NCF Nation: Jordan Poyer

If the Dictionary of Phrases needs a demonstration of what "cautiously optimistic" sounds like, they might want to chat with Mark Banker about his Oregon State defense.

He makes a good case for optimism. And he's got reasons to be cautious.

It must be first said that Banker probably feels a lot better than he did a year ago when Beavers fans were doubting him, despite a distinguished track record of consistent success, both on the field and in terms of transforming under-the-radar recruits into NFL draft choices.

[+] EnlargeMark Banker
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Mark Banker is optimistic the Beavers can continue the growth they showed last season, when they ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up 20.6 points per game.
Yet after consecutive losing seasons in Corvallis, Banker and head coach Mike Riley were on the spot. The 2011 Beavers ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game, and they often were pushed around, yielding a conference-worst 196.8 yards rushing per game.

Few units in the Pac-12 improved as much as the Beavers' defense from 2011 to 2012. Last fall, the Beavers ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game, a 10.2-point per game improvement. They also ranked third in run defense, holding foes to 129.5 yards per game in a conference with a lot of good running backs.

The difference? Better players, experience, staying healthy and a rejiggered defensive staff, says Banker.

As to what he sees for 2013, he said, "This group is more than capable."

He likes his defensive ends, Dylan Wynn and All-American candidate Scott Crichton. He's got two speedy, experienced outside linebackers in Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander. Three of four starters are back from a secondary that yielded just 14 touchdown passes last fall.

And yet.

He's replacing his middle linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, as well as do-everything backup Rueben Robinson. All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer is now playing for Chip Kelly in Philly. And he's got 644 pounds missing in the middle of his defensive line with the departure of tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo.

Let's start with the optimism. Banker loves underrated free safety Ryan Murphy.

"He can really play -- he's got the greatest chance of being drafted in a high position," Banker said. "He'll be one of the, if not the best, safety we've ever had here as this thing plays out. I hope I don't jinx him."

Further, he feels like he's got a pretty good competition for replacing Poyer, with experienced senior Sean Martin and talented junior college transfer Steve Nelson in a tight battle for the starting job, with the No. 2 guy likely filling a nickel role.

Banker likes true sophomore Joel Skotte stepping into the middle linebacker spot. While Skotte, who saw significant special teams action last season, isn't yet there physically, he's a smart player, the kind of guy who won't make mental mistakes in the middle of the Beavers' defense.

Further, the position isn't as critical to the Beavers' defense as it was in the past, because eight conference teams run no-huddle spread offenses.

"The basis of what we have to have at that position, [Skotte] has," Banker said. "But at the same time, with so many different spread types of offenses, we're in our sub packages quite a bit."

Which means Doctor, who made great strides in 2012, moves into the middle.

Banker admits some frustration trying to get Alexander in the right place to maximize his athletic potential. There were plenty of feast or famine moments with the speedy rising junior in 2012. Great plays followed by mental errors.

"There were quite a few times last year we'd take him out to let him know, No. 1, it's not acceptable and, No. 2, so we could get him squared away in the mental aspect of the game," Banker said.

Then there are the voids at defensive tackle. You can almost feel Banker rubbing a rabbits foot through the phone line.

"We're not so much uncertain, but we're not satisfied with our defensive tackle play," Banker said.

The Beavers welcome back reserves Mana Rosa and John Braun, but four junior college signees are expected to compete for the starting spots.

Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau both participated in spring practices. Hautau, however, broke his hand and missed most of the action, and Delva has a ways to go.

Kyle Peko, Charlie Tuaau and Lyndon Tulimasealii are scheduled to arrive for fall camp, but Banker sounded a cautionary note about all three being squared away academically.

"All three have significant work that they are doing in the classroom that they need to become eligible," he said.

The hope is that, of the tackles who do make it to camp, at least two will be Pac-12 ready. And maybe one or two others can adequately take up space.

"That's the biggest thing that I'm curious about: Where do they start? Where's the bottom? I hope they don't start down too low," Banker said.

Banker likes what he knows about his defense. And has his fingers crossed hopefully over what he's yet to find out.
While so much of the attention on Oregon State this spring has been on the quarterback competition -- one of the most intriguing in the nation between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz -- there are other critical position battles.

And the one at cornerback might even be of greater importance.

Post spring, Sean Martin sits atop the depth chart at left corner, opposite returning starter Rashaad Reynolds on the right side. This position is of great interest because it was formerly held by the departed Jordan Poyer -- one of the school's top secondary players of all-time who sits fourth on the school's career interceptions list with 13.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Don Ryan"I'm not ready to say which one of them is going to come out of the fold as 'the starter,'" Oregon State's Mike Riley said of cornerbacks Sean Martin and Steven Nelson.
Pushing Martin is junior college transfer Steven Nelson -- who was rated by one service as the No. 2 JC cornerback in the country.

But head coach Mike Riley isn't approaching it with the thought that one will be a starter and one will be a backup. If all goes according to plan -- it's likely we'll see them on the field at the same time.

"That competition is good for the Beavers because my goal out of this thing is that both of these guys become bona fide starters," Riley said. "They both won't necessarily start on first down, but if they proceed to grow as we've seen them through their competition in the spring, then you'll see them both playing together a lot. Third-down defenses, nickel or dime. We actually need both of them to be considered as starters."

