NCF Nation: Stephen Paea
The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.
That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?
So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.
Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.
USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.
Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.
Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.
Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.
Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.
Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.
Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.
UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.
California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.
Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.
Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.
Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.
No defensive player who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2010 is back -- Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden blew out his knee this spring. But that doesn't mean there aren't a plethora of returning defensive stars. Expect at least a couple of Pac-12 players to earn All-American honors.
The first question is who's the best inside linebacker? Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict might be the most fearsome defensive player in the nation, but by the end of the 2010 season few were better than Stanford's Shayne Skov.
Of course, neither matched the numbers put up by California's Mychal Kendricks -- 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for a loss -- last year.
While he USC safety T.J. McDonald was a bit under the radar because the Trojans defense struggled in 2010, that defense is expected to dramatically improve and McDonald is a big reason why.
But, really, what happens if Oregon's big-play cornerback Cliff Harris becomes consistent -- while still maintaining his ball hawking ways?
Lots of good choices. But who's going to be the best?
If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.
Here's where the Pac-12 players went:
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle
By Pac-12 school:
Arizona State (1)
Oregon State (3)
Washington State (1)
The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
Big Ten... 36
Big East 22
Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.
This was the tally through three rounds:
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4
Former California defensive end Cameron Jordan has moved up to No. 14 from 17, but the other three Pac-12 players on the board moved down.
Kiper demotes former USC tackle Tyron Smith from 16th to 18th, Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith from 18th to 20th, and Buffaloes tackle Nate Solder from 15th to 22nd.
For much of the season, Kiper's Big Board also included Washington quarterback Jake Locker, UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers, and Bruins safety Rahim Moore.
Kiper listed Jordan as a "winner" after the combine:
The consensus on Jordan is that he's a guy who could help a team early in his career. What he showed in Indy is that he has the size to man the 3-4 defensive end spot, but even at 6-foot-4, 287 pounds, he has the athleticism to hold up as a strongside 4-3 defensive end. When you are a sharp player, show great versatility and athleticism and have teams convinced you're ready to help, you probably won't last past around pick No. 15.
Kiper also said this about former Oregon defensive tackle Stephen Paea: "Stephen Paea's record on the bench should further help his profile as an anchor D-tackle who can't be moved on the inside."
Kiper listed Ayers as one of the combine "losers."
Ayers got pegged as a really impressive physical talent with a lot of range, but you wouldn't know it as other linebackers who have less of a reputation outperformed him in the drills. His 40 time -- neither run could get below 4.80 -- didn't do him any favors. When much of your upside is dependent on people assuming you have all the physical tools, a showing like this will hurt.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com on Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith:
He entered the combine as the third corner on most boards and needed a great workout to solidify his status as a mid-first round selection. Smith showed athleticism, speed and burst in drills. He is smooth and fluid in movements, showing surprising body control for his lanky frame (6-foot-2, 211 pounds). He displayed sound footwork making turns and transitions in the pedal drills. His fluidity executing those movements is impressive considering his lack of experience in zone coverage.
And UCLA safety Rahim Moore:
Locked in as the top safety in the draft coming in, his solid workout did nothing to dissuade that opinion. Moore put up solid numbers in the athletic drills while showing excellent footwork and fluidity in defensive back drills. He caught the ball exceptionally well and is one of the more natural centerfielder-type safeties in this year's class.
Another positive take on Moore, who appears to have cemented his position as the draft's top safety.
UCLA S Rahim Moore looked good in position drills, showing quick feet and more fluid hips than expected. He was technically sound when turning and running, and just like on film Moore tracked the ball very well.
Smith didn't impress everybody -- he made Clark Judge's list of "guys he didn't like":
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: It's one thing to be confident; it's another to be cocky -- and Smith was so cocky that when he was asked about comparisons to Asomugha he said, "I think I have better ball skills than he does." Please. One guy's an All-Pro; the other hasn't played a down of pro ball. Whom would you trust?
Smith's fellow corner at Colorado, Jalil Brown, got busted.
