NCF Nation: Dan Buckner

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
3:08
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After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.
Welcome to the State of the Pac-12 Conference. We here at the Pac-12 blog are proud to report that the state of the conference is strong. But we also know that there are those of you just joining us who haven't read every single post we've done. Shame on you, but we'll catch you up anyway. Here are a few storylines as we look toward the 2012 season:

Oregon-USC: The hype started with a failed Oregon comeback at Autzen Stadium last season. It grew when Matt Barkley declared he and his teammates had "unfinished business" -- not-so-subtly implying that snatching the Pac-12 crown away from the Ducks was a priority. It reached a high when both were projected (not surprisingly) to win their respective divisions in the Pac-12 media poll, which anointed USC as the 2012 champs. It will reach a fever pitch on Nov. 3 when Oregon travels to USC for the most anticipated regular-season matchup of the season. And that might only be Part I, as the two seemed destined to meet again in the conference championship game.

Quarterback carousel: There were five teams with to-be-named quarterbacks heading into the fall camps: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. Washington State hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel the starter, but your Pac-12 bloggers would be shocked if at this point there is a switcharoo with Connor Halliday. Three of those jobs are still up for grabs as of 10:30 a.m ET Friday. UCLA named Brett Hundley its starting QB a few days earlier than expected, and Colorado tapped Kansas transfer Jordan Webb as its guy after only three weeks on campus. All eyes are on the other teams to see who will lead them.

Talent at tight end: This might seem like a repeat, but your bloggers can't say enough how good the tight end talent is in the Pac-12 and how much of an impact these guys are going to make throughout the season. The conference has always been at the vanguard of offensive innovation and finding new ways for players like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Randall Telfer, Xavier Grimble, Joseph Fauria, Andrei Lintz and Colt Lyerla to get involved in the offense is going to add an even greater dimension to a conference already spilling over with talented playmakers.

Don't forget the defense: Yeah, they play defense too in the Pac-12. And when you look at four potential first-round draft picks coming out of the conference on defense: Star Lotulelei, Chase Thomas, T.J. McDonald and Shayne Skov -- and you consider the offenses these guys are playing against -- it's worth tipping a cap to the defenses around the league. Teams like Cal, Stanford, Oregon, USC and Utah all project to have very good defensive units that could all be in the top 25.

Who wins the Biletnikoff? There are six players from the Pac-12 on the watch list: Keenan Allen, Dan Buckner, DeVonte Christopher, Markus Wheaton, Marquess Wilson, Robert Woods. Oh wait, seven, somehow Marqise Lee was left off the original list. So who emerges from this group? Will it be Wilson and the gaudy numbers he's expected to produce by way of Tuel in Mike Leach's air-raid offense? Will Woods and Lee cancel each other out, or will both emerge as the top candidate? Allen is a star and might be the best NFL prospect of them all. Will he get the numbers in Cal's offense? Or does one of the dark horses have a chance to break through?

Every game on! The Pac-12 will enter the first year of its new broadcast deal with ESPN and Fox and the Pac-12 Networks launched Wednesday. The biggest news there, other than the huge per-school bump in revenue, is every football game will be on TV this fall.
Arizona might go to a bowl game. Or the Wildcats might not. Or they might win two games. Or more. Or less. Or, or, or.

Arizona's latest depth chart has 24"ors" on it. Dan Buckner at wide receiver, or David Richards. Derrick Rainey at cornerback, or Jonathan McKnight. John Bonano place-kicking, or Jake Smith.

Or ...

"I didn't help you with a lot of the 'ors,'" head coach Rich Rodriguez said in a news conference Wednesday. "It wasn't just a coach kind of deal, we really don't know for sure in a lot of positions. I think 15 practices in spring told us a little bit ... really, I think we'll get a better idea at the end of camp and at the end of the next 30 days. But I really won't know until we play a couple of games. There are a lot of 'ors.' I want our guys to compete for their jobs. If they've played in the past, that's good and that experience should help them. But we're starting all over again. A clean slate. Everyone has to earn their spots."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire"Everyone has to earn their spots," coach Rich Rodriguez said in explaining Arizona's uncertain depth chart.
Wildcats players reported Wednesday and will start practice today. And if the depth chart is any indication, Rodriguez has a lot of decisions to make over the next month.

