NCF Nation: Mason Foster

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

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:

First round
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

Second round
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

Third round
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

Fourth round
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

Fifth round
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

Sixth round
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

Seventh round
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 (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

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:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Senior Bowl: Locker, Foster, Jordan buzz

January, 27, 2011
Former Washington quarterback Jake Locker was the center of attention at the Senior Bowl this week, for good and bad reasons. Just about every NFL scout loves his talent. And just as many are worried about his consistency.

Todd McShay provides his take after three days of Senior Bowl practices. His conclusion?

At this point, I'd be comfortable drafting Locker in Round 1 only if I had a veteran starting quarterback whom I could rely on for at least one more year, an owner I know would not push for Locker to play until he was ready and a quarterback coach who knows what he's doing.

And this portion provides a general view of the positives and negatives of the week.

I think it also has been helpful for Locker to go through the process. He's showing NFL personnel and coaches that he's committed to get better and has good football character. He understands he's flawed and has areas he needs to improve on.

Locker knows he's thinking about his footwork too much and he's robotic with his mechanics. It's not second nature and he's not comfortable like most quarterbacks who are able to just go out and play the game. The bottom line is if you're inconsistent with footwork, you're going to be inconsistent with your accuracy.

Another Washington player is generating buzz: linebacker Mason Foster, who is noted by Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl's as a Day 3 top performer.

Foster's instincts are the thing that stick out. He does a great job finding the ball and always being around the ball. He's good at recognizing plays and showed that by diagnosing a screen pass twice and getting in position to make the stop. Of all the linebackers, he has the most quick-twitch power and can strike at the point of attack. In one-on-one pass drills, he has a little pop that shocked blockers and knocked them back. He could be a little better using his hands, but he had a very good overall day.

McShay on former California defensive end Cameron Jordan, a big climber this week.

The thing I took from today is the more I see Cal's Cameron Jordan, who was a 3-4 DE in college, the more I think he's a better fit as a 4-3 left defensive end. He's a lot like Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. People look at them physically and see a great five-technique guy, but I think because they both have great hands, are active on the move and can make things happen that they are better fits at left DE. After studying both on film and seeing Watt in the Rose Bowl and Jordan here at the Senior Bowl, there's not a huge difference between them, but it's obvious Jordan is the better all-around prospect. Jordan is fighting to get in the top 20, while Watt is slightly behind him.

USC receiver Ronald Johnson was up and down on Day 3.

USC WR Ronald Johnson dropped one pass early but bounced back. He tracked the ball well during individual drills and opened up and made a nice adjustment on a pass thrown slightly behind him.

There are pluses and minuses with Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman.

There's a lot to like about Stanford CB Richard Sherman's size and how physical he can be. He made a great read on a five-yard out by Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher, but he couldn't get to the ball. He just doesn't have the closing speed.

Former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic needs to catch the ball better.

Love Stanford RB Owen Marecic's fight, strength and competitiveness in one-on-one blitz pickups. On the downside, he really fought the ball in pass-catching drills.

More on Locker, Jordan and Foster here.

A big picture story on Locker here. It just takes one team for Locker to still end up an early first-round pick.

All-Pac-10 bowl team

January, 14, 2011
Who distinguished themselves during the bowl season? Here's our All-Bowl Team.


[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck's performance helped key Stanford's blowout win against Virginia Tech.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck completed 18 of 23 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinal's 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl. He also rushed for 15 yards and was sacked just once.
RB Chris Polk, Washington: Polk rushed for 177 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown in the Huskies win over Nebraska in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
RB Jeremy Stewart, Stanford: Sophomore Stepfan Taylor actually rushed for more yards, but Stewart, a senior who's battled injuries throughout his career, had 99 yards on just five carries, including a 60-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech.
WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon: Maehl caught nine passes for 133 yards with a long reception of 81 yards in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
WR David Douglas, Arizona: Douglas caught six passes for 91 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
TE Coby Fleener, Stanford: Fleenor had a career night in the Orange Bowl, catching six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
OL Jonathan Martin, Stanford: Stanford rushed for 247 yards and allowed just one sack. Martin will be an All-American candidate in 2011.
OL Chase Beeler, Stanford: Beeler, the consensus All-American center, is the brains behind the bullies, leading one of the nation's best lines.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The first-team All-Pac-10 performer had a number of key blocks against the Hokies.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: Kelemete has a chance at All-Conference honors as a senior.
OL Cody Habben, Washington: The Huskies rushed for 268 yards and allowed no sacks versus Nebraska. A nice way for the senior right tackle to go out.


