NCF Nation: Mike Mohamed

Big Game means plenty to Cal

November, 17, 2011
California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?

Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.

"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAndrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?

The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.

And it means plenty to Cal.

For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.

Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.

Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.

That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.

"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."

Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.

The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.

That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.

Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.

It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.

"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."

Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.

Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."

Who will be the big bust in 2012?

August, 23, 2011
PM ET's Brett McMurphy looks at the biggest AP preseason poll busts since 2001, and three Pac-12 teams make the list.

2002: No. 9 Washington (finished 7-6)
2001: No. 11 Oregon State (finished 5-6)
2009: No. 12 Cal (finished 8-5)

Easy to remember each of those teams.

The 2002 Huskies featured quarterback Cody Pickett, who passed for 4,458 yards that season, and wide receiver Reggie Williams. The season began with a last-second loss at Michigan due to a massive coaching blunder that cost the Huskies the game. Said then-coach Rick Neuheisel: "We switched substitution groups, which we're going to kick ourselves about for a thousand years."

The Huskies seemed to lose their mojo, but they then rallied for three consecutive wins to finish the regular season -- Neuheisel memorably created the "Northwest Championship" -- over Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State to earn bowl eligibility.

That Oregon State team was touted -- Sports Illustrated ranked the Beavers preseason No. 1 -- after an 11-1 finish in 2000, with quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton returning. Things immediately fell apart with a blowout loss at Fresno State. A 1-3 start, in fact, featured a 38-7 home loss to UCLA.

As for Cal, at least one writer [insert uncomfortable cough] celebrated the 2009 Bears as a potential national title contender. (They were stacked with talent: backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, linebackers Mike Mohamed and Devin Bishop, cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, etc.) After a 3-0 start, the Bears headed to Oregon ranked sixth.

SPLAT! Cal goes down 42-3. The next weekend, just in case we didn't get the message, USC ripped the Bears 30-3 in Berkeley. Suffice it to say, there was nothing subtle about Cal's unmasking.

Here's this year's preseason top 10. So who becomes the bust this year?

1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. LSU
5. Boise State
6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. Texas A&M
9. Oklahoma State
10. Nebraska

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

Pac-12 combine reports

March, 1, 2011
Some Pac-12 players got mixed reviews at the NFL combine on Monday.

Those who did well include a pair of defensive ends: Arizona's Brooks Reed and California's Cameron Jordan.

Reed's 4.68 40-yard dash tied for third among defensive linemen, and Jordan ran a 4.78 (tied for 10th) at 281 pounds.

Reed is projected to move to outside linebacker in the NFL. Here's what Todd McShay wrote about him: "Reed isn't an elite athlete, but he has good short-area explosiveness and a nonstop motor that will have him off the board before Day 2 is over."

Another take on Reed: "[Reed] has gotten a lot of comparisons to NFL Defensive Player of the Year Clay Matthews over the past few weeks. He's not quite as athletic as Matthews, but Reed's respectable 4.67 40, ability to change direction fluidity, and quickness in turn-the-corner drills make him a legitimate second-round pick as a 3-4 rush linebacker."

And here's the review of Jordan: "Jordan (6-41, 281) continues to build momentum after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. He ran a 4.78 and put up 25 reps with 35-inch arms, and continued to show the speed and athleticism to make an impact as a mid-first round pick."

On the downside, it appears the combine hasn't been kind to UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers or Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews:

Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Ayers could have helped lock down a spot in the first round, but he failed to impress. He ran in the low 4.8-second range, failed to show good change-of-direction skills and was not elite in the jumps, shuttles or cone drill. He had a chance to prove he is an elite prospect, but his workout did not match up to the productive player we saw on film early in the season before Ayers was nicked up.

Casey Matthews, Oregon: Matthews aggravated a recurring shoulder injury during the bench press and raised another red flag for a guy who struggled to get off blocks and has an average body type. He's tough and instinctive, but the injury dates to his freshman year and is cause for concern.

That said on Matthews, there was also this paraphrase of Mike Mayock of the NFL Network: "Matthews is not explosive like his brother Clay, but he is instinctive and will play better than his measurables suggest."

Some links:

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.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

November, 15, 2010
A look back on the week that was.

Team of the week: Washington State ended a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak with a 31-14 win at Oregon State. The Cougars not only won, they physically dominated the Beavers, outgaining them 378 yards to 261.

