NCF Nation: Jahvid Best

Who will be the big bust in 2012?

August, 23, 2011
PM ET's Brett McMurphy looks at the biggest AP preseason poll busts since 2001, and three Pac-12 teams make the list.

2002: No. 9 Washington (finished 7-6)
2001: No. 11 Oregon State (finished 5-6)
2009: No. 12 Cal (finished 8-5)

Easy to remember each of those teams.

The 2002 Huskies featured quarterback Cody Pickett, who passed for 4,458 yards that season, and wide receiver Reggie Williams. The season began with a last-second loss at Michigan due to a massive coaching blunder that cost the Huskies the game. Said then-coach Rick Neuheisel: "We switched substitution groups, which we're going to kick ourselves about for a thousand years."

The Huskies seemed to lose their mojo, but they then rallied for three consecutive wins to finish the regular season -- Neuheisel memorably created the "Northwest Championship" -- over Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State to earn bowl eligibility.

That Oregon State team was touted -- Sports Illustrated ranked the Beavers preseason No. 1 -- after an 11-1 finish in 2000, with quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton returning. Things immediately fell apart with a blowout loss at Fresno State. A 1-3 start, in fact, featured a 38-7 home loss to UCLA.

As for Cal, at least one writer [insert uncomfortable cough] celebrated the 2009 Bears as a potential national title contender. (They were stacked with talent: backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, linebackers Mike Mohamed and Devin Bishop, cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, etc.) After a 3-0 start, the Bears headed to Oregon ranked sixth.

SPLAT! Cal goes down 42-3. The next weekend, just in case we didn't get the message, USC ripped the Bears 30-3 in Berkeley. Suffice it to say, there was nothing subtle about Cal's unmasking.

Here's this year's preseason top 10. So who becomes the bust this year?

1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. LSU
5. Boise State
6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. Texas A&M
9. Oklahoma State
10. Nebraska
Another year, another strong collection of running backs, even with the departures of Toby Gerhart and Jahvid Best.

While Pac-10 quarterbacks will grab most of the preseason headlines -- that's what happens when the two best NFL prospects at the position play in the same conference -- the class of running backs is nearly as strong.

Three 1,00o-yard rushers are back, and that doesn't include California's Shane Vereen, who piled up 952 yards as a backup, nor does it including Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. Six of the top-nine running backs will return this fall, and more than a few teams are decidedly deep at the position.

By the way, you might note there is more mention of incoming freshman at this position than others. Two reasons: 1. The Pac-1o had a strong haul of RBs in recruiting; and, 2. RB is often the easiest place for a young player to break into the lineup.

Great shape

  • Oregon: While the Pac-10 blog rates Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers ahead of LaMichael James as an individual player, the Ducks have a decided edge in depth, and not only because James' backup, Kenjon Barner, is one of the conference's most explosive players. The incoming recruiting class also features Lache Seastrunk and Dontae Williams, the No. 6 and No. 13 prep running backs in the nation in 2009.
  • [+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers may be the most talented individual running back in the Pac-10 this year, but Oregon has the best group.
  • Oregon State: Jacquizz Rodgers is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate as the most complete back in the conference. Depth behind him is a little iffy, though Ryan McCants turned in some of his best work during spring practices.
  • Washington: Washington fans often note that Chris Polk gained most of his 1,113 yards last year after contact because he was running behind a young offensive line. That line, with four starters back, should be better in 2010. Good depth with Johri Fogerson and freshmen Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, who both participated in spring drills.
  • California: As noted above, Vereen put up impressive numbers as a backup and then starter over the final four games after Best got hurt. 12 TDs on 183 carries shows he has a nose for the endzone. Depth behind him is uncertain. Trajuan Briggs, Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Isi Sofele and Dasarte Yarnway are competing for backup touches.
  • USC: Allen Bradford, a neglected talent under Pete Carroll, who was oddly in love with the mercurial Joe McKnight, could end up being a first-team All-Pac-10 back. C.J. Gable also will have a chance to emerge from Carroll's doghouse. True freshman Dillon Baxter was the star of spring practices, while Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler are major talents who just need to stay healthy.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back their top three running backs: Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. But Grigsby, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year when he wasn't hurt, needs to find a way to stay healthy.
Good shape
We'll see

