Pac-12: Akeem Ayers

Indispensable player: UCLA

July, 14, 2011
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See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: UCLA

DE Datone Jones

We already know what UCLA's defense looked like without Jones -- the rotten one that stunk it up in 2010, despite two high NFL draft choices in linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore. We're not typing that it is certain that the Bruins defense would have been dramatically better last fall with Jones, but the suggestion isn't unworthy of entertaining. And, by the way, it is the position held by the Pac-12 blog. Start with this: If you can't pressure the opposing quarterback, you're in trouble, and the Bruins had just 25 sacks last season. Jones during 2010 spring practices -- and again this past spring -- looked like a guy who could get 10-plus sacks himself.

Of course, some defenses are good even without a lot of sacks because they stuff the run -- Arizona State last season, for example -- but the Bruins were equally inept at that, ranking ninth in the conference -- and 108th in the nation -- in run defense. Jones, at 272 pounds, is big enough to hold up against the run. That combination of skills is why Jones is firmly on the NFL radar and may not be back in 2012. As a true sophomore in 2009, he had four sacks and 11 tackles for a loss, and his breakout in 2010 seemed like a near-certainty before his injury.

Further, when you look at the Bruins depth chart, you don't see many players who stand out as much as Jones in his position group. Johnathan Franklin is a 1,000-yard rusher, but the Bruins are deep at tailback. Tony Dye is a fine safety, but the Bruins have lots of young talent there. Center Kai Maiava was considered, but that was more about a lack of depth on the line. The Bruins actually are solid on the defensive line, and there's good talent at end. But Jones is a difference-maker, perhaps more so than any other player on the team. If he stays healthy, expect him to make a big difference on a unit that should be much better this fall.

Hope & concern: UCLA

May, 19, 2011
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Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up: UCLA

Biggest reason for hope: The defense is going to be sneaky good.

The Bruins' defense lost two elite players to the NFL draft -- outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and safety Rahim Moore -- and the unit was mediocre to bad in 2010, which provided a push out the door for coordinator Chuck Bullough. So what suggests improvement in 2011? Well, for one, the Bruins have a potential All-Pac-12 end in Datone Jones, who was expected to be a dominant presence last fall until he broke his foot. Further, a number of young defensive linemen looked like they were growing up this spring, while some older players seemed to find their rhythm. End result: It looks like UCLA will be able to throw seven or eight D-linemen at opposing offenses, which is a good start. There's also intriguing talent at both linebacker (not a ton of depth, though) and in the secondary (far more at safety, though), with those levels led by middle linebacker Patrick Larimore and safety Tony Dye. Further, new coordinator Joe Tresey runs an aggressive attacking scheme that is probably going to be easier on the athletic, young talent that isn't salty with experience. Is this unit going to transform into the conference's top defense in 2011? Probably not. But it will be good enough to keep the Bruins in a handful of games even when the offense struggles.

Biggest reason for concern: No idea who the quarterback will be. And whether he'll stay safe.

It's not good to have nagging questions at quarterback. It's even worse to have nagging questions at both QB and offensive line, which is what the Bruins have. Whether some Bruins fans want to admit it or not, UCLA's best chance to win next fall is a healthy Kevin Prince, who was a capable passer in 2009 and did a solid job running the new pistol option game in 2010 -- recall the effort in the win over Texas -- before he got hurt. Now hear this: Prince with 12 regular-season starts would lead the Bruins to a bowl game. That happening also probably requires the offensive line playing better than expected, because only a healthy Prince is going to produce every Saturday. And there is hope on the offensive line. If the Bruins trot out their best five guys, the line will be at least average. These are, of course, two big "ifs."

