With more than 100 teams participating, there were plenty of USC targets on hand at the Pylon Elite 7-on-7 tournament in Las Vegas this past weekend, and one of the most impressive performers was Class of 2016 Trojans defensive end/tight end commit Isaac Garcia (Bellevue, Wash./Bellevue).

Garcia pledged to the Trojans last September and immediately declared USC his "dream school" at the time. It's safe to say that those sentiments haven't changed one bit.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Garcia
Johnny Curren"I'm really solid with the Trojans," Isaac Garcia said. "It's where I've always wanted to go and I'm 100 percent committed to them."
"I'm really solid with the Trojans," Garcia said during a break in action on Saturday. "It's where I've always wanted to go and I'm 100 percent committed to them."

Possessing the ability to line up on either side of the ball on the next level, Garcia played exclusively at tight end for his team on both days of the event. Standing 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he was quick on his feet and showcased outstanding athleticism.

But also known for his physicality on defense, Garcia said that the USC coaches -- whom he's held a strong relationship with since their time at Washington -- currently envision him starting out on that side of the ball

"They're mostly talking to me about playing at rush end, where J.R. Tavai played," said Garcia, who noted that he remains in steady contact with USC linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive line coach Chris Wilson among others. "It's a great position. To go after the quarterback, and then sometimes drop back in coverage, I really like the idea of that. But if they need me to play tight end, I'd play it. I'll play anywhere."

In addition to the coaching staff, Garcia said that another crucial factor in his decision to commit to USC was his Southern California roots. He lived in Fontana, California, as a child and grew up rooting for Pete Carroll's Trojans teams.

"I moved away when I was 12, but I go back because my grandparents are still there," Garcia said. "The fact that I used to live there played a huge role, because when I was little I would always watch USC play and I knew that's where I wanted to go, so it really is a dream come true."

Garcia will next be in the Los Angeles area in April, and he has plans to take an unofficial visit to USC while in town to see the Trojans in action.

"I'll be coming out there during spring break in early April," Garcia said. "and I'll definitely check out spring practice."

All eyes on USC's spring practice

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
12:00
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LOS ANGELES -- Beginning Tuesday afternoon on Loker Stadium's Cromwell Field, the 2015 USC Trojans will begin 15 scheduled days of spring football practice. Spring ball will build optimism, excitement, and the foundation for what some pundits believe is a team that is a contender for the 2015 College Football Playoff.

With many of the spring practice sessions open to the public and a healthy dose of conversation, speculation, and interpretation, you can be guaranteed of the following:

" All eyes will be focused on the fans reception and attendance of the 3:30 p.m. weekday practices, many of which will begin in mild to warm sunny Southern California sunlight and end in a dark, fall-like chill.

" All eyes will be focused on Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian to see how he transitions his football team from a perceived not so “bully-on-the-block” team to a traditional USC football team, which imposes its will on opponents.

" All eyes will be focused on Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to see if he even gives a hint of being more aggressive with blitzes and stunts.

" All eyes will be focused on sophomore wide receiver Steven Mitchell to see whether he has regained his full explosiveness shown during his senior season at Bishop Alemany High.

" All eyes will be focused on the accuracy and arm strength of true freshman quarterback Ricky Town. Let the comparisons begin between Town and crosstown rival true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen of UCLA.

" All eyes will be focused on senior linebacker Anthony Sarao to see if he picks up the leadership baton vacated by former linebacking teammate Hayes Pullard.

" All eyes will be focused on jersey numbers 8, 35, 63, and 70. Those will be the numbers of the four early enrollee freshmen, which includes in order quarterback Ricky Town, linebacker Cameron Smith , and offensive linemen Roy Hemsley and Chuma Edoga, respectively.

" All eyes will be focused on a group of veteran fans, who argue whether this USC team is truly capable of reaching the College Football Playoff or winning the Pac-12 South for that matter.

" All eyes will be focused on -- based on last season -- whether we've seen the last gasp of a USC fullback running the ball as we know it, so help me Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.

" All eyes will be focused on sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith, who many fans will question how a sophomore can have so much poise, maturity, and leadership skills at such a young age.

" All eyes will be focused on 6-foot-4, 205-pound JC transfer wide receiver Isaac Whitney, who is being counted upon as being the big wide receiver that Steve Sarkisian has been wanting.

" All eyes will be focused on the defensive line competition to replace All-America Leonard Williams, who could be the NFL's No.1 overall draft selection come late April.

" All eyes will be focused on second-year defensive line coach Chris Wilson and his ability to mold a formidable unit without the services of Williams, a disciple of and last major high school defensive line recruit of former D-line coach Ed Orgeron, who is now at LSU.

" All eyes will be focused on senior defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. to see whether he can remotely do what Leonard Williams was able to do.

" All eyes will be focused on the weekday afternoon practices, which will be praised by the fans and media and quietly praised by the players, who generally practice during the cold, early mornings during the regular season.

" All eyes will be focused on who will emerge as the center backup to senior All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk.

" All eyes will be focused on new offensive line coach Bob Connelly and his interaction and coaching transition with his new offensive linemen, which present the first-year coach with a wealth of experienced, young talent.

" All eyes will be focused on fans that claims they have heard a rumor that the Trojans will break out a new uniform design for the spring game, which will be telecast nationally on the Pac-12 Networks.

" All eyes will be focused on true freshman and Parade All-America offensive tackle Chuma Edoga from Atlanta, Georgia, and his pursuit of finding his niche along the O-line.

" Restricted to sitting in the bleachers of Loker Stadium, the fan with the binoculars will become everybody's best buddy.

" All eyes will be focused on senior quarterback and Heisman candidate Cody Kessler to see if he can manage to find a favorite target to replace Nelson Agholor.

" All eyes will be focused on true freshman linebacker Cameron Smith to see if he can be a true challenger to start at middle linebacker in place of Hayes Pullard.

" All eyes will be focused on sophomore placekicker Matt Boermeester to see if he is the replacement for Andre Heidari.

" All eyes will be focused on junior tailback Justin Davis but conversations will quickly change to incoming freshman tailback Ronald Jones II, the electrifying to-the-house running back from McKinney, Texas.

" All eyes will be focused on recognizing any of the incoming Fall true freshmen from the recruiting class of 2015 and class of 2016 commits.

" All eyes will be focused on junior All-Pac-12 linebacker Su'a Cravens and remark that this is probably their last chance to see Cravens in a Trojans spring practice season.

