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January 1, 2008

Conference Previews: Pac-10

MORE: Rivals.com Countdown to First Pitch

Intense is a word best used to describe the 2008 Pac-10 title race.

While the SEC, ACC and Big 12 have claimed superiority over the Pac-10, those opinions will likely change this season.

The Pac-10 has four legitimate national title contenders Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State.

Arizona State hopes to live up to its preseason billing, while Oregon State aims for a third-straight national title. Though somewhat new to the national title discussion, Arizona and UCLA could also finish the year in Omaha.

California could also be included in the Pac-10 title discussion, while Stanford and Southern Cal hope to escape the cellar.

We preview the Pac-10.

Rivals.com's Pac-10 Preview
Predicted order of finish Preseason all-conference

1. Arizona State
2. UCLA
3. Arizona
4. Oregon State
5. California
6. Southern California
7. Stanford
8. Washington
9. Washington State
1B. Brett Wallace, Arizona State
2B. Alden Carrithers, UCLA
3B. Brad Glenn, Arizona
SS. Brandon Crawford, UCLA
OF. Gabe Cohen, UCLA
OF. Ike Davis, Arizona State
OF. Sean Ratliff, Stanford
C. Petey Paramore, Arizona State
SP. Tyson Ross, California
SP. Preston Guilmet, Arizona
SP. Josh Satow, Arizona State
RP. Matt Gorgen, California
DH. C.J. Ziegler, Arizona
Pac-10 Conference breakdown
Team on the rise
UCLA
The Bruins are in a position they've always wanted to be in they're finally a national title contender. After reaching the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, the Bruins made a return trip in 2007. There, they won the Long Beach Regional before losing to gritty Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regional round. Though the Bruins were disappointed to not reach the College World Series, what transpired last season gives them more confidence and extra motivation this season. With almost all of their offensive lineup and a talented pitching staff returning, the Bruins are in great shape. Still, if they want to compete for the national title they must avoid slumps something they haven't done a good job of the past two seasons.
Coach on the rise
John Savage
When Savage left UC Irvine and the Big West a few seasons ago, he did it with the intention of turning UCLA into a perennial power. Though Savage and the Bruins still have work to do, they're well on their way to accomplishing that goal. In his three seasons as head coach, Savage has changed the program's attitude. The Bruins made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, but were unable to advance to the Super Regional round. UCLA took the next step last season by winning the Long Beach Regional before losing to Cal State Fullerton in a Super Regional. With most of their team back, the Bruins are ready to take another step.
Best pitcher
Preston Guilmet
Barring a major surprise, the Wildcats will compete for the Pac-10 crown. They could also be a major player in the national title race. Though Arizona has many players it can thank for the recent surge, no individual contributor is more important than Guilmet. The junior right-handed pitcher compiled outstanding numbers as a sophomore. In 17 starts and 18 total appearances last season, Guilmet went 12-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 135 innings of work. He also struck out 146 and walked 34, while opponents hit him at a .205 clip. With the Wildcats returning Guilmet and a plethora of talented pitchers and hitters, nothing is beyond their reach.
Best hitter
Brett Wallace
The Sun Devils routinely have one of the nation's most productive offensive lineups. Veteran first baseman Brett Wallace leads the charge. Though some choose to use Wallace's performances in last year's College World Series as a measuring stick, he's truly one of the two-best hitters in college baseball along with Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez. As a sophomore last season, the hard-hitting first baseman batted .404 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs. He also had a .687 slugging percentage and a .484 on-base percentage. Additionally, he finished the 2007 season with 17 doubles, five triples and a team-leading 182 total bases.
Kendall's analysis
Saying the 2008 Pac-10 title race will be heated might be the understatement of the year. Looking at the league's prognosis, four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the national title. Oregon State aims for a three-peat, while Arizona State is the preseason favorite to win the national title. The Sun Devils aren't alone in the Grand Canyon State. With the league's best pitcher Preston Guilmet and others, Arizona hopes to rise to the occasion. Meanwhile, UCLA has nearly every position player back in addition to a crop of talented pitchers. While Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State lead the charge, California could factor into the equation with pitchers Tyson Ross and Matt Gorgen leading the way. Many eyes will also be on storied programs Stanford and Southern Cal, as they look to escape an unfamiliar home in the Pac-10 cellar. The stage is set for an exciting season.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.