Spring wrap: UCLA

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
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UCLA

2010 Overall record: 4-8

2010 conference record: 2-7

Returning starters

Offense: 7, Defense: 8, punter/kicker: punter

Top returners

RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Nelson Rosario, SS Tony Dye, LB Patrick Larimore

Key losses

C Ryan Taylor, DT David Carter, OLB Akeem Ayers, FS Rahim Moore, K Kai Forbath

2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Johnathan Franklin* (1,127)

Passing: Richard Brehaut* (1,296)

Receiving: Taylor Embree* (409)

Tackles: Tony Dye* (96)

Sacks: Akeem Ayers, Sean Westgate* (4)

Interceptions: Aaron Hester* (3)

Spring answers

1. The defense looks solid, particularly the line: The big story was the successful return of end Datone Jones, who missed all of last season due to a broken foot, but he wasn't the only impressive player up-front this spring. Bruins line could go 10 deep. There's a nice mix of size, speed, youth and experience. There's good depth at safety and linebacker, too.

2. Run the ball: If the line can open holes up front, there are plenty of guys who can run through said hole. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards last fall and did a good job of holding onto the football this spring, which hasn't always been the case. Redshirt freshman Jordon James turned in a strong spring and may have moved up the pecking order. Derrick Coleman has experience and Malcolm Jones is talented.

3. Dump it to the TE: There's good depth at tight end with Cory Harkey, Joseph Fauria and Morrell Presley, who has moved from F-back to tight end. Harkey is the best blocker of the bunch, but Fauria is the best receiver. Presley has a lot of talent but he and Harkey suffered fits of the dropsies last fall.

Fall questions

1. Who's the QB? The hope was true freshman Brett Hundley would be a revelation this spring as a dual-threat QB and that the long-term issues at the position would be immediately solved. Didn't happen, and wasn't realistic to think it would. The competition will begin anew when Kevin Prince, who missed spring after knee surgery, returns to battle Hundley and Richard Brehaut in the fall.

2. O-line woes: The Bruins offensive line struggled during the spring, in large part due to injuries. While center Kai Maiava and guard/tackle Sean Sheller are expected to be OK in the fall, it's uncertain when Jeff Baca will be back from a broken ankle. He may be the Bruins best lineman. While Brett Downey, Connor Bradford and Greg Capella each had some nice moments, the depth is far from certain.

3. Where do you go for kicks? The Bruins offense should be better but it's unlikely to transform into a high-flying, high-scoring unit in one year. That means it needs to get points when it can, and often that means making field goals. In recent years, that meant Kai Forbath, who was mostly automatic, but he's off to the NFL. Kip Smith is next in line, but will be be able to fill Forbath's shoes?

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
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The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

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:

First round
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

Second round
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

Third round
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

Fourth round
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

Fifth round
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

Sixth round
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

Seventh round
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 (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

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:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Updating Pac-12 in NFL draft

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
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Here's where things stand for the Pac-12 through three rounds of the NFL draft.

First round
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

Second round
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

Third round
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, Stanforrd: Carolina

Through three rounds by conference (with Nebraska in the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12):

SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Note: The old Pac-10 has 13 without two first-round picks from Colorado. Big Ten has 12 without Nebraska. Big 12 has 12 if Colorado and Nebraska are included.

A Pac-12 review of NFL draft's first round

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
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Five Pac-12 players were picked in the first round, with Jake Locker going higher than some projected and Cameron Jordan going lower.

Here's the draft order:

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

Here's analysis by Mel Kiper. And here's more on the first round.

Kiper also projects the second round, which starts Friday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN (3 p.m. PT).

Kiper has Arizona DE Brooks Reed going first in the second round -- 33rd overall -- to New England. Other Pac-12 players in his second round: UCLA safety Rahim Moore to Houston at No. 42, Oregon State DT Stephen Paea to Oakland at No. 48 and Utah CB Brandon Burton to Philadelphia at No. 54.

Who is missing? Well what about UCLA LB Akeem Ayers, who was once considered a sure first-round pick.

Todd McShay also projects the second round, and he has Reed going first and Ayers going second, to the Buffalo Bills.

The rest of McShay's second round: Paea to Denver at No. 36, Moore to Minnesota at No. 43, Washington LB Mason Foster to Denver at 46 and USC DT Jurrell Casey to Seattle at No. 57.