" All eyes will be focused on starting junior offensive right tackle Zack Banner, all 6-foot-9, 350 pounds of him, and fans will swear he has grown bigger and taller.

" All eyes will be focused on sophomore WR/DB Adoree' Jackson and debates will break out whether Adoree' should play more on offense while still maintaining his starting cornerback position.

" All eyes will be focused on junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, who could be a major plus to the Trojans passing game and sophomore Bryce Dixon, who will recall memories of Trojans Hall of Fame tight end Charles “Tree” Young.

" All eyes will be focused on a fan that laments loudly that he forgot about the season ticket deadline at the end of February and has lost his treasured Coliseum seat location that he has had for the past 35 years.
The 2015 spring practice sessions begin this week for the Trojans and there will be a lot to learn about a team that has high expectations for the coming year. Here's a position-by-position look at how things stand heading into spring:

Quarterback

Plenty of talent here, led by a veteran starter in Cody Kessler who is expected to be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the country. There isn't much for Cody to prove in spring other than to continue to master the offense, work on his timing with teammates and stay healthy. Max Browne will be the primary reserve and the one-time top-ranked recruit has looked strong in off-season throwing sessions as he enters his third year in the program. Jalen Greene wants to continue showing progress and we will also see early enrollee Ricky Town added to the mix. It's a deep group with diversified skills.
Depth chart: Kessler, Browne, Greene, Town

Running back

This is a position where the departure of Buck Allen and the injury status of Tre Madden could result in Justin Davis being the only healthy scholarship tailback available for full-time duty in the spring. Davis still needs to show he is all the way back from an ankle injury suffered as a freshman, so he can use a good workload, although it would be ideal to have Madden out there as well after missing the 2014 season. Walk-on James Toland could get additional reps and we could also see fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner with the ball in their hands. Both Vainuku and Pinner played tailback in high school and have the ability to be productive options.
Depth chart: Davis, Madden, Vainuku, Pinner

Wide receiver

The receiver group had a pair of early departures with Nelson Agholor and George Farmer so numbers might be a little light in spring, but you get the sense the talent level will be just fine. JuJu Smith was one of the leaders of offseason workouts and was probably the best player on the field in those sessions. Steven Mitchell also performed very well as he inches closer to the pre-injury form that made him such a dynamic player. Mitchell will be joined in the slot by Ajene Harris, who is clearly ready to contribute. Joining Smith on the outside will be veteran Darreus Rogers, who should get the first opportunity at the starting spot, and junior college transfer Isaac Whitney, who brings a 6-foot-4 frame and good speed. Of course, there will also be a role for Adoree' Jackson to line up at multiple spots, it just remains to be seen how big that role will be.
Depth chart: Smith, Rogers, Mitchell, Harris, Whitney

Tight end

There are only two scholarship tight ends available for spring, but they are both good ones. Bryce Dixon showed a lot of potential last season as an athletic true freshman in the passing game and he should be ready to start earning a bigger role in the offense. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is back after sitting out last season due to academics. Cope-Fitzpatrick, who is now a senior, showed up for offseason workouts in tremendous shape with a focus that one would expect from a player who was forced to miss an entire year, he could bring a physical blocking option while also serving as a legit pass-catching threat.
Depth chart: Dixon, Cope-Fitzpatrick

Offensive line

This will be a very important spring for the line with the introduction of a new coach in Bob Connelly, who will have plenty of experienced talent to work with but that talent is still young and developing. The entire group that started the Holiday Bowl will return (LT Toa Lobendahn, LG Damien Mama, C Max Tuerk, RG Viane Talamaivao and RT Zach Banner) and then there is also the injured Chad Wheeler, a former starter at LT who will sit out the spring as he continues to rehab after knee surgery. Tuerk is the senior leader and should be up for national honors this year. The reserve group has some players ready to show they are capable of more, from Khaliel Rodgers, Jordan Simmons, Chris Brown, Jordan Austin and Nico Falah to the early enrollee true freshmen Chuma Edoga and Roy Hemsley.
Depth chart: Lobendahn, Mama, Tuerk, Talamaivao, Banner, Rodgers (G), Simmons (G), Brown (G/T), Austin (T), Falah (T), Udoga (G/T), Hemsley (T)

Defensive line

There will be a lot of attention paid to replacing Leonard Williams, which will be no easy task, but a look at the returning group shows there is a lot of experience, including a trio of seniors in the middle of the line. Antwaun Woods is a veteran presence at nose tackle who will sit out spring recovering from a chest muscle injury. Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon should man the end and tackle spots, both players showed improvement last year in their first season at USC. That's a pretty big group to put out there along the interior when healthy, and there could be some critical reserves behind them who are looking to stay healthy as well. Greg Townsend Jr., has seen his share of injury struggles in his time at USC but he put together a stretch last season which flashed the promise of what he brings to the table. And then there is the potential return of Kenny Bigelow, who was able to take part in winter conditioning sessions after suffering a knee injury last summer. Those two players could really have an impact on the rotation if they are available. Cody Temple has shown he can be a contributor, while Malik Dorton enters his second season looking to make the transition inside.
Depth chart: Woods, Simmons, Pelon, Townsend, Temple, Bigelow, Dorton

Linebacker

This spring will mark the transition to the defense featuring Su'a Cravens in a lead role, and he should be more than ready to shine in his hybrid SS/SLB spot. The other OLB/rush end spot will likely have Scott Felix getting the first look at taking over for J.R. Tavai, but it will be interesting to see how the other players in the rotation are lining up as Quinton Powell, Jabari Ruffin, Charles Burks and Don Hill are all capable of moving around and filling different roles. On the inside, Anthony Sarao returns as a veteran senior with a big hole next to him following the departure of four-year starter Hayes Pullard. Michael Hutchings has been the backup the past two years to Pullard, but other options could include Lamar Dawson, Olajuwon Tucker or early enrollee Cameron Smith. Finding someone here is one of the biggest goals of spring.
Depth chart: Cravens, Hutchings, Sarao, Felix, Powell, Ruffin, Burks, Dawson, Tucker, Smith

Defensive back

Adoree' Jackson enters spring as one of the rising stars in college football and he's just a terrific cover corner with unique athletic abilities. Kevon Seymour has developed into a nice veteran option across from him, while this spring will be important for reserves such as Chris Hawkins, Jonathan Lockett and Lamont Simmons to show the coaches something before Iman Marshall arrives in the fall. Lockett impressed during winter workouts with his ability to make plays. The safety spots appear to be there for the taking for John Plattenburg and Leon McQuay, both players had starting experience last season but both also saw their share of ups and downs. With a lack of depth at safety, and good depth at linebacker, could Cravens be moved to the secondary in certain situations?
Depth chart: Jackson, Seymour, Plattenburg, McQuay, Hawkins, Lockett, Simmons

Special teams

The Trojans are looking for a new placekicker after the departure of four-year starter Andre Heidari, and Matt Boermeester will get the first look after coming in as a “blueshirt” scholarship recipient last fall. Alex Wood, Wyatt Schmidt and Reid Brudovich are also in the mix. Kris Albarado returns as the punter, and Zach Smith is back at long snapper. Jackson and Smith are back as return men.
Spring has sprung, which means every team can show you hope in a handful of grass -- real or artificial.