Here are some more highlights from his news conference:

  • On the linebacking corps: "For us, that's certainly our thinnest position and it's an area of concern. There are probably some guys we're going to have to push to get ready [sooner] than they may be ready for or we may be ready for. In particular some freshmen. It's wide open. Jake Fischer is the only guy right now that we know has a lot of experience and we feel pretty comfortable with him at linebacker. Outside of Jake, it's kind of a wide-open deal. We have concerns, but what we have is what we have. Hopefully these freshmen will grow up in a hurry and coach [Jeff] Casteel will get them ready to play."
  • Rodriguez said staying healthy in camp is going to be crucial because the Wildcats aren't a particularly deep team yet. That's going to affect how they practice: "Where we're at right now with our depth -- or lack of it in some spots -- it's going to be critical. We've talked as coaches, you have to practice physically sometimes. You have to hit at times. We need to get tougher and more physical. Yet we don't want to beat ourselves up and have a lesser team come Sept. 1. How do you balance that? We will have some physical times and physical practices. But they won't be all day, every day. The message to our team will be when we have those moments when we go live, we need to really get after that and develop the mentality we want from a toughness standpoint. Because they will be few and far between. When we do it's got to be really, really intense and we have to make the most of it ... it's concerning and it limits you a little bit."
  • Offensive lineman Jack Baucus might have to retire because of injury.
  • Rodriguez said some of his coaching staff knew some players on Penn State's roster and that "a handful" reached out and talked with Arizona, but he said they are not actively pursuing anyone.
  • On how receptive his players have been to changing in coaching staffs: "I think they've been really receptive. I think our guys are hungry. At least I hope. When you're not going to a bowl game and you're sitting there at the bottom of the league, I think our guys were a little bit embarrassed and certainly they weren't happy because I met with all the guys in December. But how upset were they and how angry were they? I hope they are very angry and you use that anger and channel that in a positive [direction] with a chip on their shoulder to prove themselves ... I want them to be really mad. There was some of that and I think our players have a lot of pride. But we should be more upset and channel that in the right way."
  • Rodriguez called some of the NCAA's non-contact rules "silly," saying that two hours a week in the month of June would be beneficial -- especially for a new coaching staff trying to learn about their players: " It's really silly. It makes no sense. I think our guys -- college athletes in particular -- are better off with more guidance and more eyes."
  • The players will undergo a physical evaluation after the first practice. You'll recall that back in March, Rodriguez said his team was "weak, really weak." He'll see how much the summer conditioning has paid off: "The first practice will tell me a lot. Guys that struggle tells us they didn't do a whole lot this summer. We'll have a conditioning test at the end of the first practice. Those that worked out and are in shape shouldn't have any problems passing it. Those who didn't will have a big problem."
If you're one of our most faithful readers, you'll remember we took a look at the ESPNU 150 recruits from the past five years before Signing Day 2011.

You can take check those here:
That was before the 2011 season. Now, our recruitniks have taken it upon themselves to provide a new update for the 2008 class.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see the full updates for each player group, but here's how the Big 12 players have done:

Prospects ranked from 1-25 Insider

No. 6 Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State (via Miami): Brown committed to Miami (Fla.), where he struggled to see the field in 2008 and 2009. He transferred to Kansas State and was named Big 12 newcomer of the year in 2011 after recording 95 tackles, two sacks and an interception (of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III).

No. 7: Jermie Calhoun, RB, Oklahoma: Calhoun's career never got off the ground at Oklahoma after he redshirted as a true freshman. He appeared in 16 games and rushed for 242 yards on 56 carries. He tore his ACL early in his sophomore season (2010) and decided to transfer to Football Championship Subdivision program Angelo State University.

No. 11: R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma: Washington has appeared in 25 games (no starts) for the Sooners, and has 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks. His 13 tackles, three sacks and five pass breakups in 2011 are all career highs.

No. 13: Josh Jarboe, WR, Oklahoma: Jarboe was arrested for bringing a weapon onto his high school campus before enrolling at Oklahoma. His career with the Sooners didn't last long, as he was kicked off the team after a YouTube video emerged with him rapping about guns and violence. Jarboe resurfaced at Troy but couldn't escape the negative headlines and was dismissed in 2009. After a year at Northeast Mississippi junior college, Jarboe returned to the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks at Arkansas State, and had 54 receptions for 730 yards and two touchdowns this season

No. 16: D.J. Grant, WR, Texas: After redshirting in 2008, Grant suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2009 and 2010. He finally got on the field in 2011 and started six games, finishing the season with 16 receptions for 180 yards and three touchdowns.

No. 17: Dan Buckner, WR, Texas: Buckner had 50 receptions for 526 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons with Texas. He was arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest in January 2010 and decided to transfer to Arizona. Buckner had 42 catches for 606 yards and two touchdowns this season for the Wildcats.

