NCF Nation: Brian Price

LOS ANGELES -- Last season, a group of players on the UCLA defense got together to watch the BCS national championship game. One Bruin in particular -- defensive end Datone Jones -- watched with a keener eye and sense of purpose.

"I was watching Alabama's defense and they were fearless," said Jones, who is heading into his fifth season at UCLA. "I'm a fan of good defense. Those guys aren't that much more special than we are. We are all 6-4 and strong. They just have a different mentality than we do. They found out who they were early and they weren't going to be anything else but that.

"That's how we have to be. I feel like we lost our way as a defense. When I got here, guys like Reggie Carter and Brian Price were taking control of the defense and making plays. We were known as a defensive team. We lost our way and now we're trying to find it. If we do, we've got eight fifth-year seniors on this defense, and we could be something special."

UCLA's numbers from last season suggest anything but special.
  • [+] EnlargeDatone Jones
    Ric Tapia/Icon SMIDatone Jones says UCLA's defense underperformed last season and this year's unit will be improved.
    8th in the conference in scoring defense
  • 8th in total defense
  • 11th in rush defense
  • 6th in pass efficiency defense
  • 11th in sacks
  • 12th in opponent first downs
  • 11th in opponent third-down conversion
  • 9th in red zone defense

"That's not us," Jones said. "We left too many plays on the field last year and got exposed and didn't look very good. That's not who we are. We're going hard on each other and the coaches are putting us in tough situations. We're being asked to man up and that's what we have to do."

Jones, in particular. After missing all of the 2010 season with a fractured foot, the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder from Compton, Calif., was heavy on the hype, but not so much on the results. Some of that wasn't his fault. Teams knew his reputation and either ran away from his side or double and triple teamed him. Tough to make a play with three offensive linemen on you.

Still he led the Bruins defensive line with 41 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. But that's not good enough in his mind.

"I know I had a lot of hype last year -- teams know UCLA has a potential All-American defensive end -- so they aren't running the ball or they are double-or-triple teaming me, but other guys weren't there to make the plays. If I'm getting double-downed, that means someone is free. But it works both ways. There were times when I was freed up and didn't make the play. That's what it comes down to. As a defense, we need to start making plays."

Jones is very encouraged by UCLA's switch to a mostly 3-4 defensive front. His responsibility changes a bit. The defensive linemen aren't asked to get as much penetration as they were in the 4-3. Rather their focus is on gap control and controlling the man in front of them. The new system means less double teams for Jones and more of an opportunity to showcase his skills as a run-stopper.

"I'm very excited about this defense," he said. "It's taking some getting used to. But I think at the next level this is what I'm probably going to have to do so it's good preparation.

"And I probably won't see as many double teams. Because if you double the end, [linebacker] Patrick Larimore is going to come free and I would not want to get hit by that man. Or Eric Kendricks or Keenan Graham. I feel like we're going to be loaded this year."

New defensive coordinator Lou Spanos said he and defensive line coach Angus McClure -- the only holdover from the previous coaching staff -- are spending the spring trying to change the mentality of the group. And Jones is going to be a big part of that.

"Right now he's doing a very good job adjusting," Spanos said. "He's focusing on the details and that's what we need and we drill these guys and install the ideas we think you need to be a successful defensive line."

With a renewed sense of excitement around the program and the scheme, Jones feels like he's ready to better handle the expectations this season.

"I'm definitely ready for the hype," he said. "I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid. I know it's there. There are always going to be assumptions that I can't do this or I can't do that. I'm ready to prove everyone wrong and I'm ready to start winning with my teammates."
The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)
Here's a prediction: California defensive end Tyson Alualu is going to surprise some folks and end up a top-10 NFL draft pick.

Little late on that one, eh?

Alualu was the first Pac-10 player drafted Thursday night -- which was projected by no one -- going 10th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Bears teammate Jahvid Best was the only other conference player selected on Day 1. Best went to the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick.

Round 2 begins today at 6 p.m. ET. Expect the second round to include a number of Pac-10 players, including those who slipped during recent weeks, such as USC safety Taylor Mays and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Alualu is the highest Cal selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001. He is the Bears’ ninth top-10 pick in the draft’s history. And his selection was rated the "biggest reach" of the first day by Todd McShay.

Wrote McShay, "Jacksonville used the 10th overall pick to take California DT Tyson Alualu, who we feel is a good player but is only the No. 35 overall on our board. Top-10 money is pretty rich for a player like Alualu, especially when pass-rushers like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul would have offered much more value at that point."

Another notable pick is the Seattle Seahawks' selection of safety Earl Thomas at No. 14. That means former USC coach Pete Carroll wanted a safety but didn't want Mays.


Got to admit: I thought at least one team would jump on Mays just because of his athleticism, much like it took only one team to make Tim Tebow a No. 1 pick (Denver).

Another observation: Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford going No. 1 overall is a good thing for college football. It shows players who want to come back for their senior season that even a major injury won't automatically ruin your draft prospects.

Of course, Mays right now is probably questioning his decision to return, considering he likely would have been a top-15 pick in 2009.

