NCF Nation: Colt Lyerla


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.

Early entry talent drain for Pac-12

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While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.

While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.

Here's the early-entry list so far:

Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.
Oregon still gets tweaked by occasional critics for being a "gimmick" or system team. Thing is, that is a partially true statement, as the squawks of the ignorant often are in amusing, unintended ways.

Oregon is a system team. So is Alabama. The Crimson Tide's system is Nick Saban's "The Process," which is fun because that sounds like euphemism for a torture technique.

[+] EnlargeColt Lyerla
Steve Conner/Icon SMITight end Colt Lyerla has left the Oregon football team, citing personal reasons.
Oregon's system is "Win the day." It's about a commitment to excellence on a moment-to-moment basis. It's about team above all else.

Talented tight end Colt Lyerla was no longer a properly functioning part of that system. So he had to go. On the scales that measure his value to the team as a playmaker versus the potential distraction his continued presence might produce, the potential distraction proved heavier.

The Ducks' system includes a phrase many coaches use: "Next man in." With some teams, that's just three words. With Oregon, it's a statement of fact.

Jeremiah Masoli gets into off-field trouble? Enter Darron Thomas. LeGarrette Blount gets suspended? Step up LaMichael James. James to the NFL? Enter Kenjon Barner. Injuries to safeties John Boyett and Avery Patterson? Next man in. Thomas dubiously opts to go pro. Let me introduce you to a guy named "Marcus Mariota."

The defenses loses linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay? No matter. The 2013 defense is probably playing every bit as well as the 2012 unit.

Lyerla not around? Freshman Johnny Mundt introduced himself to Tennessee with an epic stiff arm.

Lyerla's immaturity has made headlines for the wrong reasons, starting with his idiotic tweets supporting conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. Lyerla never seemed to grasp that it wasn't just that he was being offensive. It was that he was being cuckoo. His lame apology left out the fact that his tweets were completely ignorant, representative of folks on the Internet who specialize in something called "Making Stuff Up."

There were also hints that Lyerla wasn't fully invested in this team. Even when he got his foot out of his mouth and onto the football field, Lyerla's early performance wasn't up to snuff, with his two receptions for 26 yards eclipsed by his number of dropped passes. He missed the Tennessee game due to illness, then whined to a reporter that coach Mark Helfrich had made him look bad by terming his absence being due to "circumstances."

Whining to reporters about hurt feelings is not part of the Oregon system.

He was suspended for the Colorado game over the weekend due to a team rules violation. He was becoming the one bad story within a team again fighting to play for a Pac-12 and national title. His leaving the team -- or being told to do so while being allowed to save face -- while unfortunate for the young man who probably just lost himself several million dollars in future NFL income, was good for the Ducks.

There isn't ill will here -- or at Oregon, by the way -- toward Lyerla. Everyone's hope should be that he gets his head together and then has a long and successful NFL career.

"Team above all else" is an ideology. You can argue it's big-picture value or its intellectual underpinnings, but it's a proven way to get 100 guys working in unison toward a goal of winning.

Lyerla has proven that he's mostly focused on being an individual. Individualism is a good thing outside of the locker room. But it's not part of the Oregon system. And now Lyerla isn't either.

3-point stance: Breaking down Baylor

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1. Baylor’s offensive numbers challenge history and strain credulity. The 4-0 Bears are averaging 779.5 yards per game. They are the first team to score 70 points in three consecutive games since 1930 (and scored 69 in their opener). But those pale in comparison to the most impressive statistic to me. Through 61 possessions, Baylor has yet to snap three downs and punt. They did turn the ball over once before making a first down, and they’ve had a couple of end-of-half knee-downs. But no three-and-out punts. That is mind-boggling.

2. Miami (Ohio) and Mike Haywood must think of 2010 as a fever dream. The RedHawks went from 1-11 in 2009 to 10-4 and the MAC championship in 2010. Haywood, Miami’s head coach, got hired as head coach at Pittsburgh. Within the month, Haywood got fired after a domestic violence arrest. The charges were dismissed but he hasn’t coached again. Miami hired Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell to replace Haywood. Treadwell had a record of 8-21, including an 0-5 mark this season, when Miami fired him Sunday.

