NCF Nation: Jamal Miles

Big second half boosts ASU over Buffs

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
12:48
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For the first 30 minutes, it looked like Colorado had a chance. The Buffs had all of the momentum heading into the locker room after scoring 10 points in the final 24 seconds of the half and cutting Arizona State’s lead to 20-17.

But a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half from ASU’s Rashad Ross, and the Sun Devils’ screen game on offense, was more than the young Buffs squad could handle and Arizona State pulled away for a 51-17 road victory.

Running back Marion Grice caught three of Taylor Kelly's career-high five touchdown passes; another went to running back D.J. Foster, who was running out of the slot. The two backs combined for 11 catches, 178 yards and four touchdowns. Kelly finished 20-of-28 for 308 yards. It was also the fifth time in six games that Kelly did not throw an interception.

The victory moves the Sun Devils to 5-1 (3-0 Pac-12) and sets up an intriguing showdown next Thursday night with No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0). Colorado slips to 1-5, 1-2.

The Buffs didn’t make it easy on ASU early on. After the Sun Devils took the lead on Grice’s first touchdown (point-after attempt blocked), Colorado responded by taking a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter on a 2-yard run from Tony Jones. Touchdown receptions from Grice and Foster moved the Sun Devils ahead 20-7 toward the end of the first half.

But Jordan Webb (20-of-41 for 180 yards) engineered an 11-play, 75-yard drive that cut the lead to 20-14 in the closing minute. On the ensuing kickoff, Jamal Miles fumbled the ball back to Colorado at the ASU 19, which set up a 37-yard Will Oliver field goal to close out the first 30 minutes.

It was a different story in the second half, which started with Ross’ touchdown. ASU’s defense blanked the Buffs and Kelly added his fourth and fifth touchdown passes of the game -- the last one going for 31 yards to Richard Smith.

A scary moment in the closing minutes of the game when Colorado linebacker Brady Daigh was taken off the field on a stretcher after a collision with ASU's Michael Eubank. Daigh was seen moving his hands and his head; ESPN's Samantha Steele, who was working the game on the sidelines, reported that the medical staff was taking precautionary measures by putting him on the stretcher.

After the delay, Cameron Marshall (13 carries, 98 yards) added a late 14-yard touchdown run.
How much can we really learn from spring? Funky scrimmages with backwards scoring systems; depleted depth charts; completely new installs for four teams. Actually, more than you'd think. Here are five things we learned about the Pac-12 during spring.