Spring Pac-10 power rankings

February, 10, 2010
Where does everyone stand heading into spring practices? These rankings are about today -- not 2009 -- and what's coming back in 2010. Recruiting success also is a secondary factor.

Nos. 4 through 8 were difficult because each team has some nice players coming back, as well as some big losses -- players and coaches.

Expect these to change, perhaps dramatically, before the 2010 season.

1. Oregon: All the pieces are here for another Rose Bowl run, the only question being the defensive line. The Ducks also had a top-25 recruiting class, with a number of incoming players appearing capable of immediately contributing.

2. USC: A top-10 recruiting class bolsters USC and provides momentum for new coach Lane Kiffin. On the downside, three offensive linemen and the entire secondary need to be replaced. Still, the depth chart hints the Trojans will be in the conference -- and perhaps national -- mix.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers lose just five starters, but all eyes will be on the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring. Young quarterbacks thrived in the conference in 2009, so there's no reason to believe the Beavers can't find a guy who can be productive.

4. California: You might as well pick the next five teams from a hat. The Bears lose their three best players -- Jahvid Best, Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson -- and are uncertain at quarterback. Still, a strong recruiting effort paired with lower expectations might be the ticket for a "Don't call it a comeback!" season in Berkeley.

5. Washington: The Huskies (Jake Locker) are thin on both lines (Jake Locker) and lost their two best (Jake Locker) defensive players -- end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and linebacker Donald Butler. But there's a lot of returning skill on offense (Jake Locker) and recruiting went well (Jake Locker). What's-his-name is a pretty good QB.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal welcome back eight on offense, but Toby Gerhart is gone. The defense loses five starters, not including end Erik Lorig, who missed most of the season with a groin injury. And there's been significant coaching turnover. Strong recruiting will fill gaps. But how well?

7. Arizona: The Wildcats must replace 12 starters and two coordinators. That's a lot of turnover. On the plus side, quarterback Nick Foles has a lot of skill around him and defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed could be the best pass rushing combo in the Pac-10.

8. UCLA: The Bruins offense must break through next year because it's hard to imagine the defense won't take a step back after losing six starters, including tackle Brian Price and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Problem is the offense, which loses four starters, ranked ninth in the conference in scoring in 2009.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lose seven starters on both sides of the ball. The defense should be OK. It remains to be seen if the offense can dramatically improve with a new starting quarterback and new coordinator.

10. Washington State: The Cougars, who only lose four starters, should be much better in 2010. Quarterback Jeff Tuel and defensive end Travis Long, who both started as true freshmen, are two reasons for hope. It's still a risky bet, however, to predict they climb out of the conference cellar.

Pac-10: Biggest shoes to fill in 2010

February, 8, 2010
After every season, starters leave. But not all starters are created equal.

Here are the biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-10 with spring practices just around the corner.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

How do you replace the best running back in the nation, a guy who scored 28 touchdowns and rushed for 1,871 yards? You don't. Those sorts don't come around every season.

The Contenders: Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gafney will get first crack, as well as Jeremy Stewart, who's coming back from a knee injury. Incoming freshman Anthony Wilkerson could be a dark horse.

Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State

The first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback became an NFL prospect during a strong senior season. He led the conference with 3,271 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, which tied with Washington's Jake Locker.

The Contenders: This will be a showdown between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring, with Katz starting as the leader.

Brian Price, DT, UCLA

Price could be an NFL first-round draft pick. He led the Pac-10 with 23.5 tackles for a loss in 2009. 'Nuff said.

The Contenders: Good question. The Bruins are perilously thin here, considering both tackles need to be replaced and only senior David Carter has much experience. The answers here might be in the Bruins' recruiting class.

Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California

The Cal secondary was a huge disappointment this season, but Thompson, a four-year starter and two-time first-team All-Pac-10 performer, was mostly his usually stellar self.

The Contenders: Will Darian Hagan step up in his senior season? Perhaps the answer is sophomore Josh Hill? Or maybe a redshirt guy? The Bears only signed one player listed as a corner in their most recent recruiting class. Expect there to be a lot of competition here this spring.

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington

Te'o-Nesheim, a high-motor guy who started four years and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors his final two seasons, ranking third in the conference with 9.5 sacks.

The Contenders: Considering the other end, Darrion Jones, also is gone, the Huskies will trend young here. Andru Pulu was listed behind Te'o-Nesheim on the depth chart, with Talia Crichton and Kalani Aldrich on the other side. There also will be opportunities for younger players here.

Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon

Dickson not only was the Ducks' second-leading receiver with 42 receptions for 551 yards and six touchdowns, the matchup problems he presented forced defenses to scheme specifically for him. That helps an offense in ways that aren't accounted for in statistics.

The Contenders: Junior David Paulson was Dickson's backup last year, and he had some nice moments, but he's no Dickson. JC transfer Brandon Williams and touted incoming freshman Curtis White will be in the mix here.

Kenny Alfred, C, Washington State

Alfred, a four-year starter, was a good player on a bad -- and beaten up -- line. His brain as well as his physical ability will be hard to replace.

The Contenders: Walk-on junior Chris Prummer was listed as Alfred's backup -- largely due to injury -- but Andrew Roxas, who redshirted this year after contracting viral hepatitis, is probably the leader here, though Steven Ayers could move inside to challenge him. Or there could be some reshuffling.

