NCF Nation: Brandon Bair
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.
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.
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.
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.
For comparison, here is the coaches team, which was announced Tuesday.
We didn't include a tight end because receiver was a far deeper position. And, unlike the coaches, we didn't make a wishbone backfield just to accomodate Stanford's Owen Marecic. Instead, we made up a specialist position for a guy who starts at both fullback and linebacker: "STUD."
So here you go.
QB Andrew Luck, So., Stanford
RB LaMichael James, So., Oregon
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Juron Criner, Jr., Arizona
WR Jeff Maehl, Sr., Oregon
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr., Washington
OL Chase Beeler, Sr., Stanford
OL Colin Baxter, Sr., Arizona
OL Tyron Smith, Jr., USC
OL Bo Thran, Sr., Oregon
OL Jonathan Martin, Jr., Stanford
DL Brandon Bair, Sr., Oregon
DL Cameron Jordan, Sr., California
DL Stephen Paea, Sr., Oregon State
DL Jurrell Casey, Jr., USC
LB Chase Thomas, So., Stanford
LB Mason Foster, Sr., Washington
LB Casey Matthews, Sr., Oregon
DB Talmadge Jackson, Sr., Oregon
DB Omar Bolden, Jr., Arizona State
DB Delano Howell, Jr., Stanford
DB John Boyett, So., Oregon
PK Nate Whitaker, Sr., Stanford
P Bryan Anger, Jr., California
KOR Robert Woods, Fr., USC
PR Cliff Harris, So., Oregon
STUD (FB-LB) Owen Marecic, Sr., Stanford
So perhaps it's fitting that the offensive juggernaut that is top-ranked Oregon made its most powerful statement on its worst night of the season by not scoring. The flashy Ducks, who are all about hanging half-a-hundred on foes with lightning-quick drives that make bathroom breaks risky for fans, became yeomanlike in their final possession of a 15-13 victory over California, slowing the pace, grinding out first downs and burning the clock.
Oregon, clinging to a two-point lead, took over at its 20-yard line with 9:25 left in the game, and 18 plays later -- 17 runs -- quarterback Darron Thomas took a knee at the Bears’ 15-yard line. Game over. Ducks survive.
It was the Ducks’ only drive of the night of more than 46 yards. But somewhere Woody Hayes is smiling.
"Coach [Chip] Kelly told us in the huddle before we went out there that this was going to be the drive of the year; this was going to be the drive we remember," Thomas said. "Exactly what he told us was, 'This is going to be the drive you tell your family about 30 years from now.'"
But this was not the Ducks we've seen this season, at least offensively. They looked vulnerable. They were getting whipped at the line of scrimmage. California was penetrating up front and blanketing Ducks' receivers in the secondary with man-coverage -- even after losing starting cornerbacks Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony to injury.
"It was ripe for the upset," Cal safety Chris Conte said. "We knew that if we came out and executed, this team was very beatable. Watching film,we saw their people making mistakes. We knew if we held them to no big plays, we'd be right in this game. We should have won."
That was a popular theme among the Cal players. But it also is curious that a team that can play with top-ranked Oregon can lose by 28 to Oregon State, the Beavers' only win in their past four games.
Oregon was held to a season-low 317 yards. But it made four of its eight successful third-down conversions on the final drive.
And after 400 words, perhaps we should take note of the Ducks' defense. It held the Bears to just 193 yards, 49 of which came on their first possession, when they took a 7-0 lead after the Ducks failed on one of their six fourth-down conversion attempts (they made four).
"You see the true character of a team when it's not 50-7 or whatever," defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. "It's awesome to see that if our offense struggles, our defense can step up."
The Ducks' defense was certainly helped by the absence of a Cal passing game. Quarterback Brock Mansion, making his second start since Kevin Riley went down with a season-ending knee injury, completed 10 of 28 passes for 69 yards. He didn't throw an interception, and he made a couple of nice passes, but it was clear that running back Shane Vereen, who rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries, was the Bears' only offensive weapon.