He says that with the caveat that he's not ready to say which one has pulled ahead in their competition. Spring depth charts offer a little insight, but not nearly enough to pass judgment.

Once a commit to Georgia, Nelson comes to Oregon State from the College of Sequoias in California, and has spent the spring playing catch up. Martin, however, started three games last year -- twice as a nickel and one at corner against Arizona State when Poyer was out with an injury. After missing the majority of 2011 with a broken foot, Martin bounced back in 2012 to register 43 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups.

Martin's experience might be what keeps him atop the depth chart -- at least for now.

"I think Sean Martin has improved dramatically in the course of two years here and I think Steven has all the athletic tools to be a corner in our league and be a good player," Riley said. "He needs to learn more and more about what we do and how he fits into that, but I think he's very conscientious and I think he'll make that move. I think this has all been very good."

After a rough 2011, where the Beavers ranked 104th in pass-efficiency defense, they bounced back and were 20th nationally last year. After giving up 28 passing touchdowns in 2011, they cut that number in half to 14 in 2012. Poyer was a huge part of that, hauling in seven of OSU's 20 interceptions last season.

With Reynolds (25 career starts) on the other side and returning safeties Tyrequek Zimmerman (13 starts) and Ryan Murphy (15 starts), the secondary should again be solid with just the one hole to fill.

But Riley isn't as concerned with finding one guy who can step in for Poyer as he is developing them to work together in unison.

"I'm not ready to say which one of them is going to come out of the fold as 'the starter,'" Riley said. "But my goal is for both of them to be ready to play and be good, solid players in the fall."
Five Pac-12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Here's the chart:


So... what's our take?

Thanks for asking.

Kevin Gemmell: I must say, very, very interesting first round. And one that I think most Pac-12 fans can be relatively pleased with. The five players drafted Thursday night are the most since the league sent six in 2008. So that's progress.

Two things really stood out as surprising to me. First, it's not that Dion Jordan went third overall to the Miami Dolphins. It's that he went to a 4-3 defense. Perhaps Jeff Ireland is a huge fan of the Pac-12 blog and was reading our Take 2 from a few weeks ago. And if that's the case, you're welcome, Jeff.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the first round to select Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is pretty good at stopping the run -- but it's not the strength of his game. As every draftnik in the world noted before and after the selection, he's a beast at speed rushing off the edge, but has some work to do in other aspects of his game. They also made the apt comparison to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. Fitting since both players have similar frames and skill sets. He had an OK career, so maybe it all works out.

The second thing that surprised me was that Star Lotulelei was not the first defensive tackle taken. We figured he could go pretty much anywhere in the top 15 -- most mocks had him where he landed at No 14 to the Carolina Panthers. One pick earlier, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets. I admit I don't know a ton about Richardson. I just know that Lotulelei graded out higher, had a comparable 40 time (though it was inconsistent because it was at a pro day, not the NFL scouting combine) and he had eight more reps on the bench. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I was pretty surprised he wasn't the first defensive tackle off the board.

Liked the pick of Oregon's Kyle Long by the Bears. They are getting a versatile player who could really fit in at any position across the line after he gets a little seasoning. We've seen him slowly creep up in mock drafts -- starting several months ago in the third-round range -- and that buzz was legitimized with his pick at No. 20.

And I liked that Atlanta had Desmond Trufant targeted and they traded up to get him. It was a need position and they jumped at the chance to get an NFL-ready starter. Good pick.

Datone Jones is a guy Ted and I have been talking about for a couple of years now -- how we just kept waiting for him to breakout. And then UCLA switches to the 3-4 and he blows up. He could be a real solid player for years in Green Bay's 3-4 front.

Overall, I'd call it a fair-to-good first day for the Pac-12.

Ted Miller: Of course, the big question many will ask is how did the Pac-12 compare to the other conferences.

Here are the first-round numbers. Yes, there will be SEC crowing, with some justification.

  • SEC – 12
  • ACC – 6
  • Pac-12 – 5
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • MAC – 1
  • C-USA – 1
  • Big East - 1
  • Big Ten - 1

The SEC's 12 picks ties the record set by the ACC in 2006. Don't forget the SEC now has 14 teams. Or, for that matter, the Big 12 has 10.

My first-round takeaways? Well, the above numbers are meaningful.

The SEC? Well. I'll let you guys try to explain those away. (Good luck with that.) I tweeted this story the other day, and I think it well relates how SEC dominance, once a chimerical creation from a region that often doesn't fret the truth getting in the way of a good story, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bottom, however, is almost as telling -- see the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner, the Big Ten with just one selection. That certainly validates the perception that conference has slipped, something we've seen on the field in recent years.

As for the five Pac-12 picks, I had a nice conversation with Jordan at the Fiesta Bowl about how his fortunes had turned. He seemed genuinely awed by it. And grateful. After the game, I was standing there when his mother worked here way through the crowd to give him a hug. Apparently it was raining inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

One of the things I always think about on draft day is how through-the-looking-glass strange it's got to feel for guys, at least the reflective ones. Sure, most top picks get fronted money by their agents, so they've been living the life for a few months. But when it becomes official, a guy in his early 20s suddenly become certifiably rich.

The third pick last year, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, got four years at $20.4 million. Just imagine yourself at 23 having a conversation about $20 million. And how it's a bit low.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMatt Barkley could be the next Pac-12 alum off the board.
As for the rest, the Panthers got a steal with Star Lotulelei at No. 14. The Panthers just put a checkmark in the box for the middle of their defensive line. And I think Jets fans will remember in a very Jets fans way that the Jets took Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson a pick before the Panthers.

Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long at No. 20 was a mild surprise, but the Bears probably swooned over his obvious upside. You can't beat his bloodlines either.

The Trufant pick clearly validates the Pac-12 blog at the expense of Washington fans. See... we told you he was good.

Wait. I may not be recalling that accurately. Two words: Kevin's fault.

And Jones, whom we've been touting pretty much since he arrived at UCLA, obviously found his rhythm over the past year.

As Kevin noted, there are a lot of good Pac-12 players left on the board, including a substantial handful who figure to get selected in the next two rounds. Things should continue to be interesting, starting with who steps up and picks USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
It didn’t take long for there to be some drama in the 2013 NFL draft. And former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan was right in the middle of it.

Jordan, the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 3 pick ... much to the surprise of the ESPN draft coverage crew. And Jordan.

After offensive tackles went first and second, Jordan was the first defensive player taken in the draft when the Oakland Raiders traded the pick to the Dolphins.

Jordan’s selection was met with mostly positive, yet still mixed responses. Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Chris Berman praised Jordan’s athleticism and ability to rush off the edge. But they also questioned whether that’s worth the No. 3 overall pick. Obviously, the Dolphins thought it was.

Many believed that former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, was going to take Jordan with the fourth pick. Instead, the Dolphins moved one spot ahead, leaving Kelly to take Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

“I was surprised ... I wasn’t expecting that,” Jordan told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “I’m very blessed. I’m going to bring tremendous athletic ability … I’m ready to get in there and work with the guys.”

Jordan, Oregon’s highest drafted player since Joey Harrington went No. 3 overall in the 2002 draft, was the first of what turned out to be five first-round picks for the Pac-12 on Thursday night. It was the most first-round picks since the league had six in 2008.

After the Jordan selection, things quieted down for the league until the 14th pick, when the Carolina Panthers selected Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. He was the second defensive tackle taken in the draft after Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets.

“He is a space-eater,” said Kiper after the selection. “He’s a stay-at-home type defensive tackle. He won’t give you a lot of pass rush. But he’s strong. He’s quick. He’s a tough kid. I thought a very good player, but the pass rush wasn’t there.”

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas has a good breakdown of what this means for the Panthers.

The second “surprise” pick of the draft also involved a Duck – when the Chicago Bears drafted Oregon offensive guard Kyle Long.

Said Kiper: “He has the kind of skill set you want. [But] he needs a lot of coaching ... he’s a developmental prospect … [His] versatility and mean streak intrigued a lot of people.”

Just two picks later, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to get Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant at No. 22. After posting a 4.38 at the NFL scouting combine -- third fastest among the defensive backs -- his stock jumped from early second round to first-round selection.

Said Kiper: “He’s an instinctive ball hawk. A guy I think really got better as his career moved along … this is a need area and [Atlanta] went up aggressively to get him.”

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones became the league’s fifth selection when the Green Bay Packers took him at No. 26. ESPN's Jon Gruden was a fan of the pick.

“If you’re into combine workouts, you’re into Datone Jones. Because he dominated the combine,” Gruden said. “The arrow is going up on this kid. He’s my sleeper of the first round. He has NFL movement skills ... he can play on a tight end. He can play inside. And the Packers need a dominant inside defender. Good pick.”

There is still plenty of intrigue looking ahead with names like Zach Ertz, Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Keenan Allen, Matt Scott, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Markus Wheaton, Jordan Poyer, David Bakhtiari, Chase Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin and about a dozen more from the league still on the board.

Settle in for a draft-filled weekend.
While some might be fixated on how Oregon State's season ended -- another loss to Oregon and a blown fourth-quarter lead in the Alamo Bowl against Texas -- the big picture for 2012 was undeniably attractive.

The Beavers reversed course as a program. After consecutive losing seasons and a horrid 3-9 finish in 2011, they went 9-4 and finished the season ranked 20th.

Those looking ahead might be fretting what is at question heading into 2013: The up-the-middle defense, the departure of two first-team All-Pac-12 standouts in cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver Markus Wheaton and an on-going quarterback cha-cha.

[+] EnlargeScott Crichton
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsScott Crichton (95) leads an Oregon State defense that returns seven starters from 2012.
But there's strong grounds for optimism. There's a reason just about everyone figures the Beavers to be a Top-25 team again in the fall. One of the biggest is defensive end Scott Crichton leading a defense with several key pieces back.

Seven of the Beavers' 17 returning starters are on defense, including Crichton, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 after posting 44 tackles and leading the Beavers with 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He also forced a fumble, recovered two more, blocked a kick and swatted down three passes.

Crichton had six sacks as a redshirt freshman for a terrible defense. If you project similar improvement from 2012 to 2013, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior could push into some rarified sack numbers.

And Crichton sees plenty of room for improvement. Just start with conditioning. Crichton, who's sitting out spring practices with a shoulder injury, said getting stronger and more fit this offseason will make him a better player. When he watches film from last fall, that's what stands out to him when his play falls short.

"A lot of it was strength and stamina, endurance. I got tired on some plays," he said. "I remember one of the plays in the Stanford game, I was just jogging. I got chewed out by my coach."