Pac-10 all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
The Pac-10 bowl season didn't go well, but that doesn't mean you don't make an all-bowl team.

You may notice a lot of USC and UCLA players. You might remember that the LA schools posted the conference's only two wins.


QB Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley completed 27 of 37 throws for 350 yards with two touchdowns against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. He also had two interceptions.

RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford: Against an Oklahoma defense ganging up on him, he rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a Sun Bowl loss.

RB Stanley Havili, USC: He only rushed for 2 yards, but he also he caught six passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns.

WR Damian Williams, USC: He caught 12 passes for a season-high 189 yards.

WR Damola Adeniji, Oregon State: He caught seven passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Beavers' Las Vegas Bowl loss to BYU.

TE Anthony Miller, California: He led Cal with five receptions for 55 yards in the Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah.

OL Chris Marinelli, Stanford: The offense was without its starting quarterback, but Gerhart gained 133 yards and the Sooners only had one sack.

OL Mike Tepper, California: Cal's pass protection wasn't great against Utah, but running back Shane Vereen finished with 122 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

OL Charles Brown, USC: The Trojans didn't run terribly well vs. Boston College, but they only yielded one sack and gave Barkley plenty of time to throw.

OL Jake Dean, UCLA: He was thrust into the starting lineup after starting center after Kai Maiava was ruled academically ineligible, and the Bruins yielded only one sack vs. Temple.

OL Chase Beeler, Stanford: See Marinelli.

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: He kicked field goals of 40 and 42 yards.


DE Kenny Rowe, Oregon: He set a Rose Bowl and Oregon bowl record with three sacks in a losing effort against Ohio State.

DT Jurrell Casey, USC: Casey had five tackles, a sack and a 22-yard return of a fumble.

DT Brian Price, UCLA: Price started slowly vs. Temple but he dominated the second half and finished with five tackles, with one coming for a loss.

DE Tyson Alualu, California: Alualu had five tackles, with 1.5 coming for a loss.

LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Ayers led the Bruins with nine tackles, two for a loss, and his leaping interception at the Temple 2-yard line, which he returned for a TD, was the play of the Pac-10 bowl season.

LB Kyle Bosworth, UCLA: He finished with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.

LB Eddie Young, California: Young had seven tackles and returned an interception 31 yards for a TD.

CB Shareece Wright, USC: In his first game back after academic ineligibility, Wright grabbed a key interception.

CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA: Verner had seven tackles, two for a loss, and a pass breakup.

S Rahim Moore, UCLA: Moore had four tackles and an interception.

S Taylor Mays, USC: Mays had five tackles for a Trojans defense that shut down Boston College in the second half.

P David Green, Stanford: He averaged 44 yards on six punts, three of which were downed inside the Sooners' 20-yard line.

EagleBank Bowl preview

December, 28, 2009
Breaking down the EagleBank Bowl between UCLA (6-6) and Temple (9-3).

WHO TO WATCH: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has been inconsistent this year and is coming back from a shoulder injury that he suffered against USC. If he is healthy and on-target, the Bruins should be able to attack an Owls secondary that isn't terribly skilled. And the passing threat should open up the Bruins' typically anemic running game a bit against a tough Owls run defense. In other words, Prince is the linchpin here. If he play well, UCLA should be able to score. But the Bruins won't be able to just line up and run right at Temple, which boasts a solid front-seven, particularly with a banged up offensive line.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Bruins' run defense has been hot and cold this year, ranking seventh in the Pac-10 while giving up 144 yards on the ground per game. Temple is a run-first team with a good pair of true freshmen running backs in Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown. The good news for UCLA is middle linebacker Reggie Carter, who has been slowed by a sprained knee much of the year, is healthy again. And it's unlikely that the Owls have faced many front-sevens with as much power and athleticism as UCLA, particularly junior tackle Brian Price, a potential first-round NFL draft choice if he opts (as expected) to enter the NFL draft. If Temple struggles to run, it could be in trouble because it ranks 112th in the nation in passing and the Bruins' ball-hawking secondary is among the best in the country.

WHY WATCH: It's a last chance to see -- probably -- three of the Pac-10's best defensive players in Price, Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Also, the Pac-10 is looking to even its bowl record after an 0-2 start to the postseason. Further, if Price and the offense show some sparks, it bodes well for the Bruins continuing their deliberate climb in the conference pecking order in 2010, Season 3 under Rick Neuheisel.

PREDICTION: UCLA has better players, but Temple, playing in its first bowl game in 30 years, will compete as though its collective hair is on fire. So the big issue is will the Bruins match the Owls' passion? Or at least approach it? And might chilly temperatures in Washington, D.C., get the best of the Bruins, who are accustomed to the warmth of Southern California? If UCLA is focused, it should win. The guess here is that the Owls will scrap and claw into the third quarter, but the Bruins will gradually take control and win 24-17.

2009 All-Pac-10 team

December, 8, 2009
We copped out at running back, but it just didn't seem fair to recognize only two.

