NCF Nation: Jake Fischer
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College, Carey rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries and two scores, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. He decisively outplayed Boston College RB Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
RB D.J. Foster, Arizona State: Despite being banged up, Foster rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries -- 6.6 yards per carry -- in the Sun Devils' 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. He also caught five passes for 23 yards.
WR Marqise Lee, USC: In his career finale, Lee caught seven passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns in USC's win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
WR Nate Phillips, Arizona: Phillips, a true freshman, caught nine passes for 193 yards in the Wildcats' win over Boston College.
WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Huff caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Su'a-Filo led the Bruins' offensive line against a tough Virginia Tech defense. UCLA rushed for 197 yards against a top-10 rushing defense and yielded only two sacks.
OL Abe Markowitz, USC: The sixth-year walk-on stepped in at center for an injured Marcus Martin -- the Trojans' best offensive lineman this season -- and played well in the 45-20 win over Fresno State. The Trojans yielded only one sack and rushed for 154 yards. He was named the "Offensive Outperformer of the Game" by his coaches.
OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher led a strong effort from the Ducks' offensive line in the win over Texas. Oregon rushed for 216 yards and yielded only two sacks. Fisher did a good job against Texas' top defender, end Jackson Jeffcoat.
OL Micah Hatchie, Washington: Hatchie, the Huskies' left tackle, was the biggest reason BYU didn't record a sack in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a 31-16 Huskies victory. Washington also rushed for 190 yards.
OL Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Seumalo led perhaps the Beavers O-line's best effort of the season. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards and yielded no sacks.
K Travis Coons, Washington: Coons made a 45-yard field goal against BYU -- the longest Pac-12 postseason field goal -- and was good on all four of his PATs.
DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton had three tackles for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and pass breakup in the win over Boise State.
DL Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart had a game-high 11 tackles, with half a sack and a forced fumble in the Ducks' win over Texas.
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.
LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: Reynolds had 10 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' win over Boise State. The fumble returns went for 70 and 3 yards.
DB Avery Patterson, Oregon: Patterson had nine tackles and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the win over Texas.
DB Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw held Fresno State receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 73 yards in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs. He finished with six tackles and had an interception in the end zone.
DB Anthony Jefferson, UCLA: Jefferson had seven tackles, shared a tackle for a loss and had a pass breakup in the Bruins' win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 15 of 36 throws for 176 yards.
P Ben Rhyne, Stanford: With five punts, Rhyne averaged 49.8 yards per boot in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer is among six current FBS players who have joined a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, a court action originally filed in 2009 by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon that could change the financial landscape of college football.
Wildcats kicker Jake Smith also joined the lawsuit, and the good news is Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and athletic director Greg Byrne are supporting their right to take part in the process.
"Jake and Jake came to my house the other day and talked to me about the case and their involvement," Rodriguez told ESPN's "Outside the Lines." "They're two conscientious guys, and they're both really appreciative of playing college ball. It's not like they're disenchanted with the system. They love being student-athletes. But with the likeness issue, they wanted to see if they could have a voice for college athletes, and I said I support that.
"I know there's concerns [in the NCAA] about where this lawsuit will lead. And we need to keep it as amateur status. We already have a pro league, it's the NFL. Let's not make college a minor league. I just think we can do a few things, get a couple thousand more [dollars a year] to help out the players."
Said Fischer: "I'm not surprised at all. [Rodriguez] has his players' back, and that's why we love playing for him."
The other players joining the lawsuit are Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, and Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise.
Why take a stand?
"For me, it's about the money and the fact that the revenue that's generated is so vast, and the players are essentially the people that drive the engine that is the NCAA," Smith said. "If we didn't exist, there would be no University of Arizona football team. There would be no Alabama Crimson Tide football team. There would be no Florida Gator football team. There would be no Texas A&M football team. Yes, we are a part of the program. I love Arizona and I love my coach, our athletic directors, everybody that's a part of this program are great.
"However, without us, there is no they, if that makes sense."
Obviously, this is a prickly situation. These players are suing the entity that oversees their sport. And Rodriguez and Byrne benefit substantially -- just as all coaches and athletic directors do -- from the current system.
Byrne, of course, has to tread lightly.
"We are aware that Jake Smith and Jake Fischer are now plaintiffs in the lawsuit," Byrne said in a statement. "While we do not support the lawsuit, we support their right to be involved and express their opinion. They are two fine young men and we are glad they are part of our program and University."