Prospects ranked 26-50 Insider

No. 38: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: It was once thought that Gabbert would be redshirted as a freshman in 2008. Instead, he was the third-string quarterback for the Tigers. He is now a starting NFL quarterback, playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his career at Missouri, Gabbert threw for more than 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns. He left for the NFL after his junior season.

Prospects ranked 51-75 Insider

57. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: Gray closed out his junior season with seven consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, and he added two more to that streak to open his senior campaign. He missed the final two games of the Aggies' season, but he closed out his career with 312 yards and five scores in his final two games. He was named to the 2011 All-Big 12 second team, and ran for nearly 3,300 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career.

No. 72: Jameel Owens, WR, Oklahoma: In two years with the Sooners, Owens caught four passes for 44 yards. He then transferred to Tulsa before the 2010 season, receiving a transfer waiver so he did not have to sit out a season. But he lasted only one season for the Hurricanes, as he was granted a leave of absence during spring drills in 2011 and never returned to the team.

Prospects ranked 76-100 Insider

No. 79: David Snow, OL, Texas: Snow came right in and played as a true freshman. When it was all said and done, he appeared in 51 games, starting 31 at center and both guard positions. He received a Big 12 honorable mention this past season.

No. 84: Stephen Good, OL, Oklahoma: Good has been an active member of the Sooners' offensive line since he arrived in 2008. He was in the two-deep since day one, playing both guard positions.

No. 91: Derrick Hall, ATH, Texas A&M: Hall never made it to College Station because he failed to qualify academically. He went on to Navarro Junior College, where he rushed for more than 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons. Hall then signed with Tulsa, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

No. 92: Daniel Franklin, ILB, Oklahoma: Franklin redshirted his freshman season, and has since been a career backup and special-teams player in Norman.

No. 95: DeSean Hales, WR, Texas: Hales redshirted his freshman season in Austin. Through the next three years, he played in 31 games, catching 13 passes for 87 yards. He has one more season of eligibility.

No. 100: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho started every game this past season for the Longhorns, leading the team in tackles with 131. He also recorded 19 tackles for loss and three sacks. Acho was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2011, and finished his career with 269 tackles, 40 tackles for loss and eight sacks.

Prospects ranked 101-125 Insider

No. 106: Jordan Fields, CB, Texas A&M: Fields committed to Texas A&M but never signed with the Aggies. He enrolled at Blinn JC (Texas) following high school and has yet to sign with an FBS school.

No. 114: Nolan Brewster, OLB, Texas: Brewster played in all 13 games as a true freshman, mainly on special teams, and had eight tackles. He had 24 tackles and an interception as a backup safety as a sophomore and then redshirted his junior year after undergoing shoulder surgery. As a senior, Brewster played in Texas' first four games but had to retire from football due to multiple concussions and post-traumatic migraine headaches.

No. 117: Kye Staley, RB, Oklahoma State: Staley redshirted and then suffered a knee injury that wiped out his 2009 season. He quit the football team and didn't play in 2010 but rejoined the team the following year. He played in 13 games this past season, catching 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

No. 118: Kendall Wright, ATH, Baylor: He made an immediate impact as a true freshman, leading the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors his sophomore year, catching 66 balls for 740 yards and four touchdowns. Wright broke school records his junior season, catching 78 passes for 952 yards and seven touchdowns to again earn second team All-Big 12. As a senior, Wright earned several All-American honors after catching 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns, all school records. He's rated as a potential first-round draft pick in April's NFL draft.

No. 122: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones will likely shatter every Sooners passing mark after surprisingly deciding to come back for his senior year. He started 10 games his redshirt freshman season after starter Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. He set a school freshman record, throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns, including a school-record six in one game. He earned All-American honors as a sophomore after throwing for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns and led the Big 12 in total offense. Jones' numbers were down a bit his junior season, but he still threw for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns.

No. 125: Justin Johnson, RB, Oklahoma: Johnson's Sooners career was short-lived as he transferred to Abilene Christian following his freshman year. He rushed for 103 yards and had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score as a sophomore but transferred following that season to McMurry, a Division III school. Johnson rushed for 771 yards and eight touchdowns to go with 40 catches for 352 yards and four more scores for the War Hawks as a junior last year.

Prospects ranked 126-150 Insider

No. 138: Dravannti Johnson, LB, Texas: Johnson decided to transfer from Texas last month, having already graduated. The junior defensive end saw limited action, playing in only seven games and registering just four tackles, one for a loss. Johnson's most productive season came in 2010, when he started five games and recorded 23 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and six quarterback pressures. He is expected to transfer to a smaller school for more playing time.