  1. Quarterbacks are still in limbo: Be it Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon or Colorado, almost half of the teams still don’t know who is going to be under center when the season starts. Stanford funneled its list of five down to two, Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham. ASU still has a three-way battle with Michael Eubank, Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly -- though coach Todd Graham said they have a better idea than they are probably letting on publicly. The very private competition between Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett at Oregon remains in question -- though Mariota was spectacular in the spring game while Bennett faltered. Still, coach Chip Kelly said that one game isn’t going to be his basis for comparison. UCLA coach Jim Mora wanted to name a starter by the end of spring, but no one has “grabbed” it, so we’ll have to wait until August before learning whether Brett Hundley, Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut gets the gig. And at Colorado, the competition was put on hiatus when Nick Hirschman broke a bone in his foot and couldn’t compete in spring drills. One has to think that was a huge advantage for Connor Wood to get almost all of the reps with the first-team offense.
  2. Not everyone has quarterback issues: Teams thought to have quarterback question marks heading into spring seemed to have resolved them. In Utah, Jordan Wynn is completely healthy, and both coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson have declared Wynn their guy. While Mike Leach hasn’t officially declared Jeff Tuel his starter, it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning the job in the fall, short of Tuel suffering a significant injury or amnesia. He had a splendid spring, and appears to be a great fit for Leach’s offense. And at Arizona, Matt Scott seized the job early and left little room for any competition. Coach Rich Rodriguez has been gushing about how quickly Scott has adjusted to the offense. At Cal, Zach Maynard, once thought to be challenged by freshman Zach Kline, appears to not only have held on to the job, but distanced himself from pursuers.
  3. Wide receivers aplenty: And there are plenty of those in the conference. USC has probably the best tandem in the country in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Cal’s Keenan Allen (though he missed spring drills) should continue to put up big numbers, and Washington State’s Marquess Wilson should flourish in the Cougars’ new system with Tuel as his quarterback. Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks could challenge the USC duo statistically if quarterback Sean Mannion continues to develop. There are stars on the rise at Arizona State (Jamal Miles) and Stanford (Ty Montgomery), and a potential star at Washington (James Johnson). Look out Biletnikoff, the Pac-12 is a comin'…
  4. The conference of defense? The Pac-12 might never bunk its reputation as an offensive-centric conference (especially when it keeps churning out offensive talent). But there is a surplus of talented defenses and defensive players who were on display this spring. Washington seems to have plugged its leaks with new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. There’s a 3-4 trend sweeping the conference, and with notable playmakers like Star Lotulelei (Utah), John Boyett (Oregon), Dion Jordan (Oregon), Chase Thomas (Stanford), Josh Shirley (Washington), T.J. McDonald (USC) and DeAndre Coleman (Cal), it’s easy to see why some of the Pac-12 defenses will get the same kind of love as the offenses do in 2012.
  5. Confidence is at an all-time high: As it should be in the spring. The four new coaches all feel confident about the systems they have installed. Stanford feels as good as it ever has about its running game. USC and Oregon should get lofty preseason rankings, and this is the time of the year when fans go through the schedules game by game and always seem to come up with a minimum of six wins. Sorry to say, there are teams in the conference that won’t make it to a bowl game this season. But when you hear the coaches talk about their teams, you’d think the conference is going to go 12-0 in the postseason. This is a magical time for fans filled with hope and possibility. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Todd Graham can throw all kinds of diagrams and playbooks and chalk talks at his players until their heads spin. But if they don't believe in what the Sun Devils are trying to do, then it doesn't really matter how much of the playbook they do or don't retain.

So more important than the Xs and Os, Graham is stressing the dos and don'ts of being in his program and the challenges that come from making a culture change. And after a few months on the job, he's pleased to report that, in his mind, Arizona State is headed in the right direction.

"The thing I'm most proud of is how they responded to such a drastic change," said Graham. "In terms of accountability -- we expect them to go to class every day, we check every class, we drug test every kid in the program. We're trying to install this structure and discipline and I'm proud of the way this team has responded to that and embraced that. The guys have bought in."

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNew ASU coach Todd Graham said his team has responded well to his direction this spring.
Before the start of the spring session, Arizona State's players were little more than images on film to Graham. He could read bios, track workouts and see what they did last season. But that didn't really give him a sense of what he had to work with as he and his staff are trying to install new systems on both sides of the ball. Now that he's seen them do some live work, he's starting to get a sense of the team's identity.

"Those first six practices, you know how it is when you are trying to change things up, you just want to beat your head against a wall," Graham said. "But on the seventh practice, I got the impression that they were finally getting it."

Graham said he's been impressed with the offensive line play -- which he thought was going to be a question mark heading into the spring. He was complimentary of returning starters Evan Finkenberg and Andrew Sampson, but also noted that Brice Schwab and Jamil Douglas "have really been impressive."

"I think the strength of our defense is the defensive line so those guys [on the offensive line] are playing against some pretty good competition," Graham said. "Every day those guys get a little better. That has been a real bright spot."

Graham didn't add much to what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said last week about the quarterback competition, but he did single out the springs of running back Cameron Marshall, safety Alden Darby, cornerback Osahon Irabor, defensive tackle Corey Adams and wide receivers Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross.

"Miles has really started to master his craft," Graham said. "He's been very disciplined in his route running. Marshall is at the front of a stable that I think is going to be very good.

"The reality is that we still have a long way to go. But I've got confidence because I think this team is coming together because of each one of them buying in and working as a team. We are making great progress in developing that trust that it takes to be a family and a team and a team that wins. I remind them every day that we're going to be a team that wins championships and you can't do that without winning every day in everything that you do."

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
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Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
ARIZONA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
COLORADO

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
USC

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
UTAH

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
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Taking stock of the 11th week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Oregon took care of business at Stanford with a 53-30 win and has re-emerged as a national title contender. It defeated a top-five team on the road for the first time in school history and won its 19th consecutive conference game.