LB Mason Foster, Washington: Foster had a game-high 12 tackles, including two sacks in the Huskies win over Nebraska.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had a game-high 12 tackles, with three sacks and another tackle for a loss against the Hokies. He also broke up a pass.
LB Casey Matthews, Oregon: Matthews had six tackles, split a tackle for a loss and, most important, forced the late fumble from Cameron Newton that set up the Ducks touchdown that tied the count 19-19 late against Auburn.
LB Victor Aiyewa, Washington: Aiyewa had three tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in the Holiday Bowl.
DT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington: Ta'amu dominated inside, recording a sack and recovering a fumble against the Cornhuskers.
DE Hau'oli Jamora, Washington: The true freshman had three tackles for a loss and a sack versus Nebraska.
DE Kenny Rowe, Oregon: Rowe was second on the Ducks with nine tackles, four of which came for a loss. He also had a sack and a forced fumble.
CB Cliff Harris, Oregon: Harris had three tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. A second interception was not upheld by replay officials.
CB Richard Sherman, Stanford: Sherman had just one tackle against Virginia Tech. It appears that the Hokies, who completed just 16 of 31 passes, decided not to throw his way.
S Delano Howell, Stanford: Howell had an interception, a sack and four tackles in the Orange Bowl.
S Nate Felner, Washington: Felner had four tackles and an interception in the Huskies win over Nebraska.

Special teams

K Rob Beard, Oregon: There wasn't a lot of great kicking this bowl season in the Pac-10, but Beard connected on a 26-yard field goal against Auburn and scored a 2-point play on an option pitch.
P David Green, Stanford: Green didn't punt much in the Orange Bowl, but he did average 46 yards when he did (three times).
KR Travis Cobb, Arizona: Cobb returned five kickoffs for 179 yards, with a long of 64 yards.

Best & worst of the bowl season

January, 13, 2011
Taking a look at the best and the worst of the Pac-10 bowl season.

Best defensive performance (team): Washington held Nebraska to just seven points and 189 yards in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. In their meeting on Sept. 18, Nebraska scored 56 points on 533 total yards.

Best defensive performance (player): Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov had a game-high 12 tackles and three sacks in the Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
Patrick Green/Icon SMIMason Foster's 12 tackles and two sacks helped Washington beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Best defensive performance (player) II: Washington linebacker Mason Foster had a game-high 12 tackles with two sacks and a pass breakup in the Huskies win over Nebraska.

Best offensive performance (team): Stanford rolled up 534 total yards -- 281 passing, 247 rushing -- in its 40-12 win over Virginia Tech.

Best offensive performance (player): Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck completed 18 of 23 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl.

Best offensive performance (player) II: Washington's Chris Polk rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown against what was supposed to be a rugged Cornhuskers defense.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl caught nine passes for 133 yards in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game against Auburn. He had an 81-yard reception and a leaping catch on a 2-point play that tied the game late in the fourth quarter.

Worst offensive performance: Arizona scored just 10 points against a mediocre Oklahoma State defense. The problem was more sloppiness -- four turnovers, eight penalties -- than anything else.

Worst defensive performance: None. Now isn't that strange? Arizona would seem like a possibility, but the high-powered Oklahoma State offense gained only 312 total yards, even though they scored 36 points. Oregon gave up a bunch of yards, but held Auburn to 22 points -- 21 below the Tigers' season average. Meanwhile, Washington dominated Nebraska, and Stanford held Virginia Tech to 12 points and 288 yards.

Best cheap shot: Arizona safety Adam Hall flattened Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon away from the ball in the Alamo Bowl. It appeared that Blackmon's showboating after a 71-yard touchdown pass didn't amuse Hall.

Worst performance by a future Pac-12 member: Utah, which will join the conference in 2011, got pounded 26-3 by Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos outgained the Utes 543 yards to 200. The Utes had three fumbles.

