NCF Nation: Markus Wheaton

Stanford offers showcase game for Cooks

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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Who the heck is this Brandin Cooks guy, the Oregon State Beaver who is on track to become just the second NCAA player to eclipse 2,000 yards receiving in a single season?

He's fearless.

"He's a fearless-type guy is what I noticed," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's not real big but he's physical. He can go up and get a football with two or three people around him, and consistently does that. Every film I watched, he did that a couple of times a game."

Cooks is fast. And tough.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsBrandin Cooks had a season-high 14 of his FBS-leading 76 receptions against San Diego State.
"He has exceptional speed," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's tough. And [Sean Mannion] is the perfect quarterback to complement what Brandin does as a receiver. He's so accurate and is such a great thrower."

Cooks is explosive.

"I watched the explosive pass cut up [Monday] night," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Wow. The quarterback is doing a great job sliding in the pocket and buying some time and throwing it deep and Cooks is just running by everybody. The key for us [on Saturday] is to try to keep him in front of us as best we can. Let him catch the ball in front of us and try to gang tackle."

Cooks is a high-character guy with a strong work ethic.

"Brandin is pretty much the same guy every day," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He got to this point because of his talent and work ethic. He just comes to work every day. I haven't noticed any change in him from the time he arrived on campus. He's driven and he's also a great character guy."

And Cooks is chill. He entertained a couple of reporters on the phone on Tuesday, repeatedly deferring credit to his teammates, Mannion in particular, while lying on his back on the Beavers practice field, taking in a beautiful day in Corvallis (according to a photo texted afterwards to the Pac-12 blog).

So Cooks is a lot of things that add up to being good -- as in Biletnikoff Award good. But who gets the majority of credit for the nation's most potent passing attack, the receiver who leads the nation in receptions (10.9 per game), receiving yards per game (168.0) and touchdowns (12), or the QB who leads the nation in passing yards per game (427.4) and touchdown passes (29)?

"I'll give it straight to Sean," Cooks said. "He's the commander and chief of the offense. I'm just doing my job and he's putting the ball there."

That's a question ultimately for the college football nation to decide, as both have worked their way into the conversation for All-American honors as well as national awards, perhaps even the Heisman Trophy. That the college football nation should even care about Mannion-to-Cooks is a bit surprising, considering the Beavers lost their season-opener to Eastern Washington, an FCS team, though it's important to note that 49-46 debacle was about a defensive meltdown. Cook and Mannion were their typical brilliant selves that day.

Six consecutive wins later, however, and the Beavers plopped into the No. 25 spot in the BCS standings. They've been operating mostly under the radar throughout their winning streak, but now the schedule's degree of difficulty is ramping up substantially, starting with a visit from No. 6 Stanford on Saturday.

It's a big opportunity for the program to move up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order, and for Mannion-to-Cooks to showcase its stuff to the college football nation.

"You can only keep us under the radar for so long if we keep doing what we're doing," Cooks said. "That's the beautiful thing about this game. College football can change in a minute."

Change is good, and Cooks has undergone some since he arrived at Oregon State as a speedy, sure-handed but undersized pass-catcher from Stockton, Calif. As a true freshman, he caught 31 passes for 391 yards, but with just 162 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame, he wasn't much of a physical presence.

He was up to 179 pounds last year while catching 67 passes for 1,151 yards as Robin to Markus Wheaton's Batman. This fall, he's now a yoked 186 pounds. He hasn't lost any speed, and he's complemented that with an ability to win most mano-a-mano battles with handsy cornerbacks trying to disrupt his routes and rhythm.

Cornerbacks still try to get into Cooks' head. That is the cornerback way. They like to tell Cooks that he's not going to do that stuff he has done to everyone else to them.

"I get it sometimes. They get hyped up," Cooks said. "But it kind of slows down as the game gets going, when our team is gashing them. That's our trash talking for them."

