- Arizona LB Scooby Wright is the new Jake Fischer, but does he have the stuff to be on the Pac-12 blog's all-interivew team like Fischer?
- Former Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford helped his NFL stock at pro day.
- California is hitting Bay Area recruiting hard.
- This JC transfer aims to break through in the Colorado secondary, which could be pretty solid.
- Oregon's new OLBs coach Erik Chinander is hitting the recruiting trail.
- Oregon State QB Sean Mannion makes this list of Pac-12 seniors to watch.
- Recapping Stanford's first spring session.'
- UCLA's pro day is Tuesday, which gives OLB Anthony Barr a chance to regain ground in the first round.
- USC begins spring practices under new coach Steve Sarkisian.
- Utah will monitor QB Travis Wilson very closely.
- More on Washington LB Shaq Thompson doubling as a running back.
- Some interesting quotes from Washington State coach Mike Leach on football analytics.
Arizona: Drew Riggleman is back after handling all of the punting responsibilities last season. He averaged 40.1 yards per kick, pinned 18 inside the 20 and had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards. He ranked eighth in the conference -- though the difference between first (Utah’s Tom Hackett) and Riggleman was an average of 3.4 yards.
Arizona State: Punting was one of ASU’s biggest issues last season. Matt Haack started to come on strong at the end of the season and will likely challenge Alex Garoutte, who averaged 38.8 yards per kick last season. Should Haack win the job, Garoutte is always an option with his rollout style. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has also been known to offer the occasional boot. He punted six times last season, once for 50-plus, and had three downed inside the 20.
California: Cole Leininger is back after a very solid season for the Golden Bears, where he was tied for second in the conference with an average of 42.9 yards per kick. Cal has four punters on the roster in addition to Leininger. And while he’s mostly unchallenged, there are plenty of backup options.
Colorado: Third-team all-conference punter Darragh O'Neill returns and was a midseason Ray Guy candidate last season. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 inside the 20.
Oregon: Alejandro Maldonado handled the punting duties last season and made a couple of appearances as a kicker before the job went to Matt Wogan. Expect Wogan to handle all kicking responsibilities, though some walk-ons will also get looks.
Oregon State: Keith Kostol is back as a third-year starter. He finished last season tied for fifth in the conference with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. He also put 23 kicks inside the 20.
Stanford: Ben Rhyne returns to handle the punting duties for the Cardinal. He was one of the best in the conference last season with an average of 42.9 yards per kick -- just half a yard behind Hackett. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.
UCLA: Sean Covington is back after having a very solid season, where he posted an average of 42.6 yards per punt. Do-it-all quarterback Brett Hundley punted once last season, but it’s safe to assume that Convington’s job is secure.
USC: Kris Albarado didn’t post an impressive yards-per-punt average (37.1), but he was very good at pinning opponents, with 27 kicks inside the 20. And of his 64 kicks, almost half were fair-caught.
Utah: Hackett was last season's first-team all-conference punter, so expect some preseason All-American hype for him. As noted earlier, he led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt and buried 27 kicks inside the 20.
Washington: Travis Coons pulled double-duty last season. In addition to nailing 15 of 16 field goal attempts, he also averaged 40.4 yards per punt and had eight kicks of 50-plus yards to go with 23 inside the 20. Korey Durkee did some punting in 2012 before Coons won the job, so he’ll get the first look in 2014. Newcomer Tristan Vizcaino could also get looks at kicker and/or punter.
Washington State: Wes Concepcion was the starter in the final two games as punter last season. With Mike Bowlin gone, he should be the favorite to handle punting duties full time. Concepcion punted 12 times last season for an average of 36.2 yards. Eight of those 12 were fair catches and three were inside the 20.
No. 4: The guys who returned -- QB Marcus Mariota and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
- Mariota: 3665 passing yards | 31 passing TD | 4 INT | 860 rushing yards | 9 rushing TD
- Ekpre-Olomu: 84 tackles | 5 tackles for loss | 3 INT | 6 passes broken up | 9 passes defensed | 1 forced fumble
It would be surprising if either had seasons that were anything less than incredibly impressive, and that progression is likely start to show itself this spring. And there will be a chance for each player to prove himself as both are going to be asked to do even more than they did last season. Mariota is losing his No. 1 and No. 3 receivers; Ekpre-Olomu will be the Ducks’ only returning starter in the secondary. That kind of pressure should help to push these players to the next level, as they’ll be the team leaders.
