NCF Nation: Mychal Kendricks
BERKELEY, Calf. -- California's defense needs to replace both starting defensive ends from 2011. And both safeties. And both inside linebackers, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks.
Looks like the Bears won't have much of a chance to lead the conference in total defense a third consecutive season, right?
Looks, however, can be deceiving. And, in fact, looks are also a good reason to suspect the Bears are going to be pretty salty on defense this fall. During a scrimmage-heavy and rare open practice last weekend, they looked big up front, fast in the back half and athletic everywhere. This is a young but fairly experienced unit with plenty of upside. It would be surprising if it doesn't rank near the top of the Pac-12 in most categories in 2012.
"I see us playing faster and faster every practice," coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.
Young? Based on conversations with Pendergast and head coach Jeff Tedford, the Pac-12 blog has calculated that about 28 guys are in line for action next fall. Six are seniors and 17 are sophomores or younger.
Experienced? Eight of those youngsters saw significant action in 2011. Five started games.
"The biggest thing to me is this is the third year in the system," Pendergast said. "These guys know a lot more about this system than they did two years ago and even a year ago. We've got it built here now where as guys come up through the program, they are learning the defense, and when it's their time, they understand what they are supposed to do by learning from guys ahead of them."
Start up front, where Pendergast and Tedford are practically giddy over the maturation of 6-foot-5, 311-pound end Deandre Coleman. Said Tedford: "He may be one of the best that we've ever had." Keep in mind that Bears have produced two first-round NFL draft choices at end -- Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan -- over the past three seasons.
At the other end is true sophomore Mustafa Jalil, who surged late last season. Kendrick Payne and 347-pound sophomore Viliami Moala give the Bears a good combo at noseguard, while 2011 noseguard starter Aaron Tipoti is playing nose and end.
While this line might not have a dominant edge pass-rusher, it's deep with guys who will be difficult to account for with just one blocker, which should make things much easier for the linebackers.
As for replacing Kendricks and D.J. Holt at inside linebackers, veterans Robert Mullins and J.P. Hurrell, both seniors, are battling to hold off a youth movement that includes David Wilkerson, Nick Forbes, Jalen Jefferson and Jason Gibson, who are all sophomores or younger. This is the most competitive spot on the defense.
"It's not really like the well is empty there, but it's which guy or two is going to step up," Tedford said.
At outside linebacker, Chris McCain had six tackles for loss as a six-game starter in 2011. Returning starter Dan Camporeale holds down the opposite side, but true sophomore Brennan Scarlett could make a move when he returns in the fall from a knee injury. Scarlett's potential as a pass-rusher should get him on the field, and the same can be said for Cecil Whiteside, who started three games in 2011 and recorded three sacks.
There are three experienced, top-flight corners in Marc Anthony, Steve Williams and Stefan McClure, who is sitting out spring practices with a knee injury.
Of all these guys, only Payne, Tipoti, Hurrell, Mullens, Anthony and Hill are seniors. So the future looks perhaps even brighter than the intriguing 2012 present. For one, Coleman, Moala and Jalil across the defensive front look like a troika of potential All-Pac-12 performers in 2013, if Coleman opts to return for his senior season.
This depth and veterans vs. youth dynamic can be constructive, too. The fluidity of the depth chart ensures players take competition seriously this spring and into fall camp. Serious competition means quality reps in practice, which means you have a two-deep full of guys who are ready to play because they were forced to practice hard in order to stay in the mix.
Or as Sebastian, a true sophomore, explained it: "We want to come out and be better than the people who are in front of us. We want to take their spots. That's our mentality."
In 2010, Pendergast and then-Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio brought 3-4 schemes from the NFL to the Pac-12 when everyone else was running a 4-3. It's meaningful that six conference teams will be base 3-4 in 2012 (including Arizona with its 3-3-5) and a couple of others will extensively use odd-front looks. The 3-4 seems to work well against the proliferation of spread teams in the conference, and it's easier on the West Coast to find linebacker recruits than defensive tackles.
But no matter how many teams adopt the scheme, it's reasonable to project that this Cal defense will remain atop the conference pecking order.