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
AP Photo/Paul SakumaQuarterback Darron Thomas and Oregon survived a scare against California.
Best game: Three of the four Pac-10 games this weekend weren't decided until late in the fourth quarter -- imagine: the Cougs provided the only laugher -- but we've got to go with No. 1 Oregon's 15-13 win at California, because the game kept the college football nation -- particularly Boise State and TCU fans -- fixated at a potential season-transforming upset.

Biggest play: On the second play of the first possession of the second half, California running back Shane Vereen fumbled after a 7-yard run. On the next play from scrimmage, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas found Jeff Maehl for a 29-yard touchdown and a 15-7 lead. It was the Ducks only offensive TD of the game.

Offensive standout: USC running back Marc Tyler rushed 31 times for 160 yards and scored a TD in the Trojans 24-21 win at Arizona.

Defensive standout: California linebacker Mike Mohamed had 14 tackles -- 10 solos -- and a sack against Oregon.

Special teams standout: Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown against Cal. It was his fourth punt return for a touchdown this season, which ties a Pac-10 record (Cal's DeSean Jackson, 2006).

Smiley face: The Washington State lines on both sides of the football merit special note. The Cougars rushed for 221 yards (they did yield four sacks, which cost the rushing total 20 yards), and they held the Beavers to just 97 yards rushing while recording five sacks, including two apiece from Casey Hamlett and Brandon Rankin.

Frowny face: Oregon State. Oh, Oregon State. You were 2 of 10 on third down. Washington State was 10 of 17. You were 1 of 3 on fourth down. Washington State was 1 for 1. Washington State had possession time of 40:55. In a 60 minute game! Heck, the Cougars had the ball for 23 of the 30 minutes of the second half.

Thought of the week: On the week that Oregon falls from the top spot in the nation in total offense -- its 542 yards per game is now second to Oklahoma State's 547.5 -- we now can officially establish that the Ducks no longer need to explain that their defense is underrated. Why? Because it's now highly rated by any measure. Oregon's defense ranks eighth in the nation in scoring (17.2 ppg), 20th in total defense (315.4) and fifth in passing efficiency defense. And the Ducks yield only 4.35 yards per play, which is tied for sixth in the nation, ahead of such stalwart units as LSU and Nebraska.

Questions for the week: We've got a clear top-four in the conference, and USC and Washington State aren't going to go to bowl games. Are any of the five teams mired in the middle going to make a late-season run? Or is the conference going to end up full of 5-7 teams?

Cal a 'maybe' against Oregon

November, 10, 2010
It was a typical throw-away question to start a news conference: "Hey, California coach Jeff Tedford, how do you slow down Oregon's offense?"

But nothing is typical about Oregon's offense. "That's a good question," Tedford replied. See: The Ducks ludicrous-speed offense even transforms a mundane question into something good.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJeff Tedford and Cal are looking to slow down the Ducks' offense and end Oregon's run to the national title.
Bears senior defensive end Cameron Jordan did a video interview this week on the team's official website. It's clear that he had just finished some extra conditioning, which most teams do before playing top-ranked Oregon, because he was winded while answering questions. His advice for some of his less-experienced teammates for when things get hectic Saturday?

"Sometimes people get a little razzled out of it," Jordan said. "Sometimes you've got to tell them, 'Just breathe.'"

Jordan wasn't channelling Anna Nalick -- "But you can't jump the track, we're like cars on a cable, And life's like an hourglass, glued to the table, No one can find the rewind button now!"

He was considering a task that few believe the Bears have any chance of doing: Slowing down the Ducks' offense, notching the upset and ending Oregon's run to the national title.

But here's the thing: There is a "maybe" here.

The Bears have a good, athletic defense, starting with Jordan, a likely first-day NFL draft pick this spring. He's coming off a 12-tackle, 1.5-sack performance at Washington State. The Bears are the only Pac-10 team yielding less than 300 yards per game. And they are stout against the run (119.9 yards per game).

Further, few teams in recent memory have been more Jekyll and Hyde than the Bears. But forget the ugliness of the Bears on the road this year because they will be safely ensconced inside Strawberry Canyon, where they are 4-0 and have outscored foes 189-34. That's an average of 47.3 to 8.5 ppg.

While some have focused on the 42-3 beatdown the Bears suffered at Oregon last year -- Cal was an unbeaten national title contender at the time and the Ducks were still associated with a humiliating opener at Boise State -- the Bears still have won four of five from the Ducks, who haven't won in Berkeley since 2001, when Cal went 1-10 in Tom Holmoe's final season.