Ekpre-Olomu said he chose to return because he wanted to progress as not only a player but a person and that he had unfinished business with the Ducks. From an accolades standpoint. there’s not a lot that Ekpre-Olomu can do that he hasn’t already accomplished. He was named an All-American and a is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection.
Mariota's name popped up in the Heisman Trophy conversation early in the season, but faded later. His numbers dropped a bit, the Ducks lost two games, Mariota was hobbled a bit by injury, and other players across the country put up bigger numbers. But this season, Mariota enters the season as one of the Heisman favorites, which is only helped by the fact that the Oregon’s offensive line returns talent and depth and is ready to protect him again.
But what’s notable about both of these players is how much they’ve progressed each season. Ekpre-Olomu’s tackle totals have gone from 34 to 63 to 84 in his three seasons. Meanwhile, Mariota's passing yardage totals gained nearly 1,000 yards from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and though his rushing yardage remained similar (752 yards as a freshman; 715 yards as a sophomore) he became more productive with his runs, finding the end zone with his feet nine times last season as opposed to five times as a freshman.
After this season, Ekpre-Olomu’s eligibility will run out; Mariota would have one more year. But if their seasons go as many expect they will, at this time next year both players could be first-round NFL draft prospects.
Arizona: Casey Skowron, Bret Miller and Michael Unzicker are all in the mix this spring to replace Jake Smith, who converted 12 of 19 kicks (63.2 percent) last season, including a long of 53. The 12 converted field goals were the lowest in the conference, as was the conversion percentage.
Arizona State: No team in the Pac-12 attempted more field goals in 2013 than the Sun Devils -- and Zane Gonzalez was one of the few bright spots for an otherwise dismal ASU special teams unit. The freshman All-American converted 25 of 30 attempts (83.3) and had a streak of 18 straight.
California: With Vincenzo D’Amato gone (he was 17 of 20 last season), it’s looking like James Langford, Noah Beito and Matt Anderson will all get looks. Langford might have the edge as the kickoff guy with Beito a potential early frontrunner for field goals.
Colorado: Senior Will Oliver is back after converting 17 of 24 kicks last year (70.8 percent). He was perfect inside the 30 (7 of 7) and missed just once inside of 40 yards. Three of his misses came from 50-plus (2 of 5). He’s a potential All-American candidate. Strong-legged Diego Gonzalez from Guadalupe, Mexico, is waiting in the wings.
Oregon: Oregon’s kicking adventures weren’t as interesting in 2013 as they’ve been in the past. While the Ducks attempted the fewest field goals in the conference, Matt Wogan was a solid 7 of 9, and Alejandro Maldonado was 3 of 5 for a combined 71.4 percent -- seventh in the conference. Wogan returns and should be considered the frontrunner to handle all kicking duties, including punting.
Oregon State: Trevor Romaine returns as a fourth-year starter after converting 14 of 20 attempts last season. He was mostly money inside of 40 yards, converting 11 of 13 attempts. But struggled on the longer kicks, converting just 2 of 5 between 40-49 yards and 1 of 2 beyond 50.
Stanford: Jordan Williamson is back after connecting on 18 of 22 kicks in 2013, including a long of 48. Of his four misses, two of them came from 50 yards or longer, where he was 0 for 2. He was automatic inside the 30 and 15 of 16 inside of 40 yards. Time to finally put the 2011 Fiesta Bowl to rest. He's one of the league's most consistent kickers.
UCLA: Ka’imi Fairbairn returns after a hit-and-miss year where he connected on 14 of 21 kicks with a long of 48. He had a stretch where he converted on eight in a row. But also had some inconsistent games (2 of 4 against Nebraska, 2 of 4 against ASU).
