NCF Nation: Peter Lalich

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley is standing beside a dry erase board in his office. He points to his flanker. That's James Rodgers. He caught 91 passes for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Riley smiles.

He points to his tight end Joe Halahuni. He caught 35 passes and became an offensive weapon after the middle of the season. Riley points at his slot receiver, Jordan Bishop. The 6-foot-3 sophomore can high jump over seven feet. He points at his split end, where Darrell Catchings and Markus Wheaton are engaging one of the more spirited competitions this spring.

Then he points at Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 1,440 yards, caught 78 passes and scored 22 touchdowns a year after being the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman.

Riley agrees with a reporter that Jacquizz should be a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

The main point, however, is the Beavers offense has a lot of guys who can punish a defense.

"Athletically, it's as good as we've ever been," Riley said.

Then Riley circles his quarterback.

"It's our biggest question on offense," he said. "If we can bring our quarterback up to the rest of the offense, then it's going to be good."

That quarterback figures to be sophomore Ryan Katz, who's got a big arm but little experience. While Katz officially is competing with Virginia transfer Peter Lalich for the starting job, Katz started spring practices with the No. 1 offense and he's yet to yield that perch.

"What stands out about Ryan -- always has -- is he's got really good physical ability. A Great arm," Riley said. "It's one of those deals where you're kind of taken aback by the strength of his arm sometimes. He throws the ball so easily with a lot of velocity. He's got to learn a little bit more about taking something off it every once and a while. I tell him all the time, 'You don't always have to throw a 95 miles per hour ball.'"

The good news is Katz, Riley said, has consistently improved since arriving in Corvallis from Santa Monica (Calif.) High School. But there's a caveat hidden in that positive point, because every recent Oregon State quarterback has improved steadily during his career, from Derek Anderson, to Matt Moore, to Lyle Moevao, to Sean Canfield.

But each of those guys started his career slowly and, well, unimpressively. Anderson completed just 47 percent of his passes his first year as the Beavers starter under then-coach Dennis Erickson. Moore threw 19 interceptions. Moevao and Canfield combined for 21 interceptions in 2007.

The question is how steep Katz's learning curve will be.

"There is a process with us," Riley said.

By all accounts, Katz has embraced the No. 1 role, though he admits it goes against his type to be a vocal leader. As a personality, Katz is closer to the quieter Canfield than the effusive Moevao.

"More than vocal-wise, I tried to lead by example," Katz said.

The Beavers offense has evolved in recent years as Riley yielded control to coordinator Danny Langsdorf. The Beavers have increased the role of running backs and the flanker in the passing game. They added the fly sweep. Canfield's accuracy but lack of a strong arm had the offense looking West Coast-ish for a while in 2009.

Katz brings back the big arm of say an Anderson or Moore and adds some athleticism. Katz will move around in the pocket and there will be more designed bootlegs. And there's an increased emphasis of screen passes in order to build his confidence through the air.

And Katz needs to find his rhythm quickly. The opener is vs. TCU in Cowboys Stadium -- a top-10 team playing in a friendly stadium that is far bigger than its home field.

"When the time comes, it's definitely going to be eye-opening," Katz said. "But I'm just going to take it and run with it. I can't stand out there and be star struck."

After TCU, the Beavers play host to Louisville, then visit Boise State, a likely top-five team.

So there's no soft schedule that allows Katz to acclimate himself to the speed of the game. He's bound to make mistakes, which means criticism. Katz is aware that is an inescapable part of playing the position.

"That's definitely in the back of your mind, but if I just work day by day and get better that will play it self out," he said. "I know that comes with the job."

But he said he learned a lot from watching Canfield and Moevao weather the storm and come out strong on the back end.

But if Katz plays well from the start and minimized the growing pains, then Beavers should become a major player in the Pac-10 race.


Is Oregon still the Pac-10 favorite?

March, 15, 2010
When the Pac-10 blog published its spring power rankings on Feb. 10, it included this disclaimer: "Expect these to change, perhaps dramatically, before the 2010 season."

So, Oregon -- the easy top choice five weeks ago -- any drama in the conference between then and now?

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe offseason has been anything but dull for Chip Kelly.
The question at present is does the order at the top change?

Here's what we wrote on Feb. 10:
1. Oregon: All the pieces are here for another Rose Bowl run, the only question being the defensive line. The Ducks also had a top-25 recruiting class, with a number of incoming players appearing capable of immediately contributing.