And there's this from Scouts Inc.:
The surprise of the inside linebacker group was California's Mychal Kendricks (5-11 1/8, 239), who absolutely crushed his workout. Kendricks had the top 40 (4.47), vertical (39 1/4) and broad jump (10-7) in the group, and was in the top five in the short shuttle (4.19). He was also above-average on the bench with 24 reps.
Kendricks' explosiveness showed up during drills, when he stayed low to the ground, showed quick feet and was effective shaving the edge as a pass-rusher. He was under control at all times, and this performance combined with good things seen recently on film give him a realistic shot to come off the board late on Day 2.
Things went much worse for Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict (6-1 3/8, 248), whose 40 time (5.09) and broad jump (8-7) were well below the four-year averages. Burfict's 2011 film says he's a third-rounder, and when you add in those results along with character baggage and poor interviews his stock is beginning to plummet.
USC linebacker Chris Galippo also struggled a bit:
USC MLB Chris Galippo didn't do enough to show teams he's more than just a two-down linebacker who will come to the sideline on passing downs. Galippo almost lost his balance when asked to backpedal between bags, and he didn't show great burst out of breaks in coverage.
Another Pac-12 defensive standout was former USC end Nick Perry, who ran a blistering 4.64 40. That said, ESPN's Todd McShay is a bigger fan of Clemson's Andre Branch.
Clemson's Andre Branch (6-4 1/4, 259) and USC's Nick Perry (6-2 3/4, 271) are similar conversion/hybrid players and both rank on the edge of the first round. Perry has better workout numbers but Branch is more athletic and shows better bend as an edge rusher. Perry has more straight-line explosiveness, but Branch blows him out of the water in terms of change-of-direction skills and lateral quickness in space.
Another take on Perry:
USC DE Nick Perry had a strong day. There is some tightness in his hips, and it showed when he was asked to open up in space. But Perry moved well enough to give base 3-4 defenses something to think about as a possible outside linebacker. The 271-pounder is quick and gets to depth, and he showed that he can pluck the ball out of the air. His most natural fit is at defensive end, though. Perry showed above-average lateral mobility and quick hands during bag work.
There were a few Pac-12 defenders that didn't burn up the 40, though. Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu ran one of the slowest 40s at 5.37, but he injured his hamstring while doing so. For the defensive ends, Cal's Trevor Guyton (5.07) and Arizona State's Jamaar Jarrett (5,02) were among the slowest in their position group.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.
K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
DL Josh Shirley, Washington: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.
P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Best overall performance (team): We're a field goal away from flipping a coin between Stanford and Oregon. But the Ducks won, and to the victor go the spoils. Say what you want about Wisconsin being overrated; Oregon beat a very good team with one of the most productive college running backs in history, and the Ducks did it on a major stage.
Best offensive performance (individual): Keith Price outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, passing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores. And the Huskies lost! Someone on the Washington defense better be carrying his books around campus until the start of next season.
Best defensive performance (individual): In the conference's five losses, teams gave up an average of 41 points. Still, Cal first-team all-conference linebacker Mychal Kendricks did all he could to limit Texas to 21, notching nine solo tackles (10 total) and 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Best defensive performance (team): Pass.
Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Andrew Luck's one interception was the lone stain on an otherwise fantastic performance, in which he completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He was 15-of-15 on all of Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive that set up the almost-game-winning field goal.
Worst offensive performance: Both Cal and UCLA faced fairly tough defenses in Texas and Illinois, respectively, and their 24 points combined reflected that. (For the record, Washington had 35 by halftime and Oregon had 28 at the half.) But the nod goes to Cal for 7 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That's 0.2 yards per carry. ASU was actually worse with minus-11 rushing yards, but at least it put up 24 points (well, 17 if you take away Rashad Ross' 98-yard kick return).
Worst defensive performance: As a conference, Pac-12 teams gave up an average of 455 yards in their bowl games. Washington was the worst offender with 777 yards yielded.
Best bang for buck: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Two carries, two touchdowns, 155 yards and a 77.5 yards-per-carry average.
Best supporting cast: While Price was fantastic, lest we forget that Chris Polk ran for 147 yards, Jermaine Kearse caught five balls for 198 yards and a score and Devin Aguilar added two receiving touchdowns.
