NCF Nation: Will Harris
Most of these guys aren't "new," but they could make the next step up in their careers this spring.
Juron Criner, WR, Jr: Criner (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is already a familiar name to Wildcats fans. Heck, he led the team with nine touchdown receptions in 2009. The reason he makes this list is this: It would be a surprise if he's not first-team All-Pac-10 at season's end.
Aaron Pflugrad, WR, Jr: Hmm. Name seems familiar? Pflugrad is a transfer from Oregon, who left the Ducks after his father, Robin, was fired as receivers coach. He was expected to start for the Ducks in 2009, and he should be in the same position with the Sun Devils, who need help at receiver.
Ernest Owusu, DE, Jr: Owusu looked like a budding star early last season when he recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss against Maryland, but that was about it for his production in 2009. Still, he combines good intelligence and speed with special power -- he's the Bears' strongest player -- and that could all come together as he fights to break into the starting lineup.
Diante Jackson, WR, RFr: Many thought Jackson would offer immediate help to the Ducks' receiving corps as a true freshman, but, instead, he was a scout team star last year. The Ducks are looking for a dynamic, play-making presence at wideout and Jackson might be the guy.
The Unga brothers: The Beavers lost Keaton Kristick to graduation and Keith Pankey may miss 2010 with an Achilles injury, so there are opportunities at linebacker. These twin brothers -- Kevin "Feti" Unga and Devin "Uani" Unga -- could fight their way into the mix.
Shayne Skov, LB, So: Skov started seven games last year as a true freshman and ended up third on the Cardinal with 62 tackles. The early returns are Skov will be first-team All-Pac-10 before he's done.
Cory Harkey, TE, Jr: With the departure of Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya, Harkey will finally get his chance to take center stage. He caught eight passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2009. His production will be many times that in 2010.
T.J. McDonald, S, So: First off, the son of former USC legend Tim McDonald is listed at 205 pounds. Really? He looks bigger -- in a good way. And he's a hitter. He had seven tackles as a backup to strong safety Will Harris last year, but he could play either free or strong.
Talia Crichton, DE, So: Crichton was forced into action last year as a true freshman -- he started four games -- because the Huskies lacked depth on the defensive line. With the departure of both starting ends -- and the questionable status of Kalani Aldrich's knee -- Crichton is almost certain to ascend to a first-team spot. Here's a guess he's better prepared in 2010.
Travis Long, DE, So: Back in the Cougars' glory days -- folks, it wasn't really that long ago, either -- they always had ends who were disruptive. Long led the Cougars with 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks as a true freshman in 2009. Those numbers will more than double in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Matt Barkley is now The Man.
USC quarterbacks win Heismans. They win Rose Bowls and national championships. They get drafted in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft and make a lot of money.
Heck, some even pose for magazines in short shorts.
And Barkley, who turns 19 on Sept. 8, is the first to start the first game of his true freshman season.
|AP Photo/Jae C. Hong|
|Matt Barkley is prepared for all that comes with being the starting quarterback at USC.|
It's hard being a true freshman quarterback for any team, but at USC the spotlight burns brighter than anywhere else.
USC opens its season at home Saturday against San Jose State. That will be a test run.
The next weekend the entire nation will tune in to see what Barkley can do against Ohio State in the decidedly unfriendly confines of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
It seemed like a good time to check in with Barkley to see how things were as he steps into his marquee role.
Life before you were USC's starting quarterback and life after: How have things changed for you?
Matt Barkley: It's not too different -- except that the whole world is now looking at me [laugh]. I'm not really trying to change who I am. I'm just trying to be me and play football like I always have and stay true to my roots. But this is a dream come true. It's pretty crazy how it's all played out over the last couple of months, but I'm loving it. It really is neat.
What do you think you did to win the job?
MB: I think I just did what the coaches asked me to do: manage the game and be a leader that the offense can count on. Not try to do too much. Not try to be Mr. All-America because we've got such a great team this year. I just need to be able to manage that and get the ball to guys who can make plays. I think all the hard work during the offseason, the hours we put in, have really paid off now.
Leadership is such an important part of being a quarterback. How does a guy who's an 18-year-old true freshman take a leadership role when you're running a veteran offense with a bunch of guys who are headed to the NFL?
MB: That's why coming in January really helped me, just to get to know the guys and establish relationships with the older players. That really helped. Just being normal, just showing them that I know how to play the game and that I'm not intimidated by anything or anyone. Just try to slowly earn their respect. It's been a cool process.
So if Old Man Byers [sixth-year senior offensive lineman Matt Byers] misses a block, you feel completely comfortable getting on him and saying, 'Man, you've got to make that block!'
MB: I don't fear getting into anyone's face because that will make them better. They'd do the same to me. [Senior safety] Will Harris has been talking in my ear hole this whole summer, trying to get in my head. He's been trying to motivate me and trying to make me better. So, no, I'm not scared of Old Man Byers.