Some draft links:

Locker 12th pick in Kiper's final mock

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has released his final mock draft, and it's a bit different than his final 'Big Board," in large part because former Washington quarterback jumps from 25th on the Big Board to 12th in the mock draft.

Here's how Kiper rates Pac-12 players on draft day.

No. 8 Cameron Jordan, DE, California (Dallas)

No. 12 Jake Locker, QB, Washington (Minnesota)

No. 13 Tyron Smith, OT, USC (Detroit)

No. 22 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado (Indianapolis)

No. 23 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (Philadelphia)

No. 26. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA (St. Louis)

We shall see. Round one is today, starting at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.

Some Pac-12 draft notes, Part 2

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
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ESPN draft guru Todd McShay took a measure of specific qualities of defensive players expected to be selected in this week's NFL draft, which starts Thursday, and a number of Pac-12 players fall into interesting spots.

Here are some notes.

Defensive line
Defensive ends
McShay ranks Arizona's Brooks Reed No. 2 in pass-rush skills among all defensive ends and No. 3 in instincts/motor.

He ranks Cameron Jordan No. 2 versus the run and No. 2 in versatility.

He ranks Jordan No. 3 overall among defensive linemen and Reed 11th.

Defensive tackles
McShay ranks Oregon State's Stephen Paea No. 2 in toughness/motor.

He ranks Paea 17th overall among defensive linemen. He also has USC's Jurrell Casey at 19th.

Linebackers
McShay ranks Oregon's Casey Matthews No. 2 in instincts/recognition among inside linebackers.

He ranks Washington's Mason Foster No. 1 in range versus the run among inside linebackers.

He ranks UCLA's Akeem Ayers No. 2 in third-down capabilities among outside linebackers.

McShay ranks Ayers No. 2 overall among the linebackers. Foster is No. 4 and Matthews is 13th.

Defensive backs
McShay ranks UCLA's Rahim Moore No. 2 in instincts/recognition and No. 1 in cover skills and ball skills among safeties.

He ranks Colorado's Jimmy Smith No. 1 in cover skills and No. 2 in run support among cornerbacks.

McShay ranks Smith No. 3 overall among defensive backs. He ranks Moore seventh. Utah cornerback Brandon Burton is 13th and USC cornerback Shareece Wright is 14th. Colorado's other cornerback, Jalil Brown, is 17th.

New Pac-12 draft projections

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
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ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have posted new mock drafts that include the first three rounds.

You can see Kiper's here Insider and McShay's here Insider.

Here are the Pac-12 players in Kiper's draft (he has the conference being shut out in the third round).

Round one
9. OT Tyron Smith, USC: Dallas
17. DE Cameron Jordan, California: New England
21. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Kansas City
25. QB Jake Locker, Washington: Seattle
26. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado: Baltimore
29. OT Nate Solder, Colorado: Chicago

Round 2
36. FS Rahim Moore, UCLA: Denver
38. DE Brooks Reed, Arizona: Arizona
43. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Minnesota
54. CB Brandon Burton, Utah: Philadelphia

And here are the conference players in McShay's draft.

Round one
9. OT Tyron Smith, USC: Dallas
12. DE Cameron Jordan, California: Minnesota
22. OT Nate Solder, Colorado: Indianapolis
25. QB Jake Locker, Washington: Seattle
27. DE Brooks Reed, Arizona, Atlanta

Second round
37. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Cleveland
38. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Arizona
46. FS Rahim Moore, UCLA: Denver
48. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado: Oakland
49. LB Mason Foster, Washington: Jacksonville
56. DT Jurrell Casey, USC: New Orleans

Third rond
84. RB Shane Vereen, California: Tampa Bay

Some interesting differences and similarity, including both having Tyron Smith going to Dallas at No. 9 overall Jake Locker going to the hometown Seahawks at No. 25.

Jimmy Smith lasting to the 48th pick in McShay's draft surprises me. McShay also has Mason Foster and Jurrell Casey going in the second round, while Kiper doesn't even have them picked at the end of his third round.

We shall see.

Who's back from the top 25?