Best holiday spirit: Cal certainly got into the season, giving the ball away five times to Texas.
Best "Oh jeez" moment: Stanford running back Jeremy Stewart taking out teammate Ty Montgomery after he tried to run a kickoff out of the end zone. Stewart, a fifth-year senior, stopped the true freshman right at the line and dropped him, much to the chagrin of 69,927 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Worst "Oh jeez" moment: Watching Dennis Erickson try to call a timeout when ASU had fourth-and-goal at the Boise 1-yard line. Then watching his face as Jamar Taylor picked off Brock Osweiler and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.
WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Yeah, I know, a real reach saying to watch the QBs. But this is more about players who have been inconsistent this year and are more likely to lose this game rather than win it. Cal seems to have an advantage with Zach Maynard, who played much better at the end of the season after a terrible midseason slump. For Texas, it's two guys who couldn't play well enough to eliminate the other: Case McCoy and David Ash. The Longhorns would rather just hand the ball off, so Cal's defense will need to force the Longhorns to need to throw. Texas might have the best defense the Bears have faced, and they are particularly tough against the pass. If Maynard's mechanics slip again and he's inaccurate, Texas will feast. But if Maynard hooks up with his brother, WR Keenan Allen, a few times for big plays, that could loosen things up for the Bears' running game.
WHAT TO WATCH: Cal LB Mychal Kendricks vs. the Longhorns' running offense. Kendricks is the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. He ranked fourth in the conference with eight tackles a game, including 13 for a loss. The Longhorns don't have a top-50 rusher -- the backfield had injury issues much of the year -- but they nonetheless ranked 19th in the nation in rushing with 210 yards per game. They ran the ball 554 times this year and passed just 334. So it's obvious what they want to do. If Kendricks makes a lot of plays -- instead of defensive backs -- that's a good thing for Cal and not for Texas.
WHY TO WATCH: Both teams want to create positive momentum going into 2012, and Texas fans particularly are on edge after two subpar years. Mack Brown could use some positive momentum. For Cal fans, however, this game also is about revenge. The Old Blues probably won't ever forgive Brown for his aggressive politicking in 2004 that helped the Longhorns leap the Bears in the BCS standings and grab a Rose Bowl berth away from a team that hadn't been to one since 1959.
PREDICTION: Texas 24, California 21. This sets up like a defensive struggle that will be determined by turnovers, special teams and field position. The guess here is the Longhorns will be able to run the ball better than Cal and that will prove to be the difference in the fourth quarter.
For a more thorough look at offense, re-read our Heisman Watch update.
Offensive player of the year
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. He's completing 72 percent of his throws with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions.
2. Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranks second in the Pac-12 and fifth in the nation with 127 yards rushing per game. His nine rushing touchdowns rank second in the conference.
3. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James returned to action against Washington State after missing two games. He had 53 yards rushing on 13 carries in the Ducks' win. He ranks second in the nation with 150.8 yards rushing per game.
4. Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods caught nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in the triple-overtime loss to Stanford. He ranks No. 5 in the nation with 123.9 receiving yards per game.
Defensive player of the year
1. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: Thomas leads the conference in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (11.5). He's also forced three fumbles.
2. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State: Burfict ranks second on the Sun Devils with 45 tackles, with 6.0 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also has an interception and four passes defended.
3. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Kendricks is fifth in the conference with 7.4 tackles per game. He also has 6.5 tackles for loss.
Coach of the year
1. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State: If the Sun Devils win out and win the South Division, Erickson is a good bet for coach of the year -- unless these other guys do something really special. Like play for a national title.
2. David Shaw, Stanford: Shaw remains unbeaten as a head coach. If he's still unbeaten on Dec. 3, he's the Coach of the Year.
3. Chip Kelly, Oregon: How could Kelly not be Coach of the Year if he wins a third consecutive Pac-12 title?
4. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: Sark's candidacy needs a win on Saturday against Kelly.
For a more thorough look at offense, re-read our Heisman Trophy update.
Offensive player of the year
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Luck ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed 72 percent of his passes for 269.7 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown and caught a 13-yard pass with one hand.
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James sat out his second game with a dislocated elbow. While his 170.4 yards rushing per game would lead the nation, after missing two games he no longer qualifies for NCAA statistical rankings.
3. Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranks first in the Pac-12 (see above) and fifth in the nation in rushing with 124.6 yards per game.
4. Keith Price, QB, Washington: Price has 22 touchdown passes this season, most in the Pac-12 and fourth most in Huskies history. He ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency and second in the Pac-12.
5. Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods caught 12 passes for 119 yards with two touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Notre Dame. He ranks No. 2 in the nation with 128.9 receiving yards per game.
Defensive player of the year
1. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: Thomas leads the conference with 5.5 sacks and is tied for first with 10 tackles for a loss. He has 33 tackles overall. He's also forced three fumbles.
2. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Kendricks is third in the conference with 7.9 tackles per game. He also has five tackles for a loss.
3. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State: Burfict ranks third on the Sun Devils with 36 tackles, with 5.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He also has an interception and four passes defended.
4. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State: The freshman has four sacks and is tied with Thomas with 10 tackles for a loss. He also is tied for first in the conference with four forced fumbles.
Coach of the year
1. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State: Even with the loss at Oregon, the Sun Devils have overcome injuries and continue to be the South Division favorites.
2. David Shaw, Stanford: Stanford is now squarely in the national title hunt. Shaw is unbeaten as a head coach, and each of his wins were blowouts. He seems to be doing OK so far.
3. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly's Ducks are again in position to win the conference title, their third in a row.
4. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: The Huskies are 5-2 with a big-time showdown with Oregon on Nov. 5 ahead. The program has taken big steps in Year 3 with Sarkisian.
Oregon State fans: Look, I know it's my fault. I am more than willing to save the season and pick against your team in every game, but can you get the word out so I don't get angry email about how I always disrespect the Beavers?
Thanks for you consideration.
Arizona 35, UCLA 30: Is this about the Wildcats playing looser now that volatile coach Mike Stoops is gone? No. Probably would have picked the same score with Stoops still madly gesticulating and grimacing on the sidelines. It's more about Wildcats QB Nick Foles being the best player on the field.
Stanford 42, Washington 24: I expect this to play to the pattern for most of Stanford's games thus far: Close at the half, then BOOM! Andrew Luck and a tough Cardinal defense assert themselves.
Notre Dame 28, USC 24: The Trojans are much better on offense, while Notre Dame is much better on defense. The tipping point is the Fighting Irish playing at home under the lights.
Oregon 48, Colorado 17: Whether the Ducks have quarterback Darron Thomas and/or running back LaMichael James doesn't really matter. The Buffaloes are injury-ravaged and might have lost what little confidence they had.
Utah 24, California 21: This pick is based in large part in the belief that the Bears will be missing two starting linebackers, most painfully leading tackler Mychal Kendricks (shoulder). That will help the Utes establish the run, which in turn will make life easier for QB Jon Hays.
Washington State 38, Oregon State 30: The Cougars will get it done in a must-win game for their bowl hopes. Home-field advantage helps, but there's also the expectation we'll see QB Jeff Tuel far less rusty after making his first start of the season since a shoulder injury last weekend against Stanford.
Both teams are better on defense than offense. Both teams have 15 sacks. Both teams are struggling at quarterback.
Both teams are 3-3 overall. Both teams are 0-3 in conference play. Both teams aren't happy about that.
The notable thing about them playing is that symmetry will end. One team will walk away on the uptick. One team -- and its fans -- will be supremely disappointed.
As it often happens in the Pac-12, the quarterbacks figure to be crucial: Who makes plays and who avoids gaffes. But this isn't about a showdown of A-list passers. It's about a battle of game managers.
For Utah, Jon Hays, a transfer from Nebraska-Omaha who replaced injured starter Jordan Wynn, has been decent. He's completed 60 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions. His efficiency rating thus far ranks 11th in the conference -- just ahead of Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- but he wasn't even around for spring practices.
Still, Hays needs to balance the Utes offense. Cal is surely going to load up against the run and see what Hays can do.
"He is progressing but we can't feed the ball to [running back] John White 36 times a game," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said.