The Pac-12 is certainly out front of this potentially momentous legal action, seeing that O'Bannon is a former UCLA basketball player.
From the story:
The O'Bannon complaint alleges the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., the nation's leading trademark and licensing firm, violated antitrust laws.
It accuses the NCAA of fixing at zero the amount that players can receive from video games and other products that use players' names, likenesses and images. Last year, the plaintiffs amended their lawsuit, asking that current players be included and arguing that players deserve a share of the billions of dollars in television revenues that flow to the NCAA, conferences and member schools.
Suffice it to say, the plot with this lawsuit is thickening.
When: July 26
Where: Sony Studios, Los Angeles
Who will be there (all times PT):
- 9 a.m. Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner
- 9:15 a.m. Washington State -- Coach Mike Leach, Elliott Bosch (OL), Deone Bucannon (DB)
- 9:30 a.m. California -- Coach Sonny Dykes, Bryce Treggs (WR), Nick Forbes (LB)
- 9:45 a.m. Washington -- Coach Steve Sarkisian, Keith Price (QB), Sean Parker (DB)
- 10 a.m. Oregon State -- Coach Mike Riley, Brandin Cooks (WR), Rashaad Reynolds (DB)
- 10:15 a.m. Oregon -- Coach Mark Helfrich, Marcus Mariota (QB), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB)
- 10:30 a.m. Stanford -- Coach David Shaw, David Yankey (OL), Shayne Skov (LB)
- 10:45 a.m. Break
- 11 a.m. Colorado -- Coach Mike MacIntyre, Paul Richardson (WR), Chidera Uzo-Diribe(DE)
- 11:15 a.m. Utah -- Coach Kyle Whittingham, Jake Murphy (TE), Trevor Reilly (DE)
- 11:30 a.m. Arizona -- Coach Rich Rodriguez, Terrence Miller (WR), Jake Fischer (LB)
- 11:45 a.m. USC -- Coach Lane Kiffin, Marqise Lee (WR), Hayes Pullard (LB)
- Noon Arizona State -- Coach Todd Graham, Taylor Kelly (QB), Will Sutton (DT)
- 12:15 p.m. UCLA -- Coach Jim Mora, Xavier Su’a Filo (OL), Anthony Barr (LB)
Who won’t be there: The biggest name missing is Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who led the nation in rushing last season. Coaches tend to bring veterans and guys with experience. Yankey is a great spokesman for Stanford and a good candidate, but I know others wouldn't mind hearing some thoughts from Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan.
- Hitting? Scott is expected to announce the league's health and safety initiative, which will limit how much hitting can be done in practice. This isn't a new concept, but the league jumped in front of it by being the first to make a conference-wide mandate.
- Bowl updates? We know the status of the Rose, Alamo, Holiday, Kraft Fight Hunger and Sun bowls. Not sure if the rest of the lineup for beyond this season will be announced at media day. But one of us will ask.
- New coaches: This is the meet-the-world opportunity for the new head coaches in the league: Dykes, MacIntyre and Helfrich. Expect the requisite questions on the difficulty of changing cultures and rebuilding programs.
- Preseason poll: Is there any fodder better than preseason polls? Oregon or Stanford? Stanford or Oregon? ASU, UCLA or USC? Your Pac-12 bloggers will be submitting their ballots this weekend after a visit to the Oracle of Delphi, a seance channeling Nostradamus and a dartboard.
- Quirky questions: With the access of media day comes the spectacle of media day. Granted, it's not as bad as some of the quirks at Super Bowl media day. But there's bound to be a couple of left-field questions -- and they'll probably be directed at Leach, who is great and usually has fun with them. Last year he was asked which Pac-12 coach he'd go hunting with and which Civil War generals he'd compare some of his players to.
Ted and I will be trying something new this year (we think). Instead of the on-the-stage posts, we'll be doing a live chat during the entire stage session and bringing you info real time. So take note of the times (in Pacific, to save you the math) and be ready to interact.
That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.
The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.
Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.
So here's how we see things stacking up.
And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds
The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey
The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth
The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.
4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds
The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan
The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.
6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby
The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters
The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight
The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe
The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.