Every year prospects try to cheat drills in an effort to mask their weaknesses. Colorado DC Jalil Brown looked like he tried to hide the tightness in his hips, backpedaling slower than a lot of the corners to make it easier for him to open and run. This rarely works for two reasons. First, teams already know about his tight hips based on film study. Secondly, scouts will take a second look at the film of these workouts and pick up on any attempts at cheating.Some sympathy for Oregon LB Casey Matthews:
You've got to feel for Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. First of all, he has to follow his brother, Clay, who was the runner-up in this year's Defensive Player of the Year voting. Second, he had to withdraw from the combine after re-injuring his shoulder during the bench press. Apparently, it's an injury similar to one he suffered his freshman season. "Unfortunate" is how Matthews described it. I'll say. Clubs might be scared off if they think Matthews is an injury waiting to happen.
USC OT Tyron Smith was a big winner:
Look for USC's Tyron Smith to vault up draft boards in the coming weeks. The guy has all the measurables (he's 6-5, 307) and might be the best tackle in the draft. He's young (20), tested well and has a wingspan so wide that he conceded "it was tough to buy shirts with long-enough sleeves." Smith played the right side in college but is projected as a left tackle in the pros.
Three other Pac-12 players made the list of winners:
Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal. He was a star of the Senior Bowl and then ran the 40-yard dash in the low 4.7-second range. In other drills, he displayed rare explosiveness, quickness, agility and speed for a big defensive end. He showed excellent body control and fluidity when changing directions. Jordan proved he is a top-level athlete and now will be a top-15 pick by a team that plays a 3-4 defense.
Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona. This hard-nosed overachiever displayed good athleticism and now projects as a future NFL starter at outside linebacker. Throughout his workout, he displayed the quickness and agility to change directions smoothly and play well in the open field. He also displayed the hand usage and technique to be a consistent pass rusher. He now has a legit chance to be a second-round pick, surpassing Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan on some team's draft boards.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Southern Cal. He is a raw prospect who was not very productive at USC, but he has the size and athleticism to excite NFL coaches. He was the most fluid and smooth route-runner of the tight ends and showed good hands. He now is a mid-round pick who could go much higher with a great on-campus workout March 30.
Some other links and notes:
We knew Paea, Oregon State's two-time winner of the Pac-10's Morris Trophy, was a beast, but the defensive tackle proved it to everyone else when he set an NFL combine record with 49 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press.
Folks, it's hard to do any repetitive movement 49 times, much less with 225 pounds.
Paea was just the lead note -- and he knows how to celebrate, by the way -- on what mostly appears to be a strong showing by Pac-12 players at the NFL combine.
Jake Locker ran fast; Nate Solder showed explosiveness, and a lot of other guys made good impressions, including a couple of Pac-12 running backs -- small ones -- per ESPN's Todd McShay:
Vereen leads smaller backs
California's Shane Vereen had a monster day, running the 40 in 4.48, posting a 34-inch vertical jump and putting up 25 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press. Vereen is an instinctive back on tape and shows good skills in the passing game, but we haven't seen the kind of explosiveness on film that Vereen displayed Sunday. It's time to go back to the film room and see if we missed anything during our previous evaluation.
Other diminutive backs had good showings as well. Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, Syracuse's Delone Carter and Kentucky's Derrick Locke all showed good balance and lateral explosiveness when bouncing to the outside and then cutting upfield during position-specific drills.
Here are some more links and notes
- Here's a look at UCLA safety Rahim Moore.
- Two Pac-12 offensive tackles look like first-round picks. More on Colorado's Solder here.
- Any chance Casey Matthews joins brother Clay in Green Bay?
- Is California defensive end Cameron Jordan headed to New England?
- Checking in with Locker, who had a good day.
- Some USC combine notes.
- Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl wasn't lights out in the 40, but he showcased elite quickness in the three-cone drill and short shuttle run (see numbers on the right).
- Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers didn't run a fast 40 either.
- You can check out the top performers here.
1. Oregon: The Ducks likely will be ranked in the preseason top five even though the offensive line and defensive front seven take some hits.
2. Stanford: While there are plenty of questions -- both lines, head coach -- the return of Andrew Luck makes the Cardinal a preseason top-10 team.
3. Arizona State: Losing defensive tackle Lawrence Guy to the NFL is a significant hit, but the Sun Devils still have 19 starters back from a team that lost by one at Wisconsin. But who will be the quarterback?
4. USC: Trojans take some hits on both sides of the ball, particularly on both lines, but quarterback Matt Barkley will have some nice skill surrounding him on offense.
