NCF Nation: Armond Armstead

USC DL Elder Armstead going pro

March, 7, 2012
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The strange college career of Armond Armstead is over — at USC and anywhere else.

The former starting Trojans defensive lineman, who sat out last season due to an undisclosed medical condition, has decided to enter the NFL draft, his father told the Orange County Register.
Guss Armstead confirmed that his son has hired an agent and will participate in some portion of USC’s pro day Wednesday. Guss Armstead referred further questions to the agent, Carter Chow, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Because he graduated in December, Armond Armstead will be eligible for April’s NFL draft, a league spokesman said.

Armstead started for two seasons, playing both end and tackle, and had 59 tackles, including 10.5 for losses (with two sacks) in 17 career starts. He missed spring practices in 2011 with a medical condition that was never made public. Further, there was some difference of opinion over the severity of the condition between USC officials and the Armstead family.

That disagreement is largely why his brother, touted 2012 prep lineman Arik Armstead, de-committed from USC and ended up at Oregon.

There was a lot of talk during recruiting, in fact, about the two being a package deal, but transfer rules — Pac-12 as well as NCAA — made that difficult to work out.

As for Armstead's NFL prospects, that should be interesting. He was certainly an NFL prospect before his medical issue was diagnosed. And USC fans might recall that at least one Trojans transfer who wasn't cleared medically to play at USC is doing pretty darn well.

But Armstead has missed a year of action and will have to prove to NFL scouts he's good to go. If he does that, it wouldn't be surprising if he ends up getting picked late in the draft. At the very least, he'll have plenty of free-agent suitors.
The first official football gathering of the new Pac-12 -- media day -- will be held on July 26 in Los Angeles. It will feature all 12 coaches, and each team brings along a star player.

Hmm. I wonder what reporters will ask Oregon coach Chip Kelly about?

I don't wonder what his answers will be: Some form of "no comment," though the exact phrasing might include some chippy Chipperism that we've all grown to love.

But even with those no comments, there will be plenty to talk about -- with Kelly and all the other coaches.

Do you have questions you want asked? Feel free to send them along. Or comment below.

Here a list of who will be there and what we're interested in asking.

Arizona
Quarterback Nick Foles and coach Mike Stoops

Top questions: While the rebuilding of both lines is a prime issue, Wildcats fans will want an update on receiver Juron Criner's health from Mike Stoops. And they will want to know about 2010's late-season slide.

Arizona State
Quarterback Brock Osweiler and coach Dennis Erickson

Top questions: Are the Sun Devils ready to play as the favorites in the Pac-12 South? And is there any chance cornerback Omar Bolden plays this fall?

California
Receiver Marvin Jones and coach Jeff Tedford

Top questions: Is Zach Maynard the man to restore Tedford's reputation as a developer of QBs? How does Tedford feel about growing fan discontent?

Colorado
Quarterback Tyler Hansen and coach Jon Embree

Top questions: Does it feel different heading into the season as a member of the Pac-12 instead of the Big 12? What went wrong under Dan Hawkins that's going to go right under Embree?

Oregon
Tight end David Paulson and coach Chip Kelly

Top questions: Er, any comment on Willie Lyles? What about those rebuilt offensive and defensive lines? What's up with suspended cornerback Cliff Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso?

Oregon State
Safety Lance Mitchell and coach Mike Riley

Top questions: What went wrong last year? How's James Rodgers knee doing? And about those lines...

Stanford
Quarterback Andrew Luck and coach David Shaw

Top questions: Does it feel different to be a frontrunner rather than a darkhorse? What's going to be different under Shaw compared to Jim Harbaugh? What about holes at receiver and on both lines?

UCLA
Running back Johnathan Franklin and coach Rick Neuheisel

Top questions: Is this a win or else season for Neuheisel? What's going to happen at quarterback? What's the status of O-lineman Jeff Baca (broken ankle)?

USC
Quarterback Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin

Top questions: What's the approach with no postseason as a motivation? Injury update, please! What about the depth on the O-line and LB? And is Armond Armstead going to play in 2011?

