NCF Nation: Gabe Miller

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Arizona poaches an Oregon State recruit

January, 28, 2011
Recruiting is a tough business.

Today we noted that Washington had picked off a player committed to Arizona after previously poaching two from rival Washington State. Now, it seems Arizona has done the same to Oregon State, as JC defensive end Lamar De Rego has switched his allegiances south from the Beavers to the Wildcats.

De Rego is a 6-foot-3, 255-pound Hawaiian from San Jose City College.

Defensive end is a huge need area for Oregon State and Arizona, but the Wildcats lost their top three ends -- including Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, a pair of All-Pac-10 performers -- while the Beavers only need to replace one starting end, Gabe Miller.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 4

September, 23, 2010
Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.

1. Is Oregon's offense that good? Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in total offense and scoring offense. It ranks No. 2 in rushing offense. But the Ducks haven't played anyone with a defense as fast and as talented at Arizona State. Quarterback Darron Thomas withstood the atmosphere of Tennessee, but how will he do against a defense that can run with the Ducks?

2. Can Oregon State disrupt Kellen Moore's rhythm? Over the past 15 games, Oregon State has struggled to pressure the passer. Boise State does a great job protecting QB Kellen Moore, and Moore does a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly. Moore, a savvy quarterback who is very accurate, will pick the Beavers apart if he's not worried about getting hit. Gabe Miller? Stephen Paea? Blitzing LBs? Time to show your stuff.

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
AP Photo/Wade PayneOregon quarterback Darron Thomas proved himself on the road at Tennessee. Can he have continued road success in conference?
3. Let down for Arizona? The party was HUGE in Tucson after the Wildcats beat No. 9 Iowa. But, as Mike Stoops observed, it doesn't mean much if they drop their Pac-10 opener. Perennial powers learn how to manage their emotions and play with the same focus and intensity every week. The Wildcats want to become a perennial power. Well, that means playing as well against Cal as they did vs. Iowa.

4. Texas run D vs. UCLA run O: Here's the surprising prediction of the week: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and the Bruins passing attack will awaken at Texas. The Bruins receivers are good, and Prince has thrown well before. The problem in the first three games was a lack of practice continuity because Prince was nursing injuries. But UCLA has to have balance to be successful. Texas boasts the nation's No. 1 run defense, but the Bruins have run well this year. If UCLA creates any run threat, Prince will have a much easier time making plays downfield in the passing game, particularly if the Longhorns put too much stock in game film from games one through three.

5. Luck on the big stage: Sure, Notre Dame is 1-2 and hasn't been a factor nationally for a while. But games at Notre Dame still include a national platform on NBC. And if Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck puts up big numbers against a struggling Fighting Irish defense, he'll start to create serious Heisman Trophy talk. And Stanford will formally announce its national relevance.

6. Cougs O-line vs. USC D-line: The Washington State offensive line has struggled, giving up 10 sacks in the first three games and failing to consistently open holes. USC"s front-seven is talented, particularly the defensive line, though the numbers haven't always supported that. If Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel gets time, he can make plays. If USC is all over him, this will be another blowout defeat in Pullman.

7. No retreat for Threet: Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet's performance through the first three games, particularly his strong effort at Wisconsin, showed he's a Pac-10 quality quarterback, and the Sun Devils might be a factor in the conference. But he hasn't seen a defense with as much speed as Oregon. Ever. He's going to be chased at a faster rate, and the DBs are going to close on his throws at a faster rate. Can Threet and the ASU offense play fast enough to keep up and make plays?

8. Rodgers brothers get another shot on the big stage: Jacquizz and James Rodgers have put up decent numbers so far. And neither played poorly vs. TCU in the marquee opener at Cowboys Stadium. Still, these two All-Americans have a special opportunity on a national stage to make statements for themselves and the Beavers. If Jacquizz Rodgers can help the Beavers control the ball in the running game, and James Rodgers can make big plays in the passing game, there could be an upset on the blue turf.

