NCF Nation: Clay Matthews
But ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.
Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.
Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"
Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."
I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.
Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.
He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.
On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.
Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com on Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith:
He entered the combine as the third corner on most boards and needed a great workout to solidify his status as a mid-first round selection. Smith showed athleticism, speed and burst in drills. He is smooth and fluid in movements, showing surprising body control for his lanky frame (6-foot-2, 211 pounds). He displayed sound footwork making turns and transitions in the pedal drills. His fluidity executing those movements is impressive considering his lack of experience in zone coverage.
And UCLA safety Rahim Moore:
Locked in as the top safety in the draft coming in, his solid workout did nothing to dissuade that opinion. Moore put up solid numbers in the athletic drills while showing excellent footwork and fluidity in defensive back drills. He caught the ball exceptionally well and is one of the more natural centerfielder-type safeties in this year's class.
Another positive take on Moore, who appears to have cemented his position as the draft's top safety.
UCLA S Rahim Moore looked good in position drills, showing quick feet and more fluid hips than expected. He was technically sound when turning and running, and just like on film Moore tracked the ball very well.
Smith didn't impress everybody -- he made Clark Judge's list of "guys he didn't like":
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: It's one thing to be confident; it's another to be cocky -- and Smith was so cocky that when he was asked about comparisons to Asomugha he said, "I think I have better ball skills than he does." Please. One guy's an All-Pro; the other hasn't played a down of pro ball. Whom would you trust?
Smith's fellow corner at Colorado, Jalil Brown, got busted.
Every year prospects try to cheat drills in an effort to mask their weaknesses. Colorado DC Jalil Brown looked like he tried to hide the tightness in his hips, backpedaling slower than a lot of the corners to make it easier for him to open and run. This rarely works for two reasons. First, teams already know about his tight hips based on film study. Secondly, scouts will take a second look at the film of these workouts and pick up on any attempts at cheating.Some sympathy for Oregon LB Casey Matthews:
You've got to feel for Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. First of all, he has to follow his brother, Clay, who was the runner-up in this year's Defensive Player of the Year voting. Second, he had to withdraw from the combine after re-injuring his shoulder during the bench press. Apparently, it's an injury similar to one he suffered his freshman season. "Unfortunate" is how Matthews described it. I'll say. Clubs might be scared off if they think Matthews is an injury waiting to happen.
USC OT Tyron Smith was a big winner:
Look for USC's Tyron Smith to vault up draft boards in the coming weeks. The guy has all the measurables (he's 6-5, 307) and might be the best tackle in the draft. He's young (20), tested well and has a wingspan so wide that he conceded "it was tough to buy shirts with long-enough sleeves." Smith played the right side in college but is projected as a left tackle in the pros.
Three other Pac-12 players made the list of winners:
Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal. He was a star of the Senior Bowl and then ran the 40-yard dash in the low 4.7-second range. In other drills, he displayed rare explosiveness, quickness, agility and speed for a big defensive end. He showed excellent body control and fluidity when changing directions. Jordan proved he is a top-level athlete and now will be a top-15 pick by a team that plays a 3-4 defense.
Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona. This hard-nosed overachiever displayed good athleticism and now projects as a future NFL starter at outside linebacker. Throughout his workout, he displayed the quickness and agility to change directions smoothly and play well in the open field. He also displayed the hand usage and technique to be a consistent pass rusher. He now has a legit chance to be a second-round pick, surpassing Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan on some team's draft boards.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Southern Cal. He is a raw prospect who was not very productive at USC, but he has the size and athleticism to excite NFL coaches. He was the most fluid and smooth route-runner of the tight ends and showed good hands. He now is a mid-round pick who could go much higher with a great on-campus workout March 30.
Some other links and notes:
Those who did well include a pair of defensive ends: Arizona's Brooks Reed and California's Cameron Jordan.
Reed's 4.68 40-yard dash tied for third among defensive linemen, and Jordan ran a 4.78 (tied for 10th) at 281 pounds.
Reed is projected to move to outside linebacker in the NFL. Here's what Todd McShay wrote about him: "Reed isn't an elite athlete, but he has good short-area explosiveness and a nonstop motor that will have him off the board before Day 2 is over."
