NCF Nation: Rey Maualuga

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
10:00
AM ET
We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.

Offense

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.

Defense

LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.

Pac-10 All-Decade team

January, 21, 2010
1/21/10
6:49
PM ET
We've already ranked our top-10 Pac-10 players of the decade, but what follows is our All-Decade team.

As usual, feel free to disagree.

Offense

QB Matt Leinart, USC

RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford

RB Reggie Bush, USC

WR DeWayne Jarrett, USC

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA

C Ryan Kalil, USC

OT Levi Jones, Arizona State

OT Sam Baker, USC

OG Adam Snyder, Oregon

OG Max Unger, Oregon

K Kai Forbath, UCLA

Defense

DE Terrell Suggs, Arizona State

DT Haloti Ngata, Oregon

DT Sedrick Ellis, USC

DE Kenechi Udeze, USC

LB Lance Briggs, Arizona

LB Rey Maualuga, USC

LB Keith Rivers, USC

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona

CB Marcus Trufant, Washington State

S Troy Polamalu, USC

S Taylor Mays, USC

P Tom Malone, USC

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.

No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
 
 Ric Tapia/Icon SMI
 Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.


Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.

Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.

Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.

"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."

Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.

And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.

It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.

It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.

"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.

Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.

The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.

"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.

Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."

Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.

Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.

"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."

Poor ole USC?

Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:30
AM ET
AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks this spring in the Pac-10, most particularly USC's quarterback competition -- did ya hear, Aaron Corp's No. 1 but this freshman Matt Barkley looks like the bees' knees!

The other general theme isn't new: After reviewing the tea leaves on the table, does any team have the karmic -- and talent -- potential to unseat USC from the top of the Pac-10?

The answer? Maybe.

What we learned. Or developed a hunch about.

1. Oregon State's quarterback situation is ... interesting: You have two starting quarterbacks who are seniors. One is going to sit. No other way to describe it. Lyle Moevao threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last year but he sat out spring practices with a shoulder injury, which is exactly what happened to Sean Canfield last year before he lost his starting job. By the way, Canfield went 3-0 -- two starts -- subbing for Moevao in 2008. Though he struggled in the spring game with three interceptions, Canfield played well enough throughout that he probably owns a slight lead heading into the offseason.

2. USC's defense may not be as good as 2008, but it's probably as good as anyone else: The 2008 USC defense had more future NFL players on it than any other unit in the nation. And the 2009 version might not be any different, though there's clearly youth and inexperience to fret about from the Trojans' perspective. Still, start with perhaps the best secondary in the nation, led by safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard. Then consider the breakout spring of end Everson Griffen, who could win the Pac-10 sack title if he remains focused. Further, word is the three new linebackers might not match the NFL-ready standard of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, but Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan are faster. Toss in some impressive youngsters up front, and it's hard to imagine this crew not ranking among the nation's top 10 in just about every category.

3. The conference of ... running backs: The Pac-10 might feature the best collection of running backs in the nation. Five 1,000-yard rushers are schedule to return, including California's Jahvid Best, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman. Toss in Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, a potential first-day NFL draft pick in 2010, and Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, not to mention the six-deep stable of runners at USC, and the battle for first-team Pac-10 might be more arduous than All-American.

4. But can anyone block? Three teams that ran the ball well last year -- Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State -- lost three starting offensive linemen, including early-round NFL draft picks. Four others -- Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- were just lousy up front last fall. Even Stanford and California, which should be fairly stout, lost their best blockers from 2008. The conference's only sure thing up front is USC, which welcomes back its entire starting five, including All-American center Kristopher O'Dowd. Moreover, the teams that entered spring with questions on the line didn't get many answers three weeks later. O-line play might be the most critical issue facing the conference in 2009, even more so than at quarterback.