3. Oregon has released no details about why tight end Colt Lyerla left the program except that he did so for personal reasons. But this much we know: Lyerla came into the season ranked as the 20th-best player in the Pac-12. He publicly complained about head coach Mark Helfrich. He apologized. And Lyerla, a junior with NFL potential, has made as many catches in 2013 as he has missed games -- two. Lyerla surrendered the chance to play with quarterback Marcus Mariota. No. 2 Oregon, at 5-0, has played well without him.

3-point-stance: Next men up

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1. My All-Wally-Pipped offense is shaping up: Braxton Miller of Ohio State and Tre Roberson of Indiana at quarterback, Venric Mark of Northwestern at tailback, Colt Lyerla of Oregon at tight end. ... Do I believe Miller won’t get his job back from Kenny Guiton? No. But once Ducks freshman Johnny Mundt caught two touchdowns against Tennessee, it made me think of Guiton and Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld and Wildcats tailback Treyvon Green. I just need a few linemen, a couple of receivers ...

2. Since the beginning of last season, the Pac-12 has three of the top four defenses in sacks when sending four or fewer rushers. Stanford has 45, South Carolina has 39, USC 36 and UCLA 35 (thanks, ESPN Stats & Info). Can anyone in the Pac-12 block? Maybe not. Stanford guard David Yankey made consensus All-American in 2012, and Oregon guard Kyle Long went in the first round of the NFL Draft. But he was the only Pac-12 offensive lineman taken in the first three rounds. Only one Pac-12 tackle was drafted, and only five O-linemen overall.

3. Then there's Duke offensive tackle Perry Simmons, a fifth-year senior, who will make his 40th consecutive start Saturday when the Blue Devils play Pittsburgh. Last week against Georgia Tech, Simmons played his 3,000th collegiate snap. "Think about that for a second," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said this week. "That is an amazing stat." Not only has Simmons played well -- last season the Blue Devils allowed only one sack for every 29 pass attempts -- but he has a 3.8 GPA in civil engineering, with an emphasis in architecture. At Duke.
It’s going to be a good 2014 NFL draft for the Pac-12. So says Sports Illustrated. The magazine has released a 2014 mock draft and -- assuming some players come out early -- it could be a nice haul for the conference. Nicer than we’ve seen in quite some time.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and next April. Stocks will rise and fall with every pass/incomplete, catch/drop and tackle/missed tackle. Public perception will go all coo-coo bananas on a week-to-week basis. Writer Chris Burke even stipulates that this is more of an exercise on getting the word out about top prospects -- rather than trying to turn the next draft/draft order into exact science. It's an offseason conversation-starter. So enjoy, and take it for what it's worth.
In other words, take everything below with a grain (or spoonful) of salt. Plenty will stay up in the air for the next 360 or so days. But let’s take a glance anyway at which players might crack Round 1 come the 2014 draft.

There are a few names that could even be added to this list -- Marcus Mariota, Ka'Deem Carey, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jordan Richards come to mind. And if Keith Price returns to his 2011 form, which many see happening in Washington's new up-tempo offense, we could see his stock trend back up to where it was a year ago.

Here’s the list of SI's 10 potential first-round picks from the Pac-12.

Pac-12 All-Bowl team

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Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for your 2012 Pac-12 All-Bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Taylor Kelly, Arizona State -- 17-of-19, 267 yards with four touchdowns and no picks. Outstanding performance.

RB: Bishop Sankey, Washington -- The lone player from a losing team on the all-bowl squad, but he was too good to ignore -- 30 carries for 205 yards and a touchdown.

RB: Marion Grice, Arizona State -- With a heavy heart, he earned offensive MVP by piling up 159 yards on just 14 carries for a robust 11.4-yard average. He also had a pair of rushing touchdowns in ASU's blowout win.

WR: Austin Hill, Arizona -- His 175 yards broke an Arizona record for receiving yards in a bowl game and his two touchdowns matched a school high.

[+] EnlargeArizona State's Rashad Ross
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsRashad Ross had four catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns against Navy.
WR: Rashad Ross, Arizona State -- Had a huge day with four catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns.

TE: Colt Lyerla, Oregon -- He's not here for his three catches and 52 yards. He's here because those three catches for 52 yards changed the way Kansas State played defense and it opened everything up for the Ducks.

OL: David Yankey, Stanford -- The Morris Trophy winner helped keep quarterback Kevin Hogan sack-free and QB hit-free.