It helps Cooks that the Beavers have a pretty good supporting cast of pass-catchers around him, which makes defenses pay for doubling him up, using bracket coverages or rolling their zone his way. No. 2 receiver Richard Mullaney has caught 32 passes for 538 yards with a stout 16.8 yards per reception, and 25 of his catches have produced either a first down or touchdown. Five other Beavers have at least 16 receptions.

But Cooks is clearly the lead dog. The junior already is fourth on the school's career receiving list with 2,718 yards. He needs just 276 yards to move past Wheaton into third place. His next TD reception will give him 21 for his career, breaking the school record shared by James Newson (2000-03) and Mike Hass (2002-05).

Cooks knows he hasn't yet played a defense close to the quality of Stanford's. The Cardinal last week shut down the Bruins high-flying passing attack.

"Their whole defense is a great defense," Cooks said. "You see minimal mistakes."

Who the heck is Brandin Cooks? He gets an opportunity to introduce himself to a national audience against the Cardinal.

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
Another preseason list. But this one is different.

Athlon has released its preseason All-America team and 22 Pac-12 players were tapped for four teams at 23 spots, second only to the SEC's 25. However, the Pac-12 actually leads all of college football with eight players on the first-team (it probably should be nine, but Anthony Barr was relegated to the second team). The SEC is second with seven.

Here are the Pac-12 players selected:

First-Team Offense
First-Team Defense
Second-Team Offense
Second-Team Defense
Second-Team Specialists
Third-Team Offense
Third-Team Defense
Fourth-Team Offense
Fourth-Team Defense
Thoughts: As always, subjective lists are going to be debatable. For the most part, I think Athlon hit on almost all of the Pac-12 players who should be hit in the preseason. It's nice to see Su'a-Filo get some recognition because I think it's warranted and he'll prove worthy of it by year's end. Same with Sankey and Coyle. Cooks is a pleasant surprise. While I think he certainly has the potential to be on this list, we really need to see someone else step up opposite him to free him up the way Markus Wheaton did last year.

As noted above, I'd have Barr on my first team. But one glaring omission is Stanford safety Jordan Richards. I get Ed Reynolds being on the first team -- that seems to be a popular consensus among the preseason lists. But no Richards at all is a big miss. My guess is both will end up splitting AA honors at the end of the year because both are that good. I just have a hard time believing there are seven other safeties better than Richards.

I didn't mind Bailey on the list. And I think the move back to the secondary is going to be huge for him and for the Trojans. But he's taken some time off from the position and might need a readjustment period. And for that reason, I think second team is too high for him -- especially when Richards is off the board.

I think the same Reynolds/Richards argument can be made for Oregon's Terrance Mitchell (who could be on one of these teams as well) and Ekpre-Olomu, who certainly benefited from having a lockdown corner on the opposite side. As a result, his numbers ballooned. While Richards/Reynolds are the best safety duo in the league (probably the country), the Mitchell/Ekpre-Olomu tandem makes up the best cornerback duo in the league (probably the country).

Finally, I understand the rationale for not having Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota one one of the four teams. Heck, Teddy Bridgewater -- perceived to be the top quarterback in the country by many -- didn't make the list. But I think when all is said and done, Mariota will get All-America honors because his numbers will be too good to overlook. He's shown to be a true dual-threat with precision passing and pretty darn good running skills.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
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Gabe Marks, Marcus PetersWilliam Mancebo/Getty ImagesIn Mike Leach's offense, WSU's Gabe Marks, left, looks like a good bet to have a 1,000-yard season.
We've looked at the Pac-12's 2,500-yard passers and its 1,000-yard rushers. Now we turn to the third wheel of the skill position tricycle: 1,000-yard receivers.

The conference featured four 1,000-yard receivers last year. One is off to the NFL: Oregon State's Markus Wheaton. One is out for the season -- or at least a significant part of it -- with a knee injury: Arizona's Austin Hill. Two others are back:
That's a good start. Lee was a unanimous All-American and Cooks could push for such recognition this fall.

There's plenty of talent after them. This is hardly a down position in the conference. In fact, several teams feel pretty good about their chances to produce a 1,000-yard pass-catcher.