2. USC: A top-10 recruiting class bolsters USC and provides momentum for new coach Lane Kiffin. On the downside, three offensive linemen and the entire secondary need to be replaced. Still, the depth chart hints the Trojans will be in the conference -- and perhaps national -- mix.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers lose just five starters, but all eyes will be on the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring. Young quarterbacks thrived in the conference in 2009, so there's no reason to believe the Beavers can't find a guy who can be productive.

These three still seem to be the most likely contenders to win the 2010 conference title. But how far does Oregon drop with the loss of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, who was supposed to be heading into his third year as a starter in coach Chip Kelly's spread-option offense?

The natural reaction, particularly outside of Pac-10 country, will be to promote USC. The Trojans have experience at quarterback and plenty of intriguing talent. And, you may recall, they've done fairly well in conference play in recent years before the Ducks stepped to the fore in 2009.

And the Trojans play host to Oregon next fall, which becomes an even bigger advantage when Masoli is removed from the equation and replaced by a quarterback who's never played in the Coliseum.

Of course, USC has its own off-field issue to contend with. And it's returning roster is hardly perfect, not to mention the program is breaking in a new coaching staff.

Oregon State is a legitimate candidate, but it's even less experienced at quarterback than Oregon without Masoli. And the Beavers lost two linebackers during the offseason who were expected to be back in 2010.

On the other hand, the Beavers play host to both USC and Oregon next year. We all know how much the Trojans enjoy their trips to the state of Oregon.

Despite all of this, jumping off the Ducks' bandwagon might be a mistake.

Recall how well -- and quickly -- Kelly develops quarterbacks. Dennis Dixon, pre-Kelly, looked nothing like the Dennis Dixon of 2007. And the Ducks finished in the top 10 in 2008 after walloping Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl with an emergency starting quarterback by the name of Jeremiah Masoli, who was a late roster addition when he transferred from a junior college.

We won't "officially" redo the power rankings until after spring practices. I'm going to visit all three of these teams this spring, so I'll get a first-hand look at what things might look like.

But at this point, I'd rate myself a slight USC lean with a nagging suspicion that Kelly is going to spin the off-field issues and Masoli suspension into a powerful motivator -- and unifier -- inside his locker room.

And those Beavers, hmm.

What to watch in the Pac-10 this spring

February, 19, 2010
Taking a look at what to watch for as teams head into spring practices, officially ringing the bell on preparations for the 2010 season.

Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.

The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.

Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.

Arizona State
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.

O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.

The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.

Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A

What to watch:

Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?

Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.

RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.

The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.

Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.

Oregon State
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.

Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.

The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.

Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.

Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.

Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.

Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.

Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.

The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).

Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.

Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).

Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.

Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.

Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?

The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.

Washington State
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.

O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.

Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.
Spring is often cited as a time of renewal, and in recent years that has held true in Pac-10 football.

USC would renew its lease atop the conference annually, no matter who had bolted for NFL riches.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJeremiah Masoli will lead a Ducks offense that returns 10 starters from 2009.
But this spring a different bird is chirping. It's a Duck, er, quacking.

After seven seasons of USC dominance, Oregon is the defending Pac-10 champion, and just about everyone has the Ducks pegged as the favorite to repeat.

Obviously, that means the Ducks have to prepare for the pressure of being a front-runner, right?

"We've never paid attention to any of that stuff -- the preseason rankings and everything like that means nothing to us," coach Chip Kelly said. "Our players can notice it. But our kids are smart kids. Because someone says you're supposed to be good doesn't mean a thing. All that stuff means nothing. We don't address it. We don't talk about it. We never talked about BCS rankings or Pac-10 championships until we won it. That's not a concern for us. It's about having a good spring practice and a good day in the weight room today."

So USC's "Win forever" under former coach Pete Carroll has become Kelly's "Win the day."

Of course, counting out the Trojans -- or really any team in the deep Pac-10 -- might be a mistake. Even Washington State, with 19 starters back, should be improved and more competitive.

Last spring, the Pac-10 welcomed back good talent at running back and on defense. Quarterback was a huge question mark. This year, eight starting quarterbacks return as well as an impressive cast of running backs, but a number of defenses take personnel hits.

So, just maybe, the days of high-flying, high-scoring games will return in the fall.

Kelly's Ducks certainly should be stout on offense. Ten starters, topped by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LaMichael James, are back from a unit that averaged 412 yards and a conference-high 36 points per game in 2009.

Of course, off-field events could change things a bit, so stay tuned.

Masoli leads a group of outstanding returning quarterbacks, a list that includes Washington's Jake Locker, Arizona's Nick Foles and Stanford's Andrew Luck.

Other returning starters at the position have something to prove: California's Kevin Riley, USC's Matt Barkley, UCLA's Kevin Prince and Washington State's Jeff Tuel.