Oregon didn't help itself much. It missed two field goals; the first kicker Rob Beard has missed this season. It had eight penalties for 62 yards. And Thomas gifted the Bears a TD when he fumbled into the end zone in the third quarter while cocking to throw, and nose tackle Derrick Hill recovered for a touchdown.
For the first time this year, Oregon was challenged well into the fourth quarter. It was a new experience. Kelly, however, said his team never showed any signs of tightness, and his players agreed.
"We were never worried or thinking about losing," Thomas said. "We never thought about losing."
As for style points, none of the Ducks seemed too concerned that the judges -- the pollsters, the computers, the BCS standings -- might dock them for failing to win in their typical fancypants manner.
"At the end of the season, they are not going to say, 'How many points did they beat Cal by?'" said running back LaMichael James, who finished with 91 yards on 29 carries.
This week, though, they are going to ask about James. The Heisman Trophy candidate had to be helped off the field in the game's waning moments. Afterward, he was wearing a boot on his left foot and was on crutches.
"I'm good," he said. "I'll be at practice next week."
The Ducks are off until Arizona visits Autzen Stadium on Nov. 26. They are moving into territory that the program and long-suffering fan base have never experienced before.
So forgive Kelly and his players for not beating themselves up for winning ugly.
"A win's a win," Kelly said. "We're happy. We're 10-0."
Team of the week: Oregon State announced its return to relevancy with a win at No. 9 Arizona. The biggest revelation: Sophomore QB Ryan Katz is ready for primetime.
Best game: You can't beat a game with two game-winning drives, unless your team is the one that produced the penultimate game-winning drive, which was the case of USC in its 37-35 loss at Stanford. For the second consecutive weekend, the Trojans lost on a last-second field goal. Still, a game billed as a potential blowout showed USC has plenty of fight left, at least on offense. (Wow. Are we now citing "moral" victories for the Trojans?)
Biggest play: There were so many big plays in Oregon State's 29-27 win over Arizona that it's hard to pick just one. But if you had to, it might just be Katz's 43-yard completion to H-back Joe Halahuni on a second and 13 play from the Beavers 33-yard line. With James Rodgers out with a knee injury, Katz's top passing options were limited, and if he'd missed the throw over the middle, it's possible the Beavers wouldn't have been too aggressive on a third-and-long call from their own territory. The Beavers got a first down on the Wildcats 24 and were able to run a lot of clock -- six of the next seven plays were runs -- before scoring a TD that gave them a a 29-20 lead, which made it a two-possession game.
Defensive standout: Cal cornerback Darian Hagan had a bad year last season. Not this year. He had two sacks, an interception and five tackles while leading the Bears stellar defensive effort against UCLA. Honorable mentions include Arizona State's Jamaar Jarrett, who had two sacks at Washington, and Oregon's Brandon Bair, who had 3.5 tackles for a loss at Washington State.
Special teams standout: Oregon's Cliff Harris returned a punt 67 yards for a TD at Washington. He has done that three times this year, which is the most in FBS football. Oh, and he returned an interception for a TD at Tennessee.
Smiley face: Cal suffered two tough losses in September: It got embarrassed at Nevada and lost a heartbreaker at Arizona. It could have yielded. Instead, it whipped a hot UCLA team 35-7 and showed it can stop a pistol offense by holding the Bruins to just 144 yards.
Frowny face: Washington had injury issues and QB Jake Locker was trying to play through a flu-like illness, but that doesn't change the fact that it couldn't maintain the momentum it built after a win at USC. Arizona State had plenty of issues, too, but it found a way to win on the road in a rainstorm, weather one would think would benefit the Huskies far more than the Sun Devils.
Thought of the week: Oregon fans: How different did it feel when QB Darron Thomas injured his throwing shoulder knowing you had senior Nate Costa on the bench ready to step in? While Thomas may be back as soon as the UCLA game on Oct. 21, the Ducks would still feel like the Rose Bowl favorites with Costa as the starter. Recall in 2007 that when Dennis Dixon was lost for the year with a knee injury, almost everyone immediately realized the Ducks were in big trouble.