10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen
The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe
The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley
The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- We're going to be charitable. We will merely call Arizona's 2011 defense awful and opine that it offered little to no resistance to opposing offenses. We won't try to be colorful or mocking. We will only further note that it wouldn't be surprising if the collective secretly wanted to conduct postgame interviews in French.
It's not just the big picture -- 460.5 yards per game, worst in the Pac-12, and 35.4 points per game, 107th in the nation. It's the details, such as surrendering 6.6 yards per play. Only five teams in the nation were worse. Or permitting opposing passers to complete 66 percent of their throws, another worst in the conference. Or grabbing 16 turnovers, second fewest in the conference. Or recording 10 sacks the entire season, which ranked 116th in the nation and, apparently, was the worst sack total in team history.
In the spring of 2011, before this defensive ugliness occurred, former coach Mike Stoops told the Pac-12 blog that his two best defensive players were linebacker Jake Fischer -- "heart and soul of our defense," Stoops said -- and cornerback Jonathan McKnight -- "our best cover guy," Stoops said.
So, yes, when both blew out their knees in advance of the season, it was not unreasonable to see this coming, at least some of it.
It is easy to look at the Wildcats' defense heading into 2012 and see plenty of "Uh, oh." While seven starters are back, there are far more questions than answers, particularly with the front seven. Oh, and there's a new, 3-3-5 scheme to learn.
Expect some growing pains. New coach Rich Rodriguez certainly seems to.
"I wish I could be more definitive," Rodriguez said when asked about his depth chart up front Wednesday. "It's such a fluid situation. We have a lot of 'ors' and 'ifs' on the defensive line. We've got enough bodies, though."
But if you want to pitch this thing forward in a positive way, the story would go like this: 1. McKnight and Fisher are both back and ready to start against Toledo on Sept. 1; 2. A 3-3-5 scheme plays into the Wildcats' strength -- the secondary; 3. The move of 6-foot-3, 221-pound Marquis Flowers from safety to linebacker might end up proving to be inspired; 4. As might the dual role of 260-pound fullback Taimi Tutogi doubling as a pass-rush specialist.
While Rodriguez is from the Lou Holtz school of talking to the media -- pooh pooh your talent, be colorful, reveal almost nothing -- the Wildcats players believe the defense will surprise some folks. After a couple of scrimmages in which they were dominated by the offense, they say the defense has been stepping up.
"The chemistry is coming along well, everybody is coming together and trusting one another," McKnight said.
McKnight, the brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, is a good place to start. If he stays healthy, he could become one of the conference's best cover men.
"Nobody is going to throw at him," center Kyle Quinn said. "He's a lockdown guy."
Quinn also said the new scheme is creative at creating pressure, and aggressive at creating turnovers.
"They can make plays," he said. "They are a big-play defense."
That might be where the Wildcats' defense grabs hold. It won't be able to dominate up front. But if the sack and turnover numbers go up, the unit might be able to provide at least reasonably solid support for what could be an explosive offense.
And going from awful to decent could get this team to a bowl game.
Arizona's latest depth chart has 24"ors" on it. Dan Buckner at wide receiver, or David Richards. Derrick Rainey at cornerback, or Jonathan McKnight. John Bonano place-kicking, or Jake Smith.
"I didn't help you with a lot of the 'ors,'" head coach Rich Rodriguez said in a news conference Wednesday. "It wasn't just a coach kind of deal, we really don't know for sure in a lot of positions. I think 15 practices in spring told us a little bit ... really, I think we'll get a better idea at the end of camp and at the end of the next 30 days. But I really won't know until we play a couple of games. There are a lot of 'ors.' I want our guys to compete for their jobs. If they've played in the past, that's good and that experience should help them. But we're starting all over again. A clean slate. Everyone has to earn their spots."
Here are some more highlights from his news conference:
- On the linebacking corps: "For us, that's certainly our thinnest position and it's an area of concern. There are probably some guys we're going to have to push to get ready [sooner] than they may be ready for or we may be ready for. In particular some freshmen. It's wide open. Jake Fischer is the only guy right now that we know has a lot of experience and we feel pretty comfortable with him at linebacker. Outside of Jake, it's kind of a wide-open deal. We have concerns, but what we have is what we have. Hopefully these freshmen will grow up in a hurry and coach [Jeff] Casteel will get them ready to play."
