NCF Nation: Jeff Locke

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
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The official list of college players invited to the NFL combine is out and 38 from the Pac-12 made the cut. At least one player from every team in the conference was invited. A total of 333 players were invited and workouts begin Feb. 23. You can see the complete list here.

ESPN.com All-Pac-12 team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
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It wasn't easy putting together an All-Pac-12 team for 2012. Lots of tough choices, particularly at running back, where four guys were deserving.

It was difficult to leave off UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. As a tandem, they are better than just about any other conference's first-team backs.

Oregon, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at season's end, led the way with six players. UCLA and Stanford, which played for the Pac-12 title, had four each. Oregon State had three. California, Colorado and Washington were shut out.

Offense
QB Marcus Mariota, RFr., Oregon
RB Ka'Deem Carey, So., Arizona
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Jr., Stanford
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
K Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
KR Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah

Defense
DE Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DT Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah
DT Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
DE Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
OLB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
ILB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
OLB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford
CB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
S Ed Reynolds, So., Stanford
S Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA

Q&A: Oregon State's Mike Riley

November, 30, 2012
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Here's something a little different for this week's Friday Q&A. In honor of tonight's championship game, I thought it would be fun to talk to a coach who has seen Stanford and UCLA this season. Even during a game week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the matchup. The Beavers beat UCLA in September 27-20 but fell to the Cardinal 27-23 earlier this month.

Here is Riley's take on each team and the game (plus a brief discussion about Brandin Cooks, because Riley and I tend to get chatty when we talk):

What has impressed you most about Stanford?

Mike Riley: Their consistency this year has been outstanding. They've stayed true to their course. They have a great running game. They use multiple tight ends. They have an identity there that they just continue to build on and force upon others. They are a powerful football team, and they utilize their personnel so well. They changed quarterbacks late in the year and haven't missed a beat. In fact, I think this [Kevin] Hogan has really added to their team with his athletic ability. They are just an all-around, good solid football team with one of the best defenses in the country. They were the best defense we've seen this year. They play hard, they play smart, and they are complemented well by what they do offensively.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Don RyanMike Riley says it will be mentally challenging to play the same team just six days later.
How about UCLA?

MR: They've done a great job with a first-year staff of looking at that team and placing personnel -- both on offense and defense -- in good spots to really enhance their talent. I think that's a real good coaching job by Jim Mora and his staff. Noel Mazzone, their offensive coordinator, does a great job with the young talent at quarterback, and they've been productive offensively and dynamic defensively. For the first year in that program, they've done exceedingly well. Just a good, well-coached football team. Very good special teams. One of the best specialists in the country with [Jeff] Locke. They do a great job in all three phases.

Anything stand out that you remember from either of the games? Highlights or lowlights?

MR: Playing against Stanford's defense is no fun -- or their offense. I'll tell you that. Everything is hard. I think that we had a two-score lead in the third quarter and we had that quarterback sacked and he made a fantastic play -- probably the play of the game -- to [Stepfan] Taylor. He flipped the ball out to him. Then you've got a great back in space, uncovered, and he takes it 50 yards for a touchdown. That really changed the dynamic of that game in a hurry. That was a memorial lowlight in that game.

UCLA was just a hard-fought, good football game that went back and forth. We hit a couple of big plays. A big pass to Markus Wheaton for a touchdown and a big pass to Brandin Cooks for a touchdown. And defensively I thought we did a really good job against a hard offense to contain. They've got the quarterback, the running back, good receivers, a big tight end. We just hung on and scratched and clawed. At the time, it was a huge victory for the Beavers because it was so hard-fought against a good football team. And at that time, we didn't know how good they'd be, and they ended up being one of the best in the league.

I was at both games, and I thought the slant pass to Brandin against UCLA was really his coming-out moment.

MR: It was. That was kind of the beginning of what we hopefully envisioned as the duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Markus, we knew about. Brandin was a young talented guy, and they both ended up as 1,000-yard receivers this year, which is hard to do, and we've had a lot of fun with them. But I think you're right. That was a big, big moment for Brandin and for what he would mean to the Beavers for the whole year.

As a head coach, how tough is it to turn around and play a team six days later?

MR: It's an interesting dynamic that hardly ever happens in college football. I've had a ton of experience with it because I coached in the Canadian Football League. And it's a real mental game. It's very interesting. We would literally play back-to-back with some teams every year. One time we played Toronto -- I think my last year in the Canadian League in 1990 -- we played Toronto five times. And we beat them every time, but the last one was the hardest. We beat them on a field goal on the last play of the game. It's very difficult to win back-to-back when the teams are good and very evenly matched. Stanford's got a big chore this week because they had their way last week. But to repeat that thing, there's a lot of mind games to it. Now Stanford is a mentally tough football game, but it's going to be harder.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

December, 5, 2011
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Taking stock of the Pac-12 heading into the bowl season.