Utah
Offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom and coach Kyle Whittingham

Top questions: Do the Utes think they will become an immediate contender in the Pac-12 South race? Is quarterback Jordan Wynn 100 percent and back to his old self after shoulder surgery?

Washington
Running back Chris Polk and coach Steve Sarkisian

Top questions: What's the offense going to look like post-Jake Locker? What's the pecking order at linebacker? What does the bowl victory mean about the state of the program?

Washington State
Receiver Jared Karstetter and coach Paul Wulff

Top questions: Is this a win or else season for Wulff? Will the defense improve enough to support what should be a good offense? How good can quarterback Jeff Tuel be?
No team in the Pac-12 wows you at defensive tackle. No team is a sure thing. There is a lot of "maybe" at the position. And probably some maybe not.

The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.

That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?

So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.

Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.

Great shape

USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.

Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.

Good shape

Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.

Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.

Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.

Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.

UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.

California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.

We'll see

Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.

Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.

Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.
On Friday, we looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver troikas -- so it also makes sense to also look at their defensive counterparts, the best threesomes from each of the three levels of defense: defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

Here's the tally from last season, if you are interested.

1. Arizona State

DE Junior Onyeali, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

The Skinny: No question on No. 1 here. Onyeali was the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Burfict is the nation's best inside linebacker. Bolden was unanimous first-team All-Pac-10.

2. Stanford

DE Matt Masifilo, LB Shayne Skov, SS Delano Howell

The Skinny: Masifilo, the lone returning starter on the Cardinal defensive line, was honorable mention All-Pac-10, as was Skov, who was playing as well as any linebacker in the conference over the final third of the season. Howell was second-team All-Pac-10.

3. California

DE Trevor Guyton, LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse

The Skinny: Guyton had 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks despite being a part-time starter. Kendricks was second-team All-Pac-10. Cattouse earned honorable mention.

4. Oregon

DE Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, CB Cliff Harris

The Skinny: Two solid returning starters and a second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback who figures to be a preseason All-American after earning second-team honors from the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

5. Washington:

DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner

The Skinny: Ta'amu earned honorable mention All-Conference honors and seemed to find himself over the latter half of the season. Dennison had 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Fellner tied for second in the conference with five interceptions.

6. Arizona

DT Justin Washington, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade

The Skinny: Washington's numbers fell off when he got banged up, but he still had 11.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman. Vassallo was honorable mention All-Conference. Wade had an off year last fall, but was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2009.

7. USC

DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, FS T.J. McDonald

The Skinny: This actually could be one of the best threesomes in the conference, but Armstead and Galippo have injury issues and only put up middling numbers last fall. McDonald was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010.

8. Washington State

DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, SS Deone Bucannon

The Skinny: Long was honorable mention All-Conference, Bucannon, who started as a true freshman, and Hoffman-Ellis were the Cougars' top two tackles in 2010.

9. UCLA

DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, SS Tony Dye

The Skinny: A solid threesome that is down here more because it gets an "incomplete." Jones missed all of last season with a foot injury, but, if healthy, he's an All-Conference sort. Larimore was solid in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury. Dye led the Bruins in tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10.

10. Colorado

NG Will Pericak, LB Jon Major, FS Ray Polk

The Skinny: Pericak earned honorable mention All-Big 12. Major was the Buffaloes leading tackler before he blew out his knee in Game 7 (a knee injury also killed the junior's true freshman season). Polk was the second-leading tackler.

11. Utah

DE Derrick Shelby, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

The Skinny: Honestly don't know how to rank the Utes here. Shelby and Walker are returning starters -- Walker earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. Black was the top backup cornerback last season. But Star Lotulelei might be the Utes' best defensive lineman, and Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety, where he was very good, to linebacker. How highly do the Utes think of him? They list him as an All-American candidate.

12. Oregon State

DE Dominic Glover, LB Rueben Robinson, S Lance Mitchell

The Skinny: Three returning starters, but none of them even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Mitchell was the Beavers' third-leading tackler, Glover had 2.5 sacks, and Robinson split time with Tony Wilson.

Who might bolt for the NFL draft early?