[+] EnlargeOregon
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWith a big win against Stanford, the Oregon Ducks are in the running for the national title.
Best game: The only Pac-12 game that was undecided in the fourth quarter was Washington State's 37-27 upset win over Arizona State. The Sun Devils twice drove inside the Cougars 10-yard line in the fourth quarter and ended up with no points on either possession, turning the ball over on downs once and missing a chip shot field goal the second time.

Biggest play: On a fourth and 7 from the Stanford 41-yard line, with Oregon up 15-9 in the second quarter, Ducks QB Darron Thomas dumped a pass to true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who scooted through the flailing Cardinal secondary 41 yards for a touchdown. That was the moment when you saw how Oregon's speed advantage was going to tax -- big time -- the Cardinal defense.

Offensive standout (s): Washington State's redshirt freshman QB Connor Halliday came off the bench and threw for 494 yards and four TDs in the win over Arizona State. He completed 27 of 36 passes with no interceptions. His yardage total was the best in conference history for a freshman and just 37 yards shy of Alex Brink's school record of 531 yards set against Oregon State in 2005.

Colorado RB Rodney Stewart, playing with a sprained ankle, rushed 24 times for 181 yards and three touchdowns, caught two passes for 23 yards, and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to QB Tyler Hansen in the Buffs 48-29 win over Arizona, the program's first Pac-12 victory.

Defensive standout (s): USC DE Nick Perry had 2.5 sacks in the 40-17 win over Washington, and Utah CB Conroy Black grabbed two interceptions in the 31-6 win over UCLA -- the second of which he returned 67 yards for a touchdown.

Special teams standout (s): Arizona State's Jamal Miles returned the opening kickoff at Washington State 95 yards for a touchdown, while USC's Marqise Lee returned a kickoff 88 yards for a TD against Washington.

Smiley face: Oregon's effort at Stanford was brilliant in just about every way: Outstanding plans on both sides of the ball executed about as well as plans can be executed.

Frowny face: Does anyone want to win the South Division? UCLA gift wrapped a huge opportunity for Arizona State to re-take control, but the Sun Devils flopped in the chill of Pullman. And now Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson's job might be in jeopardy.

Thought of the week: The North should secede from the Pac-12 union. At least this year. South teams have been dreadful, other than USC, which isn't eligible to win the title due to NCAA sanctions. Arizona State and UCLA, the two frontrunners, are a combined 2-8 on the road this year. Yeesh.

Questions for the week: What might a USC upset at Oregon mean? For one, it wouldn't upset the Pac-12 apple cart, other than eliminating the Ducks from the national championship hunt. Oregon would still go to the Rose Bowl if it won out -- Civil War with Oregon State and Pac-12 championship game -- and Stanford would still be favored for an at-large berth in the Fiesta Bowl. But it would give Trojans coach Lane Kiffin a landmark win and Trojans fans plenty to cackle about. And it certainly would provide the program momentum as it heads forward with scholarship reductions.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

October, 3, 2011
10/03/11
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Taking stock of the fourth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Washington State. While the Cougars buddies in Seattle deserve a tip of the cap for winning at Utah, it's not an exaggeration to say Washington State's comeback, 31-27 victory at Colorado was the most important result of the Paul Wulff Era. It was a show of mental toughness that will be nearly as important as improved talent for the Cougs' return to relevance.

[+] EnlargeMarquess Wilson
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireWashington State's Marquess Wilson, right, celebrates with John Fullington after his fourth-quarter TD catch against Colorado.
Best game: The Cougars came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit with two TDs in the final 2 1/2 minutes, then forced a fumble to clinch the win. The key play was a 63-yard TD pass from Marshall Lobbestael to Marquess Wilson with 1:10 remaining.

Biggest play: Well, in order to spread the wealth -- Lobbestael-Wilson duly noted above -- Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall, playing on a nagging sprained ankle, turned in a physical, multi-tackle breaking 37-yard TD run against Oregon State that put the Sun Devils up 28-20 in the third quarter of a surprising tight contest with Oregon State.