5. Arizona: On the downside, the Wildcats must completely rebuild their lines. On the upside, quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner will be the top pass-catch combination in the conference.
6. Washington: The post-Jake Locker era begins, so it's hard to judge the Huskies. And post linebacker Mason Foster, for that matter. But coach Steve Sarkisian has been recruiting well, and there are plenty of returning starters.
7. Utah: Hard to place the Utes because we don't know them in this environment. And there are questions on both sides of the ball, particularly in the secondary and offensive skill positions. But the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn helps.
8. California: The Bears must replace their best offensive player, running back Shane Vereen, and their three best defensive players, end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Mike Mohamed and safety Chris Conte. And don't even ask about quarterback.
9. Oregon State: Putting the Beavers down here might be an overreaction to running back Jacquizz Rodgers' decision to enter NFL draft. Or it might be because they lost four of their final five games. And Stephen Paea's departure leaves a HUGE void on the defensive line.
10. UCLA: The Bruins actually have some good players coming back, despite some high-profile early departures (linebacker Akeem Ayers, safety Rahim Moore). But they have offensive questions and we don't know who the coordinators will be in 2011.
11. Colorado: Just like Utah, we don't know the Buffaloes in this environment, plus there's a new coach. And, to be honest, that 52-7 loss at Cal isn't helping their candidacy. Curious how quarterback Tyler Hansen will look this spring after missing much of the year because of injury.
12. Washington State: Do. Not. Panic. Cougars. Fans. I'd bet $1 the Cougs will not finish last in 2011. Quarterback Jeff Tuel should take another step forward and he's got his top targets back. But we're not ready to promote the Cougars just yet.
PFW’s All-America team annually honors the most talented players in college football and is determined based on considerable feedback from NFL evaluators taking into consideration a player’s pure talent and contribution to his team. Unlike many other teams rewarding the best college football players, PFW places an extra premium on true talent and draft value in the selection process. However, participants are expected to have contributed for the bulk of the season, leaving off some talented prospects who were limited this season. Extra attention was paid to qualities such as toughness, competitiveness and work ethic.
So that's why Stanford's Andrew Luck is the quarterback and not Auburn's Cam Newton: Luck is a superior NFL prospect. And that's why Washington's Jake Locker still made the list, even though his numbers weren't great.
There's a significant Pac-10 presence, though mostly as honorable mentions. Stanford fullback Owen Marecic is the only other conference player to earn "first-team" honors.
Here's the complete list (Pac-10 players are bolded). Juniors are marked by one asterisk (*), draft-eligible sophomores have two (**) and true sophomores have three (***).
Andrew Luck, Stanford**
Kellen Moore, Boise State*
Cam Newton, Auburn*
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas*
Jake Locker, Washington
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
LaMichael James, Oregon**
Andre Ellington, Clemson**
Mark Ingram, Alabama*
Jordan Todman, Connecticut*
Mikel LeShoure, Illinois*
Owen Marecic, Stanford
Anthony Sherman, Connecticut
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State**
A.J. Green, Georgia*
Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina***
Julio Jones, Alabama*
Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma*
Titus Young, Boise State
Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
D.J. Williams, Arkansas
Michael Egnew, Missouri*
Nate Solder, Colorado
Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
Marcus Cannon, TCU
Danny Watkins, Baylor
Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
Lee Ziemba, Auburn
Ben Ijalana, Villanova
Cordy Glenn, Georgia*
Clint Boling, Georgia
John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Rodney Hudson, Florida State
Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
Chase Beeler, Stanford
Mike Brewster, Ohio State*
Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson*
J.J. Watt, Wisconsin*
Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Allen Bailey, Miami (Fla.)