Oregon State lost quarterback Sean Canfield, who won first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009, but 19 other starters are back. The chief question in the spring for the Beavers, who should again be in the thick of the Pac-10 race, is whether sophomore Ryan Katz quickly asserts himself as the starting quarterback or whether he gets challenged, particularly by Virginia transfer Peter Lalich.

Arizona State also is unsettled at quarterback, and the Sun Devils might feature the most wide-open competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet, Brock Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy.

Of course, Riley is hardly secure. He might face a challenge from sophomore Beau Sweeney.

Still, while the offensive firepower looks impressive, know that defense will be a huge issue this spring. Six teams lost at least five starters from that side of the ball: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford, UCLA and USC.

As they say -- and Carroll's crews at USC proved -- defense wins championships.

But for the first time in a long time, the favored team heading into spring practices isn't the Trojans.

Pac-10 spring position battles

February, 12, 2010
Coaches will tell you there's competition everywhere, but we all know there's more competition at certain spots.

Here are top competitions in the conference this spring.

Arizona State, quarterback

Top candidates: junior Steven Threet, junior Samson Szakacsy, sophomore Brock Osweiler

This one is wide-open, particularly with a fresh set of eyes in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone now overseeing things. All three have some playing experience. No one has a lot. Or was particularly impressive when he played. Threet, a Michigan transfer, might be the frontrunner, based on early scuttlebutt, but that might just be folks leaning toward the unknown, new guy. Issue with Szakacsy is whether his arm strength will be consistent because he's struggled an elbow injury.

Oregon State, quarterback

Top candidates: sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich

How much of a competition will this really be? Katz has steadily improved and owns a clear advantage over the Virginia transfer before spring practices start. Both have good arms, though at least one Oregon State beat writer has taken to calling Katz "Nolan" Ryan Katz. Still, Lalich has playing experience -- albeit limited -- and he could make a move during the spring that could make things interesting in August.

California, quarterback

Top candidates: Senior Kevin Riley, sophomore Beau Sweeney, junior Brock Mansion

This is an interesting one. Riley has started 22 games, but he's been consistently inconsistent. Coach Jeff Tedford said the competition will be open this spring, just as it was last year when Riley triumphed over Mansion and Sweeney. This time, Sweeney, who eclipsed Mansion on the depth chart last fall, will be the top challenger. Is Riley really going to lose his job as a senior? Well, it happened just across town at Stanford last year, with fairly positive results.

Arizona, linebacker

Top candidates: junior Derek Earls, junior Paul Vassallo, senior C.J. Parish, sophomore R.J. Young, sophomore Jake Fischer

Coach Mike Stoops talked last fall about being thin at linebacker behind his three senior starters, so this wide-open -- and fairly urgent -- situation isn't a surprise. Earls and Vassallo are JC transfers who are already enrolled and were not brought in to watch from the sidelines. Parrish, Young and Fischer were listed on last year's depth chart but combined for just 16 tackles.

Stanford, running back

Top candidates: sophomore Stepfan Taylor, senior Jeremy Stewart, sophomore Tyler Gaffney.

Just so you know: quarterback Andrew Luck was Stanford's second-leading rusher last year behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. All three candidates have experience, though Stewart is coming back from a knee injury. An incoming freshman, such as Anthony Wilkerson, could join the fray in the fall.

UCLA, running back

Top candidates: sophomore Johnathan Franklin, junior Derrick Coleman, sophomore Milton Knox, sophomore Damien Thigpen, senior Christian Ramirez

This is a logjam of talented players who have yet to break through -- note that senior fullback Chane Moline became the go-to guy by the end of the 2009 season. However the pecking order establishes itself this spring, expect the outstanding incoming freshmen class -- Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and, if he stays at running back, Anthony Barr -- to get a chance to break into the rotation.

Spring Pac-10 power rankings

February, 10, 2010
Where does everyone stand heading into spring practices? These rankings are about today -- not 2009 -- and what's coming back in 2010. Recruiting success also is a secondary factor.

Nos. 4 through 8 were difficult because each team has some nice players coming back, as well as some big losses -- players and coaches.

Expect these to change, perhaps dramatically, before the 2010 season.

1. Oregon: All the pieces are here for another Rose Bowl run, the only question being the defensive line. The Ducks also had a top-25 recruiting class, with a number of incoming players appearing capable of immediately contributing.

2. USC: A top-10 recruiting class bolsters USC and provides momentum for new coach Lane Kiffin. On the downside, three offensive linemen and the entire secondary need to be replaced. Still, the depth chart hints the Trojans will be in the conference -- and perhaps national -- mix.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers lose just five starters, but all eyes will be on the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring. Young quarterbacks thrived in the conference in 2009, so there's no reason to believe the Beavers can't find a guy who can be productive.