- Rodriguez said staying healthy in camp is going to be crucial because the Wildcats aren't a particularly deep team yet. That's going to affect how they practice: "Where we're at right now with our depth -- or lack of it in some spots -- it's going to be critical. We've talked as coaches, you have to practice physically sometimes. You have to hit at times. We need to get tougher and more physical. Yet we don't want to beat ourselves up and have a lesser team come Sept. 1. How do you balance that? We will have some physical times and physical practices. But they won't be all day, every day. The message to our team will be when we have those moments when we go live, we need to really get after that and develop the mentality we want from a toughness standpoint. Because they will be few and far between. When we do it's got to be really, really intense and we have to make the most of it ... it's concerning and it limits you a little bit."
- Offensive lineman Jack Baucus might have to retire because of injury.
- Rodriguez said some of his coaching staff knew some players on Penn State's roster and that "a handful" reached out and talked with Arizona, but he said they are not actively pursuing anyone.
- On how receptive his players have been to changing in coaching staffs: "I think they've been really receptive. I think our guys are hungry. At least I hope. When you're not going to a bowl game and you're sitting there at the bottom of the league, I think our guys were a little bit embarrassed and certainly they weren't happy because I met with all the guys in December. But how upset were they and how angry were they? I hope they are very angry and you use that anger and channel that in a positive [direction] with a chip on their shoulder to prove themselves ... I want them to be really mad. There was some of that and I think our players have a lot of pride. But we should be more upset and channel that in the right way."
- Rodriguez called some of the NCAA's non-contact rules "silly," saying that two hours a week in the month of June would be beneficial -- especially for a new coaching staff trying to learn about their players: " It's really silly. It makes no sense. I think our guys -- college athletes in particular -- are better off with more guidance and more eyes."
- The players will undergo a physical evaluation after the first practice. You'll recall that back in March, Rodriguez said his team was "weak, really weak." He'll see how much the summer conditioning has paid off: "The first practice will tell me a lot. Guys that struggle tells us they didn't do a whole lot this summer. We'll have a conditioning test at the end of the first practice. Those that worked out and are in shape shouldn't have any problems passing it. Those who didn't will have a big problem."
Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com first reported the story.
“I don’t have love for the game anymore. I told coach that, and that was it. It was something I was thinking about for a long time. That’s kind of where I’m at right now ... I think I'm done with football."
Rodriguez later confirmed Wagner's departure with a text.
"He just decided not to play football anymore.”
Wagner, a transfer from Akron who worked mostly with the first team during spring drills, was one of the nation's best tacklers last season, notching 147 stops.
As the Wildcats move to a 3-3-5 defense, they were already light at the linebacker spot. The news was compounded with the confirmation that backup linebacker David Lopez has also left the program.
Rob Hankins, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound sophomore, likely moves into a starting role -- at least for now -- alongside Jake Fischer and Hank Hobson.
Fischer, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, represents the bulk of Arizona's linebacking experience. In a Q&A a couple of weeks ago, Fischer half-heartedly joked that Arizona was thin at linebacker. It just got a lot thinner. (Billy Halleck one-liners welcomed).
Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.
Spring practice starts: March 4
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
- Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
- New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
- Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
Spring practice starts: March 13
Spring game: April 21
What to watch:
- QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
- Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
- Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
Spring practice starts: March 10
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
- Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
- Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
- Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
Spring practice starts: April 3
Spring game: May 5
What to watch:
- QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
- Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
- Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: April 14
What to watch:
- Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
- Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
- Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
Spring practice starts: March 20
Spring game: April 21
What to watch:
- Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
- Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
- Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.
Akron linebacker Brian Wagner will enroll at Arizona this week and will be immediately eligible due to an NCAA rule that allows athletes pursuing graduate degrees not offered at the former school to play right away.
Wagner, 22, averaged 13.36 tackles per game in 2011, and considering top tackler Luke Kuechly of Boston College is off to the NFL, Wagner will be the top returning tackler in FBS football.
Wagner, who earned first-team All-MAC honors, is taking advantage of the same transfer rule that was used by Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.
Why is this a big get for Arizona? Because its top two tacklers, Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, are graduating, and the Wildcats' top two returning linebackers -- sophomores Hank Hobson and Rob Hankins -- combined for four starts and 18 tackles last season, in large part due to the Wildcats using a base nickel formation much of the season. But when you toss in 2010 starter Jake Fischer, who is coming back from an ACL injury, you have four experienced guys for three spots.
And, yes, you can essentially pencil Wagner, 6-foot, 235 pounds, into the starting lineup.