First-team offense
QB Sean Canfield, Sr., Oregon State
RB Toby Gerhart, Sr., Stanford
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, So., Oregon State
RB LaMichael James, RFr., Oregon
WR James Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Damian Williams, Jr., USC
TE Ed Dickson, Sr., Oregon
OG Jeff Byers, Sr., USC
OG Gregg Peat, Sr., Oregon State
OT Charles Brown, Sr., USC
OT Chris Marinelli, Sr., Stanford
C Kenny Alfred, Sr., Washington State
K Kai Forbath, Jr., UCLA

First-team defense
DT Brian Price, Jr., UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Jr., Oregon State
DE Tyson Alualu, Sr., California
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington
LB Keaton Kristick, Sr., Oregon State
LB Mike Mohamed, Jr., California
LB Donald Butler, Sr., Washington
S Rahim Moore, So., UCLA
S Taylor Mays, Sr., USC
CB Trevin Wade, So., Arizona
CB Alterraun Verner, Sr., UCLA
P Trevor Hankins, Jr., Arizona State

Wrapping up the Pac-10 regular season

December, 8, 2009
It was a strange, unpredictable and exciting year for the Pac-10.

All of those terms, however, can't hide the fact that the conference didn't produce a second BCS team for the seventh consecutive year. And didn't deserve one -- five teams finished 8-4 behind 10-2 Oregon.

On the plus said, the Pac-10, which finished 21-9 in nonconference games (.700), earned a widespread reputation among pundits as the nation's deepest conference, and perhaps its best, top-to-bottom. Nine teams received votes at some point this season in the AP poll and seven were ranked at some point. Seven teams won six or more games and earned bowl eligibility.

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford running back Toby Gerhart is a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Five teams were ranked in the final BCS standings, more than any other conference.

That's dandy. But did we mention the lack of a second BCS bowl team? That costs the conference $4.5 million each year it happens.

For comparison's sake, the Big Ten has lost six consecutive BCS bowl games, but it's had two BCS bowl teams six of the past seven years. Do the math.

While the conference's nine-game round-robin schedule certainly hurts the effort to get two BCS bowl teams, the conference also deserves its share of the blame for not coming up big in a number of marquee nonconference games.

Oregon State lost to Cincinnati; Oregon lost to Boise State; Arizona lost to Iowa; Washington lost to LSU; Arizona State lost to Georgia; Stanford lost to Wake Forest.

Sure, no other conference played teams ranked No. 3, 6, 10 and 12 in the final BCS standings, but a couple of wins certainly would have helped the cause.

Beyond the national issues, the internal churn within the conference standings was particularly noteworthy. For the first time in seven years, USC didn't at least share the conference championship and earn a berth in a BCS bowl game. Moreover, there was real mystery who would win the conference title until the final week of the season.

While the teams at the top scrambled, the Trojans, the preseason favorites, took a shocking tumble to fifth place.

That is as big a story as anything else.

Offensive MVP -- Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart turned in the best season of any offensive player in the nation. He finished second in the nation with 145 yards per game and first with 26 rushing touchdowns. The first-team All-Academic pick even passed for a TD. All that earned him an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.

Defensive MVP -- UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Price led the conference with 22.5 tackles for a loss, a number that ranked third in the nation. No one else in the conference had more than 14.5 TFL. He also had seven sacks and forced two fumbles. All that despite frequently fighting through double-teams.

Newcomer of the year -- Oregon's running back LaMichael James.

James, a redshirt freshman, ranked second in the Pac-10 and eighth in the nation with 123 yards rushing per game. His 1,476 yards set a new conference freshman rushing record. He also scored 14 touchdowns and ranked first in the conference with 6.87 yards per carry. James led the country with 20 runs of at least 20 yards.

Coach of the year -- Oregon's Chip Kelly.

It's impressive that Kelly led Oregon to a Pac-10 championship and its first Rose Bowl since the 1994 season in his first season as head coach. But everyone knows it was more than that. The performance at Boise State in the season-opener was abysmal. And LeGarrette Blount's behavior afterwards was even worse. But Kelly kept his locker room together, and the Ducks won 10 of their final 11 games. Not a single person in the country thought that would happen on Sept. 3.

Biggest surprise -- Arizona.

The Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the preseason media poll. The Pac-10 blog, an unabashed Wildcats believer, only picked them fifth. But they are headed to the Holiday Bowl, which makes them first among the three teams that tied for second in the conference. Once embattled coach Mike Stoops led the Wildcats to an 8-4 finish, despite losing their quarterback, top receiver and dominant left tackle from 2008, and then seeing their All-American tight end, Rob Gronkowski, go down to injury in the preseason.

Biggest disappointment -- USC.

USC's dynasty wasn't going to last forever, but the general thought is a rival would seize the title in a tight race, not that the Trojans would go belly-up. An early loss at Washington was surprising, but it fit USC's previous M.O., -- a stumble vs. Pac-10 underdog followed by reassertion of dominance. Then came a 27-point loss at Oregon. And, two weeks later, Stanford gleefully ran up the score in a 55-21 win. Completing the deluge, Arizona handed the Trojans their second loss in the Coliseum, 21-17, in the season-finale. The Trojans, once ranked fourth in the nation, now have a date with Boston College in the Emerald Bowl as the Pac-10's No. 5 team.