Another take on Reed: "[Reed] has gotten a lot of comparisons to NFL Defensive Player of the Year Clay Matthews over the past few weeks. He's not quite as athletic as Matthews, but Reed's respectable 4.67 40, ability to change direction fluidity, and quickness in turn-the-corner drills make him a legitimate second-round pick as a 3-4 rush linebacker."
And here's the review of Jordan: "Jordan (6-41, 281) continues to build momentum after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. He ran a 4.78 and put up 25 reps with 35-inch arms, and continued to show the speed and athleticism to make an impact as a mid-first round pick."
On the downside, it appears the combine hasn't been kind to UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers or Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews:
Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Ayers could have helped lock down a spot in the first round, but he failed to impress. He ran in the low 4.8-second range, failed to show good change-of-direction skills and was not elite in the jumps, shuttles or cone drill. He had a chance to prove he is an elite prospect, but his workout did not match up to the productive player we saw on film early in the season before Ayers was nicked up.
Casey Matthews, Oregon: Matthews aggravated a recurring shoulder injury during the bench press and raised another red flag for a guy who struggled to get off blocks and has an average body type. He's tough and instinctive, but the injury dates to his freshman year and is cause for concern.
That said on Matthews, there was also this paraphrase of Mike Mayock of the NFL Network: "Matthews is not explosive like his brother Clay, but he is instinctive and will play better than his measurables suggest."
- Some pool reports on the quarterbacks, including Jake Locker.
- It's possible five quarterbacks -- including Locker -- could end up getting picked in the first round.
- Reed talks about transitioning from a defensive end to an outside linebacker.
- Here's a positive review of former Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed.
- You can track the top performers in testing here.
As my esteemed colleague Heather Dinich pointed out in the ACC blog, the ACC led all conferences for the third consecutive year with 19 players selected to play in the Pro Bowl, which will be held on Jan. 30 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. The SEC was second with 13 selections and the Pac-10 was third with 12. The Big Ten and the Big 12 had nine each.
But, of course, seeing that the Pac-10 at present has just 10 teams versus 12 for the ACC, SEC and Big 12, the numbers need to be adjusted for players per team. By that measure, the ACC is still No. 1 with 1.58 Pro Bowl players per ACC team, while the Pac-10 is second with 1.2 per team.
Here's the list of Pac-10 players in the Pro Bowl.
Marcedes Lewis, TE, Jacksonville (UCLA)
Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis (Oregon State)
DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia (California)
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta (California)
Ryan Kalil, C, Carolina (USC)
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars (UCLA)*
Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore (Oregon)
Terrell Suggs, DE, Baltimore (Arizona State)
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland (California)
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh (USC)
Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay (USC)
Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago (Arizona)
*Out of game due to injury
You also may have noticed that a Jets-Packers Super Bowl would mean both starting quarterbacks -- Mark Sanchez for the Jets (USC) and Aaron Rodgers for the Packers (California) -- hail from the Pac-10.
Oregon's senior linebacker Casey Matthews and sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris are different sorts in more ways than one, but they will be two of the key pieces in the Ducks most challenging chess game on defense this season: How do you slow Auburn and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cameron Newton?
Harris, who earned All-American recognition as both a corner and return man, will be at the center of a secondary trying to contain Auburn's downfield passing attack. The Tigers lead the nation in passing efficiency.
In both instances, the focus will be on Newton, who is extremely efficient and productive -- 28 touchdowns and six interceptions -- and one of the best running quarterbacks in recent memory -- 1,400 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
Oh, and Newton is 6-foot-6, 250 pounds.
"He will be very tough to tackle," Matthews said. "He's not your ordinary quarterback. I mean, he's huge. He's got a pretty powerful stiff arm ... he makes a lot of his plays on third and long. If no one is open, he is going to take off and run. We had problems with that last year in the Rose Bowl. That's one thing we knew we had to work on going into this game."
Matthews refers to the career game that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor produced against the Ducks in the previous year's Rose Bowl. Pryor is 6-foot-6, 233 pounds, so the Ducks know how hard it is to contain a big, fast quarterback who can complete passes downfield. Only Newton is way better.
Oregon hopes its No. 16 run defense will hold down Newton's scrambles -- something it didn't do against Pryor -- and force him to throw into a secondary that ranks sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense, and has grabbed 20 interceptions. Five of those picks went to Harris.