Best goodbye: It's been a tough year for Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, but he led the Huskies to a four-game winning streak to end the season -- including their first bowl game since 2002 and their first postseason win since 2000.

Biggest disappointment: The Oregon offensive line couldn't handle the Auburn defensive front, most particularly defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Of course, Fairley is fairly good.

Best catch: At a full sprint, Oregon wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei tipped the ball to himself over his right shoulder in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn and went 43 yards to the Tigers 3-yard line. Ducks fans: Don't think about what happened over the next four plays.

Best quote: When Luck was asked how he reacted to a Cardinal offensive lineman catching a deflected pass in the end zone for a safety, he said (sounding very Stanford-y): "Football can be a very funny game. No point in getting emotionally hijacked over it."

Best quote II: Polk on how Washington dominated Nebraska: "We just ran right at 'em. We knew we could win if we ran the way we know how to run. They couldn't stop it. We whupped a team that didn't respect us."

Early 2011 Pac-12 power rankings

January, 11, 2011
Here's an early look at the Pac-12 pecking order heading into the off-season. Count on this being fluid, particularly after I get to see teams practicing this spring.

1. Oregon: The Ducks likely will be ranked in the preseason top five even though the offensive line and defensive front seven take some hits.

2. Stanford: While there are plenty of questions -- both lines, head coach -- the return of Andrew Luck makes the Cardinal a preseason top-10 team.

3. Arizona State: Losing defensive tackle Lawrence Guy to the NFL is a significant hit, but the Sun Devils still have 19 starters back from a team that lost by one at Wisconsin. But who will be the quarterback?

4. USC: Trojans take some hits on both sides of the ball, particularly on both lines, but quarterback Matt Barkley will have some nice skill surrounding him on offense.

5. Arizona: On the downside, the Wildcats must completely rebuild their lines. On the upside, quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner will be the top pass-catch combination in the conference.

6. Washington: The post-Jake Locker era begins, so it's hard to judge the Huskies. And post linebacker Mason Foster, for that matter. But coach Steve Sarkisian has been recruiting well, and there are plenty of returning starters.

7. Utah: Hard to place the Utes because we don't know them in this environment. And there are questions on both sides of the ball, particularly in the secondary and offensive skill positions. But the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn helps.

8. California: The Bears must replace their best offensive player, running back Shane Vereen, and their three best defensive players, end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Mike Mohamed and safety Chris Conte. And don't even ask about quarterback.

9. Oregon State: Putting the Beavers down here might be an overreaction to running back Jacquizz Rodgers' decision to enter NFL draft. Or it might be because they lost four of their final five games. And Stephen Paea's departure leaves a HUGE void on the defensive line.

10. UCLA: The Bruins actually have some good players coming back, despite some high-profile early departures (linebacker Akeem Ayers, safety Rahim Moore). But they have offensive questions and we don't know who the coordinators will be in 2011.

11. Colorado: Just like Utah, we don't know the Buffaloes in this environment, plus there's a new coach. And, to be honest, that 52-7 loss at Cal isn't helping their candidacy. Curious how quarterback Tyler Hansen will look this spring after missing much of the year because of injury.

12. Washington State: Do. Not. Panic. Cougars. Fans. I'd bet $1 the Cougs will not finish last in 2011. Quarterback Jeff Tuel should take another step forward and he's got his top targets back. But we're not ready to promote the Cougars just yet.
Utterly shocking. And that is a tribute to Washington and coach Steve Sarkisian: No one saw a 19-7 victory over Nebraska in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday coming.

How the game was won: The Huskies won because they physically manhandled Nebraska in every facet. You know: The exact reverse of what happened on Sept. 18 during a 56-21 Cornhusker beatdown in Seattle that caused most folks to write this game off as the worst matchup of the bowl season. You just never know, even when you think you do.

Turning point: It looked like things were going to go as expected when Nebraska drove into Washington territory on its first possession. But then Rex Burkhead fumbled and Alameda Ta'amu recovered for Washington. The Huskies quickly scored a TD to go up 7-0, and the Cornhuskers never really made much of a challenge thereafter.

Stat of the game: 189. That's Nebraska's total yards. It had 533 in the first game. The Huskies outrushed the Cornhuskers 268 to 91. In the first game, the Cornhuskers outrushed the Huskies 383 to 175. Go figure.