OL: Kyle Quinn, Arizona -- Paved the way for Carey's record-setting performance.

OL: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon -- Kept a good Kansas State front at bay and delivered a knockout block on De'Anthony Thomas' touchdown reception.

OL: Evan Finkenberg, Arizona State -- Key player in Marion Grice's big day.

OL: Kyle Long, Oregon -- Helped limit Kansas State's aggressive front to just one sack.

K: Jordan Williamson, Stanford -- Shook off the Fiesta cobwebs and calmly drilled both field goal attempts, including a 47-yarder. His six points were the difference in the 20-14 outcome.

DEFENSE

DL: Ben Gardner, Stanford -- Fourth-and-goal at the 1. James White, prepare to meet the mullet.

DL: Will Sutton, Arizona State -- Defensive MVP of Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Hungry for more next season.

DL: Carl Bradford, Arizona State -- Three tackles for a loss, plus a sack, make him the perfect complement to Sutton.

LB: Kiko Alonso, Oregon -- Run blitzed the Wildcats all night and was as effective as he was punishing.

LB: Michael Clay, Oregon -- Your defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl had nine tackles, two for a loss, plus a sack. He was prolific.

LB: A.J. Tarpley, Stanford -- The leading tackler in the Rose Bowl helped the Cardinal to a second-half shutout.

LB: Marquis Flowers, Arizona -- The defensive MVP of the New Mexico Bowl posted 10 tackles, one for a loss, and an interception. He also recovered the onside kick that sparked Arizona's comeback.

DB: Jordan Richards, Stanford -- Seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack and one very, very nasty (yet clean) hit.

DB: Erick Dargan, Oregon -- Two picks off a Heisman Trophy finalist is two picks off a Heisman Trophy finalist -- whether it's the end of the half or end of the game. He also had eight tackles, second only to Clay.

DB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon -- Posted five tackles and a pass breakup. Kansas State challenged him. He responded.

DB: Shaquille Richardson, Arizona -- Nabbed his first interception of the season at the Arizona 2-yard line and returned it 27 yards. That kicked off a nine-play, 71-yard touchdown drive for the Wildcats.

KR: De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon -- DAT did what DAT does. And he did it great.

Make it nine in a row for the Oregon Ducks over the Washington Huskies. The Ducks jumped out to a 21-0 lead before pulling away for a 52-21 win. The Ducks have won all nine games by at least 17 points. Here's how it all went down at Autzen.

It was over when: In the first quarter, the Huskies had just made their second-consecutive stop on defense. But the Huskies muffed the ensuing punt and on the next play, De'Anthony Thomas darted for a 16-yard score. It seemed like all the life just got sucked out of Washington as the Ducks put up 21 in the first quarter.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. When he wasn't jumping out of sacks (that was sick athleticism), he was tossing four touchdowns on 15-of-24 passing. He did have one interception early, but bounced back to hit Colt Lyerla twice, Josh Huff and Keanon Lowe for scores.

Second game ball: Nick Aliotti. Oregon's defensive coordinator has this defense playing awfully good ball. The Ducks forced five turnovers and twice stopped the Huskies on fourth down. Most of Washington's 353 yards came in the second half when the game was out of reach.

Stat of the game: 3. Avery Patterson picked off Keith Price in the first quarter and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. The Ducks have now had a pick-six in three straight games.

What it means for Oregon: For the Ducks, they hold serve -- and get some style points along the way -- as other top 10 teams behind them collapse. The number of undefeated teams is dwindling and Oregon is right where it needs to be. If anyone was still awake on the East Coast, they saw a dominating performance on both sides of the ball.

What it means for Washington: Much like their debacle at LSU, the Huskies will have to regroup with No. 13 USC coming to town next week. For as high as they were flying after last week's win over Stanford, this was another throttling by a top-5 team. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has to get the troops to shake this one off.

Q&A: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

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Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is off to a pretty good start. He ranks among the Pac-12’s best quarterbacks in efficiency, and he’s helped the Ducks to a 4-0 start and a No. 2 national ranking. The redshirt freshman took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog for our Friday Q&A.

What’s the deal with Colt Lyerla? Is that guy just going to keep stealing touchdowns from quarterbacks? Is that his thing?