"[Harris] has a great overall game," Auburn receiver Kodi Burns said. "He's just a great talent. He's somebody we're really going to have to deal with."
Matthews is the steady leader with good instincts. He led the Ducks with 73 tackles and is the quarterback of the defense. Harris is more of a wild card. He can grab a pick-six at any moment. Or he can get busted on a double move. He's got impressive skills, but he also can lose focus or freelance, which often draws the ire of coordinator Nick Aliotti and even other Ducks.
"For all the big plays he makes, he will sometimes slip a little bit," Matthews said. "It comes back to the mental discipline, just taking your assignment. Sometimes you will try to make the big play on a double route or stop and go and he will jump it and then [the receiver] will be wide open. But you can't go yelling at people, telling them to do this. You just got to keep them calm and remember how he had his success. He's a great corner. Just around the receiver when the ball is thrown, he has got a chance to pick it. That's the big part about him -- his big-play ability."
Matthews obviously has plenty of help becoming a smart, disciplined player. His brother, Clay, is a star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. His father, Clay, Jr., played the third most games in NFL history (278) over 19 seasons as a linebacker. His uncle, Bruce, is in the NFL Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman.
But it was his mother, Leslie, whose recent advice most resonated.
"My mom told me I had to be slightly insane with my play," Casey Matthews said. "That is one thing I haven't heard her say ever, but she did tell me that."
As for Harris, he wasn't one of the players brought to the news conference featuring Ducks defenders. Part of that is the belief of Oregon coaches that senior Talmadge Jackson is the Ducks best corner, despite Harris' flashy play. Jackson didn't earn All-American honors, but he did get the first-team All-Pac-10 nod over Harris as voted on by conference coaches.
Jackson has served as a bit of a tutor to Harris, who only became a starter in the season's seventh game.
"I try to help him improve his overall knowledge of the game," Jackson said. "He's a great athlete. He's very smart. And he's willing to work at anything you tell him."
As for Harris' sometimes demonstrative personality or his occasional blown coverage, Jackson said there's a fine line between correcting and browbeating.
"Cliff is a very exciting guy to be around," he said. "You don't want to mess up anybody's personality or try to take anything away from him. You want to let him play his style of football but keep it respectable."
Considering how high-powered the Tigers offense has been this season, if Matthews, Harris and the Ducks keep things respectable, Oregon could end up with the national championship.
1. Hawkeyes head west: History doesn't favor Iowa -- or any Big Ten team, for that matter -- when it comes to early season road games out west. Iowa has dropped its past six games west of the Rockies, and as columnist Mike Hlas points out, the Hawkeyes have lost their past three road games against Pac-10 members by an average of 28 points. Fortunately for Iowa, it boasts a senior-laden team that should be able to handle the difficulties of a time change, a late kickoff time, the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker and some potentially steamy weather in Tucson against No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET). This is a chance for Iowa to showcase itself on the national stage and beat a solid Wildcats team. The elements will be tough, but Iowa is a tough team that won in tough places last fall.
3. Big Ten reunion of sorts: When Wisconsin began watching tape in preparation to face Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), coach Bret Bielema made sure to include a clip of a Michigan quarterback leading a historic comeback against the Badgers in 2008. That quarterback was Steven Threet, who will lead the Arizona State offense into Camp Randall. Threet is one of several former Big Ten players reunited with foes from their old league Saturday. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, formerly of Michigan State, faces Iowa, while Rice running back Sam McGuffie, formerly of Michigan, faces Northwestern. And let's not forget about Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who goes up against his alma mater.
4. Minnesota picks up the pieces: This could go one of two ways for Tim Brewster's crew. Minnesota either will let Matt Barkley and USC go nuts Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) and increase the calls for a coaching change. Or, the Gophers will use last week's inexcusable loss to South Dakota as a rallying cry and play good football against a USC team asking to get beat. Obviously, Minnesota needs to take a huge step with a young defense, which will regain the services of senior safety Kyle Theret. Overshadowed by the Dakota Debacle were the strong performances of Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett, who need even better days against the Trojans.
5. Michigan's quarterback rotation: Unless we see an Appalachian State re-run, Michigan should be able to rest sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson for part of Saturday's game against Massachusetts. If and when Robinson leaves the game, it should get interesting. Will coach Rich Rodriguez continue to call on true freshman Devin Gardner before last year's starting signal caller, Tate Forcier? How will they perform? Forcier seemed to be in better spirits last week at Notre Dame, and you know he's itching to play and show what he can do in a game.
