NCF Nation: Michael Lowe

We've looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- elite combinations of quarterback, running back and receiver -- so now let's look at the defensive version.

That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.

The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.

Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.

So here's how we see things stacking up.

And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.

1. Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.

2. USC
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey

The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.

3. UCLA
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth

The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.

4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds

The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.

5. Oregon
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan

The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.

6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby

The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.

7. Washington
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters

The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.

8. Arizona
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.

9. California
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe

The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.

10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen

The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.

11. Utah
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.

12. Colorado
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.

Maynard shines, Bears stump Bruins

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
1:43
AM ET


UCLA went to Memorial Stadium looking for its first win in Berkeley since 1998. All the No. 25 Bruins found was a fierce Cal pass rush and an inspired Bears offense that quarterback Zach Maynard ran with relative efficiency to a 43-17 victory over the Bruins.

Maynard accounted for five Cal touchdowns -- four in the air and one on the ground -- and the much-maligned Bears defense kept the Bruins to 378 total yards, sacked quarterback Brett Hundley four times and forced six UCLA turnovers.

For as well as Cal played, UCLA also didn't help their cause with miscommunications and penalties. For example, a mix-up between Hundley and Shaquelle Evans led to an interception at the end of the first half that could have been a huge momentum swing.

And the Bears capitalized on the Bruins' mistakes, turning those five turnovers into 20 points.

UCLA jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Hundley connected with defensive lineman-turned-eligible-receiver Cassius Marsh on a 4-yard score.

But the Bears then scored 23 straight on three Maynard touchdowns -- a 5-yarder to C.J. Anderson, an 8-yarder to Keenan Allen and a 32-yarder to Brendan Bigelow. He was a very crisp 25 of 30 for 295 yards.

"[Maynard] played within himself and we did a nice job as a team," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford told the Pac-12 Network after the game. "It was a total team effort. It was solid. All three phases played well. Now we regroup and get ready for another game next week. This is just one game."

Hundley, who finished 31-of-47 for 253 yards, connected with Joseph Fauria for a 3-yard strike to cut the score to 23-14 early in the third quarter. But Maynard answered by finding Allen again -- this time for 34 yards -- to put Cal ahead 29-14 after the blocked PAT.

Things got ugly in the fourth when Cal fumbled in the UCLA red zone, then Hundley was intercepted for the second time, and then Cal fumbled again on the very next offensive play. And then Hundley was picked again on the next UCLA drive by Michael Lowe. The teams combined for 22 penalties for 199 yards.

Maynard put the game out of reach midway through the fourth when, following the Lowe interception, he marched the Bears to the UCLA 1-yard line and put his head down for the score.

Anderson iced it in the final minutes with a 68-yard touchdown with 1:32 left in the game.

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