NCF Nation: Kevin Frahm
He's going to look for answers -- tough answers if need be. The one he immediately came up with Monday is announcing the quarterback job will be split between Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, and redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.
Mannion played well in the loss to the Hornets; Katz did not. Ergo, the potential shakeup, though it's unclear how things will be rotated when the Beavers visit No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Yeah, Wisconsin. Not good. The Badgers are a big, physical team with a new, impressive dual-threat QB in Russell Wilson, a transfer from NC State. The Beavers lost at home to an FCS team. Now they are going on the road to play a national title contender.
The first issue: What went wrong for the Beavers against the Hornets in a 29-28 overtime defeat?
Riley isn't certain. And he admitted he didn't see such a flat performance coming.
"We trusted this team's work ethic," he said. "They were really good in fall camp. Everything up to that was positive. Why all of a sudden would you doubt what they are all about as far as getting ready to play?"
What's most worrisome: Riley thought the Beavers seemed tight, though they were playing at home against a supposedly overmatched foe. Sure, eight true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen saw their first career action, in large part due to epidemic injuries, but that still doesn't fully explain a listless performance.
What does Riley expect -- hope? -- to see in front of 80,000 fans in Camp Randall Stadium?
"Poise is No. 1," he said. "We had some stage fright in our opener. It looked like we played with not much emotion but I sensed it was a fear."
Unfortunately, the injury luck still hasn't turned positive, even with the return of DT Kevin Frahm (knee) and potential return of DT Dominic Glover (academics). The lone bright spot from the Sacramento State game was true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for a nation-leading 223 yards. He's now doubtful for the visit to Wisconsin because of a hamstring injury suffered Tuesday.
The hits keep coming. The injury situation has been so bad that Riley made a decision he knew would inspire criticism: He opted to selectively enforce preseason player suspensions because of the thinness of the depth chart.
Fact is, it could get ugly at Wisconsin. It would be a tough matchup for the Beavers even at 100 percent. But with several key starters out -- most notably WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni and CB Brandon Hardin -- it's probably going to be a challenge for Riley to just restore his team's confidence.
There is a silver lining, though. The Beavers have a bye next week. Halahuni is likely back for UCLA's visit on Sept. 24. And Rodgers could be back, too. That will be a big boost in terms of skill and leadership, particularly in the passing game.
The hope is things will sort themselves out at QB this weekend -- and here's a guess Riley would prefer for Katz to reassert himself -- and the momentum will take a positive swing as Pac-12 play opens.
Otherwise, the Beavers could be looking at consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1997-98.
Says the Oregon State fan: At least there's LSU. Thanks Tigers.
And they should be.
Oregon laid an egg instead of taking advantage of a major opportunity against LSU. The loss, naturally, inspired more of the same talk about the present leader of the Pac-12 not being able to physically keep up with an elite SEC team.
We went that route, too. But let's pause for a moment and wonder how that game might have gone for the Ducks if the teams had the same number of turnovers and penalties. You know: What if the game happened the way Oregon wanted it to instead of the way it actually did.
That same approach, which all unhappy football fans use the day after, is surely being employed by Oregon State adherents.
Beavers, yes, you are now on the ignoble list of FBS teams that have lost to FCS teams. In fact, you are on the list of FBS teams from BCS AQ conferences that have lost to FCS teams. Put all those letters together and they spell, "Embarrassing."
But we come not here to bury fans from the state of Oregon but to console them!
First, you have this: These defeats did nothing to damage your Rose Bowl chances. There are 11 games left. The only fact as of today is the best you can do in the regular season is go 11-1.
Oregon, you might have played yourself out of the national title chase. Or you might not have. Fair to say, it will take a lot of losing all over the country and impressive winning from the Ducks to get pollsters to rank the Ducks Nos. 1 or 2.
Oregon State, you might have a little embarrassing left to do. You are going to Wisconsin on Saturday. Did you watch the Badgers against UNLV? One word: Gulp. Hard to imagine that being a pleasant trip, though Beavers fans surely will enjoy one of the nation's great college towns.
But Beavers, you aren't whole. You are without your big front teeth and wonderful paddle tail: receiver James Rodgers, cornerback Brandon Hardin, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm, defensive tackle Dominic Glover and tight end Joe Halahuni. That's a lot of quality starters to be missing.
Many of those guys will be back at some point: Frahm this week, Halahuni by the Sept. 24 game with UCLA. Rodgers ... hopefully sometime.