6. Penn State running on E: E as in All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster, who needs a strong performance very soon after racking up only 72 rush yards in the first two games. Whether it's Royster's weight gain, the offensive line or a limited playbook, Penn State hasn't gotten much from No. 22. Saturday provides an interesting challenge as Penn State faces a Kent State team (ESPN2, noon ET) that leads the nation in rush defense (11 ypg allowed). The Golden Flashes certainly aren't Alabama, but they did a nice job of holding Boston College's ground game in check last week. This is a good chance for Royster to show he's still got it and make a move in his pursuit for the school's career rushing record.
7. Purdue behind the 8 ball: Life without No. 8 (Keith Smith) begins for Purdue, which must identify a new top target for quarterback Robert Marve. Smith was an outstanding possession receiver, and the Boilers will look to Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross and others to help fill the void beginning Saturday against Ball State. Purdue also can't also lose sight of the need to identify a deep threat. Through two games, Marve has completed 54 passes for only 391 yards (7.2 yards per completion). Siller seems like a good candidate to stretch the field.
8. A family affair for Poseys: Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey squares off against his older brother, Julian, a defensive back for Ohio, on Saturday in Columbus. It's one thing for brothers to play on opposing teams, but the Poseys likely will be matched up directly against one another. DeVier Posey has been excellent so far this season, recording eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But Julian Posey can hold his own -- three pass breakups and a 38-yard fumble return to the end zone this year for the Bobcats -- and he knows his little brother better than anyone. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel: "I told DeVier, 'If big brother shuts you down, it's going to be a long lifetime for you.'"
9. Illini aim to own the state: Illinois is 12-0 all-time against public schools from the state, a streak it tries to continue Saturday against Northern Illinois. It's only Week 3, but this is another must-win for Ron Zook's team, which looked very good last week against Southern Illinois. After the NIU game, Illinois has a week off before opening Big Ten play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. So this is crucial. Linebacker Ian Thomas and an improving Illinois defense faces a Northern Illinois team favored to win the MAC West but struggling a bit so far this season. NIU also could be without ailing coach Jerry Kill for the game.
10. Wildcats, Hoosiers hit the road: Northwestern and Indiana both are favored to win Saturday, but September road games always are tricky. The Wildcats head to Houston, which will be a homecoming for several players, but provides some unique challenges, namely the weather. Rice held its own in the season opener against Texas and should test on-target quarterback Dan Persa and his NU teammates. Remember Indiana? It seems like the Hoosiers haven't played for eons (actually Sept. 2), but they're back at it Saturday afternoon at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers top this week's Bottom 10, but they'll be excited to face a Big Ten squad in their house. Indiana's defense must perform better than it did in the opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.
No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
|Ric Tapia/Icon SMI|
|Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.|
Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.
Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.
Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.
"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."
Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.
And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.
It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.
It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.
"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.
Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.
The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.
"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.
Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."
Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.
Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.
"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."
Poor ole USC?
Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.
|Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller
All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?
Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.
As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?
AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.
Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks this spring in the Pac-10, most particularly USC's quarterback competition -- did ya hear, Aaron Corp's No. 1 but this freshman Matt Barkley looks like the bees' knees!
The other general theme isn't new: After reviewing the tea leaves on the table, does any team have the karmic -- and talent -- potential to unseat USC from the top of the Pac-10?
The answer? Maybe.
What we learned. Or developed a hunch about.
1. Oregon State's quarterback situation is ... interesting: You have two starting quarterbacks who are seniors. One is going to sit. No other way to describe it. Lyle Moevao threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last year but he sat out spring practices with a shoulder injury, which is exactly what happened to Sean Canfield last year before he lost his starting job. By the way, Canfield went 3-0 -- two starts -- subbing for Moevao in 2008. Though he struggled in the spring game with three interceptions, Canfield played well enough throughout that he probably owns a slight lead heading into the offseason.