Co-Players of the game: Washington running back Chris Polk had 177 yards on 34 carries with a TD, while, on defense, linebacker Mason Foster had 12 tackles and two sacks.

Unsung heroes of the game: There are two: Defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the Huskies offensive line. Both were maligned after the first game. And fairly so. And both came up big in the second game.

What it means: It means that Huskies QB Jake Locker goes out with a winning season -- 7-6 -- after a bowl victory, the Huskies first bowl win since 2000. It means the Huskies, who went 0-12 in 2008, are relevant again. It means the Huskies head into the offseason -- the post-Jake Locker Era -- riding a four-game winning streak.

video's All-Pac-10 team

December, 8, 2010
We tried to emphasize consistent production this year on our All-Pac-10 team, not just NFL prospects. That's why some big names are missing.

For comparison, here is the coaches team, which was announced Tuesday.

We didn't include a tight end because receiver was a far deeper position. And, unlike the coaches, we didn't make a wishbone backfield just to accomodate Stanford's Owen Marecic. Instead, we made up a specialist position for a guy who starts at both fullback and linebacker: "STUD."

So here you go.

QB Andrew Luck, So., Stanford
RB LaMichael James, So., Oregon
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Juron Criner, Jr., Arizona
WR Jeff Maehl, Sr., Oregon
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr., Washington
OL Chase Beeler, Sr., Stanford
OL Colin Baxter, Sr., Arizona
OL Tyron Smith, Jr., USC
OL Bo Thran, Sr., Oregon
OL Jonathan Martin, Jr., Stanford

DL Brandon Bair, Sr., Oregon
DL Cameron Jordan, Sr., California
DL Stephen Paea, Sr., Oregon State
DL Jurrell Casey, Jr., USC
LB Chase Thomas, So., Stanford
LB Mason Foster, Sr., Washington
LB Casey Matthews, Sr., Oregon
DB Talmadge Jackson, Sr., Oregon
DB Omar Bolden, Jr., Arizona State
DB Delano Howell, Jr., Stanford
DB John Boyett, So., Oregon

PK Nate Whitaker, Sr., Stanford
P Bryan Anger, Jr., California
KOR Robert Woods, Fr., USC
PR Cliff Harris, So., Oregon
STUD (FB-LB) Owen Marecic, Sr., Stanford

Pac-10 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 21, 2010
Who deserves a sticker on his helmet for a job well done?

Chris Polk & Jesse Callier: The Washington tailback tandem led the Huskies to a 24-7 win over UCLA on Thursday. Polk had 138 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while Callier added 107 yards on 10 carries.

Mason Foster: The Washington linebacker, who leads the Pac-10 in tackles, had 14, including two for a loss, in the win over UCLA.

Andrew Luck: The Stanford quarterback completed 16-of-20 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout 48-14 win over California in the Big Game. He also rushed three times for 72 yards, including a memorable 58-yard scramble.

Oregon State: Talk about a bounce-back. Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Ryan Katz threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Oregon State's defensive tackle Stephen Paea was unblockable in an inspired effort in a 36-7 win over USC. But despite these individual step-up performances, the Beavers team-wide showing is notable a week after getting embarrassed by Washington State.

Video: Oregon State's Katz and Foster

November, 17, 2010

Oregon State QB Ryan Katz and Washington LB Mason Foster are on the spot in Week 12.

Washington's defense needs to step up

September, 1, 2010
Jake Locker, Jake Locker, Jake Locker. This isn't an article about him.

It's about something that has been doing a perhaps surprisingly good job making Locker's life difficult the past few weeks: The Washington defense.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesMason Foster thinks the defense will be just as good as the team's highly-touted offense.
"We are actually holding the offense and making stops," linebacker Mason Foster said. "We've had pretty good battles throughout camp."

I know. No way. The Huskies lost their two best defensive players -- linebacker Donald Butler and end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim -- to the NFL from a unit that ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense (389.5 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (26.7 ppg).

But the Huskies defense has consistently hinted during fall camp that it's not going to be the weakling counterpart to what should be an explosive offense.

"They've caused us some problems on offense," said coach Steve Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays. "They've caused turnovers. They've gotten after the quarterback."