5. Sarkisian and Kelly bring new energy: Steve Sarkisian and Chip Kelly inherited completely different situations, but both made a mark by upping the intensity of practices. Sarkisian, of course, took over a lifeless program that Tyrone Willingham ran into the ground (uncharitable, but inarguable). He opened up practices and practically begged boosters and old Huskies greats to come visit. He also increased the tempo and energy level of practices -- heck, everything around the team -- which might do more than anything to get the Huskies a handful of wins next fall. Meanwhile, Kelly took over for one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Bellotti, and brought a little East Coast volume to Ducks practices. He's not completely renovating the Ducks, who finished in the nation's top 10 last year, but he's going to add his own coat of paint -- which at Oregon, as you known, probably will be a fairly loud shade.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

  • There are known and then there are soon-to-be-known quantities in Arizona prep recruiting.
  • California spring review: Quarterback Kevin Riley helped his cause.
  • Former Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd, who left the Ducks after his junior season and was picked in the second round by the Buffalo Bills, will play free safety in the NFL.
  • Oregon beat writer John Hunt, video star, breaks down the Ducks spring game.
  • Oregon State's secondary issues are firstary. Beavers beat writer Paul Buker interviews himself about his team and does this video about the spring game. Of course, that's a stand-in. This is the real Paul Buker doing an interview with a Beaver.
  • Whatever happened to former Stanford defensive lineman Babatunde Oshinowo, a member of the Pac-10 blog's all-name team? (How fun is that name to say over and over again!) Got a feeling things are going to work out for the bright-even-for-Stanford Oshinowo.
  • Once a highly touted signee, UCLA running back Aundre Dean is thinking about transferring. What we learned from the Bruins spring: There's a lack of speed and passion at receiver.
  • Here's why former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga fell in the draft. What we learned from the Trojans this spring: There's insane riches at cornerback.
  • Former Washington defensive back Mesphin Forrester signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

All you can do is pray for a quick link, which you aren't going to get.

  • Lots of names in the mix as Arizona State starts spring practices Tuesday -- even at quarterback -- and that's the way coach Dennis Erickson wants it.
  • A look at the USC offensive line, which should be one of the best units in the nation.
  • Matthew Stafford posted a better Wonderlic than Mark Sanchez, and Rey Maualuga didn't exactly knock his out of the park. 
  • The No. 8 player for Washington is a blast from the past who's back. And guess who's got a blog! Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, Steve Sarkisian promises to give you an inside look at Huskies football.
  • Washington State suffered through a lot of injuries last year -- "at least 25 surgeries from the Hawaii game to the first of the year, not including major ones during last season," according to the Spokesman-Review. That's going to carry over to spring practices.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?

Green Day
College Football Nation is decked out in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While you can't tell if our bloggers actually are wearing the day's color, their posts are green from head to toe.

Green with envy: Teams
Green with envy: Conferences
Who could use a four-leaf clover?
What is your teams' greenest unit?
Best/worst spent green

Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.

Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.

California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.

Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.

Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.

Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.

UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.

USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.

Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.

Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

One of the charms of college football is the mostly predictable roster rotation. Young guys break through, become stars and then leave after their third, fourth or fifth year. Then a new cast tries to fill the void.

While there are numerous size 36 EEE shoes to fill -- figuratively speaking, of course -- in the Pac-10 this spring, we'll focus on five here.

 
  Jeff Golden/Getty Images
  It's going to be tough for the Trojans to replace Rey Maualuga.

And because quarterback competitions across the conference are so obvious, we're going to make this a "non-quarterback" category.

Also note that spring is a time for the experimentation. Coaches love to mix-and-match players, so there might be some surprises we didn't anticipate.

Big shoes: USC LB Rey Maualuga

Stepping in: Sophomore Chris Galippo

  • Out goes everybody's All-American Maualuga, in goes everybody's 2006 prep All-American Galippo, a sure tackler who packs a punch at 255 pounds. He had 12 tackles, two coming for a loss, and an interception last season. He saw action as a true freshman before suffering a herniated disk in his back, an injury that also limited him last season. He seemed healthy the second half of the season, but back injuries are tricky. That might be the biggest issue standing between Galippo and future stardom.

Big shoes: California C Alex Mack

Stepping in: Junior Richard Fisher or junior Chris Guarnero

  • Fisher is a former walk-on and a vegetarian. For real. He was listed as the backup behind Mack last season. Guarnero started the first three games at left guard before suffering a season-ending toe injury. He is expected back for spring ball. With a new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, and lots of returning starting experience -- seven players have started at least one game -- there might be lots of experimenting up front this spring.