9. Riley needs to play like a senior: Senior quarterbacks know how to play on the road. Senior quarterbacks know how to bounce back from adversity. Senior quarterbacks know how to lead a team that is down on itself. If Cal is going to notch the upset at Arizona, the likelihood is that Kevin Riley will set the tone early and turn in a strong performance.

10. Stanford's passing defense faces test: The big question for Stanford entering the season was pass defense. The early returns are outstanding: The Cardinal ranks No. 1 in the nation in pass defense. Notre Dame, however, is a far different animal than UCLA and Wake Forest. It is averaging 318 yards passing per game. Does Stanford really have an elite defense? We shall see.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
There's a full slate of 10 nonconference games this week, so there's a lot to watch.

1. How will Katz react when the lights go on at Cowboys Stadium? Oregon State's Ryan Katz has done everything well since he quickly took control of the quarterback job during spring practices. He's got the arm, head and athletic ability to become an All-Conference QB. But no one really knows how he will react to the big-stage pressure of his first career start. Many great QBs played like a squirrel darting across a highway in their first start. Others did just fine.

2. Time for Locker to step up: It's no longer about Jake Locker's extraordinary potential, which has NFL scouts salivating. Now it's about Locker performing. It's about him becoming the QB he is projected to be but hasn't yet been. That means completing 60-65 percent of his passes with few mistakes and converting big play after big play with both his arm and his feet. The visions of Locker now need to match the reality of him. Otherwise, a season of great hope for the Huskies won't get out of the starting gate.

3. Is Prince ready? what about his line? UCLA QB Kevin Prince has missed almost all of fall camp with a back problem. Sure, he's a returning starter, but the Bruins are adopting -- at least parts of -- a new "pistol" offense, which he inconsistently ran during the spring. You would think Prince, at the very least, will be a bit rusty at Kansas State. Also, it won't help much that the line he played behind in the spring doesn't look much like the makeshift unit that will be protecting him Saturday.

4. USC can make a statement: Everybody is curious how motivated the Trojans will be in 2010 when they aren't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. If they deliver an angry beatdown at Hawaii, some of that curiosity will be answered. And it wouldn't hurt Lane Kiffin for his squad to be sharp in his first game as head coach.

5. Oregon QB Darron Thomas needs to get his starters legs under him: Oregon is going to whip New Mexico, no matter how Thomas does in his first start at quarterback. But Thomas needs to push through those inevitable first-game jitters and find a comfort level on the big stage. Because next weekend he's going to be playing at Tennessee in front of 105,000 folks who will be slightly less supportive than the crowd Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

6. Can Oregon State get pressure on TCU QB Andy Dalton? While much of the pre-game attention with the Beavers showdown with TCU is focused on how Katz will react to the Horned Frogs' relentless blitzes, the Beavers own pass rush is almost as big a question. Recall that last year Oregon State, typically an attacking defense, struggled to get much pressure on opposing QBs, registering just 17 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference and was just four more than poor ole Washington State. The hope is tackle Stephen Paea will be such a distraction inside that ends Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry will be able to beat one-on-one blocks with their athletic ability. But if the Beavers can't get to the underrated Dalton, it could be a long evening.

7. Are Arizona's three new LBs still thinking too much? The chatter started in spring and lasted through much of fall camp: The Wildcats new linebackers were thinking too much and therefore not playing with the right amount of aggressiveness. And then when they attacked, they often made the wrong fit or ended up in the wrong place. Toledo plays well at home and runs a productive spread offense. They will challenge Derek Earls, Jake Fischer and Paul Vassallo, who are each making their first career start. The Rockets will try to confuse them and get them out of position. There's inevitably going to be a growth process for the new LBs. The question is how slowly that process will progress.

8. How much better is Washington State? Few folks believe the Cougars are going to win many games this season, but there are good reasons for cautious optimism, starting with a more experienced -- and healthier -- lineup. It's certainly not helpful, however, to open at Oklahoma State, even if the Cowboys are rebuilding. Still, if the Cougs make this one competitive heading into the second half, they likely will have already exceeded some expectations. The key here is for WSU to walk away from Stillwater thinking, "We can win some games this year." Conversely, a blowout loss could prove catastrophic to the program's fragile confidence.

