NCF Nation: Chris Forcier

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Happy birthday Cesar Chavez! And Gabe Kaplan.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Things are always interesting with Rick Neuheisel, and his first season coaching UCLA was no exception.

The Bruins opened with an overtime win over Tennessee. Then went splat, 59-zip, at BYU. And so started a decidedly inconsistent season.

With poor play at quarterback, no running game and a porous offensive line -- and that's sugarcoating things for the woeful offense -- UCLA finished 4-8 and in eighth place in the Pac-10.

 
  Joe Nicholson/US Presswire
  Rick Neuheisel was 4-8 in his first season at UCLA.

But Bruins fans felt a lot better after Neuheisel fetched a highly rated recruiting class, which reignited whispers that -- just maybe -- USC should start looking over its shoulder and worrying about its football, er, monopoly in Los Angeles.

Spring practices don't crank up until April 2, but it seems like a good time to check in.

Let's look back on 2008: What were you happy with and unhappy with?

Rick Neuheisel: I thought our team played hard, but we lacked the proficiency to be a good team. We never got any consistency as an offense. Defensively, we hung in there most games, but we weren't stout enough to be a three-and-out type team. Our kickoff situation put us in a field position deficit because we weren't able to kick the ball off very far. We'd end up having to go long distances with respect to field position. We've got a lot of things to get better at if we're going to be a better football team. But the influx of new, young talent, the great effort in weight room and so forth, I think is going to lead to that.

How exited are you that the whole 'Neuheisel is back' won't be the big story this year?

RN: I'm excited the focus will be on our football team. Obviously, this was a program that needed a kick start with respect to the recruiting and excitement and that stuff. We were fortunate to have a big win at the start of the season that reminded folks how fun football can be. Now it's up to us to deliver that on a more regular basis. Obviously, if we could get to a bowl game this year, that would be a step in the right direction. I think a year from now, we're going to be a team that can compete for the top prizes.

You guys got a lot of publicity about your recruiting success on signing day.

RN: Recruiting went well. Recruiting went really well. It was kind of a validation of what I thought all along: That you can recruit at UCLA. That if you do it the right way and go after the right guys you can deliver. I was pleased to see that was possible.

(Read full post)

Pac-10 spring position battles

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Now we talk quarterbacks.

Because that's what just about every Pac-10 fan -- other than Oregon and Washington adherents -- will be talking about this spring.

Even Oregon State, which saw Lyle Moevao throw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, has a bit of quarterback intrigue, or did you forget how well Sean Canfield played while Moevao was hurt (3-0 with two starts)?

We're supposed to do only five entries here. But we're going to do six.

Washington State gets left out because Marshall Lobbestael, the favorite to win the job, will be limited this spring as he comes back from a knee injury.

And so does Oregon State because the Beavers are choosing between two known quantities, while the following teams will be evaluating one more or more candidates with almost no significant playing experience.

Please note, however, that the likelihood of these competitions being settled this spring is remote. In fact, the coaches evaluating these competitions may not even announce a pecking order until the season opener is on the immediate horizon.

That's just how coaches ride.

1. USC: Mitch Mustain vs. Aaron Corp vs. Matt Barkley

  • Quarterback at USC is the premier position in college football. Under Pete Carroll, two quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy, and Mark Sanchez figures to become the third to be selected early of the first round of the NFL draft. So part of being a Trojans quarterback means dealing with the hype, which will be a part of the winnowing process this spring. Mustain is talented, but sometimes tries to force the ball where it just won't go. The speedy Corp, who was Sanchez's backup at the end of 2008, would be the most athletic quarterback to play for Carroll. And Barkley was only the top prize of the 2009 recruiting season.