USC: Andre Heidari had an up-and-down season. He struggled greatly in the 40-49 yard range, converting on just 3 of 8 kicks. Overall, he was 15 of 22, and his 2013 will most likely be remembered for his 47-yard game-winner against Stanford. Heidari also handled almost every kickoff, though punter Kris Albarado is available if needed.
Utah: "Automatic" Andy Phillips returns after making quite the splash in his first season of football. The former skier became a household name -- well, at least a name in Pac-12 households -- after converting on the first 11 field goals of his career. He’s got a big leg, converting on 9 of 11 from 40 yards or longer.
Washington: No easy task replacing Travis Coons, who handled kicking and punting for the Huskies. He was the Pac-12’s most accurate kicker in 2013, converting on 15 of 16 attempts. Cameron Van Winkle handled some kickoffs before an injury set him back, and Tristan Vizcaino comes in this fall and should be in the mix.
Washington State: Strong-legged Andrew Furney is gone. Wes Concepcion and Erik Powell are the kickers on the roster. Powell was a walk-on, but the coaching staff is high on him. Concepcion likely will handle punting but could kick if needed.
I got more rhymes than the Bible's got psalms.
- Jesse Scroggins is putting everything into his 'last chance.'
- What kind of impact can Will Sutton make in the NFL?
- A look at Cal's finalized coaching staff.
- Another Rippy is in the mix at linebacker for Colorado.
- How does Oregon replace DAT? Form a committee.
- Would Brandin Cooks be a good fit for the 49ers?
- Defense dominates as Stanford wraps up its first spring session. The Cardinal also hired a new position coach.
- Lots of mocks have Anthony Barr headed to the Giants.
- A look at USC's quarterback situation heading into the spring.
- Utes hold their RedZone Dance Off after practice. Who wants to get served?
- Shaq Thompson talks about tinkering at running back.
- Mike Leach likes the idea of an early signing period.
According to the pre-spring FEI projection model, including a team's likelihood to contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural college football playoff, Oregon and Stanford are among the top-10 teams heading into 2014, with the Ducks ranked No. 2 behind Alabama and Stanford ranked sixth.
An explanation of the methodology:
Our drive-based FEI ratings include a number of transition factors that remain to be calculated, but the core piece of the formula is the annual Program FEI ratings. Program FEI is a measure of five years of drive efficiency data, weighted for more recent seasons, and it has a strong correlation to the next year's success.
At this point in the offseason, we've also included returning starter data and a specific factor that accounts for the replacability of the quarterback for those teams that are looking for a new starter this fall.
As for the Ducks, they have the highest likelihood of finishing 11-1 or better -- 69 percent -- than any other team:
Traditional defensive powerhouses Michigan State and Stanford will both make a road trip to Eugene this year, and Oregon's explosiveness has been neutralized by the Cardinal two years in a row. The projection model likes the Ducks at home, however, and Oregon is the only Big Five conference team that currently projects to have at least a 70 percent win likelihood in each of its games.
Stanford, meanwhile, with a more difficult overall schedule than Oregon, has a 20 percent likelihood of finishing 11-1 or better.
The Cardinal rank alongside Oregon and Alabama as the only programs with a top-10 finish in our opponent-adjusted FEI ratings in each of the past four seasons. Each year it seems as if a drop-off in performance may be in store, but head coach David Shaw has proven to be able to find the right balance of offensive, defensive and special teams efficiency to keep Stanford on top.
Of course, Oregon was the favorite the past two seasons when Stanford ended up winning the Pac-12 title.
UCLA, which also figures to be highly ranked during the preseason, doesn't make the list.
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- A new season of the Nike Football Training Camp circuit got kicked off this past weekend in Los Angeles with a strong showing. It was a large turnout and had some good prospects, including several in the ESPN Junior 300. It is a strong year for quarterbacks out West, and that was on display at Redondo Union High School. The wide receivers and linemen also featured a good deal of talent. Here are the Recruiting Nation NFTC Awards, highlighting the top performers.