December, 16, 2010
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Third-year players -- juniors and redshirt sophomores -- have until Jan.17 to declare their intentions to enter the 2011 NFL draft, and a number of Pac-12 players are likely to do so.

USC already has lost two: Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

Many of the upcoming decisions -- both to stay or to go -- are going to be surprises. Some certain early draft picks opt to return for whatever reason, including the fact that they will never -- ever -- have as much fun as they did in college. And a handful of obscure players annually decide to enter the draft for whatever reason, including getting bad advice from a know-it-all "acquaintance" who doesn't know a darn thing.

This will not turn out to be a complete list. And our speculation is intentionally vague because it can be nothing else: We don't know what's going on inside these young men's heads.

Note: Though some players have indicated they plan to return, they are included here because, well, you never know -- they might change their minds.

You can review Mel Kiper's "junior" rankings here.

Arizona
QB Nick Foles, Jr.:
Foles would benefit from returning for his senior year and could improve his stock considerably. But his knee injury this year and questions about the Wildcats' offensive line might give him pause.
WR Juron Criner, Jr.: Criner is the best receiver in the country few folks have heard of, but he might want to look at this year's receiver class, which is loaded.
CB Trevin Wade, Jr.: Wade needs to return for his senior season after taking a step back as a junior.

Arizona State
CB Omar Bolden, Jr
.: Bolden rejuvenated his career this fall, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors. He also knows what it's like to get hurt and miss a season. The Sun Devils could break through in 2011, and that could greatly benefit his status.
DT Lawrence Guy, Jr.: The general thinking is Guy wants to return for his senior season. He faces a tough choice.

California
RB Shane Vereen, Jr.:
Mel Kiper ranks Vereen No. 5 among junior running backs. The Bears' questionable supporting cast on offense next year might sway him to the pros.
OLB Mychal Kendricks, Jr.: Lots of potential, but he's not ready.

Colorado
OG Ryan Miller, Jr
.: Miller has already said he plans to return next fall, though Kiper ranks him No. 2 among junior guards.

Oregon
RB LaMichael James, RSo
.: Kiper ranks James as the No. 3 "junior" running back. The Ducks' first unanimous All-American must choose between college glory -- Heisman Trophy, (another) national championship -- or getting paid now. Probably won't get picked until the second round because of size and middling skills as a receiver, but his top-end speed is enticing.
TE David Paulson, Jr.: Kiper ranks him No. 4 among junior tight ends. Good bet to return.

Oregon State
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr
.: Rodgers has indicated he plans to return because his brother, James, is likely to get a fifth year via medical hardship because of a knee injury this past season. But Beavers fans are rooting for it to be Jan. 18.
WR James Rodgers, Sr.: It's likely the Rodgers are a package deal: Both stay or both go.

Stanford
QB Andrew Luck, RSo.:
If he enters the draft, he's almost certain to be the No. 1 overall pick. More than a few folks, however, believe he's seriously considering a return for his junior year, particularly if coach Jim Harbaugh remains at Stanford. We'll see.

UCLA
LB Akeem Ayers, Jr
.: Odds are that Ayers will enter the draft. A likely first-round pick.
FS Rahim Moore, Jr.: Odds are that Moore will enter the draft. A likely first-round pick.

USC
DL Armond Armstead, Jr
: Armstead has said he plans to return. He should. A healthy season could send his stock skyrocketing.

Utah
CB Brandon Burton, Jr
.: Burton, second-team All Mountain West, is No. 5 on Kiper's list of junior corners. He's definitely on the NFL radar.
OT Tony Bergstrom, Jr.: It would make sense for the second-team All Mountain West player to return for his senior year.

Washington
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr
.: Kearse is highly productive but dropped a few too many balls this year. While he'd benefit from another year, he might be worried about the Huskies breaking in a new quarterback.
RB Chris Polk, RSo: Polk eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season. He's admitted that entering the draft is a possibility.

Washington State
DT Brandon Rankin, Jr.:
It would be wise for Rankin to return for his senior season.

Does USC have a secret scheme for Ducks?

October, 27, 2010
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From 2002 through 2008, USC's defense ranked among the nation's elite every season (other than 2005). Even last year, when the Trojans suffered humbling defeats to Oregon and Stanford, the defense ranked among the nation's top 25, surrendering a respectable 19.85 points per game.