Big shoes: Oregon DE Nick Reed

Stepping in: Junior Brandon Bair, junior Kenny Rowe, JC transfer Zac Clark

  • Reed had 20 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last year (29.5 for his career). His potential replacements had no sacks last season. Some Oregon fans took issue with my suggesting in our "What to watch this spring," that Bair was the frontrunner to replace Reed. I wrote that because Rowe was listed at 215 pounds on last year's depth chart and was almost exclusively a pass-rush specialist. Meanwhile, Clark is an unknown quantity as an incoming JC transfer. On the other hand, Bair is more in the mold of returning big end Will Tukuafu, so perhaps Rowe, who's listed at 230 pounds on the updated roster, and Clark will battle it out. Guessing this one is wide open, to be honest.

Big shoes: Arizona State FS Troy Nolan

Stepping in: Sophomore Clint Floyd leads a pack of possibilities

  • Nolan had 64 tackles and four interceptions playing center field for the Sun Devils' defense, and he'll be the toughest guy to replace for a unit that should be fairly salty next fall. Floyd will get first crack, but junior Max Tabach, redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson and senior Jarrell Holman could make a move.

Big shoes: Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter (and WR Shane Morales)

Stepping in: Junior Darrell Catchings and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop

  • Stroughter was the Pac-10's only 1,000-yard receiver last year. Morales added 743 yards, while this duo combined for 15 of the Beavers 25 touchdown receptions. Catchings caught only seven passes but was No. 2 on the depth chart. Bishop was impressive while redshirting, particularly during Sun Bowl practices. And slot receiver James Rodgers figures to see more balls downfield this fall after mostly being a fly-sweep specialist the past two seasons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC will try to close a perfect Pac-10 postseason in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi, but Penn State is trying to redeem the Big Ten's waning national reputation.

Who to watch: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez

If Sanchez has a big day, it seems almost certain USC wins, because that means he will be accurately distributing the ball to his playmakers, who would eventually burn a mediocre Penn State secondary. The best way for Penn State to score, however, is if it plays on a short field made possible by Sanchez trying to force balls into places where they don't fit. Of course, if Sanchez turns in a big game, he might ride it all the way to the NFL draft this spring.

What to watch: Penn State fighting off USC's second wave

Teams facing USC always talk about a fast start, about matching the Trojans' speed and aggressiveness and "punching them in the mouth." And that's certainly something. But the Trojans typically assert dominance after a game is a few possessions or even a couple of quarters old. The coaching staff sees what wrinkles it's going to face and makes adjustments, and then it's just two teams playing. That almost always works in USC's favor, see eight second-half shutouts and 22 points allowed after halftime the entire year.

Why to watch: Because the winner of this game will have an argument that it's deserving of a final No. 1 ranking. Because you might never see a defense as good as USC's again. Because this is a classic matchup of two teams -- and two coaches -- that couldn't be more different in terms of the way they present themselves to the public. Because Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Taylor Mays will make the crowd gasp at some point with a blow-up hit. Because Penn State is a pretty salty team that might just shock the nation and whip the Trojans. Because there's nothing like the sun setting over the San Gabriel Mountains during a Rose Bowl. Because the Rose Bowl is still the best freaking bowl game there is.


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The defining game of the Big Ten bowl season pits traditional powers No. 8 Penn State (11-1) against No. 5 USC (11-1) in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC 5 p.m. ET). The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000 and enters with a four-game losing streak in BCS games. Penn State hasn't followed the league's downward trend, winning its last three bowl games, including the 2006 Orange.

Here's a look at this mega matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster have sparkled as first-year starters in Penn State's offensive backfield. They face their toughest test to date in USC, which leads the nation in scoring and could be the best defense in recent college football history. Clark regained his confidence in the regular-season finale against Michigan State but must make smart, yet assertive decisions. If Penn State's veteran offensive line gives Royster running room, he could do some damage.