Some Pac-12 teams have already started, such as Colorado and Stanford, and others begin this week, such as Arizona, Oregon State and USC. Others start later.

But it feels like the right time to take a look at 10 burning issues in the conference. Please keep your hands clear of this post, as it is sizzling hot.

1. Life after Marcus Mariota at Oregon: You might recall Oregon's quarterback over the past three years was a pretty fair player. But Mariota is off to the NFL, where he's sure to get blinged up, buy four Bentleys and start giving everyone alternating left-right cheek air kisses. That leaves the Ducks with a vacancy behind center. While many -- including a few of my esteemed Pac-12 blog associates -- believe Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is almost certain to take over when he arrives in the fall, you all know I am an inveterate party pooper, so I'm skeptical the transition to an FCS QB, albeit a very good one, will be all rainbows and puppy dogs. So what happens this spring, pre-Adams, should have a high degree of relevance for the ensuing fall competition. That means Jeff Lockie and Morgan Mahalak or someone else has an opportunity to throw down the gauntlet and stake a strong claim to the job.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Susan Ragan/USA TODAY SportsOregon State's Gary Andersen is the only new head coach in the Pac-12.
2. Gary Andersen takes over at Oregon State: Mike Riley started the 2014 season as the dean of Pac-12 coaches. Stanford coach David Shaw went so far as to call him the Godfather, which showed Shaw was once a reader of the Pac-12 blog's "Best case-worst case" stories. Riley, however, will begin the 2015 season at Nebraska, a stunning development that is, well, still a bit stunning. Enter Andersen, who's hiring away from Big Ten power Wisconsin was almost as much of a stunner. That means the Beavers, the only Pac-12 team to change head coaches, will be installing new systems on both sides of the ball, as well as getting to know a new coaching staff. Andersen certainly will want to get past the "Hello, my name is..." phase as quickly as possible.

3. USC returns returns to national relevance? The first issue here is whether this deserved a question mark or a period, because the Trojans are fairly certain to begin the 2015 season ranked in the top 10. That means they start the season nationally relevant, period. The question mark, though, concerns whether they can sustain that elevation as they move beyond crippling NCAA sanctions with an impressive roster and improving depth. One might recall it wasn't too long ago when the program's "Unfinished Business" campaign flopped. Second-year coach Steve Sarkisian will be under not inconsiderable pressure to make sure he doesn't suffer through a Lane Kiffin redo.

4. UCLA replaces Brett Hundley: UCLA has 18 starters and a number of other contributors coming back from a team that won 10 games last season and finished ranked 10th. That makes you wonder if perhaps the wrong L.A. team is getting hyped. Ah, but the Bruins are replacing Hundley, a three-year starter who is on the short list of best QBs in program history. While it seems like more than a few folks -- NFL sorts, mostly -- are picking apart Hundley's game of late, what should stand out is how often he delivered for the Bruins, including a troika of wins over That Team From Downtown. Further, this is an interesting battle between a scrappy veteran with a familiar last name in junior Jerry Neuheisel, and a brash, touted true freshman in Josh Rosen, who entered school early with the anticipation of taking over for Hundley. It will be interesting to see if any pecking order develops this spring or if coaches drop an "or" between them on the depth chart. Oh, wait. UCLA is the only Pac-12 that doesn't publish a depth chart. Never mind.

5. Oregon State replaces Sean Mannion: Mannion and the Beavers didn't have a great 2014, but you don't say goodbye to a four-year starter with 83 career touchdown passes lightly and without some sense of transition, particularly when there's also a new coaching staff on hand. Things appear to be wide open between Luke Del Rio -- Mannion's backup -- Brent VanderVeen, Kyle Kempt, Marcus McMaryion, Nick Mitchell, etc. (There are seven QBs on the roster.) It seems reasonable to believe Andersen will want to winnow that list down to around three guys by the end of spring.

6. Washington's no-name defense{ The Huskies say goodbye to six defensive starters, including three -- linebackers Shaq Thompson and Hau'oli Kikaha and defensive tackle Danny Shelton -- who were first-team All-Pac-12 and earned All-American honors. All three are expected to be early picks in the NFL draft, so the talent drain is legitimate, not just a system thing. The only returning defender who earned any type of postseason recognition is true sophomore safety Budda Baker, who was honorable mention All-Pac-12 and has huge upside. That's a good start, but it's unlikely the Huskies will be able to replace these mainstays' production with typical depth-chart promotions. If the Huskies' defense is going to equal or, perhaps, exceed its 2014 numbers, it's going to have to play better as a team, which will be a key test of the second-year coaching staff led by coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.

7. Getting coordinated: Oregon State had the only coaching change at the top, which included new coordinators on both sides of the ball, but four other teams have changed defensive coordinators and Utah replaced both coordinators, who both bolted for other jobs. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham went the familiar face route, promoting Aaron Roderick from within on offense to replace Dave Christensen, now at Texas A&M, and bringing John Pease out of retirement to replace longtime defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who joined Andersen at Oregon State. Colorado pushed aside defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who left for UNLV, and hired former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, a major coup for the Buffs. UCLA replaced Jeff Ulbrich, who departed for a job with the Atlanta Falcons, with former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was at West Virginia in 2014. Washington State fired Mike Breske and replaced him with Alex Grinch, a defensive backs coach at Missouri last year. That's a pretty significant amount of turnover on one side of the ball, which will make life more interesting for the conference's offensive minds, particularly early in the season.