But let's be honest Oregon State: This is a team with issues. Coach Mike Riley said as much during the preseason. Sure injuries have been brutal, leading to 14 players making their first career starts and a school-record eight true freshman playing. But even without the injuries, this team didn't look like a threat in the Pac-12 North Division.
That said: Slow starts are often a staple of good seasons in Corvallis.
The 2000 team that went 11-1 nearly lost its opener to Eastern Washington. The 2004 team started 1-4 but went 7-5. In 2006, the Beavers got bombed at Boise State but went 10-4. In 2007, they got stomped at Cincinnati but went 9-4. In 2008, Penn State delivered the beatdown, but that team went 9-4.
In fact, the Beavers best seasons seem to have featured multiple early defeats -- in many years bad ones -- which likely will be the case after the trip to Madison. So maybe this is just the unhappy required part of a pattern for success?
Just like Oregon, which has now lost four consecutive marquee nonconference games to A-list foes with extra time to prepare. That pattern, nonetheless, has been imposed upon the two-time defending conference champions, not exactly a struggling program.
Ducks, Beavers: It's Labor Day. Let it go sometime around 10 a.m. PDT. Find a fan of opposite color and rib him or her, and take it back good naturedly.
It's a long season. But you don't know that it's going to be a looooooong season just yet. Eleven more games to turn those frowns upside down.
You can review the post-spring power rankings here. There is a good deal of movement. And a lot of different iterations -- including change at the very top -- were heavily considered.
This week's vote is based on one factor: If the Pac-12 had a tournament this week on a neutral field, how do you think things would finish. That means, for example, a team's schedule doesn't matter. But preseason camp momentum -- read: an absence of controversy or injuries -- does.
Going forward, the power rankings will be far more focused on that immediate present reality: How did teams handle their business that past weekend? It won't necessarily be a projection of finish.
And, for those new to the power rankings, the motto here is simple: If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.
1. Oregon: Based on what we typed above, one might think the Ducks would fall behind Stanford. And our thought process in early August was exactly that -- see here -- as our top-25 poll included other factors, such as schedule, such as Stanford playing host to Oregon this season. But here's the deal: Oregon is the top bird until somebody shoots it out of the air.
2. Stanford: A lot of folks are questioning Stanford. The Pac-12 blog is, too. My question: Will Andrew Luck and the Cardinal win the national championship this season. My hunch? A strong maybe.
3. USC: If the Trojans were eligible for the postseason, the gap between them and Nos. 1 and 2 would be fairly small. As it is, the gap between USC and the top two spots is fairly gigantic.
4. Arizona State: The Pac-12 blog has been banging the Sun Devils' drum since late in the 2010 season. And if this team was getting ready to send out the depth chart it appeared to have last December -- just about everyone back -- I'd project it in the top-15. But with all the attrition -- injuries, players quitting, etc. -- it's hard to know who the Sun Devils will be.
5. Washington: The Huskies' big question was replacing quarterback Jake Locker. Ther second question was at linebacker. It seems more than a few folks are optimistic those questions will be adequately answered. There's a lot to like on this roster, particularly what looks to be a dramatically improved defense.
6. Utah: It's hard to project Utah because we've never seen them before in this environment. What we can say is the success of this season hangs on keeping quarterback Jordan Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder safe.
7. Arizona: Just when we were starting to think the Wildcats might be an underrated team, they lose their best cover corner -- Jonathan McKnight -- for the season to a knee injury. While Arizona State and Oregon State have had the worst injury luck of the offseason, the Wildcats aren't far behind.
8. UCLA: The Bruins feel like a sleeper. It almost seems as simple as this: If UCLA is merely adequate at quarterback, it will be a bowl team and a factor in the Pac-12 South.
9. California: See what we typed for UCLA, only in the North Division. Further, the Bears look like they are going to play a lot of their talented true and redshirt freshmen classes. That should at least be very interesting.
10. Colorado: Not unlike Utah, we don't really know what we're going to get with the Buffaloes. There was a big temptation to rank them higher -- this is an experienced team with more talent than many old school Pac-10 folks think. But how could we rank the Buffs ahead of Cal after what happened in Berkeley last season?