No. 143: Rodrick Davis, DT, Texas A&M: After two uneventful seasons at Texas A&M, Davis transferred to Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College before transferring again to New Mexico following the 2011 season. Davis played in eight games last season for Fort Scott and recorded 28 tackles. He redshirted in 2008 so he has one year of eligibility remaining and can play this season.

Final: Oregon State 37, Arizona 27

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
7:26
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Two desperate teams put on a strange game in Corvallis, and Oregon State managed to notch its first win, 37-27, at reeling Arizona's expense.

Oregon State charged to a 30-6 lead early in the third quarter as the Wildcats were sloppy and, seemingly, indifferent.

Then the Wildcats and QB Nick Foles -- who looked like he might be knocked out of the game at one point -- stormed back to close the gap to 30-27 early in the fourth quarter.

What once looked like a disaster for embattled coach Mike Stoops now looked like one for embattled coach Mike Riley.

But the Beavers used a 63-yard punt to gain a critical field position advantage -- pinning the Wildcats on their 5-yard line -- and then drove 43 yards for a critical, game-salvaging TD. The Beavers scored said TD on a fourth-and-2 pass from Sean Mannion to Joe Halahuni.

The Wildcats then drove to the Beavers 1-yard line, but a seeming TD pass from Foles to WR Dan Buckner was dropped.

Foles completed 29-of-39 for 354 yards with two interceptions and a TD.

Mannion completed 32-of-41 for 267 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

The Wildcats also had two fumbles, but the bigger difference might have been the running game. The Beavers produced one -- 123 yards -- and the Wildcats couldn't -- 53 yards.

Oregon State is now 1-4 and 1-2 with BYU visiting next weekend.

Arizona falls to 1-5 and 0-4. It's off until playing host to UCLA on Oct. 20, a Thursday night game.

Previously, the Wildcats tough schedule was a reasonable excuse for their poor record. No longer.

The heat on Stoops is going to kick up a few notches.

Final: Oklahoma State 37, Arizona 14

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
11:40
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Not much good happened for the Arizona Wildcats at Oklahoma State.

It's possible that the Oklahoma State Cowboys are very good -- they dominated on both sides of the ball -- but the Wildcats seemed to take a step back, even compared to the poor performance in the Alamo Bowl, which they lost 36-10.

The end result of a 37-14 defeat is Arizona lost its sixth in a row with a schedule that doesn't let up ahead.

The Wildcats, with a rebuilt offensive line, produced no running game against the Cowboys. And the defense, which yielded 594 yards, was completely at the mercy of quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Sure, it might have helped if wide receiver Juron Criner were healthy. But that wouldn't have helped the defense.

Good news? Well, Texas transfer Dan Buckner caught 10 passes for 142 yards. He showed that he can be a weapon. Same with freshman Austin Hill, who caught 8 passes for 128 yards.

But what became clear is preseason concerns were true: The Wildcats are going to have to score a lot of points to make up for a limited defense. And they are going to have to pass, pass, pass to make that happen.
While there is no on-the-record clarity on the situation, it's fair to say that Arizona's All-Pac-10 receiver Juron Criner's season is at-risk due to an "undisclosed personal issue," which a source told the Pac-12 blog was a "non-injury, medical issue."

[+] EnlargeJuron Criner
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJuron Criner is the best player among a deep group of receivers at Arizona.
Arizona is not commenting because of student privacy guidelines. A source inside the football office texted the Pac-12 blog that his hope was Criner "will be ready for the season."

Criner, a second-team All-American, led the Wildcats with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Arizona starts fall camp Aug. 3.

What does this mean for the Wildcats? Well, nothing yet. This is obviously a serious situation, but the endgame won't reveal itself until Criner's status is made official.

But it does force us to speculate what the Wildcats offense might be without Criner. The short answer is "probably OK."

While no team wants to lose an All-American, the Wildcats have one of the deepest and experienced crews of receivers in the conference and the nation. Sure, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Criner was the headliner, a guy who could tax a defense in a variety of ways and who always seemed to be the go-to guy when the screws tightened.

But, as we noted with our review of Pac-12 receiving corps, the Wildcats should be better than OK, even without Criner. To quote ourselves:

"David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrence Miller and Richard Morrison -- each caught between 19 and 52 passes a season ago. Oh, and there's also Texas transfer Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin. There's size, speed, depth and experience."

What this does mean is that Buckner needs to live up to the high expectations we've been hearing for months, and at least one of the speedy youngsters needs to step up as a deep threat.

