NCF Nation: Damian Williams

The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

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

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

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

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

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)

What to watch in the Pac-10 this spring

February, 19, 2010
Taking a look at what to watch for as teams head into spring practices, officially ringing the bell on preparations for the 2010 season.

Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.

The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.

Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.

Arizona State
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.

O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.

The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.

Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A

What to watch:

Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?

Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.

RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.

The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.

Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.

Oregon State
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.

Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.

The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.

Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.

Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.

Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.

Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.

Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.

The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).

Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.

Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).

Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.

Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?

The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.

Washington State
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.

O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.

Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.

Pac-10 newcomers to watch

February, 8, 2010
Which guys will you start hearing about this spring? And then continue hearing about into the fall?

Here are some guesses.


LB Derek Earls, 6-3, 220 and/or LB Paul Vassallo, 6-3, 240

The Wildcats must replace all three starting linebackers from 2009. It's almost certain at least one of these two JC transfers starts.

Arizona State

OT Brice Schwab, 6-7, 310

Schwab, a touted JC transfer who originally committed to USC, is expected to immediately work his way into the Sun Devils' starting lineup, giving their beleaguered offensive line a boost.


RB Trajuan Briggs, 5-11, 200

Through the years, Cal has thrived with a tandem of running backs. With the departure of Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen moves up to No. 1. But who's his wingman? Coach Jeff Tedford gushed about Briggs at signing day, and he'll be there to compete this spring.


DE Isaac Remington, 6-5, 265 and/or DE Anthony Anderson

The Ducks lost two starting defensive linemen, including end Will Tukuafu. Kenny Rowe is the undersized speed rusher on one side, but can Remington immediately push himself into the mix on the other? And will Anderson step up after making noise as a freshman on the scout team?

Oregon State

WR Markus Wheaton, 6-0, 167

The Beavers don't have any flashy newcomers this spring, but Wheaton, who caught eight passes last year, is a potentially dynamic player who might assert himself this spring.


WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, 6-3, 201

Stanford doesn't have any new guys around for spring practices, but Patterson, a touted 2009 recruit who caught one pass as a true freshman, probably senses his opportunity. With Toby Gerhart gone, and quarterback Andrew Luck back, the Cardinal figures to throw the ball more in 2010, which means the receivers will need to step up.


TE Joseph Fauria, 6-7, 245

The Bruins lost two quality senior tight ends, but this Notre Dame transfer figures to step right in and compete for playing time.


WR Kyle Prater, 6-5, 200

With the departure of Damian Williams, there will be opportunities for young USC receivers. Prater's big frame would be a nice complement to Ronald Johnson's speed.


RB Deontae Cooper, 6-1, 185

With starter Chris Polk sitting out this spring after shoulder surgery, Cooper should get plenty of opportunities to make a statement that he's ready to contribute as a true freshman.

Washington State

OT David Gonzales, 6-5,290 and/or G Wade Jacobson, 6-5, 300

Washington State has to get better on the offensive line. These two might begin to fight their way into the starting lineup this spring.

Pac-10 all-bowl team

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OL Chase Beeler, Stanford: See Marinelli.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P David Green, Stanford: He averaged 44 yards on six punts, three of which were downed inside the Sooners' 20-yard line.
The Pac-10 went 2-5 during the bowl season, so it wasn't difficult to find many "worsts."

But there were some good things that shouldn't be overlooked.

Best performance, defensive player: Oregon's undersized but quick defensive end Kenny Rowe set a Rose Bowl and Oregon bowl record with three sacks in a losing effort against Ohio State. He finished the season with 11.5 sacks, which led the Pac-10.

Best performance, offensive player: In his final game in a USC uniform, receiver Damian Williams caught 12 passes for a season-high 189 yards in the Trojans' 24-13 win over Boston College in the Emerald Bowl. It's fair to say that Williams was USC's most consistent player over the entire season.

Worst performance, period: There was nothing good about Arizona's 33-0 loss to Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nothing. Feel free, though, to look at this box score and try to find something.

Best play: With UCLA trailing Temple 21-20 in the fourth quarter, and the Owls pinned on their 8-yard line, Bruins outside linebacker Akeem Ayers -- after falling down on his initial pass-rush burst -- leaped into the air and intercepted Vaughn Charlton's pass and gamboled 2 yards into the end zone.

