NCF Nation: Malcolm Smith
If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.
Here's where the Pac-12 players went:
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle
By Pac-12 school:
Arizona State (1)
Oregon State (3)
Washington State (1)
The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
Big Ten... 36
Big East 22
Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.
This was the tally through three rounds:
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4
Team of the week: Stanford rolled up 510 yards of offense against one of the nation's best defenses in a 42-17 win against Arizona. The Cardinal defense wasn't too shabby either while holding the Wildcats to 15.6 points less than their season scoring average. A Facebook page has been set up to promote the Cardinal's potential availability for an at-large BCS bowl berth.
Biggest play: Call this the biggest "replay." With four seconds left in the UCLA-Oregon State game, Bruins quarterback Richard Brehaut completed a 12-yard pass to Randall Carroll to put the Bruins in position for a 51-yard field goal. But it appeared the play clock had expired, as the field officials ruled. But the Bruins challenged the call and won, getting 1 more second to play, and kicker Kai Forbath connected for a 17-14 win.
Offensive standout: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck dominated a good Arizona defense, completing 23 of 32 for 293 yards with two TDs in the Cardinal's 42-17 win. He also ran for 25 yards on three carries and avoided getting sacked even once by a defense that led the Pac-10 in taking down quarterbacks.
Defensive standout: USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, who's missed two games with a knee injury, recorded seven tackles and a sack against Arizona State and he also returned an interception 74 yards for a TD in the Trojans' victory.
Special teams standout: Arizona State's LeQuan Lewis had a 100-yard kickoff return against USC. The return cut the Sun Devils deficit at USC to 29-21 and seemed to ignite a comeback that ultimately fell short.
Smiley face: California, UCLA and USC each have had their heart questioned this year. All three showed heart this weekend while winning games many thought they'd lose.
Frowny face: Arizona State and Oregon State. The Sun Devils mounted a nice comeback but (again) let a game slip away. Lots of what ifs (again). And we are as baffled as coach Mike Riley about the Beavers' spiritless performance at UCLA.
Thought of the week: If Stanford and Oregon keep winning, it seems likely that both Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Ducks running back LaMichael James will get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The Pac-10 sent two to New York in 2005 (USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush), but the last time two different conference schools produced finalists was 1988 (USC's Rodney Peete finished second to Barry Sanders; UCLA's Troy Aikman was third).
Questions for the week: Is the Pac-1o going to end up top-heavy? It seems like there's a solid chance that Oregon and Stanford will win the rest of their games. But what about everyone else? Arizona is the only other ranked team, and it's got some tough games ahead (USC, at Oregon, Arizona State). It's possible the final rankings will feature two top-five Pac-10 teams and no one else. And could there really be five teams with losing records?
Stanford: No way to single out an individual or even a unit. The Cardinal turned in its most complete performance of the season in the 42-17 win over Arizona.
Malcolm Smith: The USC linebacker returned after missing two games with a knee injury to record seven tackles and a sack. He also returned an interception 74 yards for a TD in the Trojans' 34-33 win over Arizona State.
Cameron Jordan: The California defensive end is a big reason the Bears didn't get upset at Washington State. Jordan had a team-high 12 tackles, including three for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble in the Bears' 20-13 win. Not sure when the last time an end led his team in tackles.
Richard Brehaut: The UCLA QB, who took over when Kevin Prince went down to a season-ending knee injury, was 4-of-6 for 37 yards on the Bruins' drive for the game-winning field goal against Oregon State. For the game, he completed 13-of-19 for 127 yards and rushed for 61 yards on 18 carries in a 17-14 victory.
Darron Thomas: The Oregon offense started off out of sync versus Washington, but Thomas guided it back and turned in another stellar performance, completing 24 of 33 passes for 243 yards with a TD and no interceptions. He ran for 89 yards and two scores in the 53-16 rout.
When Lane Kiffin was hired as the Trojans’ new coach and brought along his dad, the highly respected Monte Kiffin, and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the general feeling was that a young but talented defense would regain its spark. In fact, Lane Kiffin repeatedly praised his defense during spring practices.
Oh, but things have not gone smoothly. Not by any measure. The defense has been a porous, poor-tackling, undisciplined bunch. It ranks 87th in the nation in total defense (402.6 yards per game) and 60th in scoring defense (24.3 ppg). The young secondary has been particularly clueless, ranking 89th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.
