NCF Nation: Dietrich RIley

Every season true freshman make an impact and underclassmen become stars. Who might those guys be in the Pac-12 in 2011?

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

Underclassmen to watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact freshmen

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

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

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

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

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

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Seferian-Jenkins showed this past spring that he's ready for prime time. He's likely to be the Huskies' starting tight end. A runner-up for the Huskies, by the way, is receiver Kasen Williams, but he will join a deep, veteran crew of receivers.
There's a lot new at UCLA this spring, even with 16 players with starting experience returning on both sides of the ball.

There's five new coaches, including two new coordinators. There's uncertainty about scheme on both offense and defense. And there's uncertainty at quarterback.

As for the offense, the "pistol" isn't dead. Said coach Rick Neuheisel to that query, "Oh, no. No. No." Even though new coordinator Mike Johnson isn't a pistol guy, Jim Mastro tight ends/F-backs coach is. Mastro was hired away from Nevada, where the scheme was invented.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIBrett Hundley will get a lot of reps during spring practices for UCLA.
So there will be some pistol. The Bruins will lineup mostly in the shotgun. They will still use an "F-back," a hybrid position that can be a small quick receiver (Damien Thigpen) or a tight end (Morrell Presley). And there will be some two-back formations. The idea is to develop some run-pass balance, which has eluded the Bruins over the past three seasons.

"The pistol is a formation and it was certainly successful in the run game," Neuheisel said. "What we need now is to develop the throw game that compliments and goes along with that and uses other formations."

As for that throwing game, quarterback Kevin Prince will be able to do very little this spring because he's still recovering from knee surgery. Darius Bell (shoulder) is also out and Nick Crissman will be limited as he comes back from a shoulder injury. That means more reps for Richard Brehaut, who is playing baseball but will not miss any spring football practices, and true freshman Brett Hundley.

Hundley, the touted recruit, is the guy everybody will be watching.

"As is always the case, when somebody's down, it creates opportunities for someone else," Neuheisel said. "With Prince not able to [practice], it creates more reps. Darius Bell not able to go for spring practice, it creates more reps. So Brett Hundley is going to be the benefactor of that. He's going to get lots of chances. How fast he grows and matures in the offense and shows he can understand all he needs to handle to be effective, that will just enhance his ability to play and play at an early time in his career."

We wrote about the depth chart on Tuesday.

Here, again, is the list of injured players.

WR Jerry Johnson (ankle)
RG Casey Griffiths (back)
QB Darius Bell (shoulder)
P-K Jeff Locke (hip)
DE Keenan Graham (hip)
MLB Patrick Larimore (shoulder)
CB Antony Jefferson (foot)
FS Dalton Hilliard (knee)

WR Shaquelle Evans (shoulder)
QB Kevin Prince (knee)
LB Jared Koster (shoulder)

Some notes:

What are you talking about, Willis? Defensive lineman Brandon Willis is supposed to be headed back to North Carolina, the school from where he transferred to UCLA. But there may be another chapter in this twisting tale. Said Neuheisel: “That’s still an uncertain situation. We signed a release and want him to have the opportunity to explore his options and make sure he’s meeting his family obligations. But he has yet to enroll at North Carolina, and I don’t think he’s heard from the NCAA with regard to the waiver and whether or not he can play next fall. I’m still waiting to hear."

Neuheisel said Willis has not withdrawn from UCLA. Willis wants to return to UNC to be closer to his sick grandmother, but he probably doesn't want to sit out the season. He left UNC because his father got a job in Los Angeles.

F-back and RB: How will things stack up in the backfield? Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman are both back, but Malcolm Jones and Jordan James could make a challenge. Further, Neuheisel said he wants to get a look at 6-foot-5, 238-pound sophomore F-back Anthony Barr with the ball in his hands. Said Neuheisel, "We want to find out more about Anthony as a running back."