Ergo: There's a "maybe" here. But there's also plenty of "maybe not."

A big question: How will first-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast contend with an offense he never saw during his long career in the NFL? His first exposure to a distinctly college offense -- Nevada's pistol -- didn't go well in a 52-31 loss. In that game, the Bears weren't losing physical matchups; they were just out of position. Over and over again.

Out of position against Oregon is very, very bad.

"I think the biggest thing is assignment defense," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "Everybody has a gap, everybody has a responsibility. And when you look at film, when Oregon busts big plays, it's because guys get tired, they get out of their gap, they start to do their own thing, and Oregon exploits that and takes advantage of that. So it's going to come down to every guy doing their individual job within the defense."

That's a critical, two-pronged observation. Oregon doesn't just force you to show assignment discipline. It forces you to do so when you are beat-tired. It's the Ducks tempo that seems to break down a defense's will as much as a complicated scheme or speedy personnel.

"It's ridiculous," Jordan said. "That's what they expect. They expect you to get tired."

Jordan leads a good defensive line. Mohamed leads an athletic corps of linebackers. Both are NFL prospects. And the supporting cast makes this front-seven as good as any the Ducks have faced. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bruins lost badly to both teams, sees this matchup as the linchpin of the game.

"Cal has a very formidable defensive line," he said. "The question is can they withstand the pace. Can they hang in there and play at that tempo for that long? It will be interesting to watch."

The second question: If the defense slows the Ducks, can the Bears score enough with backup QB Brock Mansion, who will be making his second career start, for it to matter in the final tally?

Again, that's a "maybe" with plenty behind the "maybe not." But, really, if the upset is going to happen, it's going to start with the Bears D.

And Jordan thinks that gives them a chance. "We're pretty powerful ourselves at home," he said.
California has played dominant defense on Saturdays this season. But as Bears fans know, there is a catch.

The Bears gave up 497 yards at Nevada in a 52-31 loss on a Friday night.

In the other three games, they've given up just 20 total points, and they've been good enough to still rank 15th in the nation in total defense (282.5 yards per game) while yoked with the Nevada numbers.

[+] EnlargeClancy Pendergast
NFL Photos/Getty ImagesClancy Pendergast's defense is ranked No. 15 in the country despite getting gashed by Nevada to the tune of 497 yards.
It's fair to say that new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, a longtime NFL coach, is doing a pretty good job -- other than when he's faced a pistol offense, which isn't terribly popular in the NFL.

And, of course, Pendergast and the Bears get a second crack at the pistol on Saturday when UCLA comes calling.

Seemed like a great time to check in with Pendergast to get his take on "Pistol II: Redemption?"

You guys have had three strong weeks of defense, and one bad one: Was it a case for you of having a short week of practice to prepare for an offense you never game-planned for in the NFL?

Clancy Pendergast: We are not making any excuses. We didn't play well that night. We didn't play with a good gap integrity. We didn't get off blocks. And we didn't tackle well. So those were most of the shortcomings, things we had wrong that night against Nevada.

I'm not trying to give you an excuse, but there aren't many pistol offenses in the NFL. You had to look at it as something different, right?

CP: There are some neat things about it. It's very similar to the "Wildcat" offense that was a craze in the NFL two years ago, which started with the Miami Dolphins. I spent a whole offseason and 2009 studying the Wildcat and how to defend it, just because it became so popular in the 2008 season. We looked at how a lot of NFL teams defended it, and looked at some of the college teams that ran it and studied some of them and how teams defended them. But in the true Wildcat, the element of the quarterback not being under center to throw the football is really the biggest difference.

That said: You've guys have been mostly lights out on defense otherwise. Who is playing well for you?

CP: I think [DE] Cameron Jordan has been our most consistent guy. Linebacker D.J. Holt has played really well, at mike linebacker inside. He's been our most consistent linebacker week in and week out. In the secondary, [safety] Chris Conte has been pretty consistent.

How much will it help to get linebacker Mike Mohamed back healthy?

CP: Well, he's obviously one of our best players, so having him back in the lineup on a full-time basis will make us a better defense. He didn't play against Nevada because of the (toe) injury. He played part-time against Arizona. We expect to see him a lot on Saturday. That should boost our defense a little bit. Anytime you get one of your better players back, it obviously helps your group.

When you guys have not played well, what goes wrong?