Defenses won't be able to obsess exclusively about Crichton on the edge. For one, the capable Dylan Wynn, also a two-year starter, is back on the opposite end. Further, the Beavers are athletic at outside linebacker with D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor.

That foursome accounted for nearly half of the Beavers' total tackles for loss.

Of course, winning is more than personnel and X's and O's. The Beavers seemed to lose their way emotionally in 2010 and 2011. Just about everyone associated with the program recalls a renewed energy -- peppered with some anger -- in advance of the 2012 0ffseason.

"It was a mindset," Crichton said. "Everyone was sick and tired of losing. Everyone was doing extra in the offseason. But it should be like that every time. We shouldn't need a losing season to get going."

How much better was 2012 than 2011? It was nearly 10 points on defense. The Beavers surrendered 30.83 points per game in 2011, which ranked 89th in the nation. They yielded just 20.62 in 2012, which ranked 22nd.

If the Beavers continue to take steps forward, they will then run into the Oregon and Stanford tandem that has locked down the conference since 2009, and the Pac-12 North Division since it was created in 2011. The Ducks' recent run of excellence makes it hard to be satisfied in Corvallis, even with Top-25 finishes.

A season won't be truly fulfilling until the Beavers again take the Civil War, which they haven't done since 2007.

"I thought last year was a our year to get them but we lost to them. It was heartbreaking," Crichton said. "We get hungrier every year. Soon that scoreboard will change and it will go our way."

If Crichton collects double-digit sacks in 2013, and one or two of them come against Marcus Mariota, then maybe that scoreboard will change.
You might have noticed a theme this week. We kicked off the "Biggest Shoes" series and had two polls (North and South) on replacing departed players. So that means it's now time for your Pac-12 bloggers to weigh in on which two players we believe leave the biggest holes. Given our penchant for quarterbacks, you might find our two choices surprising. Read on.

Ted Miller: I do not know what size 6-foot-3, 320-pound Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's shoes are, but I'd bet they are among the biggest in the Pac-12 -- in more ways than one.

The thing about replacing a dominant interior defensive lineman is that it's difficult to measure what you're losing. An All-America receiver or running back or even cornerback leaves, and you feel fairly comfortable quantifying what is lost and must be replaced. Lotulelei, however, was more than the sum of his stats -- 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a very important blocked kick.

Lotulelei changed what an offense could do. He changed blocking schemes. He demanded specific attention from an offensive coordinator and a line coach. He made sure the interior of the opposing offensive line -- even if the offense was winning the overall battle -- wanted to ask for its check.

He was a unique presence. An anomaly. A college center could start 48 games in his career and face a guy like him just once. That's why Lotulelei will be a first-round NFL draft pick, even with a heart condition. He could get picked in the top five if a team deems him healthy.

But his shoes are even bigger because Utah, after a disappointing defensive campaign in 2012, is replacing three of four defensive linemen. Moreover, the Utes were unhappy with their linebacker play last fall, even with all the protection Lotulelei provided. Opposing offensive lines, unencumbered by the need to double-team Lotulelei every play, will get a lot more hats on those linebackers in 2013. Not what coach Kyle Whittingham wants.

[+] EnlargeSam Schwartzstein
Charles Baus/CSMCenter Sam Schwartzstein was a huge piece of Stanford's recent offensive success.
The cupboard isn't empty. The Utes are high on Tenny Palepoi, a 305-pound senior who played well as the backup to defensive tackle Dave Kruger last season. And there are other big bodies: LT Tuipulotu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a 320-pound redshirt freshman, and Viliseni Fauonuku will be in the mix.

Yet the Utes defensive coaches won't even pretend one of those guys will fill Lotulelei's shoes. They are just too big.

Kevin Gemmell: This is a tough one. I've been going through a bunch of players all week long trying to come to a conclusion on which one I wanted to write about (and Lotulelei was already taken). All of them are important -- Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes, Robert Woods, Jordan Poyer, Travis Long, Markus Wheaton, Brandon Magee, Desmond Trufant, Stepfan Taylor, Johnathan Franklin, Zach Ertz, Dion Jordan and … (insert name I unintentionally omitted and now you feel wildly offended).

There really is no wrong answer here. Each player is a major contributor to his team in his own way. But the one name that kept coming back to me is Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein. I know, not as exciting as Kenjon Barner or glamorous as Matt Scott. But in terms of sheer contributions to the team that will be tough to replace, Schwartzstein has to be in the conversation.

In 2011, he was regarded as having the second-best football mind on the team -- behind only Andrew Luck. And he didn't lose any of that in 2012.

After the quarterback, there is no more important position on Stanford's offense than the center. He makes all of the scheme and protection calls at the line of scrimmage. He even calls plays in the huddle when the Cardinal go into the Wildcat.

Schwartzstein started every game since taking over for All-American Chase Beeler, and twice he blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in Taylor. The Cardinal played 14 games in 2012 and allowed just 20 sacks. In the 12-game regular season, they had allowed a conference-best 17. The year before that? Just 11 in 13 games. I know for a fact that there were zero quarterback-center exchange fumbles in 2011. And none comes to mind in 2012.

Khalil Wilkes, who started almost every game last year at left guard (one start at left tackle) moves over to compete with Conor McFadden for the gig. Maybe the transition from Schwartzstein to one of those guys will go as smoothly as the handoff from Beeler to Schwartzstein. After all, the new center will have one bona-fide All-American at his side and potentially a couple more on the line.