  • Stanford: The Cardinal doesn't have one guy who can replace Gerhart. But who does? The good news for a backfield-by-committee approach with Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and freshman Usua Amanam in the mix is the offensive line in front of them should be outstanding.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils must replace leading rusher Dimitri Nance, who didn't exactly scare opposing defenses in 2009. Cameron Marshall is the leading returning rusher with 280 yards. James Morrison and Jamal Miles will provide depth, though an incoming freshman might get into the mix. As has been the case for a while with the Sun Devils, the first order is improving the offensive line.
  • Washington State: Leading 2009 rusher Dwight Tardy is gone. If James Montgomery is healthy -- and stays that way -- he gives the Cougars a quality runner. He was clearly the best guy last preseason before he got hurt. Logwone Mitz, Chantz Staden, Carl Winston and Marcus Richmond will compete for touches during fall camp. Whatever the pecking order, the offensive line is the biggest issue.
The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)
Here's a prediction: California defensive end Tyson Alualu is going to surprise some folks and end up a top-10 NFL draft pick.

Little late on that one, eh?

Alualu was the first Pac-10 player drafted Thursday night -- which was projected by no one -- going 10th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Bears teammate Jahvid Best was the only other conference player selected on Day 1. Best went to the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick.

Round 2 begins today at 6 p.m. ET. Expect the second round to include a number of Pac-10 players, including those who slipped during recent weeks, such as USC safety Taylor Mays and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Alualu is the highest Cal selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001. He is the Bears’ ninth top-10 pick in the draft’s history. And his selection was rated the "biggest reach" of the first day by Todd McShay.

Wrote McShay, "Jacksonville used the 10th overall pick to take California DT Tyson Alualu, who we feel is a good player but is only the No. 35 overall on our board. Top-10 money is pretty rich for a player like Alualu, especially when pass-rushers like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul would have offered much more value at that point."

Another notable pick is the Seattle Seahawks' selection of safety Earl Thomas at No. 14. That means former USC coach Pete Carroll wanted a safety but didn't want Mays.


Got to admit: I thought at least one team would jump on Mays just because of his athleticism, much like it took only one team to make Tim Tebow a No. 1 pick (Denver).

Another observation: Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford going No. 1 overall is a good thing for college football. It shows players who want to come back for their senior season that even a major injury won't automatically ruin your draft prospects.

Of course, Mays right now is probably questioning his decision to return, considering he likely would have been a top-15 pick in 2009.
California started spring practices last week looking to put a disappointing 2009 season behind it.

The Bears, you might recall, jumped to a 3-0 start and rose to No. 6 in the country before being humiliated in back-to-back games against Oregon and USC. Combined score: 72-6.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesCoach Jeff Tedford takes responsibility for the Bears' lackluster finish last season.
Then they rallied to win five of six, including an upset win at Stanford in the Big Game. Redemption and recovery? Not really.

Two weeks later, the Bears got bombed 42-10 in a surprising season-finale at Washington and looked flat in a loss to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Suffice it to say, the Bears were hard to figure, other than they were consistently unpredictable.

So we decided to check in with coach Jeff Tedford and see what his plan was as he enters his eighth season in Berkeley.

Before we look forward to spring practices, let's look back. Every coach reflects on the season that's past. I'm guessing 2009 was frustrating for you. What went wrong?

Jeff Tedford: Obviously, we hit a tough stretch with two tough teams, Oregon and USC, early. That was hard. I felt like we bounced back pretty well and beat Arizona and Stanford. But then we just didn't finish up. We were pretty banged up down the stretch but didn't finish up as strong as we needed to. We had a chance to win 10 games and came away with only eight wins. Consistency is a key -- to make sure we're more consistent. Depth is also something we need to build so that when the injury bug does hit us that we are able to still compete.

Did we overrate your 2009 team? Were there shortcomings that preseason analysis missed?

JT: Yeah. I think people should wait for rankings until mid-season or so to see where we're going. You can never figure it out. I don't know if you missed something. We didn't have the playmakers -- we needed to be a little bit better at receiver. But with Jahvid [Best] and Shane [Vereen] at running back and you had your quarterback [Kevin Riley] coming back, you felt pretty good about that. We had a veteran secondary coming back that really, quite honestly, didn't play up to their capabilities, so we need to improve there. I think when the injury thing started hitting us, we didn't have the depth to snap out of that.

You've been pretty honest about self-analysis in the past: Anything you wish you'd done differently? And any changes in the way you do things going forward?