Cameron Jordan, California
Marcell Dareus, Alabama*
Nick Fairley, Auburn*
Stephen Paea, Oregon State
Corey Liuget, Illinois*
Luke Kuechly, Boston College***
Greg Jones, Michigan State
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame***
Nate Irving, North Carolina State
Von Miller, Texas A&M
Justin Houston, Georgia*
Bruce Carter, North Carolina
Akeem Ayers, UCLA*
Sean Spence, Miami (Fla.)*
Patrick Peterson, LSU*
Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.)*
Janoris Jenkins, Florida*
Cliff Harris, Oregon***
Omar Bolden, Arizona State*
Eric Hagg, Nebraska
Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple
Mark Barron, Alabama*
Rahim Moore, UCLA*
Ahmad Black, Florida
Alex Henery, Nebraska
Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State
Drew Butler, Georgia*
Chas Henry, Florida
Cliff Harris, Oregon***
Patrick Peterson, LSU*
QB -- Cam Newton, Auburn
RB -- LaMichael James, Oregon
RB -- Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State
WR -- Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
WR -- Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
OL -- Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
OL -- John Moffit, Wisconsin
OL -- Rodney Hudson, Florida State
OL -- Nate Solder, Colorado
OL -- Chase Beeler, Stanford
TE -- Michael Egnew, Missouri
DL -- Nick Fairley, Auburn
DL -- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL -- Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DL -- Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
LB -- Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB -- Luke Kuechley, Boston College
LB -- Von Miller, Texas A&M
DB -- Patrick Peterson, LSU
DB -- Tejay Johnson, TCU
DB -- Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
DB -- Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
P -- Chas Henry, Florida
PK -- Alex Henery, Nebraska
AP -- Randall Cobb, Kentucky
For comparison, here is the coaches team, which was announced Tuesday.
We didn't include a tight end because receiver was a far deeper position. And, unlike the coaches, we didn't make a wishbone backfield just to accomodate Stanford's Owen Marecic. Instead, we made up a specialist position for a guy who starts at both fullback and linebacker: "STUD."
So here you go.
QB Andrew Luck, So., Stanford
RB LaMichael James, So., Oregon
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr., Oregon State
WR Juron Criner, Jr., Arizona
WR Jeff Maehl, Sr., Oregon
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr., Washington
OL Chase Beeler, Sr., Stanford
OL Colin Baxter, Sr., Arizona
OL Tyron Smith, Jr., USC
OL Bo Thran, Sr., Oregon
OL Jonathan Martin, Jr., Stanford
DL Brandon Bair, Sr., Oregon
DL Cameron Jordan, Sr., California
DL Stephen Paea, Sr., Oregon State
DL Jurrell Casey, Jr., USC
LB Chase Thomas, So., Stanford
LB Mason Foster, Sr., Washington
LB Casey Matthews, Sr., Oregon
DB Talmadge Jackson, Sr., Oregon
DB Omar Bolden, Jr., Arizona State
DB Delano Howell, Jr., Stanford
DB John Boyett, So., Oregon
PK Nate Whitaker, Sr., Stanford
P Bryan Anger, Jr., California
KOR Robert Woods, Fr., USC
PR Cliff Harris, So., Oregon
STUD (FB-LB) Owen Marecic, Sr., Stanford
So it's a good thing that didn't happen because that would have been hard on the eyes.
Oregon will play Auburn in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10. Stanford will play Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. Not only have teams other than USC risen to the elite level, but the Pac-10 has produced two BCS bowl teams for the first time since 2002.
Could be better. But not terrible.
The Pac-10 finished the regular season ranked No. 2 behind the SEC in the Sagarin Ratings. Pac-10 teams played the seven toughest schedules in the nation, as well as Nos. 10 and 11. Oregon's schedule ranked 20th, the lowest in the conference, in large part because the Ducks lucked out by not having to play themselves.
The Pac-10 went 10-5 versus other BCS conferences.
Further, the Pac-10 is sending two finalists to the Heisman Trophy ceremony: Oregon running back LaMichael James and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. No other conference is doing that.
Still, the conference didn't post any marquee nonconference victories. Wins over Iowa and Texas lost a lot of value as both teams struggled as the season went on. Winning at Tennessee isn't as impressive as it was a decade ago. Arizona State lost by a point at Wisconsin. The conference lost three games to elite non-AQ teams: TCU, Boise State and Nevada. Nebraska stomped on Washington.
Quarterbacks were all the talk in the preseason, but the results were mixed there, too. Luck, obviously, lived up to and even beyond expectations. Washington's Jake Locker fell well short. Oregon's Darron Thomas came from no where to earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors. USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles had good, but not great seasons.
Luck could come back next fall, but he's likely going to be the No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft. Thomas, Barkley and Foles will return, though, again giving the conference a good foundation at the position (It's possible that Foles, too, could opt to enter the NFL draft).