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
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This will be my final post on our 2010 top 25 players rankings. It's also a line between looking back at the Pac-10 and looking forward to the Pac-12.

This post projects ahead: These players are the leading candidates for a preseason top 25.

First, here's who's back in 2011 -- 11 players -- from our top-25.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
4. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
13. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington

And here's who's back -- nine players -- from our "left-out list."

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
John Boyett, FS, Oregon
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Delano Howell, SS, Stanford

So that's 20 front-runners for the next list we'll put together this summer. Also, don't forget that competition will be more intense with the inclusion of Utah and Colorado for the next list.

Or will the Utes and/or Buffaloes get shutout? Neither welcomes back a first-team all-conference player from the Mountain West or Big 12, respectively (Colorado doesn't have a second-team player coming back, either).

Should be pretty interesting.

Who just missed the top-25? And why

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
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Welcome to the "How the heck could you be so stupid, Pac-12 blog!" post.

Our ranking of the top-25 Pac-10 -- not Pac-12 yet -- players is over. Here is our final tally.

Sure each of you has some sort of gripe with the list, and I would hope you would. The cool kids hang out here, and cool kids don't agree on everything because then they wouldn't be cool.

The most popular harrumph was the omission of Stanford's two-way player, Owen Marecic. I completely understand that. I likely would have ranked him 26th, but even then I would have paused. I will tell you why in a moment.

The angry mobilization by typically "read but don't comment" Stanford fans was great, though. I anticipated both the irritation with Marecic's absence and the general frustration with the lack of Stanford players on the list. Both reactions were perfectly reasonable, and the zealousness was fun. There were plenty of "What about Stanford?" moments for me while I toiled over the final list.

So now I will take on the unenviable task of briefly explaining why players didn't make the list. I'm guessing I will want to take a shower afterwards because the "left-out list" includes many outstanding players, many of whom will be high draft choices this year and in years to come.

But Marecic gets special treatment; he goes first. Here's my reasoning.

Yes, Marecic is a great story. Two-way player. Good on both sides of the ball. Tough guy. Quiet. Cool hair. Cult hero. Really, really smart. Tenth in the Heisman Trophy vote. Jim Harbaugh struggled each week to top the previous week's praise of a guy he repeatedly called "his favorite player."

But here's the problem: 1. He was the second best fullback in the conference (USC's Stanley Havili was the best; he didn't make the list); 2. He was Stanford's fourth-best linebacker -- see the numbers here.

And then he had the Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas, Sione Fua, Delano Howell, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro problem. If you were picking a team for a high-stakes game, you'd pick those guys -- all Cardinal teammates -- before Marecic. And none of those guys made the list.

Yes, you would. Trust me. If, say, you were playing for $10 million, you'd pick one of them. Why? Because a good fullback and solid-to-middling linebacker isn't as valuable as an outstanding one-way player.

Nor would you pick Marecic over Shane Vereen, No. 25 on our list. Before you scream at your computer screen, let your mind drift back to this unhappy memory, Stanford fans.

Now, Stanford fans, take heart. This summer, we will begin an top-25 preseason list, and at this point you figure to get as many as six guys on that list, including No. 1 overall.

Also, it might help to look at the list below. Not exactly chopped liver.

This list is roughly in the order of consideration.

Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: He's a cool dude. He's going to be off the NFL draft board before the end of the second round. But he didn't put up great numbers for a bad defense.
Brandon Bair, DT, Oregon: Bair's production went down over the second half of the season. He got beaten up a bit, and offensive coordinators starting paying him more attention. Further, I was already uncomfortable with seven players from one team on the list.
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford: Love his game. Got better as year went on. Just missed the cut. He, Vontaze Burfict and Mychal Kendricks are your first-team All-Pac-12 LBs in 2011.
Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: 21.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including a conference-leading 11 in 2010. But Brooks Reed was a better player, and Elmore had a couple of off games. At one point, he was fighting to retain his starting job over D'Aundre Reed.
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: A close second to Skov as the most productive player on the Stanford defense.
Sione Fua, NT, Stanford: Fua might have been the conference's most underrated player. So why stop now?
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: 15 tackles for a loss. Highly productive. Highly talented. But he didn't fully arrive in 2010.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington: He may still end up a first-round draft choice but his numbers just weren't good enough this fall.
John Boyett, FS, Oregon: Got caught in the shuffle of Ducks. Further, the coaches didn't pick him first- or second-team All-Pac-10, rating him behind Cal's Chris Conte, UCLA's Rahim Moore, USC's T.J. McDonald and Washington's Nate Williams, none of whom made the top-25.
Mike Mohamed, LB, California: A very good player who perhaps slipped a little in 2010.
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: The top-25 was hard on O-linemen.
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: See above.
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: No true freshman made the list, not Wilson, not USC's Robert Woods. But Coug fans: You will have your first top-25 player this preseason. Maybe more than one.
Colin Baxter, C, Arizona: Baxter dropped because the Wildcats offensive line underachieved.
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: A good QB. Folks will see that this year. Still, only ranked sixth in the conference in passing efficiency.
Chris Conte, S, California: First-team All-Pac-10. Safeties didn't fare well on the list.
Delano Howell, SS, Stanford: Second-team All-Pac-10. See above.
Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: A solid tackle who was eclipsed by better players.

Some notes & thoughts on top-25

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
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Our countdown of the Pac-10's top-25 players is over, and the chief result is annoying Stanford fans, particularly those of FB-LB Owen Marecic.

Their gripe is legit. Not including Marecic kept me up at night -- really -- but this wasn't a list of my favorite players.

On Tuesday, we will look at the players who just missed the cut, which includes Marecic and a significant group of Stanford teammates. It's a long list -- nearly as long as the top-25 -- with a lot of good players. It was easier when I did my first iteration of this list in 2009, which included 30 players.

A lot of Oregon fans disagree with me -- and with Chip Kelly and Nick Aliotti and the Pac-10 coaches who vote for the All-Pac-10 team -- and rank Cliff Harris ahead of Talmadge Jackson. Certainly their right. Not sure Ducks fans have much to gripe about with this list, though, considering there are seven Ducks on it and no other team has more than three.

Feel free to make your own lists. The most difficult part, you'll find, is when you come up with 25 names and then go, "Oh, crud, forgot about X! Can't leave him off!" And then you have to knock someone off your list.

And the next list -- preseason -- will be tougher because it will including Colorado and Utah.

Couple of notes.

Here are the top-25 players by team. The bolded names return in 2011.

Arizona
6. Juron Criner
15. Brooks Reed
18. Nick Foles

Arizona State
11. Omar Bolden
13. Vontaze Burfict


California
8. Cameron Jordan
25. Shane Vereen

Oregon
2. LaMichael James
4. Darron Thomas
12. Jeff Maehl
17. Kenny Rowe
19. Casey Matthews
20. Talmadge Jackson
22. Cliff Harris

Oregon State
3. Stephen Paea
9. Jacquizz Rodgers

Stanford
1. Andrew Luck
10. Chase Beeler

UCLA
21. Akeem Ayers

USC
14. Matt Barkley
16. Tyron Smith
24. Jurrell Casey

Washington
4. Mason Foster
7. Chris Polk
23. Jermaine Kearse


Washington State
None

And here are the players who made the preseason list but didn't make this list. Some tough cuts here.

No. 2. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
No. 6. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
No. 7. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
No. 10. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona
No. 12. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona
No. 18: Colin Baxter, C, Arizona
No. 20. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State
No. 22. Owen Marecic, LB/FB, Stanford
No. 23. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC
No. 25 Kai Forbath, K, UCLA

Pac-10 top 25 from 2010: No. 1

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
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We conclude our countdown of the Pac-10's 25 best players from 2010.

Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.

Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyAndrew Luck led Stanford to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl win.
No. 1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

2010 numbers: Luck ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 70.7 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 453 yards and three scores.