4. California: You might as well pick the next five teams from a hat. The Bears lose their three best players -- Jahvid Best, Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson -- and are uncertain at quarterback. Still, a strong recruiting effort paired with lower expectations might be the ticket for a "Don't call it a comeback!" season in Berkeley.

5. Washington: The Huskies (Jake Locker) are thin on both lines (Jake Locker) and lost their two best (Jake Locker) defensive players -- end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and linebacker Donald Butler. But there's a lot of returning skill on offense (Jake Locker) and recruiting went well (Jake Locker). What's-his-name is a pretty good QB.

6. Stanford: The Cardinal welcome back eight on offense, but Toby Gerhart is gone. The defense loses five starters, not including end Erik Lorig, who missed most of the season with a groin injury. And there's been significant coaching turnover. Strong recruiting will fill gaps. But how well?

7. Arizona: The Wildcats must replace 12 starters and two coordinators. That's a lot of turnover. On the plus side, quarterback Nick Foles has a lot of skill around him and defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed could be the best pass rushing combo in the Pac-10.

8. UCLA: The Bruins offense must break through next year because it's hard to imagine the defense won't take a step back after losing six starters, including tackle Brian Price and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Problem is the offense, which loses four starters, ranked ninth in the conference in scoring in 2009.

9. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lose seven starters on both sides of the ball. The defense should be OK. It remains to be seen if the offense can dramatically improve with a new starting quarterback and new coordinator.

10. Washington State: The Cougars, who only lose four starters, should be much better in 2010. Quarterback Jeff Tuel and defensive end Travis Long, who both started as true freshmen, are two reasons for hope. It's still a risky bet, however, to predict they climb out of the conference cellar.

Pac-10: Biggest shoes to fill in 2010

February, 8, 2010
After every season, starters leave. But not all starters are created equal.

Here are the biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-10 with spring practices just around the corner.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

How do you replace the best running back in the nation, a guy who scored 28 touchdowns and rushed for 1,871 yards? You don't. Those sorts don't come around every season.

The Contenders: Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gafney will get first crack, as well as Jeremy Stewart, who's coming back from a knee injury. Incoming freshman Anthony Wilkerson could be a dark horse.

Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State

The first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback became an NFL prospect during a strong senior season. He led the conference with 3,271 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, which tied with Washington's Jake Locker.

The Contenders: This will be a showdown between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich this spring, with Katz starting as the leader.

Brian Price, DT, UCLA

Price could be an NFL first-round draft pick. He led the Pac-10 with 23.5 tackles for a loss in 2009. 'Nuff said.

The Contenders: Good question. The Bruins are perilously thin here, considering both tackles need to be replaced and only senior David Carter has much experience. The answers here might be in the Bruins' recruiting class.

Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California

The Cal secondary was a huge disappointment this season, but Thompson, a four-year starter and two-time first-team All-Pac-10 performer, was mostly his usually stellar self.

The Contenders: Will Darian Hagan step up in his senior season? Perhaps the answer is sophomore Josh Hill? Or maybe a redshirt guy? The Bears only signed one player listed as a corner in their most recent recruiting class. Expect there to be a lot of competition here this spring.

Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington

Te'o-Nesheim, a high-motor guy who started four years and earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors his final two seasons, ranking third in the conference with 9.5 sacks.

The Contenders: Considering the other end, Darrion Jones, also is gone, the Huskies will trend young here. Andru Pulu was listed behind Te'o-Nesheim on the depth chart, with Talia Crichton and Kalani Aldrich on the other side. There also will be opportunities for younger players here.

Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon

Dickson not only was the Ducks' second-leading receiver with 42 receptions for 551 yards and six touchdowns, the matchup problems he presented forced defenses to scheme specifically for him. That helps an offense in ways that aren't accounted for in statistics.

The Contenders: Junior David Paulson was Dickson's backup last year, and he had some nice moments, but he's no Dickson. JC transfer Brandon Williams and touted incoming freshman Curtis White will be in the mix here.

Kenny Alfred, C, Washington State

Alfred, a four-year starter, was a good player on a bad -- and beaten up -- line. His brain as well as his physical ability will be hard to replace.

The Contenders: Walk-on junior Chris Prummer was listed as Alfred's backup -- largely due to injury -- but Andrew Roxas, who redshirted this year after contracting viral hepatitis, is probably the leader here, though Steven Ayers could move inside to challenge him. Or there could be some reshuffling.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

In order to get home from the McCue Center, where the Virginia football team practices, quarterback Jameel Sewell must pass Scott Stadium -- a place he hasn't played in since 2007.