When Lane Kiffin was hired as the Trojans’ new coach and brought along his dad, the highly respected Monte Kiffin, and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the general feeling was that a young but talented defense would regain its spark. In fact, Lane Kiffin repeatedly praised his defense during spring practices.

Oh, but things have not gone smoothly. Not by any measure. The defense has been a porous, poor-tackling, undisciplined bunch. It ranks 87th in the nation in total defense (402.6 yards per game) and 60th in scoring defense (24.3 ppg). The young secondary has been particularly clueless, ranking 89th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.

[+] EnlargeMonte Kiffin
Chris Williams/Icon SMIMonte Kiffin's USC defense ranks 87th in the nation, allowing 402.6 yards per game.
The Trojans (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) like to note that they are just three points and a few seconds from being unbeaten and ranked in the top 10. But the dirty secret of that fair assertion is that's indeed the case because the defense yielded drives for game-winning field goals in the waning moments against Washington and Stanford without much resistance.

Monte Kiffin ticks off plenty of reasonable explanations for the shortcomings: new system, new coaches, youth, injuries, etc. But he concludes with the bottom line: "We didn't play well."

"We didn't put it together and we let a couple of games get away from us that we really should've won," he said.

Ah, but there is some good news for the Trojans' defense as it gets ready for a visit from No. 2 Oregon and its ludicrous speed offense.

First, the Trojans' defense is coming off its best performance: A dominant effort in a 48-14 win over California on Oct. 16. The Bears, who trailed 42-0 at the half, finished with 245 yards and 10 first downs.

Second, they've had an extra week to prepare for the Ducks' spread-option offense, which is good because Monte Kiffin is a long-time NFL coordinator without much experience game-planning vs. that type of scheme.

And, third, they will be as healthy as they have been all year on defense. End Wes Horton will return from a back injury that knocked him out of the past three games. End Nick Perry has had extra time to rest a nagging ankle injury. And tackle-end Armond Armstead got time to rest various tweaks. Linebacker Malcolm Smith is still nursing a knee injury but he is expected to play.

But rest wasn't what the Trojans focused on during the bye week. In fact, there was extra running, live tackling -- something Kiffin has avoided due to injury worries for a team that lacks depth -- and fast-paced practices that attempted to match the pace with which Oregon plays.

"We worked harder during the bye week," cornerback Shareece Wright said. "We actually didn't take a break."

The fundamental issue is fairly simple: What the heck are the Trojans going to do against the nation's best offense? Apparently something different. Monte Kiffin has been widely hailed as one of the originators of the Tampa-2 defensive scheme, which it appears the Trojans are finally getting the hang of. But that's not the right defense to defend a spread-option, Lane Kiffin said.

"That defense really does not fit playing against Oregon at all," he said. "That defense is more about stopping the pass."

The Ducks pass pretty well, but they do rank third in the nation in rushing with 322 yards per game.

Of course, it's possible there's a bit of gamesmanship going on here, with Kiffin intimating an entirely new defensive scheme for Chip Kelly's Ducks to try to figure out. Kelly didn't seem too concerned, however, noting that it's typical for the Ducks to see new schemes.

"Usually, what we see on Saturday isn't what we saw on film, because we play a different offense than most everybody else in our league," he said. "We have to make adjustments within the game."

And the Ducks seem to do that well, see 54.3 points and 569 yards per game, with both totals ranking No. 1 in the nation.

The Trojans also have one of the nation's best offenses -- see 37 points and 494 yards per game. At home, you'd figure they'll be able to get some points.

But can they slow Oregon? The younger Kiffin, once known for bluster, was almost reverent describing the Ducks' offense.

"They are so explosive," Kiffin said. "The style they play is like something we haven't seen. Or probably anybody's ever seen."

Will USC get off the carpet?

November, 2, 2009
11/02/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Now what for USC?