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No. 5: S Erick Dargan
2013 statistics: 24 tackles | 1 INT | 4 PBU | 5 PD | 1 FF
Because of the talent level they will face, the defensive backs need to be stout. And while the Ducks will be looking to replace three starters in their secondary, the guy to really keep an eye on will be Dargan.
He will step in for his former high school teammate Avery Patterson, who didn’t exactly leave small shoes to fill. Patterson was the Ducks’ third-leading tackler last season (80). He tallied three interceptions, nine passes defended and six pass break-ups.
Over the past three seasons, Dargan has seen time on special teams and as a backup defensive back, but every year his contributions have been more significant. His previous experience will certainly help him transition into a more primary player for the Ducks, but his game must continue to make strides, as he’ll be counted on to help cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu lead the defensive backs.
With Don Pellum being promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, the defense is expected to run from the middle, and in that regard, the free safety can be used in numerous ways. At 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, Dargan is big enough that he’ll be able to take down running backs and also quick enough to stick with receivers on the long ball. Pellum should be able to utilize him well.
So with the expectations set and the opportunity in front of him, Dargan will be a player to keep an eye on this spring as he tries to secure himself a starting role in the secondary.
Spring practices have begun at college football programs across the country, and early 2014 projections are shining a spotlight on a handful of teams that have question marks to answer in the coming weeks. Our Football Outsiders preseason projections won't be complete until after spring position battles settle themselves, but some of the key ingredients are already in place, and we've begun to formulate a pecking order for the fall.
Our drive-based FEI ratings include a number of transition factors that remain to be calculated, but the core piece of the formula is the annual program FEI ratings. Program FEI is a measure of five years of drive efficiency data, weighted for more recent seasons, and it has a strong correlation to the next year's success.
At this point in the offseason, we've also included returning starter data and a specific factor that accounts for the replaceability of the quarterback for those teams that are looking for a new starter this fall.
Here is a look at the top 10 teams for 2014 according to our pre-spring FEI projection model, including their likelihood to contend for one of the four spots in the inaugural college football playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
67 percent likelihood to finish 11-1 or better
In the last quarter century, no program has had more sustained elite success over a five-year period than the Crimson Tide. They are 55-7 against FBS opponents since 2009, and their program rating lead over No. 2 Oregon is greater than Oregon's lead over the No. 10 program, Wisconsin. Anything less than a championship is characterized as a major letdown in Tuscaloosa; coach Nick Saban has hoisted the crystal football at season's end in three of the last five years, and early projections mark Alabama as a favorite once again.
Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker is one of a handful of players looking to claim the starting job this fall, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin in the fold. Their schedule this fall doesn't get particularly tricky until November, so whoever ends up the starter will have some time to settle into the role.
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Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.
Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.
California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.
Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.
Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.
Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.
Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.
UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.
USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.
Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.
Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.
Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.
- Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey improved his 40-yard dash time, slightly, at the Wildcats' Pro Day.
- Arizona State's Pro Day is Friday.
- California has reportedly reassigned former defensive coordinator Andy Buh to another job within the athletic department.
- More touchdowns, fewer field goals. That's what Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is preaching.
- Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti is "very excited and pleased" to be a College Football Hall of Fame nominee.
- Former NFL player Rockne Freitas is receiving a prestigious honor from Oregon State.
- Stanford notes before Saturday's second open practice of the spring.
- In case you missed it, former UCLA running backs coach Steve Broussard was hired by SMU.
- An argument for USC as a playoff contender next season.
- An on-camera interview with Utah's Moana Ofahengaue, who has been hospitalized for more than a week after a scooter crash.
- Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson got in a running back drill during Huskies practice.
- WSU has set a date for when it will open its new football operations building.
- No. 1: 2008 class
20 signees | 1 ESPN 150 member
Not ranked: 5 | 70-79 ESPN grading: 12 | 80-89 ESPN grading: 3
Top signee: No. 11 ATH Chris Harper
Breaking down the barrier between good and great is difficult. That’s what the 2007 signing class started to do for the Oregon Ducks. But it was the 2008 class that really kept them there and made a statement.