"I can look right down into the stadium every time I pass it and I get a chill," he said.

For three Virginia quarterbacks, this spring has been all about second chances.

Sewell, the Cavaliers' 2007 starter who learned a hard lesson from last year's academic suspension, has been given another chance to reassert himself as the leader of the offense. Marc Verica, who was thrust into the role in mid-September after Peter Lalich was dismissed from the team, is looking to redeem himself from a poor finish down the stretch. And senior Vic Hall, who was a standout high school quarterback but spent the spent the past two seasons as a starting corner and is the Cavs' leading returning tackler, has been given the opportunity to play the position he originally thought he would.

All three quarterbacks began the spring on an even playing field in first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon's new scheme, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the spring game, they'll showcase their progress to the public for the first time.

  Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
  Quarterback Jameel Sewell is happy to be competing for the Cavaliers' starting job after missing the 2008 season.

"Marc Verica did a pretty decent job last year," Sewell said. "He needed some help, he couldn't do everything by himself. He's out here competing like he should, and he's done a great job so far. And you've got Vic Hall, who's got all the state records as a quarterback in high school and it seems like coming back to offense hasn't missed a beat. And me, I'm just trying to keep up. I've been gone for a while, but I'm not at a disadvantage at all. This is a new offense, and things are different now."

That's the hope at least in Charlottesville for a program that finished last season 5-7 overall and won just three games in the ACC. The Cavaliers ended 2008 with four straight losses, resulting in a major staff overhaul that included coach Al Groh firing his son, Mike Groh, as offensive coordinator.

In the years that Groh has been successful, though, he tends to have a dependable, experienced quarterback.

"It's picked up some momentum here in the last few practices as we anticipated might be the case, given it was going to take a while for the quarterbacks to get some continuity in what they were going," Groh said. "... Given that two of the three primary candidates were not full-time quarterbacks last year -- Jameel and Vic -- it's really been a case of those guys getting back in rhythm as quarterbacks per say, plus a new system. Marc obviously had playing time last year, but (is in) a new system. So it's taken a little while, but Monday showed some real signs of it picking up."

Sewell started all 13 games in 2007 and led Virginia to a 9-4 record and an appearance in New Year's Day bowl game. He's a shifty runner who passed for 2,176 yards and ran for 279 more that year. Verica is more of a drop back passer who made his first start last fall in the third game against Connecticut. He went on to start nine of the final 10 games and threw for 2,037 yards while completing 63.8 percent of his attempts. He threw eight touchdown passes, though, and 16 interceptions.

Verica attributed a lot of that to the fact it was the first season he had played, and said this offense requires a lot from the quarterback. It is designed to create space, spread the defense out, and creates better angles for linemen to block, and more space for running backs and wide receivers to operate.

"It's a dynamic offense, so we can attack a defense with the quarterback running the ball, we can attack the defenses with short passes, long passes, screens," he said. "There's a number of things, but I really think he's just looking for a leader to manage the team out there. ... Jameel and Vic are obviously more talented athletes and runners than I am. I am able to do some of that, too. I really think the offense plays to all our strengths."

Sewell said he's more responsible now, and he's learned from his mistakes. He helped coach at Charlottesville High school last season, but kept a close watch on the Cavaliers, some of whom he remained roommates with. When Sewell walked back on the field at Virginia for the first time this spring, he said he was overwhelmed, and didn't want to leave -- not practice, not film sessions, not the weight room.

"I just didn't want it to end, even though I knew it was going to happen again the next day," he said.

Hall, who was a record-setting quarterback at Gretna Senior High School, said he spent this spring readjusting to the technique and fundamentals, and he's had to build the strength in his throwing arm. In his surprise appearance at quarterback against Virginia Tech last year, Hall rushed for 109 yards and had scoring runs of 40 and 16 yards. He only threw one pass, though, and is a bit undersized at 5-foot-9.

Hall said he was told in mid-January that he'd move to quarterback full time for the spring - the position he thought he had originally come to Charlottesville to play. Instead, he developed into a successful corner over the past two seasons. His five forced fumbles last year tied the school record and he had 59 tackles.

"The main thing that I wanted to prove coming to college is that I can work hard and help my team in anyway," Hall said. "It wasn't about proving to people I could do this or that, because whatever you do on the field as far as helping your team and making a contribution, I feel like that's proof in itself. But yeah, I do look at this as a second chance to be what I aspired to be when I came to Virginia -- a quarterback."