From the Tucson Citizen:
He played middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at Akron. Exactly where he fits into Arizona’s scheme is to be determined, Wagner said, with the Cats presumably running a 3-3-5, no matter who coach Rich Rodriguez eventually brings in as defensive coordinator.
As for that defensive coordinator, nothing yet -- I found this to be an interesting narrative on back-and-forth with West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel. Speculation that Penn State also might be a player with Casteel raised one of my eyebrows, though Casteel's 3-3-5 doesn't sound like a Penn State defense.
Arizona lost starting cornerback Jonathan McKnight for the season after it was announced he tore his ACL during Wednesday's practice. The true sophomore, brother to former USC tailback Joe McKnight, has a redshirt year available.
That's not a total disaster because McKnight was one of three good cornerbacks, but his injury makes Shaquille Richardson and Trevin Wade the starters with little margin for error, and bumps true freshman Cortez Johnson up the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jourdon Grandon becomes the nickelback.
McKnight is the third member of the Wildcats' defense to suffer a knee injury this offseason: Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer were hurt in the spring. Hall and Fischer could return to action in October.
Up I-10 in Tempe, Arizona State also has struggled with injuries, most notably cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee.
The answer: Arizona at Arizona State on Nov. 19.
Picking an "impact game" in the South Division is nowhere near as easy as in the North Division, which features a pair of preseason top-10 teams in Oregon and Stanford.
So what are the criteria? First, you have to pick a South Division front-runner. For us, that's Arizona State. So then, who might be the Sun Devils' biggest potential foil?
Our first choice would be USC. The Trojans seem like a team that if things fall into place, they could win the division. But USC isn't eligible for the postseason, so a head-to-head defeat to the Trojans won't carry as much weight as a head-to-head loss to ... whom?
That falls to our No. 3 team in the South: Arizona. While the Wildcats are rebuilding their offensive line, have suffered a number of key offseason injuries -- notably knee injuries to safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer -- and are still waiting on the status of receiver Juron Criner, who is dealing with a non-injury medical condition that brings into question his availability this fall, they still seem like a slightly better option than Utah as potential division winner.
Why? Mostly because we don't know what we'll get with the Utes in their first year of Pac-12 play.
And the Wildcats, whatever their issues, still have a potentially high-powered offense with quarterback Nick Foles and a deep crew of receivers that could handle the loss of Criner and still be elite.
Further, there's something to be said for this being a bitter rivalry. Imagine if the division is at stake in Tempe. Or if the Wildcats have a chance to ruin the Sun Devils' special season.
That certainly would be high impact in the state, as well as the South Division.
Criner, a second-team All-American, led the Wildcats with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Arizona starts fall camp Aug. 3.
What does this mean for the Wildcats? Well, nothing yet. This is obviously a serious situation, but the endgame won't reveal itself until Criner's status is made official.
But it does force us to speculate what the Wildcats offense might be without Criner. The short answer is "probably OK."
While no team wants to lose an All-American, the Wildcats have one of the deepest and experienced crews of receivers in the conference and the nation. Sure, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Criner was the headliner, a guy who could tax a defense in a variety of ways and who always seemed to be the go-to guy when the screws tightened.
But, as we noted with our review of Pac-12 receiving corps, the Wildcats should be better than OK, even without Criner. To quote ourselves:
"David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrence Miller and Richard Morrison -- each caught between 19 and 52 passes a season ago. Oh, and there's also Texas transfer Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin. There's size, speed, depth and experience."
What this does mean is that Buckner needs to live up to the high expectations we've been hearing for months, and at least one of the speedy youngsters needs to step up as a deep threat.
Still, the Wildcats and quarterback Nick Foles will be able to line up in a four- and even five-receiver set without resorting to a scrub as the last option.
Criner made the Wildcats receivers looking like a great unit. But even -- potentially -- without him, they should be very good.
More on the Criner situation here. And here.
Of course, Wildcats fans already might be thinking about "what-might-have-been" before the 2011 season begins. Criner is potentially the third projected starter lost since the end of last season. Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer suffered knee injuries this spring, as did backup running back Greg Nwoko and backup defensive tackle Willie Mobley.