2. California: Kevin Riley vs. Brock Mansion

  • This is a gut check for Riley, who clearly isn't happy with how things went in 2008. He was yanked as the starter when the Bears were 3-1 and he'd completed 57 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception. His performance over the second half of the season suffered as his confidence sank, though a shoulder injury and concussion probably deserve more blame than they've gotten. Mansion, a sophomore, is a prototype, 6-foot-5, 230-pound pocket passer who was a touted recruit in 2006. Experience should give Riley the early edge, but Mansion is a legit contender to start in 2009. And both will be getting used to new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

3. Arizona State: Danny Sullivan vs. Samson Szakacsy vs. Chasen Stangel vs. Jack Elway vs. Brock Osweiler

  • In the battle to replace Rudy Carpenter, rising senior Danny Sullivan is the veteran backup who has patiently waited his turn. Sophomores Samson Szakacsy and Chasen Stangel are the top challengers. Elway has to prove he's more than his last name. But the guy to watch is Osweiler. He's a 6-foot-8, big-armed, athletic true freshman out of Kalispell, Mont., who originally planned to play basketball at Gonzaga. He'll participate in spring practices, and his name keeps coming up when you ask ASU folks about who might run the offense in 2009.

4. Arizona: Matt Scott vs. Nick Foles vs. Bryson Beirne

  • If Arizona is going to build on last year's breakthrough, it's going to have to find at least an adequate replacement for Willie Tuitama. Scott and Foles will start as 1A and 1B. Both have good arms. Scott's athleticism might give him an edge. Foles, a Michigan State transfer, is a prototypical 6-foot-5, 230-pound drop-back passer who loves watching game film but won't scare anyone out of the pocket. Whoever wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, topped by tight end Rob Gronkowski, to ease the adjustment.

5. UCLA: Kevin Craft vs. Kevin Prince vs. Chris Forcier vs. Richard Brehaut

  • The first issue will be how Craft responds after throwing a school-record 20 interceptions last season. Will he show leadership, take charge of the huddle and fight for his job? And, oh, make better decisions with the ball? If not, look for Prince to be the top challenger. There were moments last year when Craft was struggling when Prince's redshirt was nearly cast aside. Forcier didn't take advantage of his opportunities in spot action, and coaches will turn to touted incoming freshman Brehaut only if those three languish.

6. Stanford: Tavita Pritchard vs. Andrew Luck

  • Pritchard started every game last year -- not to mention that he led the monumental upset effort of USC in 2007 -- but the Cardinal needs more from its quarterback if it's going to make the next step as a program. Ranking ninth in the conference in passing, no matter how tough the running game is, won't cut it. Luck was one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation in 2007, and there was considerable discussion about taking his redshirt off last year (it became coach Jim Harbaugh's singular annoyance to be asked about it every time Pritchard struggled). This one is wide open and likely will endure -- like most of the other aforementioned competitions -- in
    to the fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

I love links. Linky, link, link. Here it goes down, down into my belly.

  • Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood doesn't seem to be pointing a finger at coach Mike Stoops, but he admits it's troubling how often the Wildcats lose close games.
  • Arizona State's Paul Fanaika is a walk-on who made good.
  • California coach Jeff Tedford is reminding his team that, as bad as Washington is, the Huskies rushed for 360 yards in a 2007 victory over the Bears.
  • A challenge for Oregon to step up against the rising Beavers. This Civil War, however, the Ducks' offense is set, though running back LeGarrette Blount is ill.
  • What will Oregon State do without running back Jacquizz Rodgers?
  • Tom Craft, former San Diego State coach and father of UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft, defends his son. But it's possible backup Chris Forcier could see action at Arizona State.
  • USC safety Kevin Ellison has been cleared to play against Notre Dame. The Trojans have a different plan for the tailback-by-committee approach.
  • Critical blown coverage in Apple Cup still hurting Washington safety.
  • It's a Hawaii homecoming for this Cougar.
  • Jon Wilner's BCS bowl projections.

Pac-10 power rankings

October, 27, 2008
10/27/08
11:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Sorting out the Pac-10 pecking order after nine weeks.

1. USC: The defense was completely dominant against Arizona, but the offense was lacking in a 17-10 win. If the Trojans have title game aspirations, they probably need to do more than just win -- they need to win big. With Washington coming to town, that's sure to happen.

2. Oregon: The Ducks leap over their bucktoothed neighbors due to a resounding domination of Arizona State that may have resolved the quarterback quandary with Jeremiah Masoli earning top billing over Justin Roper. Huge showdown at California on Saturday figures to eliminate at least one team from the Holiday Bowl hunt.