Safety numbers: Sophomore Dietrich Riley is listed as the No. 2 at strong safety behind senior Tony Dye, but that figures to be an interesting competition. And things at both safeties could be fluid with Hilliard, listed No. 1 at the spot manned by Rahim Moore the previous three seasons, out with a knee injury.

Pac-10 season predictions

August, 30, 2010
We're going on record with what we think will happen this season -- team-wise and player-wise. Who will shine? Who will surprise? Who will disappoint?

And feel free to disagree and supply your thoughts.

Conference winner: Oregon

It took a while to re-warm up to the Ducks after the, er, departure of He Who Shall Not Be Named. But the Ducks have so much going for them, it's hard to go against the defending champions.

Offensive MVP: Jake Locker, QB, Washington

Huskies fans: Know all those folks who constantly take shots at Locker and call him overrated? They will either apologize or look stupid at season's end.

Defensive MVP: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA

Ayers gets the nod because he's the sort who's going to put up a lot of different numbers: tackles, sacks, tackles for a loss, interceptions, fumbles, etc.

Surprise team: Stanford

Stanford might not be a surprise to those in the know, but if the defense steps up -- and here's a bet it will -- then the Cardinal will be in middle of the conference race.

Team most likely to disappoint: USC

The Trojans will still trot out the most talented starting 22 in the conference. There's not a team on the Trojans' schedule that, at this juncture, rates as a "favorite" -- even Oregon because the Ducks must visit the Coliseum on Oct. 30. But with only pride to play for, USC could come apart at the seams.

Surprise player: Steven Threet, QB, Arizona State

Threet is expected to be announced as the Sun Devils starter on Monday. He's going to be good enough to make the offense respectable.

Newcomer of the year (offense): Josh Smith, WR, UCLA

If he stays healthy, Smith, a Colorado transfer, will be a big-play guy for the Bruins on offense and on special teams as a returner.

Newcomer of the year (defense): Brandon Rankin, DT, Washington State

We hate to interrupt your mocking of Washington State, but Rankin, a JC transfer who stuck with the Cougars despite an offer from Alabama, is going to be a force on a surprisingly stout D-line.

Freshman of the year (offense): Keenan Allen, WR, California

The touted true freshman won a starting job in camp. Expect him and Marvin Jones to inspire folks to start to saying, "You know that quarterback Kevin Riley ain't half-bad!"

Freshman of the year (defense): (tie) Marquis Flowers, S, Arizona & Dietrich Riley, S, UCLA

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next two great safeties in the Pac-10. These freshmen can really play.

Coach of the year: Chip Kelly, Oregon

His Ducks should play in another Rose Bowl, even though they are replacing a quarterback who was projected to be in the Heisman Trophy hunt. If quarterback Darron Thomas shines, this one will be a gimme for Kelly to repeat. So that would be two years, two Coach of the Year trophies. One word: Raise.

Can't miss game: Civil War, Oregon at Oregon State, Dec. 4

Oregon is the conference favorite. Oregon State is a consensus No. 3 pick. USC is No. 2 but ineligible. Expect the Civil War, for a third consecutive season, to decide who goes to the Rose Bowl.

Pac-10 recruiting wrap: USC

February, 4, 2010
USC's class of 19 -- and one HUGE oral commitment -- ranks seventh in the nation and features 11 players (including said commitment) on the ESPNU 150 list.

That commitment is Seantrel Henderson, the nation's No. 1 offensive lineman, who will wait to sign until after USC meets with the NCAA later this month.

Lane Kiffin's first class after the departure of Pete Carroll was stronger than just about everybody thought it would be.

The Trojans had three top needs. They hit a grand slam at receiver and tight end. They did fairly well at defensive back. They fell short at linebacker.

Top prospects: Robert Woods is the nation's No. 1 receiver. Markeith Ambles was No. 4. Kyle Prater was No. 9. Xavier Grimble leads a list of three top-10 tight ends. Help is coming for quarterback Matt Barkley. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Trojans signed the No. 2 guy, Jesse Scroggins.