2. USC's defense may not be as good as 2008, but it's probably as good as anyone else: The 2008 USC defense had more future NFL players on it than any other unit in the nation. And the 2009 version might not be any different, though there's clearly youth and inexperience to fret about from the Trojans' perspective. Still, start with perhaps the best secondary in the nation, led by safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard. Then consider the breakout spring of end Everson Griffen, who could win the Pac-10 sack title if he remains focused. Further, word is the three new linebackers might not match the NFL-ready standard of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, but Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan are faster. Toss in some impressive youngsters up front, and it's hard to imagine this crew not ranking among the nation's top 10 in just about every category.
3. The conference of ... running backs: The Pac-10 might feature the best collection of running backs in the nation. Five 1,000-yard rushers are schedule to return, including California's Jahvid Best, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman. Toss in Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, a potential first-day NFL draft pick in 2010, and Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, not to mention the six-deep stable of runners at USC, and the battle for first-team Pac-10 might be more arduous than All-American.
4. But can anyone block? Three teams that ran the ball well last year -- Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State -- lost three starting offensive linemen, including early-round NFL draft picks. Four others -- Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- were just lousy up front last fall. Even Stanford and California, which should be fairly stout, lost their best blockers from 2008. The conference's only sure thing up front is USC, which welcomes back its entire starting five, including All-American center Kristopher O'Dowd. Moreover, the teams that entered spring with questions on the line didn't get many answers three weeks later. O-line play might be the most critical issue facing the conference in 2009, even more so than at quarterback.
5. Sarkisian and Kelly bring new energy: Steve Sarkisian and Chip Kelly inherited completely different situations, but both made a mark by upping the intensity of practices. Sarkisian, of course, took over a lifeless program that Tyrone Willingham ran into the ground (uncharitable, but inarguable). He opened up practices and practically begged boosters and old Huskies greats to come visit. He also increased the tempo and energy level of practices -- heck, everything around the team -- which might do more than anything to get the Huskies a handful of wins next fall. Meanwhile, Kelly took over for one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Bellotti, and brought a little East Coast volume to Ducks practices. He's not completely renovating the Ducks, who finished in the nation's top 10 last year, but he's going to add his own coat of paint -- which at Oregon, as you known, probably will be a fairly loud shade.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
These links are like celery. They have negative calories.
- The Civil War quarterbacks have a lot in common. And what are the bowl ramifications for the Oregon-Oregon State clash? There's cash on the line for the coaches. And this is a great column from John Canzano -- it will give you chills.
- Looking at Arizona's bowl options. Those prospects looked better a few weeks ago, so it's hard to say whether the Wildcats season is a success or not.
- UCLA's visit to Arizona State is about one team keeping its bowl hopes alive and another knowing it will have a losing season. Remember defensive end Dexter Davis? He's been playing well, though without much fanfare.
- UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel responds to comments from Tom Craft on the treatment of his son, quarterback Kevin Craft. Considering the matchup with the Sun Devils.
- USC's Clay Matthews, despite his football pedigree, wasn't a typical Trojans five-star recruit. Injury update -- safety Kevin Ellison won't play against Notre Dame.
- Updates on Washington's coaching search. Lots of names, but the search is beginning to feel like a potential slog, with supposed front-runners saying thanks, but no thanks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- Oregon should feel right at home tonight. It's cloudy and cool (68 degrees) with a chance of showers. Just like it is much of the year in Eugene.
The winner tonight between No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-10) and No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0), however, figures to feel pretty sunny. That team will walk away as the Pac-10 front-runner, though California, a future foe for both, might have something to say about that.
Oregon does boast a 5-3 record in its last eight meetings against the Trojans, including a 24-17 win last year.
The last time the Ducks visited the Coliseum in 2006, though, they got thudded 35-10. The Trojans were coming off a loss to Oregon State then, too. The last time USC coach Pete Carroll lost consecutive games against Pac-10 foes?
He's also 7-0 against conference teams that beat him the year before, delivering retribution by a 248-114 count. A team hasn't won two in a row against the the Trojans since 2001-02 (Kansas State), Carroll's first two seasons at Troy. Carroll's first season, when USC finished 6-6, is also the last time the Trojans lost consecutive games.
USC is riding a 25-game winning streak in the Coliseum.
And the Oregon programs haven't swept USC since 1957.
So, in other words, there are plenty of trends and factoids that suggest USC will make a statement to the nation tonight that it is premature to count the Trojans out of the national title hunt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The general consensus is that USC is angry and the Oregon Ducks, to paraphrase Bruce Banner, aren't going to like the Trojans when they are angry.