Questions for the week: Does the cannibalism begin now? Or do a couple of teams emerge at the top of the conference? Arizona's loss to Oregon State -- which left only Oregon undefeated -- hinted that stringing together wins is going to be extremely difficult due to the depth of the conference. So does that mean we end up with a muddle of two, three and four-loss teams? Or will Oregon ride home unscathed with an escort in the top-10?
As we pause to take a measure at midseason, some of that proved true. Other aspects have not.
Yes, the Pac-10 is deep. It might be the nation's deepest conference. It has nine quality teams that can compete on a high level, and over the past few weeks team No. 10 -- woeful Washington State -- has shown clear signs of improvement. It doesn't appear there is any game on the conference schedule that qualifies as "easy" any longer.
As for the quarterbacks, that's mostly held true. Stanford's Andrew Luck, Arizona's Nick Foles and USC's Matt Barkley each rank in the top-21 in the nation in passing efficiency. Each looks to have a future playing on Sundays. Moreover, a number of youngsters have stepped up, including Oregon's Darron Thomas, Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Oregon State's Ryan Katz. Arizona State's Steven Threet has put up big passing numbers -- though also too many interceptions -- and California's Kevin Riley has been mostly solid. UCLA's Kevin Prince, when healthy, has been proficient running a new pistol offense, though his passing has regressed.
Perhaps the most hyped of the group, however, Washington's Jake Locker, has underperformed. It's fair to say that three of his five games haven't been very good, including a career-worst performance against Nebraska.
Besides Oregon, we hit the midseason with Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State nationally ranked, though each has suffered a defeat, and in the Beavers case, two.
The Wildcats and Beavers look like the top potential obstacles for Oregon -- the Ducks already dispatched Stanford soundly -- but don't count out Cal, which plays host to the Ducks on Nov. 13.
Oregon State, slotted third in most preseason conference rankings, regained its mojo after winning at Arizona this past weekend. The Wildcats posted perhaps the best nonconference win with a victory against then-No. 9 Iowa.
Arizona State, Washington, UCLA and USC form a second tier. Each has had some good moments. And some bad. The scramble among these teams for bowl eligibility will be a big story in the season's second half, though obviously the Trojans can only play the spoiler as they are ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.
Offensive MVP: LaMichael James leads the nation with 169.6 yards rushing per game. He's scored 10 total touchdowns, including nine rushing. He's a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He's the speedy face of the nation's best offense.
Defensive MVP: UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers is the best defensive player in the conference -- and one of the best in the nation -- but the MVP is Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair, who leads the Pac-10 with 12 tackles for a loss. He also has three sacks and -- get this -- five passes defended.
Biggest surprise: This was going to be Arizona's defense until the Oregon State loss. Instead, it's Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, whose rapid growth running the Oregon spread-option offense has been a revelation and is the prime reason the Ducks are national title contenders. Someone else played quarterback for the Ducks last year but no one remembers his name anymore.
Best game: While UCLA's blowout win at Texas was the most shocking result, Arizona's 34-27 win against then-No. 9 Iowa probably generated the most national respect. The Wildcats came out on fire then tried to hand the game back to the Hawkeyes with a flurry of mistakes. Only instead of wilting, the Wildcats asserted themselves and imposed their will on both sides of the ball, first driving for the winning touchdown and then slamming Iowa's chance for an equalizer with three consecutive sacks. It was a clear, decisive KO victory. The Wildcats showed that, sure, Pac-10 teams are fast, but they also can break your nose.
Best coach: After transforming Oregon's offense into a ridiculously potent and entertaining operation as its coordinator, Chip Kelly got the Ducks to the Rose Bowl in his first season as head coach. Neh. Now he's got the Ducks ranked No. 2 and in serious national title contention. And it benefits the Pac-10 to have a guy who's not afraid to be his colorful self even when the cameras are on. So: Show some respect, OK!
Arizona: The Wildcats, the national team of the week, are 3-0 and ranked 14th after beating No. 9 Iowa, their first victory over a ranked nonconference foe at home since 1989. They are playing well on both sides of the ball and look like a legitimate threat in the Pac-10.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost 20-19 at Wisconsin, but they sure didn't look like the team projected to finish ninth in the Pac-10 this fall. Particularly intriguing is a transformation on offense, as QB Steven Threet seems adept at running Noel Mazzone's spread attack.
