NCF Nation: Chris McCain


Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

    1. Heavy favorites: The Pac-12 is favored in all eight of its nonconference games this week. In fact, the league is favored by at least 10 points in every game and by at least 20 points in six of the eight. It should be a strong week for the conference. Should being the operative word.

 

  • League play kicks off: The ninth game this week features the first conference showdown of the season with Washington State traveling to USC. The Cougs are coming off a tough loss at Auburn, where Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kessler is expected to start for the Trojans, but Max Wittek likely will see time again. USC’s defense had four interceptions and seven sacks in its Week 1 win over Hawaii. WSU's last win at USC was in 2000.
  • Debuts: After spending last Saturday lounging around and watching football, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Stanford coach David Shaw have to get back to work. The Sun Devils open the season on the cusp of the Top 25 and host Sacramento State on Thursday night. Stanford hosts San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The Cardinal opened the season ranked No. 4 but got bumped down to No. 5 for their Week 1 laziness.
  • Off and running: The Pac-12 had seven players rush for at least 100 yards in Week 1, headlined by Washington’s Bishop Sankey. He and the Huskies are off this week prepping for their game against Illinois on Sept. 14. Three of those seven came from Oregon -- a school record with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota all eclipsing 100 yards. The other 100-yard rushers were Jordon James (UCLA, which is off this week), Daniel Jenkins (Arizona) and Tre Madden (USC).
  • 2-oh? Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with its win over Colorado State. The Buffs host Central Arkansas on Saturday with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
  • Crazy eights: Stanford and San Jose State are both riding eight-game winning streaks dating back to last season. That’s the first time in all of the years the schools have played that both have enjoyed simultaneous streaks.
  • Dominating the MWC: The Pac-12 went 5-0 against the Mountain West last week with Utah (Utah State), Colorado (Colorado State), USC (Hawaii), Washington (Boise State) and UCLA (Nevada) all scoring victories. The Pac-12 has three more games against the Mountain West this week with Arizona traveling to UNLV, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and San Jose State at Stanford. It was a rough opening weekend for the West Coast’s little brother league, which went just 3-9.
  • Road warriors: No. 2 Oregon goes on the road for the first time this season and is riding the nation’s best winning streak away from home. The Ducks have won 15 straight road games. Alabama and Northern Illinois are tied for second with nine. Oregon’s last road loss was at Stanford in 2009.
  • Strong debuts: The three new coaches in the Pac-12 went 2-1 in their season openers. Mark Helfrich (Oregon) rolled over Nicholls State (no shocker there). Mike MacIntyre led Colorado to an emotional win over an in-state rival in Colorado State, and Sonny Dykes’ California team put up a gritty effort in defeat against Northwestern.
  • Suspensions lifted: After being suspended for Week 1, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season, will make his debut against UNLV. Daniel Jenkins filled in quite nicely, rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was also suspended for Week 1, is expected to be on the field when the Huskies return to action next week. Cal linebacker Chris McCain had his suspension rescinded after he was ejected per the NCAA’s new targeting rule and will play against Portland State.

 
We've looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- elite combinations of quarterback, running back and receiver -- so now let's look at the defensive version.

That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.

The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.

Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.

So here's how we see things stacking up.

And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.

1. Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.

2. USC
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey

The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.

3. UCLA
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth

The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.

4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds

The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.

5. Oregon
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan

The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.

6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby

The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.

7. Washington
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters

The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.

8. Arizona
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.

9. California
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe

The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.

10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen

The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.

11. Utah
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.

12. Colorado
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.

Kelly breaks the ice on Bama loss

November, 11, 2012
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- There were some nerves. There was some trepidation. As Chip Kelly put it, there was some fear that “Coach Kelly’s head might fall off.”

Yes, the Oregon players knew what happened to No. 1 Alabama before they took the field Saturday night against California. And when Kelly gathered the team around for the final meeting, he could feel the tension.

So he broke it, and as a team they talked about it.

“Everyone has a phone,” Kelly said following his team’s 59-17 victory over the Bears at Memorial Stadium. “They were all looking around, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you, Alabama lost.’ I think people were afraid to talk about it. Just because they won or lost shouldn’t affect us. I felt like I had to address it so they didn’t know if we talk about it or not talk about it. I didn’t want them worried that Coach Kelly’s head would fall off if we talk about it. I told them and said, ‘Hey, they lost, what does that have to do with us?’