JT: I don't look back at last season and think there was anything we could have done differently. I do take responsibility for us not finishing as strong as we should have. But I'm not one to make a lot of excuses. I'd just rather give the other team credit and put it on my shoulders for not getting it done. We're always going to look at things, though. At how we practice -- maybe we could be fresher for the games. Things like that you always have to take a look at. If there is anything I can do differently, I definitely want to do it. As I look back on it, there's nothing that's glaring that sticks out. It's about making plays. As for preparation, everybody has a big thing about us playing on the road and our struggles on the road. We were 4-2 last year, and they said, 'Did you do anything differently on the road?' We didn't. We did the exact same thing. We were just able to win the games. We have two new coordinators [defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special-teams coordinator Jeff Genyk]. Special teams was a key last year -- a lack of success with special teams and with field position. That I think was a major factor for us. We need to improve that. We were 111th in pass defense, so that hurt as well. Those are the two obvious things that stick out where we need to improve.

I talked to quarterback Kevin Riley the other day and he told me that he sensed that some guys were a little content early in the season with how good they were, thinking they'd arrived. He said that you seemed to be emphasizing competition everywhere during the offseason to confront that. Fair to say?

JT: Yeah, it is. That's where I have to take a good strong look at myself, making sure that we continue to keep everything very competitive and make sure we're always grinding on what we're doing. I may have given us a little too much credit last year for things. But I'm going to make sure that everybody knows that we're going to play tougher. We're going to compete harder. A couple of things happened for the first time in [seven] years. There were a couple of games when we got blown out. So you have to look in the mirror and say, 'Why did that happen?' I don't think anybody gave up but we didn't compete hard enough, for whatever reason. We've got to change our mindset, obviously, because those games were not good. And then this is the first time in [four] years that we've ended the season with a loss. We'd won, I think, [four] bowl games in a row. The feeling going into this offseason was quite a bit different. Say we would have beaten Utah and ended up 9-4. Would it have put a little Band-Aid on the Washington game? Well, maybe it's a blessing in disguise and forces our mindset to be a little bit different.

Let's talk present. So here we go again: Where does Riley stand and how safe is he as your starting quarterback?

JT: He stands as the guy taking the first reps right now but he's not safe at all, just like other positions. He's got to compete and be more consistent. The games that Kevin played well, we were successful. The games that we didn't play well, it was not just him. Everybody wants to point at the quarterback, but he's got to have things around him be successful as well. But you go back and look at it, some of those games we missed critical plays. I expect Kevin to be better this year, given the experience. But also we're going to take a very strong look at Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion in the competition part of it.

Tomorrow: Talking defense, young players who need to step up and flying under the radar.
Lots of goings on at the NFL combine with Pac-10 guys. Here are some updates.

From Scouts Inc. reports on

  • Everyone expected USC S Taylor Mays to shine in this setting and Mays did not disappoint. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Mays posted an official time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While we are still concerned about his inconsistencies on film, Mays clearly has early-first-round natural ability, and teams are sure to fall in love with his upside if they haven't already.
  • Arizona State's Dexter Davis, TCU's Jerry Hughes, Michigan's Brandon Graham and Utah's Koa Misi all played defensive end in college but are expected to move to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Base 3-4 teams looking for help at outside linebacker were interested to see how they ran in the 40-yard dash, and none of them disappointed. Davis (4.56 seconds), Hughes (4.59), Graham (4.69) and Misi (4.69) all are fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL. Those times are unofficial, of course, but it's worth pointing out that the average 40 time for outside linebackers at the 2009 combine was 4.78.
  • It should come as no surprise that Campbell, USC's Charles Brown and West Virginia's Selvish Capers stood out during one-on-one mirror drills. All three looked fluid and quick, but Iowa's Bryan Bulaga showed the best poise of the group. Bulaga didn't overreact to head fakes or quick changes in direction and stayed with his man throughout.
  • USC G/C Jeff Byers had a hard time sinking his hips and keeping his shoulders back before starting his one-on-one mirror drill, and Byers' technique deteriorated once Idaho OT/G Mike Iupati forced him to change directions. Byers had a particularly difficult time staying low and that's a real concern because hip and back injuries forced Byers to miss two seasons early in his collegiate career and he looks stiff.

From other sources:

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.

Spring Pac-10 power rankings

February, 10, 2010
Where does everyone stand heading into spring practices? These rankings are about today -- not 2009 -- and what's coming back in 2010. Recruiting success also is a secondary factor.