Still, the Wildcats and quarterback Nick Foles will be able to line up in a four- and even five-receiver set without resorting to a scrub as the last option.

Criner made the Wildcats receivers looking like a great unit. But even -- potentially -- without him, they should be very good.

More on the Criner situation here. And here.

Of course, Wildcats fans already might be thinking about "what-might-have-been" before the 2011 season begins. Criner is potentially the third projected starter lost since the end of last season. Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer suffered knee injuries this spring, as did backup running back Greg Nwoko and backup defensive tackle Willie Mobley.
It has become a difficult day to rank Pac-12 teams at receiver due to reports of the uncertain health of Arizona's Juron Criner.

Criner is only the best returning receiver in the conference, a potential All-American and the leader of one of the nation's best units. Still, the Wildcats would rate in "great shape" on this list even without Criner, though they wouldn't top it.

As for the conference as a whole at receiver, things look pretty solid, top-to-bottom. Even the two teams in "We'll see," aren't desperate at the position.

So how do things stack up? Read on.

Great shape

Arizona: The Wildcats may have the best collection of receivers in the nation. First-team All-Pac-10 selection Criner is the headliner, but there's also David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrence Miller and Richard Morrison -- each caught between 19 and 52 passes a season ago. Oh, and there's also Texas transfer Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin. There's size, speed, depth and experience.

[+] EnlargeJermaine Kearse
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJermaine Kearse had his best season yet for the Huskies, catching 63 passes for 1,005 yards.
Washington: Jermaine Kearse, second-team All-Pac-10, is a 1,000-yard receiver who caught 12 touchdown passes. Devin Aguilar has 90 career receptions. James Johnson struggled to get in sync last season but caught 39 passes as a true freshman in 2009. Kevin Smith turned in a good spring, and hopes are stratospheric for incoming freshman All-American Kasen Williams.

Washington State: Marquess Wilson was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Jared Karstetter caught 62 passes. Gino Simone has seen plenty of action, while hopes are high for redshirt freshman Kristoff Williams and Bobby Ratliff. Quarterback Jeff Tuel has plenty of targets for what should be a potent passing attack.

USC: Perhaps no team has more upside than the Trojans. Sophomore Robert Woods is a potential All-American, while Brandon Carswell and Brice Butler are experienced players. But the upside is all about incoming freshman George Farmer and redshirt freshman Kyle Prater. If those two live up to their talents, the Trojans will be tough to stop in the passing game.

Good shape

California: Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones are a potentially strong tandem if the Bears get good quarterback play. Oft-injured Michael Calvin posted a solid spring. Kaelin Clay has a lot of speed, and he and Coleman Edmond need to step up.

Arizona State: T.J. Simpson's knee injury didn't help, but the Sun Devils are fairly deep and experienced at the position. Gerell Robinson was a standout this spring, while Mike Willie, Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles each caught at least 25 passes in 2010. George Bell, A.J. Pickens, J.J. Holliday and Kevin Anderson provide good depth.

UCLA: Just because UCLA couldn't pass in 2010 doesn't mean it's bad at receiver. It certainly will be experienced in 2011 because everybody is back. Nelson Rosario has the talent to be a star, as do Randall Carroll and Josh Smith. Still, the Bruins lack consistency at the position -- too many dropped balls, too few big plays.

Oregon State: With a healthy James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop, the Beavers are in "great shape." But they have enough talent and experience at the position to at least end up in pretty good shape even if they don't. Markus Wheaton caught 55 passes as a sophomore, while Darrell Catchings and Geno Munoz are two guys who can help, if they can stay healthy. Kevin Cummings also should see action in the slot.

Utah: DeVonte Christopher, the second-leading receiver from 2010, and he's the only returning receiver who caught more than 20 passes, but the Utes feel pretty good about the guys they have coming back. With Reggie Dunn, Dres Anderson, Luke Matthews, Dexter Ransom and Kenneth Scott.

We'll see

Oregon: Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis are gone and they took 119 receptions with them. Lavasier Tuinei caught 36 passes and Josh Huff caught 19, but there's little experience beyond that. The Ducks are stacked at tight end and the incoming class is thick with speedy, touted receivers. But, as we've said before, "we'll see."

Colorado: Colorado has two guys it can count on in Paul Richardson and Tony Clemons, who combined for 77 receptions in 2010. After that, things are fairly questionable.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nick Foles and Seth Littrell almost sound sympathetic. The Arizona quarterback and offensive coordinator realize that it's not easy for a secondary to match up with one Juron Criner. So it figures to be even more taxing to matchup with two.