3. George Farmer, WR, USC Trojans:
If, as many Trojans insiders insist, Farmer is even more talented than his buddy Robert Woods, Matt Barkley is going to have a startling array of firepower to work with (don't forget about former blue-chip WR Kyle Prater, who redshirted in 2010). Farmer has blazing speed, and at 6-foot-2, 205 he has a very strong, sturdy frame to go with it. With him in the lineup, defenses will be seriously tested, having to cope with Farmer's speed and Woods' explosiveness at the same time.
Woods was dominant this spring, but many expect Farmer to be Woods' equal this fall. We'll see. If so, Barkley and the Trojans might not need much of a running game with their patchwork offensive line. What about the other 11 Pac-12 teams? Who is the most likely impact freshman for each? Because of our "heck yeah!" attitude, we've decided to take a stab at this query. Understand that it's not just about highly rated, it's about who might help immediately.
Arizona: The Wildcats signed three touted linebackers, but we're tapping Rob Hankins as the one who will make the most impact -- and by impact, we mean start. While Hankins is a pure inside linebacker, the Wildcats need immediate help on the outside due to Jake Fischer's knee injury.
Arizona State: With so many returning starters, the Sun Devils won't need a true freshman to start immediately. But after the knee injury to Omar Bolden, cornerback went from a position of strength to a questionable one -- at least in terms of depth. So the best guess is Rashad Wadood will get an early opportunity to work his way into the rotation.
California: The Bears reeled in an outstanding class, particularly on defense. A number of those guys are going to play. But a need area next fall for Cal is running back, where 5-foot-7, 188-pound junior Isi Sofele is atop the depth chart. So we're tapping running back Brendon Bigelow as the impact freshman, with the caveat that he is coming back from a knee injury. If not Bigelow, then perhaps it will be Daniel Lasco.
Colorado: The Buffaloes lost two starting corners to the NFL and struggled against the pass in 2010. They need help in the secondary, and Sherrard Harrington looks like the best bet, either at cornerback or perhaps at safety.
Oregon: Colt Lyerla is going to play for Oregon next fall, likely as a hybrid tight end/H-back sort. But the Ducks are solid at tight end. They need either Devon Blackmon or Tacoi Sumler to step up as an outside receiver. We're going with Sumler who has special speed and is more polished as receiver.
Oregon State: Rusty Fernando was penciled in as a starting defensive end at the beginning of spring practices, and it appears it will remain that way. But he's a junior college transfer. So, in the interest of focusing on incoming freshmen, we're going with Terron Ward, a grayshirt freshman running back who flashed ability this spring. At least one of the three true freshmen running backs figures to get touches.
Stanford: Linebacker James Vaughters is a beast. His film will give you goose bumps. He's going to play. But in terms of need, receiver is a far more questionable position for the Cardinal this fall. So watch out for Ty Montgomery.
UCLA: A lot of UCLA fans would say quarterback Brett Hundley. He finished No. 3 on the depth chart after spring practices and, while he's the quarterback of the future, it likely would be better to redshirt him, if possible. But Kevin Prince's inability to stay healthy and Richard Brehaut's inability to be consistent might make that impossible. And the Bruins recruiting class doesn't include any other obvious impact guys for this fall.
Utah: This one is easy -- running back Harvey Langi was No. 2 on the post-spring depth chart behind John White, and that competition is ongoing. Langi is going to get plenty of carries.
Washington: Another easy one -- Austin Seferian-Jenkins finished spring as a push with Michael Hartvigson as the Huskies starting tight end. Nothing suggested that he won't live up to the considerable hype he received during recruiting.
Washington State: Outside linebacker Logan Mayes has great Cougar bloodlines; he's the son of former Washington State All-American running back Rueben Mayes. He has the athletic ability and football smarts to work his way into the mix immediately, mostly likely at strong side linebacker.
Jake Fischer, who started at strongside linebacker last season, tore his ACL late in the spring game Saturday and will have surgery next week. He likely will be out six to eight months.
The Wildcats previously lost safety Adam Hall and backup tailback Greg Nwoko to knee injuries this spring.
Arizona is deeper in the secondary than at linebacker, where Fischer was one of three returning starters. Two backups from 2010, R.J. Young and Trevor Erno, quit the team. Redshirt freshman Kyle Benson is listed as Fischer's backup on the latest depth chart, while walk-on Bilal Muhammed is listed as the backup at the other two spots.
Defensive coordinator Tim Kish said last week before Fischer's injury that he expected incoming freshmen Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Domonique Petties to immediately compete for playing time. Now they figure to immediately compete to start.