Under the radar: Not really a USC category. Fullback Soma Vainuku, recruited as a linebacker by a number of schools, signed as a fullback, perhaps positioning himself as the next Stanley Havili.

Issues? It's hard to quibble with the nation's No. 7 recruiting class, particularly when the school was dealing with a coaching transition to Kiffin from Carroll, but there are two things. First, linebacker was a need area that wasn't sufficiently addressed. Second, the Trojans lost out on a number of prospects to rival UCLA, most notably safety Dietrich Riley and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt

Notes: Kiffin said he expects linebacker Glen Stanley, the lone JC transfer, to play immediately... USC signed players from five states... Kiffin took a shot at the players who picked UCLA over USC in his signing day press conference: "I think, I've been gone three years but much hasn't changed. As you meet the kids there is a sense and I was reminded of the kids that go to UCLA and the kids that come to USC, and to be back here, I watched it over the weekend just to see if it's the same, and it's really still the same. I guess we waste time continuing to recruit them, we know within the first 10 minutes whether they're the type of guys that want to play here or there."

Pac-10 recruiting wrap: UCLA

February, 4, 2010
UCLA's class of 22 ranked 10th in the nation and featured six players on the ESPNU 150 list.

In other words, the Bruins had a happy signing day, particularly when they landed a number of elite recruits with nationally televised announcements.

The Bruins had particular needs on the defensive front seven and the offensive line. They addressed both areas with quality and numbers. The class is notably strong at linebacker, which should feel extra good for Bruins fans because that was one area where rival USC felt short.

Top prospects: Owamagbe Odighizuwa was rated the No. 2 defensive end in the nation. Jordan James and Malcolm Jones give the Bruins two of the top-eight running backs in the country. Safety Dietrich Riley picked the Bruins over USC. All four linebackers could compete for immediate playing time. Cassius Marsh could play early at defensive tackle.

Under the radar: Offensive tackle Wade Yandall is a former volleyball player, but he now tips the scales at 310, according to Neuheisel. Defensive end Derrick Bryant has a frame that could support 30 or 40 more pounds, Neuheisel said.

Issues? The Bruins didn't sign a quarterback -- Brett Nottingham was a one-time commitment, but he ended up signing with Stanford. Neuheisel also said he wished he could have found one more receiver.

Notes: Neuheisel said linebacker Josh Shirley, who was expected to go to USC, had been a secret commitment for a while. Neuheisel said it was Shirley's idea to keep his intentions secret. ... Both Odighizuwa and Riley announced their decisions on ESPNU, which Neuheisel said was "great exposure." ... Linebacker Eric Kendricks is the younger brother of California linebacker Mychal Kendricks. ... Receiver Paul Richardson's father, Paul Sr., played receiver for the Bruins from 1987-1990. Neuheisel was his position coach.

UCLA makes biggest signing day move

February, 3, 2010
UCLA and Rick Neuheisel will get their coffee tonight -- as you know, coffee is for closers.

UCLA signed 22 Wednesday, and a number of marquee late additions pushed the class to No. 11 in the latest ESPNU rankings.

While the Bruins lost a couple early -- linebacker Hayes Pullard and defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli -- it landed defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, safety Dietrich Riley, linebacker Dietrich Riley and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.

The class includes five members of the ESPNU 150.

Safety Riley picks UCLA over USC

February, 3, 2010
The football monopoly in LA is... getting interesting.

Safety Dietrich Riley has picked UCLA over USC.

Riley is rated the nation's 108th-best prospect, according to the ESPNU 150, and the No. 10 safety.

Another big win for the Bruins head-to-head vs. the Trojans.
Safety Demar Dorsey signed with Michigan, picking the Wolverines over USC, Florida State and Tennessee.

Now the big issue for the Trojans: Can they get safety Dietrich Riley, a big USC-UCLA battle?