Hall's not the only one.

"I've always tried to move on to the next play and forget," Verica said. "When you hang onto those things in your mind, it just wears on you. You're not going to play as well. You have to have a very short memory if you want to play this position. There's going to be some adverse times, and you have to put those behind you and rise above. The challenge for me is to that behind me and move forward."

This spring, all three quarterbacks got a second chance to do that.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

North Carolina -- Good luck singling out one person or phase of the game in this one. They couldn't have done it without Connor Barth's field goals, or Cam Sexton's touchdown. And the defense. The Tar Heels snagged four turnovers in the second half -- two interceptions and two lost fumbles -- including Quan Sturdivant's momentum-changing 32-yard interception return for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Don't forget Trimane Goddard's fumble recovery with three seconds left.

Virginia coach Al Groh -- Yes, Cedric Peerman had an amazing game, Clint Sintim, too. But it's time to give the man behind it all some credit. He took so much heat for the off-field incidents in the preseason, for how he handled the Peter Lalich situation, and for the losses. Now he deserves recognition for turning this once laughable team into a contender.

Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner -- He redeemed himself after an uncharacteristically poor performance against Navy and completed 22 of 34 passes for 186 yards, and he also ran for 74 yards. He marched the Deacs downfield on a 15-play, 78-yard drive in the fourth quarter that led Wake to its 12-7 win over Clemson.

Wake Forest defense -- Alphonso Smith tied the school record with his 17th interception, and the defense held Clemson to just 21 rushing yards and 2 of 14 third-down conversions. Linebacker Stanley Arnoux broke up Cullen Harper's fourth-and-20 pass with about 3:30 left to seal the win.

Miami's defense -- The Hurricanes forced Central Florida into a school-record 12 punts and allowed just 78 total yards on an afternoon when, save for Graig Cooper, Miami's offense was going nowhere.

ACC internal affairs

September, 24, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Clemson -- The Tigers are expecting ACC leading rusher Da'Rel Scott to play, which will force defensive coordinator Vic Koenning to load more players at the line of scrimmage. That, of course, will open up the play-action passing game. Koenning is looking for some sacks to come from his ends in this game, as South Carolina State's tackles blocked them one-on-one last weekend and the sacks came from the interior linemen and the linebackers.

Maryland -- Backup quarterback Josh Portis is doing the best he can to put the team ahead of his frustration over a lack of significant playing time. Expect some wrinkles in the Terps' offense this week, but it's unclear if Portis will play more of a role in it. "I'm still waiting to help the team out a little more with my talents, but I'm a team guy and the bottom line is you got to win," he said. "Obviously I'm a little frustrated with what's going on, but I'm here for the team. ... I'm just rolling with the punches."

Duke -- Virginia's switch at quarterback from Peter Lalich to Marc Verica has caused a small tweak in the coaching staff's preparation. Not only isn't there a lot of film of Verica, who started his first game and saw his first significant playing time in this year's loss to UConn, but he's also a different quarterback than Lalich, which means the Cavaliers could switch up their offense. So David Cutcliffe and his staff have watched more 2007 film, thinking that Verica's mobility and athleticism is more similar to former starter Jameel Sewell.

Florida State -- Playmaker Preston Parker has been working more at receiver this week and less at tailback, and that's probably how he'll be used against Colorado. That could open an opportunity for freshman running back Jermaine Thomas, who played well in the first two games, but watched the Wake Forest game from the sidelines. The running game should also get a boost from the blocking of tight end Caz Piurowski, one of the formerly suspended players.

NC State -- Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is tasked with simplifying things for freshman Dwayne Maddox, who is taking over for injured starting weakside linebacker Nate Irving, while at the same time stopping South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. Archer is familiar with the Bulls from his time at Kentucky and said this will be the best offensive line the Wolfpack will have faced. He also said there is a misconception Grothe just throws it, and that he is a tough quarterback who gets hit, gets back up and scrambles. The good news is that after watching practice film, NC State coach Tom O'Brien told Archer that Maddox is "practicing like a starter now."

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Between his classes on Tuesday, Virginia quarterback Marc Verica stopped by the music building on campus and played the piano -- better than one might assume a college quarterback could. It's Verica's way of relieving stress. He also taught himself how to play the guitar.

Next on Verica's list of things to master is Virginia's offense.

Now that former quarterback Peter Lalich has officially moved on, Verica is the "next man up."

Make that the third man up.

Prior to this season, Verica, a redshirt sophomore, had never taken a snap in a college game. He never had to. Jameel Sewell, the 2007 starter, was getting the job done before he got into an academic rut and had to miss this season. Lalich was named as Sewell's replacement, but brought a cloud of distraction to the program with his off-field incidents.