Game of the year: Oregon 44, Arizona 41 2 OT

Speaking of Arizona, this double-overtime defeat at home ended up costing the Wildcats the Rose Bowl. But both teams played so well and with such energy in this back-and-forth affair, it was more about Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli willing his team to victory. This might not just have been the best Pac-10 game of the year, it might have been the best period.

Pac-10 helmet stickers, Week 12

November, 22, 2009
Who stood out in Week 12?

Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon: Masoli accounted for all six of Oregon's touchdowns in the Ducks' thrilling, 44-41 double-overtime win at Arizona. He ran for 61 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner. And he passed for 284 yards and three touchdowns, including the one that tied the game with 6 seconds left in regulation.

Shane Vereen, RB, California: Vereen, starting for the injured Jahvid Best for a second time, rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries -- 42 carries! -- with three touchdowns in the Bears' 34-28 Big Game win over Stanford. Last week in a win over Arizona, Vereen rushed for 159 yards.

Brian Price, DT, UCLA: Price had had four tackles for a loss and two sacks, one of which caused a fumble that became one of two Bruins defensive touchdowns in UCLA's 23-13 win over Arizona State, which made the Bruins bowl eligible. He also was second on the team with six total tackles. Price leads the Pac-10 with 20.5 tackles for a loss. He has seven sacks.

Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon: Maehl caught a career-high 12 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks' victory -- and many of the catches were spectacular.

Jeff Tedford, California: His team was a national punchline after it went from No. 6 in the nation to a 72-6 loser to Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends. But, very quietly, and despite the loss of their star running back the past two games, the 8-3 Bears have crawled back to respectability by winning five of their last six games, the lone loss coming to Oregon State when Best was knocked out on the field.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: The Big Game loss certainly wasn't Gerhart's fault. The Heisman Trophy candidate scored four touchdowns -- he now leads the nation with 23 -- and rushed for 136 yards against a sturdy Bears defense. He also had a tough 29-yard reception that put the Cardinal in position to win the game at the end before Cal iced things with an interception near the goal line.

Pac-10 midseason review

October, 20, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

The Pac-10's 2009 campaign started with a face plant that would become an impressive launching point, so the story of the midseason is not to believe one week's results because the next's might change everything.

Oregon looked awful at Boise State, and that doesn't even include the postgame melee with LeGarrette Blount.

But the Ducks are now 5-1 and alone atop the conference at 3-0. They are ranked 11th in the BCS standings. They have a legitimate chance to unseat USC and end the Trojans' seven-year run of championships.

Speaking of USC, after it won 18-15 at Ohio State with true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, it seemed the Trojans were ready to again challenge for a national title -- even in a (nudge, nudge) rebuilding year.
 Nick Doan/Icon SMI
 Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers is averaging more than 116 yards rushing per game this season.

Then they lost at Washington, 16-13, which just the week before had ended a 15-game losing streak.

Yet, consider USC again: It's still in it, ranked No. 4 in the polls and seventh in the BCS standings.

Arizona flopped at Iowa and changed quarterbacks. Sounds ominous, huh?

But sophomore Nick Foles has been mostly brilliant, and if not for a pass bouncing off a receivers foot at Washington, the Wildcats would be ranked highly and in the mix with Oregon and USC.

Stanford made a run, then lost two conference games in a row. Its lack of team speed on defense is an obvious deficiency.

Oregon State -- déjà vu -- started slowly. But not as slowly as usual, needing only to muddle to a 2-2 start -- instead of 2-3 as it did the previous three seasons -- before bouncing back with two consecutive conference wins.

Arizona State unveiled a physical, athletic defense that ranks with the best in the nation. Now, if the offense can become merely adequate, then the Sun Devils might surge.

UCLA started fast. Then lost three in a row, showing it's a lot harder to win Pac-10 games than beat Tennessee, which the Bruins have done consecutive years.

Washington State? Hmm. Better. Tougher. But still outmanned. And those injuries! The Cougs deserve a break.

But it doesn't appear there will be many of those in the conference this year.

The nine-game round robin schedule has always put the Pac-10 at a perception disadvantage. No other conference writes in five additional losses every season by choice.

But, with this year's depth, it's possible that when the smoke clears on Dec. 5, there will be a lot of good teams bandaging wounds.

Offensive MVP: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers leads the conference in touchdowns --13 -- and ranks second in rushing with 116.2 yards per game. He's also caught 38 passes -- second-most in the conference -- for 269 yards. He's scored six TDs during the Beavers' recent surge, including a four-score effort vs. Stanford in which he piled up 189 yards rushing on 33 carries.

Defensive MVP: UCLA's defensive tackle Brian Price leads the Pac-10 with 10.5 tackles for loss and has four sacks, tied for most among interior defensive linemen. Among conference defensive linemen, he probably demands the most special attention from opposing offensive coordinators.

Biggest surprise: Washington has gone from 0-12 to a legitimate threat to reach a bowl game. That's stunning improvement, particularly against one of the nation's toughest schedules. Start with a shocking victory over then-No. 3 USC -- Steve Sarkisian's and Nick Holt's former team -- and then consider that the 3-4 Huskies have lost only one game by double-digits (Stanford). They lost nine by 20 or more points in 2008.