WHAT TO WATCH: Penn State's offensive scheme and strategy this season has been, well, very un-Penn State. The Spread HD attacked defenses with small, fast wide receivers and opened up running lanes for Clark, Royster, Derrick Williams and Stephfon Green. USC's back seven on defense is its strength, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive play-callers Jay Paterno and Galen Hall will be in the game. A bold approach has its risks and rewards, while a conservative style likely won't work against USC.

WHY TO WATCH: Because it's the Rose Bowl, silly. Not fully convinced? You've got two iconic coaches from different generations (Joe Paterno and Pete Carroll), two top five defenses (including the so-called greatest defense ever in USC), a ton of future NFL players and the arguably the greatest setting in college sports. USC can strengthen its argument as potentially the nation's best team, while Penn State can finally gain national respect for its team and, just maybe, its league. You have no excuse not to watch this game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

They are, for the lack of a better term, freaks.

At least, that's how Rey Maualuga phrased it when talking about his USC defensive cohorts, fellow linebacker Brian Cushing and safety Taylor Mays.

 
 AP Photo/Richard Vogel
 Rey Maualuga and the Trojans are looking forward to their matchup with Penn State.

"Those two together?" he said. "You can only say, 'Wow.' They're freaks of nature."

Maualuga, the most decorated player on college football's most decorated defense, recently added the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player to his garage-full of All-American hardware, so he might as well include himself in the Trojan freak show.

No team in the nation boasts a bigger, faster, more intimidating defensive troika. It's possible -- perhaps likely -- all three will be selected in the first round of this spring's NFL draft, assuming Mays opts to leave USC a year early, as expected.

Each entered USC as a consensus prep All-American who could have gone to any school in the nation. Each saw significant action as a true freshman. Each will depart with multiple first-team All-America trophies.

They were hyped recruits who lived up to their billing. And they are about to make a lot of money playing on Sundays.

But they won't ever hoist a national championship trophy, despite never finishing a season ranked lower than fourth in their careers.

And, they admit, that's annoying.

Not that they are going to lobby for sympathy -- or first-place votes -- should the Trojans beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Thursday.

At least not that hard.

"I think the winner of this game deserves some first-place votes," Mays said. "But I feel like everyone is loving Oklahoma and Florida right now -- and they deserve a lot of that, too."

Maualuga said a few weeks ago that he wasn't looking forward to being part of USC's fifth Rose Bowl in six years, but he's with the program now.

"I might have said I'd rather play somewhere else, but I'm excited for the week," he said.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Links go well with turkey and ham sandwiches.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

'Twas the day before the night before the night before Christmas ...

  • Tying a final bow around Arizona's season. It could have been better, as the article points out: "Four of Arizona's five losses came by eight or fewer points. The UA's average margin of defeat was 5.6 points."
  • California will rebuild at linebacker next fall, but it's starting with some nice raw materials. Missed this the first time around: Read here about the Pac-10's best running backs coach and a guy with an inspiring backstory.
  • Oregon's route to success was winding. The tough Oklahoma State team it's facing in the Holiday Bowl will be a contender in 2009.
  • Oregon State coach Mike Riley is trying not to dwell on the absence of the Rodgers brothers -- and their 50 percent of the Beavers offense -- for the Sun Bowl.
  • Jon Wilner evaluates Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Well done. Link for a Jeff Tedford eval, too.
  • Without a bowl game to occupy him, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is focused on recruiting. And things are going well. But this may be his most important recruit.
  • USC linebacker Rey Maualuga is getting emotional about his last game as a Trojan.
  • Steve Sarkisian is working twice as hard but he's also getting two paychecks, which is good around the holidays because he's surely got to buy lots of presents and stuff. Bob Condotta considers potential position changes Sarkisian might make with the Huskies.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

USC's staggering defensive statistics have been rehashed throughout the season: 3.4 yards allowed per play, 11 touchdowns in 12 games, 7.75 points per game, 122.8 pass yards per game, 15 fourth-quarter points all season.

Like it or not, these numbers are going to be thrown in your face from now until the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

It's up to Penn State to throw them right back at the Trojans.

The Nittany Lions aren't the type of team to be easily intimidated. They have their own impressive numbers on offense this season: 40.2 points per game, 211.6 rush yards per game, a 93.4 percent conversion rate in the red zone.