Arizona: The Wildcats not only lost Hill, they also are replacing quarterback Matt Scott. Moreover, their No. 2 receiver in 2012, Dan Buckner, is gone, and the No. 3 guy was running back Ka'Deem Carey. There's solid experience returning at the position, but no one player looks like the go-to guy. The Wildcats are more likely to have three guys with over 600 yards receiving than to have one with 1,000.

Arizona State: Receiver is the Sun Devils' most questionable position. At this point, the most likely guy to go over 1,000 yards is tight end Chris Coyle. But if you were to imagine who will be the Sun Devils' top wideout in 2013, a good bet is touted juco transfer Jaelen Strong.

California: Keenan Allen is gone, but the Bears have plenty of young talent at receiver, a list topped by Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs. With new coach Sonny Dykes' new high-flying spread passing offense, it's difficult to imagine the Bears don't produce a 1,000-yard receiver.

Colorado: The Buffaloes' only legitimate A-list player is receiver Paul Richardson. He'd start for just about any Pac-12 team. And, considering how much new coach Mike MacIntyre likes to throw, Richardson seems likely to hit the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy.

Oregon: The Ducks are expected to throw more this season for a number of reasons -- new coach, questions at running back, etc. -- but the chief reason is because quarterback Marcus Mariota is a highly capable passer. Last year, we saw flashes of what he could do. We'll see plenty more in 2013. With De'Anthony Thomas slated to be primarily a running back, expect Josh Huff to become Mariota's favorite target.

Stanford: Stanford isn't the sort of team that produces a 1,000-yard receiver, and its most likely candidates in recent years were tight ends. But if things fell a certain way, Ty Montgomery might make a run at it.

UCLA: If you were to make a list of most likely new members of the 1,000-yard club in 2013, Bruins wide receiver Shaquelle Evans would be on it. He caught 60 passes for 877 yards last year in quarterback Brett Hundley's first year as a starter. With no Johnathan Franklin at running back, the Bruins should be throwing plenty.

Utah: The Utes should be much better throwing the ball this season. For one, quarterback Travis Wilson can only be more mature after starting as a true freshman. Second, new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson likes to spread defenses out and throw the ball. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are a good tandem, and one or the other could make a run at 1,000 yards.

Washington: The Huskies have two legit candidates -- wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. But Jenkins is working through a DUI arrest that has him presently suspended. Williams, who caught 77 passes for 878 yards a year ago, is a strong bet to be Keith Price's go-to guy.

Washington State: That list with likely new 1,000-yard receivers? Colorado's Richardson, UCLA's Evans and Washington's Williams would be on it. But atop the list would be Washington State's Gabe Marks. If he stays healthy, he's almost a sure thing, considering how much coach Mike Leach likes to throw the ball.
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.
The interview was going well. Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks seemed to be in good spirits. The questions were mostly soft-toss.

Then: Alamo Bowl. Texas. What the heck?

The pause was pregnant. As in "Rosemary's Baby" pregnant. Yes, we had to go there. No, the Beavers 31-27 grab-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance against an inferior Texas squad isn't a fond memory in Corvallis.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks
Adam Davis/Icon SMIOregon State returns 17 starters next season, including receiver Brandin Cooks, 7 .
"Yeah, that was a tough loss," Cooks said. "To be up the amount we were up and give that lead away, that was real hard. There was a lot of stuff going on in that game. We couldn't get the ball off. Cody [Vaz] is getting hit every time. We just weren't clicking like we should have. Storm [Woods] was running well, but he got messed up in that second half and it died down."

Cooks then said the bad memory helped fuel offseason workouts. With 17 starters back, the 2013 Beavers should have a good shot at redemption.

But Cooks and company, who will begin spring practices on April 1, are looking for more than redemption.

"First of all, we don't want to go back to the Alamo Bowl," he said. "It was great, but our eyes are set on a BCS bowl."

That means the Beavers feel they are ready to take down Oregon (and Stanford), which hasn't happened since 2007.