Biggest disappointment: California went from No. 6 in the country to losing consecutive games by a 72-6 count, which of course left the Bears unranked. There's a lot of football left to be played, and Cal could rise again, but the Bears' chances of winning the Pac-10 are slim to none.

Best game: Washington's win over USC was the most meaningful, but Arizona's 43-38 win over Stanford was just nuts. And by nuts we mean entertaining, though I suspect Wildcats and Cardinal fans were at various times frustrated with their defenses, which combined to surrender 1,137 yards. Great play from two young QBs, Arizona's Foles and Stanford's Andrew Luck, who appear headed toward big things.

Best coach: Chip Kelly had one of the worst first games a new coach could have: The debacle at Boise State and the L'affaire de LeGarrette afterward. But Kelly rallied his team and it rolled off a five-game winning streak, which included wins over two ranked teams. Oh, by the way, during that winning streak the Ducks lost three starting defensive backs to injuries, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was forced to sit out a game with a knee injury. Yet here the Ducks are: Ranked 11th and headed for a showdown with USC with, perhaps, the conference title at stake.

What to watch in the Pac-10

October, 1, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

The Bay Area is the center of the Pac-10 universe on Saturday, though Oregon State's visit to Arizona State feels underrated to me. Oh, and Washington heads east to take on Notre Dame and the cardiac Fighting Irish.

1. Will the real Cal please stand up? California can't possibly be as bad as it looked at Oregon. You look up and down the roster and check off guys with NFL futures and just shake your head. So, do the Bears put it together and play to their potential against USC? Or will they look out of sync again? It's possible that Cal could put forth a strong effort and still lose, but at least that might leave some sparks for a strong run through the rest of the conference slate.

2. Toby Gerhart vs. Reggie Carter & Brian Price: Obviously, there are 11 guys on both sides of the ball, but the 237-pound Gerhart is the irresistible force and Carter and Price are the immovable objects. If Gerhart prevails and gets his 100-plus yards, he should jump onto the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates. But Carter and Price are bad men -- maybe two of the nation's most underrated players. There will be some pads popping here.

3. Danny Sullivan must play better: Arizona State proved at Georgia that its defense is good enough to get the Sun Devils to a bowl game, but the offense needs to step up, particularly Sullivan. Only problem for him is his already questionable offensive line is banged up -- two or three starters could be out. Still, playing in front of the home crowd, Sullivan needs to make plays in the passing game or coach Dennis Erickson might decide to give talented true freshman Brock Osweiler a serious look.

4. Will Irish run or pass vs. the Huskies' defense? Or both? Washington's primary worry in the preseason was its outmanned secondary, but after Stanford ran all over the Huskies, the run defense now seems like a bigger problem. Notre Dame has been successful both throwing (297 yards per game) and running the ball (158 ypg). Against A-list programs, the Huskies have flashed decent run defense (LSU) and pass defense (USC). What will they have for Charlie Weis and the Irish?

5. Welcome to Autzen Stadium, Jeff Tuel: Sure, Washington State's true freshman quarterback got his first career action in the Coliseum against the fearsome Trojans, but it's much different coming off the bench without thinking time compared to having a first-career start hanging over a youngster for an entire week. Not to mention that Tuel won't be able to hear himself think inside Autzen Stadium -- it's not nearly as loud inside the Coliseum. And the Ducks' defense gives a QB lots of looks -- it certainly confused a veteran Cal offense.

6. The Trojans' offense can't possibly be this bad: The overall statistics don't look terrible, but the Trojans are averaging just 19.3 points over their last three games and only one of those defenses -- Ohio State -- is a first-tier unit. Moreover, the offense is only converting on 25 percent of its third downs, which ranks last in the conference. All of this is happening with an outstanding offensive line and a strong crew of skill players. So, even with young quarterbacks, it's not a lack of talent or experience. The pressure is on Jeremy Bates to earn his substantial paycheck and call better plays. Or, perhaps, Pete Carroll needs to free up Bates to call the game as he sees fit. Either way, this shortcoming falls on the coaches.

7. Is it better to be Crafty or Lucky? UCLA's and Stanford's quarterbacks come at Saturday's game from far different angles. The Bruins' Kevin Craft is the senior backup who lost his job to a now-injured redshirt freshman because he threw 20 interceptions in 2008. The Cardinal's Andrew Luck is a super-talented redshirt freshman who unseated a senior starter and who appears destined for an NFL career. Funny thing is: Craft probably will be more responsible for his team's fortunes. Luck has a powerful running game to rely on. Craft won't have that luxury. Of course, Craft did beat Stanford with a pressure-packed TD drive last year.

8. Bringing the heat in Tempe: Arizona State's defense has been dominant. Oregon State's defense has been disappointing. But here's a number that might shock you: Which two teams are tied for last in the conference with just two sacks? That would be the Sun Devils and Beavers, though the Sun Devils have played one less game. Both offensive lines have struggled, and the Sun Devils are digging deep into their depth chart because of injuries. Neither QB is terribly mobile. And Arizona State gets back suspended defensive end James Brooks, which will allow pass-rush specialist Dexter Davis to return to his preferred weak side. Guess here is one -- or maybe both -- of these teams is going to get to the quarterback.