Preseason ranking: No. 4

Making the case for Luck: Well, the NFL's case would be picking Luck first overall in the draft this spring, but Luck thumbed his nose at expectation and said he wanted to get his Stanford degree and opted to return for his redshirt junior season. But this ranking isn't about NFL projections or that Luck embodies everything you'd want a student-athlete to be. He's not No. 1 because we like him. And he's not even No. 1 because if you asked any college coach in the nation who'd he picked first heading into the 2011 season, he'd take Luck and not even think about it for a moment. Luck, the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up, put up huge numbers last fall and led the Cardinal to its best season in the modern era. Stanford finished with a 12-1 record and a dominant Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, in which Luck threw four touchdown passes and earned MVP honors. Luck had two mediocre games last season: He threw two interceptions in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Oregon. But over the final eight games he threw 19 touchdown passes and just four picks. And 71 percent completion rate is just sick, particularly when you consider he was throwing to just an average corps of receivers.

No. 2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
No. 3. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
No. 4 Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
No. 5. Mason Foster, LB, Washington
No. 6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
No. 7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
No. 8. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
No. 9. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
No. 10. Chase Beeler, C, Stanford
No. 11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
No. 12. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon
No. 13 Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
No. 14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
No. 16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
No. 17. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
No. 18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California

Pac-10 top 25 from 2010: No. 2

March, 18, 2011
3/18/11
9:00
AM ET
We continue our countdown of the Pac-10's 25 best players from 2010.

Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.

Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Rick BowmerLaMichael James is an early Heisman Trophy candidate for the coming season.
No. 2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

2010 numbers: James led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing -- 144.25 yards per game -- and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.89 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three TDs.

Preseason ranking: No. 3

Making the case for James: For starters, he's Oregon’s first unanimous All-American. And he won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. And he was a Heisman Trophy finalist. It's really, really hard to rank him No. 2, but, well, you all know who's next. In a list of the nation's top players, James would have been top-five (Auburn's Cam Newton and Nick Fairley are the only obvious choices ahead of him in addition to that other guy). He's set Ducks freshman and sophomore records for rushing and is on the short list of Heisman Trophy candidates as a junior next fall. By the way, he also was first-team All-Pac-10 -- academic, that is.

No. 3. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
No. 4 Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
No. 5. Mason Foster, LB, Washington
No. 6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
No. 7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
No. 8. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
No. 9. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
No. 10. Chase Beeler, C, Stanford
No. 11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
No. 12. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon
No. 13 Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
No. 14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
No. 16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
No. 17. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
No. 18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California

Pac-10 top 25 from 2010: No. 3

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
9:00
AM ET
We continue our countdown of the Pac-10's 25 best players from 2010.

Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.

Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).

Stephen Paea
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireStephen Paea was the Pac-10's best defensive player last season.
No. 3. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

2010 numbers: Paea had 45 total tackles, including 10 for a loss with six sacks. He also forced four fumbles and had two pass breakups.

Preseason ranking: No. 5

Making the case for Paea: It's been interesting to read some of the comments on Paea, questioning where he would be on this list. My response: really? Paea was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and won the Morris Trophy for a second consecutive year, a honor which is voted on by opposing offensive linemen. So for those of you who question Paea at No. 3, take your case to your local 300-pounder who tried to block him.

A two-time, first-team All-Pac-10 selection, he also was a first-team All-American as selected by The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. After setting a bench press record at the NFL combine, he might even end up getting picked in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. Paea, who only took up football when he was 17-years-old, made at least one tackle-for-loss in 12 of the past 18 games. His 14 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss -- accumulated over three seasons as a junior college transfer -- rank eighth on the school's all-time list. He's also the school record holder for forced fumbles with nine, including matching a school record with four this season.

Simply, Paea was the best defensive player in the Pac-10 last year as voted on by the coaches and the people who were charged with slowing him down.

No. 4 Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
No. 5. Mason Foster, LB, Washington
No. 6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
No. 7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
No. 8. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
No. 9. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
No. 10. Chase Beeler, C, Stanford
No. 11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
No. 12. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon
No. 13 Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
No. 14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
No. 16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
No. 17. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
No. 18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California

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