“The outcome of that game shouldn’t affect us. Our deal is did we have a good Monday? Yes. Did we have a good Tuesday? Yes. Did we have a good Wednesday? Yes. That’s what’s going to help us play well tonight, not the fact that somebody else in another part of the country lost a football game.”

Said linebacker Michael Clay: “It was like walking on egg shells. And when he addressed it, it was like a huge weight off of our shoulders. It was very freeing.”

And for quarterback Marcus Mariota, it served as both ice-breaker and crucial reminder.

[+] EnlargeJosh Huff, Kenjon Barner
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJosh Huff (1) and Kenjon Barner celebrate the first of Huff's three touchdown grabs in Oregon's rout.
“You could feel the relief,” he said. “It was kind of a tense thing because you already have so much stuff on your mind. It really reminded us that every game counts and we have to understand that other games don’t affect us and we have to take care of our own business.”

And Mariota did just that. The redshirt freshman matched an Oregon record by tossing six touchdowns on 27-of-34 passing for 377 yards with no interceptions.

With the Bears selling out to stop the run, the Pac-12’s top rushing team managed just 180 yards on the ground. But Mariota picked up the slack, finding Josh Huff three times for scores and tight end Colt Lyerla twice for touchdowns.

“He’s a special player,” Kelly said of his quarterback. “He keeps getting better and better. They did some things today where we felt like they were going to try to take away the run game and play some zone coverage on us. He’s got to do a good job figuring out what they are in, and it seemed like he was on target and making the right reads and making good decisions. You keep seeing him better and better each week.”

So instead of blowing a team out in the first 30 minutes, it took Oregon 45 against a Cal squad that challenged an injury-depleted Oregon defensive line. Isi Sofele rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown against a front that -- at one time -- featured three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman.

“Normally, Oregon backs break for 75-yard runs, but it wasn’t happening today,” said Cal linebacker Chris McCain. “I felt like defensively we did pretty well to stop their run, but the passes got to us.”

None bigger than Mariota’s 35-yard touchdown to Huff midway through the third quarter. Cal had narrowed the gap to 24-17 in early in the third quarter. A few possessions later, Allan Bridgford was intercepted by Boseko Lokombo at the Cal 35. On the next play, Mariota connected with Huff to put Oregon ahead 31-17.

“I thought that two-play sequence might have been the game-changing part of it,” Kelly said. “It was kind of a back-and-forth game. I felt like we got some distance.”

From there, Oregon scored four more second-half touchdowns. And as the Bears were forced to go to the air, the young defensive line started to get some pressure up front.

“You hear people talk about, ‘Well, we’re young.’ Too bad, you gotta go,” Kelly said. “We’ve recruited kids and told them they’ll have an opportunity to play. They’ve prepared for it. ... They don’t act like young guys, and that’s something we’re looking for. I think this young group is more mature than any young group I’ve been around.”

Cal reinstates Cecil Whiteside

July, 30, 2012
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A prodigal son is back in good graces for California, and the Bears just got stronger at linebacker as a result.

Bears coach Jeff Tedford has reinstated linebacker Cecil Whiteside, who on May 24 was kicked off the team for unspecified team rules violations.

The story was first reported by CBS Sports.

Whiteside had 17 tackle and three sacks last season. He was listed as Chris McCain's backup on the post-spring depth chart. While it's doubtful he will eclipse the promising McCain, he's almost certain to see significant playing time.
USC-Oregon, Oregon-USC. Ducks-Trojans. Kiffin-Kelly! Barkley-Black Mamba!

Golly, doesn't anybody else have a chance in this Pac-12 conference? Should we just call off the regular season and have the Ducks and Trojans settle things in a 13-game series?

(That actually might be fascinating to watch. Think about all the interesting weekly coaching adjustments).

Well, that's not happening.

So then the question before us is a radical one. It might very well split up the space-time continuum and send us spinning into a massive black hole: Which team possibly might shock the world? Which team could break up this apparently preordained marriage at the top of the conference, one reportedly written in gold leaf onto the granite facade of Mount Rushmore?

[+] EnlargeWynn
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJordan Wynn and the Utes have a favorable schedule this season.
It's a dangerous question, I know. Not the sort of one entertained by the meek. But if you are brave, read on.

Hey, you in the gray shirt, you're not brave! Better stop reading.

We warned you.

Kevin Gemmell: The general consensus is that Oregon and USC will meet for the Pac-12 title. But which team could put a wrinkle in that plan?

Whenever you are dealing with a could question, you always have to stipulate with ifs. X could happen if Y and Z fall into place. The team that strikes me as having the fewest ifs is Utah.