UCLA's running game: Last year, UCLA ranked 97th in the nation and ninth in the Pac-10 with 114.6 yards rushing per game. This year, despite playing three quality opponents, the Bruins rank 31st in the nation and fourth in the Pac-10 with 203.7 yards per game.
The return game: Three conference teams already have returned kickoffs for TDs. Oregon has returned three punts for TDs. USC one. Six conference punt returners rank among the top 21 in the nation. Four kick returners rank among the top 17.
Shane Vereen: Vereen ran for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns in California's 52-31 loss at Nevada. He is now second in the Pac-10 and 21st in the nation with 108 yards per game.
Andrew Luck: As Stanford's fortunes rise, so does Luck's Heisman Trophy candidacy. The nation's third-rated passer has 10 TD passes and has not thrown an interception. He also has a 52-yard TD run.
Allen Bradford: A non-factor in USC's first two games, he rolled up 131 yards on just 12 carries with a TD in a 32-21 win at Minnesota.
Justin Washington: Guess who leads the Pac-10 in sacks with four? An Arizona redshirt freshman defensive tackle named Justin Washington, that's who.
Brandon Bair: Is Bair the most underrated player in the Pac-10? Maybe. The Oregon DT leads the conference with 6.5 tackles for a loss after a monster game vs. Portland State.
California: The national ranking went poof amid a flurry of Nevada points last Friday.
Washington: Little went right as Nebraska pounded the Huskies in front of a supremely disappointed home stadium. Rumors of the program's return to national relevancy appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
USC's defense: The Trojans rank sixth in the conference in scoring defense (23.7 ppg), seventh in total defense (411.7 yards per game) and last in passing defense(291.0 ypg). And those numbers came against mediocre-to-bad teams.
Washington State's offensive line: The Cougars have surrendered 10 sacks -- three more than any other conference team -- and rank last in the conference in rushing (96.7 ypg).
UCLA's ball security: UCLA ranks last in the conference and 112th in the nation in turnover margin. The Bruins are minus-five on the year, with their 10 giveaways being twice as many as any other conference team.
Oregon State's pass rush: The Beavers only have two sacks in two games, which might be a big reason opponents are completing 60 percent of their passes, which is the second-worst completion rate in the conference. Up next: Boise State's Kellen Moore.
Jake Locker: You might have heard that Locker turned in the worst performance of his career vs. Nebraska. It's hard to become a Heisman Trophy candidate -- and justify a high NFL draft grade -- when your QB rating ranks ninth in the Pac-10 and 65th in the nation.
But there's a third step for Oregon: Replacing the now wounded Trojans as the lead dog -- lead Duck? -- in the Pac-10 pecking order. To do that the Ducks need only repeat as champs in a conference that features seven teams, that at least one reporter, deemed worthy of a first-place vote.
The Ducks can't motivate themselves by trying to prove their doubters wrong, an approach many coaches and players adopt when they are unhappy with the perch in media polls. They can't claim they are being disrespected. They are the favorites.
"What do you say when you're on top?" defensive tackle Brandon Bair said with a shrug.
Oh, but you know what they do say: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Or not.
"Preseason rankings don’t mean anything to us," coach Chip Kelly said.
Thing is, Oregon might have been an overwhelming favorite instead of just nipping USC by three points and three first-place votes -- one pollster even dumped the Ducks into ninth place. If Jeremiah Masoli hadn't thrown what had been an outstanding career into the dumpster, he would have been hanging out in New York this week with the other Pac-10 quarterbacks, answering a hundred questions about his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
As it is, the Ducks still have 18 starters back and appear deeper and faster than any other team in the conference. But quarterbacks are, you know, important.
"It’s always a question mark when you lose your quarterback," Kelly said. "We have two competent players in Nate Costa and Darron Thomas who will battle it out in preseason camp."
Bair said the Ducks are treating Masoli's, er, departure like a graduation -- next guy steps up. But Bair rejected the notion that it's "Rose Bowl or bust" for the new conference frontrunners. Sort of.