Nos. 4 through 8 were difficult because each team has some nice players coming back, as well as some big losses -- players and coaches.

Expect these to change, perhaps dramatically, before the 2010 season.

1. Oregon: All the pieces are here for another Rose Bowl run, the only question being the defensive line. The Ducks also had a top-25 recruiting class, with a number of incoming players appearing capable of immediately contributing.

2. USC: A top-10 recruiting class bolsters USC and provides momentum for new coach Lane Kiffin. On the downside, three offensive linemen and the entire secondary need to be replaced. Still, the depth chart hints the Trojans will be in the conference -- and perhaps national -- mix.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers lose just five starters, but all eyes will be on the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring. Young quarterbacks thrived in the conference in 2009, so there's no reason to believe the Beavers can't find a guy who can be productive.

4. California: You might as well pick the next five teams from a hat. The Bears lose their three best players -- Jahvid Best, Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson -- and are uncertain at quarterback. Still, a strong recruiting effort paired with lower expectations might be the ticket for a "Don't call it a comeback!" season in Berkeley.

5. Washington: The Huskies (Jake Locker) are thin on both lines (Jake Locker) and lost their two best (Jake Locker) defensive players -- end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and linebacker Donald Butler. But there's a lot of returning skill on offense (Jake Locker) and recruiting went well (Jake Locker). What's-his-name is a pretty good QB.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal welcome back eight on offense, but Toby Gerhart is gone. The defense loses five starters, not including end Erik Lorig, who missed most of the season with a groin injury. And there's been significant coaching turnover. Strong recruiting will fill gaps. But how well?

7. Arizona: The Wildcats must replace 12 starters and two coordinators. That's a lot of turnover. On the plus side, quarterback Nick Foles has a lot of skill around him and defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed could be the best pass rushing combo in the Pac-10.

8. UCLA: The Bruins offense must break through next year because it's hard to imagine the defense won't take a step back after losing six starters, including tackle Brian Price and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Problem is the offense, which loses four starters, ranked ninth in the conference in scoring in 2009.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lose seven starters on both sides of the ball. The defense should be OK. It remains to be seen if the offense can dramatically improve with a new starting quarterback and new coordinator.

10. Washington State: The Cougars, who only lose four starters, should be much better in 2010. Quarterback Jeff Tuel and defensive end Travis Long, who both started as true freshmen, are two reasons for hope. It's still a risky bet, however, to predict they climb out of the conference cellar.

Pac-10 newcomers to watch

February, 8, 2010
Which guys will you start hearing about this spring? And then continue hearing about into the fall?

Here are some guesses.


LB Derek Earls, 6-3, 220 and/or LB Paul Vassallo, 6-3, 240

The Wildcats must replace all three starting linebackers from 2009. It's almost certain at least one of these two JC transfers starts.

Arizona State

OT Brice Schwab, 6-7, 310

Schwab, a touted JC transfer who originally committed to USC, is expected to immediately work his way into the Sun Devils' starting lineup, giving their beleaguered offensive line a boost.


RB Trajuan Briggs, 5-11, 200

Through the years, Cal has thrived with a tandem of running backs. With the departure of Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen moves up to No. 1. But who's his wingman? Coach Jeff Tedford gushed about Briggs at signing day, and he'll be there to compete this spring.


DE Isaac Remington, 6-5, 265 and/or DE Anthony Anderson

The Ducks lost two starting defensive linemen, including end Will Tukuafu. Kenny Rowe is the undersized speed rusher on one side, but can Remington immediately push himself into the mix on the other? And will Anderson step up after making noise as a freshman on the scout team?

Oregon State

WR Markus Wheaton, 6-0, 167

The Beavers don't have any flashy newcomers this spring, but Wheaton, who caught eight passes last year, is a potentially dynamic player who might assert himself this spring.


WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, 6-3, 201

Stanford doesn't have any new guys around for spring practices, but Patterson, a touted 2009 recruit who caught one pass as a true freshman, probably senses his opportunity. With Toby Gerhart gone, and quarterback Andrew Luck back, the Cardinal figures to throw the ball more in 2010, which means the receivers will need to step up.


TE Joseph Fauria, 6-7, 245

The Bruins lost two quality senior tight ends, but this Notre Dame transfer figures to step right in and compete for playing time.