As far as where the conference ranks as it heads into the postseason, the bowl season should be telling. It would be particularly meaningful for Oregon to end the SEC's run of national titles at four. Stanford is expected to beat ACC champ Virginia Tech, so losing would inspire plenty of wisecracks.
Arizona and Washington are both significant underdogs against Big 12 foes in the Valero Alamo Bowl -- where the Wildcats play No. 14 Oklahoma State -- and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl -- where the Huskies face No. 18 Nebraska, which bludgeoned them 56-21 on Sept. 18.
A 2-2 bowl season would be respectable. 3-1 would be worth crowing about. But anything worse, and it could be a long offseason for Pac-10 fans who enjoy trash talking other conferences.
Defensive MVP: This was a tough call, but Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea is the guy who causes the most problems for opposing offenses and consistently receives praise from opposing offensive linemen. After a slow start, Paea led the Beavers with 10 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had 42 total tackles -- despite constant double-teams -- and four forced fumbles.
Newcomer of the year: USC true freshman Robert Woods made big plays as receiver and a kick returner. As a receiver, caught 64 passes for 786 yards and six touchdowns. As a return man, he averaged 25.6 yards on 38 returns -- a school record -- including one for a 97-yard touchdown. He ranks second in the Pac- 10, and 27th nationally, with 139.8 all-purpose yards.
Coach of the year: Folks asked what Oregon coach Chip Kelly would do for an encore after he led the Ducks to a Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl his first season. Well, how about going undefeated and earning a berth in the national title game? His Ducks were the first team to go undefeated in the nine-game conference schedule. He also got a nice reward for his extraordinary success.
Biggest surprise: While more than a few folks thought Stanford would be good, and even might improve on last year's 8-5 finish, no one saw 11-1 and a No. 4 ranking coming. That's a tribute to coach Jim Harbaugh, who built a program from the ground up. While he's widely praised as an offensive innovator and outstanding motivator, Harbaugh's best move might have been hiring Vic Fangio last offseason to coordinate the defense. The improvement on that side of the ball is the reason the Cardinal became elite.
Biggest disappointment: Oregon State was ranked in the preseason and was expected to contend at the top of the conference, but the Beavers are staying home during the postseason for the first time since 2005. While a rugged schedule didn't help, and a knee injury to receiver James Rodgers on Oct. 9 was a major blow, the biggest issue was poor play on both lines. Further, the Beavers would have finished 6-6 if they had managed to not lose at home to Washington State, which ended the Cougars 16-game conference losing streak.
Game of the year: Stanford's 37-35 win over USC had just about everything. It had a pregame plot line: USC wanted revenge -- "What's your deal?" -- for Harbaugh running the score up the year before in a 55-21 Cardinal win in the Coliseum. It had two future NFL quarterbacks at the the top of the game: Luck passed for 285 yards and three TDs and Matt Barkley passed for 390 yards and three TDs. Neither threw an interception. It had Stanford's potential goats -- kicker Nate Whitaker, who missed a PAT, and running back Stepfan Taylor, whose fumble set up the Trojans' late, go-ahead TD -- find redemption on the final drive. Taylor's 21-yard run set up Whitaker's game-winning, 30-yard field goal on the final play.
That's because, however you want to spin it, the Ducks are the show, the only reason "GameDay" will set up outside Reser Stadium. They are No. 2 in the BCS standings. They are a Civil War victory away from playing for the national title. They are undefeated and fancy-pants cool with the point-a-minute offense and funky uniforms.
Oregon State? It's supposed to play the Washington Generals to Meadowlark Kelly and the Eugene Globetrotters.
"It's easy to talk when you're the No. 1 team in the country," cornerback James Dockery said.
Surely, though, it must be difficult for the Beavers and their fans to hear all the crowing coming out of Eugene. Isn't there just a bit of jealousy?
"It doesn't make me jealous," running back Jacquizz Rodgers said. "They are doing what is right. Any time a team is undefeated and No. 1 in the nation, you've got to give them their respect. They earned it. Playing this game is hard. To have a perfect season like that -- week in and week out -- they did their job. There's no hatred for me."
Oh, but fans are a different story. Beavers fans are not terribly happy about things in general, both with their team's fortunes in 2010 and Oregon's rise under Chip Kelly.