3. Oregon State: Now the Beavers, coming out of a bye week, get to play host to the wounded Sun Devils, who looked, er, marooned against the Ducks. OSU fans are eager to remind you that they alone now control their Pac-10 destiny -- win out, and the Beavers go to the Rose Bowl.

4. Arizona: Though this reasoning might not work in the Wildcats' locker room, there were a lot of positives to take from the 17-10 loss to USC. Hey, they scored as many points against USC as the potent Ducks and their defense put the clamps on the Trojans better than anyone has. The big question is the next step, and the Wildcats get some time to think about it. They have a bye, and then they'll pick up their sixth victory at Washington State on Nov. 8 and earn bowl eligibility.

5. California: California's solid win over UCLA signaled that the Bears will be in the fight for the long haul. And it helps that they've probably resolved their quarterback issues with Kevin Riley earning the starting job. With Oregon coming to town, a national ranking is likely at stake.

6. Stanford: Coming out of a bye week, Stanford will pick up its fifth win with Washington State coming to Palo Alto. Guess here is that the Cardinal might run for 300-plus yards with their power attack against the woeful Cougars. That will leave the Cardinal needing one more win to earn bowl eligibility with a rugged remaining schedule: at Oregon, USC and at Cal.

7. UCLA: One step forward, one step back. The Bruins need more consistency out of quarterback Kevin Craft and it's not certain that he will be able to give it to them this season. But what would really help is if the team could get healthy. This week's bye should help both issues, as coaches figure to give backup Chris Forcier another look.

8. Arizona State: Fair to say the Sun Devils are in full crisis mode. An ugly monochromatic uniform gimmick didn't work against Oregon, and it's unlikely a running game will suddenly appear in time to help the cause at Oregon State. Even reliable things like Rudy Carpenter and the defense faltered in the 54-20 drubbing at home. At least the Sun Devils have the state of Washington to look forward to on the schedule.

9. Washington: The Huskies seemed to wave a white flag on the season against Notre Dame. There was nothing encouraging in a performance that surely was galling for Tyrone Willingham. What's left to say? This is a terrible team showing little resolve that likely won't even raise its fists for a fight until the Apple Cup on Nov. 22.

10. Washington State: Washington State moved up this week -- from 11 to 10. Bye weeks are powerful things. The bad news is the Cougars have to play again on Saturday, this time losing at Stanford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

Nobody plays better defense than USC: USC's defense has given up just 10 points in its last 14 quarters. Its 8.1 points per game leads the nation by more than two full points. It also yields only 215.57 yards per game, also tops in the nation. And dominating an experienced and high-powered Arizona offense in its own stadium is impressive. The Wildcats entered Saturday's game ranking ninth in the nation in scoring with 40 points per game, but they only scored 10 against the Trojans, the touchdown coming on a 15-yard drive following a USC fumble. The Wildcats gained just 188 total yards, 54 in the second half. The USC defense was hyped entering the season and it may actually be exceeding the hype.

Oregon and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli made a statement by winning big at Arizona State: Oregon's 54-20 pounding of Arizona State in front of the Sun Devils dispirited home fans made an aggressive statement for the Ducks. First, it was an impressive win on the road. The Sun Devils offense has been struggling, but their defense has been solid and improving weekly before yielding 537 yards to Oregon. Second, the performance may have made Masoli the Ducks quarterback for the rest of the season. Masoli completed 17 of 26 passes for 147 yards with a touchdown and interception while rushing for a team-high 85 yards on eight carries. While Justin Roper came off the bench in the fourth quarter and completed all four of his passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, coach Mike Bellotti may prefer the dual-threat Masoli offers. Oregon visits California next weekend in a game with significant implications in the Pac-10 pecking order.

California should stick with quarterback Kevin Riley the rest of the season: Riley's numbers weren't terribly good -- 11 for 22, 153 yards, two touchdowns -- but he didn't turn the ball over and, most of all, he's now 4-1 as the Bears starter. Moreover, he led an effort that answered whether Cal would suffer another second-half slide due to uninspired play. The Bears played hard in their 41-20 win over UCLA, and they will now play host to Oregon with a chance to create some separation in the top-third of the conference. Riley has three clear advantages over Longshore: 1. He doesn't turn the ball over (see just two interceptions in 128 passes); 2. He's more mobile and therefore can escape a pass rush and create a positive plays with his feet; 3. He's a sophomore (Longshore is a senior) and will be the quarterback two more seasons.