In what he described as a "surreal" experience, Verica was called into coach Al Groh's office prior to UVA's Sept. 13 game at Connecticut and told he would be the starter. Following a 45-10 loss to the Huskies, Lalich was dismissed from the team and Verica named the new starter.

Now he will lead the Cavaliers into Durham, N.C., on Saturday where they will try to earn their first ACC win of the season against an improved Duke team that has already surpassed last year's win total (1).

"I think I've handled it pretty well so far," Verica said. "I've always tried to prepare like I was the starter regardless if I was the starter going into the game or the backup because you really never know what's going to happen, whether it be an injury, or in this circumstance, an off-the-field issue. I prepared to be the starter, and was kind of thrust into that role the other night. Things didn't turnout the way we had hoped, but I think it will improve as these games go on and I get more experience."

Despite the outcome of the game, Verica earned a passing grade at UConn as he completed 22 of 30 passes for 158 yards and one interception. The 22 completions were the third most in school history by a quarterback making his first start, and the 158 passing yards were the most since 1999, when David Rivers threw for 228 yards in the only start of his career at UVA.

Verica said he's still working on the intangible aspects of being a quarterback, like assuming a leadership role in the huddle and at practices.

"I think I'm getting better at it," he said. "I don't think you can just step in there and be the team leader right away. I think it comes with experience and you have to prove yourself. My focus in practice has been to keep a high tempo and encourage guys when they make the right plays and get on someone if they're not doing the right thing, just bring a positive energy to the practice and I think the team has been responding well."

Verica caught Virginia's attention as a junior at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa., where he completed 112 of 222 passes for 1,545 yards and eight touchdowns.

One person who has been helping Verica is his father, Mark, who his son said was recruited as a quarterback by Notre Dame until he broke his leg and all recruiters backed off. Mark Verica wound up playing for Kutztown, but still managed to get an NFL tryout. He never made a roster, but Marc said his father's experience has helped him through this transition at UVA.

"He's been a big influence on me," Marc said, "not just on the field, but definitely off the field."

That's exactly what Verica's teammates need from him now. The Cavs are 1-2 heading into Durham and have the league's worst scoring offense, total offense, and rushing offense. They also rank last in pass efficiency.

"I was kind of always thinking I might get my shot, but now that it's here it's amazing," he said. "I'm really excited. It's unfortunate anytime you have to take on a starting role in a situation like, this but you've just got to be prepared. Our team has always preached the next man up mentality, and that's kind of how I approached it. I'm taking this pretty seriously."

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Not only did the Tar Heels snap a 20-game out-of-state losing streak, but UNC also made Rutgers look bad in the process. There were all kinds of firsts for North Carolina under Butch Davis in Thursday night's nationally televised game, but it wasn't the first time the team couldn't have done it without Brandon Tate.

Odds are it won't be the last.

UNC proved in the second half it's a better team than what it showed in the season opener against McNeese State.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming ... "Peter's Story" ...

Todd Lalich, the father of UVA quarterback Peter Lalich, called Jerry Ratcliffe of the Charlottesville Daily Progress and gave a public vote of support for UVA coach Al Groh. Said Todd Lalich:

"I would tell any parents out there that has a football recruit that Virginia is interested in, that if they want their boy to turn into a man, they should send them to Al Groh," Todd Lalich said. "Fans might not like [Groh's] X's and O's, or the way he deals with the media sometimes, but I am incredibly impressed with the way Al handles his players."

Lalich also told Ratcliffe that the decision to leave Lalich behind for the UConn game came from "on high," not from Groh. In this story, though, it sounds like Groh made the call. Regardless of who made it, Ratcliffe disagrees with this decision, and said "this just isn't right."

There is more to this story (there always is). It's important to remember that urine tests reportedly support Lalich's statement that he did not use drugs or alcohol while on probation. (It's also possible that he was dehydrated on the day he was scheduled to take the test and couldn't, um, produce the sample).

Nonetheless ...

UVA's starting quarterback -- its team leader -- was on probation. Yes, it was for something some of us may be all-too familiar with -- underage possession or purchase of alcohol (not that I'm condoning it, just saying welcome to college) and athletes have played football while accused of far worse. They've also been suspended for far less.

If you ask me, this whole disaster couldn't have worked out any better for Virginia. The coach gets a pat on the back, the administration looks like it won't tolerate wayward behavior, and the quarterback got to play against USC and beat Richmond.

And now, it's out of their hands because the court will likely decide whether or not Lalich plays against Duke.