That's the run-up to Saturday's clash in the L.A. Coliseum: Exit Dr. Banner (the USC team that looked woeful at Oregon State last Thursday) and enter an angry green -- make that Cardinal and Gold -- Hulk (the Trojans who've spent a long week-plus hearing a nation crow about their embarrassing loss).
"I don't know if they are angry but they are going to be ready," said an unusually terse Pete Carroll.
USC defensive end Kyle Moore is typically a go-to guy for reporters who regularly cover USC. He's smart and outgoing but, most important, he's good for a colorful quote. But not this week. Moore's colorful personality turned beige when asked what happened to USC's defense against the Beavers.
"We're past that game," he said. "We can't go back and replay it."
True. But is he bothered by how the national media pounded the Trojans after they lost?
"People can jump on whatever bandwagon they want," Moore said. "One week they love us. One week they hate us."
So, sure, there's some "grrrr" there.
Of course, Oregon faced a similar situation last year when it was headed to Michigan, which was supposed to be beside itself after it lost at home to Appalachian State, an FCS school, and subsequently got pilloried as victims of one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
All the Ducks did in Ann Arbor, though, was roll up 624 yards of offense and deliver one of the worst whippings the Wolverines had ever taken, 39-7.
Therefore, pardon Oregon coach Mike Bellotti for finding the "anger" angle a little amusing. "It was going to be a challenging game anyway," he noted.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
Oregon State's real test is Utah: The massive, shocking upset is a staple of college football and its frequency relative to other sports is one of the reasons we love the game so much. The issues for Oregon State is whether there's an encore for its win over top-ranked USC. Follow a victory over USC with a win at No. 15 Utah, and the Beavers figure to be the first two-loss team to enter the national polls. Or they can lose and retreat to the muddle of the middle-50 teams, their 15 minutes of 2008 fame over. The key for the Beavers will be the run game. Can Jacquizz Rodgers slash and dash against the Utes like he did against the Trojans? Most would say why not? But it's tougher going on the road, and Utah's run defense is stout. It ranks fifth in the nation and yields just 60 yards per game and 2.0 yards per rush. Oh, by the way, the Utes also have the best secondary in the Mountain West Conference, so passing won't be easy either against the nation's No. 5 overall defense (223.4 yards per game).
USC goes blue collar: The demotion of sophomore defensive end Everson Griffen and the likely decreased carries for sophomore tailback Joe McKnight may suggest that a true culture of competition is back at USC. Griffen and McKnight were both marquee recruits even among the Trojans superstar recruiting classes and both are exceptional physical talents. But the production -- and in Griffen's case, consistent effort -- hasn't been there. Griffen has just seven tackles and a sack thus far. His backup,Clay Matthews , a former walk-on, has 17 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. So who should start? As for McKnight, he's been spectacular at times and seemed to break through against Ohio State, but Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford each are more complete players and are far more likely to run north-south and get tough yards. Oregon's defensive scheme is to gang up on the run and force teams to throw into its talented secondary. But it's possible the Trojans will want to play some smash-mouth at home and take out their anger, which might mean less McKnight.
Stanford needs ball control: The injury report tells you what you need to know about the Stanford offense: Running back Toby Gerhart (concussion) will play at Notre Dame but wide receiver Richard Sherman (knee) will not. With its most talented receiver again on the sidelines, the Cardinal will need to lean on its dramatically improved running game, with the capable Anthony Kimble spelling Gerhart at times. The Fighting Irish defense is mostly bend-but-don't break, surrendering yards (385 ypg) but not a whole lot of points (18.5 ppg), but it's hardly dominant against the run (134 ypg). While Stanford is grinding it out, it also is keeping the Irish offense and rapidly improving quarterback Jimmy Clausen -- 20-for-35, 275-yards, three touchdowns in a win over Purdue -- on the sidelines and away from the Cardinal's suspect secondary.
Is Arizona State really going to run? Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson is a wily sort, and he's not above using the media for his purposes. This week he told reporters that his offense must run the football, period, and that if he had one regret he wished he'd run more against Georgia. For real? The Sun Devils ran 19 times and gained four yards against the Bulldogs, so Erickson is almost saying he'd rather bang his head against a wall 25 times rather than 19 times. And consider that, just three weeks ago before the Stanford game, Erickson told reporters that, "Right now, philosophically, we're going to come out flinging it." Then they came out and ran 36 times and passed 36 times. Sure, the return of speedy running back Keegan Herring will help the Sun Devils' anemic -- last in the Pac-10, 110th in the nation -- running attack, but this offense with Rudy Carpenter out front prefers to "fling" it. It is notable, however, that Cal is playing very good pass defense: It's ranked 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and leads the Pac-10 with eight INTs.