8. Stanford rebuilds defense: Speaking of defense, the conference's best unit over the past five years is replacing seven starters, including all of its D-linemen and three of four starters in the secondary. Further, a number of injuries, most notably to D-lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, will muddy the waters this spring. While it seems unlikely the bottom will fall out for the Cardinal -- there's plenty of promising youngsters on hand -- it's difficult to believe this won't be a transitional season on the mean side of the ball.

9. California dreaming? Cal has 17 starters back, second most in the conference and among the most in the nation, from a team that seemed to turn a corner in 2014 in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes. That crew includes quarterback Jared Goff, an NFL prospect who could make a star turn this fall if the Bears start to win. The offense, which averaged 38 points per game last season, should be good. The question is defense. That unit improved its points surrendered total by nearly a TD from 2013 to 2014, but that still ended up ranked last in the Pac-12 at 39.8 points per game. The Bears might be good enough to become bowl eligible with a defense that is only slightly better. But if they want to take a decisive step forward in the North Division, they need to at least find a way to be mediocre on defense.

10. Next-step QBs: Last season, the Pac-12 featured a glittering group of returning starting quarterbacks led by Mariota, Hundley, Mannion and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly. This year, seven teams welcome back established QBs, but the list is far less scintillating, while a couple other teams have decided front-runners at the position, most notably Mike Bercovici at Arizona State. USC's Cody Kessler leads the bunch, but he has to show he can win big games. Goff is a candidate for all-conference honors, and Stanford's Kevin Hogan finished strong last season after muddling through the first three-fourths of the season. Arizona's Anu Solomon and Colorado's Sefo Liufau are trying to take the proverbial next step, while Utah's Travis Wilson wants to show he should be a four-year starter this spring with Kendal Thompson out with an injury. Washington's returning starter, Cyler Miles, figures to face a tough challenge this spring to retain his job, while Washington State's Luke Falk wants to build on the mostly solid job he did after replacing Connor Halliday.
With USC set to start up spring practice on Tuesday, here’s a look at five significant revelations that emerged from the team’s volunteer throwing sessions that took place on campus this January and February.

video
If you asked Mike Leach, odds are he'd probably tell you his job at Washington State is a wee bit more difficult than he might have expected when he was first hired. And it won't be long before Wake Forest fans start to realize just how remarkable Jim Grobe's tenure was in Winston-Salem.

For a variety of reasons -- namely money, scheduling, academics, facilities and recruiting -- the path to the College Football Playoff is simply easier for some Power 5 coaches and nearly impossible for others. Here's a look at the top-10 easiest coaching paths to the playoff, starting with the easiest, and the 10 most difficult coaching jobs:

EASIEST COACHING PATHS TO THE PLAYOFF

1. Texas
One of the wealthiest, most visible brand-name programs in the country wants for nothing -- and unlike Florida State, it doesn't have to navigate through a conference title game. Right now it's in a catch-22 situation. Texas has to win to own the state in recruiting again, but it has to get the recruits to win.

2. Florida State
The Noles can own and have owned the ACC, with Clemson being their most difficult hurdle. The combination of first-class facilities, in-state recruiting and available salary money makes this one of the most desirable jobs for a coach aspiring to reach the playoff.

3. Ohio State
The East Division isn't easy, but it's manageable, and the Big 33 recruiting turf and financial security -- along with the incredible support and facilities -- puts this brand-name program on the fast track to the playoff. It's easy to sell the program that has been the flagship of the conference for more than a decade.

4. Oklahoma
With no conference title game to trip over, the Sooners have one of the easiest paths to the playoff, not to mention the facilities and financial resources to recruit players and pay coaches.

5. Clemson
It's on par with the SEC as far as recruiting and facilities, but has an easier league to navigate. The program has the resources and salaries needed to recruit and coach a top-four team.

6. USC
When this storied program is at full strength -- without scholarship limitations and postseason penalties -- there's nothing in the way of a top-four ranking. Its pipeline of players to the NFL is proof.

7. Notre Dame
The Irish control their strength of schedule and can now sell an ACC bowl lineup to recruits.

8. Georgia
The Bulldogs have owned the state, and while Florida has to contend with FSU (and dreadful facilities), Georgia has had the upper hand in the series against Georgia Tech. Everything is in place for a title run.

9. Alabama
The program oozes money and tradition, luring the best players in the country. It's ranked low because of a grueling SEC West schedule and conference title game to navigate through.

10. LSU
Much like Alabama, the Tigers are the epitome of SEC success, able to cherry-pick recruits and pay for the best coaches in the country. The biggest obstacle is LSU's own conference schedule.

MOST DIFFICULT COACHING PATHS TO THE PLAYOFF

1. Vanderbilt
There's no school in the country with more of an uphill battle to the playoff than Vandy. The stringent academic requirements are a big reason the program can't recruit the elite athletes necessary to compete with the top teams in the league -- which is why it never will.

2. Wake Forest
The smallest school in the BCS had one historic Orange Bowl run, but that was an anomaly, not the trend. It's not the best program in the state, let alone the Atlantic Division.

3. Washington State
The Cougs are the Pac-12's most isolated, rural program, making recruiting difficult -- the heart of Wazzu's troubles over the past 11 straight losing seasons. It also doesn't help to be looking up at Oregon in the North Division.

4. Colorado
After nine straight losing seasons, the Buffs have faded into irrelevance, and they're competing in a South Division that's on the upswing, led by USC and Arizona. The coaching turnover, subpar recruiting and lack of investment in facilities have made the past decade a disaster.

5. Indiana
The Hoosiers have been stuck in a rut of mediocrity and are outpaced when it comes to facilities and coaching hires. Equally as problematic is IU's place in the East Division, alongside heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan State.

6. Kansas
The program has always been overshadowed by its hoops counterpart and hasn't been relevant in football since its 2007 Orange Bowl appearance.

7. Purdue
The fans have lost interest -- and apparently so have the recruits -- but the program also hasn't had the financial backing it needs to stay on pace with the rest of the conference.

8. Iowa State
Not only is there not much in-state talent, but the Cyclones have to share it with rival Iowa.

9. Kentucky
The program has made a renewed financial commitment recently and has demonstrated that bowl eligibility is a reality, but Kentucky has to win the SEC East before it can be taken seriously as a playoff contender.