Monte Kiffin ticks off plenty of reasonable explanations for the shortcomings: new system, new coaches, youth, injuries, etc. But he concludes with the bottom line: "We didn't play well."
"We didn't put it together and we let a couple of games get away from us that we really should've won," he said.
Ah, but there is some good news for the Trojans' defense as it gets ready for a visit from No. 2 Oregon and its ludicrous speed offense.
First, the Trojans' defense is coming off its best performance: A dominant effort in a 48-14 win over California on Oct. 16. The Bears, who trailed 42-0 at the half, finished with 245 yards and 10 first downs.
Second, they've had an extra week to prepare for the Ducks' spread-option offense, which is good because Monte Kiffin is a long-time NFL coordinator without much experience game-planning vs. that type of scheme.
And, third, they will be as healthy as they have been all year on defense. End Wes Horton will return from a back injury that knocked him out of the past three games. End Nick Perry has had extra time to rest a nagging ankle injury. And tackle-end Armond Armstead got time to rest various tweaks. Linebacker Malcolm Smith is still nursing a knee injury but he is expected to play.
But rest wasn't what the Trojans focused on during the bye week. In fact, there was extra running, live tackling -- something Kiffin has avoided due to injury worries for a team that lacks depth -- and fast-paced practices that attempted to match the pace with which Oregon plays.
"We worked harder during the bye week," cornerback Shareece Wright said. "We actually didn't take a break."
The fundamental issue is fairly simple: What the heck are the Trojans going to do against the nation's best offense? Apparently something different. Monte Kiffin has been widely hailed as one of the originators of the Tampa-2 defensive scheme, which it appears the Trojans are finally getting the hang of. But that's not the right defense to defend a spread-option, Lane Kiffin said.
"That defense really does not fit playing against Oregon at all," he said. "That defense is more about stopping the pass."
The Ducks pass pretty well, but they do rank third in the nation in rushing with 322 yards per game.
Of course, it's possible there's a bit of gamesmanship going on here, with Kiffin intimating an entirely new defensive scheme for Chip Kelly's Ducks to try to figure out. Kelly didn't seem too concerned, however, noting that it's typical for the Ducks to see new schemes.
"Usually, what we see on Saturday isn't what we saw on film, because we play a different offense than most everybody else in our league," he said. "We have to make adjustments within the game."
And the Ducks seem to do that well, see 54.3 points and 569 yards per game, with both totals ranking No. 1 in the nation.
The Trojans also have one of the nation's best offenses -- see 37 points and 494 yards per game. At home, you'd figure they'll be able to get some points.
But can they slow Oregon? The younger Kiffin, once known for bluster, was almost reverent describing the Ducks' offense.
"They are so explosive," Kiffin said. "The style they play is like something we haven't seen. Or probably anybody's ever seen."
The loss of Baxter isn't nearly as problematic as losing two defensive starters. The Trojans defense lacks depth even when it's healthy. Moreover, a number of guys who are playing are banged up, such as end Nick Perry.
That should help California today.
Now what for USC?
|Steve Dykes/Getty Images|
|Pete Caroll’s Trojans need to rebound strongly if they still want to be in the BCS bowl race.|
Yes, the little people are thrilled.
Every other team in the country has suffered many, many, many double-digit defeats since 2001. Seems like it's about time the Trojans suffered their second.
Of course, there will be blustering about the Trojans being overrated despite the fact they have accomplished more this season than just about any other team in the nation, posting three wins over teams ranked in the current BCS standings, all of them on the road.
Oregon is better than USC. No question. That doesn't mean the Trojans aren't a top-10 team.
And if USC wins the rest of its games and finishes 10-2 -- and Oregon takes care of business and wins the Pac-10 title -- the odds are good that the Trojans still will earn the conference a second BCS bowl berth.
So despair not USC fans!
Or maybe you should.
That defense that gave up (clear throat) 613 yards on Saturday is banged up. Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a shoulder injury and won't play this weekend at Arizona State and could be out for weeks. Middle linebacker Chris Galippo and backup strong side linebacker Jarvis Jones suffered neck sprains against the Ducks, which could be issues for a while even if they can play Saturday. Defensive lineman Armond Armstead fractured his wrist. Defensive end Everson Griffen is experiencing turf toe, another injury that could linger for weeks.
And more than a few folks are wondering if if All-American safety Taylor Mays' is hurting. Mays, who missed the Washington loss with a sprained knee, didn't look like himself against the Ducks.