Worst play: Trailing 19-17 in the Rose Bowl, Oregon faced a second-and-2 from Ohio State's 18-yard line. A huge hole opened. But running back LeGarrette Blount couldn't handle a high handoff from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The Buckeyes recovered the fumble and dominated the rest of the game.

Worst play, II: After BYU tied Oregon State 7-7 in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, the Beavers took over at their 40-yard line. On second down, running back Jacquizz Rodgers couldn't handle a backward pass from Sean Canfield, and Matt Bauman returned the loose ball 34 yards for a touchdown. That was the first fumble of Rodgers' career, and the Cougars dominated the game from then on.

Best performance under tough circumstances: Oklahoma knew Stanford had no passing offense without quarterback Andrew Luck. So it ganged up on running back Toby Gerhart. Nonetheless, the Heisman Trophy runner-up rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a rugged effort in the Sun Bowl loss.

Worst pass defense: California made Utah true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn look like an All-American in the Poinsettia Bowl. Against what was supposed to be one of the nation's best secondaries heading into the season, Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He shook off an early pick-six to run the Bears ragged.

Best second-half defense: UCLA held Temple to 41 yards and zero points in the second half of the EagleBank Bowl.

Worst performance you didn't see coming: Canfield, Oregon State's quarterback, earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors this season. He has been invited to the Senior Bowl and is going to have an NFL career. Nonetheless, he had a horrible Las Vegas Bowl and was outplayed by BYU's Max Hall, who threw three touchdown passes. Canfield completed just 19 of 40 passes for 168 yards with an interception and no touchdowns, and he seemed completely befuddled by a strong wind and the Cougars' secondary.

Best unsung performance: USC fullback Stanley Havili always seems to sneak up on folks. In the Trojans' win over Boston College, he caught six passes for 83 yards with two touchdowns, including a 53-yard jaunt on a screen pass. He also had a critical tackle after one of Matt Barkley's two interceptions.

Instant Analysis: USC 24, Boston College 13

December, 27, 2009
For a moment, it looked like another bad night for the Pac-10, with another conference bowl game falling into a familiar, indefensible pattern: fast start, disaster thereafter.

[+] EnlargeDamian Williams
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesMatt Barkley, left, connected with Damian Williams on big plays to lead USC over Boston College.
But USC, a team that has been all over the place this season, figured out that a football game lasts longer than the early moments of the first quarter and managed to hold on to beat a scrappy Boston College squad 24-13 in the Emerald Bowl.

The Pac-10 thereby improves to 1-2 in the bowl season.

And USC gets to walk away from its season with a 9-4 record, which is not so bad anywhere else outside Heritage Hall.

How the game was won: USC's defense, terrible in the second quarter, put the clamps down, pitching a second-half shutout, while quarterback Matt Barkley reversed a late-season slide by leaning on receiver Damian Williams and fullback Stanley Havili to make big plays.

Turning point: With 13 minutes left in the game, and USC only leading 17-13, cornerback Shareece Wright, who was academically ineligible until the bowl season, grabbed an interception at midfield. On the next play, Barkley found Williams deep over the middle for 48 yards to the Eagles 1-yard line. Wright made the catch despite being surrounded by three defenders. A play later, Barkley snuck in for the touchdown and the final margin.

Stat of the game: Zero. That's how many points the Eagles scored in the second half after they dominated the second quarter and scored all 13 of their points.

Player of the game: Williams was the best player on the field catching 12 passes for 189 yards, though one catch on the sideline -- a 38 yarder that set up the Trojans second touchdown -- was curiously ruled in bounds when, golly, it sure didn't look that way (someone feel free to explain that one to me).

Unsung hero of the game: USC fullback Havili always seems to catch opposing defenses off-guard. Havili scored the Trojans first two touchdowns, the first when he transformed a short dump from Barkley into a 53-yard touchdown.

What it means: The Trojans' worst season since 2001 ends on a high note, despite speculation that indifference and off-field turmoil would combine to produce a flat performance. It means the Trojans head into the off-season with a modicum of positive momentum. And it wasn't hard to see the promise of some of USC's young players, particularly Barkley. The USC dynasty done? Maybe. Or maybe not. We'll see in 2010.