WR Kyle Prater, 6-5, 200

With the departure of Damian Williams, there will be opportunities for young USC receivers. Prater's big frame would be a nice complement to Ronald Johnson's speed.


RB Deontae Cooper, 6-1, 185

With starter Chris Polk sitting out this spring after shoulder surgery, Cooper should get plenty of opportunities to make a statement that he's ready to contribute as a true freshman.

Washington State

OT David Gonzales, 6-5,290 and/or G Wade Jacobson, 6-5, 300

Washington State has to get better on the offensive line. These two might begin to fight their way into the starting lineup this spring.

Best headed to the NFL

January, 2, 2010
With the blessing of coach Jeff Tedford, California running back Jahvid Best will bypass his senior year and enter the NFL draft this spring.

"This is an opportunity I can't pass up, so I have to take advantage of it," Best said.

Best said he consulted a number of people about the decision -- including the NFL -- and he believes he could be selected anywhere from the first to the third round.

Best began the season as a top Heisman Trophy candidate and his outstanding speed will catch NFL scouts attention. He rushed for 867 yards and 12 touchdowns, despite missing the Bears final four games. In 2008, he led the Pac-10 and ranked third in the country in rushing, averaging 131.67 yards per game and finished with 1,580 yards, which ranks second in the Cal record book.

Best suffered a severe concussion and injured his back on Nov. 7 against Oregon State after he was flipped in the endzone after scoring a touchdown. He said he's still not 100 percent but expects to be by the NFL combine.

Best suffered a number of injuries during his career, and he said the latest one "played a small" role in his decision to start his NFL career a year early. While durability will be a question with NFL scouts, Tedford said that Best isn't injury-prone.

"His injuries are things -- a dislocated elbow -- are things that can happen at any point. It's not something because he's not durable," Tedford said. "Jahvid is very tough. He's shown he can play when he's beat up a little bit."

Best's departure is not unexpected and it doesn't cripple the Bears at tailback. Backup Shane Vereen rushed for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. The big battle will be for backup duties.

"It's going to be wide-open because of competition," Tedford said.

Best said he has not yet selected an agent.


Best done at Cal?

December, 17, 2009
That spectacular and then terrifying dive, flip and fall that California running back Jahvid Best took against Oregon State on Nov. 7 might be the junior's final play in a Bears uniform.

Best has been ruled out of playing in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 against Utah because he's not yet fully recovered from the concussion and back injuries he suffered against the Beavers. Best, a potential NFL first-round draft pick this spring, has submitted his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory committee. The deadline for early entry is Jan. 15.

"Right now, I sent that in just to get information," Best told the Contra Costa Times. "After the bowl game, I'll sit down with my family and coaches and make a decision. As of now, I'm completely on top of the fence."

Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Best hasn't had any setbacks and his rehab is going smoothly. He might have played had the Bears' bowl game been scheduled after Christmas.

Shane Vereen, a sophomore, has been a more than capable replacement for Best, rushing for 444 yards and four touchdowns in three games as the starter. He likely will step into the starting role next fall if Best opts to enter the draft.
California (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3)

Dec. 23, 8 p.m., (ESPN)

Utah take by Independents and Others blogger Graham Watson: Utah and Cal will meet for the first time in the postseason, though the Utes are 2-4 all-time against the Golden Bears, winning two of the last three contests, including the final matchup in 2003.

However, Cal offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is no stranger to the Utes. He was the Utes offensive coordinator for four seasons, including last year’s undefeated Sugar Bowl team.

Utah had a better season than many expected, but has struggled at times to move the football and put points on the board. Freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn was named the starter prior to the New Mexico game and has four starts under his belt, including two against ranked teams.

He struggled at times against TCU and BYU, but Cal’s defense isn’t nearly as good as either of those. Cal allows 24.50 points per game, but 378 yards per game. While Wynn will be an integral part of Utah’s success, so will Utah running back Eddie Wide, who has played admirably after stepping in for Matt Asiata, who suffered a season-ending injury.

Utah's biggest worry will be running back Jahvid Best, who was considered a Heisman front-runner early in the year with three consecutive 100-yard performances. Best has struggled with injuries, but he’s still one of the best running backs the Utes will face this season.

California take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: A bowl win is a great way to send a what-could-have-been season off in a positive way, which is what you have with California's matchup against Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

These are two teams that probably think they are pretty good, but that failed to win the big games.

Utah played three ranked teams and lost to them all -- Oregon, TCU and BYU.