During their four seasons at Oregon the 2008 signees went 44-9 and won three conference titles. As juniors they played in the national title game and as seniors they won a Rose Bowl. Those games (and specifically, members of this recruiting class) electrified fans from across the country. Because of these kinds of players, football fans on the East Coast were staying up late to catch the Ducks games on Saturdays, and younger prospects who wouldn’t have considered Eugene, Ore., as a future home suddenly began to look at the landscape of college football differently.
The 2008 class signed athlete Darron Thomas, safety John Boyett, linebacker Josh Kaddu and running backs Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James. Junior college transfer LeGarrette Blount was also a member of this class though he only had two seasons of eligibility (with one shortened by a suspension due to his physical altercation with Boise State linebacker Byron Hout).
However, this class was not ranked in ESPN.com’s top 25. Some of the best players were ones who flew under the recruiting radar but developed immensely during their time in Eugene. By the time Barner left Oregon he had rushed for more than 3,600 yards, including 1,767 as a senior. But when he was coming out of high school his only offers were Oregon, Arizona State and UTEP. Boyett was in a similar situation. He held just three offers -- Oregon, Stanford and Utah. Texas passed on James, but he chose the Ducks over schools such as Nebraska, Arkansas and Minnesota.
But this class didn’t just take underrated talent and turn it into all-conference talent. The 2008 class also saw some huge victories on the recruiting trail. Thomas was a huge get out of Texas. The signal-caller had offers from Florida, LSU and Miami among others. The 2008 class also inked junior college QB Jeremiah Masoli, who threw for more than 1,700 yards in his first year and 2,100 yards in his second year with the Ducks. (Masoli was later suspended in March 2010 and kicked off the team in June 2010.)
Ted Miller: Spring practice is the official transition from taking stock of the 2013 season, including recruiting, to looking ahead to next fall. The 2013 season was all about top-to-bottom depth for the Pac-12 -- and the lack of an elite national-title contender. That might be the case again in 2014, but if the conference is going to be nationally relevant in Year 1 of the four-team College Football Playoff, I think it will be because of the depth and quality of the quarterbacks.
If Travis Wilson is cleared to play at Utah, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back their 2013 starters, and many of these guys are All-American candidates, most notably Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.
What most interests you this spring with the Pac-12?
Kyle Bonagura: As a result of the continuity at quarterback, offenses should be in line for a collective step forward. How far could be determined by how quickly the conference's seven new defensive coordinators acclimate to -- and perform at -- their new jobs.
We won't get a great read on how that process is going during the spring, but it'll be interesting to see in what ways defenses evolve moving forward.
For Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, the change will be minimal. Todd Graham will remain heavily involved in how ASU plays defense, and the other three promoted staff members will use the framework and schemes already in place. USC might have a new staff, but considering coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were in the conference last season, it should be an easy transition.
I'm more interested to see how things play out at California and Washington.
Washington is set up for success with the much-anticipated arrival of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who brought his defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, Pete Kwiatkowski. They have a talented front seven to work with and a favorable early schedule that will allow the staff to iron out any kinks: at Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State.
Art Kaufman's job taking over the Cal defense won't be as easy. The Golden Bears should be in better shape than last season from a health and experience standpoint -- the latter partially a result of 2013's injury woes -- but there's a lot of ground to cover between where they were and being competitive.
Ted Miller: One team that had coaching continuity at both coordinator spots is Arizona, and I think the Wildcats are setting up to be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, though I do see UCLA as a strong favorite at this point. The intrigue with Arizona, though, is at quarterback. It seems like the most wide-open competition in the conference.
If Cyler Miles gets back in Petersen's good graces, he's got a significant lead for the Washington QB vacancy. At USC, I think that Cody Kessler is likely to retain his starting job over touted redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler steadily improved as a difficult season went on, and he still has his 2013 offensive coordinator/position coach in Clay Helton. At Utah, a healthy Wilson starts for the Utes.
But Arizona has four guys with a legitimate shot at winning the starting QB job this fall: Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall. Solomon was one of the jewels of the 2013 recruiting class, while the other three are transfers from A-list programs -- Scroggins from USC, Brewer from Texas and Randall from LSU.