Marcus Mariota: [Laughs.] I don’t know. If that puts points on the board, then I’m totally fine with it.

Could you have imagined a better start to your college career?

MM: Not at all. To go through those first games and then play the first conference game and how things turned out, I couldn’t have imagined anything better than this. It’s been fun, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/US PresswireMarcus Mariota will face his first road test when the Ducks take on Washington State this weekend.
According to my very quick Internet research, two years ago this week you were playing against Pac-Five High School [in Hawaii]. Now you’re quarterbacking the No. 2 team in the country. Has that set in yet, what you’ve accomplished in such a short time?

MM: It really hasn’t. I don’t know if it ever will. My parents have always said, "Now that you are the starter, what are you going to do? Are you going to continue to get better? Or are you going to be satisfied with where you are at?" I don’t ever want it to set in. I want to keep getting better and keep making this team better. And when it’s all over, that’s when I’ll let it sink in.

Given the national attention of the Oregon quarterback competition, did you feel any additional pressure? That you had to perform right away to validate that you were the right guy for the job?

MM: That’s kind of a hard question. At first, you have the pressure of playing your first college game. But I never felt the pressure to play well. The coaches did a good job of preparing both Bryan [Bennett] and I for the situation. For me, whatever happens, happens. All I can really control is what I put out there on the field. All in all, I was more nervous for my first start than really having pressure to do well.

You actually have to leave the state this week. Any nerves about starting your first game on the road?

MM: There’s some uncertainty that I think will bring about some nerves. But I always get nervous before games. I think that’s my human nature. When people say they aren’t nervous, I think they are lying about it. If you are human and you love the game, before any competition you still get those same butterflies in the stomach. I’m looking forward to this first challenge away from home, and I’m excited to see how the offense handles being away.

How do you settle those nerves? What’s your pregame ritual?

MM: I’ve got to listen to local music -- Hawaiian music. If I don’t listen to that kind of stuff, sometimes I feel a little too amped. That local flavor relaxes me a little bit and brings me back to being at home and the slow-paced lifestyle.

Are we talking Don Ho and Tiny Bubbles?

MM: [Laughs for about 10 seconds.] No, there’s a couple of bands like The Green, and there [are a few] good guys to listen to.

What’s been the toughest transition as a starting quarterback?

MM: Probably the tempo. When I first came in here a year ago, my head was spinning at how fast we were going. I still don’t think I’m as fast as how our coaches want us to go. That’s something that’s been a little hard for me, and I’m looking to get better at it each week.

Last question, is De’Anthony Thomas the best player in college football?

MM: I believe so. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball. I was talking to my dad about this. When he’s in the stands -- he can see in the stands that when he gets the ball or takes a handoff, everyone is on the edge of their seat because they don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s such an exciting player, and he’s really fun to play with.

A sensational day for running back Kenjon Barner paced Oregon, the No. 4 team in the country, to a 42-25 victory over visiting Fresno State.

In typical Oregon fashion, the Ducks (2-0) jumped out to a 35-6 halftime lead behind two of Barner’s three rushing touchdowns. He finished with 201 yards on the ground and touchdown runs of 3, 3 and 16 yards. Barner was the workhorse, carrying 34 times for an average of 5.9 yards per carry.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, making his second career start, played the whole game (unlike last week, when he was spelled after the Ducks took a 50-3 lead halfway through the second quarter against Arkansas State). Mariota completed 19 of 27 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown, a 22-yard score to tight end Colt Lyerla. Actually, it was a 4-yard pass, after which Lyerla muscled his way the rest of the distance to give Oregon a 21-3 lead.

The Ducks actually fell behind early (gasp!) when Fresno State drove 57 yards on 11 plays and took a 3-0 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Quentin Breshears.

But the Ducks went on a run of five touchdowns in their next seven possessions, including the two from Barner, the Lyerla reception and touchdown runs of 39 and 51 yards by De’Anthony Thomas. He finished with 102 yards on seven carries. Thomas also caught four balls for 26 yards.

The offense stalled in the second half after some nicks to the offensive line. The defense held the Bulldogs to just 2 of 16 on third-down conversions, though Fresno State (1-1) had 365 yards of offense.

Oregon totaled 532 yards of offense -- including 366 on the ground. However, the Ducks also fumbled three times.
This is a good time for Joseph Fauria to be a tight end ... er ... wide receiver.