UCLA's offense doesn't seem to be improving with quarterback Kevin Craft: It might be time to give Chris Forcier a chance as UCLA's starting quarterback. Even though Kevin Craft has shown admirable resiliency leading a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, he doesn't seem to be getting more consistent. And, judging by television shots that seem to follow almost every possession of coach Rick Neuheisel chewing Craft out on the sidelines, his inconsistency might eventually give his coach a heart attack. Craft threw four interceptions in the loss at California, matching his stunning first-half total in the opener against Tennessee, but this time he didn't redeem himself and was equally ineffective in the second half. While Forcier (1 for 5 for nine yards and a touchdown) wasn't much better, it might be wise to see what the redshirt freshman can do as a starter.

USC faces a big climb to get back to the national title game: Penn State's victory over Ohio State put a big crimp in USC's hopes of getting back into the national championship game. First, it hurts the Trojans strength of schedule because they beat Ohio State. Second, Penn State, with three unranked and unaccomplished foes ahead, has smooth sailing toward an unbeaten season. But Saturday was unhelpful in other ways. There was no attrition ahead of the Trojans in the BCS standings, while their fellow one-loss teams, such as Georgia and Florida, won impressively. And beating Arizona just 17-10 won't inspire a surge of enthusiasm for the Trojans. There's a lot of football left and anything can happen but there might not be enough football ahead for enough to happen for USC to play for the title.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A workmanlike effort for California, with the defense getting the gold star for the 41-20 win over UCLA a week after Arizona made it look like milquetoast.

Cal (5-2, 3-1) was the better team. UCLA is struggling on offense, its line is simply not up to Pac-10 play with just 16 yards rushing and three sacks surrendered.

What's got to be a relief for the Bears and their fans is the bounce back after the dispiriting loss at Arizona. Considering what happened during last year's second-half slide, it was not unreasonable to wonder if Cal was an emotionally vulnerable team.

This was a solid performance, even if the re-insertion of Kevin Riley as the starting quarterback didn't exactly jump-start the passing game. The only big highlight through the air -- at least until things got out of hand -- was a 53-yard touchdown to Nyan Boateng on a flea flicker.

The Bears will need more next weekend when Oregon comes to town for what likely will be a significant separation game in the Pac-10.

As for UCLA (3-5, 2-3), there were no fourth-quarter heroics from quarterback Kevin Craft this time. He was pretty much off target all game, with two of his four interceptions returned for touchdowns.

At some point, a clearly frustrated Rick Neuheisel is going to yank Craft and probably insert redshirt freshman Chris Forcier as the starter.

The Bruins have a bye week to mull that and other issues.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

PASADENA, Calif. -- There's a reason Kevin Craft remained the UCLA quarterback after tossing a couple of early interceptions.

His coaches believe he gives the Bruins the best chance to win.

But after he threw his fourth of the first half, which was returned 61 yards for a TD in the waning moments before the break -- giving Tennessee a 14-7 advantage -- it's hard to say that could still be true.

Changing QBs is not only about giving redshirt freshman Chris Forcier a shot. It's about not allowing Craft to completely destroy his confidence.

At this pace, Craft will set a school record for interceptions. He had seven completions and four interceptions in the first half.

The Bruins' offense managed just 85 total yards. There's no way the Bruins D can hold up its impressive pace.

We shall see who starts the third.

As a side note, whoever does apparently will be without three key offensive starters: TB Kahlil Bell (ankle), TE Logan Paulsen (foot) and WR Marcus Everett (toe)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller 

PASADENA, Calif. -- From the Rose Bowl press box:

The second quarter started off with the Tennessee offensive line looking rattled with consecutive false starts -- they'd jumped three times before two minutes passed in the second quarter.

However, big plays cure things quickly. Crompton found Josh Briscoe for 41 yards to advance to the Bruins 11. Montario Hardesty ran off-tackle on the next play for the tying score.