The first big question will be whether Rich Rodriguez narrows the field at the end of spring practices. How much does he want to establish a clear pecking order? You'd think at least one of these guys is going to be relegated to fourth place because there are only so many practice reps to go around.
The good news is the guy who wins the job is going to have an outstanding crew of receivers. He won't have running back Ka'Deem Carey lining up as a security blanket behind him, but Rodriguez's offenses almost always run the ball well. The Wildcats will average more than 200 yards rushing again next season, I feel confident saying that.
The million-dollar question -- the difference between competing for the South title and winning eight games again -- is how efficient the guy behind center is.
Any position battles particularly intrigue you this spring?
Kyle Bonagura: Like you, I'm really intrigued to see how the quarterback competition at Arizona progresses. That's a lot of pressure for the three guys who already transferred from big-time programs. All of them clearly want to play, and it makes you wonder if one of them will end up at an FCS school before the season starts.
The most high-profile battle outside of quarterback has to be at Stanford, where four guys are competing to replace Tyler Gaffney at running back. I was out at the Cardinal's first open practice of the spring last week -- and will be out there again on Saturday -- and what stood out immediately was how balanced the reps were. If Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young didn't have equal reps with the first team, it was close.
However it plays out, it's unlikely Stanford will feature one back like it has the past six years with Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.
Wright probably holds a slight edge in terms of the overall package -- largely because of his capabilities in pass protection -- but there are more similarities than differences in comparing each guy. A lot of people ask about Sanders because of his famous father (my favorite football player as a kid), but the reality with him is that expectations were probably too high when he arrived. His name and recruiting profile are to blame, and the coaching staff isn't going to force his development.
Young, who switched back to running back from receiver, might be the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and Seale, a fifth-year senior, might have the best grasp of the offense.
Arizona: Jonathan McKnight returns, but the Wildcats will have to replace a good player in Shaquille Richardson. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez mentioned Derek Babiash and Devin Holiday as potential candidates for Richardson's spot. Babiash appeared in nine games with a pair of tackles last season, and Holiday appeared in all 13 with an interception. Junior college transfer Patrick Glover could be a factor, and freshmen Logan Bartlett, Jarvis McCall and Arlandis Hinton are coming off redshirt seasons.
Arizona State: With potentially 10 starting quarterbacks returning in the Pac-12, it's not a good season to lose both corners, which is the case for ASU. Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor are gone, and Lloyd Carrington returns as the most experienced player. Junior college transfer Kweishi Brown was the nation's No. 3-ranked corner and should be expected to contribute right away.
California: Kameron Jackson's surprising decision to leave early for the NFL leaves new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman without much experience. Cedric Dozier, Joel Willis, Adrian Lee and Isaac Lapite all started at least one game last season, but none more than four (Dozier). The newcomer is junior college transfer Darius White, who was the No. 7-ranked juco CB in the Class of 2014.
Colorado: The Buffs return both Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson, who topped the final depth chart of the season. Chidobe Awuzie started at nickel and the team also returns Jeffrey Hall, John Walker and Marques Mosley, all of whom appeared on the three-deep depth chart.
Oregon: Terrance Mitchell decided to leave a year early for the NFL, but the Ducks will benefit greatly from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's decision to return. Dior Mathis, who played in all 13 games last season, is the favorite to move into Mitchell's role, and Troy Hill should be in the rotation. Junior college transfer Dominique Harrison is on campus and a candidate for playing time and the coaches like Chris Seisay, who is coming off his redshirt.
Oregon State: Losing Rashaad Reynolds will be tough, but Steven Nelson, an all-Pac-12 honorable mention honoree, gives the Beavers a playmaker on one side. Like Nelson last season, junior college transfer DeMarlon Morris could be in line for immediate playing time. Dashon Hunt, a prize recruit of the Beavers' 2013 recruiting class, and Larry Scott, who played in 12 games last season, are two others to keep an eye on.
Stanford: Alex Carter is expected to miss all of spring practice with a hip injury, which will create reps for guys such as Ronnie Harris, Ra'Chard Pippens and Taijuan Thomas. Harris is the favorite emerge from that group at corner in nickel situations, when Wayne Lyons will shift over to cover the slot.