2009 All-Pac-10 team

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

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

First-team defense
DT Brian Price, Jr., UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Jr., Oregon State
DE Tyson Alualu, Sr., California
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington
LB Keaton Kristick, Sr., Oregon State
LB Mike Mohamed, Jr., California
LB Donald Butler, Sr., Washington
S Rahim Moore, So., UCLA
S Taylor Mays, Sr., USC
CB Trevin Wade, So., Arizona
CB Alterraun Verner, Sr., UCLA
P Trevor Hankins, Jr., Arizona State
Everybody wants to talk about the ending of USC's 28-7 win over UCLA. In fact, 2,000 words of Pete Carroll's news conference Tuesday were about the Trojans' late 48-yard touchdown pass and the general nuances of sportsmanship.

Carroll yielded little under questioning. He believes in two things: 1. competition; 2. fun. He doesn't believe you can ever have too much of either, even if others wonder about when a compounding of them might push a team past the boundaries of decorum.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesA win against Arizona likely gives Pete Carroll's team the inside track to the Holiday Bowl.
"We talked about it yesterday in the meetings about what can happen by showing the excitement," Carroll said. "I'll remind you that last year in the Rose Bowl the officials told us at halftime that if we continue to celebrate as much on the sidelines they were going to call a 15-yard penalty on us. I blew it because I wanted to make them call that penalty. I wish we would have done it so they would have called the penalty on us, so we could have gotten penalized for having too much fun. Because I don't understand that."

Oh, by the way, USC plays host to Arizona on Saturday in a game that will play a big role in deciding the Pac-10's bowl pecking order. The winner likely has the inside track to the Holiday Bowl.

Both teams had bigger goals a few weeks ago, but both are coming off of hard-fought victories in rivalry games, so the glass feels half-full, particularly for Arizona (7-4, 5-3).

"I think we seemed like we were in a better place last night [at practice] than we were a week ago," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose team two weeks ago was knocked out of the Rose Bowl race when it lost a double-overtime thriller to Oregon.

USC (8-3, 5-3) didn't look particularly good while beating the Bruins. While the defense played fairly well against one of the Pac-10's worst offenses, the offense was mostly stagnant.

At least until the end, and we're not talking about Matt Barkley's bomb to Damian Williams that nearly ignited a riot.

The best moments for USC came before that. After the Bruins cut the margin to 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Barkley and company drove 73 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. It was the evening's best drive. Barkley completed 4 of 5 passes for 43 yards, and Allen Bradford ran four times for 30 yards.

Then the defense forced a four-and-out, which appeared to end the game's drama until emotions ran high at the end.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PresswireQuarterback Nick Foles will try to play Saturday with a broken hand.
Still, Stoops found himself in the unusual position of seeming to have to build up the Trojans as an opponent.

"They look like USC to me when I watch them play," he said. "I think they're starting to get comfortable and get their confidence and their swagger back, so they present some huge problems defensively with their personnel."

Stoops' high-powered offense hit the skids in the second half at Arizona State. Injuries, as they have been all season, are an issue. Starting tailback Nic Grigsby won't play again Saturday because of a lingering shoulder injury, while quarterback Nick Foles is trying to play with a broken non-throwing hand.

USC knows all about injury woes, but it's as healthy as it has been all season. Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy, whose absences substantially hurt the passing game, figure to be closer to 100 percent this week than they were against UCLA, and preseason All-American center Kristofer O'Dowd will be back in the starting lineup after he lost his job for much of the year due to a lingering knee problem.

Still, Arizona typically gives the Trojans problems. USC has won the past two games by a touchdown and it hasn't scored more than 20 points against the Wildcats' defense since 2005.

"We've always struggled with these guys," Carroll said. "They've been a very difficult scheme against us, and we know it's going to be very hard again."

The stakes are still substantial, in large part because the winner continues to feel good in a season when that wasn't always the case.

As Carroll vaguely alluded, "Kind of feeling good feeling about getting back on track after the two weeks, you know, prior."
Posted by's Ted Miller

Some results in college football are shocking. Their dramatic, unexpected flash imprints on our brains like a photograph.

Other results resonate. Their unfolding draws a meaningful line dividing a before and after.

