NCF Nation: Nate Whitaker

Shaw will be his own man this spring

February, 18, 2011
It might seem very Jim Harbaugh-y that new Stanford coach David Shaw is so eager to get to work that he's schedule his first spring practice for Monday, when the calendar says we're still in winter. But Shaw is fully aware that he's not Jim Harbaugh. He's not going to adopt a Harbaughian pose. It's not likely he will talk about "enthusiasm unknown to mankind" or not bowing down to any program or comparing his quarterback (Andrew Luck) to his wife because both are "perfect."

Harbaugh was often a colorful quote but a prickly interview. He was unpredictable and edgy, incredibly competitive and just a little nutty.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireAmong David Shaw's chief concerns are filling voids on both lines and at linebacker.
Shaw is polished and measured. As Stanford's head coach, he's going to be David Shaw, and plenty of folks on the Farm think that's going to be a good thing -- see recent good news on ticket sales.

"I just have a different personality," he said. "I'm a different person."

That doesn't mean, however, he's any less competitive. During a short phone conversation Friday, he talked about being "single-minded" and "focused" and getting better each practice. The first task for Stanford this spring is moving past a scintillating 12-1 campaign in 2010. If the Cardinal start believing they've arrived, they surely won't.

As to the business at hand, Shaw announced a couple of staff additions. Mike Bloomgren, a New York Jets offensive assistant, is the Cardinal's new offensive line coach and running game coordinator, and Mike Sanford, a former Stanford assistant who was Western Kentucky's quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator last year, has been hired as running backs coach.

Shaw said the last void on his staff is at tight ends coach. "I'm not going to rush," he said. "I'm not just hiring guys for spring ball."

Previously, Shaw announced that Pep Hamilton had been promoted to offensive coordinator and will work with quarterbacks and receivers and that Derek Mason and Jason Tarver, a former San Francisco 49ers assistant, would serve as co-defensive coordinators. Mason will oversee the secondary and call plays, while Tarver will coach linebackers.

Spring practices will be split into two minicamps. The first session runs Feb. 21 to March 5. The second starts March 28 and ends with the spring game on April 9.

When asked about his primary concerns, Shaw quickly named the offensive line, which must replace three starters, including All-America center Chase Beeler and All-Pac-10 guard David DeCastro.

Other issues: Who's Luck's backup? Who replaces Nate Whitaker at kicker? What about two voids at linebacker and on the defensive line? And who steps in for Richard Sherman at cornerback?

Shaw isn't eager to provide lists of possible answers. He obviously wants to create as much competition as possible. The good news is the Cardinal, who are almost certain to be ranked in the preseason top 10, appear to have plenty of up-and-coming players who are ready to step in.

As for Luck, Shaw isn't worried that a guy touted as the surefire No. 1 pick in the NFL draft this spring had he not decided to return will try to shoulder too much of a burden.

"I love his leadership style because it's a performance-based leadership," Shaw said. "He wants to be one of the hardest workers on the team. He wants to lead by example. He doesn't want to give a whole bunch of speeches."

In other words, Shaw expects Luck to be Luck. Just like Shaw plans to put his mark on the program instead of trying to be the second-coming of Harbaugh.'s All-Pac-10 team

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

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

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

So here you go.

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

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

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

2010 Pac-10 review

December, 8, 2010
If someone found a crystal ball in the preseason and, after giving it a good peering, had announced that one Pac-10 team would play for the national title and another would play in the Discover Orange Bowl, it's likely that Pac-10 administrators and athletic directors would have broken out into a celebratory dance thinking of the extra revenue, not to mention the prestige, the conference would gain.

So it's a good thing that didn't happen because that would have been hard on the eyes.

Oregon will play Auburn in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10. Stanford will play Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. Not only have teams other than USC risen to the elite level, but the Pac-10 has produced two BCS bowl teams for the first time since 2002.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly and the Pac-10 are looking forward to January, when two conference schools will participate in BCS games: Stanford in the Orange Bowl and Oregon in the national title game.
Of course, some sourpusses will point out that the conference only produced four bowl teams. First, it's five, really, only USC is ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. And five bowl-eligible teams in a 10-team league that plays nine conference games and doesn't load its schedules with nonconference patsies isn't terrible.

Could be better. But not terrible.

The Pac-10 finished the regular season ranked No. 2 behind the SEC in the Sagarin Ratings. Pac-10 teams played the seven toughest schedules in the nation, as well as Nos. 10 and 11. Oregon's schedule ranked 20th, the lowest in the conference, in large part because the Ducks lucked out by not having to play themselves.

The Pac-10 went 10-5 versus other BCS conferences.

Further, the Pac-10 is sending two finalists to the Heisman Trophy ceremony: Oregon running back LaMichael James and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. No other conference is doing that.