Foster, a senior and all-conference candidate, said the young guys who were forced into action last year are in far better physical condition. Along those lines, Sarkisian noted that junior noseguard Alameda Ta'amu is no longer just a massive mound of inert space filler -- who at his best is merely hard to move. After dropping 30 pounds to 330, he's a guy who can get into the backfield and make plays.

The secondary also appears significantly improved with corners Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson and safeties Nate Fellner, Nate Williams and Will Shamburger. The apparent successful return of end Everrette Thompson from a torn Achilles should bolster the pass rush.

But it's not just about maturing physically, getting healthy and conditioning better. A year ago, coordinator Nick Holt was only that slightly menacing guy who was always barking at them about not understanding what it takes to play great defense. Now the defensive guys and Holt are playing the same tune, one that probably sounds a bit like Rage Against the Machine.

"They've got a real mentality right now," Sarkisian said. "What I like most about it is they've really adopted Nick's personality. They are aggressive. They are tough. They are smart."

Of course, this also merely could be preseason optimism (or maybe the Huskies offense won't be all that potent). The unit certainly will be tested at BYU on Saturday. Sure, the Cougars only have 11 starters back and are replacing quarterback Max Hall. But they have won 43 games over the past four seasons: They are fairly close to the proverbial "reload not rebuild" category.

While there may be some sentiment about the trip for Sarkisian -- he was BYU's quarterback in 1995-96 -- the Huskies players probably don't look too fondly at the Cougars. In their 2008 game in Seattle, Locker scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown in the waning moments -- pending the PAT -- but he was flagged for a celebration penalty after flicking the ball into the air.

Just about everyone thought the penalty ridiculous, at least outside of Provo. Of course, barely anyone would remember the call if the Huskies hadn't blown the extra point and subsequently lost 28-27.

That was about as close to respectability as the Huskies would come during an 0-12 season that ended the Tyrone Willingham Era and brought in Sarkisian.

Moreover, one of BYU's quarterbacks -- it appears two will play versus the Huskies -- is true freshman Jake Heaps, a product of Washington State powerhouse Skyline High School. He picked BYU over Washington last winter, and there are just a few whispers that some of the Huskies might be eager to make him feel like he made a mistake.

"I didn't even really know he was from around here until a couple weeks ago," Foster said. "That's going to make it a little more exciting -- a big-time recruit from the state of Washington that went to another school and will play as a true freshman. It's going to be fun to get a couple of hits on him."

The Huskies -- suddenly -- have high expectations. Only two years removed from an 0-12 season, they are thinking about more than just earning their first bowl berth since 2002.

"It's a total turnaround," Foster said. "No more losing every game. The mindset is different. We're really looking forward to coming out in competing at the top of the conference this year."

A total turnaround likely would make Locker a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But that's not going to happen if the defense can't make stops.

Hybrid: Stanford DEs become OLBs

August, 11, 2010
While the 3-4 defense is making a national comeback, it's only making a small mark in the Pac-10. That mark, however, will be larger in 2010.

California is the only team that has run a traditional 3-4 for multiple years, and it only transitioned in 2008 because of a surfeit of athletic linebackers and a dearth of imposing tackles.

Stanford doesn't approach the Bears linebacker depth from 2008 but it, nonetheless, is joining its Bay Area rival in adopting a 3-4 in hopes of shoring up a unit that ranked eighth in scoring and ninth in total defense in 2009.

(Arizona State figures to run some 3-4 looks this fall because it's loaded at linebacker. Oregon likes to stand up its ends at times, but if you ask coach Chip Kelly about a switch to a 3-4 he will tell you your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries).

In fact, Stanford, which brought in veteran NFL coach Vic Fangio to coordinate the transition, is a good test case for making the switch because its transformation is pure: two defensive ends in 2009 are now outside linebackers heading into 2010. You want hybrids? We give you Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas. They've played both positions. And will play both this year as the Cardinal continues to use some 4-3 elements with Thomas and Keiser putting their hands on the ground.

Thomas was forced into action as a redshirt freshman last year when Erik Lorig got hurt and made eight starts. He finished with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks. Keiser, a junior, had 15 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He had six sacks as a redshirt freshman.