When Stanford beat USC 24-23 in 2007, it was shocking. The Cardinal were a 41-point underdog playing their backup quarterback in a venue, the LA Coliseum, where USC, college football's most feared program, had won 35 games in a row.

It flashed and everyone gawked. And then Stanford went on to finish 4-8 and USC went on to win the Rose Bowl and finish ranked No. 3 in the nation.

Boom! Then business as usual.
 Kyle Terada/US Presswire
 Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal are hoping to build off of last week’s upset of Oregon.

But if Stanford beats USC on Saturday in the Coliseum, that result will resonate.

If the No. 9 Trojans (7-2, 4-2) suffer a third Pac-10 loss, it's a near-certainty their extraordinary seven-year run atop the conference --- and college football -- will end. One of the great dynasties -- two national championships, seven consecutive top-4 finishes -- the sport has known would tumble.

Boom! And then the big picture would transform. The Pac-10 and all of college football would feel an impact.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has refused this week to wax poetic about the 2007 game. And he's also refused to use the "one game at a time," "every game is important" refrains that are so popular with coaches when they want to tamp down media hyperbole.

"This is put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football," Harbaugh said. "We win this game and we stay in the hunt for the conference championship. If we don't, then we are out."

USC's vulnerability? No, Harbaugh says, this is about the Cardinal.
 Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire
 Pete Carroll’s offense has scored just one touchdown over the last six quarters.

Stanford remains a double-digit underdog. Of course, it was the same case last weekend against Oregon. But the Ducks couldn't stop the by-land-or-by-air tandem of Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck in a 51-42 Cardinal win. Gerhart rumbled for a school-record 223 yards with three touchdowns while Luck passed for 251 yards and a pair of TDs.

"They bombed them," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Nobody has slowed them down."

While Stanford (6-3, 5-2) has been surging -- it's bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 -- USC has been struggling on both sides of the ball. The offense has scored one touchdown over its last six quarters, and the defense, which gave up 613 yards to Oregon, has been mediocre to bad since the fourth quarter of the win at Notre Dame on Oct. 17.

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, once the toast of college football, completed just 7 of 22 passes for 112 yards with a touchdown and interception at Arizona State. The Trojans are converting 32.41 percent of their third-down plays, which ranks 106th in the nation.

Injuries are issues on both sides of the ball. Receiver Damian Williams is doubtful and tight end Anthony McCoy questionable for Saturday's game due to sprained ankles, and the pair are Barkley's favorite passing targets. Meanwhile, on defense, nearly every member of the starting front seven is nursing an injury, even if it doesn't end up preventing them from playing.

Carroll was asked this week which loss hurt more: Stanford in 2007 or the beatdown delivered by Oregon. He refused to be drawn into the discussion.

"They're all horrible," he said. "You know, they hit and cut deep and they don't go away. Fortunately, I have had not so many that I can't remember them all. They all are miserable. There's nothing about any of them that have been OK. They're not the same. They've been different. But I don't have a good answer. They're in a big heap of misery, I guess."

A loss Saturday, however, won't just mean another big heap of misery.

It will end an era.

At least for one season.

What to watch in the Pac-10

November, 12, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

To paraphrase a great philosopher and renaissance man, Ric Flair, "This ain't no garden party, brother, this is the Pac-10, where only the strongest survive. Wooooooo!"

Folks, the screws are tightening.

1. Does USC's Pac-10 run end Saturday? It's fairly simple. If Stanford wins at USC, it's likely one of the great runs in the history of college football -- the Trojans' seven years atop the Pac-10 -- will come to an end. If the Trojans win, however, they head into a bye week when they can get healthy and rested and then fix their eyeballs on a conference race that remains within reach. Quick trivia question: How many Top-25 teams other than USC have played six of their last eight games on the road?

2. Will California be flat or inspired by Jahvid Best's absence? Arizona has a lot to play for at Cal. The Bears? Hard to say. It will be interesting to see which team shows up. The Bears have looked good at times this year. And very bad. Best, who suffered a concussion last weekend against Oregon State, was once a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Now his season is likely over. Cal, which has clearly underperformed this fall, might come out yawning, a team just playing out the string. Or it might come out more focused than ever after learning how one unlucky moment could take the game away for good.