10. Syracuse
There's a sense of apathy surrounding the program, which is stuck in the ACC's stronger Atlantic Division with FSU, Clemson and Louisville. There's not enough depth on Syracuse's roster to overcome injuries -- or the schedule.

Trojans seek heir to Leonard Williams

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
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Los Angeles -- With USC spring football practice looming, there is one position that could affect the way the entire defense performs. Perhaps you've forgotten that former All-America defensive lineman Leonard "Big Cat" Williams has left his cardinal and gold gridiron lair.

In case you were wondering what has become of old No. 94, Williams was busy last week wowing the NFL scouts to the point where one expert proclaimed Williams "Hall of Fame material" while another called him a "once in a generation player."

So what happens to a Trojans defense when the possible No. 1 overall NFL draft pick leaves after his junior season to play professionally? Well, if you’re a USC fan, you start sweating bullets or at the very least clutching and manipulating your favorite religious symbol or beads.

This spring practice, all Trojan eyes will be trained on a select number of potential defensive line candidates auditioning for the defensive end position. The complete complement of defensive line spring options will not be in play since there are four highly touted freshmen that won’t arrive until fall camp.

Last season, fans might have gotten a glimpse into the Trojans defense of the future when Williams wasn’t out there, and it certainly left many wearing USC attire feeling mighty queasy. Watching the Big Cat dominate against Nebraska in the National University Holiday Bowl was a reminder who defensive line coach Chris Wilson will be attempt to replace.

Please have some compassion for Wilson because he will be looking to replace a defensive linemen that that some have arguably called the greatest defensive lineman in Trojans history. If there’s a silver lining to the Big Cat’s departure, it’s that all the current candidates saw Williams’s work ethic both in practice and during games, which was also supplemented by his outstanding character and leadership skills.

As for the potential replacements?

It figures that the easy road map for coach Wilson this spring is to insert senior Delvon Simmons alongside starting senior nose tackle Antwaun Woods and senior defensive tackle Claude Pelon.

Another viable candidate could be sophomore Kenny Bigelow, although some think of him more as a nose tackle. A 6-foot-3, 310-pound talent, much has been expected from Bigelow since his arrival from the East Coast. Misfortune during a voluntary post-spring practice workout a month prior to the start of fall camp last season forced Bigelow to undergo surgery for torn knee ligaments.

Another legitimate possibility is senior Greg Townsend Jr., who flashed at times last season after having overcome what seems like a career of injuries. The son of former star Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Greg Townsend Sr., it appears that Junior is ready to go.

Now if you’re really patient and the eternal optimistic, there are the rather large, extremely talented, yet inexperienced incoming freshmen. Those national recruits include Jacob Daniel (6-4, 325), Rasheem Green (6-5, 285), Noah Jefferson (6-6, 330), Christian Rector (6-5, 260), and Kevin Scott (6-5, 315), but they won’t arrive until the summer.

Of those incoming summer freshmen D-liners, keep an eye on Green. The Gardena (Calif.) Serra High All-American is coming off season-ending knee surgery, but if he is good to go by training camp, he could be an immediate option.

For now the process of replacing Williams will focus on the players at hand next week. Although the roar of the Big Cat has been silenced through the NFL draft, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another Lion King in waiting.

Mailbag: Beaming for Tom Bradley

February, 25, 2015
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After a brief hiatus (literally, I did nothing but sit around in my briefs and binge watch "Bates Motel"), I’m back with a mailbag -- at least this personality is. Follow me on Twitter, it will make my mom happy.

To the notes!

Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: I am a happy Bruin after finding out that Jim Mora has hired a quality coach in Tom Bradley. The defense has definitely been the weakest link in the Jim Mora era. How big of an impact, if any, does this hire have on our team? How confident do you feel that UCLA, with the addition of Coach Bradley, is going to compete for the Pac-12 title, and ultimately grab a spot in the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: It’s never a bad thing to add quality and experience, which is exactly what Bradley brings to the table. And to get that kind of a coach in late February, after a lot of the staff changes have already happened across the country, is pretty significant.

As for the defense being the “weak link” of the Mora tenure, I guess it depends on what your definition of weak is. Looking at it year by year:
  • In 2012 UCLA ranked eighth in the league in scoring defense (27.6), eighth in total defense (415.9 ypg), third in sacks (47), fourth in third-down defense (32.8 percent) and fourth in turnover margin (plus-7).
  • In 2013 the Bruins were fifth in scoring defense (23.2), fifth in total defense (385.9), sixth in sacks (32), third in third-down defense (34.9), and third in turnover margin (plus-10).
  • Last year they were seventh in scoring defense (28.1), third in total defense (398.5), tied for eighth in sacks (29), eighth in third-down defense (39.9) and eighth in turnover margin (even).

Are those “weak” numbers? Scoring defense hasn’t broken the 30-point mark (the Bruins were over 30 points in the final two years of the Rick Neuheisel era). The third-down defense was in the 40 percent range prior to Mora’s arrival. The trend here is UCLA’s defense is better under Mora than it was previously.

Whether Bradley pushes the Bruins into the upper-echelon of the conference -- i.e., the top two or three spots in each of those categories -- remains to be seen. The drop-off in sacks last year makes sense when you take guys like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh out of the equation and pair it with a new defensive coordinator.

Don’t get too caught up in the odd-front vs. even-front argument either. This is an experienced staff that can adjust on the fly either way. Besides, few teams in the Pac-12 are married anymore to just one front. There is so much disguising and diversity because of the range of offenses that “base” defenses fluctuate.

That’s the long answer. Short answer, be excited to nab a quality defensive-minded coach this late in the game.


Travis in Truckee writes: Seeing as draft day is the next real big event that pertains to college football, I'm curious who the blog thinks has the biggest potential to be an under-the-radar steal (a late rounder who winds up contributing heavily over the long haul) out of the Pac-12 this year. Cheers.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d say spring ball is pretty significant. We’ll be ramping up our coverage on all of the teams in the next few weeks. So don’t just disappear until April 30. Hang out for a while.

As for sleepers, if I could say with any certainty, they probably wouldn’t be under the radar, now would they?

So much depends on where they go, who the coach is and what’s the system. I think of Brandin Cooks, for example, being a phenomenal fit for New Orleans. Had he gone somewhere else, he might have been good, but maybe he doesn’t break 50 catches in his first season.

Granted, he was a first-round pick, so not exactly under the radar. I’m just using him as an example of right place, right system, right teammates.