California played well at times, but when it lost, it really lost, going down by 39, 27, 17 and 32 points this season.

It's unclear whether the Bears will have the services of running back Jahvid Best, who spent the early part of the season as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He suffered a concussion against Oregon State on Nov. 7 and hasn't played since, in large part because of a back problem brought on by the fall that knocked him out.

Utah is good on defense, particularly against the pass, and fair to middling on offense. The Utes switched from Terrance Cain to freshman Jordan Wynn at quarterback, and that seemed like a good move until Wynn struggled in the finale against BYU.

Cal's defense showed signs of life late in the season until Washington quarterback Jake Locker tore it apart on Saturday, just as it appeared that junior quarterback Kevin Riley had turned a corner before a mediocre effort in Husky Stadium.

Pac-10 helmet stickers, Week 12

November, 22, 2009
Who stood out in Week 12?

Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon: Masoli accounted for all six of Oregon's touchdowns in the Ducks' thrilling, 44-41 double-overtime win at Arizona. He ran for 61 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner. And he passed for 284 yards and three touchdowns, including the one that tied the game with 6 seconds left in regulation.

Shane Vereen, RB, California: Vereen, starting for the injured Jahvid Best for a second time, rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries -- 42 carries! -- with three touchdowns in the Bears' 34-28 Big Game win over Stanford. Last week in a win over Arizona, Vereen rushed for 159 yards.

Brian Price, DT, UCLA: Price had had four tackles for a loss and two sacks, one of which caused a fumble that became one of two Bruins defensive touchdowns in UCLA's 23-13 win over Arizona State, which made the Bruins bowl eligible. He also was second on the team with six total tackles. Price leads the Pac-10 with 20.5 tackles for a loss. He has seven sacks.

Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon: Maehl caught a career-high 12 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks' victory -- and many of the catches were spectacular.

Jeff Tedford, California: His team was a national punchline after it went from No. 6 in the nation to a 72-6 loser to Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends. But, very quietly, and despite the loss of their star running back the past two games, the 8-3 Bears have crawled back to respectability by winning five of their last six games, the lone loss coming to Oregon State when Best was knocked out on the field.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford: The Big Game loss certainly wasn't Gerhart's fault. The Heisman Trophy candidate scored four touchdowns -- he now leads the nation with 23 -- and rushed for 136 yards against a sturdy Bears defense. He also had a tough 29-yard reception that put the Cardinal in position to win the game at the end before Cal iced things with an interception near the goal line.

What to watch in the Pac-10

November, 12, 2009
Posted by's Ted Miller

To paraphrase a great philosopher and renaissance man, Ric Flair, "This ain't no garden party, brother, this is the Pac-10, where only the strongest survive. Wooooooo!"

Folks, the screws are tightening.

1. Does USC's Pac-10 run end Saturday? It's fairly simple. If Stanford wins at USC, it's likely one of the great runs in the history of college football -- the Trojans' seven years atop the Pac-10 -- will come to an end. If the Trojans win, however, they head into a bye week when they can get healthy and rested and then fix their eyeballs on a conference race that remains within reach. Quick trivia question: How many Top-25 teams other than USC have played six of their last eight games on the road?

2. Will California be flat or inspired by Jahvid Best's absence? Arizona has a lot to play for at Cal. The Bears? Hard to say. It will be interesting to see which team shows up. The Bears have looked good at times this year. And very bad. Best, who suffered a concussion last weekend against Oregon State, was once a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Now his season is likely over. Cal, which has clearly underperformed this fall, might come out yawning, a team just playing out the string. Or it might come out more focused than ever after learning how one unlucky moment could take the game away for good.

3. How will true ASU freshman QB Brock Osweiler respond to Autzen Stadium? Alright kid, go get 'em! What? Go get 'em! What? Osweiler will make his first career start in one of the nation's loudest and toughest venues against an extremely fast defense that was humbled last weekend at Stanford and will be plenty motivated for redemption. Osweiler, by the way, won't have Toby Gerhart or the Cardinal's smart, physical offensive line to help either. Good luck, though. What? The Pac-10 blog said good luck! What?

4. Sean Canfield vs. the Washington secondary: Canfield has been playing as well as any quarterback in the conference of late -- and that's saying something because a lot of quarterbacks are playing well. The Huskies' secondary has struggled throughout the season. It ranks ninth in the conference and 110th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The idea of Canfield and his quick release dumping the ball to either of the Rodgers brothers in space has to keep Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt up at night. His secondary just doesn't have the speed to match up.