"I'm not going to say Rose Bowl or bust -- I'm shooting for Arizona," Bair said. "If we can be the best that we can, the Rose Bowl is the worst that can happen to us."
Arizona, by the way, is the site of this year's national title game.
Do this: Google "Pac-1o commissioner Larry Scott" then do "Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen."
Yeah: Stunning. Nearly two million hits vs. 105,000.
While some traditionalists -- and the Pac-10 still has plenty of those -- might not believe that's necessarily a good thing, what Scott has done in one year is dramatic: He's made the conference big news. Even when his grand plan for a "Pac-16" fell apart due to a Texas two-step, Scott's bold behind-the-scenes maneuvering was the lead story of an usually busy college football summer.
When the machinations finally ended, the conference added two teams, Colorado and Utah, and everyone now waits to see how Scott will parlay that into a media deal that keeps the conference financially competitive with the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
But that answer won't come until 2011. The present "next big thing" is this week: A bi-coastal showcase of Pac-10 football coaches and players. And new, aggressive Pac-10 marketing.
Danette Leighton, an Arizona alum and the Pac-10's new -- and first -- chief marketing officer, uses terms like "sizzle" when she talks about how the conference plans to present itself to the media and public.
"It's about presenting Larry Scott's vision," she said.
That vision means elevating the Pac-10's national profile and waging war on the "East Coast bias" -- real or mythical -- by reaching out in order to overcome instead of merely complaining about perceived slights. That vision means putting the Pac-10 in front of a national audience as much as possible, even if much of that audience supports other conferences and is inclined to boo an interloper from the West.
Cheering or booing -- that means folks are paying attention. And those eyeballs, Scott believes, will translate to increased revenue and a better position in the college football pecking order.
As for the new stuff this week ... You can see the new Pac-10 website here when it opens at 2 p.m. PT on Tuesday. And you can pose questions to the coaches and players available during Thursday's media day on the new Pac-10 Twitter page.
The Pac-10 blog will be tagging along to all three destinations (image: Pac-10 blog walking up to Pac-10 coaches, "Hey, are you guys playing cards?"). That means lots of stories and videos over the next few days. So you may want to take a few days off.
Here's the media days itinerary:
Tuesday (New York)
5 p.m. ET: News conference at the Manhattan W Hotel featuring all 10 coaches and the unveiling of new Pac-10 logo and football trailer. Pac-10 QBs will visit Times Square -- where the Pac-10 football video will be playing on the Jumbotron -- and the Empire State Building.
6 p.m.: Private cocktail reception at W's "Whiskey Blue" with TV executives, corporate sponsors, former players and other VIPs.
8 p.m.: Coaches eat dinner with ESPN's "GameDay" crew. Coach spouses will see Broadway musical, "Promises, Promises."
Wednesday (New York, ESPN)
Morning: Coaches will ring the opening bell at NASDAQ and then conduct East Coast media interviews.
11 a.m.: Bus to ESPN offices in Bristol, Conn., where players and coaches will do interviews on all ESPN platforms.
5 p.m.: Charter flight from New York to Los Angeles; check in Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel.
Thursday (at Rose Bowl, all times PT)
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Coach and player group interview session (field)
9:30 a.m. - Introduction and format - Dave Hirsch
9:35 a.m. - Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott
9:45 a.m. - Paul Wulff & DE Kevin Kooyman, Washington State
10:00 a.m. - Dennis Erickson & PK Thomas Weber, Arizona State
10:15 a.m. - Rick Neuheisel & FS Rahim Moore, UCLA
10:30 a.m. - Steve Sarkisian & LB Mason Foster, Washington
10:45 a.m. - Jeff Tedford & LB Mike Mohamed, California
11:00 a.m. - BREAK
11:15 a.m. - Lane Kiffin & QB Matt Barkley, USC
11:30 a.m. - Jim Harbaugh & FB/LB Owen Marecic, Stanford
11:45 a.m. - Mike Riley & RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
12 noon - Mike Stoops & QB Nick Foles, Arizona
12:15 p.m. - Chip Kelly & DT Brandon Bair, Oregon
12:30 p.m. - Pac-10 video presentation
12:30-2:30: One-on-one coach/player interviews during luncheon.