11. Oregon State: Beavers fans are erupting... no way! Yes way. On the list of injured or at least uncertain: receiver James Rodgers, tight end Joe Halahuni, cornerback Brandon Hardin, defensive tackle Dominic Glover, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm and linebacker Cameron Collins. And many more, actually. The Beavers entered preseason practices with a lot of questions -- as coach Mike Riley repeatedly said -- they will head into the first week with perhaps more than they did at the beginning of August.
12. Washington State: There was some thought of bouncing the Cougars out of the basement. They, unlike a number of teams, have stayed relatively healthy during camp, and just about every report coming out of Pullman is colored with optimism. But the same rule that applies to Oregon in a positive way applies to the Cougars in a negative one: You're here until you prove otherwise.
Most folks already know about the uncertainty of receiver James Rodgers (knee) and tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder), who are doubtful to play at Wisconsin on Sept. 10. But there are a couple of other injuries worth following that are also critical.
- On the "fairly good," side of the injured list is DT Kevin Frahm. He had surgery on Monday to repair a torn meniscus. The hope is he will return to practice in time to play at Wisconsin.
- The news is not so good for cornerback Brandon Hardin and his shoulder. He'll need surgery to fix a fracture, and the procedure could end his season. At the minimum, he'll be out six weeks. Sophomore Rashaad Reynolds will step into a starting role.
- Defensive tackle Dominic Glover still hasn't been cleared academically. What once seemed like a minor issue is taking longer than expected to resolve, which is reason to be nervous.
- Things are cloudy at tight end until Halahuni comes back. Freshman Kellen Clute hurt his knee in the scrimmage, and two redshirt freshmen, Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett, will be suspended for a game, though it's unclear which game at this point.
- Also, linebacker Cameron Collins continues to be limited by an abominable issue. He had offseason surgery and has missed a lot of practice time.
Getting away from injuries, it appears that true freshman Malcolm Agnew is on the cusp of earning the starting spot at running back. The last true freshman to start at the position for the Beavers turned out OK, you might recall.
That's when quarterback Ryan Katz threw for 393 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as the Beavers upset then-No. 9 Arizona 29-27 in Tucson. It was one of the best performances by a Pac-10 quarterback all season.
It also was the Beavers second consecutive victory as they swept the Arizona schools. Know which other teams in the Pac-10 beat both Arizona and Arizona State? Oregon, Stanford and USC. And the Beavers beat USC, too.
Before he blew out his knee, Rodgers had caught seven passes for 102 yards with a 33-yard touchdown. He and Katz were playing beautiful music together. But without Rodgers, the Beavers never were consistent again, stumbling to a 2-5 finish and 5-7 final mark, which included oddly impressive wins over California and USC by a combined count of 71-14.
While Beavers have big questions on both lines, injuries are the most nagging issue, chief among them being Rodgers and tight end/half back Joe Halahuni (shoulder).
What Katz knows -- or thinks he knows -- about the 2011 Beavers is this: If the wounds heal, a lot of questions will be answered.
"That's the big thing, getting all those guys on the field at the same time," he said.
Katz, a 6-foot-1, 214-pound junior with perhaps the strongest arm in a conference of strong arms, himself missed spring practice with a wrist injury. But he said he is "100 percent, no problems. It's felt good for three months."
Rodgers has been "running well" -- said Katz -- but there's still no firm timeline on when he could return to full-go action. Halahuni figures to miss the first two weeks of the season, including a trip to Wisconsin.
Further, camp hasn't been good to the injury list, with defensive tackle Kevin Frahm suffering a knee sprain that will sideline him at least a couple of weeks and impressive true freshman receiver Brandin Cooks spraining his ankle. Linebacker Cameron Collins is still recovering from abdominal surgery and has yet to practice.
All these questions have engendered lower expectations than usual in Corvallis -- at least from fans and media. Katz is aware of this but unfazed by it.
"A lot of people have their opinion about us and whether we are ranked, but we have our own opinion on this team," he said.
Katz noted four returning starters, including three seniors, on the offensive line, a maligned unit he said he thinks is "getting the message." He noted that receiver Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop are looking good.
Questions, sure. Katz -- just like coach Mike Riley -- acknowledges they are there. But he sees potential answers, too. What if the Beavers can rediscover that team from Oct. 9 in Tucson?
Said Katz, "Guys know what we can do if we are all healthy and all clicking."
The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.
That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?
So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.
Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.
USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.
Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.
Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.
Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.
Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.
Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.
Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.
UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.
California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.
Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.
Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.
Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.