Meanwhile, on offense, fullback Stanley Havili (shoulder) and tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) should be considered questionable for the trip to Tempe. Both veterans were missed at Oregon.
The performance at Oregon made this manifest: It's possible that there actually are limits to USC's talent and depth. That losing eight A-list defensive starters and a quarterback who was the fifth-overall NFL draft pick can, in fact, be an issue, just as starting a true freshman quarterback has a downside no matter how poised, talented and intelligent that quarterback is.
And don't forget the coaching turnover the Trojans have gone through over the past season: two new coordinators, a new quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller and a new defensive line coach. Sometimes new voices complicate a team's culture and dynamic.
The defensive implosion still feels shocking, though, particularly because five games into the season it looked like the Trojans had merely reloaded.
Entering the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17, the Trojans ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (238.6 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (8.6 ppg), fifth in run defense (64.8 ypg) and hadn't allowed a touchdown pass.
Three games later, the Trojans rank 36th in the nation in total defense (331.88), 27th in scoring (19.13), 44th in run defense (118.75) and have given up six TD passes.
If those numbers hold steady, this will be Pete Carroll's worst defense since 2005 -- the worst in his nine-year tenure -- which is surprising considering how good that team was.
The breakdowns against Notre Dame and Oregon State mostly happened after the Trojans grabbed big leads, so a letdown was a possible explanation, though a repeated loss of focus doesn't speak well of the Trojans players and coaches.
But the way Oregon dominated the second half suggested the Trojans might not be in great physical shape. The Ducks players said they wore down USC and who could argue? After three consecutive poor fourth quarters, maybe the Trojans need to do some more cardio.
Some might point to a lack of heart. Oregon punched the Trojans in the mouth, and the Trojans didn't respond.
That, however, will be measured going forward, starting at Arizona State.
USC should be plenty motivated by its now-myriad doubters. Folks have taken shots at USC for years while not believing their own words. Everybody -- deep down -- knew what USC was: The team that always would be favored over everyone else on a neutral field.
Now there are actually legitimate grounds to question how good USC is. An unprecedented string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles is in serious peril.
Therein lies another potential consolation prize for USC. Remember: You Trojans are tired of bludgeoning Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl.
So what if USC gets off the floor, towels off its bloody face and whips the remaining teams on its schedule?
Then it will go to another BCS bowl and earn an opportunity to make a simple statement: We're still USC.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.
No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
|Ric Tapia/Icon SMI|
|Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.|
Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.
Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.
Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.
"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."
Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.
And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.
It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.
It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.
"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.
Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.
The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.
"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.
Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."
Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.
Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.
"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."
Poor ole USC?
Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.
|Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller
All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?
Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.
As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?
AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.
Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks this spring in the Pac-10, most particularly USC's quarterback competition -- did ya hear, Aaron Corp's No. 1 but this freshman Matt Barkley looks like the bees' knees!
The other general theme isn't new: After reviewing the tea leaves on the table, does any team have the karmic -- and talent -- potential to unseat USC from the top of the Pac-10?
The answer? Maybe.
What we learned. Or developed a hunch about.
1. Oregon State's quarterback situation is ... interesting: You have two starting quarterbacks who are seniors. One is going to sit. No other way to describe it. Lyle Moevao threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last year but he sat out spring practices with a shoulder injury, which is exactly what happened to Sean Canfield last year before he lost his starting job. By the way, Canfield went 3-0 -- two starts -- subbing for Moevao in 2008. Though he struggled in the spring game with three interceptions, Canfield played well enough throughout that he probably owns a slight lead heading into the offseason.
2. USC's defense may not be as good as 2008, but it's probably as good as anyone else: The 2008 USC defense had more future NFL players on it than any other unit in the nation. And the 2009 version might not be any different, though there's clearly youth and inexperience to fret about from the Trojans' perspective. Still, start with perhaps the best secondary in the nation, led by safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard. Then consider the breakout spring of end Everson Griffen, who could win the Pac-10 sack title if he remains focused. Further, word is the three new linebackers might not match the NFL-ready standard of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, but Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan are faster. Toss in some impressive youngsters up front, and it's hard to imagine this crew not ranking among the nation's top 10 in just about every category.
3. The conference of ... running backs: The Pac-10 might feature the best collection of running backs in the nation. Five 1,000-yard rushers are schedule to return, including California's Jahvid Best, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman. Toss in Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, a potential first-day NFL draft pick in 2010, and Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, not to mention the six-deep stable of runners at USC, and the battle for first-team Pac-10 might be more arduous than All-American.
