What we thought, and what we know now, about each Pac-10 team

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Back before LeGarrette Blount, before Aaron Corp, before Chris Owusu, we had this assumption about Pac-10 football, 2009: It was going to be more of USC, and if the planets were aligned, maybe California could steal the story line.

After a month of September Saturdays, we know a lot more. And we also know less; just ahead of the USC-Cal matchup this week, the conference race looks like the San Diego Freeway at cocktail hour. Let’s assess:

Arizona (3-1)

What we thought: The ‘Cats, picked eighth by Pac-10 media, would ride their defense, and tight end Rob Gronkowski would help ease dual-threat quarterback Matt Scott into college football.

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Now we know: Gronkowski’s back puts him out for the season, Scott has been mothballed in favor of rangy Nick Foles, and ‘Zona is a definite threat for the first division.

Arizona State (2-1)

What we thought: ASU’s defense would be excellent, and unless QB Danny Sullivan was unexpectedly brilliant, the offense would be pedestrian.

Now we know: The Sun Devils are right on script. And true-freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a load.

California (3-1)

What we thought: Cal’s defense would be stellar. QB Kevin Riley, at last clearly the guy, would come of age even with attrition on the offensive line.

Now we know: Oregon exposed everything bad about the Bears, including old suspicions that Riley might be an average player who can’t elevate Cal to a superior level.

Oregon (3-1)

What we thought: With Jeremiah Masoli and Blount, Oregon would have dynamic offensive weapons, compensating for a defense that lost four draftees to the NFL.

Now we know: Blount is gone, Masoli is mercurial — four completions one week (Utah), four incompletions the next (Cal) — and the defense has been creditable — fifth in the Pac-10 at 329 yards a game. Not in the way most people figured, the Ducks are in a good spot.

Oregon State (2-2)

What we thought: OSU would find people to replace guys like Victor Butler, Sammie Stroughter and Andy Levitre, just because Mike Riley, the coach, usually does.

Now we know: OSU isn’t stretching the field, isn’t blocking real well and isn’t getting to the quarterback. The Beavers are at polar ends of the Pac-10 sack totals, having made two while allowing 15.

Stanford (3-1)

What we thought: Stanford would play knuckle-sandwich football as much as it could, sliding newbie quarterback Andrew Luck into his role.

Now we know: So far, so good. The Cardinal leads the league in rushing, Luck is completing 60 percent, Owusu has taken three kickoffs to the house and Stanford has trailed for two seconds this year (losing at the wire to Wake Forest). But the truculent part of the schedule awaits.

UCLA (3-0)

What we thought: While Kevin Prince matured at quarterback, a stout defense would carry the Bruins.

Now we know: Assumptions were half-right, as Prince sustained a broken jaw at Tennessee. A young offensive line has allowed only five sacks, and UCLA has eight interceptions in three games.

USC (3-1)

What we thought: If they got good quarterback play, the Trojans would contend for a national title. Coach Pete Carroll touted the new linebackers in the spring, and USC seemed relatively flush across the board.

Now we know: The Trojans have looked strangely mortal the past two weeks. They have trouble stretching the field, they’re shaky at quarterback if Matt Barkley gets hurt, and now they must deal with a throat injury to Stafon Johnson. Color them questionable, as least by their high standards.

Washington (2-2)

What we thought: A healthy Jake Locker and an infusion of enthusiasm would make the Huskies a candidate for several wins.

Now we know: That holds true, although to date, Locker is doing it almost exclusively with his arm and not his legs. Meanwhile, it’s ominous that Washington is last in the league in run defense.

Washington State (1-3)

What we thought: The Cougars would be better — they couldn’t be worse — and it would be behind either Kevin Lopina or Marshall Lobbestael.

Now we know: That quarterback scenario has been upset completely by freshman Jeff Tuel, who starts Saturday at Oregon. A steady succession of injuries makes WSU, which might least be able to afford it, the most beat-up team in the Pac-10.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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