[+] EnlargeDan Bucker
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona has high expectations for receiver Dan Buckner, a transfer from the Texas Longhorns who sat out last season.
Criner, the Pac-10's best receiver in 2010, is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Texas transfer Dan Buckner is 6-4, 220. He caught 45 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 and ranked as the Longhorns' No. 3 receiver as a true sophomore.

Gifted with size and speed, both will present matchup problems. Secondaries that would prefer to double-cover Criner might find that Buckner has the ability to punish them for taking that approach.

"He's a hard matchup, I would think, for a lot of corners," Littrell said. "He's definitely a deep threat. If people want to play tight coverage on him, he's a matchup problem. If people want to matchup with Juron and try to bracket Juron, you're going to leave someone one-on-one. So pick your poison. If a team wants [to double Criner], I'm fine with that."

Then, when you toss in the Wildcats' other receivers -- David Douglas, David Roberts and Richard Morrison -- well, suffice it to say that more than a few defensive coordinators will be stressed in advance of facing the Wildcats' passing attack.

"We've got a great receiving corps. We don't have just one guy. We have several guys," Foles said. "If I were teams, I'd still try to bracket [Criner]. They probably will try to make us beat them elsewhere. But [bracketing Criner] is going to be tough to do with the receivers we have."

Buckner is the wild card. Though his performance fell off over the final half of the 2009 season, keep in mind that he was good enough to be a contributor to a team that played for the national title. He's not your typical transfer who arrives with only message-board fanfare and then turns out to be one of those "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane" sorts.

Of course, there's a backstory. Buckner is in Tucson -- he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules -- because he got into trouble at Texas. He was arrested in College Station, Texas in January of 2010 on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. The Arizona Daily Star, citing police reports, said Buckner "was visiting a female acquaintance in College Station, Texas, when a dispute broke out. Officers arrived on the scene, but couldn’t get him to leave."

"I got into some trouble and made some bad decisions like a lot of people do. I needed a change. I needed to get out of there," Buckner said. "I think it was a blessing in disguise. I feel like it humbled me. I've seen things in life that I may not have seen."

Buckner, described as "goofy" by Foles, doesn't seem like a bad seed. He's bright, outgoing and quick with a joke.

Still, Foles said meshing Buckner into what was already one of the nation's best receiving groups is still a work in progress.

"We're still working to get on the same page," Foles said.

When asked about complementing Criner, Buckner is quick to take on the role of No. 2: "Juron is getting me open," he said.

As for the transition from Texas and the Big 12 to Arizona and the Pac-12, Buckner, a native of Allen, Texas, seems to feel right at home.

"I like the West Coast," he said. "It's sunny and pretty and there are palm trees. It's a change, and at that point in my life I just needed a change."
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

Big 12 preseason power rankings

August, 10, 2010
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1. Texas: Texas' big-time freshmen receiving recruits Darius White and Mike Davis are on campus to compete with the remainder of the Longhorns receivers after the departures of Jordan Shipley and Dan Buckner. Whoever develops solid chemistry with quarterback Garrett Gilbert first should have a nice advantage heading into the season. Very few questions surround the Longhorns on defense, who also have exciting freshman Jordan Hicks competing for playing time at linebacker.

2. Oklahoma: Honestly, my gut tells me to slide the Sooners above the Longhorns based on coach Bob Stoops comments at media days, but I'll give the champs their due entering the preseason. Oklahoma loses its top three blockers from a season ago, and any growth from Oklahoma's eight-win team last season will have to start on the offensive line. Stoops believes it will. If it does, look for the Sooners and Longhorns to switch positions if Oklahoma earns wins against Florida State and Cincinnati while Texas beats up on Rice and Wyoming. A convincing win at Texas Tech might keep the Longhorns on top.

3. Nebraska: The Huskers quarterback issues can't end soon enough. The Big 12 blog's pick: Zac Lee. With its offensive line and quality running backs, Nebraska will be able to run the ball. If Lee can establish himself as the best passer of the group, his skills will better serve the offense than the more athletic Cody Green and Taylor Martinez. We won't know very much about how good the defense will be again this year until the Huskers' date with Jake Locker and the Washington Huskies on Sept. 18 in Seattle.

4. Missouri: A solid contender in the North, Missouri's key to hopping over the Huskers lies in the secondary. That group returns all four starters and has another experienced player in junior Kenji Jackson entering camp as a new starter at safety. If it solidifies, Missouri will be a force that spends most of the season in the top 25. Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp should share the spotlight catching balls from Blaine Gabbert along with slot man T.J. Moe and tight end Michael Egnew.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies have the conference's best player, but its worst defense. Both will need to improve for the Aggies to earn a South title. On defense, new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter will have to build around tackle Lucas Patterson, linebacker Von Miller and safety Trent Hunter. Three freed-up offensive line spots -- which might all be filled by freshman -- will have to be solid and consistent for the offense to remain one of the Big 12's best, despite the Aggies' talent at the skill positions.

