NCF Nation: Josh Hubner

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.


Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
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.

Q&A: Arizona State's Josh Hubner

November, 16, 2012
We at the Pac-12 blog don't discriminate. Which is why we felt compelled to get a special teams player in one of the Friday Q&As. And who better than Arizona State punter Josh Hubner, who is second in the nation with 47.4 yards per kick? Coach Todd Graham calls him "without a doubt" the best punter the country, and he was recently named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. He was kind enough to rest his leg for a few minutes and chat with the Pac-12 blog.

I know you were a quarterback, a wide receiver, a tight end, a punter and a defensive end in high school. How did you settle on being a punter in college?

[+] EnlargeJosh Hubner
AP Photo/Rob HoltArizona State punter Josh Hubner has NFL aspirations.
Josh Hubner: It was just as much of a shock to me as it was everybody else. I came out of high school and had originally signed up for the Army. That fell through. So I picked up with Scottsdale Community College literally three weeks before the season started. I sat down with the coach and he knew I was an all-state punter coming out of high school and he said he wanted me to punt and work with the tight ends. I worked with them for about 15 minutes and then it was established that all I was going to do was punt. It became something I poured my heart and soul into.

Pretty thankless job, though. Right?

JH: Yeah. But that's alright. I'm used to it and I'm accustomed to it. You jog out there understanding that your offense didn't get it going, so you do what you can to put your defense in a good position.

What's the feeling for a punter when you stick a ball inside the 10? Is it comparable to a sack or scoring a touchdown?

JH: Thinking back to high school, I don't think there is any better feeling than scoring a touchdown or sacking the quarterback 10 yards behind the line. But it's definitely a pretty invigorating feeling. A lot of the guys will look at me like I'm crazy because I'm running off the field all fired up because I put the ball inside the 3-yard line. I know in my head, I'm thinking now we can get a safety and I can be directly responsible for that. Or you kick it 65 yards and they muff the punt. All of those things fire you up. Guys like Will Sutton look at me like, 'you're crazy, but whatever you're doing, you're doing well.' It's always cool. The guys are cool about it.

You're in the hunt for the Ray Guy Award. What would that mean to you?

JH: That's big. I would have never imagined. It's an honor. He's somebody I idolized for a long time. I actually went to a couple of his camps and I actually got a chance to work with him personally a few years back. I don't think I actually realized who I was standing next to at that point. Now we're here. It's almost overwhelming, and it leaves me at a loss for words. I can't believe I'm where I'm at.

Do you miss hitting? Do you ever go out of your way to get out there and drop the shoulder a few times?

JH: I'm sure if you ask [safety Alden] Darby or any of those guys about me, they'll tell you. In spring ball we do this thing called "The W Drill" and they would always have the walk-ons run the ball. It's like a trench drill. I'd be the first guy to jump in there and grab the football and relive the glory days. But the more and more my tenure at Arizona State comes to a close, I'm starting to realize I'm just a punter and I probably need to preserve my health and my leg. But I also think I'm always going to be that way. I'm always going to be high strung and wired and wanting to get in on the action.

Looking at the team in the big picture, you had the hot start and now you're in another losing streak, not unlike last year. Can you tell a difference between the mentalities of last year's team and this year's at this point?

JH: Absolutely. It's 180 degrees. Guys are still playing for the team and the coaching staff and the fans. Guys are confident. They still have that hunger about them. Now it's mixed with a little bit of that disappointing feeling when you know you have all of the talent in the world to do what you know you can do, and you end up beating yourself. It comes down to whether you want it, and these guys want it. We want to be bowl eligible. We want to beat UofA. All of those things are big. We want the seniors to go out with a bang. This will be my last game at Sun Devil Stadium. I would say the mentality is much more positive than you'd think. We're still trying to get better, and that's all you can do.

Can we assume the NFL is next for you?

JH: Yeah, hopefully. A lot of that is something I'm trying to do my best to keep on the backburner. But it comes at you real quick. It's something I'm focused on, but it's not going to take away from what I'm doing here. We want to finish big. Hopefully I'm not on the field too much at the end of the season. But it's something I'd like to give a shot in the future.

You're 6-4, 238. Do you ever give coach [Todd] Graham a little elbow in the ribs and say 'come on, let me fake one. Let me run one.'

JH: Let me run the ball. Haha. If we're running a fake, I'm not throwing. I'm going to keep it. I'm going to run it. Send a couple big 280-pound guys like Will Sutton out on the end to seal a block and I'm taking it to the house or running over that 180-pound returner that wants to tackle me high. I wish. But as a punter, you understand you're down to do whatever for the team. Whatever the team needs, I'm out there and I'm doing it. Right now, that's punting the ball, so I'll stick with that.