 
  Steve Dykes/Getty Images
  Pete Caroll’s Trojans need to rebound strongly if they still want to be in the BCS bowl race.
Well, Trojans fans first need to recognize -- and stomach with equanimity -- that other Pac-10 fans and, really, the entire nation want to sing-and-dance for a week. The appropriate image, one that might be some consolation, is the Munchkins singing "Ding Dong the witch is dead!" in the Wizard of Oz.

Yes, the little people are thrilled.

Every other team in the country has suffered many, many, many double-digit defeats since 2001. Seems like it's about time the Trojans suffered their second.

Of course, there will be blustering about the Trojans being overrated despite the fact they have accomplished more this season than just about any other team in the nation, posting three wins over teams ranked in the current BCS standings, all of them on the road.

Oregon is better than USC. No question. That doesn't mean the Trojans aren't a top-10 team.

And if USC wins the rest of its games and finishes 10-2 -- and Oregon takes care of business and wins the Pac-10 title -- the odds are good that the Trojans still will earn the conference a second BCS bowl berth.

So despair not USC fans!

Or maybe you should.

That defense that gave up (clear throat) 613 yards on Saturday is banged up. Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a shoulder injury and won't play this weekend at Arizona State and could be out for weeks. Middle linebacker Chris Galippo and backup strong side linebacker Jarvis Jones suffered neck sprains against the Ducks, which could be issues for a while even if they can play Saturday. Defensive lineman Armond Armstead fractured his wrist. Defensive end Everson Griffen is experiencing turf toe, another injury that could linger for weeks.

And more than a few folks are wondering if if All-American safety Taylor Mays' is hurting. Mays, who missed the Washington loss with a sprained knee, didn't look like himself against the Ducks.

Meanwhile, on offense, fullback Stanley Havili (shoulder) and tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) should be considered questionable for the trip to Tempe. Both veterans were missed at Oregon.

The performance at Oregon made this manifest: It's possible that there actually are limits to USC's talent and depth. That losing eight A-list defensive starters and a quarterback who was the fifth-overall NFL draft pick can, in fact, be an issue, just as starting a true freshman quarterback has a downside no matter how poised, talented and intelligent that quarterback is.

And don't forget the coaching turnover the Trojans have gone through over the past season: two new coordinators, a new quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller and a new defensive line coach. Sometimes new voices complicate a team's culture and dynamic.

The defensive implosion still feels shocking, though, particularly because five games into the season it looked like the Trojans had merely reloaded.

Entering the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17, the Trojans ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (238.6 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (8.6 ppg), fifth in run defense (64.8 ypg) and hadn't allowed a touchdown pass.

Three games later, the Trojans rank 36th in the nation in total defense (331.88), 27th in scoring (19.13), 44th in run defense (118.75) and have given up six TD passes.

If those numbers hold steady, this will be Pete Carroll's worst defense since 2005 -- the worst in his nine-year tenure -- which is surprising considering how good that team was.

The breakdowns against Notre Dame and Oregon State mostly happened after the Trojans grabbed big leads, so a letdown was a possible explanation, though a repeated loss of focus doesn't speak well of the Trojans players and coaches.

But the way Oregon dominated the second half suggested the Trojans might not be in great physical shape. The Ducks players said they wore down USC and who could argue? After three consecutive poor fourth quarters, maybe the Trojans need to do some more cardio.

Some might point to a lack of heart. Oregon punched the Trojans in the mouth, and the Trojans didn't respond.

That, however, will be measured going forward, starting at Arizona State.

USC should be plenty motivated by its now-myriad doubters. Folks have taken shots at USC for years while not believing their own words. Everybody -- deep down -- knew what USC was: The team that always would be favored over everyone else on a neutral field.

Now there are actually legitimate grounds to question how good USC is. An unprecedented string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles is in serious peril.

Therein lies another potential consolation prize for USC. Remember: You Trojans are tired of bludgeoning Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl.

So what if USC gets off the floor, towels off its bloody face and whips the remaining teams on its schedule?

Then it will go to another BCS bowl and earn an opportunity to make a simple statement: We're still USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ever wonder what a coach might say about a quarterback competition the day before he announces a pecking order?

You're in luck!

USC coach Pete Carroll stopped by for a chat with the Pac-10 blog on Monday, the day before he announced on his Web site that Aaron Corp would emerge from spring practices No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, ahead of true freshman Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.

