5 hip helmets

This is our second year of ranking the uber-cool helmets of college football. There is a website (naturally) that exhibits all helmets, college and pro, at nationalchamps.net/Helmet_Project

We suggest checking it out. We're retiring our favorites, Ole Miss, Wyoming and BYU for a year. Here's how we rank 'em in 2010:

• UTEP: Surprised? The Miners' pickax is so genius, so natural, that it overcomes the often-criticized orange background. It works.

• Richmond: The Spiders' helmet is a perfect blend of blue background and a wonderfully detailed red spider. Welcome to the club.

• Ohio: The Bobcats go with a simple, green-lettered OHIO on a white helmet. Very classy.

• Tulsa: Best use of script lettering on a helmet since UCLA.

• Rutgers: Initially, the over-sized white R on a red helmet looked gaudy and dumb. Now it has grown on us. It's instantly identified with the Scarlet Knights.

5 teams that get to feast on cupcakes

Arizona State opens the season by playing home games against Portland State and NAU, a pair of mid-minors that will challenge the Sun Devils to improve on last year's dismal home attendance average of 48,556. (That's about 23,000 empty seats per game.)

But ASU isn't alone in opening with two guaranteed victories. Here are the five BCS teams that won't really have to be ready for a challenge until week No. 3.

• Arkansas: The Razorbacks open with Tennessee Tech and UL-Monroe before traveling to Georgia.

• Indiana: Can you blame the scrambling Hoosiers for a three-game opening series of cupcakes that includes Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron? The Hoosiers need help.

• Minnesota: After going 1-11 in 2007, the Gophers made their 2010 season soft at the top, opening with Middle Tennessee and South Dakota before (gulp) playing host to USC.

• Nebraska: Come on, can it be fair for the Huskers to open with Western Kentucky and follow it up with a home game against the Idaho Vandals.

• Clemson: The two-week break-in period includes North Texas and then Presbyterian. Get your tickets now.

3 upsets this season

The most earth-shaking upsets of 2009 included Oklahoma's loss to BYU, any of Duke's five victories and Boise State's season-opening thumping of Oregon. Here is one man's guess at this year's three biggest shockers:

• Arizona State 19, Oregon 17. The Sept. 25 game in Tempe will show how much the Ducks miss QB Jeremiah Masoli and that the Sun Devils are not pushovers for anyone.

• Boise State 31, Virginia Tech 27. The last time the Broncos went out of their region for an early-season, let's-see-how-good-we-really-are game, they were clobbered 48-13 by Georgia in 2005. That's a long time ago. Now they are one of the big boys.

• Iowa State 35, Utah 18. On Oct. 9, the Utes will take a 4-0 record and Top 25 ranking to little ol' Ames, Iowa, and discover how difficult it's going to be once they get in the Pac-12 next year. ISU is a bottom-feeder in a very good league, but it won't be fazed by the Utes. It won't be like a Mountain West walkover against Wyoming or UNLV.

12 who top Willie T.

Willie Tuitama threw for 9,211 yards in his four seasons as Arizona's quarterback. Sounds like a lot. Sounds like he threw on every down. But 34 BCS schools have a career passing leader with more yards, and seven of them (12 QBs) are in the Pac-10. Here are the Pac-10 passers who lead Tuitama:

• Carson Palmer, USC, 11,818

• Derek Anderson, OSU, 11,249

• Alex Brink, WSU, 10,913

• Matt Leinart, USC, 10,683

• Steve Stentstrom, Stanford, 10,531

• Cody Pickett, Washington, 10,220.

• Cade McNown, UCLA, 10,708

• Andrew Walter, ASU, 10,617

• Rudy Carpenter, ASU, 10,491

• Jonathan Smith, OSU, 9,680

• Erik Wilhelm, OSU, 9,383

• John Elway, Stanford, 9,349

5 top coaches

Boise State coach Chris Petersen is 49-4 in four seasons. Do you realize how good that is? It's Petersen's first head coaching job. Here's how he stacks up with five of the game's coaching titans and their start-up, four-year records at Division I schools:

Joe Paterno, Penn State, 1966-69: 35-7-1.