So have any of the veterans pulled you aside and given you advice?
MB: Nothing too specific, but all of them have been great and encouraging me just to be myself and don't try to mold into anyone or try to fit the stereotypical USC quarterback role. Just be who you are. Also, to really try to control the ball. That's what coach [Pete] Carroll has emphasized over and over again -- protect the ball.
That's what everybody seems to talk about -- that you've got great talent and throw a great ball and you're a smart, savvy guy but that you also try to do too much and throw interceptions. How much is that on your mind? Would consciously avoiding interceptions slow you down?
MB: No, I don't think it has. I've made an emphasis this summer on not throwing picks, on not turning the ball over. Take the easy completions, the easy checkdowns and even throwing the ball away, which I've learned to do better. Whenever we're getting positive yards, it's a good thing. It wasn't easy at first because that's not the way I played growing up. But it has become a lot easier to be comfortable with checking the ball down and getting positive yards.
You come out of the Coliseum tunnel Saturday against San Jose State. You walk onto the field with the first-team offense. What will be going through your mind? It's got to be a lot different than high school.
MB: No doubt I'll have butterflies. It really will be a dream come true. I probably will be a little nervous, but I think after warm-ups and we get our juices flowing, it will be just like any other day out on the practice field. You try to block all the other stuff out. I'll probably get motivated by the crowd, feel their energy. But when it comes game time, you learn to block all that out.
I know you only play one game at a time, but you've got to think a little about Ohio State. A hostile environment is a big thing for a quarterback. Has that drifted into your mind a little bit, to play in front of 105,000 fans who don't like you very much?
MB: [Laughs] It has. I'm only taking one game at a time, but I have thought about it. It's going to be an awesome game, an awesome environment. Our whole team is excited to go back East and play them. We'll see what happens. But for now I'm really just focusing on San Jose State.
Have you and backup quarterback Aaron Corp had a chance to talk about how things went down?
MB: Not directly. Not specifically. It happened. We didn't talk much that day. Everything kind of carried on like normal -- normal meetings, normal practice -- besides the title switch. We didn't really get into a deep conversation about it. It wasn't bad though.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We've discussed positions of concern a lot. But where are teams (almost) worry-free?
Here are some spots.
USC's offensive line: The Trojans welcome back all five starters, including the nation's best center, Kristofer O'Dowd. And, oh by the way, super-sophomore Tyron Smith might displace returning starter Butch Lewis at tackle. The Trojans averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year and surrendered only 18 sacks, fewest in the conference.
California's secondary: All four starters are back, including first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, from a unit that finished third in the nation with 24 interceptions and ranked sixth in pass efficiency defense. And the backups are so good that a couple of returning starters are hearing footsteps.
USC's secondary: Start with Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard, the best safety combination in the nation -- though Pinkard played corner last year. Sure, two starters -- Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris -- are gone. But three players -- safety Will Harris and corners Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas -- have starting experience. And a couple of the youngsters turned in impressive springs.
Oregon State's quarterbacks: The Beavers have two successful starting quarterbacks in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao, though Moevao is coming back from shoulder surgery. They also have an impressive No. 3 in redshirt freshman Ryan Katz, and Virginia transfer Peter Lalich is a wildcard who had disappeared before coming up big in the spring game. His questionable attitude won't help him climb the depth chart, though.
UCLA's tight ends: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he was Logan Paulsen's backup until Paulsen's season ended with a foot injury in the opener against Tennessee. The Bruins also like sophomore Cory Harkey, and then there's touted freshman Morrell Presley, who's more a hybrid receiver-tight end. Lots of options here. Just got to get them the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ever wonder what a coach might say about a quarterback competition the day before he announces a pecking order?
You're in luck!
USC coach Pete Carroll stopped by for a chat with the Pac-10 blog on Monday, the day before he announced on his Web site that Aaron Corp would emerge from spring practices No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, ahead of true freshman Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Pete Carroll boasts an 88-15 record since arriving at USC.|
That bit of stolen thunder aside -- and the announcement was mostly a foregone conclusion -- it's never a bad time to talk with a coach who's 88-15 in eight years at USC and has finished ranked in the top four of the AP poll seven consecutive seasons.
After all, he's got a new book deal to benefit his charity, A Better LA, and a new Web site for kids.
And he's got a football team that likely will be favored to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and again compete for a national title.
Word on the street is you guys have an intense quarterback competition going on over there: Where does that stand?
Pete Carroll: Guys have really battled hard and done well. We're pleased with the play at the quarterback position. The competition is going to continue. We'll name a guy who's going to start the spring game for us and then the competition will just continue. We've got to call something here after a month of playing. We'll find out what happens when we get back to camp in the fall.
You've told me in the past you prefer to anoint a quarterback as early as possible to allow him to develop into a clear leader: How will that be a part of the decision in the fall?