"No, I'm still a tight end," said UCLA's dominant, albeit difficult to define Fauria. "My weight and height haven't changed. My assignment hasn't changed that much. I'm just doing a little more than the other. I'm still a tight end even though the roster says wide receiver."

Officially, the roster lists Fauria as the "Y Receiver," a position the 6-foot-7, 255-pounder is expected to excel at in the scheme that coordinator Noel Mazzone brought with him from Arizona State when he joined Jim Mora's staff. He'll certainly be more active in the passing game than he was in UCLA's previous, run-first pistol attack.

[+] EnlargeJoseph Fauria
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireUCLA's Joseph Fauria said learning to fight for yards after the catch should help him with his role in 2012.
"It's something your body has to get used to," said Fauria, who like his teammates has been grinding away in the summer heat of San Bernardino about 80 miles east of campus. "There's a reason O-linemen don't run routes. They are blocking, going forward for run blocks and backwards for pass blocks. When you change it up and run full speed, you need to change your body. Now that I'm not run blocking or cut blocking the whole game, my body needs to get used to running routes 60-70 plays a game. It will take some getting used to and it's more catching."

When you look around the Pac-12 and some of the tight ends -- Fauria, Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Washington, the Stanford duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, USC's duo of Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble and Oregon upstart Colt Lyerla-- it's clear that the days of the tight end being a fourth- or-fifth receiving option are long gone. Fauria, and the aforementioned players are the next evolution of tight end.

"It trickles its way down," he said. "It starts in the NFL. You have guys breaking records and being game-changers. Tight ends, we're changing the whole offense. In turn, that changes how defenses play. You see bigger safeties getting pulled in the first round. Now it's trickling down to college. Colleges realize we have these big, fast tight ends. We had a guy as the first tight end drafted last year [Stanford's Coby Fleener] and we have even more guys this year.

"We are changing the dynamic the way the tight end is used. Back when my uncle [Christian Fauria] played, they were tough SOBs who were down blocking on defensive linemen. Now we're guys who can outrun linebackers and out-physical safeties and corners. It's a tough matchup for defenses."

And UCLA will look to exploit that mismatch -- which is music to Fauria's ears.

"It's good to see the change and that we're moving the ball down the field," he said. "Last year, I don't want to say it was boring, but it was monotonous. Get 2 or 3 yards and hope to break one once in a while. Now we're stretching the field and we're fast on the outsides."

Fauria, who is from Encino, declined to talk about what went wrong during his time at Notre Dame and why he opted to return to Southern California following the 2008 season. But now that he's here, he plans to make the most of the opportunity. Last year he caught 39 balls for 481 yards and six touchdowns. Look for those numbers to shoot up in the new offense.

"Last year, we weren't really a pass-happy offense. At all," he said with a sarcastic laugh attached to it. "I realized that going into the season whenever I did get the ball, I had to get those yards because I might not see another ball the rest of the game. That taught me to fight for those extra yards because chances are it won't happen again. The system actually helped me more than it hurt. It helped with my will to catch the ball and my will to get yards after the catch."

And now the system has changed. And so has the position -- well -- technically.

Pac-12 spring breakout players

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Every spring, players break out. Here are a few that stood out in the Pac-12.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey was a hyped recruit from Tucson -- Canyon del Oro High -- and the local boy seems likely to make good this year after rushing for 425 yards as a freshman. He led a solid crew of backs this spring.

Brice Schwab, OT, Arizona State: It's been a long time coming for Schwab, who has gone from heralded junior-college transfer to bust to likely starting right tackle. Schwab's problem when he arrived was conditioning: He was huge but it wasn't good weight. And he was way too weak. He started four games in 2010 and struggled, then redshirted last season in order to get in better shape. Once a 340-pounder, he's now 6-foot-7, 295. And he's a better player.

Deandre Coleman, DE, California: Said coach Jeff Tedford of the 6-5, 311-pound junior: "He may be one of the best that we've ever had." That about sums it up. Coleman dominated this spring, looking like an all-conference candidate.