CP: It's been more the fundamental things -- guys not reading their keys and doing their job. That's the one thing we didn't do against Nevada. We had guys out of position, and guys not doing their job. Generally, when you don't play well on defense, that's what transpires. That night was like no other game.

How is UCLA's pistol different than Nevada's?

CP: Very similar. It's very similar.

As a competitor, are you excited about getting a second crack at a specific scheme?

CP: It's just another game plan, but we're excited by the opportunity to play against a very well-coached, talented UCLA team. It's our second week in the Pac-10, and we're just focusing on the next game at hand.

The Bruins have run the ball well this year. What do you see when you look at game film of UCLA?

CP: It's pretty well-documented that they do a nice job in the running game. They've been able to move the football and control the clock. The line does a good job of working together. I think they work real well in terms of the blocking schemes they use. Both running backs have been a nice one-two punch for them. The quarterback obviously keeps you honest. They can run and throw it. They have a lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. They are going to be tough to deal with.

You've got a few games under your belt: How is coaching in college different than in the NFL?

CP: It's just like I've said from day one: Coaching is coaching. I enjoy the opportunity to teach. You get a chance to do that every day. The biggest thing is the limited meeting time [in college]. So you've got to utilize your time as much as you can. But from a pure coaching standpoint, I've always enjoyed working with young players. In the NFL, that's how you build your team. You develop young players. It's no different at this level. It's just getting the players familiar with the techniques you want to use, the techniques within the scheme, the different calls they need to utilize between the linebackers, defensive line and secondary. That's how you play good defense.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 13, 2010
An undefeated weekend. Unless you're UCLA.

Team of the week: Oregon actually in some ways looks better because it came back from a 13-3 deficit at Tennessee with a 45-zip run. If the Ducks had rolled from the get-go, it would have been a case of "that's what we expected." But by bouncing back from adversity -- nothing went right in the first quarter on either side of the ball -- Oregon showed notable resilience and grace under pressure. And, let's face it, it was kind of fun that the early going spawned some SEC trash talk -- "We play defense in the SEC!" -- that was notably muted by game's end.

Best game: So Washington State nearly went down to Montana State? Think Virginia Tech, Kansas and Minnesota would prefer a "nearly" for themselves? The Cougars showed some heart by rallying from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to win 23-22.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Wade PayneStopping LaMichael James in space is one of Stanford's biggest challenges.
Biggest play: LaMichael James' all-on-his-own 72-yard TD run was a thing of beauty. Just spectacular. And when he made the Tennessee defense look silly -- there was a palpable wince in Neyland Stadium -- you could sort of sense that the Ducks were about to deliver a beatdown. And they did.

Offensive standout: Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse bounced back from an inconsistent performance at BYU to dominate Syracuse's secondary. He hauled in nine receptions for 179 yards with three TDs. Kearse ranks third in the nation with 143.5 receiving yards per game.

Defensive standout (s): Two strong performances from Bay Area teams. California linebacker Mohamed led the Bears defensive effort against Colorado with 14 tackles and an interception for a TD, while Stanford safety Michael Thomas had five tackles -- one for a loss -- and forced two fumbles in the shutout win against UCLA. The second forced fumble he returned 21 yards for a TD.

Special teams standout: Kenjon Barner returned a punt 80 yards for a TD, giving the Ducks three punt returns for scores in two games after Cliff Harris had two against New Mexico in the opener.

Smiley face: The Stanford defense, which recorded its first road shutout since 1974, a 35-zip blanking of UCLA. Also, the Pac-10, a week after going 6-4 in nonconference games, went 7-0 against nonconference foes, including wins against the Big 12 (Colorado), the SEC (Tennessee), the Big East (Syracuse) and the ACC (Virginia).

Frowny face: UCLA. The Bruins rank 115th in the nation in scoring, 115th in passing and 111th in total offense. The defense? It ranks 116th vs. the run and 102nd in scoring. And Arizona State's rushing offense, which only produced 56 yards on 29 carries against Northern Arizona. That's 1.9 yards per rush vs. an FCS team.

Sloppy: Look at the bottom of this list. Arizona State and USC rank 118th and 119th in penalty yards per game (112 and 120, respectively). Both have committed 24 penalties in their first two games. Yeech.

Quote of the week: "That's the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in," USC coach Lane Kiffin said after his Trojans beat Virginia.

Quote of the week II: "Tonight was an offensive disaster," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said after his Bruins were blanked.