For now, it's Marc Verica's turn. What do we know about UVA's new starter, other than he hasn't thrown a pass yet for UVA?

Moving on ...

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Caulton Tudor says this is the time for Butch Davis to shine. The Tar Heels lost this game two seasons ago, but a win tonight could "turn UNC's fortunes around." This game will be about more than just football, though.

- Elsewhere in the state of North Carolina, Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson said he's ready to make his comeback against the Clemson Tigers.

- It looks like Da'Quan Bowers has earned the starting nod for this game, and Kevin Alexander has moved to the "bandit end" position to replace injured starter Ricky Sapp. All of that can be found at the end of this story about Durrell Barry. Clemson is expected to use three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen on Saturday.

- What's up with suspended Florida State defensive lineman Budd Thacker? Something, but Bobby Bowden won't tell. If he's back for Wake Forest, it will definitely help the Noles.

- Georgia Tech is still working on learning the triple option, but once they figure it out, look out.

- In case you missed it last night, Peter Lalich will not play against Connecticut. Two thoughts on this -- well, OK, three: 1. Good move. 2. Should've done it last week. 3. I love the line in this story "seldom used" to describe Marc Verica, whose bio in the media guide reads: 2007 -- Did not appear in any games. 2006 -- Redshirted. Yeah, I'd say that's seldom.

- I watched the Miami/Florida game last weekend on a TV. Apparently most of you did, too.

- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has left his spot in the tower and is getting in a few faces at practice this week. And Bryan Stinespring is" challenging their manhood." Where is highly touted RB Ryan Williams? It looks like he might steal Tyrod Taylor's redshirt.

- It looks like leather lungs will be starring in the next Under Armour commercial for the Terps.

Lalich won't play against UConn

September, 10, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Virginia quarterback Peter Lalich will not play against Connecticut on Saturday, coach Al Groh announced today in a statement released by the school.

Sophomore Marc Verica will make the first start of his career.

"We stand by Peter and in talking with him have made a decision which is best in the short term for him, the team, and our University," Groh stated. "We have a strong set of standards and values on our team that reflect those of the University and we do not compromise those values to win football games."

Lalich started the first two games for the Cavaliers and appeared to be their best option after losing Jameel Sewell to academic issues -- Lalich was the only quarterback with experience left on the roster. But Lalich encountered some off-field issues of his own in July when he was arrested for underage purchase of alcohol. Earlier this week, the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported Lalich admitted that he violated terms of his probation, a confession Lalich recanted on Tuesday.

This was all reported last week, but Lalich was still allowed to play last Saturday against Richmond.

"I love my team and my teammates and the way they have let me know that they trust me and have my back," Lalich said in the release. "Because I care so much about our team, it is best for me to step back temporarily from my starting position so that my teammates can focus 100 percent on getting ready for the game."

"Coach Groh and I have frequent conversations and we agree on this. I appreciate that coach sees me first as a person, then as a quarterback. I make mistakes like everyone, but I have followed the terms of my probation and I am committed to our team and the University of Virginia."

Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage supported the decision.

"Peter and coach Groh came to a decision and I fully support it," Littlepage said in the release. "Over the past 24 hours I've had conversations with both Peter and coach Groh. The focus of our discussions shifted from due process and fairness and moved toward what would be best for Peter and the team, at least until such time that matters were cleared up about his probation status."

Checking in on the ACC

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

So Peter Lalich is playing against Richmond, despite making headlines on Friday for admitting to using marijuana while on supervised probation for an underage drinking charge.

Remember how much heat Randy Shannon took for suspended Robert Marve 10 months after the fact? Hey, at least he suspended him.

Al Groh clearly can't afford to do that, and in case you haven't noticed, the Cavaliers' offense isn't exactly lighting it up with Lalich.

  • Elsewhere in the ACC, I was wrong about the Boston College pick (but hey, I knew it would be close).
  • Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets came into Chestnut Hill and got their first league win. It was the second straight week Jonathan Dwyer looked like he could be a go-to player in this system, and it looks like Josh Nesbitt can be a dual-threat quarterback.
  • Wake Forest is having trouble with Ole Miss and it's no surprise. With Houston Nutt taking over and Dexter McCluster running out of the shotgun like Darren McFadden did, the Demon Deacons are going to have their hands full.
  • Once again, Clemson and Virginia Tech aren't exactly dominating. Tyrod Taylor, though, has shown why he was brought back from redshirt land -- his feet.

Check back later for more on the ACC. I'm taking my laptop downstairs now to the ESPNews studio so I can do double duty more effectively.

Thanks for your patience while I figure out how to blog and talk at the same time.