NCF Nation: Erick Dargan

We've looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- elite combinations of quarterback, running back and receiver -- so now let's look at the defensive version.

That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.

The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.

Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.

So here's how we see things stacking up.

And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.

1. Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.

2. USC
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey

The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.

3. UCLA
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth

The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.

4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds

The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.

5. Oregon
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan

The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.

6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby

The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.

7. Washington
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters

The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.

8. Arizona
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.

9. California
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe

The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.

10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen

The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.

11. Utah
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.

12. Colorado
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.

Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
11:00
AM ET
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for your 2012 Pac-12 All-Bowl team.

OFFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEFENSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KR: De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon -- DAT did what DAT does. And he did it great.
Every team needs to hit every position group each recruiting season, but there are always priorities. It's not just positions where starters are lost or going to be seniors, it's about addressing weaknesses where a true freshman might be a better answer than a returning player.

Up next is the North Division.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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