4. But can anyone block? Three teams that ran the ball well last year -- Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State -- lost three starting offensive linemen, including early-round NFL draft picks. Four others -- Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- were just lousy up front last fall. Even Stanford and California, which should be fairly stout, lost their best blockers from 2008. The conference's only sure thing up front is USC, which welcomes back its entire starting five, including All-American center Kristopher O'Dowd. Moreover, the teams that entered spring with questions on the line didn't get many answers three weeks later. O-line play might be the most critical issue facing the conference in 2009, even more so than at quarterback.
5. Sarkisian and Kelly bring new energy: Steve Sarkisian and Chip Kelly inherited completely different situations, but both made a mark by upping the intensity of practices. Sarkisian, of course, took over a lifeless program that Tyrone Willingham ran into the ground (uncharitable, but inarguable). He opened up practices and practically begged boosters and old Huskies greats to come visit. He also increased the tempo and energy level of practices -- heck, everything around the team -- which might do more than anything to get the Huskies a handful of wins next fall. Meanwhile, Kelly took over for one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Bellotti, and brought a little East Coast volume to Ducks practices. He's not completely renovating the Ducks, who finished in the nation's top 10 last year, but he's going to add his own coat of paint -- which at Oregon, as you known, probably will be a fairly loud shade.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.
- Washington quarterback Jake Locker's accuracy is improving this spring.
- Former Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton is projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft.
- Will Arizona State get shut out of the draft for the first time in 45 years? My guess is no.
- Checking in with former California quarterback Nate Longshore, who probably won't get drafted.
- This former Trojan has been the star of Oregon's spring practices. Injuries are forcing the Ducks to experiment at running back and elsewhere.
- Though he's sitting out Oregon State's spring practices, quarterback Lyle Moevao still thinks he'll start for the Beavers when his competition with Sean Canfield renews in the fall. Considering the Beavers' options on the offensive line.
- An educated guess at Stanford's post-spring depth chart.
- Has UCLA found its next Bruce Davis at defensive end? And has D-tackle Brian Price found his voice to lead?
- Playing quarterback at USC is more than just playing quarterback for a BCS program. Malcolm Smith steps up at linebacker.
- Washington loses a couple of players, including 2008 leading rusher Terrance Dailey.
- Does the spread offense hurt a quarterback's NFL prospects? My answer? Not if you're good enough to play quarterback in the NFL.
- The Rose Bowl apparently will give Joe Paterno a stern talking to for Paterno's pointless and cliched grumpy coach routine before and after the bowl game.
- Fresh blood leading the Pac-10 and Big East might help change college football's postseason.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ever wonder what a coach might say about a quarterback competition the day before he announces a pecking order?
You're in luck!
USC coach Pete Carroll stopped by for a chat with the Pac-10 blog on Monday, the day before he announced on his Web site that Aaron Corp would emerge from spring practices No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, ahead of true freshman Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Pete Carroll boasts an 88-15 record since arriving at USC.|
That bit of stolen thunder aside -- and the announcement was mostly a foregone conclusion -- it's never a bad time to talk with a coach who's 88-15 in eight years at USC and has finished ranked in the top four of the AP poll seven consecutive seasons.
After all, he's got a new book deal to benefit his charity, A Better LA, and a new Web site for kids.
And he's got a football team that likely will be favored to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and again compete for a national title.
Word on the street is you guys have an intense quarterback competition going on over there: Where does that stand?
Pete Carroll: Guys have really battled hard and done well. We're pleased with the play at the quarterback position. The competition is going to continue. We'll name a guy who's going to start the spring game for us and then the competition will just continue. We've got to call something here after a month of playing. We'll find out what happens when we get back to camp in the fall.
You've told me in the past you prefer to anoint a quarterback as early as possible to allow him to develop into a clear leader: How will that be a part of the decision in the fall?
PC: We'd like to do that [name a starter], but you've got to do the right thing and let the competition play itself out. What that means is, in the past when we named Matt Leinart over Matt Cassel, it meant that Leinart was going first and Cassel was battling him. The competition remained on. It will be the same situation. It's a very hard-fought, close competition and in fairness it's going to take longer to know exactly what we are going to do for the long haul.
PC: I don't think there's any question Curtis McNeal has. Marc Tyler has been hurt most of the spring -- he's only had a couple of days when he's full speed. He's done well. But McNeal has taken advantage of the opportunity to be out there every day and he's really been effective.
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.