5:30 p.m.: Reception at the Fox Network Studios: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman host Pac-10 presentation.
Turns out, Ohio State was more than willing to air it out on its first possession of the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi. Jim Tressel called six consecutive pass plays, one of which Terrelle Pryor turned into a 24-yard scramble. The passing set up a big Brandon Saine run, and Pryor ended the 10-play, 74-yard drive by finding Saine for a 13-yard score as Ohio State leads 7-0.
Pryor looks very relaxed out there, and he showed good patience in waiting for Saine to get open along the sideline. Ohio State's offensive line, which played well down the stretch, is giving him time to throw. I still think the Buckeyes should run Pryor a lot in this game, but he's clearly more comfortable throwing the ball today than he was for most of the season.
You can't blame the Ducks for wanting to forget a day where they allowed 51 points to Stanford and 223 rushing yards to Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart in a 51-42 loss.
Unfortunately for Oregon players, Ohio State has brought back the bad memories.
"That's probably the most comparable team that [Ohio State] can game-plan from," Ducks linebacker Spencer Paysinger said of Stanford. "They know that Toby was getting five or six yards every single gain. If I were them, they would have to go into that film and try to take out some of the pieces."
Ohio State obviously can't reproduce the biggest piece, as Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair points out.
"Ohio State doesn't have a Toby Gerhart," Bain said. "When Toby Gerhart wasn't in the game, it was easy to stop their power game."
What the Buckeyes do have is the nation's No. 19 rushing offense (198.9 ypg), a unit that gained steam late in the season. Ohio State's rushing attack fueled the team's surge to another Big Ten title, as the Buckeyes averaged 257.6 rush yards during their final five games. Running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron played their best football in November, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor is always a threat to run.
Ohio State lacks a dominant individual rusher like Gerhart, but it's power run-oriented style is something Oregon doesn't see much in the Pac-10, except from Stanford and USC.
"It was an eye-opener," Paysinger said of facing Stanford this season. "A lot of Pac-10 schools, they think of us more finesse than just straight power. But the fact that we do have a team like [Stanford] in our conference gives us an advantage because we can play both types of football."
And Oregon will be better prepared this time around. The Ducks had their game plan installed early last week, and the defenders seemed very confident at Monday's media session.
"We didn't think we were as ready as we should have been for [the Stanford game]," linebacker Casey Matthews said. "We could definitely tell in the practices. After that game happened, we knew what we had to clean up."
STANFORD, Calif. -- A week after being nearly perfect, Oregon crashed back to earth at Stanford.
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Ducks coach Chip Kelly will have to rally his team after a tough loss.|
At least the Ducks already know they can bounce back. Their 51-42 loss to the Cardinal probably won't feel nearly as stunning as the season-opening defeat at Boise State did, particularly without any notable post-game complications.
"The guys' reaction in the locker room is we've been here before," tight end Ed Dickson said. "It all starts with practice on Monday. We've got to win the day. And we didn't win today."
That's for sure. Stanford led by 17 points at halftime and pushed its lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter before the Ducks made a last, desperate and abortive rally.
While a team loses as a team, Dickson and all the other Ducks know what went wrong against the Cardinal.
"We can't allow them to score on every single drive," he said.
The Oregon offense wasn't nearly its finely tuned self for much of the game, at least not the version that piled up 613 yards and looked unstoppable against USC. But it did end up scoring 42 points and rolling up 570 yards.
The problem was Stanford had 505 of its own, and it was evenly spread throughout the game, as well as between running back Toby Gerhart (223 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and quarterback Andrew Luck (251 yards, two TDs).
"We had a real hard time stopping them," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.
The Ducks entered the game ranked 20th in the nation in total defense (301 yards per game) and 19th in scoring defense (17.13). They had surrendered just 58 points in their first five Pac-10 games.
Gerhart and Luck didn't seem impressed. If the Ducks ganged up to stop Gerhart, Luck beat them downfield. If they dropped into coverage, Gerhart bowled them over.
Stanford also seemed to consistently get the upper hand at the line of scrimmage, and defensive tackle Brandon Bair said the Cardinal confused them with formations that gave them extra blockers at the point of attack.