The Ducks won the past two Civil Wars, each time knocking the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. In 2008, the Ducks delivered a shocking 65-38 beatdown in Corvallis that turned celebratory roses into trash scattered all over the stadium and the parking lot. Last year, the Beavers nearly notched the upset in the "Civil War for the Roses," but the typically uptempo Ducks were able to burn the final six minutes off the clock in a 37-33 win.
So, yeah, delivering a little bit of heartbreak to the Ducks would be great fun for the Beavers.
"It would be nice to knock them out of that [national championship] game," Dockery said. "Of course."
The Beavers know their chief concern -- an upset win would earn them bowl eligibility -- isn't front and center nationally. But that's their primary motivation. They are perfectly aware that few give them a chance. And more than a few confess to being baffled why they've been, to use coach Mike Riley's phrase, "horribly inconsistent" this season. They've won at Arizona and stomped California. Impressive. Yet they got shocked by UCLA and lost at home to Washington State. Embarrassing. They showed pride while blowing out USC. Impressive. And a lack of it while getting blanked 38-0 at Stanford a week ago. Embarrassing.
"It's been quite a roller coaster for the Beavers," Riley said. "We've had some really good wins and we've had some clunkers."
The Beavers, who will be playing their fifth top-10 opponent this season on Saturday, have struggled on both lines, and the offense lost All-American receiver James Rodgers on Oct. 9 to a season-ending knee injury. The running game has never been consistent. The defense ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.
"At times, we're really good. At times, we're really bad," Jacquizz Rodgers said. "It seems like on every play, somebody makes a mistake."
If the Beavers are to have any chance, their two biggest stars must produce special performances. That's Rodgers and defensive tackle Stephen Paea. And, of course, when major upsets happen, there's usually somebody you don't see coming -- perhaps quarterback Ryan Katz will duplicate his 393-yard and two touchdowns performance at Arizona?
Oregon is the big show. It's why "GameDay" is on hand. But the Beavers will lead "SportsCenter" if they pull the upset. And "little brother" is clearly aware of that.
"Obviously, we know about the extravagant nature of Oregon and their university and everything they have to offer," Dockery said. "Until someone can beat them and make them stop talking, they can keep on talking."
The Ducks only say, "Win the day." It's only about them, the present moment and their preparation. All the other stuff is extraneous, including the opponent.
"We talk every week about playing a faceless opponent," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "It's about our preparation, not who we are playing against."
"This is basically like the big brother-little brother backyard brawl," Harris said. "I’m excited and I’m ready for it."
While some have gift-wrapped that as trash talk -- yeah, we sorta did, too -- it's not a ridiculous take. While the rivals have split the last 10 Civil Wars, the Ducks have won the last two, which were both huge. In 2008, their blowout, 65-38 win in Corvallis knocked the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl. Last year, the stakes for both teams were the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks prevailed 37-33 in a thriller.
This time, Oregon is playing for a spot in the national title game, while the Beavers need to win just to become bowl eligible. The programs are, at present, in different places. So the Beavers mostly shrugged off Harris' assessment.
"It's not to knock them out," Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers said. "We need to win to make a bowl game. That should be our motivation -- for us to continue our season, not stopping them from getting to the national championship game."
As for the Ducks, Kelly dismissed all the usual media angles: Looking ahead to the national title game or underestimating the Beavers or getting overconfident, etc. He said he won't address those potential pratfalls because he's viewed them as non-issues the entire season and he's not about to change an approach that has -- you might have noticed -- worked fairly well.
"I think my players would think I was out of my mind if I changed it," Kelly said. "It's worked for us 11 times. We'll see if it's good enough for a 12th time here."
"I don't think we need that," he said of extra motivation. "We're 11-0. We've followed this attitude of 'Win the day' the whole way there. We just need to stick to that attitude and keep putting in the work we need to put in and we'll see where we are on Saturday."
Thran, by the way, is a serial party-pooper when it comes to rivalry games, having previously yawned at the Pac-10 blog's questions before a showdown with the hated Washington Huskies.
"All I'm worried about is having a good day of practice," he explained.
Really? He hasn't even thought about playing, say, Auburn, for the national title? Or maybe leaned forward on the sofa when an Auburn game was on TV?
"I haven't even seen an Auburn game this year," he said. "I've seen Cam Newton highlights. That's about it. Whatever has been on 'SportsCenter.'"