Said Cooks, "Oh, yeah."

If Oregon State is going to win the Pac-12's North Division, know that Cooks will play a key role. He broke out as a sophomore with 1,151 yards receiving -- his 88.5 yards per game ranked fifth in a conference deep at the position -- and his eye-popping 17.2 yards per catch led the conference and was No. 2 in the nation among 1,000-yard receivers.

With the departure of Markus Wheaton to the NFL, the speedy Cooks will be the go-to guy in the Beavers passing game.

Of course, the big question this spring is quarterback. The Beavers have two with starting experience: Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz. That conceivably could feel like a good thing, but not many Beavers fans view it that way.

Mannion took over the starting job early in the woeful 2011 campaign, displacing then returning starter Ryan Katz. He led the Beavers to a 5-0 start and national ranking last year, but was forced to the sidelines by a minor knee injury. Enter Vaz, who played great in a win against BYU and OK in a win against Utah.

Mannion returned to face Washington, perhaps too early. Suffice it to say, he didn't play well, throwing four interceptions before getting yanked for Vaz.

And so the quarterback carousel began. Vaz, Mannion, Vaz. Each has played well. And each has looked terrible.

Cooks plays good soldier when asked about the back-and-forth, which couldn't have been good for the offense's rhythm.

"It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," he said. "Cody stepped up. Sean stepped up. To go back and forth like we did last year, I thought we'd run into major problems. But both of those guys came in, [and] it didn't really change between the receivers and the quarterback. As a receiver, you'd like to have one set quarterback. Coaches are working on that. I'm pretty sure they'll get that down this year. That was a big controversy last year. But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be."

Cooks also isn't going to play favorites. He doesn't go too deep when asked about the differences between Vaz and Mannion

"That's a good question," he said. "As I run routes and the ball is coming to me, it's coming to me in basically similar ways. I feel like they are pretty much the same. The difference is Sean has a few inches over Cody [6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1]. He can see over that line. But both of those guys deliver the ball in the same way and have the same playing style, to be honest."

It's worth noting that Cooks put up outstanding numbers even with the quarterback carousel. Still, you'd have to wonder what he could do as the feature guy if the Beavers were stable and consistent at the position. That seems like the best path to challenging the Ducks (and Stanford) in the North.

Of course, there's another tough question Cooks must face as he becomes the Beavers go-to guy: Who'd win a race between him and Wheaton, who notoriously beat Oregon speedster De'Anthony Thomas in a 100 meters race?

Said Cooks, "That's a hard one. I'd take that first 50. If we were to run a 100, he'd probably get me at the end."

Pac-12 scouting combine notebook

February, 25, 2013
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Some tough news coming out of the scouting combine this weekend for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported that Lotulelei -- a projected top-five pick -- would not be allowed to work out today with the rest of the defensive lineman after an echocardiogram revealed a heart condition that requires additional testing.

From Mortensen's story:
Lotulelei was discovered to have an abnormally low Ejection Fraction, detecting that the left ventricle of his heart was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, sources said. The normal range is between 55-70 percent efficiency.

The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Lotulelei will undergo further testing in Salt Lake City in an effort to seek more clarity with the condition, a source said. If it's a confirmed chronic condition, medical experts consider it an indication of possible heart damage.

The All-American posted 42 tackles in 2012, including 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He's expected to visit a specialist this week and plans to participate in Utah's Pro Day on March 20.

Scouts Inc. ranks Lotulelei as the No. 1 overall player in the draft.

Schwenke rising

Former Cal offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, longtime friend of the Pac-12 blog, had a strong combine performance. He was among the top performers in the 3-cone drill and 40-yard dash (see results below). Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com said Schwenke's stock is trending up.

Writes Jeremiah:
I really liked Schwenke on tape and he continued to impress with an excellent week at the Senior Bowl. On Saturday, his draft stock received another boost. Schwenke posted a great 40 time (4.99) and enjoyed a fine field workout. I could see his name being called in the early portion of the third round.
Zach Ertz versus Tyler Eifert

One was a unanimous All-American. The other won the Mackey Award for the nations' best tight end. The battle for the top tight end taken in the draft might be too close to call at this point.