9. Will anyone produce a Heisman moment? Locker at BYU? Jacquizz Rodgers versus TCU in his home state? Will Arizona's Nick Foles or USC's Matt Barkley roll up big numbers? There are many potential Heisman Trophy candidates in the conference in 2010. Will any make a statement with a SportsCenter performance in week one?

10. Cal, Stanford and Arizona State just need to avoid injuries, not embarrass themselves: All three take on FCS foes -- UC Davis, Sacramento State and Portland State, respectively -- which means they are going to win easily (or become national laughingstocks). The key thing is to start fast and then get the starters safely to the bench.
There are two reasons to check in with Oregon State strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller.

First, there's the Beavers freakishly strong defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He might be the strongest football player in the United States -- NFL included. How the heck did that happen? Then there's the Beavers' outstanding reputation for developing players (see seven players drafted by NFL teams in 2009).

Miller has been the head of the Sports Performance Center staff since July of 2008 and he arrived at Oregon State in 2006. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a Specialist in Sports Conditioning and a Level I Club Coach (U.S. Weightlifting).

Here's what he had to say.

So were you always a guy who focused on strength and conditioning as an athlete growing up?

Bryan Miller: Absolutely. I'm the son of a high school coach in Chicago. So being properly prepared throughout the year was taken very seriously in the Miller household.

How did you get into this as a profession?

BM: My undergrad degree was actually in marketing. But the further I got into my senior year of college, the less I wanted to wear a coat and tie and sit at a cubicle. So, like a lot of people in my family who are coaches -- football and baseball coaches -- that's definitely the pedigree of my family. It was just something that came naturally.

I realize this is a big question, but how would you summarize your philosophy?

BM: I would say it is a very methodical series of progressions for the total growth and development of the athlete, from when they are freshmen to when they are seniors.

It seems like coach Mike Riley is very good at finding guys in recruiting who aren't top prospects and turning them into NFL players -- 6-foot-5 offensive linemen who only weight 220 pounds as high school seniors. As his strength and conditioning guy, is that something you specialize in?

BM: I would say the room we need to make up for in development is a lot more than some of the other schools that are bringing in those five-star recruits. They are getting linemen in the door who are 6-5, 300 pounds who are already pretty strong and very athletic. The guys we're bringing in are 6-5 but, like you said, as low as 220. So the room we have to make up to put them on the field is a lot.

How do you motivate guys who aren't big fans of conditioning? Are you a carrot or stick kind of guy?

BM: Definitely a carrot. I think one of the philosophies we have here that is different from other schools is we work on our conditioning all year round -- January to January. So at any point during the year we're in very good shape. With the exception of incoming freshman, with everybody else on the team, when we start our first day of summer conditioning, it's never really that hard because we are already in pretty decent shape going in. The other thing is, with the size of players we bring in, our starting offensive linemen are under 295. Same thing with our defensive linemen. We don't have many guys over 300 pounds. From that standpoint, conditioning comes pretty easily to our guys.

Say you're a 15-year-old who wants to play college football: What are the most important things for him to be doing, strength and conditioning-wise, to get a scholarship?

BM: The first thing is proper, usable strength. I say proper and usable because we get some freshmen who think because they can bench-press 300 pounds they're strong enough to play their position. But most freshmen we bring in the door can't do 10 push-ups the right way. So all the freshmen who come in the door here, they don't do any bench press for the first five months. All they do are different types of push-ups.

Speaking of bench press: We've seen the video of Stephen Paea: Is he just a freak of nature or is that about a lot of that hard work?

BM: It's a combination of both. First is, genetically, he's got strength out the butt. He probably had no idea how strong he really was. It was just something that came naturally to him. Then once we got him into a very organized training program, his strength dramatically took off. Again, it came very easy to him, so it was something that he embraced. Having done that, he sets a very good example for all the younger players.