3. How will true ASU freshman QB Brock Osweiler respond to Autzen Stadium? Alright kid, go get 'em! What? Go get 'em! What? Osweiler will make his first career start in one of the nation's loudest and toughest venues against an extremely fast defense that was humbled last weekend at Stanford and will be plenty motivated for redemption. Osweiler, by the way, won't have Toby Gerhart or the Cardinal's smart, physical offensive line to help either. Good luck, though. What? The Pac-10 blog said good luck! What?

4. Sean Canfield vs. the Washington secondary: Canfield has been playing as well as any quarterback in the conference of late -- and that's saying something because a lot of quarterbacks are playing well. The Huskies' secondary has struggled throughout the season. It ranks ninth in the conference and 110th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The idea of Canfield and his quick release dumping the ball to either of the Rodgers brothers in space has to keep Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt up at night. His secondary just doesn't have the speed to match up.

5. Might Pullman put a chill in UCLA? Good news for UCLA: It doesn't appear the Bruins will encounter a real mid-November day in Pullman. Reports say it may snow on Friday but it will be partly cloudy and pleasant -- mid-30s -- on Saturday. If the Cougars are to pull the upset, they need all the help they can get, and snow and cold might be a boon against the visitors from sunny southern California. Of course, the weather is often unpredictable. Maybe that snow will start Friday and keep coming?

6. Luck & Gerhart challenge the USC D: After piling up 505 yards against an Oregon defense that mostly shut down USC, Stanford will face those Trojans with a physical, balanced offense that can attack a defense by land (Gerhart) or by air (Andrew Luck). Whether the blame falls on youth or injuries, USC's defense has not been itself since the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17. Considering Stanford has scored 84 points the past two games against two of the nation's better defenses, this could be a humbling afternoon for the Trojans. Or it could be a turning point.

7. Will Nick Foles pick apart the Cal secondary? Before the season, Arizona had questions at quarterback, and California, with four starters returning, had one of the best secondaries in the nation. Now, the Wildcats have Foles, a sophomore who is completing 71.4 percent of his passes, and the Bears rank 93rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Go figure. Foles' quick release -- the Wildcats have surrendered only four sacks all season -- and accuracy will stress the Bears.

8. Jake Locker is due a big performance: Locker has been spectacular for Washington at times this year. Not so great at others. He's banged up. And his team has lost five of six. But there are reasons Pac-10 coaches fear Locker and the NFL covets him -- he's a great talent with superior playmaking ability. Washington can't win if he doesn't play well. It sometimes can't even if he does. But if he puts together a special game, the Huskies could pull the upset.

9. Oregon's O vs. Arizona State's D: The Sun Devils are suddenly hurting in the secondary, but they have been consistently tough on defense all season, particularly against the run where they rank sixth in the nation (87.4 yards per game). Oregon, of course, is one of the nation's best running teams (233.56 yards per game). It will be interesting to see who blinks in this strength-on-strength battle, or if the Ducks just try to attack through the air, sensing that's where Arizona State will be most vulnerable.

10. Will Matt Barkley's slide end vs. Stanford's defense? A few weeks ago, Barkley was running the USC offense with aplomb and was the toast of college football. But his last six quarters -- the second half at Oregon plus the visit to Arizona State -- haven't been sharp. It doesn't help that his two favorite targets, tight end Anthony McCoy and receiver Damian Williams, may not be available Saturday. But he's coming home, which should help, and it's hard to believe that he won't be eager to prove that his recent slump was just a momentary blip on his path toward becoming a superstar quarterback.
Posted by's Ted Miller

It surely passed through most USC observers minds while watching Allen Bradford (finally) have his breakout game against Oregon State last weekend. As Bradford and his 235 pounds ran over and around the Beavers defense for 147 yards on 15 carries, the potential metaphor and then comparison was obvious.

He's thunder to speedy Joe McKnight's lightning.

  Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 USC running back Allen Bradford finally had a breakout game last Saturday against Oregon State.
He's LenDale White to McKnight's Reggie Bush.

Bradford, a redshirt junior, has waited a long time for that many touches in a game. And it's been a frustrating wait. So maybe it's understandable that he's not eager to embrace a metaphor or a comparison. He'd just -- please and thanks -- like to keep getting opportunities to do his thing.

"Me and Joe will never be Reggie and LenDale," Bradford said. "All we can be is Joe and Allen, so that's what we're going to be."