Then you have someone like Cameron Fleming, drafted late in the fourth, making a contribution on a Super Bowl-winning team.

I think a guy like Sean Mannion could end up making a general manager look really, really smart. I’ve seen him projected around the third round. Chances are he goes to a team where he can sit for a year or two, learn the game without the “win now” pressure that Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston -- or maybe even Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty -- are going to be facing.

He has all of the physical tools to be a very good pocket quarterback. He understands defenses and he spent his entire career learning from a former NFL coach. While the NFL is tinkering more with zone reads and athletic quarterbacks are en vogue, it’s still a game built on solid quarterback fundamentals. Mannion has those. Given the right situation, I think he could be a very nice sleeper.


Dale in Stockton, Calif., writes: What is the latest news on DT Kenny Bigelow.

Kevin Gemmell: I reached out to my super-duper secret sources at USC … OK, I emailed Garry Paskwietz from WeAreSC … and he gave me the scoop.

Sounds like Bigelow is participating fully in the conditioning sessions. Media isn’t allowed in those, but according to Paskwietz, Bigelow left the field this morning “drenched in sweat.” So either he’s been living it up in the steam room, or he’s grinding.

There’s no official word on how much he’ll be participating in spring ball. But I imagine as we get closer to the Trojans kicking off on March 3, we’ll start to get a little more info on his status. Sounds like he’s been pretty active. Which is a good sign.

Honorary USC degree for Pete Carroll

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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[+] EnlargeSeattle coach Pete Carroll
Harry How/Getty ImagesSeahawks coach Pete Carroll is headed back to USC to receive an honorary degree.

LOS ANGELES -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is going back to Southern California to pick up an honorary degree.

The University of Southern California said Wednesday that Carroll will be among six recipients of honorary degrees at the May 15 graduation ceremony in Los Angeles. Mellody Hobson, a money management expert and the wife of filmmaker George Lucas, will deliver the commencement address.

Carroll returns to the campus where he restored the Trojans' football program to national prominence as coach from 2001-09. He helped the Trojans win a national championship before leaving to coach the Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl under him in 2014 and lost in this year's Super Bowl to New England.

He will be inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame the day after graduation.

Carroll founded A Better LA and A Better Seattle, gang-violence prevention and community organizations that empower inner-city youth.


(Read full post)


There is going to be a lot of opportunity coming up in USC spring ball beginning next week for several players who have been waiting for their chance to shine.

This is particularly true on the defensive side of the ball, with a pair of open starting spots at rush end and inside linebacker.

Scott Felix enters his fourth year in the program and had his most productive season in 2014 while appearing in all 13 games and recording 36 tackles, 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Felix started start five games at rush end when J.R. Tavai was out with an injury, so he has that valuable experience. But Felix is going to need to show the coaches he is ready for more if he wants to secure the full-time starting spot.

Felix is likely to face competition from a pair of veterans who are also looking for bigger roles. Jabari Ruffin has been an outside linebacker to this point in his USC career, and he missed the 2014 season due to a knee injury suffered in fall camp so it’s unclear how much he would be available in spring. But there is a lot of speculation about the possibility of Ruffin moving to rush end when he does return. It makes sense to consider, particularly if Su'a Cravens is entrenched in his outside linebacker spot, as Ruffin has a lot of the skill set to make the switch. Charles Burks is heading into his fifth year as a player who has seen limited action with the ability to rush the passer. Burks would definitely want to have a solid spring to get the coaches' attention before one of the true freshmen (Porter Gustin?) gets a look in the fall.

The departure of Hayes Pullard in the middle of the linebacker group leaves a hole that isn’t clear in terms of who will take over. Michael Hutchings has spent two years as the primary reserve to Pullard and would seemingly get the first shot, but I don’t think you can say Hutchings has shown enough so far to think he is definitely ready for the role. Lamar Dawson could get a look here in spring; he missed the 2014 season with injury, but he has the size and experience to warrant giving him a shot. Olajuwon Tucker, who saw time in seven games last season as a freshman, is another spring option, as is early enrollee Cameron Smith. And you can be sure that all three freshman linebackers arriving in the fall (John Houston, Osa Masina and Gustin) could be in the mix as well.

On the offensive side of the ball, it’s a pair of pass-catching options who stand out, as Darreus Rogers and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will both head into spring as the favorites to land starting spots.

For Rogers, he was also the heavy favorite to get a starting spot last fall opposite Nelson Agholor, but JuJu Smith steamrolled past him and became that second option in the passing game. With Agholor (and George Farmer) gone and Smith now established as the No. 1 guy, Rogers has a real chance to solidify his role with a steady spring. He will face competition in the spring from early enrollee juco transfer Isaac Whitney, with another talented juco receiver arriving in the fall in De’Quan Hampton.

Cope-Fitzpatrick could be one of the more valuable additions to the USC roster this spring after missing the 2014 season due to academic reasons. Depth is an issue at tight end, even though Bryce Dixon does offer one of the more talented receiving options you are going to find at the position after a promising freshman season. What Cope-Fitzpatrick can offer, in addition to some solid hands, is a more physical presence as a blocking option, and you have to imagine he is highly motivated after being forced to sit out a year.

There are certainly other examples of players who are anxious to show they are capable of doing more. How about Justin Davis? There is opportunity at tailback, as it’s unclear how Tre Madden will return from his toe injury. Is this the time for Quinton Powell to make a move? USC coach Steve Sarkisian made it clear he wanted Powell to add bulk to be more of a physical factor, so it will be interesting to see where Powell is at in the spring. And we haven’t even mentioned Max Browne, the former No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation who has spent two years progressing and learning, and this spring should be a great chance to judge how far he has come.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Ranking the Pac-12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
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Our task today is a subjective one: Rank the head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12. Note: jobs, not individual coaches.

For me, this is like ranking my children. I love them all equally, however different they might be.

Let's take a gander at it.

1. USC: USC is arguably the nation's preeminent football program in terms of national and conference titles, award winners, All-Americans and NFL Hall of Famers. It's a big-stadium team, and its new football building is pretty freaking cool. Moreover, while there are great national programs with comparable -- or perhaps even superior -- traditions such as Alabama or Notre Dame, USC is in Los Angeles, which is infinitely cooler than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rank No. 2 based on their steady rise to national prominence, as well as a seven-year run that ranks the program among the super-elite. Oh, and their facilities are sparkly.