6. Kansas State: Running back Daniel Thomas led the Big 12 in rushing with almost no help from the quarterback spot last season, so the competition between Carson Coffman, Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamurisn't immensely important to Kansas State's success. No doubt, they'll be a lot better with great play from one of those three, but they won't be a bad team without it. Two of the Wildcats' top four tacklers will be junior defensive backs in 2010, Emmanuel Lamur and Tysyn Hartman.

And yes, I am very proud that I'm still batting 1.000 in not mixing up Sammuel and Emmanuel Lamur. Stay tuned, though.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have a great chance to move up this poll after hosting Texas on Sept. 18. Whoever wins the quarterback competition between Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffieldshould excel, which not every team in the Big 12 with a quarterback battle can say. Tech's aggressive new defense will have to limit big plays to see success in the first year under coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator James Willis. A convincing opening-week win against SMU will look better in December than some Tech fans might think after the team's Sunday, Sept. 5 debut.

8. Oklahoma State: One of the conference's wildcards, the Cowboys bring back just eight starters from last season, and will showcase a radical new offense in Dana Holgorsen's version of the Air Raid. Oklahoma State's receiving corps, led by Hubert Anyiam and Tracy Moore, is extremely underrated and could surprise plenty of folks in 2010. Their first real test comes Sept. 30, when they'll get a chance to knock off media darling Texas A&M in Stillwater.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones nonconference schedule has made plenty of headlines this offseason, and Iowa State isn't shying away from its dates with Northern Illinois, Iowa and Utah. The legal issues surrounding defensive star David Sims appear to be resolved with an opening-game suspension, and running back Alexander Robinson looks ready for another big season after rushing for over 1,000 yards in his 2009 breakout season. Iowa State will need to steal a few games like last season to qualify for a second consecutive bowl game.

10. Baylor: Freshman safety Ahmad Dixon is impressing early in camp with a few big hits, and is making good on his status as one of the best recruits in Baylor history. Another -- Robert Griffin -- is already dealing with the pressures of delivering a bowl game to Waco. Coach Art Briles will need more players like Dixon and Griffin to move the Bears goals past just making a bowl game.

11. Colorado: The only team to move up from its position in the post-spring power rankings, Colorado simply brings back more talent than Kansas, and added two new receivers in UCLA non-qualifier Paul Richardson and Travon Patterson, whose transfer from USC was finalized on Monday. The offensive line has a lot of talent in Nate Solder and Ryan Miller, but the other three members will have to improve if the Buffs are going to rush for more than 1,055 yards like in 2009 (11th in the Big 12) and give up fewer than 43 sacks, 11 more than any other team in the Big 12.

12. Kansas: Losing your three best players from a team that finished last in the Big 12 North a season ago -- plus implementing a new coaching philosophy -- is a recipe for a rebuilding year. That's where the Jayhawks sit to begin 2010. They've got good young talent in linebacker Huldon Tharp and receiver Johnathan Wilson, who are both sophomores, but they face major questions at quarterback with inexperienced candidates Jordan Webb and Kale Pick battling for the No. 1 spot. Last season's leading rusher, Toben Opurum, is also nowhere to be found on the depth chart after battling injuries throughout the spring. The Jayhawks were the only team in the conference to return all five starters on the offensive line, but a season-ending injury to tackle Jeff Spikeseliminated that status. Brad Thorson, who played both guard and tackle last season, is also recovering from a broken foot. A win against Southern Miss and a competitive loss to Georgia Tech would earn the Jayhawks some more respect.

Pac-10 recruiting wrap: Arizona

February, 4, 2010
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Arizona needed help on defense, and Mike Stoops thinks his class of 23 addressed that need, with 12 signees listed as playing on that side of the ball.

Top prospects: Defensive tackle Kirifi Taula and safety Marquis Flowers are freshmen who could immediately play their way into the rotation. Junior college transfers Paul Vassallo, Willie Mobley and Derek Earls could play their way into starting jobs.

Under the radar: Stoops said he believes receiver Garic Wharton is the fastest incoming freshman in the nation. Cornerback Jonathan McKnight is USC running back Joe McKnight's little brother.