Per ESPN's Todd McShay, Insider Ertz had a good day, but Eifert may have closed the gap.
Depending on who you ask, there are varying opinions on which of the two is the best tight end. If you took a poll, it would probably come out even at this point. So, of the two who are jockeying for position as the top TE in this class, Eifert won the day. It doesn't mean he'll be the first TE drafted, and if he is, it doesn't mean he's going to be the better NFL player. But for what it's worth, he had the better Saturday. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he's slightly bigger and longer. He ran an unofficial 4.6 in the 40 and had an impressive 35-inch vertical leap.
Here's John Clayton's take:
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz were considered the top two tight ends in the draft, and it's starting to look like it will be a good battle for the top spot. Eifert may have challenged for the lead after running a 4.68 compared to Ertz's 4.76.
40 times/bench

For complete workout results, you can check out the NFL.com combine page. Here's some of the top results for the fleet-footed and pectorally gifted (per NFL.com).

Running backs
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 4.49/18 reps
Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 4.52/20 reps
C.J. Anderson, Cal: 4.60/17 reps
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: 4.76/17 reps

Wide receivers
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State: 4.45/20 reps
Marquess Wilson, formerly of Washington State: 4.51/7 reps
Robert Woods, USC: 4.51/14 reps

Quarterbacks
Matt Scott, Arizona: 4.69/Did not lift

Offensive line
Kyle Long, Oregon: 4.94/Did not lift
Brian Schwenke, Cal: 4.99/31 reps
Jeff Baca, UCLA: 5.03/ Did not lift
David Bakhtiari, Coloraod: 5.09/28 reps
Khaled Holmes, USC: Did not run/13 reps

Tight end
Nick Kasa, Colorado: 4.71/22 reps
Zach Ertz, Stanford: 4.76/24 reps
Levine Toilolo, Stanford: 4.86/17 reps

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

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

Oregon State keys in Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 29, 2012
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Three things to keep an eye on for Oregon State as it takes on Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
  1. Air it out: Coach Mike Riley picked Cody Vaz to be his starting quarterback for a reason -- because he felt Vaz could run the offense with more efficiency than Sean Mannion. And Oregon State’s offense is at its best when Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks are touching the ball, a lot. The running game has progressed to the point where there is just enough concern for defenses to sneak a safety down toward the line of scrimmage (and don’t think Storm Woods isn’t aching to show the Longhorns what they missed when they passed on him in recruiting). That should allow one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the country to do what it does best. If Wheaton and Cooks combine for 13-15 catches and 200 yards receiving, there’s a good chance Oregon State will end up on the winning side.
  2. Pressure: David Ash hasn’t been the most efficient quarterback this year. In fact, he’s been all over the board. Some games he has completed 80-plus percent of his throws. In others, he’s below 50 percent. And the Beavers want to make him as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket. With nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss, Scott Crichton was one of the best in the Pac-12 at creating havoc in the backfield. A good day for Crichton probably means a bad day for Ash. And while the Texas quarterback has done a better job taking care of the ball (one less interception than last year despite more passing attempts), he’s made most of his errors in crucial situations. Making life difficult for Ash will be the No. 1 priority on the list for Beavers defensive coordinator Mark Banker.
  3. Turnovers: It’s what most games usually come down to. With 30 takeaways this year, the Beavers are one of the best in the country at getting the ball back for the offense. They have 19 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Texas isn’t nearly as prolific (18 total turnovers forced) but it is still on the plus side of the turnover margin. This one doesn’t figure to be as high-scoring as the other two Pac-12 versus Big 12 matchups (well, at least Baylor got the memo), so possessions and taking advantage of those possessions will be vital. Even though Oregon State won the turnover battle against, say, Stanford, it was OSU’s one turnover in that game that changed the landscape of the season (for a few teams). Giveaways kill momentum and they lose games.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Valero Alamo

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

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

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

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

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

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