9. Jahvid Best needs a big day in a big game: Last year against USC, Best had just 30 yards on 13 carries. Last week against Oregon, he had just 55 yards on 16 carries. While it's unfair and untrue to say that Best has not produced good numbers in big games, the Bears need him to step up and make some plays against a rugged Trojans defense that is going to gang up on him. Sure, quarterback Kevin Riley needs to create a passing threat so the Trojans can't crowd the line to stop Best, but if Best makes a few plays early, things probably will be a lot more open for Riley downfield.

10. Locker vs. Clausen: Washington's Jake Locker is 21st in the nation in total offense, but most will see him as the second-best quarterback on the field Saturday. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen is finally living up to his talent and recruiting pedigree, and the nation's fourth-rated passer is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. But he also has a bum toe. Locker is a team player and a good citizen, but he's incredibly competitive. Bring up Tim Tebow, and Locker's reticence clearly suggests he thinks he's just as good. Locker would love to steal the big stage in front of Touchdown Jesus and turn in a blockbuster performance.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Lining up this week's action.

No. 3 USC (2-0) at Washington (1-1)

USC beat the Huskies 56-0 last year ... USC leads the all-time series 49-26-4 ... USC is riding a 12-game winning streak ... Washington ended a 15-game losing streak vs. Idaho last weekend ... Washington coach Steve Sarkisian spent seven years on the USC staff, while Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt also held the same post at USC before being hired by Sarkisian ... USC ranks 14th in the nation in scoring defense (9 points per game) ... Huskies quarterback Jake Locker is 14th in the nation in total offense (321.5 yards per game).

No. 8 California (2-0) at Minnesota (2-0)

California leads the all-time series 3-2, last beating the Golden Gophers 42-17 in 2006 ... Minnesota welcomes back 17 starters from a team that went 7-5 in 2008 ... Cal is riding a five-game winning streak, but the Bears have lost four in a row on the road ... Minnesota is showcasing a brand new stadium, and the Bears will be the first BCS conference foe to play there ... The Bears have yet to turn the ball over ... Cal leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 10 ... Gophers receiver Eric Decker ranks third in the nation with 296 receiving yards in two games ... Running back Jahvid Best ranks sixth in the nation with 140.5 ypg and is averaging 10.4 yards per carry ... Linebacker Mychal Kendricks leads the conference with 13 tackles per game.

No. 18 Utah (2-0) at Oregon (1-1)

Oregon leads the all-time series 17-8, but Utah won the last meeting 17-13 in 2003 ... Utah owns the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games ... Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews ranks second in the conference with 11 tackles per game ... Utah welcomes back 12 starters from last year's 13-0 team ... Oregon ranks last in the conference in rushing offense, passing offense, total offense and is ninth in scoring offense ... Utah has rushed for 242 yards per game ... Ducks DE Kenny Rowe leads the conference with 2.5 sacks.

No. 17 Cincinnati (2-0) at Oregon State (2-0)

They've met only once, with Cincinnati rolling 34-3 in 2007 ... Oregon State has won 26 consecutive nonconference home games dating back to 1996, and coach Mike Riley has never lost a nonconference home game ... The Beavers have not turned the ball over ... Cincinnati is fifth in the nation with 571 yards per game ... Quarterback Sean Canfield ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed 79 percent of his passes so far ... Bearcats quarterback Tony Pike is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. He's completed 77 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and one interception ... Jacquizz and James Rodgers have combined for 597 rushing/receiving yards and six touchdowns ... Cincinnati has only one returning starter on defense ... The Beavers have only one sack this year, while they have surrendered five. In 2008, they ranked second in the conference and fifth in the nation with 39 sacks, while they yielded only 21 sacks.

Arizona (2-0) at Iowa (2-0)

Arizona leads the all-time series 6-5 and last beat Iowa 35-11 in 1998 ... Wildcats running back Nic Grigsby is No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 162.5 yards per game ... The Hawkeyes welcome back 16 starters from last year's 9-4 team ... Both head coach Mike Stoops and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops played safety at Iowa and started their coaching careers with the Hawkeyes ... Arizona's four-game winning streak is its longest since 2000 ... Iowa has give up five sacks in its first two games ... The Wildcats rank first in the conference and fifth in the nation with 305.5 yards rushing per game.

Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) at Arizona State (1-0)

This is their first meeting ... Arizona State had a bye last weekend and now plays 11 consecutive Saturdays ... After dominating Idaho State in the opener, the Sun Devils rank first in the conference is rushing, passing, total and scoring defense ... Louisiana-Monroe beat Alabama 21-14 in 2007.

Kansas State (1-1) at UCLA (2-0)

This is there first meeting ... UCLA's win at Tennessee was the Bruins fourth consecutive victory vs. the SEC ... Kansas State welcomes back 14 starters from a team that went 5-7 last year ... Bruins QB Kevin Prince is out 3-4 weeks with a broken jaw ... The Wildcats lost at Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend ... Bruins safety Rahim Moore is No. 1 in the nation with five interceptions ... The Wildcats have recorded only one sack this season ... Bruins defensive tackle Brian Price leads the conference with five tackles for a loss ... The Wildcats have totaled 36 points against UMASS and ULL.