Penn State's Spread HD offense hasn't backed down to any defense this fall. The play calling has been consistently aggressive, atypical of a Joe Paterno-coached team. Aside from a handful of games (Purdue, Ohio State), Penn State attacked opposing defenses and never let up.

The Nittany Lions must do the same in Pasadena. A passive approach simply won't cut it against USC. Penn State must target the heart of the USC defense -- a back seven that features All-Americans in linebacker Rey Maualuga and safety Taylor Mays -- and take its chances from there.

"Against a defense like that, which relies on their speed, relies on running to the ball, you have to attack them," Penn State center A.Q. Shipley said. "They're a great defense, they always have three, four, five guys on the screen making a tackle. For us to be able to be effective, we can't sit back and just play for field position.

"We have to be aggressive and take advantage of what they're giving us."

Some would argue aggressive play calling cost Penn State against Iowa. The Lions came out passing the ball deep in their own end and gave Iowa a short field that it converted into a Shonn Greene touchdown. And it was a deep post pass late in the fourth quarter that Iowa intercepted to set up its game-winning drive.

But for the most part, aggressive equaled effective for Penn State, which didn't deviate from its attacking style in the regular-season finale against Michigan State, a game played in less than favorable weather conditions. The Lions had three touchdown passes of 30 yards or more and racked up 49 points and 557 yards.

"Words can't describe how important that game was as far as my motivation and my confidence," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "That game was great for us."

Clark hopes to recapture the rhythm right away against USC, which has allowed 71 points in the first half and only 22 after halftime this season.

"When you come out to a good start, it kind of lingers throughout the remainder of the game," Clark said. "A good start, very aggressive play and limit turnovers, we should be OK."

Pac-10 regular-season wrap

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
10:48
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

There were four big stories in the Pac-10 this year.

  • Oregon State's surprising run for the Rose Bowl, which ended in a tough loss at home to rival Oregon.
  • USC's struggle and ultimate failure to get back into the national title picture. The Trojans, widely viewed as the nation's most talented team, however, were done in by a schedule that didn't allow them to rise to the top among the other one-loss teams.
  • Washington and Washington State's season-long toilet spin toward each other so one or the other could earn the title of Nation's Worst BCS Team. The Huskies triumphed in that battle for ignominy, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory in a comeback loss in the Apple Cup. That's a big reason why Tyrone Willingham was pushed aside and USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is taking over the program.
  • And, finally, the general perception of Pac-10 weakness, most often illustrated by the Pac-10's 1-6 record against the Mountain West Conference, which formed the foundation of a lackluster 14-19 nonconference record.

The top-four teams in the Pac-10, however, went 1-1 vs. the MWC, the loss being the Beavers' down-to-the-wire, 27-21 defeat at No. 6 Utah, one of four nonconference foes playing in BCS bowl games.

Four nonconference foes -- Oklahoma, Penn State and Ohio State being the other three -- playing in BCS bowl games? Anyone else do that? Nope.

The Pac-10's 2-8 record in nonconference games against the top-18 doesn't compare favorably to other conferences because no other conference even approaches that level of difficulty.

Of course, if the Pac-10 were to post a successful run through the bowl season, it would make it a lot easier to argue that the perception of Pac-10 weakness is almost entirely a creation of scheduling -- and likewise, perhaps, the perception of strength among other conferences.

Four of five bowl opponents are nationally ranked. It's not inconceivable that when the final polls are released, four Pac-10 teams will be ranked.

Not too shabby.

If the perception of a down year in the Pac-10 was about more than scheduling, however, then the next explanation has to be the decline in quarterback play.

Only one conference quarterback, USC's Mark Sanchez, ranked in the top 20 in the nation in pass efficiency. The most productive passing offense, Oregon State, ranked just 25th in the country (253.7 yards per game).

Only Arizona had no quarterback issues this season. Six teams started more than one quarterback. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Washington State lost their starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. The Ducks, Bruins and Cougars were forced to hand the ball to the No. 3 or deeper guy on their depth chart.

It was a season of tumult filled with undistinguished moments, but a successful bowl season could transform the down vibe heading into 2009.