But they won't be the ones making the calls. That falls on the center -- and Schwartzstein was outstanding at it. He was second-team all-conference and honored with the school's leadership award. Not Taylor, not Ertz. Not Shayne Skov nor Ryan Hewitt nor the aforementioned All-American David Yankey. The center … the most crucial position in Stanford's offense that you never hear about.

Tough shoes to fill, indeed.

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
10:00
AM ET
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.
Continuing with the hits and misses from Pac-12 recruiting.

CALIFORNIA

Needs filled: The Bears added nice depth to the offensive line with tackles Aaron Cochran and Erik Bunte. Junior-college transfer Sione Sina can also be a nice stopgap at defensive end. They went heavy in the trenches with five offensive linemen and seven defensive linemen.

Holes remaining: Cal is looking for a quarterback to run the new-look offense under new head coach Sonny Dykes. Could be Zach Kline of the 2012 recruiting class. Could be Jared Goff of this year's class, an early enrollee. The Bears addressed a lot of positions, but whether some youngsters can step up remains to be seen. The 11th-hour flip of offensive guard Cameron Hunt to Oregon has to sting.

OREGON

Needs filled: The Ducks went heavy on offense, and running back Thomas Tyner highlights a group that is loaded with speed (what did you expect, it's Oregon). They added two stellar offensive guards in Hunt and Evan Voeller and a premier defensive end in Torrodney Prevot, previously a USC commit. There are speedy receivers down the line like Darren Carrington. And they added kicker Matt Wogan. The Ducks were 11th in the conference in field goals made in 2012.

Holes remaining: The Ducks still have holes to fill at linebacker. Junior-college transfer Joe Walker, an outside linebacker, could step in to help immediately. But with the losses of inside linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, the Ducks have mostly untested talent at the position and this year's class didn't add much depth to a position that is already a question mark.

OREGON STATE

Needs filled: When you look at the top two players the Beavers lost -- Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton -- it's nice to look at their recruiting class and see a cornerback and wide receiver as the two highest-rated players. Dashon Hunt and Hunter Jarmon might never develop into a Poyer or a Wheaton, but the Beavers saw the holes and addressed them. JC defensive tackles Kyle Peko and Edwin Delva should help immediately and Kyle Kempt could develop into the quarterback of the future in a couple of years. a href="http://espn.go.com/college-sports/football/recruiting/player/_/id/136903/jordan-villamin">Jordan Villamin, 6-foot-4 wide receiver, might also develop into a nice red zone target.

Holes remaining: The JC transfers help with the defensive line in the immediate future, but the Beavers signed only two high school defensive linemen, leaving some questions about depth in the future. It's likely a position they'll address heavily next season.

STANFORD

Needs filled: This is a class low on numbers, but extremely high on potential. If quarterback Ryan Burns is as advertised, it's possible he could challenge for the starting job as early as 2014. Francis Owusu has tremendous upside as a receiver and Peter Kalambayi adds depth to one of the best front sevens in the nation. Plus, three tight ends (Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton Jr.). How very Stanfordish of them.

Holes remaining: The Cardinal loaded up on defensive linemen with five last year and there is plenty of depth, albeit untested, at running back. The Cardinal didn't sign any running backs or defensive linemen this year. It's not a bad thing -- for now. But if a couple of guys get injured or if there is any attrition, it could bite them. For now, the Cardinal seem to be in good shape across all positions.

WASHINGTON

Needs filled: The Huskies added some much-needed depth on the defensive line with five linemen -- headlined by ESPN 150 defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. Damore'ea Stringfellow and Darrell Daniels -- both ESPN 150 wide receivers -- provide a nice one-two offensive punch. Troy Williams, the nation's No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback -- could potentially be the heir apparent to Keith Price. It was a good class that fills a lot of needs.

Holes remaining: For solid as the defensive line class was, the Huskies signed only three offensive linemen -- though one of them is Dane Crane, the nation's No. 4-rated center. If you recall, however, the Huskies were decimated with offensive line injuries this year and coach Steve Sarkisian made it a point to talk about the team needing more depth to be able to absorb that kind of injury hit. Three more guys helps; but is it enough to sustain them if another injury bug ravishes the line?

WASHINGTON STATE

Needs filled: This was quietly a very good encore recruiting class for Mike Leach in his second season at the helm. It's heavy on linemen, heavy in the secondary and it's headlined by a four-star wide receiver in Vince Mayle -- a JC transfer from Rocklin, Calif. Interestingly enough, it also has two fairly highly rated running backs. We know Leach isn't going to be a run-first guy -- but the Cougars could certainly use the help after rushing for 29.1 yards per game last season.

Holes remaining: Who is going to run the offense? It could be Connor Halliday. But it's also possible Leach pulls the trigger on Tyler Bruggman, the No. 22-rated pocket passer in the country from Phoenix. That remains the No. 1 priority for the Cougars in the offseason. Otherwise, this recruiting class plugged a lot of holes. The question is whether they are the right guys to help immediately.

Keys for Texas in Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
11:30
AM ET
Here are three keys for Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

1. Keep David Ash calm: The sophomore quarterback is going to feel a ton of pressure to perform given that this is basically an audition for next season’s starting position. Ash did not start the regular-season finale due to injury. So the situation is much like last season when he did not start against Baylor but did in the bowl against Cal. However, the stakes have been raised because a Texas loss means the Longhorns would finish with the exact same record from 2011, and that is not the progress many expected from this team.