Oregon coach Chip Kelly is fairly impressed with Joe and Allen. His Ducks are playing well on defense, but the Trojans will bring a lot of weapons to their trick-or-treat road trip to Autzen Stadium on Saturday night (8 p.m. EST, ABC).

Thunder and lightning?

"With their stable of running backs, they've got thunder and lightning and hurricane, typhoon -- you name any storm, they've got it," Kelly said.

It's a good line -- Kelly has at least one of those a week -- but it's not completely true. At least not presently. After all the talk the previous few years about the Trojans embarrassment of riches at tailback, a recession has hit Heritage Hall.

Stafon Johnson suffered a season-ending throat injury in a weight room accident. Marc Tyler is out for the season with a toe injury. Curtis McNeal has been riddled with injuries. C.J. Gable, who started 11 games last year, has been nicked up and in the doghouse for unexplained reasons. Fullback Stanley Havili is questionable for Saturday with a shoulder injury.

McKnight always seems to be nursing some woe, too. He severely cut his hand against Oregon State.

Still, no matter why Bradford got his opportunity, he's glad he got it. And, yes, it was an inspired performance.

"(Receiver) Damian Williams just looked at me in my eyes (before the game) and said, 'Are you ready! Let's ball out!'" Bradford said, describing the pregame scene. "He saw the look on my face. He knew something was going to happen. Then we see Stafon -- we have this handshake we do before every game -- and it made me think about how blessed I am and how unfortunate it is for Stafon to go through that."

The 147 yards was a career-high for Bradford, as were the 15 carries, which are more carries than he's had during any of his previous two seasons. He appeared poised to make his mark in 2008, but a hip injury ended that possibility after two games and he took a redshirt year.

What Bradford has mostly done throughout his career is look impressive in his uniform -- he's built like a crate of bricks -- and impressive in practice. The reporters who regularly cover USC spend plenty of their downtime debating the relative merits of USC's running backs, and Bradford's remarkable runs during practices often earned him high marks.

But reporters don't make the depth chart.

"He's always had bright spots but he's really showed great consistency the last few weeks," coach Pete Carroll said.

Now that he's (finally) getting the ball, it might not be surprising that Bradford is disinclined to complain. He's not real clear on how often he asked the coaches why he wasn't getting playing time, though word is it happened on a regular basis. Early in his career, there was talk of him moving to fullback or even linebacker.

And, yes, Bradford, a Parade Magazine and USA Today first-team prep All-American in 2005, admits his eye did wander.

"Yeah, I thought about transferring plenty of times," he said.

But a number of current and former teammates, such as linebacker Thomas Williams and safety Kevin Ellison, talked him out of it.

And Bradford knew there were some areas where he fell short. Top of the list: blocking. A running back who can't stay in the game to block on a passing play is a liability -- it's a tell for an opposing defensive coordinator.

It might seem strange that a physically imposing player would struggle with blocking -- the 205-pound Gable, for example, is better at it than Bradford -- but it's actually not about muscle. Or even want-to. To make the right block, a running back has to be able to read the defense, sniff out a blitz and then used the proper technique to meet the on-coming charge.

"There's a lot of technical aspects to it," Carroll said. "It's not just being big and tough. It's much more than that."

Bradford's blocking is still a work in progress. But it's better.

He seems comfortable with the new attention. And carries. Another big performance inside raucous Autzen Stadium in a game that features Rose Bowl and potential national championship implications might become more than a breakout.

It could thunder an arrival.

Trojans, Irish trade big plays

October, 17, 2009
Posted by's Brian Bennett

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- After a defensive-minded first half, we've finally had a couple of big offensive plays.

USC scored on a 41-yard receiver screen to Damian Williams, who ran in untouched thanks to some great upfield blocking.

But Notre Dame answered as Jimmy Clausen threw a perfect 46-yard strike to Golden Tate, who made a tough catch between a corner and a safety for the touchdown. It wasn't really open, but Clausen and Tate have such good chemistry that they made it work. Notre Dame recovered two of its own fumbles and got a big celebration penalty on Everson Griffen after his first-play sack on that drive.

That was the first big offensive play by Notre Dame, and it got the crowd back into it. This is still a game, which is what the Irish had hoped for at this point.