Team of the week: Oregon won its third consecutive Pac-12 championship with a 49-31 win over UCLA in the inaugural conference title game. The Ducks have officially become a mini-conference dynasty.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThis 30-yard touchdown run by LaMichael James set the tone for Oregon against UCLA.
Biggest play: After UCLA fumbled on its first possession, Oregon faced a fourth and 1 on the Bruins 30-yard line in the first quarter. A defensive stop would have made a big statement. Instead, LaMichael James went 30-yards for a 7-0 lead. What seemed inevitable in any event seemed even more so at that moment.

Offensive standout: James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist, is one of the best backs in the history of the Pac-8, Pac-10 and Pac-12. And, Huskies, USC and Beavers fans, to argue the point is to be stupid.

Consider:

  • James, a junior, rushed for 219 yards on 25 carries against UCLA, giving him 1,646 on the season. He becomes the first player in conference history to rush for 1,500 or more yards three times in a career. First. In. History. That's enough, by the way. But there's more!
  • James passed former USC back Marcus Allen (4,810 from 1978-81) for third on the Pac-12’s career rushing list with 4,923 yards.
  • James tied USC’s LenDale White (2003-05) for second in conference history in career rushing touchdowns with 52. He also equaled White’s 342 career points, which is 10th in Pac-12 history.

If you want to argue, please, first insist the earth is flat. It's a more intelligent position.

Defensive standout: Oregon linebacker Michael Clay had two sacks, six tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the Ducks win against UCLA.

Special teams standout: UCLA punter Jeff Locke averaged 48.2 yards on four punts, killing two inside the Oregon 20-yard line.

Smiley face: Washington State for hiring Mike Leach. We don't use a hashtag often on the Pac-12 blog, but this gets one: #brilliant!

Frowny face: Arizona and Washington State conducted A-list coaching searches and got their man. It doesn't appear at this point Arizona State and UCLA are. We'll see who both end up with -- this frown can be turned upside down -- but it appears we're going to have an athletic director (or two) picking a third or fourth choice and then disingenuously insisting that's not the case.

Thought of the week: Getting two BCS bowl berths for a second consecutive year means each Pac-10 team will take home at least $1.2 million more over the past two years than if it had just one. And, yeah, I mean Pac-10 because Colorado and Utah don't get a BCS bowl share this year. Commissioner Larry Scott had nothing to do with Oregon and Stanford getting good, but he is the commissioner of record during those two years. Just by standing around and smiling, it seems as though Scott makes revenue appear.

Questions for the week: The Pac-12 is likely to be underdogs in five or six of its seven bowl games (spreads will be released later today). Oregon is expected to be favored against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and UCLA could go either way with Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. So will the conference lay an egg -- as expected in Vegas -- this bowl season or will it step up and prove the experts wrong?

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Issues to consider heading into the Pac-12 title game:

The first quarter: Does UCLA show up hungry and inspired? One plausible scenario is a flat UCLA team, demoralized by a 50-0 loss to USC and the firing of its head coach, Rick Neuheisel, doesn't show up focused and motivated. Mails it in, so to speak. And a flat effort would get the Bruins squashed by the high-powered Ducks, who are smelling roses in front of their home crowd. This one could get ugly quickly and get progressively worse. Or is the reverse true: Do the Bruins come out fiery and inspired and get to halftime with things tight? The first question to ask is how do the Bruins come out of the gate.

Bruins' running game vs. Oregon run defense: UCLA is 11th in the Pac-12 in passing offense. Quarterback Kevin Prince has passed for over 200 yards just three times this year, and just once in a win. The Bruins aren't going to win in Autzen Stadium throwing the ball for 300 yards. They must run well against an Oregon defense that is strong against the run (135.6 yards per game). Expect the Ducks to gang up on the run -- even normally, coordinator Nick Aliotti is obsessed with stopping the run first -- and dare Prince to throw. The Bruins will need to throw to keep the Ducks honest, but they are going to need to somehow win at the point of attack and establish consistency running right at Oregon. The key is early-down production, so Prince doesn't constantly face third and long, which would force him to throw against a strong Ducks pass rush.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Paul SakumaA weak UCLA run defense could help LaMichael James make a last, definitive statement to Heisman voters.
Turnovers? Big upsets happen when the favorite decisively loses the turnover battle. But Oregon doesn't turn the ball over much. The Ducks are third in the Pac-12 in turnover margin -- plus-7 -- in large part because of just 16 giveaways, which is second fewest to Stanford's 15. UCLA is minus-2 in turnovers, and has forced just 18 this year, eighth most in the conference. It seems inconceivable that the Bruins can pull the upset -- heck, stay close -- if they don't win the turnover battle. And they likely need to be plus-2 or -3.