Most memorable play: New category here to commemorate Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's unbelievable, one-handed 13-yard reception against UCLA that also included him athletically getting a foot in-bounds. Hey, if the quarterback thing doesn't work out, there's always tight end (and we're only half-joking; he could play tight end).

Offensive standout: There will many outstanding offensive performances, but USC quarterback Matt Barkley completed 32-of-39 passes for a school-record 468 yards with four touchdowns in the Trojans' 48-41 victory against Arizona.

Defensive standout: Washington State linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis had 14 tackles -- 12 solo -- and two sacks against Colorado.

Special teams standout: Jamal Miles, Arizona State's multi-purpose star had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the win against Oregon State.

Smiley face: The state of Washington. As Bud Withers of the Seattle Times pointed out, Washington and Washington State won road conference games on the same day for the first time since Oct. 18, 2003. Might the Apple Cup have some real stakes for both teams this year?

Frowny face: The new Pac-12 members. Colorado and Utah are now a combined 0-3 in conference play and 3-6 overall. The Buffaloes blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against Washington State, and Utah might have lost quarterback Jordan Wynn for a few weeks with a shoulder injury.

Thought of the week: Pac-12 defenses need to pick it up. No conference team ranks in the top-25 in total defense -- Stanford and California are 26th and 27th, respectively -- and eight rank 50th or worse. Here's a guess that the teams playing for the Pac-12 title on Dec. 2 will have top-50 defenses.

Questions for the week: Does Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) sew up the South Division on Saturday at Utah? The Utes, widely viewed as the Sun Devils top competition for the division title when the season began, are 0-2 in conference play and likely won't have Wynn. USC isn't eligible due to NCAA sanctions, and Arizona, UCLA and Colorado haven't shown much thus far.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

October, 2, 2011
10/02/11
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Who gets a helmet sticker for a job well done on Week 5?

Matt Barkley, USC: The USC quarterback completed 32-of-39 for a school-record 468 yards with four touchdowns and an interception in the Trojans' 48-41 victory over Arizona.

Robert Woods, USC: Woods caught 14 passes for 255 yards with two touchdowns in the win over Arizona.

Marshall Lobbestael, Washington State: The Cougars quarterback passed for 376 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-27 comeback win at Colorado, including a 63-yard game winner to Marquess Wilson.

Chris Polk, Washington: The Huskies running back rushed for 189 yards on 29 carries and moved up to second on the program's career rushing list in the 31-14 win over Utah.

Rodney Stewart, Colorado: The Buffaloes running back rushed for 132 yards on 26 carries against the Cougars.

Jamal Miles, Arizona State: The Sun Devils multi-purpose star had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 35-20 win over Oregon State. He also rushed six times for 45 yards and caught eight passes for 62 yards.

Andrew Luck, Stanford: The Cardinal quarterback completed 23-of-27 for 227 yards with three touchdowns in the 45-19 win over UCLA.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- A little trickeration will send Arizona State into the fourth quarter with a 23-16 lead over Missouri.

Receiver Jamal Miles took a double-pass from Brock Osweiler and found Aaron Pflugrad for a 35-yard touchdown, which left the Sun Devils one quarter away from their first win over a ranked team since 2007.

Up to that point, the Tigers had dominated the third with a pair of drives for field goals, but their inability to punch it in against a bend-but-don't break ASU defense is the difference.

Big game from Pflugrad, an Oregon transfer. He's caught six passes for 160 yards.

A fast start for Arizona State

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State has the fast start it needed to get the crowd into the game and build up confidence against Missouri.

The Sun Devils jumped ahead 7-0 on a 12-yard pass from Brock Osweiler to Jamal Miles. Key play of the drive was a 51-yard connection to Gerell Robinson.

After a good initial drive netted no points, the red zone conversion was big.

Osweiler is 6-for-8 for 113 yards.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
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A look back on the week that was.

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezChris Polk's touchdown on the final play of the game against California improved Washington's record to 5-6. The Huskies can go to a bowl game if they can beat in-state rival Washington State on Saturday
Team of the week: Washington looked dead in the drizzle after it dropped three in a row by an average of 36 points, but the Huskies got off the canvas and now have won consecutive games for the first time all season, including a 16-13 win at California over the weekend. If they win at Washington State on Saturday in the annual Apple Cup, the Huskies will go to a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

Best game: It doesn't get much more thrilling than recording a game-winning touchdown run on a fourth down from the 1-yard line on the final play of a game, as the Huskies did in Berkeley. Coach Steve Sarkisian could have kicked a field goal for the tie, but he boldly went for the win and was rewarded.