A couple of injury issues in this matchup of the Utah offense vs. the Cal defense: The Utes may be without top receiver DeVonte Christopher, who is questionable with an ankle sprain, while Cal might be missing a pair of linebackers: leading tackler Mychal Kendricks (shoulder) and Chris McCain (leg).
For Cal, Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, started fast but has struggled of late, particularly during a three-interception performance in the 30-9 loss to USC last Thursday. He's piled up some yards -- 265 per game -- and has 11 TD passes, but he's also only completing 52.7 percent of his throws and ranks 10th in the conference in passing efficiency.
"He's showed flashes of being really, really good and other times -- like last week -- made a couple of poor decisions," coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's his first year in our program. I don't know if you can say that about any other quarterback in our conference. At least they've been in the system."
Well, you can say that about Hays -- who's had less time in the Utes system -- and Mannion, a redshirt freshman, but that mostly supports Tedford's point, though Maynard did start for Buffalo in 2009.
Neither coach likely has any illusions that things will suddenly click into place and he'll have an offensive juggernaut on his hands. What both are looking for is fewer mistakes and more balance — and an offense that can take advantage of opportunities often provided by an A-list defense.
"Bottom line, that is our biggest issue offensively: Our red-zone production," Whittingham said. "We've done everything you can possibly do in the red zone to shoot ourselves in the foot."
The Utes rank last in the conference in red zone offense, while Cal is fifth. Yet Cal scored 12 touchdowns on its first 14 red zone trips during a 3-0 start. It's scored three TDs on its past 12 trips. Which is a horrible percentage.
So that's something else the Utes and Bears have in common.
There's a lot of symmetry between these teams. But one team will dictate terms of a new asymmetry on Saturday.
For a more thorough look at offense, re-read our Heisman Trophy update.
Offensive player of the year
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Luck ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency. He has completed 71 percent of his passes for 286.5 yards per game with 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown and caught a 13-yard pass with one hand.
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: James sat out the Arizona State game with a dislocated elbow. He still ranks first in the nation with 170.4 yards per game.
3. Keith Price, QB, Washington: Price has 21 touchdown passes this season, which is tied for second in the nation and already tied for fourth most in program history. He ranks fifth in the nation in passing efficiency and second in the Pac-12.
4. Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Polk ranks seventh in the nation in rushing with 121.3 yards per game.
Defensive player of the year
1. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: Thomas leads the conference with 5.5 sacks and is third with 8.0 tackles for a loss. He's tied for third on the team with 25 tackles. He's also forced three fumbles.
2. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Kendricks leads the conference with 8.5 tackles per game. He also has five tackles for a loss
3. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State: Burfict ranks third on the Sun Devils with 36 tackles, with 5.5 TFL and four sacks. He also has an interception and four passes defended.
Coach of the year
1. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State: Even with the loss at Oregon, the Sun Devils have overcome injuries and continue to be the South Division favorites.
2. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: The Huskies are 5-1 and ranked. The program has taken big steps in Year 3 with Sarkisian.
3. David Shaw, Stanford: So far, it's difficult to tell much difference in Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal and David Shaw's version. Other than no post-game controversies with other coaches.
4. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly's Ducks are again in position to win the conference title, their third in a row.
5. Paul Wulff, Washington State: Wulff should get consideration if he leads the Cougars to a bowl game.
Best game: It shouldn't have been a thriller, but Washington needed a late interception to outlast Eastern Washington 30-27. And it's worrisome that the Huskies were outgained by the Eagles 504 yards to 250. Hey, guys, how about a little pass defense?
Biggest play: Sure you've seen the highlight of UCLA receiver Nelson Rosario's 54-yard reception against Houston, ESPN's Play of the Day on Saturday, though it came in a losing effort. Rosario, turned around with his back to the endzone in tight coverage, grabbed the ball with his right hand, then trapped it on the back of the Cougars defender to make the catch. An instant classic. Now, Nelson, how about becoming consistent on routine plays?
Offensive standout: USC wide receiver Robert Woods caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' 19-17 win over Minnesota. A tip of the cap to Oregon State's true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 and three TDs on 33 carries in the Beavers upset loss to Sacramento State.