I have no feel for Cal's reopened QB competition, and maybe that's the point: How many teams opt for a high-profile QB controversy after a 42-7 victory with a critical game the next weekend? That's what Cal coach Jeff Tedford did by announcing that starter Kevin Riley, a sophomore, would need to fight off a challenge from senior Nate Longshore, who's started 26 career games, during practices this week. Tedford's official explanation is the offense has been starting slowly the past few games, and Riley has been inconsistent of late. He completed just 6 for 13 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State, one of two games this year when he's passed for less than 60 yards. In fact, Riley hasn't looked good since the season-opening win over Michigan State, when Longshore seemed to hammer the final nails into his QB coffin by tossing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. Tedford said it looks like Riley is pressing, which was something Longshore often did as well. One possible explanation: Riley may need the competitive pressure in practice to thrive. Or maybe Longshore is legitimately winning back his coaches' favor. Guess we'll see on Saturday, eh?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A look inside the Pac-10 this week.
Pac-10: This week defines the conference, with eight of 10 nonconference opponents having played in bowl games last year and five representing other BCS conferences. It's more than USC trying to defend its No. 1 ranking against visiting Ohio State, ranked fifth. It's UCLA at No. 18 BYU. It's No. 16 Oregon at Purdue. It's Arizona looking for revenge at New Mexico. It's Washington playing host to No. 3 Oklahoma. It's California at Maryland, Stanford at TCU, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and Arizona State trying not to look ahead to Georgia while playing UNLV. The Pac-10 is 7-3 so far in nonconference games, and two of the losses came against ranked opponents. If the conference were to have a big weekend -- say go 8-2 or 9-1 -- it would send a message to the rest of the nation.
USC: Coach Pete Carroll sometimes can be difficult -- in a pleasant way, of course -- with reporters. Ask him a question that has a negative turn, and he'll reject it in favor of something positive. But when asked about linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga nursing wrist and hand injuries this week, he admitted that, yes, those types of injuries make it harder to tackle. Harder to tackle, say, 240-pound speedsters like Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Maualuga has practiced all week, but seems to favor his hand. Cushing missed half of practice Tuesday, but because of a hip bruise, not his wrist. If Cushing is limited, DE Clay Matthews, a pass-rush specialist, would slide over at strongside LB. It's hard to believe that one of these injuries won't become an issue Saturday.
Washington: It's hard to imagine Washington beating Oklahoma, so that means an 0-3 start for the Huskies with the screws tightening on coach Tyrone Willingham. The question, really, then is whether the Huskies play hard the entire game and keep things interesting. Would a respectable performance mollify fans, with a string of more manageable games ahead after a bye week (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame)? After school president Mark Emmert -- who held the same post at LSU and loves his football -- went public with a request for patience, it seems like even a blowout loss wouldn't cost Willingham his job before the end of the season. If the Huskies gut it out and put a scare into the Sooners, it's not unreasonable to project them winning a couple of their upcoming games and possibly building some momentum. Still, finding six wins over the remaining nine games feels extremely difficult, and the general feeling is six wins is a minimum standard for Willingham to survive.
UCLA: Is UCLA ready to refocus after a bye week? BYU will come at the Bruins with a far more sophisticated -- and balanced -- offense than Tennessee, so the week off to game plan likely will help. Washington barely touched Cougars QB Max Hall, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate while completing 30 of 41 passes for 348 yards and three TDs, so figuring out ways to apply pressure will be the biggest task for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. This will be the second consecutive veteran offensive line Walker has schemed against, and the Cougars may be even better than the Vols. On the other side of the ledger, the Cougars' secondary is vulnerable -- it will not be able to match the athleticism of the Bruins WRs. But QB Kevin Craft needs time to throw, and it's still uncertain how well the Bruins OL will hold up. The BYU front seven won't be as athletic as the Vols, but it's still a strong crew. Further, will "Leaky" Craft or "Jet" Craft show up? Guess is OC Norm Chow is hoping for the Craft of the second half of the Tennessee game, not the one who threw four interceptions in the first half.