Thomas, at 6-foot-4, 239 pounds, will play the "Sam" strongside linebacker position, while Keiser will be the rush linebacker, which is more "end-like." Sophomore Shayne Skov and Owen Marecic will be the inside linebackers, while all three defensive linemen -- Matt Masifilo, Sione Fua (the nose) and Brian Bulcke -- are upperclassmen who've played defensive tackle their entire careers.

A big test is whether Thomas and Keiser will be capable dropping into pass coverage. If they only rush the passer, the defense becomes fairly predictable. Both are good athletes, but they won't be compared to UCLA's Akeem Ayers or Oregon's Spencer Paysinger or Washington's Mason Foster in terms of athleticism. Still, both should fortify a defensive perimeter that was often successfully attacked by foes in 2009.

In terms of the hybrid split, both appear to be around 60:40 in terms of being hybrid defensive ends:linebackers, though Thomas might be a 55:45.

It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal defense uses them and how often they stand up as linebackers or put their hands on the ground as defensive ends.
Want to unscientifically measure the difference between one year of Larry Scott vs. 26 years of Tom Hansen atop the Pac-10?

Do this: Google "Pac-1o commissioner Larry Scott" then do "Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen."

Yeah: Stunning. Nearly two million hits vs. 105,000.

While some traditionalists -- and the Pac-10 still has plenty of those -- might not believe that's necessarily a good thing, what Scott has done in one year is dramatic: He's made the conference big news. Even when his grand plan for a "Pac-16" fell apart due to a Texas two-step, Scott's bold behind-the-scenes maneuvering was the lead story of an usually busy college football summer.

When the machinations finally ended, the conference added two teams, Colorado and Utah, and everyone now waits to see how Scott will parlay that into a media deal that keeps the conference financially competitive with the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.

But that answer won't come until 2011. The present "next big thing" is this week: A bi-coastal showcase of Pac-10 football coaches and players. And new, aggressive Pac-10 marketing.

Danette Leighton, an Arizona alum and the Pac-10's new -- and first -- chief marketing officer, uses terms like "sizzle" when she talks about how the conference plans to present itself to the media and public.

"It's about presenting Larry Scott's vision," she said.

That vision means elevating the Pac-10's national profile and waging war on the "East Coast bias" -- real or mythical -- by reaching out in order to overcome instead of merely complaining about perceived slights. That vision means putting the Pac-10 in front of a national audience as much as possible, even if much of that audience supports other conferences and is inclined to boo an interloper from the West.

Cheering or booing -- that means folks are paying attention. And those eyeballs, Scott believes, will translate to increased revenue and a better position in the college football pecking order.

As for the new stuff this week ... You can see the new Pac-10 website here when it opens at 2 p.m. PT on Tuesday. And you can pose questions to the coaches and players available during Thursday's media day on the new Pac-10 Twitter page.

The Pac-10 blog will be tagging along to all three destinations (image: Pac-10 blog walking up to Pac-10 coaches, "Hey, are you guys playing cards?"). That means lots of stories and videos over the next few days. So you may want to take a few days off.

Here's the media days itinerary:

Tuesday (New York)

5 p.m. ET: News conference at the Manhattan W Hotel featuring all 10 coaches and the unveiling of new Pac-10 logo and football trailer. Pac-10 QBs will visit Times Square -- where the Pac-10 football video will be playing on the Jumbotron -- and the Empire State Building.
6 p.m.: Private cocktail reception at W's "Whiskey Blue" with TV executives, corporate sponsors, former players and other VIPs.
8 p.m.: Coaches eat dinner with ESPN's "GameDay" crew. Coach spouses will see Broadway musical, "Promises, Promises."

Wednesday (New York, ESPN)

Morning: Coaches will ring the opening bell at NASDAQ and then conduct East Coast media interviews.
11 a.m.: Bus to ESPN offices in Bristol, Conn., where players and coaches will do interviews on all ESPN platforms.
5 p.m.: Charter flight from New York to Los Angeles; check in Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel.