Defensive standout: While Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict (three sacks) and Utah linebacker Brian Blechen (two interceptions) put up nice numbers versus FCS foes, Cal linebacker Mychal Kendricks piled up a game-high nine tackle with 2.5 coming for a loss -- the 0.5 was a sack -- against a solid Fresno State team. He also broke up a pass as the Bears held the Bulldogs to 218 yards and 11 first downs. It's possible the Bears will have the best defense in the conference.
Special teams standout: Washington kicker Erik Folk was 3 for 3 on field goals of 40-plus yards in the tight win over Eastern Washington, connecting on kicks of 53, 47 and 40 yards.
Smiley face: To the Bay Area. Both Cal and Stanford took care of business with solid performances. Sure, San Jose State isn't much, but Stanford was cruelly efficient in dispatching the Spartans. Cal surely raised more than a few eyebrows in the conference.
Frowny face: The state of Oregon. Both Oregon and Oregon State went down, though to very different foes in very different ways.
Thought of the week: Two things we thought we'd see on Saturday that we didn't: An improved UCLA defense and a strong performance from Colorado at Hawaii. The Buffs defense was pretty solid, though the Hawaii offense was rebuilding other than quarterback Bryant Moniz. But the offensive line is a big concern, giving up seven sacks and struggling to open holes for the running game. A struggling offensive line doesn't bode well for Cal's visit. As for the UCLA defense, it played much better in the second half at Houston. We'll see if the first half was an anomaly-- Case Keenum is a pretty good QB, after all -- or the start of a pattern of inconsistency.
Questions for the week: Welcome to "measuring stick" week. There are big nonconference games across the board that likely will establish how the Pac-12 is viewed nationally, particularly after a lackluster opening frame. Will the conference notch a couple of quality wins? Or will it get cut down and see its national perception plummet? Further, Utah's visit to USC is the first Pac-12 game in,well, history. Will the Utes immediately prove they belong?
Feel free to disagree.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
RB Chris Polk, Washington
TE David Paulson, Oregon
WR Juron Criner, Arizona
WR Jermaine Kearse, Washington
OL Jonathan Martin, Stanford
OL Matt Kalil, USC
OL David DeCastro, Stanford
OL Ryan Miller, Colorado
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah
K Erik Folk, Washingon
DE Nick Perry, USC
DT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington
DE Junior Onyeali, Arizona State
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford
LB Mychal Kendricks, California
LB Chase Thomas, Stanford
CB Cliff Harris, Oregon
CB Nickell Robey, USC
S T.J. McDonald, USC
S Delano Howell, Stanford
P Bryan Anger, California
PR Cliff Harris, Oregon
KR Robert Woods, USC
But just about every team, other than the Sun Devils, has questions.
So how do things stack up? Read on.
Stanford: The Cardinal, who run a 3-4, lost two good LBs in Owen Marecic and Thomas Keiser, but Shayne Skov on the inside and Chase Thomas on the outside are all-conference talents, and Max Bergen, Alex Debniak and Blake Lueders have experience and talent. While we don't like to include incoming freshman in this evaluation, we've seen film of James Vaughters and, well, he's good and may end up starting.
California: Two starters are gone from the Bears' 3-4, including mainstay Mike Mohamed, but D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks are an outstanding combo inside, while hopes are high on the outside for David Wilkerson and Cecil Whiteside. And there's intriguing young talent, including top guys in an incoming recruiting class.
Utah: Utah loses one of three starters, but standout Brian Blechen moved from safety to "stud" linebacker and looked good this spring. Further, Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez are a good returning combination, and the potential return of former starter Nai Fotu, who was suspended after a DUI arrest in February, makes this a position of strength for the Utes.
Oregon: Sure, Oregon lost multiyear starters Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, but a regular rotation of backups the past two seasons means there's plenty of experience surrounding returning strongside backer Josh Kaddu. Junior Michael Clay is a budding star, and Boseko Lokombo, Dewitt Stuckey and Derrick Malone are also going to see action. The wild card is MLB Kiko Alonso, a big hitter who had a great spring but is presently under indefinite suspension for a criminal mischief arrest in May.
Arizona: The Wildcats were an interesting case at LB in any event: They began spring with three quality starters back but almost no depth. Then Jake Fischer went down with a knee injury. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are a nice tandem, but after them things are murky.
