A helmet-to-helmet blow delivered by USC's Dion Bailey to Arizona quarterback Matt Scott (10) raised the question of whether Scott suffered an injury.


PASADENA, Calif. - Nick Foles considered the question for what seemed like a full minute.

There's pressure when you're picked to finish first. There's anger when you're picked last.

What, Foles was asked, does it mean to be picked fifth?

The same, the Arizona Wildcats' starting quarterback said. Nothing.

"I personally don't worry about rankings. It really does not matter," Foles said at Pac-10 media day, held Thursday at the Rose Bowl. "I'd rather be an underdog right now than be picked first and have the pressure on my shoulders. I know ultimately that we have a great team. We're going to do great things."

Fresh from back-to-back 8-5 seasons and a pair of bowl games, the UA was picked to finish fifth in the media's Pac-10 preseason poll.

Despite what Foles and coach Mike Stoops said, the prognostication meant something.

The perception of Arizona as a conference doormat, or even as a surprise bowl team, is becoming a thing of the past. The Wildcats are creeping up, if only a few slots at a time.

This year's projection marks the first time in the Stoops era that Arizona has been picked to finish in the top half of the conference.

The Wildcats were picked eighth a year ago; they finished tied for second place, earning a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

"We're up three spots, but it's not where we want to be," Stoops said. "We'd like to move up some. Ultimately, our goal is to be back here in January, playing in the Rose Bowl and winning a championship."

Oregon was picked to repeat as conference champion, receiving 314 votes. USC (311 votes) was second, with Oregon State, Stanford and the UA wrapping up the top five. Washington, California, UCLA, Arizona State and Washington State occupy the bottom half of the poll.

The Sun Devils, more so than any other team in the conference, could exceed expectations. ASU boasts arguably the Pac-10's best defense, but has struggled offensively.

Coach Dennis Erickson said it's "exciting" to think about how much better the team will be moving the ball. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has implemented a spread-passing attack designed to limit pressure on the program's beleaguered offensive line.

Michigan transfer Steven Threet and returner Brock Osweiler will compete for the Sun Devils' starting quarterback job.

"We're doing all the things that are happening in college football right now," Erickson said. "We had a lot of fun in the spring. Guys are really enjoying what we're doing."

Thursday's event, held at the Rose Bowl's 50-yard line, marked a drastic change for the once-staid conference.

Coaches and players wore polo shirts and sunglasses, a not-to-subtle attempt to play up the conference's warm-weather, cool-guy appeal. Signs, tote bags and microphone stands were emblazoned with the Pac-10's new logo; when the temperature crept over 80 degrees, conference employees handed out Rose Bowl baseball caps.

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the new Pac-10 is wide open.

NCAA rules will prohibit USC from playing in the postseason for two years. Oregon, despite being picked first, must find a replacement for dismissed quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Oregon State has brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers but a relative newcomer - Ryan Katz - under center.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said the Pac-10 will be "a strong-man conference" again this season. Arizona was one of six teams - Oregon, USC, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington are the others - to receive a first-place vote.

In a month, the battles begin.

"The strongest team is going to survive, is going to win this conference," he said.

On StarNet: See video from Thursday on Ryan Finley's blog at go.azstarnet.com/finley

Pac-10 preseason poll

As voted by media members:

Rank Team (1st-place votes) Votes

1. Oregon (15) 314

2. USC (12) 311

3. Oregon State (3) 262

4. Stanford (1) 233

5. Arizona (2) 222

6. Washington (1) 209

7. California 175

8. UCLA (1) 134

9. Arizona State 81

10. Washington State 39