NCF Nation: Eben Britton

Posted by's Ted Miller

Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has transformed the Arizona offense since coach Mike Stoops hired him away from Texas Tech in 2007.

But the Wildcats began 2009 with questions on offense due to the departure of quarterback Willie Tuitama -- a three-plus year starter -- receiver Mike Thomas and offensive tackle Eben Britton.

Matt Scott won the quarterback competition over fellow sophomore Nick Foles, but it was close and Foles is still in the picture.
 Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE
 Arizona hasn't asked quarterback Matt Scott to pass downfield much so far this season.

The Wildcats opened with two efficient victories, but the offense played conservatively, leaning on a running attack that is averaging a stout 306 yards per contest and a stout defense.

But a visit to Iowa will pose a far tougher test on Saturday. It's unlikely the Wildcats can just line up and run right at the Hawkeyes.

Seemed like a good time to check in with Dykes and see where things stand.

Tell me how things are going at quarterback, starting with Matt Scott?

Sonny Dykes: He's made good progress so far. It's kind of been weird because we had a lead early in both games and have been pretty content to try to hold onto the ball and run it and try not to put too much on those guys right now. So he's done a good job doing that. We're completing a pretty high percentage of our throws. We haven't gotten the ball down the field a ton yet but we really haven't had to. So he's done a good job of executing what we've done. We've got to continue to improve our downfield passing game. But part of that has been we've had some guys injured and been a little bit slower than I would like to all get on the same page. Not having [tight end Rob] Gronkowski hurts us a bunch as far as getting it down the field. And Chris Gronkowski has been banged up. It's just been kind of slow to all come together.

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Posted by's Ted Miller

Results of the annual Pac-10 media poll will be announced on July 30, but here's a guess at how most ballots will look:

1. USC; 2. California; 3. Oregon; 4. Oregon State... 9. Washington; 10. Washington State

And from five to eight all heck breaks loose.

Now, some -- such as Phil Steele -- think Oregon will tumble. Some have issues with Oregon State. And some think Washington will be a surprise team.

But a plurality figures to vote these six teams as they appear above and then throw the other four into the air and leave it to the college football spirits to decide.

So where do you rank Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA?

I wouldn't be completely shocked if any of those four actually broke into the top four. I also wouldn't be astonished if any finished ninth.

I think I've written at various times that all four should end up bowl-eligible, even though eight conference teams with a .500 record or better is difficult to pencil out. (It did, however, happen in 2006 -- and Washington even finished 5-7).

I changed my own 5-8 a number of times. I won't tell you how I voted yet. My boss threatened to tear off my arm and beat me with it if I did. He's done it before so I believed him.

Why the difficulty?

For one, each of the Unfixed Four will break in a new quarterback, though Stanford and UCLA both have their starters back from 2008.

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Posted by's Ted Miller

It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?

Green Day
College Football Nation is decked out in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While you can't tell if our bloggers actually are wearing the day's color, their posts are green from head to toe.

Green with envy: Teams
Green with envy: Conferences
Who could use a four-leaf clover?
What is your teams' greenest unit?
Best/worst spent green

Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.

Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.

California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.

Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.

Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.

Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.

UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.

USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.

Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.

Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.

Posted by's Ted Miller

We're throwing at the NFL combine.

  • Former Arizona receiver Mike Thomas continues to be short, but Money Mike also continues to do things that figure to make him a lot of coin when the NFL draft rolls around. Like run faster than Percy Harvin. (And note that former UA OT Eben Britton's 40 time probably won't hurt him either).
  • And... not to let that combine list linger or anything... but who would have thought that USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava would do just as many reps with 225 pounds -- 30 -- as Brian Cushing, and both would leave sure-fire top-10 LB pick Aaron Curry in their dust (25)?
  • Speaking of Cushing... he tries to respond to rumors of steroid use.
  • Speaking of draft prospects, whatever happened to Rudy Carpenter's? He needs to convince scouts that a big arm isn't the only thing that matters.
  • Andy Levitre, late of Oregon State, talks... you guessed it! -- NFL combine.
  • Lots of Pac-10 names -- Patrick Chung, Rulon Davis, Keenan Lewis -- in this combine story.
  • Tim Hundley will leave SMU to become UCLA's new secondary coach. Hundley was Rick Neuheisel's defensive coordinator at Colorado and Washington.
  • It looks like Washington will have an easier time funding new uniforms than funding a massive renovation of Husky Stadium.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Let's just pretend there are a few more game-day Saturdays.