Thursday (at Rose Bowl, all times PT)

9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Coach and player group interview session (field)
9:30 a.m. - Introduction and format - Dave Hirsch
9:35 a.m. - Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott
9:45 a.m. - Paul Wulff & DE Kevin Kooyman, Washington State
10:00 a.m. - Dennis Erickson & PK Thomas Weber, Arizona State
10:15 a.m. - Rick Neuheisel & FS Rahim Moore, UCLA
10:30 a.m. - Steve Sarkisian & LB Mason Foster, Washington
10:45 a.m. - Jeff Tedford & LB Mike Mohamed, California
11:00 a.m. - BREAK
11:15 a.m. - Lane Kiffin & QB Matt Barkley, USC
11:30 a.m. - Jim Harbaugh & FB/LB Owen Marecic, Stanford
11:45 a.m. - Mike Riley & RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
12 noon - Mike Stoops & QB Nick Foles, Arizona
12:15 p.m. - Chip Kelly & DT Brandon Bair, Oregon
12:30 p.m. - Pac-10 video presentation

12:30-2:30: One-on-one coach/player interviews during luncheon.

5:30 p.m.: Reception at the Fox Network Studios: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman host Pac-10 presentation.
At what position is the Pac-10 deep? At what position in the Pac-10 thin? Here's the third of three parts taking a look at just that.

Deep: Specialists

[+] EnlargeKai Forbath
Jim Brown/US Presswire Kai Forbath of UCLA is one of two Lou Groza Award winning kickers returning to the Pac-10 this season.
Why is it deep? Eight teams welcome back both their punter and kicker, and many of them are quite happy about that. Three conference kickers ranked among the top-20 in field goals per game, while three punters ranked in the top 21. No team is replacing both specialists. Oregon is replacing kicker Morgan Flint and USC is replacing kicker Jordan Congdon, who ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, in field goals per game in 2009.

The big names: Start with two Lou Groza Award winning kickers: UCLA's Kai Forbath (2009) and Arizona State's Thomas Weber (2007). Then there's Oregon State's Justin Kahut, who made 22 of 27 field goals with a long of 50, and Washington's Erik Folk, who was 18 for 21 with a long of 48. As for the punters, Arizona State's Trevor Hankins ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation in punting (44.2 yards per punt), while UCLA's Jeff Locke (43.6) was 16th in the nation and Washington State's Reid Forrest (43.2) was 21st. Oh, and California's Bryan Anger might have the biggest foot of everyone; he dropped a conference-high 24 punts inside the 20 last year.

Thin: Linebacker

Why is it thin? Four of the six linebackers who made up the first and second All-Pac-10 teams are gone as are five of the 11 LBs who earned honorable mention. Only two teams -- USC and Oregon -- welcome back all of their starting LBs from 2009, and a big story this spring was the Trojans lack of depth at the position, while the Ducks moved Eddie Pleasant to safety (in large part because of depth at the position). Arizona is replacing all three starting linebackers, while Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA only have one returning starter at the position (though the Beavers outside linebacker platoon of Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey probably should count as more than one starter).

Fill the void? This is not a "strength" position, but the cupboard is hardly empty: UCLA's Akeem Ayers, California's Mike Mohamed and Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict are All-American candidates, while Oregon's Casey Matthews earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and Washington's Mason Foster is a likely breakout player. The Ducks, in particular, are fast and deep at linebacker, while the Sun Devils aren't far behind in terms of young talent.
SEATTLE -- Home for the holidays. What a joy!

Unless you're a BCS college football coach, when being home for the holidays in nearly every case means your season was a failure.

So this past Christmas was odd on multiple levels for Washington's Steve Sarkisian. For one, after having coached seven years at USC, he wasn't accustomed to not reviewing game tape while the Yule Log burned.

And his experience was even stranger when he went out to do his holiday shopping around Seattle. Folks were so ... complimentary.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWhile he has seen improvement, Steve Sarkisian wants his team to become more physical.
"I've never been congratulated so much for a five-win season," he said.

Ah, but context is everything. For the Trojans, a 9-4 season, which included a loss to Sarkisian's Huskies, was a disaster. For the Huskies, going 5-7 sparked hope among the beleaguered purple-clad masses, who were but a season removed from the worst finish in program history: oh no! and 12.

It's hard to overstate the stunning transformation under Sarkisian.

In 2008, the Huskies lost all 12 games by an average of more than 25 points. In 2009, they beat four teams who won at least eight games, three of whom spent much of the season nationally ranked.