Still, the conference didn't post any marquee nonconference victories. Wins over Iowa and Texas lost a lot of value as both teams struggled as the season went on. Winning at Tennessee isn't as impressive as it was a decade ago. Arizona State lost by a point at Wisconsin. The conference lost three games to elite non-AQ teams: TCU, Boise State and Nevada. Nebraska stomped on Washington.

Quarterbacks were all the talk in the preseason, but the results were mixed there, too. Luck, obviously, lived up to and even beyond expectations. Washington's Jake Locker fell well short. Oregon's Darron Thomas came from no where to earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors. USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles had good, but not great seasons.

Luck could come back next fall, but he's likely going to be the No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft. Thomas, Barkley and Foles will return, though, again giving the conference a good foundation at the position (It's possible that Foles, too, could opt to enter the NFL draft).

As far as where the conference ranks as it heads into the postseason, the bowl season should be telling. It would be particularly meaningful for Oregon to end the SEC's run of national titles at four. Stanford is expected to beat ACC champ Virginia Tech, so losing would inspire plenty of wisecracks.

Arizona and Washington are both significant underdogs against Big 12 foes in the Valero Alamo Bowl -- where the Wildcats play No. 14 Oklahoma State -- and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl -- where the Huskies face No. 18 Nebraska, which bludgeoned them 56-21 on Sept. 18.

A 2-2 bowl season would be respectable. 3-1 would be worth crowing about. But anything worse, and it could be a long offseason for Pac-10 fans who enjoy trash talking other conferences.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Andrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US PRESSWIREAndrew Luck passed for 3,051 yards and 28 touchdowns, while completing 70.2 percent of his passes this season.
Offensive MVPs: Call me a wuss for refusing to decide between Luck and James, but I'm not going to. Hey, they're both Heisman Trophy finalists. Luck passed for 3,051 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 70 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 438 yards and three touchdowns. James led the nation with 152.9 yards rushing per game and 21 touchdowns. He also caught 13 passes for 169 yards and a TD.

Defensive MVP: This was a tough call, but Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea is the guy who causes the most problems for opposing offenses and consistently receives praise from opposing offensive linemen. After a slow start, Paea led the Beavers with 10 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had 42 total tackles -- despite constant double-teams -- and four forced fumbles.

Newcomer of the year: USC true freshman Robert Woods made big plays as receiver and a kick returner. As a receiver, caught 64 passes for 786 yards and six touchdowns. As a return man, he averaged 25.6 yards on 38 returns -- a school record -- including one for a 97-yard touchdown. He ranks second in the Pac- 10, and 27th nationally, with 139.8 all-purpose yards.

Coach of the year: Folks asked what Oregon coach Chip Kelly would do for an encore after he led the Ducks to a Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl his first season. Well, how about going undefeated and earning a berth in the national title game? His Ducks were the first team to go undefeated in the nine-game conference schedule. He also got a nice reward for his extraordinary success.

Biggest surprise: While more than a few folks thought Stanford would be good, and even might improve on last year's 8-5 finish, no one saw 11-1 and a No. 4 ranking coming. That's a tribute to coach Jim Harbaugh, who built a program from the ground up. While he's widely praised as an offensive innovator and outstanding motivator, Harbaugh's best move might have been hiring Vic Fangio last offseason to coordinate the defense. The improvement on that side of the ball is the reason the Cardinal became elite.

Biggest disappointment: Oregon State was ranked in the preseason and was expected to contend at the top of the conference, but the Beavers are staying home during the postseason for the first time since 2005. While a rugged schedule didn't help, and a knee injury to receiver James Rodgers on Oct. 9 was a major blow, the biggest issue was poor play on both lines. Further, the Beavers would have finished 6-6 if they had managed to not lose at home to Washington State, which ended the Cougars 16-game conference losing streak.

Game of the year: Stanford's 37-35 win over USC had just about everything. It had a pregame plot line: USC wanted revenge -- "What's your deal?" -- for Harbaugh running the score up the year before in a 55-21 Cardinal win in the Coliseum. It had two future NFL quarterbacks at the the top of the game: Luck passed for 285 yards and three TDs and Matt Barkley passed for 390 yards and three TDs. Neither threw an interception. It had Stanford's potential goats -- kicker Nate Whitaker, who missed a PAT, and running back Stepfan Taylor, whose fumble set up the Trojans' late, go-ahead TD -- find redemption on the final drive. Taylor's 21-yard run set up Whitaker's game-winning, 30-yard field goal on the final play.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 27, 2010
A look back as we now hit the meat of the conference race.

Team of the week: UCLA shocked the nation with a 34-12 stomping of No. 7 Texas. The Bruins, who were physically dominant on both lines of scrimmage, now seem fully recovered from an 0-2 start.