Eureka! That's a tiny crack. So Auburn is not nameless and faceless to the Ducks.
But neither is Oregon State, particularly for a Ducks offensive lineman. Thran may be flipping through a magazine or filing his fingernails while listening to boring questions about rivalry games and special motivation, but he seems to awaken when asked about what he sees on the Beavers' defense. Tackle Stephen Paea, you see, is hard to miss.
"Big No. 54," Thran said. "We've got to be able to handle him up front. They have great backers, too, but the big thing we need to handle is Paea. He's a great player. He's strong. He has moves. He has great footwork. He'll be the best defensive lineman we've played all year."
Paea is the sort of player who can penetrate and disrupt the Ducks' spread-option game. But if the Ducks neutralize him, it could be a big day for the offense.
It's hard to believe, though, that the Ducks are so completely living in the present. Don't they entertain dreams that now appear so close to reality they can almost touch it? What about when they go to bed at night, in the moments just before sleep: Don't they envision themselves taking the field to play for the championship?
"I'm probably thinking about screwing something up in practice that day and not wanting to screw it up tomorrow," Thran said.
Team of the week: Oregon State was left for dead -- understandably -- after getting pushed around at home by Washington State on Nov. 13, thereby ending the Cougars 16-game Pac-10 losing streak. But there was a Beavers resurrection Saturday during a 36-7 stomping of USC.
Best game: Considering all three games this past week were decided by at least 17 points, there really wasn't a "best" game. But Stanford's overwhelming performance on both defense and offense in the Big Game at California was very impressive -- making it easy to point to the Cardinal as the nation's best one-loss team.
Offensive standout: Not to be redundant but Luck was nearly perfect in the Big Game. He completed 16-of-20 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and ran three times for 72 yards.
Defensive standout: USC just couldn't block Oregon State DT Stephen Paea, whose six tackles -- 2.5 for a loss with a sack and a forced fumble -- don't completely tell the story of how much of a nuisance he was to the Trojans.
Special teams standout: The only bright side for Cal might have been punter Bryan Anger, who averaged 54.3 yards on three punts, with a long of 71 yards. Two of the three were killed inside the Cardinal 20-yard line.
Smiley face: Good for Washington and Oregon State getting off the carpet and keeping bowl hopes -- albeit slim ones -- alive. The Beavers had lost three of four conference games, including the aforementioned face plant versus the Cougs, while the Huskies had suffered three consecutive blowout losses before upending UCLA. Showing resilience is a good thing.
Frowny face: Everyone wondered when USC would stop showing up this year due to NCAA sanctions killing postseason possibilities. Then we got so far into the season, it seemed possible they'd show up every week. Wrong. The debacle at Oregon State was embarrassing. A completely lifeless effort on offense against a struggling, injury-riddled defense.
Thought of the week: Washington's visit to California feels meaningful, and not just because it's a bowl-eligibility-elimination game. Both programs are looking for a November uptick for grumpy fan bases after disappointing seasons. If Cal wins, it could end up in the Holiday Bowl, and even the Sun Bowl is a heck of a destination for a 6-6 team. Same for the Huskies, though they also will need to win at rival Washington State on Dec. 4 to earn a sixth victory.
Questions for the week: Is there a major upset on tap? Top-ranked Oregon plays host to No. 21 Arizona and No. 6 Stanford gets a visit from again formidable Oregon State. Can both home teams survive and keep hopes for two BCS bowl teams -- and an extra $4.5 million for the conference -- alive?
Chris Polk & Jesse Callier: The Washington tailback tandem led the Huskies to a 24-7 win over UCLA on Thursday. Polk had 138 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while Callier added 107 yards on 10 carries.
Mason Foster: The Washington linebacker, who leads the Pac-10 in tackles, had 14, including two for a loss, in the win over UCLA.
Andrew Luck: The Stanford quarterback completed 16-of-20 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout 48-14 win over California in the Big Game. He also rushed three times for 72 yards, including a memorable 58-yard scramble.
Oregon State: Talk about a bounce-back. Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Ryan Katz threw for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Oregon State's defensive tackle Stephen Paea was unblockable in an inspired effort in a 36-7 win over USC. But despite these individual step-up performances, the Beavers team-wide showing is notable a week after getting embarrassed by Washington State.