Tony Jones, RB, Colorado: Replacing the highly productive Rodney Stewart was a spring priority and Jones, a sophomore, answered the bell. Jones is built a little like the diminutive "Speedy" -- 5-7, 175 pounds -- and he has a versatile range of skills, just like Stewart. With questions at quarterback, he will be asked to do a lot. Just like Stewart.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: Lyerla should be a big weapon for whomever wins the Ducks' quarterback job. The 6-5, 238 pound sophomore should step in for the departed David Paulson and could end up as one of the Ducks' leading receivers. He caught just seven passes last year, but five went for touchdowns. He's a special athlete with a year of seasoning, which often is the foundation for a breakout.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Cooks has speed and quickness and will play opposite one of the best receivers in the conference in Markus Wheaton. He caught 31 passes for 391 yards and three TDs last year while being extremely raw. He's less raw now and has good upside. And it will help that defenses will obsess over Wheaton.

James Vaughters, LB, Stanford: The coaches have said they are going to let the leash off of this aggressive, physically imposing linebacker and see what happens. We know he'll be at middle linebacker (as opposed to just a third-down specialist last year) where he's expected to wreak havoc.

Steven Manfro, RB, UCLA: Speed and quickness. There is a difference, but Manfro has both. He excelled in the spring sessions and though he sits third on the UCLA depth chart, he might work his way into carries if he continues to show explosive breakaway ability.

Isiah Wiley, CB, USC: Wiley quietly started the final six games in 2011 and played fairly well. While he's a senior, this is only the JC transfer's second year in the program. This spring, he took a step forward and seems likely to start opposite Nickell Robey.

V.J. Fehoko, LB, Utah: With possibly the best defensive line in the conference in front of him and offenses keying in on Trevor Reilly, Fehoko could be in position to be extremely productive filling the shoes of Chaz Walker. Similar build as Walker, who tallied 118 tackles last year.

James Johnson, WR, Washington: After an injury-plagued career, Johnson is finally healthy and in the starting lineup. The physical tools are all there and the quarterback is in place for him to put up some solid numbers -- if he can stay on the field.

Andrei Lintz, WR, Washington State: This converted tight end was the talk of WSU's spring session. He has the hands and size to be effective over the middle and he showed great chemistry with Jeff Tuel during the 15 practices. The more attention Marquess Wilson draws, the more opportunities there will be for Lintz to excel.
Every team needs to hit every position group each recruiting season, but there are always priorities. It's not just positions where starters are lost or going to be seniors, it's about addressing weaknesses where a true freshman might be a better answer than a returning player.

Up next is the North Division.

California
QB
: Zach Maynard will be a senior, and it says something about the depth behind him that he never lost his job during his midseason swoon.
WR: Keenan Allen is back, but that's it in terms of returning production and experience.
S: Three of the top four safeties from 2011 are gone.

Oregon
Skill:
In Chip Kelly's offense, you can never have enough fast guys. Sure, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff are back, but there's a lot of youth and uncertainty after that at running back and wide receiver.
TE: His name is David Paulson, but he's gone. Colt Lyerla was a productive backup -- at least in terms of finding the end zone -- but after him things are uncertain. Tight end is one of the most underrated positions in the Ducks offense, so having more than one Kelly trusts is significant.
S: Eddie Pleasant is gone and John Boyett is a senior. Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson are next in line, but the young talent isn't as certain as it is at corner.

Oregon State
OL:
Oregon State lost three starters from a line that led the worst rushing attack in the conference and surrendered 27 sacks. Quarterback Sean Mannion has potential, but he needs time. And a running game.
DT: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. 'Nuff said.
LB: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. Almost enough said. Cameron Collins is gone, and all the contributors on the two-deep will be seniors, other than junior Michael Doctor.

Stanford
WR
: Perhaps the weakest position for the Cardinal in 2011, this need is augmented by the loss of Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and the lack of up-and-comers other than sophomore Ty Montgomery.
DB: Three of four starters are gone, including both safeties. In the Cardinal's two losses -- to Oregon and Oklahoma State -- an absence of top-end athleticism in the back half was exploited.
OL: Three starters are back, but the losses are huge: Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. And backup tackle Tyler Mabry and backup guard Matt Bentler also are gone. If coach David Shaw intends to remain a physical, downhill running team -- and he does -- he'll need to continuously stock up on linemen who can get the job done.