Urban Meyer, Bowling Green/Utah, 2001-04: 39-8.

Jim Tressell, Ohio State, 2001-04: 40-11.

Mack Brown, Tulane/North Carolina, 1985-88: 12-33.

Nick Saban, Toledo/Michigan State, 1990, 1995-97: 28-18-1.

10 bad runs

The Arizona Wildcats experienced so much turbulence in the first decade of the 21st century that it is reflected in their 10-year record of 49-69. Can't imagine anyone going through more bad times.

But the Dick Tomey and John Mackovic firings, and the long road back by Mike Stoops, do not stand alone. Nine BCS schools (including two in the Pac-10) have worse records this century. Here's the bottom's-up roll call:

Duke 19-97

Vanderbilt 34-83

Baylor 34-82

Indiana 39-78

Mississippi State 42-76

Illinois 45-73

Syracuse 46-73

Stanford 47-79

Washington 49-71

Arizona 49-69

4 we would like to see win the Heisman

Four guys, underdogs, we'd like to see win the Heisman, or at least finish ahead of those with much stronger supporting casts in the SEC and Big 12:

• Case Keenum, Houston: He threw for 5,671 yards last season, completing 70.3percent of his passes. If he can lead the Cougars past UCLA on Sept. 18, he's on the ballot.

• Colin Kaepernick, Nevada: He ran for 1,183 yards, passed for 2,052 yards and was a first-year starter. Now, against a schedule that includes Cal, Boise State and BYU, the 6-foot-6-inch senior should have a larger audience.

• Andrew Luck, Stanford: He has the size, persona and stage to emerge as the top quarterback in the Pac-10. Besides, someone's got to replace Toby Gerhart and his 28 rushing touchdowns, and Luck could be that man.

• B.J. Daniels, South Florida: With a Michael Vick-type approach, running for 754 yards as a freshman, with 1,983 passing, Daniels is a game-changer who gets his crack at the big time in a Sept. 11 game at Florida.

4 early can't-miss games

The best weekend for Pac-10 football this season appears to be Sept. 18. It is the day that many of the season-makers and season-breakers will be played. It's unusually early for all that drama, but here are four can't-miss games:

• Iowa at Arizona. If the Hawkeyes win in Tucson they'll have all the momentum for an Oct. 2 home game against Penn State. If Arizona wins, the Wildcats are apt to jump into the Top 25.

• Nebraska at Washington: Getting the Cornhuskers out of Nebraska is the ideal setting for Husky quarterback Jake Locker (pictured below) to put the Huskies back on the map.

• Houston at UCLA: The Cougars are likely to be America's most prolific scoring team, and the Bruins are trying to bust loose from a decade of mediocrity. If the Bruins lose, they'll dread the following week's trip to play the Texas Longhorns.

• Arizona State at Wisconsin: By Week 3, Dennis Erickson should have identified a starting QB after beating up on Portland State and NAU. The are-they-for-real test follows in football-crazy Madison, Wis.

10 studs to play Cats

Arizona routinely plays against Heisman Trophy threats, future No. 1 draft picks and consensus All-Americans. Here are the 10 most prominent players who will suit up against the Wildcats this season:

• Adrian Clayborn, pass rusher, Iowa. He could be the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

• Kris O'Dowd, center, USC. Hometown boy returns to Tucson.

• Akeem Ayers, linebacker, UCLA. Big, fast and scary.

• Stephen Paea, defensive tackle, Oregon State. He's almost unblockable.

• Chris Owusu, kick returner, Stanford. Don't kick it to him and expect a touchback.

• Jacquizz Rodgers, tailback, Oregon State. A franchise player who can take the Beavers to the Rose Bowl.

• Jake Locker, quarterback, Washington. Imagine how good Washington might be if the rest of its team was better than average.

• Rahim Moore, safety, UCLA. He's the kind of player Pete Carroll used to have at USC.

• Tyler Sash, strong safety, Iowa. Only a junior but he might be the best at his position in NCAA football.