Thought of the week: Here's are the top games (Oregon vs. Portland State is not included).

Iowa at Arizona
Arizona State at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Washington
Cal at Nevada (Friday)
Wake Forest at Stanford
Houston at UCLA
USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at Oregon State

The win-loss record on Saturday night will play a huge role in how the Pac-10 is perceived this season. And, Oregon fans, if you are starting to entertain national-title dreams, you should root hard for the conference to do well. And, yes, that includes the Huskies and Beavers. Saturday's results will resonate in both the national and computer polls -- and later the BCS standings.

Pac-10 helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 12, 2010
Who deserves a sticker on his helmet for a job well-done?

Mike Mohamed, California: Mohamed led a strong Bears defensive effort in a 52-7 victory over Colorado with 14 tackles and a pick-6 interception for a TD.

Darron Thomas, Oregon: How did Thomas handle his first road start in front of 100,000-plus in Neyland Stadium? He completed 17 of 32 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-13 win over Tennessee.

C.J. Mizell, Washington State: Mizell, a new starting linebacker, returned an interception 62 yards and had a key fourth-down sack in the fourth quarter of the Cougars 23-22 comeback win over Montana State.

Jake Locker, Washington: A week after a middling performance at BYU, Locker completed 22 of 33 passes for 289 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in a 41-20 win over Syracuse.

Stanford's defense: The Cardinal pitched a road shutout for the first time since 1974, holding UCLA to just 233 yards.
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.
We ranked the three-headed monsters on offense Thursday, but it seemed unfair that the skill guys get to have all the fun. What about the defensive guys?

So this is a ranking of the top-five troikas of defensive players at all three levels: line, linebacker and secondary.

5. Arizona: DE Ricky Elmore, LB Jake Fisher, CB Trevin Wade

This was a difficult one, but Elmore and Wade carried the Wildcats into the top five, even though Fisher only had seven tackles last year. Elmore had 10.5 sacks, while Wade grabbed five interceptions, with both numbers ranking second in the Pac-10 in 2009. Elmore was No. 12 and Wade 10th on our list of the conference's top-25 players.

4. Arizona State: DT Lawrence Guy, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

Guy ranked 20th in our top-25 and Burfict 17th. Both are All-American candidates, particularly Burfict. Bolden, a former freshman All-American, missed most of the 2009 season with a knee injury but he played well during spring practices.

3. Oregon: DE Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews, S John Boyett

Rowe led the conference with 11.5 sacks and ranked 13th on our top-25 list. Matthews earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and ranked 24th on our list. Boyett was the first freshman to lead the Ducks in tackles since they started keeping defensive statistics in 1969.

2. California: DE Cameron Jordan, LB Mike Mohamed, S Sean Cattouse

Jordan ranked 15th on our top-25 list, while Mohamed ranked ninth. Jordan had six sacks in 2009, and Mohamed ,who earned first-team All Pac-10 honors, led the conference with 112 tackles. Cattouse earned honorable mention all-conference honors.

1. UCLA: DE Datone Jones, LB Akeem Ayers, FS Rahim Moore

Moore and Ayers ranked seventh and eighth respectively on our top-25 list and are the best players at their positions in the conference. Ayers had 14.5 tackles for a loss with four interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Moore, who will be a consensus first-team preseason All-American, led the nation with 10 interceptions. In other words, those two combined to create 20 turnovers. Jones had 11 tackles for a loss as a sophomore starter and was dominant at times this spring.
ESPN's "College Football Live" is running down its list of the most irreplaceable players for the 2010 season. So we thought we'd take a stab at it for every Pac-10 team, including a different take for USC.

Arizona: C Colin Baxter. Centers are the quarterbacks of the offensive line, and Baxter is a good O-line QB. He earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and his backup, sophomore Kyle Quinn, has little experience. With Baxter, the Wildcats should be strong up front. Without him, the line would be a question.

Thomas Weber
Icon SMIThomas Weber is 11-for-15 on field goals of 40 or more yards during his career.
Arizona State: K Thomas Weber. Weber, the 2007 Lou Groza Award winner, is a weapon when healthy. While his backup, sophomore Bobby Wenzig, didn't do a terrible job filling in for a hurt Weber last year -- he made 3 of 4 field goals and 10 of 12 PATs -- he's no Weber, who's 11-for-15 from 40 or more yards during his career. The Sun Devils may struggle again on offense next fall, which means that Weber's range will be critical for getting points on the board.