Biggest play: Top-ranked Oregon trailed Arizona 19-14 early in the third quarter when freshman receiver Josh Huff took a pitch 85 yards for a touchdown, giving the Ducks their first lead of the game. Thereafter, the Wildcats had no chance, as Oregon ended up winning 48-29.

Offensive standout: Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler came off the bench for injured starter Steven Threet and completed 27 of 36 passes for 380 yards with four touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 55-34 win over UCLA. Osweiler also ran six times for 35 yards and a score. He will start Thursday at Arizona.

Defensive standout: Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas had nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in the Cardinal's 38-0 win over Oregon State.

Special teams standout: Just after UCLA scored a touchdown to narrow Arizona State's lead to 31-27, the Sun Devils Jamal Miles returned the ensuing kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown. The Bruins never threatened again.

Smiley face: Letdown shockers late in the season that cost teams BCS bowl berths are an annual occurrence in college football. So Oregon and Stanford impressively taking care of business at home against credible foes deserves a tip of the cap.

Frowny face: We don't even know you any more, Oregon State. Lose to UCLA and Washington State? Beat USC? Then get stomped 38-0 at Stanford? Make up your mind. Please. Might be a good idea to bring the team that beat USC to Reser Stadium on Saturday or the Civil War could get uncivil.

Thought of the week: When Stanford reached No. 4 in the BCS standings, which guarantees the Cardinal a berth in a BCS bowl game, athletic directors across the Pac-10 -- even at California -- jumped into the air and clicked their heels together. Why? They know they will get a check for at least $450,000 this winter, which is the conference's per team distribution of the bonus payout for getting a second BCS bowl team. There are plenty of cash-strapped departments than can use the extra money.

Questions for the week: Will the Apple Cup be Washington State coach Paul Wulff's final game? He appears to be the only coach in the Pac-10 whose fate for 2011 is still a question. While the Cougars are much improved, and they broke through with a win over Oregon State, athletic director Bill Moos' silence on Wulff's status suggests there are some behind-the-scenes machinations going on. It's hard to believe the decision could come down to one game, but beating the Huskies and ending their bowl hopes would certainly make Coug fans happier heading into the offseason.

Final: Arizona State 55, UCLA 34

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
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Arizona State may have a new starting QB.

After starter Steven Threet went down early with a head injury, Brock Osweiler came off the bench to pass for 380 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-34 pounding of UCLA.

The Bruins offense looked much better that it did during a woeful performance at Washington on Nov. 18, but the defense got gashed for 595 yards.

Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall had 147 yards rushing, including a 71-yard TD, and Jamal Miles returned a kickoff 99 yards for another TD.

UCLA's bowl hopes are dashed. The Bruins fall to 4-7. They will conclude their season on Dec. 4 against rival USC. Bruins' fans are getting restless with third-year coach Rick Neuheisel, who probably will face significant pressure to breakthrough in 2011.

ASU's bowl hopes are still alive. The Sun Devils improved to 5-6. They need to win at rival Arizona on Dec. 2, and then hope for a waiver from the NCAA because they played two FCS teams.

Question: Is Osweiler the guy to start in Tucson? Coach Dennis Erickson didn't commit in the immediate aftermath.
Receiver is a difficult position to evaluate this year. Just about every team has a solid (or better) lead receiver back and some intriguing, but inexperienced, talent around him. But, other than Washington, no team should feel completely secure.

There is, however, a lot of potential at the position. Many of the names below who appear as secondary options could end up competing for All-Pac-10 spots.

Note: Tight ends and running backs don't count here.