Ash also is facing a very good pass defense that has proved it can bring pressure from defensive end Scott Crichton, and defensive back Jordan Poyer is second nationally with seven interceptions.

2. Plug the gaps: Oregon State wants to pass before it runs. But given that the Texas defense is so porous against the run game -- 199 rushing yards allowed per game -- the Beavers are likely to get Storm Woods involved early and often. Texas has simplified the defense to help out the linebackers but it needs to have a strong game from Peter Jinkens and Steve Edmond to have any chance of keeping the Beavers in check. Jinkens has proven to be a playmaker who has sideline-to-sideline speed. If his emotions do not get the better of him, he can be a factor. Edmond has trouble reading what is happening but lately has started to come around and is no longer a step slow.

3. Start fast, finish strong: It seems like a pretty simple concept but Texas does have a tendency to start slowly in big games -- Oklahoma comes to mind. Oregon State is the classic Aesop tortoise. The Beavers are plodders and usually are able to catch their opponents in the end. Oregon State won its first three games by less than a score and lost two of its games by a combined six points. So the Beavers are accustomed to playing in close games. And given that they have come back against teams such as Arizona and Arizona State, they are not apt to fold if Texas comes out with a quick onslaught of points. To counteract that, Texas must continue to pressure the Beavers on offense and extend its drives. There might be some hiccups with new playcaller Major Applewhite but Texas will have to overcome those to keep the Beavers at bay.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Valero Alamo

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
6:43
PM ET
This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.

No. 23 Texas (8-4, 5-4 Big 12) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3, 6-3)

Where: San Antonio, Texas, Alamodome

When: Sat. Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 PT

TV: ESPN

About Oregon State: What a wild year it's been for the Beavers, who have flipped last season's mark of 3-9 to 9-3. From the strange start of postponing the season opener to the quarterback switches, Oregon State has dealt with some bizarre distractions -- but it has also endured through it all. Quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz continue to be locked in a quarterback competition. But whoever gets the start will have one of the nation's best wide receiver duos to work with. And for as explosive as OSU's passing game has been with Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks (both 1,000-yard receivers), the defense has been just as potent, allowing fewer than 20 points per game. OSU went 2-2 vs. ranked competition this season, topping Wisconsin and UCLA in consecutive weeks, then falling to Stanford and Oregon late in the year.

About Texas: Like the Beavers, the Longhorns have quarterback issues. While we wait for Beavers coach Mike Riley's decision, we too must wait for Texas' Mack Brown to decide between Case McCoy and David Ash. Texas lost its final two games, against TCU and No. 6 Kansas State. Ash, who started the first 11 games, was benched against the Horned Frogs, and McCoy started the season finale against Kansas State. Twice the Longhorns couldn't hold a lead against No. 8 West Virginia (48-45), and they were routed by No. 13 Oklahoma (65-21) and dismissed by Kansas State (42-24). Their only victory against a ranked team was a 31-22 win at Texas Tech.

Key players, Oregon State: It starts with Wheaton and Cooks -- who have combined for 152 catches, 2,327 yards and 16 touchdowns. This pair represents the best mismatch for the Beavers, so whichever quarterback wins the gig, look for them to get this duo involved early and often. Defensively, All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer leads a defense that has 19 interceptions this season, which ranks sixth in the country. He has seven of those interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.

Key players, Texas: The Longhorns can score. They average just north of 36 points per game, and the two-back system of Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron has been pretty successful. Gray, a freshman, is the smaller, speedier back (though he has pretty good size at 5-11, 207). Bergeron (6-1, 230) is a sophomore and has 16 rushing touchdowns. He's the thunder to Gray's lightening. All-conference defensive end Alex Okafor can be disruptive. He's got a team best eight sacks, and 12 tackles for a loss this season.

Did you know: This is the third meeting between the schools and Texas has won both, the last coming in 1987 ... Texas' last and only appearance in the Alamo Bowl was in 2006 when it defeated Iowa 26-24 ... This is Texas' 14th bowl appearance in 15 seasons under Brown ... this is Oregon State's first appearance in the Alamo Bowl and first postseason appearance since 2009 ... The Beavers are 5-1 in bowl games under Mike Riley ... Oregon State has been ranked for a school record 11 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.

ESPN.com All-Pac-12 team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
11:25
AM ET
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

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:40
PM ET
Texas Longhorns (8-4) vs. Oregon State Beavers (9-3)

Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)

Texas take from LonghornNation's Carter Strickland: The Longhorns stumbled down the stretch, losing their last two games to finish the regular season third in the Big 12.

While most projections called for Texas to finish right around third in the conference -- second was a possibility but thought to be a distant one -- the 8-4 overall record is looked at as a disappointment because of who the Longhorns lost to and how they lost.

Oklahoma and Kansas State, the top two teams in the Big 12, beat Texas by a combined 60 points, but the fact that the Longhorns most likely were going to lose to both of those teams had been accepted prior to the start of the season.

The other two losses -- to TCU and West Virginia -- were seen more as swing games. Texas lost those two by a combined 10 points. That both losses were at home didn't exactly thrill the fan base.