California: LB Mike Mohamed. Mohamed earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 after leading the conference with 112 tackles, 16 more than any other defender. The Bears are replacing two of their four starting linebackers and, oh by the way, they didn't play the position terribly well last fall. It would be a big hit to lose both Mohamed's skill as well as his experience and leadership.

Oregon: WR Jeff Maehl. With the demise of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the Ducks likely will be a little more pass-happy next fall. That makes Maehl, the Ducks' best receiver, critical. He caught 53 passes for 696 yards and six touchdowns in 2009 and steadily improved throughout the season. The Ducks' next two returning receivers, D.J. Davis and Lavasier Tuinei, combined to catch 47 passes for 450 yards and two TDs.

Oregon State: RB Jacquizz Rodgers. It's not just that Rodgers is the conference's leading Heisman Trophy candidate. It's also about the Beavers' uncertain depth at the position. Jovan Stevenson and Ryan McCants combined for 164 yards rushing in 2009. Rodgers had 1,440. McCants turned in his best work yet this spring and the running game had its moments even without Rodgers, but let's just say the ground production likely would suffer -- big -- if Rodgers went down.

Stanford: QB Andrew Luck. Pretty obvious, eh? The Cardinal's offense is already replacing Toby Gerhart. It can't afford to lose Luck also and expect to compete in the top half of the Pac-10. Backups Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo are both redshirt freshmen, though if Luck went down, it's possible senior Alex Loukas could move from safety back to QB, where he started one game in 2008.

Shareece Wright
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireThe Trojans are already replacing four starters in the secondary and can't afford to lose their best corner, Shareece Wright.
UCLA: LB Akeem Ayers. Ayers is an All-America candidate who has a knack for making big plays. If the Bruins' already-rebuilding defense lost him, it would then be replacing all three starting linebackers from 2009. His backup, Isaiah Bowens, is a redshirt freshman.

USC: CB Shareece Wright. Michael Lev of The Orange County Register already beat me to this one in his list of indispensable Trojans. Wright's career has been riddled by injuries and he was academically ineligible last year, but he's long been considered the Trojans' best cover corner. USC is replacing all four starters in its secondary. Wright has four career starts and was a standout this spring. If he went down, the Trojans would have one career start returning in the secondary. That is not a good thing.

Washington: QB Jake Locker. Locker is the Huskies' best player and their unquestioned leader. He's likely going to be a high first-round NFL draft pick next spring. But it's not just how important Locker is. Because last year's backup, Ronnie Fouch, opted to transfer, Locker's backup in 2010 will be either redshirt freshman Keith Price or true freshman Nick Montana. Neither, obviously, has any playing experience.

Washington State: DE Travis Long. Long, though just a sophomore, is the Cougars' best pass-rusher and best overall defensive lineman. After a year of getting bigger and stronger, he's expected to be much better in 2010. The Cougars' defensive line already lost tackles Toby Turpin, who was kicked out of school for an academic incident, and Josh Luapo (academic ineligibility) and is waiting to find out the academic status of tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. They are not deep enough up front to recover from the loss of Long. His backup, sophomore Adam Coerper, has no experience.
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.

2009 All-Pac-10 team

December, 8, 2009
We copped out at running back, but it just didn't seem fair to recognize only two.

First-team offense
QB Sean Canfield, Sr., Oregon State
RB Toby Gerhart, Sr., Stanford
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, So., Oregon State
RB LaMichael James, RFr., Oregon
WR James Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Damian Williams, Jr., USC
TE Ed Dickson, Sr., Oregon
OG Jeff Byers, Sr., USC
OG Gregg Peat, Sr., Oregon State
OT Charles Brown, Sr., USC
OT Chris Marinelli, Sr., Stanford
C Kenny Alfred, Sr., Washington State
K Kai Forbath, Jr., UCLA

First-team defense
DT Brian Price, Jr., UCLA
DT Stephen Paea, Jr., Oregon State
DE Tyson Alualu, Sr., California
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington
LB Keaton Kristick, Sr., Oregon State
LB Mike Mohamed, Jr., California
LB Donald Butler, Sr., Washington
S Rahim Moore, So., UCLA
S Taylor Mays, Sr., USC
CB Trevin Wade, So., Arizona
CB Alterraun Verner, Sr., UCLA
P Trevor Hankins, Jr., Arizona State