5. Might Pullman put a chill in UCLA? Good news for UCLA: It doesn't appear the Bruins will encounter a real mid-November day in Pullman. Reports say it may snow on Friday but it will be partly cloudy and pleasant -- mid-30s -- on Saturday. If the Cougars are to pull the upset, they need all the help they can get, and snow and cold might be a boon against the visitors from sunny southern California. Of course, the weather is often unpredictable. Maybe that snow will start Friday and keep coming?

6. Luck & Gerhart challenge the USC D: After piling up 505 yards against an Oregon defense that mostly shut down USC, Stanford will face those Trojans with a physical, balanced offense that can attack a defense by land (Gerhart) or by air (Andrew Luck). Whether the blame falls on youth or injuries, USC's defense has not been itself since the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17. Considering Stanford has scored 84 points the past two games against two of the nation's better defenses, this could be a humbling afternoon for the Trojans. Or it could be a turning point.

7. Will Nick Foles pick apart the Cal secondary? Before the season, Arizona had questions at quarterback, and California, with four starters returning, had one of the best secondaries in the nation. Now, the Wildcats have Foles, a sophomore who is completing 71.4 percent of his passes, and the Bears rank 93rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Go figure. Foles' quick release -- the Wildcats have surrendered only four sacks all season -- and accuracy will stress the Bears.

8. Jake Locker is due a big performance: Locker has been spectacular for Washington at times this year. Not so great at others. He's banged up. And his team has lost five of six. But there are reasons Pac-10 coaches fear Locker and the NFL covets him -- he's a great talent with superior playmaking ability. Washington can't win if he doesn't play well. It sometimes can't even if he does. But if he puts together a special game, the Huskies could pull the upset.

9. Oregon's O vs. Arizona State's D: The Sun Devils are suddenly hurting in the secondary, but they have been consistently tough on defense all season, particularly against the run where they rank sixth in the nation (87.4 yards per game). Oregon, of course, is one of the nation's best running teams (233.56 yards per game). It will be interesting to see who blinks in this strength-on-strength battle, or if the Ducks just try to attack through the air, sensing that's where Arizona State will be most vulnerable.

10. Will Matt Barkley's slide end vs. Stanford's defense? A few weeks ago, Barkley was running the USC offense with aplomb and was the toast of college football. But his last six quarters -- the second half at Oregon plus the visit to Arizona State -- haven't been sharp. It doesn't help that his two favorite targets, tight end Anthony McCoy and receiver Damian Williams, may not be available Saturday. But he's coming home, which should help, and it's hard to believe that he won't be eager to prove that his recent slump was just a momentary blip on his path toward becoming a superstar quarterback.
Posted by's Ted Miller

While California running back Jahvid Best, who was knocked out and suffered a concussion in the Bears loss to Oregon State, was released from the hospital Sunday, he has not yet returned to classes and is presently recovering at home.

That casts doubt onto whether he will play again anytime soon -- if at all -- this season.

"I don't even know and that's really the last thing on my mind is him playing again," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "The No. 1 thing, 100 percent, is that he comes back with a full recovery. If that means never playing again this season, then so be it. That's totally the last thing on our minds. The first and foremost thing is his welfare and his health. We're haven't even thought about when he may return... It hasn't even been discussed."

Best, who hails from Vallejo, which is in the Bay Area, was at one point a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He's presently fourth in the Pac-10 with 867 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

Best was hurt on a short touchdown run when he tried to leap over a defender and ended up landing on the back of his head. His helmet flew off on landing, and he was motionless after impact, stunning players on both teams and the crowd at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. His jersey was removed and he left the field on a gurney while wearing an oxygen mask. He immediately was taken to the emergency room, but it was soon reported that he had movement in all of his extremities, and CT scans and X-rays showed no permanent damage.

Best had suffered a minor concussion the week before, however, which made the situation more serious and likely will make doctors more cautious.

"It was a very serious incident," Tedford said. "He's at home with mom and dad, recovering. So it's a day-to-day thing... I'm not sure when he will back in school. It's going to be completely on when he feels able to do it. There's no rushing him through this at all in any way, shape or form, in the classroom or anything like that. We want to make sure that he has time to completely heal."

Cal plays host to Arizona on Saturday. Backup Shane Vereen will replace Best in the starting lineup.