My first thought was to go wayyyyy out there and tinker with the idea of Oregon State being the team to shock the Pac-12. The Beavers could be the surprise team if they get the running game in order, and if the offensive line holds up, and if Sean Mannion continues to mature, and if all of that experience from last season pays off. But that's just too many ifs, and way too far to reach.

Utah, however, has a lot of pieces in place already to be the surprise team this season. First, its schedule helps, because the Utes don't have dates with Oregon or Stanford. Their first three games are in-state, and the fourth is at ASU, which will likely still be adjusting to life under a new head coach. That's potentially 4-0 out of the gate.

Then they get an extra week to prepare for the big showdown -- at home -- with USC. That game will be high-noon in the Pac-12 South, and Rice-Eccles will be jumping. If the Utes can somehow get over that hump, they have four more winnable games before traveling to Washington, which could be a hiccup. That notion alone, however, is one major if. USC also has extra time to prepare, because it's a Thursday game.

Another reason to be encouraged is that all reports are that quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy. He's chock full of experience, and has shown he can be an elite quarterback when he gets his rhythm. The only reason to think the running game will take a step backwards is that Utah has to replace two stud offensive tackles in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. But John White IV has shown to be a very capable -- if not special -- running back. He shouldn't have any trouble adapting.

Also, unlike a lot of other teams with new coordinators, the transition to Brian Johnson should be silky, since he's a veteran of the system and has worked with Wynn since Day 1.

The Utes have one of the top -- if not the best -- defense in the conference. With plenty of returning starters and the most feared defensive lineman in the Pac-12, they should be able to win a game or two on defense alone.

Given the way their schedule is laid out -- combined with returning talent on both sides of the ball and an outstanding coaching staff -- it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Utes could emerge from the South.

Ted Miller: One word: Plastics.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJeff Tedford and California could be on the cusp of a return to prominence in the Pac-12.
No, wait. That's something else. Our word is "schedule."

Now we have four words: California Freaking Golden Bears! You're back. Welcome. You remember where everything is, right, up here in the national rankings? No, coach Tedford, you don't have to sleep on that twin mattress in your office. You have the view suite down the hall. Yes, it has been a while. Yes, breakfast is included. Eggs Benedict? Well, your wife did tell us about your cholesterol. You want us to stick it? Well, then, Eggs Benedict it is!

The Bears have the schedule to upset the Trojans-Ducks destination wedding. And the talent, by the way.

Schedule? Cal plays host to Oregon, Stanford and Washington, the likely three top teams in the North Division. Plays host, by the way, at an awesomely cool renovated Memorial Stadium that will put the Strawberry back in the Canyon. The Bears went 30-9 in Memorial Stadium between 2005-2010 before playing their home games in AT&T Park in 2011, including 7-0 marks in 2006 and 2008.

Every team is better at home. Cal fans would tell you their team is better-er at home. Sure, it's had its share of mega face-plants in front of the home fans -- Oregon State in 2007 (altogether now "ouch"), USC in 2009, and that three-game home losing streak to end 2010 with a whimper. But there is no doubt it will be better to play the Ducks, Huskies and Cardinal at home, particularly with the Ducks and Cardinal breaking in new quarteracks.

And Cal isn't breaking in a new quarterback. What if, just maybe, Zach Maynard plays the entire season like he did the final four games of the 2011 regular season? And what if offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik works his magic with the line his second year back in Berkeley? And what if all that young talent -- Mustafa Jalil, Stefan McClure, Todd Barr, Viliami Moala, Brennan Scarlett, David Wilkerson, Chris McCain, Michael Coley, Avery Sebastian, Cecil Whiteside, etc. -- breaks through on defense?

We'll probably get a pretty good measure of the Bears early on. They will take a 2-0 record to Ohio State on Sept. 15. That is a winnable game, but it will require the Bears to go East and show some fire. You might recall that they didn't exactly do that in recent years at Tennessee and Maryland.

Then they visit USC. Jeff Tedford is 1-9 against USC, losing those nine by a combined count of 291-144. The Bears can afford to lose at USC, though a poor showing might cause the team to question itself and make it seem like these are the "same ole Bears." That, however, is not a divisional game. The larger issue is holding serve at home, which would give Cal an advantage in the event of a tie atop the North.

As Kevin noted above, we have a surfeit of "ifs" for both scenarios. It just feels as though Oregon and USC are that far ahead of everyone else.