Oregon: With Oregon, it's almost always about the Ducks' potent spread offense, which is fancy. But the visit to Purdue figures to be more of a test for the defense. Purdue QB Curtis Painter has started 33 consecutive games and has thrown for a lot of yards in the Boilermakers' version of the spread. In other words, he knows most of the tricks in the book. The Ducks' defense focuses on stopping the run first and relying on an experienced and talented secondary to win one-on-one matchups in the back-half. So this one figures to turn on how the touted Ducks' secondary does against Painter. Will the front seven help by pressuring Painter into mistakes? Or will Painter find seams in the secondary and earn the Big Ten a statement victory?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If these links were any hotter, they'd be, you know, like on fire or something.
- A youth movement may be afoot at Arizona, and it's more than touted CB Robert Golden. While he's not that young, junior Earl Mitchell also qualifies as precocious, at least in terms of how well he appears to be transitioning to the defensive line. Finally, there's a little piece of Tim Tebow in Tucson.
- With Keegan Herring nursing a shoulder injury, there are other guys who can carry the rock for Arizona State. While battling for a starting job at CB opposite Omar Bolden, Terell Carr is playing hurt. And an evening monsoon (a new experience for this Arizona transplant) sent the Sun Devils into their new bubble, indoor facility for the first time.
- The QB competition at California is heating up, with Kevin Riley doing well while working with the first-team offense Thursday. Speaking of competition, Derrick Hill and Mika Kane have a tight one for the lone interior defensive tackle position in the Bears new 3-4 look.
- A report from Oregon's Thursday workout, with coach Mike Bellotti providing a long list of youngins and oldins who are doing well. Rob Moseley also has this about position battles:
One thing apparent through four days is that some of the position battles I anticipated aren't developing, at least not yet. When the first units are on the field, it's almost always Nate Costa at quarterback, Jeff Kendall at left guard, Jake Hucko at right tackle, T.J. Ward at free safety, and Spencer Paysinger at WILL linebacker.
Middle linebacker is one that's still tough to call. Because of the laceration on John Bacon's forehead, which I wrote about Tuesday, he's not doing a lot of full-contact stuff, so Casey Matthews is running with the ones.
- Here's some video of Autzen Stadium's GIANT new scoreboard.
- Oregon State is replacing three good linebackers with... three more good linebackers. And so the Beavers' defense will just reload. We shall see. Here's an update of another rebuilding effort -- the Beavers' special teams.
- He cut short his Mormon Mission, so now Stanford defensive tackle Sione Fua, who saw significant action as a freshman, will be on a mission to help the Cardinal defense.
- The Orange County Register charts the UCLA QBs. The conclusion: Hopefully the cliché -- "It's early" -- applies. The LA Times also checks in with QB Ben Olson. Brian Dohn looks at the secondary. Finally, it turns out that Brian Bosworth's nephew , Kyle, might be a pretty good LB, too.
- Who's the next great USC nose tackle? It's one of the best competitions of the preseason. The lead from the LA Daily News is the move of Clay Matthews from linebacker to defensive end, where he'll rotate with sophomore Everson Griffin. The Orange County Register discovered strippers working for the USC defense.
- This might interests USC fans: Ohio State defensive backs suspended for first two games! Only the Buckeyes come to LA for their third game and don't figure to have much trouble with Youngstown State and Ohio University (or is that THE Ohio University?).
- The tailback competition heads up at Washington. Molly Yanity talks with touted freshman receiver Anthony Boyles, while Don Ruiz concerns himself with the secondary. Bob Condotta reviews the day's events.
- This from the Washington State football office: "Following [Thursday] morning's practice, Cougar sophomore wide receiver Jeshua Anderson was seen by a team doctor and it was determined he has a hernia. Surgery has been scheduled for Monday morning and a prognosis will be determined following the surgery." Anderson, who nearly qualified for the Olympics, is one of the Pac-10's fastest players and was viewed as a potential deep threat for the Cougars offense. In general, the Cougars receivers are hurting.
- Finally, here's Jon Wilner's AP top 25 vote. Wilner's poll is often quirky, which is why a lot of people keep up with its changes.&