LaMichael James: The Oregon running back rushed for 239 yards on 36 carries with three TDs in the Ducks 53-32 win over USC. Guess here is he will continue to lead the nation in rushing next week.
Jacquizz Rodgers: The Oregon State running promised a big performance and delivered 119 yards on 22 carries with three TDs. He could have had a lot more if the Beavers hadn't led Cal 35-0 after three quarters. They won 35-7.
Matt Scott: Arizona's backup QB, making his second start for Nick Foles, completed 24 of 36 passes for a career-high 319 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushed for another 71 yards on 12 carries in the Wildcats 29-21 win over UCLA.
Stanford's defense: The Cardinal held QB Jake Locker and the Huskies to just 107 total yards in a 41-0 shutout win in Husky Stadium, the Huskies first shutout home loss since 1976.
Kevin Frahm: The Oregon State DT posted two sacks and forced a fumble in the Beavers blowout win over Cal.
Steven Threet: The Arizona State QB completed 26-of-32 for 300 yards with three TDs and -- most important -- no interceptions in the Sun Devils 42-0 win over Washington State.
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.
The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.
Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.
O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.
The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A
What to watch:
Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?
Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.
RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.
The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.
Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.
Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.
The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.
Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.
Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.
Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.
Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.
The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA
What to watch:
Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.
Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).
Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.
Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?
The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.
O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.
Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The sample size is too small -- two games, one vs. an FCS foe -- to know whether Oregon State's rebuilt defense will be up to program standards in 2009, but a stress test rolls into Corvallis on Saturday that should be quite revealing.
No. 17 Cincinnati runs a no-huddle spread that presently ranks second in the nation in scoring (58.5 points per game) and fifth in total yards (571 yards per game).
"It's basketball on grass," Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker said.
|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Oregon State's defense will have its hands full stopping Tony Pike, who has thrown for 591 yards and six touchdowns so far.|
Oregon State welcomes back only three defensive starters from the 2008 unit that ranked near the top of the Pac-10 in most categories. Of course, the situation was exactly the same -- just three starters back from an outstanding 2007 unit -- in 2008.
So many Beavers fans are counting on a reload rather than a rebuild, in large part because Banker's gap-cancellation scheme has been so consistently productive in recent years.
The early returns are cautiously optimistic.
Banker is happy with the play of his defensive tackles and linebackers. Both ends are new, and Kevin Frahm has played well. Ben Terry and Gabe Miller are still learning the position.
Just one quarterback sack so far for a team that thrives on pressuring the quarterback is a concern.
The secondary has four new starters and there have been some good moments. And bad moments.
"We're OK -- this week will be a better overall evaluation," Banker said. "We need to play with more confidence, and if they do that I think you'll see guys make more plays on the ball."
The Beavers got their first pick -- from safety Lance Mitchell -- in their 23-21 win at UNLV.
The Bearcats should offer a stout challenge because quarterback Tony Pike, a 6-foot-6 senior gunslinger, has been outstanding thus far. He ranks fourth in the nation in pass efficiency and has thrown for 591 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception. He picked apart Big East favorite Rutgers in a 47-15 road victory, establishing the Bearcats as the conference's team to beat.
"I think Pike is as good a quarterback as there is," Banker said. "He's accurate. He's got great vision. The ball is out quick."
Pike does get flustered under pressure at times -- he tossed 11 interceptions last year -- but a defense is playing a high risk-reward game if it blitzes against the Bearcats' four- and five-receiver sets.
"With that gun, you better get there quick because he's going to see you coming and get it off," Banker said.
Then Pike's capable receivers -- Mardy Gilyard is one of the best in the Big East -- take over with the ball in space and a defender is forced to make an open-field tackle.
While the Bearcats pass first, they also are averaging 197 yards rushing per game. If the Beavers can't stop the run, they are in trouble.
And if Pike gets time to throw, it could be a long afternoon.
"No. 1, we've got to match their tempo," Banker said.
On the plus side, the Beavers have won 26 consecutive nonconference home games. Coach Mike Riley is 17-0 in such games.
On the footnote-to-that side, Cincinnati is the first ranked team not presently in the Pac-10 to visit Corvallis since 1977, when the Beavers beat No. 13 BYU.
And what might Oregon State do with a fast start?
If the Beavers defense is, indeed, reloading and the offense has its way with a rebuilding Bearcats defense -- just one returning starter -- then Oregon State will be 3-0 after starting the previous three seasons 2-3.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?
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.