But you do know that you never know until you do know.

Cal, Utah looking for breakthrough win

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
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There's a notable symmetry to Utah's visit to California -- at AT&T Park -- on Saturday.

Both teams are better on defense than offense. Both teams have 15 sacks. Both teams are struggling at quarterback.

Both teams are 3-3 overall. Both teams are 0-3 in conference play. Both teams aren't happy about that.

The notable thing about them playing is that symmetry will end. One team will walk away on the uptick. One team -- and its fans -- will be supremely disappointed.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCal quarterback Zach Maynard has thrown 11 touchdowns, but has also been mistake-prone.
Utah ranks second and California third in the Pac-12 in total defense. The Bears have better numbers on offense, but that's skewed by a weaker schedule thus far. The Utes have scored 14 points in each of their three conference defeats; Cal has averaged 15.7 points in its.

As it often happens in the Pac-12, the quarterbacks figure to be crucial: Who makes plays and who avoids gaffes. But this isn't about a showdown of A-list passers. It's about a battle of game managers.

For Utah, Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha who replaced injured starter Jordan Wynn, has been decent. He's completed 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. His efficiency rating thus far ranks 11th in the conference -- just ahead of Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- but he wasn't even around for spring practices.

Still, Hays needs to balance the Utes offense. Cal is surely going to load up against the run and see what Hays can do.

"He is progressing but we can't feed the ball to [running back] John White 36 times a game," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said.

A couple of injury issues in this matchup of the Utah offense vs. the Cal defense: The Utes may be without top receiver DeVonte Christopher, who is questionable with an ankle sprain, while Cal might be missing a pair of linebackers: leading tackler Mychal Kendricks (shoulder) and Chris McCain (leg).

For Cal, Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, started fast but has struggled of late, particularly during a three-interception performance in the 30-9 loss to USC last Thursday. He's piled up some yards -- 265 per game -- and has 11 TD passes, but he's also only completing 52.7 percent of his throws and ranks 10th in the conference in passing efficiency.

"He's showed flashes of being really, really good and other times -- like last week -- made a couple of poor decisions," coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's his first year in our program. I don't know if you can say that about any other quarterback in our conference. At least they've been in the system."

Well, you can say that about Hays -- who's had less time in the Utes system -- and Mannion, a redshirt freshman, but that mostly supports Tedford's point, though Maynard did start for Buffalo in 2009.

Neither coach likely has any illusions that things will suddenly click into place and he'll have an offensive juggernaut on his hands. What both are looking for is fewer mistakes and more balance — and an offense that can take advantage of opportunities often provided by an A-list defense.

"Bottom line, that is our biggest issue offensively: Our red-zone production," Whittingham said. "We've done everything you can possibly do in the red zone to shoot ourselves in the foot."

The Utes rank last in the conference in red zone offense, while Cal is fifth. Yet Cal scored 12 touchdowns on its first 14 red zone trips during a 3-0 start. It's scored three TDs on its past 12 trips. Which is a horrible percentage.

So that's something else the Utes and Bears have in common.

There's a lot of symmetry between these teams. But one team will dictate terms of a new asymmetry on Saturday.

Pac-10 recruiting wrap: California

February, 4, 2010
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California's class of 20 ranks 15th in the nation and includes three ESPNU 150 players.

Coach Jeff Tedford said the class was "as solid as any class we've ever had here."

Top prospects: Keenan Allen, who decommitted from Alabama, was a highly rated safety that Tedford said would play on both sides of the ball, though primarily at receiver. Tedford compared Chris Martin to former Bears outside linebacker Zack Follett. Cecil Whiteside is another guy who figures to challenge for playing time at linebacker. Defensive end Gabe King also figures to be in the mix early.

Under the radar: The Bears need help at receiver and Tedford called Terrance Montgomery "one of the more underrated guys that we have in our class." Tevin Carter also figures to be in the mix at receiver. Tedford gushed about running back Trajuan Briggs and compared tight end Jacob Wark to former Bear Craig Stevens.

Issues? Hard to find many problems with this class. There's no obvious, run-stuffing noseguard for the Bears' 3-4 scheme. Adrian Lee is the only cornerback, and he played tailback in high school.

Notes: Linebacker Chris McCain most likely will grayshirt in order to get his academics in order ... Receiver Coleman Edmond will get a look returning punts and kicks ... Quarterback Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, is Allen's brother and they were a package deal ... Quarterback Austin Hinder is the grandson of Cal Hall of Famer Jim Hanifan.

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