Washington
DB:
Lots of guys are back in the secondary, but the Huskies gave up 284.6 yards passing per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. They couldn't cover anybody and often seemed out of position. So new blood might help.
DL: (See if you can notice a theme here that ignores questions at wide receiver and running back). Two starters are gone from a line that consistently underperformed based on preseason expectations.
LB: Second-team All-Pac-12 middle linebacker Cort Dennison is the only one of the eight men on the depth chart who won't be back, but he was the team's only consistent linebacker.

Washington State
DL:
Three of four starters are back, but all three will be seniors.
OL: Three starters are back, but to make the next step on offense, the Cougars need to run the ball better. They ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. And that might reduce a conference-high 3.3 sacks per game. Mike Leach's quick-hit offense also might help.
RB: 170-pound sophomore Rickey Galvin is back, as is senior Carl Winston, but the backs need to share responsibility for a 3.1-yards-per-carry average, worst in the conference (of course, losing 237 yards to sacks doesn't help).

Pac-12 offseason check list

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
1:30
PM ET
While recruiting season is heating up for its home stretch, national signing day is about the future. The present matters, too, and there are plenty of present matters that need attending.

What are the main areas of focus in advance of spring practices? Glad you asked.

1. Hello, my name is Coach ____________: There are four new Pac-12 head coaches: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Jim Mora at UCLA and Mike Leach at Washington State. That's a lot of turnover -- one third of the league. Further, none of the four retained many members of the previous staffs. So there will be a lot of "Getting to know you" in advance of spring practices. Also, beyond head coaches, Norm Chow left Utah to become Hawaii's head coach, so the Utes need a new offensive coordinator. Washington rebuilt its defensive staff. Coach Steve Sarkisian fired defensive coordinator Nick Holt and two other coaches and saw defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin bolt for UCLA. He then raided Tennessee, California and Oregon State to replace them. Because of the Huskies, Cal will have two new assistants this spring and Oregon State one.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bennett
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireBryan Bennett is the favorite to take over for Darron Thomas at Oregon.
2. Settled at quarterback? The only teams that have certainty at quarterback are: California, Oregon State, USC and Washington -- and some Cal fans might even harrumph that assertion. You can probably throw Arizona's Matt Scott in there as a certainty, both because he has quality starting experience and because there's no one around to unseat him. UCLA, Utah and Washington State have returning starters, but they also have plenty of intrigue. It's uncertain who takes the first snap in the opener. For Oregon, most would favor Bryan Bennett stepping in after Darron Thomas' surprising decision to enter the NFL draft, but his name isn't written atop the depth chart in ink just yet. Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford are wide-open competitions. It would be wise for any quarterback who wants to be in the starting mix to be laying groundwork with his teammates and coaches well in advance of the first spring practice.

3. Line up: Arizona welcomes back five starters on its offensive line, while USC and Washington get four starting offensive linemen back. Every other team has some degree of uncertainty with at least two voids to fill. Perhaps more than any position, the quality -- and depth -- of an offensive line can be advanced during the offseason. Hit the weight room, training table and the track -- get stronger, quicker and work off the baby fat and turn that into quality size. Right now just about every team has a guy who thinks he's going to automatically advance on the depth chart who is going to be overtaken by a youngster who is eyeballing his slack, er, rear end while doing an extra set of power cleans.

4. Taking the next step: At this point last year, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei were just promising guys, not first-team All-Pac-12 defenders. Wide receivers Keenan Allen of Cal and Robert Woods of USC were coming off impressive freshman seasons but were facing the inevitable, "What's next?" questions, which implied the possibility of sophomore slumps. But, of course, Allen and Woods joined Jordan and Lotulelei on the All-Conference first team. Did you know that USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil wasn't even honorable mention All-Pac-10 in 2010? Kalil was a big-time talent who had yet to make a statement -- you know, the "I'm a top-five pick as the best left tackle in the NFL draft" statement. There are a lot of players who had good seasons in 2011. Good for them. But just like Oregon coach Chip Kelly, the Pac-12 blog is a forward-thinking operation. Yes, we were very impressed De'Anthony Thomas, Marqise Lee, John White, Ben Gardner, Nickell Robey, Marquess Wilson, Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Brian Blechen, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Keith Price, Tramayne Bondurant, Mustafa Jalil, Stefan McClure, David Bakhtiari, Colt Lyerla, Scott Crichton, Sean Mannion, Ty Montgomery, Sean Parker, John Fullington, etc. But what are you doing to get better right now? Yes, right now. So stop reading this, wondering why your name isn't listed and go do some wind sprints.