3. UCLA: Nos. 1 and 2 are pretty obvious here. After that, things get pretty bunched up, but UCLA emerges in the coveted No. 3 spot because of its recent success under coach Jim Mora, which includes three consecutive wins over the Trojans. While the Rose Bowl is off campus, it's still the Rose Bowl, and its recent renovation gave it a considerable upgrade. It also appears that the school is finally investing in the program -- see a new football building on the way -- so it can debunk the notion it's a basketball school (the basketball team also is contributing to that cause). Further, Southern California's A-list prep talent means the Bruins can sustain success under the right coach -- read: Mora.

4. Arizona State: Todd Graham appears to have awoken a program that has long been termed a "sleeping giant." The school is in the process of upgrading Sun Devil Stadium, which is long overdue. There is also potential to continue to upgrade recruiting with a nice combination of location, weather and admission standards.

5. Washington: Obviously, we feel the Washington job has room to move up, as the program has just about everything, other than a recent run of success, to help it. There was a temptation to put Washington higher just because of the magisterial renovation of Husky Stadium.

6. Stanford: Ah, the subjectivity of this list. The Cardinal sit here in the middle of the pack in large part because of academic standards that most coaches would feel are highly unfavorable. David Shaw, a Stanford graduate, doesn't feel that way and has found ways to make it a recruiting benefit instead of a bane. Still, when a program can't even consider most of the ESPN 300 due to academics, that's a challenge for a coach.

7. California: While Berkeley is arguably the nation's best state university, it has been able to get "special admits" to the football program through the years, which was particularly a boon to former coach Jeff Tedford. It appears things are a bit tougher for third-year coach Sonny Dykes. Still, there's good talent available in Northern California and the facilities are A-list. No reason the Golden Bears can't regain the traction they once had under Tedford.

8. Arizona: Arizona has upgraded its facilities and is on an uptick under Rich Rodriguez. Still, most view Arizona as a basketball-first school, and the historical success of both programs supports that perception. Of course, if Rodriguez gets the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl for the first time and eclipses rival Arizona State on the field on a consistent basis, Arizona would move up.

9. Utah: The teams from here and down on this list find themselves hit for at least one of two reasons: (1) stadium size/attendance; (2) winning. Utah is on the uptick on the latter, which is why it ranks ahead of the others. It has also experienced the most recent national relevance, though not as a member of the Pac-12.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers typically found a way to win under Mike Riley, but the program -- other than a charmed 2000 season under Dennis Erickson -- has not been able to take substantial and consistent steps toward national relevance. We do take note that when Riley bolted for Nebraska, the Beavers were able to impressively lure Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. If Andersen makes Oregon State a nine- or 10-win team, the Beavers will move up.

11. Colorado: Though its time in the Pac-12 has been miserable, Colorado has solid tradition -- highlighted by a split national championship in 1990 -- and Boulder, Colorado, is among the nation's very best college towns. That said, the facilities and administrative commitment have lagged behind other programs in college football's arms race. The losing is an issue as well.

12. Washington State: The Cougars have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997 -- how many other programs can say that? So it's a fact that the right coach can win at Washington State. Still, when the wins aren't coming, it becomes relevant to note the size of Martin Stadium and the isolation of Pullman, Washington. As noted by alumnus Kyle Bonagura, Washington State is the Pac-12's most challenging job.

USC NFL scouting combine recap

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
2:17
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Here's a review of the USC Trojans who took part in the NFL combine last weekend in Indianapolis.

DL Leonard Williams (6-foot-5, 302)

Leonard went into the combine with the highest draft stock of any USC player and he did pretty much everything he could have done to maintain that ranking. Not only did he measure in with excellent size but he was the first defensive player in a decade to be that tall and weigh more than 300 pounds to run under 5.0 in the 40-yard dash (Williams ran 4.97). In the drills he looked agile and strong, and is virtually guaranteed to be off the draft board within the first few picks of the opening round. Don't expect to see Leonard do much at the USC Pro Day, his pre-draft work is complete.

WR Nelson Agholor (6-foot, 198)

The event was definitely a success for Agholor, even if he finished early due to a dislocated finger on his left hand. Nelson had done plenty before the injury to show that he deserves mention within a very good group of receivers, maybe not enough to be one of the top names but definitely worthy of being an early-round selection. He ran a very respectable 4.42 in the 40 and his 10-yard split time of 1.53 tied for the fastest of all receivers, something that is worthy to mention for a potential slot receiver. NFL Network analyst and Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick said “After this morning I'm going back and doing more homework on Nelson Agholor.”

DB Josh Shaw (6-foot, 201)

There might not have been a USC player who did more for himself at the combine than Shaw. After missing most of his senior year this was a critical opportunity for Shaw to remind the NFL personnel of his natural tools, and he did that by running a 4.44 in the 40 (tied for No. 3 mark at CB) while also putting up 26 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press (the top number among corners and one that would have been in the upper half for OL). The 40 time is what really stood out as not a lot of people expected Josh to run a time like that. Now it will be important for him to build upon that performance at the USC Pro Day, when there figures to be a lot more attention paid to him now.

RB Buck Allen (6-foot, 221)

Allen kind of slid under the radar, at least in relation to some of the other Trojans, but he did what he needed to do in order to maintain his position as a mid-round selection or even better. It's a good group of running backs in this class and it says something that Buck ran the No. 6 40-time among all backs at 4.53 while also showing his good hands in drills. His bench number of 11 reps seemed a little low for a back of his size but that's not something that is going to be a huge concern.

LB Hayes Pullard (6-foot, 240)

It was the kind of steady performance that you would expect to see from Pullard. His 4.78 time in the 40 isn't going to wow you but it will be enough to keep him in consideration for a Day 3 draft pick, especially when teams start to factor in his career production and the fact that he started 51 games for the Trojans.

OLB J.R. Tavai (6-foot-2, 249)

Tavai didn't shine in any of the drills, in large part because he has never been a full-time outside linebacker, which is where he took part at the event. It's not that he can't play the position but it's probably where he saw the least production at USC, he was much more effective grappling at the line and getting after the quarterback. The fact that he is getting a look show the NFL people understand his versatility, and the hope is they see enough potential at OLB to give him a long look.

TE Randall Telfer (6-foot-4, 250)

Telfer chose to take part only in the interview portion of the event, along with the bench press testing where his mark of 20 reps tied for No. 5 at the tight end spot. His plan is to do the on-field drills and workout as part of the USC pro day on March 11.