Great shape

  • Washington: The Huskies entire two-deep is back, topped by second-team All-Pac-10 pick Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, who ranked seventh in the conference in receiving yards per game in 2009. James Johnson was probably the best freshman receiver in the conference last year.
Good shape

    [+] EnlargeJames Rodgers
    AP Photo/Ben MargotOregon State's James Rodgers caught 91 passes for 1,034 yards and nine TDs last year.
  • Oregon State: James Rodgers is clearly the No. 1 returning receiver in the conference. Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop and Darrell Catchings offer promising depth, but they combined for 25 receptions last year (Catchings was injured).
  • Oregon: The Ducks aren't flashy, but they welcome back their top three receivers from last year. By season's end, Jeff Maehl was one of the best in the conference. Things would have been better if Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson weren't ruled academically ineligible.
  • Arizona: After Delashaun Dean got himself kicked off the team, the Wildcats must replace their Nos. 1 and 4 WRs, which is why they aren't in "great shape." Still, Juron Criner tops a solid returning crew.
  • UCLA: The Bruins welcome back their top-two WRs -- Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario -- and Colorado transfer Josh Smith figures to make an immediate impact. Sophomores Damien Thigpen and Morrell Presley also seem poised for breakthroughs.
  • USC: While he was hurt much of last year, Ronald Johnson is a top home run threat. Brice Butler and David Ausberry will have to fight to stay ahead of a talented crew of incoming freshmen.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal welcome back their top-two receivers in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. That's the good news. The question is who will become options No. 3 and 4?
We'll see

  • California: The Bears only lose No. 2 WR Verran Tucker and the underwhelming Nyan Boateng, but, other than Marvin Jones, they didn't get much production here in 2009.
  • Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost their top-two WRs, but the cupboard isn't empty, with Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad, who would have started for the Ducks in 2009, and JC transfer George Bell, Gerell Robinson, Jamal Miles and Kerry Taylor. Still, it's not a proven group.
  • Washington State: The Cougars went through spring with just four scholarship receivers, a crew topped by Jared Karstetter and Gino Simone. The incoming recruiting class features five receivers, and at least a couple will get on the field. The Cougars are OK here but they did rank last in the conference in passing in 2009.
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.
So how did quarterback Steven Threet end up at Arizona State?

"You want the long story or the short story?" Threet replies.

The short story: Threet signed with Georgia Tech out of Adrian (Mich.) High School but opted to transfer to Michigan when the Yellow Jackets changed offensive coordinators. Then the Wolverines changed head coaches and offenses from a pro-style scheme to a spread-option under Rich Rodriguez, which didn't fit the 6-foot-5, 237-pounder's style in the least.

[+] EnlargeSteven Threet
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSteven Threet hopes to win the Sun Devils' starting quarterback job.
D'oh.

The Sun Devils also have changed offensive coordinators since Threet arrived, but no matter. He's hopeful that three times -- and programs -- is the charm.

"I'm comfortable with this offense," he said.

Threet, now a junior, and true sophomore Brock Osweiler will be competing this spring to take the reins of an offense that can only get better in large part because it was mostly lousy in 2009, averaging just 18 points per game against BCS conference foes.

Osweiler (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) played in six games and started one -- an ill-fated, blowout loss at Oregon -- completing 43.6 percent of his passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Threet started eight games at Michigan in 2008, completing 51 percent of his throws for 1,105 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 201 yards and two scores, so he's not a complete stiff in the pocket.

Both guys have some experience, but neither was anything close to lights out. Both have talent. Both have leadership skills. Both are tall.

And it's a straight-up competition with no leader at this point, at least officially. Coach Dennis Erickson said he flipped a coin to decide who would get the first snaps with the No. 1 offense when spring practices started Tuesday. Threet won the toss, by the way.

"Steven has experience playing in games, and Brock has a lot of physical talent," Erickson said. "So we're going to give them both a fair shot and see what transpires."

Erickson said he's looking for accuracy and good decision making in the Sun Devils' "new" spread offense, which will be run by new coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"New" in quotes mostly means that the scheme looks a lot like what Erickson did in the past when his offenses were humming -- spread the field with four receivers and control the game's tempo.

"The guy who wins the job is the guy who manages what we do offensively," Mazzone said. "You can't be just a flash player and be a good quarterback. The, 'Oh, man, he's got a strong arm -- did you see him throw that one deep?' So what? Can a guy move the football, keep us out of bad situations with down and distance and protect the football?"

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