San Jose State (0-2) at Stanford (1-1)

Stanford leads the all-time series 48-14-1, last winning 23-10 in 2008 ... San Jose State lost to USC 56-3 and Utah 24-14 .... The Cardinal has not allowed a first-half touchdown in two games ... The Spartans rank last --120th -- in the nation in total defense ... Stanford's redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck is fourth in the conference in pass efficiency ... Stanford ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in rush defense.

SMU (2-0) at Washington State (0-2)

This is their first meeting ... Washington State ranks last in the conference in total, scoring, rushing and passing defense as well as scoring offense ... SMU broke a 17-game Conference USA losing streak with a win at UAB last weekend ... Cougars punter Reid Forest leads the Pac-10 with a 47-yard average ... SMU, which is 2-0, welcomes back 16 starters from a team that went 1-11 last year ... The Cougars are second in the conference with just 38 penalty yards per game.

Posted by's Ted Miller

If it seems like UCLA's thrilling win at Tennessee in front of 100,000-plus fans is getting underplayed, Bruins fans should rejoice.

Last year, UCLA's overtime win over Tennessee was accompanied by some aggressive marketing, not to mention coach Rick Neuheisel's return to college coaching at his alma mater, and then things turned ugly.
 Don McPeak/US Presswire
 Rick Neuheisel has the UCLA program moving in the right direction.

Bruins haters subsequently gloated. And the inevitable tweaks followed.

UCLA doesn't need to be loud right now. In fact, it should be perfectly content laying low and hoping it continues to be underestimated.

Barely any Top-25 recognition? No worries!

For one, the Bruins need to refocus on Kansas State, which visits the Rose Bowl Saturday. The Wildcats are a shell of the team they were during coach Bill Snyder's prime -- heck, Snyder is probably appalled he is playing a challenging nonconference game -- but they are a Big 12 team that welcomes back 14 starters from a 5-7 squad.

So this isn't a gimme, even if the Wildcats are coming off a loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, particularly with the Bruins losing starting quarterback Kevin Prince for three to four weeks due to a broken jaw.

Guess here is Neuheisel at some point will mention 59-0 at BYU last year. Letdown games can be cruel, as the team across town also knows.

If the Bruins do focus and play to their ability, they will improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

And they will be halfway to bowl eligibility -- Neuheisel's modest preseason goal -- even before the calendar flips into October.

While the Bruins figure to continue to be offensively challenged this year, the line -- the biggest preseason concern -- is clearly better than last year's unit, despite being the youngest crew in the Pac-10 and perhaps in the nation.

And the defense? It's as expected and perhaps then some.

Defensive tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter, cornerback Alterraun Verner and safety Rahim Moore look like first-team All-Pac-10 players who should get All-American consideration.

Moore grabbed his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season against Tennessee and had a sixth nullified by a penalty. By the way, the Pac-10 single-season interception record of 14 set by Washington's Al Worley has stood since 1968.

At this point, the Bruins are the program in the Pac-10's muddled middle that has first asserted itself as a threat to the teams generally projected in the conference's top third.

Of course, Prince's absence could be an issue for an offense that is trying to take baby steps back to respectability. The Bruins have a well-timed bye after Kansas State, then visit Stanford on Oct. 3. The likelihood is Prince won't be ready for that game.

But he should be ready for Oregon and California on Oct. 10 and Oct. 17. Both must face the Bruins in the Rose Bowl.

But shhh. Maybe the Ducks and Bears won't see the Bruins coming.

What UCLA won't keep quiet long, however, is how the trajectory of the program is clearly trending up. Neuheisel signed an elite recruiting class last year and appears to be headed in that direction again.

Moreover, the offense is starting seven players who are sophomores or younger, the defense five.

Neuheisel might not yet own Boardwalk and Park Place on the LA football Monopoly board, but he's rapidly buying up those valuable yellow and greens -- from Atlantic to Pennsylvania Avenue -- as he pushes the Bruins back into the national picture.

But shhhhh. No need for anyone to pay too much attention just yet, right?

Preseason All-Pac-10 team

August, 14, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

It's never easy to put a preseason all-conference list together. Should you project forward or look back? How do you choose between three A-list cornerbacks or leave off a couple of deserving defensive ends?

Perhaps this list will be much different by mid-December.

QB Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon
RB Jahvid Best, California
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
WR Damian Williams, USC
WR James Rodgers, Oregon State
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona
C Kristofer O'Dowd, USC
OG Jeff Byers, USC
OG Colin Baxter, Arizona
OT Charles Brown, USC
OT Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State

K Kai Forbath, UCLA

DE Will Tukuafu, Oregon
DT Brian Price, UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DE Dexter Davis, Arizona State
LB Keaton Kristick, Oregon State
LB Reggie Carter, UCLA
LB Mike Nixon, Arizona State
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon
CB Syd'Quan Thompson, California
FS Taylor Mays, USC
SS Cam Nelson, Arizona

P Bryan Anger, California