"It was something we needed to adjust to and it took us too long to do it," he said. "We didn't give it the attention we should have."
As for why the Ducks failed to pressure Luck?
"We needed to keep guys back in coverage and we didn't have a chance to get as much blitzes as we normally wanted," Bair said.
The Ducks were sloppy at times on both sides of the ball, despite not committing any turnovers. They were flagged for nine penalties for 89 yards -- a number of which came at inconvenient times -- and dropped a handful of passes.
Kelly took note of those, but he wouldn't blame them on a hangover from the USC victory.
"We got beat by a better team," he said. "If you say we were looking behind or ahead, it takes away from Stanford. Stanford is a heck of a football team."
Oregon (7-2, 5-1) and Arizona (6-2, 4-1) are the only Pac-10 teams that control their own destiny. They play in Tucson on Nov. 21.
Thus Kelly's message in his locker room after the game
"The same thing I told them after the Boise game: One game doesn't define you," he said.
The Ducks will start their second push for redemption Saturday at home against Arizona State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One of the charms of college football is the mostly predictable roster rotation. Young guys break through, become stars and then leave after their third, fourth or fifth year. Then a new cast tries to fill the void.
While there are numerous size 36 EEE shoes to fill -- figuratively speaking, of course -- in the Pac-10 this spring, we'll focus on five here.
|Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|It's going to be tough for the Trojans to replace Rey Maualuga.|
And because quarterback competitions across the conference are so obvious, we're going to make this a "non-quarterback" category.
Also note that spring is a time for the experimentation. Coaches love to mix-and-match players, so there might be some surprises we didn't anticipate.
Big shoes: USC LB Rey Maualuga
Stepping in: Sophomore Chris Galippo
- Out goes everybody's All-American Maualuga, in goes everybody's 2006 prep All-American Galippo, a sure tackler who packs a punch at 255 pounds. He had 12 tackles, two coming for a loss, and an interception last season. He saw action as a true freshman before suffering a herniated disk in his back, an injury that also limited him last season. He seemed healthy the second half of the season, but back injuries are tricky. That might be the biggest issue standing between Galippo and future stardom.
Big shoes: California C Alex Mack
Stepping in: Junior Richard Fisher or junior Chris Guarnero
- Fisher is a former walk-on and a vegetarian. For real. He was listed as the backup behind Mack last season. Guarnero started the first three games at left guard before suffering a season-ending toe injury. He is expected back for spring ball. With a new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, and lots of returning starting experience -- seven players have started at least one game -- there might be lots of experimenting up front this spring.
Big shoes: Oregon DE Nick Reed
Stepping in: Junior Brandon Bair, junior Kenny Rowe, JC transfer Zac Clark
- Reed had 20 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last year (29.5 for his career). His potential replacements had no sacks last season. Some Oregon fans took issue with my suggesting in our "What to watch this spring," that Bair was the frontrunner to replace Reed. I wrote that because Rowe was listed at 215 pounds on last year's depth chart and was almost exclusively a pass-rush specialist. Meanwhile, Clark is an unknown quantity as an incoming JC transfer. On the other hand, Bair is more in the mold of returning big end Will Tukuafu, so perhaps Rowe, who's listed at 230 pounds on the updated roster, and Clark will battle it out. Guessing this one is wide open, to be honest.
Big shoes: Arizona State FS Troy Nolan
Stepping in: Sophomore Clint Floyd leads a pack of possibilities
- Nolan had 64 tackles and four interceptions playing center field for the Sun Devils' defense, and he'll be the toughest guy to replace for a unit that should be fairly salty next fall. Floyd will get first crack, but junior Max Tabach, redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson and senior Jarrell Holman could make a move.
- Stroughter was the Pac-10's only 1,000-yard receiver last year. Morales added 743 yards, while this duo combined for 15 of the Beavers 25 touchdown receptions. Catchings caught only seven passes but was No. 2 on the depth chart. Bishop was impressive while redshirting, particularly during Sun Bowl practices. And slot receiver James Rodgers figures to see more balls downfield this fall after mostly being a fly-sweep specialist the past two seasons.