• Kai Forbath, kicker, UCLA. If he misses, the sun got in his eyes.

9 trails of assistant coaches

A life expectancy of a college football coaching staff - one group of 10 coaches staying intact - is probably no more than one year and a fraction of another. It is perhaps the most fluid of all college coaching pursuits.

When Mike Stoops became Arizona's head coach in 2004, his current staff was scattered across the map. How they came together, in Tucson, is fascinating. Here's the lowdown on the current UA staff in 2004:

• Co-offensive coordinator Seth Littrell: He was a 26-year-old graduate assistant coach at Kansas.

• Co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh: He was a 32-year-old running backs coach at Texas Tech.

• Co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown: At 46, Brown coached cornerbacks for the New Orleans Saints.

• Co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish: At 50, Kish was the linebackers coach on Stoops' original staff after two years as the coordinator at Indiana.

• Inside receivers coach Garret Chachere: When he was 35, Chachere coached the linebackers at Tulane.

• Special teams coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt: At 36, Hammerschmidt was the defensive coordinator at Montana.

• Outside receivers coach Dave Nichol: In 2004, when he was 27, Nichol was a graduate assistant offensive line coach at Texas Tech.

• Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo: As a 45-year-old coach, Scelfo was the offensive coordinator at Tulane.

• Defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo: He was part of Stoops' original staff, a 41-year-old coming off three seasons at Nevada.

4 ready for the big time

Four relatively unknown coaches - at least those who would have to introduce themselves to ESPN's Lee Corso - who are on the launching pad, ready for orbit into success:

• Randy Edsall, UConn: The Huskies are still a basketball school, but Edsall has gone 9-4, 8-5 and 8-5 the last three seasons and has 16 starters returning.

• Frank Spaziani, Boston College: A schedule that opens with Weber State and Kent State portends good things for the Eagles, who were 9-5 in Spaziani's first season and are a serious contender for the ACC title.

• Gary Patterson, TCU. Amazingly, the Horned Frogs have gone 11-1, 11-2, 11-2 and 12-1 in four of the last five seasons under Patterson, but he remains mostly untapped on the national radar.

• Kevin Sumlin, Houston. Part of the powerhouse coaching staffs with Mike Stoops at Oklahoma, Sumlin is in the right place at the right time. The Cougars stunned No. 5 Oklahoma State last year and averaged more than 40 points for the second straight year under Sumlin.

3 Big Ten-like venues

Game Day in the Pac-10 isn't like Game Day at LSU or Penn State, where a football Saturday is a Holy Day.

Even in a good year, UCLA plays before an average of 25,000 empty seats at the Rose Bowl. Access to and gathering space at Cal's ancient Memorial Stadium is so limited that it's difficult to build any energy. And a Saturday afternoon football game at Stanford is so laid back that you'd mistake it for a wine-and-cheese festival.

That said, the Pac-10 has a Big Ten-type feel in three cities. Here's the rundown:

• Oregon: Nothing tops a Pac-10 Saturday more than a day that dawns foggy at Autzen Stadium, where the sun doesn't shine and the high temperature might be 47 and the low 45. What sets Oregon apart on Game Day is that it feels like football. Take a jacket, gulp down a hot toddy and bring on the drizzle.

• Washington: The Huskies have had a decade-long hiatus as a football power, but a $250 million makeover of Husky Stadium and the promise of better football under Steve Sarkisian could restore UW to the No. 1 place to watch a Pac-10 football game.

The Huskies have acres of tailgating property adjacent to the stadium, and the weather is almost overcast with a chance of fun. From 1980 to 2000, this was the loudest venue in the Pac-10. The siren that blares when Washington scores can be heard all the way to Idaho.

• Arizona: Taking a cue from the 10,000-seat, in-your-face Zona Zoo, Arizona Stadium has become a nest of noise and rowdiness (sometimes not all of it funny). As long as Zona Zoo is full, Arizona Stadium has the feel of a stadium that cares about football, which you don't always find in Los Angeles and Northern California.