Best game: Arizona needed a late drive and defensive stand for a second weekend in a row as the Wildcats nipped California 10-9. Not a lot of 10-9 games through the years in the Pac-10, eh?

[+] EnlargeJuron Criner
AP Photo/Wily LowArizona receiver Juron Criner came through with some big catches against California.
Biggest play: The Wildcats wouldn't have won without a 51-yard completion from Nick Foles to Juron Criner, which was the centerpiece of the 77-yard, game-winning drive. Criner, who was questionable for the game with a turf toe, fought off tight coverage from Darian Hagan to make the play.

Offensive standout: The UCLA running game, which piled up 264 yards against Texas, gets the nod. Therefore, we include the offensive line, running backs Johnathan Franklin (118 yards) and Derrick Coleman (94 yards) as well as quarterback Kevin Prince (50 yards).

Defensive standout(s): UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers led the defensive effort at Texas. He had six tackles and an interception, and his sack included a forced fumble. Oregon safety John Boyett also merits a tip of the cap. He recorded a game-high 11 tackles against Arizona State and returned an interception 39 yards for a TD.

Two-way standout: Owen Marecic, Stanford's starting fullback AND linebacker, scored on an offensive run and interception return that were just 13 seconds apart at Notre Dame.

Special teams standout: Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker tied a school record with five field goals: 24, 41, 36, 33 and 29 yards during the Cardinal's 37-14 win at Notre Dame, where Whitaker played before transferring to Stanford.

Smiley face: Oregon and Stanford both passed tough road tests and set up a top-10 matchup in Autzen Stadium on Saturday that will announce the Pac-10's early leader.

Frowny face: Poor Cal. The Bears have lost consecutive games in painful fashion. First, they were embarrassed at Nevada, a team they couldn't stop on defense. Second, they yielded a late TD vs. Arizona, failing to score a TD in a 10-9 loss. Two missed field goals from Giorgio Tavecchio would have helped the cause, too.

Thought of the week: The Pac-10 is clearly nine teams deep. Good for the conference. The question, however, is whether any team can go undefeated in a nine-game conference schedule and play its way into national title consideration. The feeling here is no. Then the question becomes: Can any team get through with only one loss? Maybe. But it will be taxing to do so.

Thought of the week II: While most national eyes will be on Stanford's visit to Oregon -- and rightly so -- Washington's visit to USC and Arizona State's trip to Oregon State should be revealing. We don't know what to make of these four teams just yet. We should get a much clearer picture of the conference pecking order by Sunday.

Quote of the week: Said UCLA safety Tony Dye to the LA Times: "The first two weeks, we didn't exist. This is our team right now. If we keep rolling like this, we're going to win the [Pac-10]."

Quote of the week II: Said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as he opened his press conference following a blowout win at Notre Dame, "Might be the biggest press conference I've ever been to right here."

Pac-10 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 26, 2010
Who deserves a sticker on his helmet for a job well done?

UCLA: While individuals played big roles -- linebacker Akeem Ayers, the offensive line, quarterback Kevin Prince, free safety Rahim Moore, running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, etc. -- the Bruins shocking 34-12 domination of Texas was a total team effort and should be credited as such.

Stanley Havili: Havili, USC's fullback, had four carries for 80 yards, including a 59-yard TD in the Trojans' 50-16 win at Washington State. He also caught five passes for 107 yards -- including a 58 yarder -- with a TD.

Nate Whitaker: Playing against his old team, Notre Dame, he tied a Stanford record with five field goals: 24, 41, 36, 33 and 29 yards during the Cardinal's 37-14 win.

Juron Criner: He wasn't supposed to play due to a turf toe, but in a game devoid of offense, Criner made the two biggest plays on Arizona's 77-yard, game-winning TD drive against California. First, he hauled in a 51-yard pass from Nick Foles. Then, on third down, he caught a 3-yard TD from Foles to give the Wildcats a 10-9 win.

John Boyett: The Oregon safety had a game-high 11 tackles and an interception he returned 39 yards for a TD. He also had three pass breakups in the 42-31 win at Arizona State.

Posted by's Ted Miller

A lot to like for Stanford in the first half at Wake Forest, with the Cardinal up 17-3 after Nate Whitaker -- a Notre Dame transfer -- nailed a 54-yard field goal on the last play of the half.

Stat of the half: Stanford has outgained Wake 274-146 and overcame four penalties and a turnover.

Best player in the half: Is redshirt freshman Andrew Luck for real? Well, he's 15-of-22 for 184 yards with two touchdowns at the half. And he bounced back after throwing his first career pick.

What Stanford needs to do: Got a feeling Wake will make a run. This is a well-coached team playing at home trying to avoid an 0-2 start. They will not fold. That means the Cardinal can't let up and be satisfied with a great half of football. The Demon Deacons have moved the ball fairly well, but they've not been able to convert in the red zone.