College football's top 24 jobs

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
11:10
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We've reached the final day of our project ranking each of the 65 college football jobs at the Power 5 level.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

So who's it going to be? Which program will be deemed our No. 1 gig? Alabama? Texas? USC? Another school?

Though every coach weighs things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria are roughly the same.

The list includes factors such as location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base, etc.

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best. We've also received feedback from various coaches and industry sources to help shape these rankings.

Previous rankings: The bottom of the barrel | The middle of the road

Tier 4: The Not-quites

Established brands in their respective leagues -- but is there a certain ceiling that will stop these programs from reaching the top shelf?

24. Wisconsin
Just a couple of months ago, this job might have been a tick or two higher. But Gary Andersen bolting for Oregon State -- the No. 50 program on this list -- shined a light on potential administrative woes in Madison. Andersen complained that assistants were not being paid market value and that an unnecessary admission standard was hampering his ability to get in even marginal academic risks. "We have no speed," Andersen told me in late November. "Our fastest players are walk-ons -- and Melvin Gordon. Thank God for Melvin Gordon." His successor, Paul Chryst, was at Wisconsin previously as an assistant, so he surely understands the pluses and minuses of being the Badgers' head man. He's not entering as blindly as Andersen, coming from Utah State, had. Could the situation be better? Probably. Is it as dire as Andersen made it seem? No, probably not. Look at the teams Wisconsin is being asked to compete against in the Big Ten West. Do Iowa or Nebraska have an inherent competitive advantage, really? Even last season, despite all the "adversity," Wisconsin still won the division. (Thank God for Melvin Gordon?)

The program has a solid reputation nationally, built up for years thanks in large part to the work of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez. There were some questions about whether Alvarez's larger-than-life presence was part of the reason for Andersen's departure, but Andersen told me point-blank in November that Alvarez had been a good boss. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the better home environments in the Big Ten. Now nearly 100 years old, it has held up well; a $100 million project completed in 2005 has helped keep it modern. The coaches' and players' facilities have seen some upgrades in recent years. Last but not least: Madison is one of the better college towns in the country, so long as it's warm. If the administration proves to be a bit more flexible, understanding that it needs to keep with the times in college football, this could easily move back toward being a top-15 job.


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LOS ANGELES -- If the NCAA really wanted to destroy the USC Trojans' football program through sanctions, they should have included a true freshmen ineligibility addendum. Now that really would have been the lethal kryptonite to the Superman program built by former head coach Pete Carroll.

Imagine how an NCAA freshmen ineligibility sanction would have crippled the Trojans in recruiting. Unless a blue-chip recruit always wanted to play for the Men of Troy, it's a safe bet that the Trojans would have lost out on a number of high-valued players that helped keep the program afloat and winning during those sanctioned seasons.

Now let's fast-forward to last season, Steve Sarkisian's first at the helm of the Trojans' storied program. Ask yourself, where would the Trojans have been in 2014 if there had been a freshmen ineligibility rule as part of the general college football landscape?

Apparently what the NCAA never did during the Trojans' sanctions -- freshmen ineligibility -- has now become a hot item in college football. The Big Ten appears to be spearheading a potentially seismic shift in the way college sports do business. The Big Ten wants to consider freshmen ineligibility, and it's getting positive support from both the Pac-12 and the Big 12.

And the powerful SEC?

Are you really surprised the SEC hasn't shown public support of the Big Ten's freshmen ineligibility concept? In theory, consider Sarkisian recruiting nationally against Alabama's Nick Saban, and Sark's Pac-12 has freshmen ineligibility and Saban's SEC doesn't. It would be the recruiting theatre of the absurd, and you know which university the high school phenom would likely select.

In all likelihood, a freshmen ineligibility rule won't pass because all stakeholders invested into the College Football Playoff would need to be on the same recruiting playing field. Of course, the SEC would be more than happy if the other conferences went to a freshmen ineligibility rule and they didn't.

From a USC football program point of view, had a freshmen ineligibility rule been in effect last season, it might have been disastrous even after finally being set free from NCAA sanctions.

Given the limited numbers and depth issues, imagine if the Trojans couldn't have had the 2014 services of those three true freshmen prodigies that started along the offensive line -- namely Freshman All-American left tackle Toa Lobendahn and physical guards Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama.

Picture, if you will, the Trojans being unable to play with sensational true freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith and talented strong safety John Plattenburg?

The crème de la crème of the true freshmen, of course, was Freshman All-America corner/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson, whose sensational 98-yard kickoff touchdown return and electrifying 71-yard TD catch-and-run ignited the Trojans to a 45-42 victory against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the National University Holiday Bowl.

Speaking of the Trojans' Holiday Bowl win in San Diego, the Cardinal and Gold started six true freshmen -- four on offense and two on defense and also received support from two additional true freshmen talents in tight end Bryce Dixon and corner Jonathan Lockett.

There is little argument that true freshmen need time to adjust to college life academically, athletically, and socially. However, this isn't the 1970s. Priorities and professional career paths have changed dramatically, and players and their parents more than ever see the riches of playing in the NFL and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.

For those that cry academics are hurt by true freshmen eligibility, after high school graduation many incoming freshmen players immediately enrolled by their university into summer school classes, thus getting a jump-start on a college degree, academics, social life, and immersion into their sports' pathway.

Yes, times have changed.

Just this January at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl, which features many of the nation's premier senior high school football players, two-way star Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly) declared on national television that he was taking his talents to the University of Southern California for "the next three years."

Naturally, Ross's "next three years" declaration as opposed to "next four years" brought forth a lot of discussion, but the teenager was just echoing what most incoming freshman football players of today are thinking, and that's heading to the NFL immediately after their junior season.

Yes, times have changed.

The Trojans already have four of Ross's true freshmen teammates (offensive linemen Chuma Edoga and Roy Hemsley, linebacker Cameron Smith, and quarterback Ricky Town) enrolled in USC's spring semester. All four wanted to forego their spring senior semester at their respective high schools and begin their college careers early -- to not only adjust to college life but to participate in spring practice, which begins March 3.

There is very little debate that freshmen ineligibility was once a noble and admirable transition from high school to college, but there are way too many variables and options in today's college football world to go back in time.

And if any university can attest to the values and benefits of freshmen eligibility, the Trojans' football program can because they have lived it in more ways than one.

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