Posted by's Ted Miller

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The Matt Barkley Experience is moving forward. It's not taking baby steps. That sells his rapid maturation short. But, as prodigies go, USC's touted true freshman quarterback is not yet blowing anyone's mind.

His performance in USC's methodical 30-3 demolition of California suggested that he and the Trojans aren't going away quietly in 2009, either in the Pac-10 or, perhaps, in the national race.
  Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  USC quarterback Matt Barkley is progressing nicely in the starting role.
Barkley completed 20 of 35 passes for 283 yards against Cal. He tossed an interception, which was basically him just launching a ball skyward and hoping his gleaming smile might guide it to somebody in the right jersey. That experiment failed.

He was good enough to win, though, and even better than that at times.

"He is playing as good of football as anybody we have ever had, already," coach Pete Carroll said.

Holy Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez -- that's high praise!

The No. 7 Trojans piled up 457 yards but only scored two offensive touchdowns. Jordon Congdon was called on to boot three field goals of under 30 yards when the offensive sputtered in the redzone.

No worries.

"If our defense is playing like that, then we don't need a whole lot of offense," Barkley noted.

That's true. USC's defense entered the game ranked among the national leaders in nearly every category and it surely will rise a couple of clicks after nearly pitching a shutout and holding the Bears to a scant 285 yards.

Cal running back Jahvid Best never got any momentum, finishing with just 49 yards rushing, and that basically was the end of the Bears struggling offense -- which, by the way, also scored only a field goal a week ago at Oregon.

"We never let him get into a rhythm," Carroll said. "Because of that they had to pass the football, and that's what we wanted."

Best was outplayed by USC's Joe McKnight, who had 119 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns.

While the Trojans defense is almost completely rebuilt from last year, Carroll always puts together a good defense. Barkley is the main source of intrigue, and his ability to quickly grow with the offense will probably reveal whether USC is going to win an eighth consecutive Pac-10 title or yield the floor to another.

Barkley said the bruised shoulder he suffered at Ohio State that forced him to sit out the upset defeat at Washington is "feeling a lot better."

It also feels good that Carroll and play-caller Jeremy Bates are allowing him to throw the ball downfield more.

"I think they've had faith the whole time, but they've decided to open up the playbook now," Barkley said.

Barkley obviously likes finding his tight ends -- Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles combined to catch four passes for 66 yards. And he really likes getting the ball to playmaker Damian Williams, who hauled in eight passes for 101 yards in addition to going 66 yards for a touchdown on a punt return.

Barkley also figures to get a kick out of speedster receiver Ronald Johnson, who will return to practice during the bye week and may play at Notre Dame on Oct. 17.

USC started the week dealing with the serious neck injury suffered by running back Stafon Johnson. Johnson required emergency surgery after dropping a 275-pound bar on his throat while doing bench press.

Johnson's absence was felt in the redzone -- he's the designated touchdown-maker. And everywhere else.

"He was in our hearts the whole time," Barkley said.

Johnson's condition has improved dramatically. And so has the Trojans.

While there's immediate work ahead, it now appears that the biggest turn in the conference this year will happen when the Trojans visit Oregon on Oct. 31.

Posted by's Ted Miller

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Is this over already?

And is it about to get ugly?

USC's Damian Williams' 66-yard punt return for a TD makes it 17-0 early in the second quarter.

California quarterback Kevin Riley actually started fairly well, but that last possession he -- and the offense -- were completely out of sync. Riley didn't just throw three incompletions. He threw three bad incompletions.

Since winning at Minnesota, Cal has been outscored 59-3.

Gut check time.

Jones back in for Huskies

September, 19, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

SEATTLE -- Senior defensive end Darrion Jones, who's nursing a bruised knee, returned for Washington's second defensive series, replacing true freshman Talia Crichton.

It didn't help. At first.

The Trojans gashed the Huskies for a pair of long runs -- 25 yards from Joe McKnight and 27 yards from Stafon Johnson. But the defense stiffened and forced the Trojans to settle for a field goal.

Still, the Trojans have 111 yards rushing with 4:36 left in the first. That's a problem.

And if the Huskies completely gang up on the run, that should make things wide open for Damian Williams, who already made Aaron Corp look good on a couple of short tosses.