 
  Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
  Pete Carroll boasts an 88-15 record since arriving at USC.

That bit of stolen thunder aside -- and the announcement was mostly a foregone conclusion -- it's never a bad time to talk with a coach who's 88-15 in eight years at USC and has finished ranked in the top four of the AP poll seven consecutive seasons.

After all, he's got a new book deal to benefit his charity, A Better LA, and a new Web site for kids.

And he's got a football team that likely will be favored to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and again compete for a national title.

Word on the street is you guys have an intense quarterback competition going on over there: Where does that stand?

Pete Carroll: Guys have really battled hard and done well. We're pleased with the play at the quarterback position. The competition is going to continue. We'll name a guy who's going to start the spring game for us and then the competition will just continue. We've got to call something here after a month of playing. We'll find out what happens when we get back to camp in the fall.

You've told me in the past you prefer to anoint a quarterback as early as possible to allow him to develop into a clear leader: How will that be a part of the decision in the fall?

PC: We'd like to do that [name a starter], but you've got to do the right thing and let the competition play itself out. What that means is, in the past when we named Matt Leinart over Matt Cassel, it meant that Leinart was going first and Cassel was battling him. The competition remained on. It will be the same situation. It's a very hard-fought, close competition and in fairness it's going to take longer to know exactly what we are going to do for the long haul.

It seems like running backs Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler have asserted themselves this spring: Have they done enough to eclipse the established guys?

PC: I don't think there's any question Curtis McNeal has. Marc Tyler has been hurt most of the spring -- he's only had a couple of days when he's full speed. He's done well. But McNeal has taken advantage of the opportunity to be out there every day and he's really been effective.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Now, I owe it to myself to tell you, Mr. Griswold, that if you are thinking of taking the tribe cross-country, this is your automobile. The Wagon Queen Family Truckster. You think you hate it now, but wait till you drive it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Arizona State: Sun Devils fans cringing at the defensive performance against UNLV, particularly the 18-play, 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the game-tying field goal, will be glad to hear the defense will restock a bit with Georgia coming to town. First, middle linebacker Gerald Munns, whose physical performance against Stanford earned him conference defensive player of the week honors a week ago, returns after surgery on his pinkie finger, though he's going to sport a cast for about five weeks. Also, the Sun Devils welcomed back LB Morris Wooten and DE Jamarr Robinson, who both return from suspensions for undisclosed reasons. Wooten, a 245-pound senior, will add a physical presence behind Munns, while Robinson, a 233-pound sophomore, had three sacks in the spring game and will add another athletic threat on the perimeter.

Oregon: Forget for a second that that Oregon's QB position will be split between a pair of first-year players in JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper against Boise State. Both of those guys have seen action at home and on the road. With starter Justin Roper sidelined for at least one game, their holy-cow-this-is-D-I-football jitters are mostly gone. The more interesting matchup here is the Broncos redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore vs. the Ducks defense, which boasts one of the nation's best secondaries. Oh, and that little thing known as the chummy Autzen Stadium crowd. Moore is making his first start on the road. At Autzen. Not easy. Moreover, with four new offensive line starters, it won't be easy to rely on veteran RB Ian Johnson. Boise State only gained 340 yards at home last weekend in a 20-7 win over Bowling Green.

Arizona: After two games, Arizona QB Willie Tuitama was 11th in the nation in pass efficiency with five TDs and no INTs. But after the loss at New Mexico, his rating dropped 30 points because he threw a pair of picks and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. He also was sacked three times and fumbled twice against the Lobos. Two words: Bad night. So how will the senior bounce back at UCLA? The good news is he's getting a huge target back because TE Rob Gronkowski will play for the first time this season since he got sick (strep throat, mono). BYU QB Max Hall made the supposedly stout UCLA defense look like warm butter; can Tuitama regain his confidence and do the same?