  • Lots of teams have an argument why the BCS title game decides little, namely USC and Utah and Texas, if it wins tonight.
  • Who will replace Arizona tackle Eben Britton, who's opted to enter the NFL draft a year early?
  • California needs to keep Jeff Tedford happy.
  • More potential changes on Oregon's staff, suggesting that coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly is making some important decisions.
  • Oregon State looks ahead with some holes to fill, as well as some potential.
  • If Mark Sanchez bolts USC, this guy might be in the picture next fall. Looking back and ahead with the Trojans.
  • Washington State has set its nonconference schedule: SMU, Notre Dame and Hawaii.
Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Pressuring the quarterback won't be as easy for Oregon State against Arizona: Oregon State's defensive scheme is all about pressure, and it gave California a heavy dose last weekend, sacking Kevin Riley five times and rattling him many others. The Beavers average 2.8 sacks per game, with ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler combining for 13. But Cal was starting a freshman and sophomore JC transfer at the tackles. Arizona this week will offer junior Eben Britton, a potential NFL first-round draft pick, and senior James Tretheway, who plays beside Joe Longacre, a 37-game starter. The Wildcats haven't been spectacular protecting quarterback Willie Tuitama this year, see 23 sacks yielded. But this is one of the Pac-10's more experienced units, and they won't be cowed by the nation's No. 15 defense.

Stop the run, retake the Axe: Stanford relies almost entirely on its running game. USC knew that last weekend, but burly Toby Gerhart & Co. still rushed for 200 yards against the nation's best defense. The Cardinal can run on just about anybody, so they will try to run against California's 3-4 defense, which ranks fourth in the Pac-10. The Bears hardly dominated the action on the line of scrimmage last week against Oregon State as freshman Jacquizz Rodgers piled up 144 yards on 27 carries. On the other side of the ball, Cal got 116 yards rushing from Jahvid Best against the Beavers, but 65 of those came on one spectacular run. On the plus side for the Bears, though, is the potential absence of Cardinal linebacker Pat Maynor, who missed the USC game with a bruised knee. Still, the ledger leans toward Stanford as the team most likely to run consistently.

Brandon Gibson, you're the best player on the field: Combing the depth charts of Washington and Washington State, it's difficult to see where the pressure points are. Both teams have been so weak across the board in all areas that it's hard to find a strength-on-weakness matchup. It's all weakness on weakness. Both teams are bad on offense (national rankings of 117 (UW) vs. 118) and defense (110 (UW) vs. 112). But at the beginning of the season, Cougars receiver Brandon Gibson was an All-American candidate after finishing seventh in the nation with 107 yards receiving per game in 2007. In last year's Apple Cup, he caught the game-tying and game-winning touchdown passes among his six receptions for 137 yards. The Huskies rank 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. While Gibson's senior season -- he considered (and probably regrets not) entering the NFL draft last spring -- has been a massive disappointment, no one in the UW secondary can keep up with him. But can the Cougars get the ball to the best player on the field?


Which quarterback has a Big Game? Or just not a Bad Game? Neither Cal nor Stanford wants to find itself needing to throw to win the Big Game. In his past two games, Bears quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. Riley has seemed to regress as the year's gone on, even as coach Jeff Tedford finally made him the permanent starter. While Stanford's Tavita Pritchard has improved in fits and starts, he completed only 9 of 22 for 111 yards with an interception against USC last weekend. Riley ranks sixth and Pritchard ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Both offensive coordinators want to run the ball and allow their quarterbacks to be game managers and perhaps supply a nice scramble or two. But in games like this, it often seems like a quarterback leaves his fingerprints on the final result, either in a good way or a bad way.

Rodgers can seal up Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year against Arizona: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers can put an exclamation point on the greatest true freshman season in Pac-10 history over the next two weeks. He is on the cusp of becoming the first frosh to win conference Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the conference and ranks ninth in the nation with 123 yards per game. The next highest true freshman? Houston's Bryce Beall at No. 42. He's a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and an All-American candidate. But can he carry the Beavers to the Rose Bowl? Arizona has a decent but hardly dominant run defense (sixth in the Pac-10). The Beavers probably want to limit the plays the potent Arizona offense gets in its home stadium. Which means Rodgers going for 100-plus for an eighth time this year would leave a rose-fragranced afterburn.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Eben Britton admits that at times over the past few years he wasn't proud to play football for Arizona. Football games, it seemed, were just an excuse for Wildcats fans to gather to talk about basketball.

And he wasn't even around during the disastrous John Mackovic era, when the team went 11-24 between 2001-2003 and took a team-wide rebellion to school administrators.

So, for those wondering why the Wildcats were so pumped after whipping woeful Washington State on Saturday, know that a sixth win means a lot to a program that has seen some dreary times since it last went to a bowl game in 1998.

"That's where the monkey is off the back," said Britton, an All-Pac-10 offensive tackle and All-American candidate.

"In the past, you'd kind of walk around campus with your head ducked down, hoping that nobody notices that you are on the football team. Everyone has been kind of down on us the last couple of years. But now everyone is proud to be part of this school right now. That's really exciting."

And understand when you're a 6-foot-6, 310-pounder who's been on the NFL radar for two years, it's hard to blend in.

And yet Britton met each question that prodded him to colorfully talk about the thrill of bowl eligibility with the same postscript: There's work ahead and the Wildcats want more.