5. Don't believe the hype -- either way: Everyone is massively overrating USC and Oregon. Top-five teams? Pfftt. So stop staring at yourself in the mirror in your tighty-whiteys, doing a most-muscular pose. I talked to your mammas and they said you ain't all that. California, Washington and Utah are eyeballing your girlfriends. Better watch out. If you don't do the work, you won't be top-five anything. And what about you Colorado, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington State -- are you going to hear those national yawns and assume there's no hope? Are you expecting to lose and using that as an excuse to eat a Twinkie on the sofa while watching "Caddyshack" again instead of going to a workout? From now until opening day, there will be endless fan and media chatter decided how every Pac-12 teams' season is going to go. Hey, it's fun. But that doesn't decided a season. The 100 guys in the locker room do. Oh, and one final thought. Stanford? You're done. You ain't poo without Andrew Luck.
Every season true freshman make an impact and underclassmen become stars. Who might those guys be in the Pac-12 in 2011?

(Note: With "underclassmen to watch," we mostly stayed away from guys who made a significant impact in 2010, such as Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali, Colorado receiver Paul Richardson or California receiver Keenan Allen).

Underclassmen to watch

[+] EnlargeJonathan McKnight
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireArizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight has a bright future.
Jonathan McKnight, CB, So, Arizona: McKnight, younger brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, might already be the best cover guy in an already good secondary.

Davon Coleman, DE, So, Arizona State: The junior college transfer -- a late signing for the 2011 recruiting class -- might already be the Sun Devils' No. 3 defensive end, and ASU needs him to step up after returning starter James Brooks quit the team.

David Wilkerson, OLB, RFr., California: While fellow outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside might be more heralded, Wilkerson was listed as a starter on on the post-spring depth chart.

Parker Orms, CB, So., Colorado: Orms was the starting nickel back in 2010 before he blew out his knee on the third play of the season-opener against Colorado State. He's now No. 1 at cornerback -- the Buffs more worrisome position -- despite sitting out spring practices.

Scott Crichton, DE, RFr., Oregon State: The Beavers have major questions at defensive end -- a traditionally strong position for their defense. While he didn't come from nowhere, it was a bit of a surprise to see Crichton atop the depth chart after spring practices.

Dietrich Riley, So, SS, UCLA: By the end of the season Riley and Tony Dye might be widely viewed as the best safety combo in the conference. Heck, they might already be.

Dres Anderson, RFr, WR, Utah: Anderson already looks like the Utes' No. 2 option after junior DeVonte Christopher.

Josh Shirley, RFr., LB, Washington: Shirley was such a force as a pass-rusher this past spring, they created a position for him: "Rush" linebacker.

Rickey Galvin, RFr, RB, Washington State: Galvin broke his arm at Oklahoma State on the first play of his college career, which ended his debut season. He's speedy and shifty and the Cougars really need him to provide a running threat to help out quarterback Jeff Tuel.

Impact freshmen

Hank Hobson, LB, Arizona: The Wildcats have major depth issues at linebacker. Hobson looks like the most ready-made guy in the incoming class. He might not start, but he's a good bet to be the No. 4 guy behind the starting three.

Stefan McClure, CB, California: While many Cal fans are more eager to see 325-pound nose tackle Viliami Moala, the Bears have depth issues at cornerback, and McClure is almost certain to be in the mix.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: While Oregon needs help at receiver, and at least one one of the incoming guys is almost certain to climb into a prime spot in the rotation, we don't know who that will be. We feel pretty good projecting Lyerla as the Ducks' No. 2 tight end behind David Paulson.

James Vaughters, ILB, Stanford: The word most often used to describe Vaughters? "Beast." Stanford is solid at linebacker, but this guy is going to play, and and might well end up suggesting a second-coming of Vontaze Burfict by season's end.

George Farmer, WR, USC: There might be somebody who doesn't believe Farmer is a budding star but I have yet to speak with him. Even USC super-soph Robert Woods talks about Farmer's freakish skills.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Seferian-Jenkins showed this past spring that he's ready for prime time. He's likely to be the Huskies' starting tight end. A runner-up for the Huskies, by the way, is receiver Kasen Williams, but he will join a deep, veteran crew of receivers.

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