They concluded the season by stomping rival Washington State 30-0 and No. 19 California 42-10.

And now they are in the midst of spring practices preparing for what many believe will be the rebirth of a Pac-10 and national power, one that hasn't played in a bowl game since 2002. Nineteen starters are back, and one of them is quarterback Jake Locker, who could end up the top pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

After signing a touted recruiting class -- ranked 20th in the nation by's Scouts Inc. -- the positive momentum is unmistakable.

"From where we started, to where we've come, to where we're headed, it's exciting," Sarkisian said. "The mantra of expecting to win is there now. It's not just something that's up on a board or on a T-shirt. It's a real belief."

The question is how could such a dramatic turnaround take place, particularly against what was among the nation's toughest schedules?

Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt are due a lot of credit, obviously. But there's also the issue that the previous administration was doing a lousy job. Tyrone Willingham's Huskies in 2008 weren't good, but they shouldn't have lost every game.

"I felt like a lot of guys didn't want to play for the coaches we had [in 2008]," linebacker Mason Foster said. "I hate to say that because I love Coach Willingham and they were great coaches, but I don't think they were relating to the players. Guys didn't want to come here and play for the coaches. They were just showing up because they had to. Now, everybody wants to come, wants to compete. They're not just showing up because they have to to get their scholarship check. People want to play for Coach Sark. People want to play for Coach Holt. That's the biggest difference."

(Read full post)

Think of college football players like stocks for a moment.

If you had purchased 1,000 shares of Washington linebacker Donald Butler at this time last year, folks would be comparing you to Warren Buffett. Butler went from a no-good, nobody on an 0-12 team to second-team All-Pac-10 and a potential early-round NFL draft pick.

So, per Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian's insider information, we're putting a buy rating on linebacker Mason Foster.

[+] EnlargeMason Foster
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesWashington coach Steve Sarkisian thinks linebacker Mason Foster will have a big year.
"I love Mason Foster. He's an All-Pac-10, Player-of-the-Year-type of guy in this conference," Sarkisian said.

Of course, your returns won't be as extraordinary as they were on Butler. Foster, a 6-foot-2, 244-pound senior, is underrated but hardly unknown.

For one, you can't set a school record, lead the conference and rank third in the nation with six forced fumbles and remain completely obscure. Moreover, Foster's name causes all Arizona fans indigestion because he was the opportunistic fellow who grabbed that ball that bounced off Wildcats receiver Delashaun Dean's foot and returned the interception 37 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the Huskies stunning upset win.

And, of course, he won the Earle T. Glant "Tough Husky" Award at the UW's postseason banquet.

Still, while Butler made a name for himself in 2009, Foster was mostly in the background.

"It's my turn to show what I can do now," Foster said.

One thing Foster does is make plays. His six forced fumbles and his three interceptions mean he was personally responsible for nine take-aways. He also ranked second on the Huskies with 85 tackles and third with 7.5 tackles for a loss. He led all conference linebackers with nine passes defended.

The tackles and forced fumbles? Foster can hit you. The passes defended? Foster can make plays as an athlete in the back-half.

Considering four of the six linebackers who earned All-Conference status are gone, it's easy to see why Foster's price-earnings ratio is tempting.

Of course, the defense around Foster is questionable. While the Huskies only lose two and a half starters -- the half being part-time starting end Darrion Jones -- the two were big presences for the front-seven: Butler and end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. The 2009 Huskies ranked ninth in the conference in scoring defense (26.7 ppg) and eighth in total defense (389.5 yards per game).

Foster doesn't seem worried.

"Don't count us out," he said. "We've got a lot of young, athletic guys."

On the plus side, the defense surged late, shutting out Washington State and holding California to just 10 points.

And, of course, the unit was vastly better under new, fiery coordinator Nick Holt than the 2008 crew that ranked 116th in the nation, surrendering nearly 40 points per game for an 0-12 team.

"It's totally different -- completely different," Foster said. "We don't even like to think about [0-12] anymore. I love coming here every day, being around all the guys and the coaches."

That new-found energy and enthusiasm has the Huskies thinking that after going 5-7, they will break through and earn the program's first bowl berth since 2002.

"This feels great compared to how it was before," Foster said.

Is a bull market at hand for Foster and the Huskies?