LaMike's last dance? Oregon running back LaMichael James has fallen off the Heisman Trophy radar, despite leading the nation in rushing and averaging a yard and a quarter more per carry than Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Go figure. While James is a junior, this is likely his last game in Autzen Stadium before he's off to the NFL. He's been dinged up, having hurt the elbows of both arms. But he's a tough guy who surely wants to go out with a bang. The Ducks' forte is running the ball and no back has done it better for Oregon than James. Is he headed for a big evening against a weak Bruins run defense?

Special teams rule: Oregon is also good on special teams, though a missed field goal cost them at the end against USC. But UCLA will need to be better on special teams to pull the upset, too. That means no missed field goals and no long kickoff or punt returns. That means punter Jeff Locke pinning the Ducks far away from the Bruins' goal line. That means a big return -- or two -- for the Bruins, giving them points or a short field. Maybe a blocked kick or punt? UCLA needs to win field position and needs to find creative ways to get -- and prevent -- points. Special teams help with all of that.
1. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) again has championed a college football playoff, which may be good news for the BCS. Barton became persona non grata on Capitol Hill last week for speaking out in defense of BP after it agreed to put $20 billion in escrow for victims of its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To paraphrase syndicated columnist Mark Shields, these days Barton couldn’t get a resolution passed in favor of Mother’s Day.

2. In the 3-Point Stance last Thursday, I wrote that the Mountain West Conference lost a step in trading Utah for Boise State. Broncos fans excoriated me in part because, they said, I underreported Boise State’s athletic budget. They are right. I was wrong. I didn’t realize my database dated back to 2005. As the Idaho Statesman reported this month, Utah’s athletic budget is $27.8 million; Boise State’s is $25.8 million. The MWC came out a lot closer to whole than I wrote.

3. Special teams play often is a source of angst in early-season games. That won’t be the case at UCLA. Kicker Kai Forbath is a machine inside of 50 yards. Thanks to punter Jeff Locke, the Bruins led the Pac-10 in net punting. Senior Christian Yount will be a four-year starter at long-snapper. And Josh Smith, expected to be ready after an April knee injury, set return records at Colorado in 2008 before transferring to Westwood. Don’t underestimate the Bruins’ early edge.
At what position is the Pac-10 deep? At what position in the Pac-10 thin? Here's the third of three parts taking a look at just that.

Deep: Specialists

[+] EnlargeKai Forbath
Jim Brown/US Presswire Kai Forbath of UCLA is one of two Lou Groza Award winning kickers returning to the Pac-10 this season.
Why is it deep? Eight teams welcome back both their punter and kicker, and many of them are quite happy about that. Three conference kickers ranked among the top-20 in field goals per game, while three punters ranked in the top 21. No team is replacing both specialists. Oregon is replacing kicker Morgan Flint and USC is replacing kicker Jordan Congdon, who ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, in field goals per game in 2009.

The big names: Start with two Lou Groza Award winning kickers: UCLA's Kai Forbath (2009) and Arizona State's Thomas Weber (2007). Then there's Oregon State's Justin Kahut, who made 22 of 27 field goals with a long of 50, and Washington's Erik Folk, who was 18 for 21 with a long of 48. As for the punters, Arizona State's Trevor Hankins ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation in punting (44.2 yards per punt), while UCLA's Jeff Locke (43.6) was 16th in the nation and Washington State's Reid Forrest (43.2) was 21st. Oh, and California's Bryan Anger might have the biggest foot of everyone; he dropped a conference-high 24 punts inside the 20 last year.

Thin: Linebacker

Why is it thin? Four of the six linebackers who made up the first and second All-Pac-10 teams are gone as are five of the 11 LBs who earned honorable mention. Only two teams -- USC and Oregon -- welcome back all of their starting LBs from 2009, and a big story this spring was the Trojans lack of depth at the position, while the Ducks moved Eddie Pleasant to safety (in large part because of depth at the position). Arizona is replacing all three starting linebackers, while Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA only have one returning starter at the position (though the Beavers outside linebacker platoon of Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey probably should count as more than one starter).

Fill the void? This is not a "strength" position, but the cupboard is hardly empty: UCLA's Akeem Ayers, California's Mike Mohamed and Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict are All-American candidates, while Oregon's Casey Matthews earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and Washington's Mason Foster is a likely breakout player. The Ducks, in particular, are fast and deep at linebacker, while the Sun Devils aren't far behind in terms of young talent.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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