UCLA: The Bruins have a lot of talent back, starting with Fabian Moreau, who earned all-Pac-12 honorable mention in his first season as a starter last season. Ishmael Adams started every game and led the team with four interceptions. Priest Willis played mostly on special teams as a freshman, but the former big-time recruit is in line for more playing time on defense.
USC: Kevon Seymour's first season as a starter finished on a high note with a solid performance in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. He'll be expected to remain in that role with a competition for the spot next to him. Senior Anthony Brown figures to get the first crack, but injury problems have been a concern, as has been the case with Devian Shelton. It's a big spring for Chris Hawkins, who is coming off his redshirt, before a solid crop of recruits, led by Adoree' Jackson, arrive.
Utah: The Utes lose one of the draft's rising prospects in Keith McGill, who at 6-foot-3 provided a unique look for the Utah defense. Davion Orphey, a transfer from Santa Ana College, saw the most starts opposite McGill last season, but Justin Thomas and Reginald Porter also saw time in the starting lineup.
Washington: With Marcus Peters coming back, the Huskies have a good starting spot and will look for a new starter to play alongside him. It's an important spring for both senior Travell Dixon, who transferred from Alabama after a brief stop there in 2012, and freshman Jermaine Kelly as they try to make a positive impression on the new staff before four new corners arrive in the fall.
Washington State: Possibly the most important step for the Cougars this spring is to shore up the secondary -- a difficult task following the departure of seniors Damante Horton and Nolan Washington (in addition to Deone Bucannon at safety). Daquawn Brown, who is not short on confidence, started three games last season and fared well against USC's Marqise Lee. There isn't much other experience on the roster, and the team signed four corners from the high school ranks.
Obviously, rankings aren’t everything and each class and individual brings something different to the Ducks. So as we continue to prepare for Oregon’s spring season, we’re going to take a walk down memory lane and count down the top five Oregon recruiting classes.
- No. 2: 2007 class
Not ranked: 12 | 60-69 ESPN grading: 2 | 70-79 ESPN grading: 15
Top signee: No. 13 DE Kenny Rowe
Oregon’s 2007 class was ranked No. 23 in the country. By the class' senior season in college, however, the 2007 class had created one of the most successful classes in program history. These players had progressed far enough to find themselves in a national title game -- the first in Ducks history.
This group took the first step toward establishing Oregon in the national spotlight on a consistent basis. In its first two years it made appearances in the Sun Bowl and Holiday Bowl, and in its last two seasons it took the jump to the BCS-bowl level with appearances in the Rose Bowl and title game. Though the Ducks suffered close losses in both of those BCS games, they cemented their standing in the spotlight, and Oregon hasn’t left since.
Ten of the 29 signees were starters in the 2011 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game and all 10 made significant contributions to the Ducks program. Though it was junior Darron Thomas who started for the Ducks in the title game, it was a senior-laden receivers group to whom he was throwing.
Drew Davis, Jeff Maehl and David Paulsen -- all a part of the 2007 class -- accounted for 18 of the 28 catches (64 percent) and 241 of the 374 receiving yards (64 percent) in that title game. Both starting tackles were also a part of that 2007 class, left tackle Darrion Weems and right tackle Mark Asper. (Outside of the title game starters this class also received a letter of intent from offensive lineman Carson York, who started 10 games at guard during the 2010 season).
Defensively, five members of the 2007 class started against Auburn in the title game -- defensive end Terrell Turner, defensive end Kenny Rowe, middle linebacker Casey Matthews, rover Edward Pleasant and cornerback Talmadge Jackson. Those five accounted for 25 of the team’s 73 tackles against Auburn (34 percent), 4.5 of the 6 tackles for a loss (75 percent), both forced fumbles, 1 of the 2 sacks and 1 of the 3 pass break ups.
Paving the way to get into the upper echelon of college football is a tough task. The 2007 class did that for the Ducks. However, staying at the top is harder to do than just getting there, which is why this class is second to just one other in Ducks history.
Best Pac-12 Position Group in 2014 Class
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35