"It's nice to know we're in the position we are but I'm not satisfied just yet," he said.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Ted Miller

TUCSON, Ariz. -- In the preseason, more than a few folks fingered a visit to Arizona as a spot where a dominatnt USC squad might get blindsided

Yet, at 5-2 and fresh off a whipping of California, the Wildcats aren't sneaking up on anyone. They have USC's attention.

Which makes it fairly interesting that there's still a sense of possibility buzzing around Arizona Stadium.

Wildcats fans, twice dispirited this year after losses to New Mexico and then Stanford, apparently are starting to believe in the program. As game time draws near, the red-clad denizens of the 'Zona Zoo are starting to bleed into the student section.

It's a mild 88 degrees and will chill significantly at sunset. Weather, as usual in Tucson in late October, won't be an issue.

What is an issue is USC's defense. It hasn't allowed a point in 10 quarters.

One of the reasons there's a vibe of "maybe" here is the feeling Arizona might have the weapons on offense to end that streak fairly quickly and resoundingly. The Wildcats are averaging 40 points a game and also has:

1. A quality veteran quarterback in Willie Tuitama;

2. A deep receiving corps led by All-American candidate Mike Thomas and tight end Rob Gronkowski, also an All-American candidate;

3. An underrated offensive line led by NFL prospect Eben Britton at left tackle;

4. An itty bitty tailback in Keola Antolin, who has inspired visions of Jacquizz Rodgers' second-coming.

And, well winning on the road has been difficult in the Pac-10 this year.

Of course, even if Arizona can score, it's questionable whether it can it stop the Trojans, who, oh by the way, rank first in the Pac-10 in scoring (41.5 ppg) and total offense (471.5).

Oh, by the way take two: Arizona's defense is second only to USC in the Pac-10 in both scoring (18.1 ppg) and total defense (285 yards).

And Arizona's defensive scheme has given USC fits in the past, see a 20-13 loss last year in which the Trojans needed 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to avoid an upset at home.

USC coach Pete Carroll talked about starting fast this week and taking the crowd out of the game. And if USC asserts its will early, well, things could get ugly.

Here's a guess at a quick way to figure out how this one will play out: Is the "Antolin = Rodgers = Mighty Mouse killer of the USC defense" angle for real? In other words, if Arizona is effective running the ball, we've got a game. If not, USC will make another statement to pollsters about its national championship worthiness.

Posted by's Ted Miller

 Much like many of the players, these links are day-to-day.

Posted by's Ted Miller

There's two things you can say about offensive lines: 1) Every good team has a good one; 2) People tend to notice offensive lines more when they are bad.

There aren't any "Oh my gosh, those guys are terrifying" crews this season. Only UCLA and, to a lesser extent, Arizona State, have significant issues up front.

A couple of the lines also need qualifiers: If Washington center Juan Garcia wasn't going to start the season on the injured list, the Huskies would rank No. 2. And Oregon State would rank higher if guard Jeremy Perry's health wasn't an issue, not to mention that tackle Tavita Thompson isn't expected back from suspension until Nov. 1.

USC only welcomes back one official "starter," but three of the new faces topping the depth chart started at least two games last season. Plus, with four incoming prep All-Americans at the position, and highly respected line coach Pat Ruel calling the shots, it's hard to believe the Trojans line will be a milquetoast.

 Tom Hauck/Getty Images
 Alex Mack earned All-American honors a year ago.

So here are the hogs... (returning starters)

  1. Oregon (3): Center Max Unger and tackle Fenuki Tupou were All-Pac-10 for the best conference's best rushing team in 2007. The two new starters are experienced seniors.
  2. California (3): All-American center Alex Mack leads three returning starters from a group that surrendered only 11 sacks last season.
  3. Washington (3): Even without center Juan Garcia for a few games, Mike Denbrock's well-coached unit led the conference's second-best rushing attack and was above average in pass protection.
  4. USC (1): The Trojans, with only guard Jeff Byers back, get the benefit of the doubt that the 2007 backups would start for most teams.
  5. Washington State (4): Four starters back from a unit that only gave up 22 sacks.
  6. Arizona (4): Among the four returning starters is tackle Eben Britton, who will play on Sundays. Run blocking shaky.
  7. Oregon State (3): With mauling guard Jeremy Perry, this is a top-flight unit, but without Perry it's easy to remember 36 sacks in 2007.
  8. Stanford (3): Alex Fletcher, who has converted from guard to center, is outstanding, but the unit still ranked ninth in rushing and gave up 48 sacks (ninth also).
  9. Arizona State (2): The Sun Devils' season may hang on how much the line improves. Just two starters are back from a unit that gave up a stunning 55 sacks in 2007.
  10. UCLA (2): Injuries, attrition and lack of talent are the problems. Just two starters and little depth return from group that gave up 36 sacks and was mediocre at run blocking.