Issues? For those who care about recruiting rankings, this is not a highly rated class, though it's notable that two teams that finished tied for second in the Pac-10 -- the Wildcats and Oregon State -- finished toward the bottom of the rankings. While Stoops aggressively advocated for quarterback Cameron Allerheiligen, the late decommitment of Matt Brown, who signed with TCU when Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left for Louisiana Tech, hurt the class.

Notes: The class includes players from nine different states ... Stoops said height was a new emphasis -- he wants a taller, longer team ... The class includes five linemen on both sides of the ball ... Stoops said when he was recruiting McKnight, he tried to call his older brother, Joe. But he had the wrong number -- he was calling Jonathan ... Receiver Dan Buckner, a transfer from Texas, must sit out in 2010.

Gomes' key interception kills Texas drive

December, 5, 2009
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Just when you think the Nebraska defense can't make a bigger play, DeJon Gomes provided another one.

The junior cornerback wrestled away a pass intended for Dan Buckner for a key interception.

The Cornhuskers have one more chance left.

Halftime: Texas 7, Nebraska 6

December, 5, 2009
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In one of the ugliest first halves in Big 12 championship game history, Texas has slogged ahead of Nebraska en route to a 7-6 halftime lead at the break.

Here's why they have been able to do it:

Turning point: Eric Hagg’s pass interference in the end zone -- when he was ruled to have face-guarded Dan Buckner -- put the Longhorns at the Nebraska 4-yard line. It gave the Longhorns a critical conversion on a third-and-14 play when their offense finally was showing signs of life. Colt McCoy scored two plays later, giving Texas its first lead.

Stat of the half: Texas’ defense has limited Nebraska to 32 yards on 28 snaps in the first half. That’s an average of 1.14 yards per play. The Cornhuskers produced only two first downs and none of those came in the last 18 minutes of the half.

Best player in the half: Ndamukong Suh is living up to his promise as an All-American defensive tackle with four tackles, 2.5 sacks and three tackles for losses. He’s personally helped clog up the middle of the Texas line and make life miserable for McCoy for much of the half.

Best call: Game officials get the honors here on a tough decision early in the first half. Rex Burkhead appeared to have been stopped short of the first down at the Nebraska 31. But after a second look at the replays, they ruled that Burkhead had made the first down with inches to spare.

What Texas needs to do: The Longhorns struggled offensively before showing life late in the first half on their scoring drive. McCoy worked several different receivers into the rotation and overcame three sacks earlier in the drive. That resiliency will be important to start the second quarter. McCoy should follow a similar plan by utilizing all of the weapons at his disposal as the second half progresses.

What Nebraska needs to do: The Nebraska offense is sputtering, mainly because they have stubbornly continued to try to hammer the inner strength of the Texas defense. It’s obvious that any thought that the Cornhuskers’ coaches thought about running “downhill” against the Longhorns appears misguided. They might try some outside running plays. And it might be a time to work backup freshman quarterback Cody Green in for a series -- just for the opportunity to change the pace of the game. Nebraska has to do something early after producing so little in the second quarter -- an interception and three-straight three-and-outs to finish the half.

Big 12 title game prediction favors the Longhorns

December, 3, 2009
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The South Division has dominated play in the Big 12 in recent years. It will be up to Nebraska to turn things around and provide some competition in the championship game.

Here's how I see the game playing out.

Texas 28, Nebraska 13: The Longhorns are heavy favorites to claim Mack Brown’s second Big 12 title. Nebraska has been one of the hottest teams in the conference as the Cornhuskers have run off five straight victories after starting 4-3. And the Cornhuskers have a puncher’s chance of stealing an upset victory in this game. If they are to be successful, they must continually pressure Colt McCoy and contain Texas’ offense. And on offense, they can't be intimidated by the Longhorns' No. 1 ranked rush defense. Because so much of Nebraska's offense is based on running the ball, they have to keep trying Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, even if it isn't immediately successful. They do have hope after the Longhorns were gashed for 190 rushing yards and 532 total yards by Texas A&M last week. And Helu and Burkhead are an upgrade over the Aggies’ backs.

Nebraska must stay ahead of the chains and keep Zac Lee from long down-and-distance situations that have caused him to struggle this season. If the Cornhuskers are to be successful, they also must dominate the special teams with big efforts from punter/kicker Alex Henery and kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic.

But even with those weapons, Texas still has too many weapons. The Longhorns should get some big plays from receivers like Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner and John Chiles -- particularly if the Cornhuskers elect to double-cover Jordan Shipley. The Cornhuskers will stay close for much of the game, but the Longhorns should pull away late as they head to the BCS title game.

Last week: 5-0 (100 percent)

Season record: 74-23 (76.3 percent)

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