCLA earned its berth opposite Big Ten champion Wisconsin by beating USC 27-21 on Nov. 20, clinching the victory on Marvin Goodwin's end-zone interception with 50 seconds remaining.
The Bruins lost to Wisconsin 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Arizona routed Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl and USC topped Utah 28-21 in the Freedom Bowl.
Based on the impressive victory over Miami, the return of several standouts from its "Desert Swarm" defense and an improved offense, Arizona believes it has a good shot at its first Rose Bowl.
"I certainly think we have the kind of personnel that could lead to that result," Wildcats coach Dick Tomey said. "But having the capabilities and getting it done are two different things."
Washington, 5-3 in the conference last season, is serving the second year of NCAA probation and is ineligible for postseason play. The Huskies open at USC on Sept. 3, and then play Ohio State, Miami and UCLA.
UCLA's hopes of returning to the Rose Bowl rest on the outstanding quarterback-receiver tandem of Wayne Cook and J.J. Stokes.
USC coach John Robinson is high on quarterback Rob Johnson.
In addition to Johnson and Cook, outstanding quarterbacks include Stanford's Steve Stenstrom, California's Dave Barr and Oregon's Danny O'Neil.