UCLA: Remember how the media pounded home the questions about UCLA's offensive line during the preseason? Well, score one for reporters because we were right: This is a lousy O-line. Look no further than the rushing attack: Worst in the nation with 19 yards per game and 0.8 per carry. Longest run of the season? Seven yards. Yuck. Oh, and here's some more bad news. Center Micah Reed, one of two starters with significant experience, will be out two to four weeks with a partial tear of his MCL. The Bruins are scrambling for answers on offense, which includes trying a variety of combinations up front during a time when most teams are trying to create continuity with the same starting five. The visit from Arizona probably will go a long way toward answering this question: Was the Tennessee game a total fluke?

USC: So USC loses a pair of defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft -- Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson -- and then, nonetheless, turns in a pair of dominant performances to start the season. How do the Trojans do it? Well, depth of course. And look no further than the ledger from the 35-3 win over Ohio State. It wasn't just tackle Fili Moala and company whipping the Ohio State offensive line; it also was three true freshmen: tackle Armond Armstead, who recorded a sack, nose tackle Jurrell Casey and end Malik Jackson. That's the future D-line. The present, by the way, had five total sacks and 24 tackles against the Buckeyes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
 Pete Carroll and the Trojans have their sights set on a Pac-10 title.

LOS ANGELES -- Sat down with USC coach Pete Carroll on Sunday night. He ate ice cream and answered questions.

What's your feeling on this scenario: Let's say Mitch Mustain starts at quarterback against Virginia and has a lights out game. Do you have a philosophical opinion on whether an injured starter [Mark Sanchez] always retains his job or do you go with the hot hand against Ohio State?

Pete Carroll: I would never... I can't even answer a question about that. To surmise what's going to happen with one guy and then what we're going to do with the next guy? I wouldn't even tell you what the first stage of it is let alone the second or third. So I'm not going to answer that. Too much conjecture there.

You talk about getting better and growing every year. What have you changed in the past couple of years about how you do things?

PC: Not very much. We do mostly the same stuff with just small changes. It depends on our staff continuity. This year, we've got 99 percent staff continuity so it's really easy [only staff change was the GA who works with the secondary]. We're able to do more things with that. When we're bringing new people along, we can't do that. We can't afford to go off and experiment. This year, we've done more things but it's kind of like if you have a philosophy then why would you change? The consistency is part of the philosophy -- how you recruit, where you recruit, who you recruit. The consistency of what the expectations are, the consistency of the standards for practice, the offseason programs. All of those things are the same. We get better at them. We get better versed on knowing what we want and getting more astute as we go along but we don't change much.

I know this is going to sound pretty stupid, but you're the only coach who can be asked this: Is winning the Rose Bowl ever not enough?

PC: No. You've got to understand that our mindset is to focus only on what we can control. We can only control getting to the Rose Bowl. Winning our conference and going to the Rose Bowl is what our goal is every year. Our goal isn't about national championships, because we don't have control of that -- that's in somebody else's hands. We found that out years ago [2003], when we were No. 1 but then we were No. 3. We already knew that but that just proved it. If we win our games and we're out there and they want us to go somewhere else, then we'll go. We love the Rose Bowl.

Does it ever register with you that there's such a small margin for error for USC that if you don't win the national championship then some believe it hasn't had a successful season?

PC: I know people say that but I don't care. They can say whatever they want.

Could you give me a couple of names of younger guys who have stepped up in preseason practices?

PC: A guy who's had a really good camp is Travon Patterson, a wide receiver. He's caught touchdowns on every big day, every big scrimmage we've had. He's playing fast and has made a lot of plays for us. The guys who have done a lot of good stuff are the freshmen -- [TE] Blake Ayles is a guy you might not have expected to but he's looked great. The other guy is [RB] Allen Bradford. He's had a great camp again. I really like [WR] Jordan Cameron. All four of the freshmen defensive linemen [Armond Armstead, Jurrell Casey, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson] -- they look great. These guys have a chance to play early. Uona Kaveinga has been playing second-team "Mike" linebacker. [Safety] Drew McAllister has looked really good -- he's had three or four picks in big, scrimmage-type situations and hit well. It's been a really solid freshmen class. The offensive linemen have looked good but it's going to take them some time.

Things get a little juicer in Part II, when Carroll talks about new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, his future and what he thinks of his legacy.

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