How many times do you think he'll bench 225 at the NFL combine?

BM: I'm going to shoot for the moon and say 50 [which would be a new record].

Who is another one of your hardest workers?

BM: [Defensive end] Gabe Miller, he's a stud. He's actually one of our faster guys and he's 255.

Do you have an all-time workout warrior?

BM: I feel like I'd be leaving people out if I only mention a couple of people. Hmm. Al Afalava he's definitely at the top. And Joey LaRocque and Victor Butler.

What to watch in the Pac-10 this spring

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

Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

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

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

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

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

What to watch:

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

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

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

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

What to watch:

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

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

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

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

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

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

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

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

What to watch:

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

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

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

Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

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

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

Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

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

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

Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

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

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

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

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

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

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

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

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

What to watch:

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

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

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

Posted by's Ted Miller

The sample size is too small -- two games, one vs. an FCS foe -- to know whether Oregon State's rebuilt defense will be up to program standards in 2009, but a stress test rolls into Corvallis on Saturday that should be quite revealing.

No. 17 Cincinnati runs a no-huddle spread that presently ranks second in the nation in scoring (58.5 points per game) and fifth in total yards (571 yards per game).

"It's basketball on grass," Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker said.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Oregon State's defense will have its hands full stopping Tony Pike, who has thrown for 591 yards and six touchdowns so far.

Oregon State welcomes back only three defensive starters from the 2008 unit that ranked near the top of the Pac-10 in most categories. Of course, the situation was exactly the same -- just three starters back from an outstanding 2007 unit -- in 2008.

So many Beavers fans are counting on a reload rather than a rebuild, in large part because Banker's gap-cancellation scheme has been so consistently productive in recent years.

The early returns are cautiously optimistic.

Banker is happy with the play of his defensive tackles and linebackers. Both ends are new, and Kevin Frahm has played well. Ben Terry and Gabe Miller are still learning the position.

Just one quarterback sack so far for a team that thrives on pressuring the quarterback is a concern.

The secondary has four new starters and there have been some good moments. And bad moments.

"We're OK -- this week will be a better overall evaluation," Banker said. "We need to play with more confidence, and if they do that I think you'll see guys make more plays on the ball."

The Beavers got their first pick -- from safety Lance Mitchell -- in their 23-21 win at UNLV.

The Bearcats should offer a stout challenge because quarterback Tony Pike, a 6-foot-6 senior gunslinger, has been outstanding thus far. He ranks fourth in the nation in pass efficiency and has thrown for 591 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. He picked apart Big East favorite Rutgers in a 47-15 road victory, establishing the Bearcats as the conference's team to beat.

"I think Pike is as good a quarterback as there is," Banker said. "He's accurate. He's got great vision. The ball is out quick."

Pike does get flustered under pressure at times -- he tossed 11 interceptions last year -- but a defense is playing a high risk-reward game if it blitzes against the Bearcats' four- and five-receiver sets.

"With that gun, you better get there quick because he's going to see you coming and get it off," Banker said.

Then Pike's capable receivers -- Mardy Gilyard is one of the best in the Big East -- take over with the ball in space and a defender is forced to make an open-field tackle.

While the Bearcats pass first, they also are averaging 197 yards rushing per game. If the Beavers can't stop the run, they are in trouble.

And if Pike gets time to throw, it could be a long afternoon.

"No. 1, we've got to match their tempo," Banker said.

On the plus side, the Beavers have won 26 consecutive nonconference home games. Coach Mike Riley is 17-0 in such games.

On the footnote-to-that side, Cincinnati is the first ranked team not presently in the Pac-10 to visit Corvallis since 1977, when the Beavers beat No. 13 BYU.

And what might Oregon State do with a fast start?

If the Beavers defense is, indeed, reloading and the offense has its way with a rebuilding Bearcats defense -- just one returning starter -- then Oregon State will be 3-0 after starting the previous three seasons 2-3.

Posted by's Ted Miller

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