PC: We'd like to do that [name a starter], but you've got to do the right thing and let the competition play itself out. What that means is, in the past when we named Matt Leinart over Matt Cassel, it meant that Leinart was going first and Cassel was battling him. The competition remained on. It will be the same situation. It's a very hard-fought, close competition and in fairness it's going to take longer to know exactly what we are going to do for the long haul.
PC: I don't think there's any question Curtis McNeal has. Marc Tyler has been hurt most of the spring -- he's only had a couple of days when he's full speed. He's done well. But McNeal has taken advantage of the opportunity to be out there every day and he's really been effective.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. California OTs vs. Oregon DEs: The California offensive line is expected to be missing three injured starters and a backup who would have started Saturday against Oregon. While left tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a steady performer all year, the redshirt freshman will have his hands full with Nick Reed, the Ducks' relentless pass rusher. On the other side, Donovan Edwards, a JC transfer who signed in the late summer, will make his first start and will square off against the underrated Will Tukuafu, who has six sacks. Oh, by the way, it also appears that redshirt freshman Justin Cheadle will be stepping in for Noris Malele at right guard.
2. Mark Sanchez will have his way with the Washington pass defense: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent this year, particularly on the road -- see his uneven effort at Arizona. But he's not on the road Saturday, and visiting Washington will offer him the most inviting pass defense of any BCS conference team. Moreover, the Huskies probably will be missing injured starting cornerback Mesphin Forrester. Sanchez should put up big numbers and then sit out the second half.
3. Will Washington State open up the offense for quarterback Kevin Lopina?: Lopina completed just 6 of 9 passes for 28 yards against USC in a 69-0 humiliation. It seemed like the Cougars coaches opted for a noticeably conservative game plan because they were worried about getting Lopina hurt and didn't want to risk him re-injuring his back in a game they weren't going to win. With the decision to no longer redshirt J.T. Levenseller -- coach Paul Wulff said Levenseller would play at Stanford -- perhaps the handcuffs will be off Lopina and he will run the entire offense.
4. Does Rudy have any magic left? Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his 39th consecutive start at Oregon State with a bum ankle, no running game and a decimated receiving corps. Last year, he was brilliant in leading the Sun Devils back from a 19-0 deficit against OSU, passing for 361 yards with four touchdowns in a 44-32 victory. It's hard to imagine things will go as well in Corvallis against a high-pressure Beavers defense that probably wants redemption.
5. USC's defense will miss safety Kevin Ellison: Ellison, our midseason defensive MVP, is out two-to-four weeks with a torn MCL, so the nation's best defense is without its headiest player for a few games. That won't matter against the Huskies, but it could in upcoming games with California and Notre Dame. Ellison, who will be replaced by junior Will Harris, is the second starter to go down in the Trojans secondary. Earlier, top cover cornerback Shareece Wright was lost to a season-ending neck injury.
6. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard will regain his form against Washington State: Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard was mostly awful in the loss to UCLA, completed just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Enter the Washington State defense, which makes everyone look good. While the Cougars are incompetent stopping the run -- 266 yards per game -- their likely attempt to gang up against Stanford's power running game will mean opportunities for Pritchard in the passing game.
7. Moevao and Rodgers: First-team All-Pac-10? Why the heck not? If true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers and quarterback Lyle Moevao, the conference's most improved player, continue to put up big numbers, why wouldn't this pair lead the All-Pac-10 team? Rodgers, in fact, with a conference-leading 116 yards rushing per game, is almost a shoo-in. Moevao leads the conference with 254 yards passing per game, but he likely will need to outplay Arizona's Willie Tuitama and USC's Mark Sanchez down the stretch. But if the Beavers make a run at the Rose Bowl, who's to say he won't?
8. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli may need to throw to beat Cal: It's been a mostly dry fall in Eugene -- as we all know it NEVER RAINS IN AUTZEN STADIUM! -- but it looks like it's going to be a wet one Saturday in Berkeley. While such conditions may not encourage passing, the Ducks' run-heavy, spread-option offense may find the going tough if it is one-dimensional vs. Cal's 3-4 defense. This is a homecoming for Masoli anyway, so know that he'll want to put the ball in the air to impress family and friends.
9. Will Washington play hard for lame-duck coach Tyrone Willingham? It might not matter if the winless Huskies give USC their best shot -- the Trojans are better at every position. Yet it will be fairly obvious in the early-going how much Willingham's players still care. Will they show some pride and fight for themselves and their outgoing coach? A season's best performance might cause some to wonder where the effort was when it could still help Willingham, but if that is indeed what happens know that a team is tipping its helmet to its coach.
10. Quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will keep Cal in the game with Oregon: It's safe to assume Cal's makeshift offensive line won't be able to consistently handle the Ducks defensive front. If slow-footed Nate Longshore were the Bears quarterback, that would be a huge issue. But Riley can make plays with his feet -- both with rollouts and with scrambles. If the conditions are sloppy, Riley's improvisation skills could become a key element in the game.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:15 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State