UCLA: The Bruins have plenty of potential here, despite the loss of Akeem Ayers. Patrick Larimore has flashed all-conference ability at in the middle -- a shoulder injury ended his 2010 season -- while Sean Westgate has been a steady starter on the outside. Glenn Love and Jordan Zumwalt are competing for the strongside spot. Redshirt freshman Aramide Olaniyan, Isaiah Bowens, Eric Kendricks and Ryan Hofmeister are also in the mix. A caveat: The Bruins were terrible against the run last year.
Colorado: Leading tackler Michael Sipili is gone, but the guy who would have led the Buffs in tackles -- Jon Major -- is back after suffering a knee injury midway through the 2010 season. Patrick Mahnke and Liloa Nobriga have experience, while Douglas Rippy had an outstanding spring at middle linebacker.
USC: The Trojans lost two of three starters, and Devon Kennard moved back to defensive end, but Chris Galippo is back in the middle. Shane Horton has some experience, but he's competing with impressive redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard, as are Dion Bailey and Marquis Simmons on the strong side. Depth is an issue.
Washington: Cort Dennison is back in the middle, but things are unsettled outside, where Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa made a lot of plays. The post-spring depth chart list seven youngsters at the two outside spots separated by an "or."
Oregon State: Outside LBs Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson are gone, and it's uncertain if Rueben Robinson will again start at MLB, as he's being challenged by Tony Wilson and Kevin Unga. That said, hopes are high for Cameron Collins and Michael Doctor on the outside. A former safety, Collins has 13 career starts, though only two at LB. Doctor is an impressive youngster with a nice motor.
Washington State: On the one hand, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, C.J. Mizell, Sekope Kaufusi and Mike Ledgerwood give the Cougars an experienced foursome at the position. But after ranking 115th in the nation in run defense, the only option is to wait and see. On the plus side for Cougars fans, this looks like a position that could be dramatically improved this fall.
The award will be "voted on by a blue ribbon panel of experts that will form the award’s board of directors," and will be announced at the end of the regular season.
“Eric and I were able to complement each other on the field in such a way that together we formed a much more potent weapon than even our individual talents would have suggested,” James said in the release. “We have remained life-long friends, and each season we have always had fun talking about the great tandems that were making an imprint on the game that season. We decided someone should recognize these great combinations, and that really became the genesis of the Pony Express Award.”
Said Dickerson: “You usually talk about football in terms of offensive and defensive units and the individual standouts on either side of the ball. But if you look at those units, usually there are a couple of guys who stick out and really form a very tough matchup. The most obvious would be a great quarterback and a standout receiver. In Craig and mine’s case, it was two great running backs. On defense, it might be a pair of great safeties. These are the types of tandems we will be looking at.”
The 48 tandems on the "Watch List" include seven from the Pac-12, including two from both Stanford and Washington.
Stanford: QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener
Stanford: OT Jonathan Martin, OG David DeCastro
Arizona: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner
Oregon: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, RB Kenjon Barner
USC: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods
Washington: DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison
Wasington: RB Chris Polk, WR Jermaine Kearse
Some that might have been worth adding:
Arizona State: LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali
California: LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse
Colorado: RB Rodney Stewart, WR Paul Richardson
Oregon: CB Cliff Harris, S John Boyett
Stanford: LB Shayne Skov, S Delano Howell
Washington State: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson
No defensive player who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010 is back -- Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden blew out his knee this spring. But that doesn't mean there aren't a plethora of returning defensive stars. Expect at least a couple of Pac-12 players to earn All-American honors.
The first question is who's the best inside linebacker? Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict might be the most fearsome defensive player in the nation, but by the end of the 2010 season few were better than Stanford's Shayne Skov.
Of course, neither matched the numbers put up by California's Mychal Kendricks -- 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss -- last year.
While he USC safety T.J. McDonald was a bit under the radar because the Trojans defense struggled in 2010, that defense is expected to dramatically improve and McDonald is a big reason why.
But, really, what happens if Oregon's big-play cornerback Cliff Harris becomes consistent -- while still maintaining his ball hawking ways?
Lots of good choices. But who's going to be the best?
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:15 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State