 
 Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 True freshman Jacquizz Rodgers racked up 1,253 yards and 11 TDs.

Offensive MVP: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers was THE difference-maker for Oregon State. He was the central figure in the dramatic upset over USC with 186 yards rushing, and his absence felt critical in the Beavers' Civil War defeat. Sure, Cal's Jahvid Best passed him for the Pac-10 rushing title with 311 yards in the win over Washington, but Rodgers' 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns is a special yield for any player, even more so a 5-foot-7 true freshman.

Defensive MVP: USC linebacker Rey Maualuga won't blow you away with numbers -- he ranked 13th in the conference with 73 tackles. But this is what Maualuga is: The best defensive player on the best defense in the nation. And he'll likely be the first Pac-10 player drafted in this spring's NFL draft. That's good enough for us.

Newcomer of the year: At midseason, this was Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, whose conference-leading 16 touchdowns merit honorable mention here. But Oregon wouldn't have finished second in the Pac-10 and earned a Holiday Bowl berth without the rapid maturation of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli, a sophomore and first-year juco transfer, finished ranked fourth in the conference in passing efficiency -- with a 12:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio -- and ranked 10th in yards rushing per game (55.6) with seven touchdowns. Moreover, Masoli didn't let home-fan frustration get into his head as he did his best work in the two critical wins that concluded the season.

Coach of the year: Most -- who, me? -- during the preseason projected Oregon State would finish in the middle of the conference. So, even though the Beavers' Rose Bowl run fell short due to an offensive blitzkrieg from rival Oregon, no other team exceeded expectations as much as the Beavers. That means more credit needs to be given to coach Mike Riley. Just because a coach is open, genuine and friendly doesn't mean he doesn't know a thing or two about coaching. Moreover, Riley might have assembled the best group of assistant coaches in the Pac-10.

Biggest surprise: It wasn't surprising just that Stanford nearly earned a bowl berth when in the preseason most projected the Cardinal in the bottom third of the conference. It was the way Stanford played under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal featured the Pac-10's most physical running attack, with a gritty offensive line paving the way for 230-pound tailback Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal's 200 yards rushing per game didn't come from spread misdirection. It came from running right at opposing defenses, led by tough-guy center Alex Fletcher. Moreover, Stanford, the most elite academic institution playing FBS football, built a reputation for playing dirty. Cheap shots shouldn't be amusing, but it's hard not to smile just a little that the conference's biggest rogue hitter, linebacker Pat Maynor, is also an economics major and a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, Academy of Finance and Future Business Leaders of America.

Biggest disappointment: Arizona State went from No. 15 in the nation in the preseason to 5-7 and sitting out the bowl season. That's what happens when a team suffers through a six-game losing streak, the program's worst run since the Great Depression, which began with an embarrassing home loss to UNLV in overtime. A year after looking like a budding annual Pac-10 contender under new coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils ended up the state's second-best program when Arizona ended three years of frustration in their rivalry with a 31-10 win in the Territorial Cup. Many thought that quarterback Rudy Carpenter and his solid array of supporting skill players could overcome an obviously deficient offensive line. They couldn't. And, truth be told, Carpenter and said touted supporting cast didn't live up to their advance billing.

Game of the year: No game changed the complexion of the season -- in national terms -- like then-top-ranked USC losing 27-21 at Oregon State. USC, fresh off of demolishing a good Ohio State team 35-3, was generally considered the nation's most talented team, and even at the end of the season, most folks -- including Las Vegas oddsmakers -- would pick the Trojans to win over any other opponent. But with the widespread, if wildly exaggerated,  perception of a weak Pac-10, the Trojans were scheduled out of the national title game because of the perceived strength of the SEC and Big 12. In other words, if Oregon State, a 25 1/2-point underdog, hadn't dominated the Trojans for a half and then showed guts fighting off a second-half comeback, odds are that USC would be claiming its third national title of the Pete Carroll era in the BCS title game instead of facing Penn State in the Rose Bowl. And recalling Rodgers slicing through the Trojans defense for 186 yards sounds even more shocking today because none of the Trojans' 11 other opponents approached that level of success.

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