Now Texas is at a loss as to which quarterback, David Ash or Case McCoy, should lead the team. Ash started the first 11 games but was pulled twice due to inconsistent play and turnovers. McCoy started the final game against Kansas State and threw for 314 yards with 17 straight completions at one point. But McCoy had two costly interceptions as well.

On defense, Texas was one of the most porous in both the conference and the nation. But a month of bowl practice may help heal defensive end Alex Okafor and build confidence in replacement linebackers Tevin Jackson and Peter Jinkens.

Texas needs one more win to finish one game better than last season's record of 8-5. If the Longhorns can do that it might lend slightly more credibility to Texas coach Mack Brown's continued stump speeches about the Longhorns having improved from last year.




Oregon State take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a decision to make. OSU's regular-season finale against Nicholls State was as much an open quarterback tryout between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as it was a quest for a ninth win. Both have had highs and lows throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see which way Riley goes in the postseason as the Beavers look for their first Bowl win since a 3-0 victory against Pittsburgh in the 2008 Sun Bowl.

Both quarterbacks looked outstanding against Nicholls State -- granted, it was against a one-win FCS team. Yet both made their cases with efficient performances.

But the true stars of Oregon's State's team this year have been seniors Markus Wheaton (receiver) and Jordan Poyer (cornerback). They were catalysts for one of the best turnarounds in college football in 2012. Last season, the Beavers were 3-9 and many questioned whether Riley's job was secure.

Wheaton is one of the most dangerous, yet underappreciated receivers in the country. He's not only made his quarterback better with his sure hands and blistering speed, but his presence also helped give rise to up-and-coming receiver Brandin Cooks. The duo went for more than 1,000 receiving yards each, so they'll test the Texas secondary.

Across the field, Poyer, an All-American, comes in with a Pac-12 best seven interceptions. He's supported by an outstanding defense that was second only to Stanford in points allowed per game. Scott Crichton (nine sacks, 15 tackles for a loss) headlines a front seven that was one of the tougher groups in the conference this season.

Beavers roll past Nicholls State

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
6:18
PM ET

If you were looking for drama, best to re-watch last night’s Pac-12 championship game on DVR, because the Oregon State Beavers made sure their long-delayed showdown with FCS Nicholls State was anything but dramatic.

The No. 15 Beavers (9-3) scored touchdowns on their first 11 offensive drives and held the Colonels (1-10) to just a second-half field goal. On the 12th offensive drive (following an interception), the Beavers ran out the clock to close out the 77-3 victory. Not entirely unexpected against an FCS program that had just one win this season.

It was a day for a pair of Oregon State’s favorite sons to shine in their final games at Reser Stadium. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton became the school’s career receptions leader. He hauled in 12 balls for 123 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a 10-yard touchdown on a fly sweep. Jordan Poyer picked up his seventh interception of the season.

Originally scheduled for Sept. 1, this game was rescheduled because of Hurricane Isaac -- giving the Beavers one of the more unusual starts to the season. They practiced 35 times before finally opening the season with a win against Wisconsin.

Both quarterbacks -- Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz -- got a lot of work. Mannion completed 20 of 23 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Vaz was 14 of 17 with 190 yards and three scores. That leaves Oregon State head coach Mike Riley with a decision to make regarding who his starter will be heading into the bowl game. The Beavers will either be in the Valero Alamo Bowl or the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

“I’m not thinking about it right now,” Riley told the Pac-12 Network after the game. “I knew that would come up. I really like both of these guys. I think they can both play, and I wanted to play them both into the game regardless of circumstances today. We’ll just start practicing and we’ll figure it out as we go.”

There was plenty of scoring to go around for the Beavers. Storm Woods rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Malcolm Agnew, Terron Ward and Michael Balfour all scored on the ground. Kevin Cummings, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Jenkins and Obum Gwacham all had receiving touchdowns.

Pac-12 superlative tracker

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
9:00
AM ET
We're tracking the offensive, defensive and coach-of-the-year races in the Pac-12.

For a more thorough look at offense, re-read our Heisman Trophy update.

Offensive player of the year

1. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Lee caught 10 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in the win over Arizona State. He ranks second in the nation in both receptions (9.8) and receiving yards per game (144.7). He may play defense against UCLA.

2. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Barner rushed 20 times for 65 yards and caught three balls for 35 yards in the win over California. He didn't score a touchdown. He ranks fourth in the nation with 136 yards rushing per game and leads the conference with 19 touchdowns.

3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the win over Cal. That's a 230.79 passing efficiency rating. He now ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency. He is completing nearly 72 percent of his passes with 28 TDs.

4. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in the win over Colorado, averaging 14.6 yards on his 25 carries. He now ranks second in the nation with 138.1 yards rushing per game. He is second to Barner with 18 TDs.

5. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA: He rushed 19 times for 66 yards in the win over Washington State. He also caught four passes for 45 yards and a score. He ranks sixth in the nation with 127 yards rushing per game.


Keep an eye on: Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton; USC QB Matt Barkley


Defensive player of the year

1. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: Barr recorded eight tackles, 2.5 sacks -- one of which produced a safety -- and blocked a punt in the win over Washington State. He has 11 sacks this season. He's second in the Pac-12 with 1.1 sacks per game and second with 1.7 tackles for a loss per game. He also has three forced fumbles.

2. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State: Poyer, who sat out last week with a knee injury, returned to action against Stanford and recorded five tackles, including one for a loss. He is No. 2 in the nation with 0.63 interceptions per game. For the season, he's got 27 tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack, forced fumble, five interceptions and nine pass defenses.

3. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: Sutton had eight tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack in the loss to USC. He leads the conference in sacks (1.19 per game) and tackles for a loss (1.89 per game). He ranks fourth in the nation in sacks per game.

4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Lotulelei had two tackles and a sack in the loss to Washignton. He's sixth on the Utes with 33 tackles and leads the team with nine tackles for a loss. He also has four sacks, three fumble recoveries, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

5. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State:Crichton had a tackle for a loss against Stanford. He is third in the Pac-12 in both sacks (1.0 per game) and tackles for a loss (1.17 per game). His sack total ranks eighth in the nation. For the season, has 34 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and a forced fumble.

Keep an eye on: Washington CB Desmond Trufant; Oregon LB Kiko Alonso.

Coach of the year

1. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly is in position to win his fourth consecutive Pac-12 crown and play for the national title for the second time in three years.

2. Mike Riley, Oregon State: If the Beavers win out, beating Oregon along the way, it's likely that Riley wins this award.

3. Jim Mora, UCLA: If the Bruins go to the Rose Bowl in Mora's first year, how could he not win the award?

Keep an eye on: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

OSU-Stanford an intriguing QB matchup

November, 7, 2012
11/07/12
12:00
PM ET
When asked, neither Oregon State coach Mike Riley nor Stanford coach David Shaw could remember an instance when two top-15 teams were squaring off this late in the season -- with so much at stake -- with both facing turnover at the most important position in the sport.

At Oregon State, Cody Vaz stepped in and won both games for the Beavers with Sean Mannion on the mend for two weeks following minor knee surgery. Mannion returned, only to throw four interceptions against Washington, and Vaz was called in again to replace him last week as the starter against Arizona State. Vaz is now 3-0 as a starter and has completed 55.9 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns to one interception.

At Stanford, Josh Nunes has battled inconsistency since being named the starter in the preseason. Slowly, Shaw started injecting Kevin Hogan into the lineup before giving him an extended tryout last week in a blowout win over Colorado. Hogan flourished and will start his first career game on Saturday when the No. 14 Cardinal host No. 11 Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz
George Frey/Getty ImagesCody Vaz has won three straight starts for Oregon State.
"That's an interesting point," Shaw said when asked if he could remember a situation like this, with two highly ranked teams. "Usually, you're in these positions because your quarterback is playing well. But I think both teams, also, have to do what's necessary to help their teams win."

Hogan has attempted 24 total passes in his career, 23 of them coming last week against Colorado, when he was 18-of-23 for 184 yards with two touchdowns. He also brings an option element, which is how he got on the field earlier this season.

"Early on in spring and early training camp, he was not involved in our quarterback battle, but he showed such athletic ability and such arm strength that he played his way into that competition," Shaw said. "As we got closer to the season, I don't think he had the majority of all of our concepts and protections and run checks completely locked in mentally. It just takes a while. But throughout the beginning of the season, whether it was scout team or getting a few reps with the starters, it showed that it started to sink in. That he understood what was going on and he could anticipate and make good decisions."

Speaking of decisions, Riley said it's a tough one when you have to bench a quarterback. Prior to his injury, Mannion had done a much better job of taking care of the football in his sophomore campaign. Leading up to the Washington State game in early October -- the game during which he got hurt, but played through the injury -- he had six touchdowns with one interception. But he tossed three picks against the Cougars, then missed the two weeks before the ill-fated, four-interception journey to Seattle.

"We had an unusual situation in that Sean got hurt and Cody Vaz, who I always thought competed well to be the starter, got the opportunity and took advantage of it," Riley said. "It's a difficult thing to be in, trying to choose between two good guys and two good players. I think both guys can win for our team and we're thankful for the situation. But it's difficult for the guy obviously that isn't getting to play."

The guys that are going to play know what's at stake. Both the Beavers and Cardinal are still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 North title. The winner likely gets a nice boost in the rankings and emerges as Oregon's top threat for the divisional crown. More important, should the Ducks run the table and advance to the national championship game, the winner of this game could be the next up to fill Oregon's spot in the Rose Bowl.

Both quarterbacks will be tested by outstanding defenses. Stanford and Oregon State rank first and second, respectively, in the Pac-12 in scoring defense with the Cardinal allowing 16.6 points per game and Oregon State yielding just 18.1. They also boast the top two rushing defenses in the league. Stanford is first nationally, allowing just 55.6 yards per game and Oregon State allows 91.8. They are the only two Pac-12 teams holding opposing teams to fewer than 100 yards per game.

And just for a little added pressure, Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer and Stanford safety Ed Reynolds share the conference lead with five interceptions apiece.

"It's impressive to watch if you weren't playing them," Riley said of Stanford's defense. "They are very, very talented. They play hard and they are well-coached and they've done an outstanding job. That's why they are leading our league in defense and ranked nationally where they are. It's a tough chore to play against this team."

The Cardinal offensive line -- and Hogan -- will also have to contend with OSU pass-rusher extraordinaire Scott Crichton, who is second in the league with nine sacks.

"They don't give up a ton of big plays," Shaw said of the Beavers' defense. "They play extremely hard. You can't take a play off or they'll hit your quarterback. You can't take a play off blocking somebody because they'll beat you because they don't ever stop coming."

SPONSORED HEADLINES