That seemed like a potential confidence-builder for Crompton that would swing the game's momentum but Crompton then made his first big mistake by tossing an interceptions to a diving Alterraun Verner on the Vols 41.

The Bruins went three-and-out but pinned the Vols on their 7, and they gained only one yard and had to punt from their own endzone.

Let's pause for a moment and recognize that UCLA's DTs, Brigham Harwell and Brian Price, are playing as advertised. Harwell just busted up that third-down screen and he and Price are owning the middle of the line.

But they are going to need the offense to possess the ball, or they are going to wear down.

Second consecutive possession starting in Vols territory and a third interception, this time by FS Eric Berry. It was another ill-advised pass frm Craft that had no chance.

The defense bailed the offense out, despite giving up a a couple of big plays that allowed the Vols to drive to the Bruins 34.

The Bruins are doing a good job of getting consistent pressure on Crompton, though they haven't recorded a sack.

Surprisingly, though, neither did the Vols in the first half.

But sometime the defense can't help, such as when Craft's fourth interception is returned 61 yards for a TD by Nevin McKenzie.

It is 14-7 at the break and UCLA needs to decide if maybe it could do better with Chris Forcier instead of Craft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

You're all starters to me.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It just wouldn't feel like a Wednesday without Pac-10 links.

  • The Arizona Daily Star chats with Arizona tailback Nic Grigsby. Marquis Hundley is a big-hitter in a small package. Coach Mike Stoops thanked athletic director Jim Livengood for his support and said the media doesn't understand how much the program has improved.
  • Jon Hargis will lead Arizona State's offensive line. He's improved quickly because he has to block DE Dexter Davis in practice; Davis is the key piece in the Sun Devils D-line. Both linked stories include injury reports, including a update on WR Chris McGaha, who's missed nine practices with a toe injury but is expected back next week.
  • California is "close" to making a call at QB between Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley after Tuesday's scrimmage. Riley appears to have made up ground of late. Cal also expects a lot from RB Jahvid Best -- the name Reggie Bush comes up. Here's some notes from Tuesday's closed scrimmage. More here.
  • Despite a sore shoulder, Oregon's freshman QB Chris Harper is still in the mix for playing time. An injury update -- Ducks are fairly healthy.
  • It's firming up that injured backup Oregon State QB Sean Canfield won't be the No. 2 guy at Stanford. The Beavers were expected to have a hot QB competition -- just like Cal -- but Canfield's shoulder is still bugging him. Building the Dam loves Bob DeCarolis, the OSU athletic director. We know this because they told us so.
  • It's not official, but all signs point to Tavita Pritchard starting at QB for Stanford against Oregon State next week.
  • UCLA can't afford injuries on its offensive line, but the bill collector isn't sympathetic. More on tackle Micah Kia's hand injury. And another shot for good measure. Checking in with Chris Forcier after he fell short in the QB competition against Kevin Craft.
  • USC injuries have received a lot of attention of late, but the latest to RB C.J. Gable appears to be more than hyperventilating. Gable, perhaps the Trojans best all-around RB when elements such as blocking are figured in, probably will miss the opener at Virginia.  It doesn't appear that will be the case with RB Joe McKnight, and the notorious introvert opens up to the Orange County Register's Michael Lev in this story. The latest on QB Mark Sanchez.
  • If you know Jake Locker, you knew the Washington QB wasn't going to let a hamstring injury keep him out of the season-opener at Oregon. Is there QB intrigue for both the Huskies and Ducks? The main issue with Locker will be whether missing 11 days and 12 practices will hurt his timing with an inexperienced crew of WRs. The Huskies already are eyeballing the Ducks. Bob Condotta stays up all night so you can read his notes. And so did Molly Yanity.
  • Former Washington State QB Mark Rypien tried to inspire the Cougars. DT Matt Eichelberger used to be viewed as a liability. He's slimmed down and is more confident, so that might not be the case this fall. Vince Grippi checks in with the secondary and gives you a practice report.
  • Finally, Jon Wilner updates his Pac-10 pecking order.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Leaving the Bay for the Desert today... 

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 Much like many of the players, these links are day-to-day.

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