Pac-12: Alex Fletcher

Gerhart may get guerrilla Heisman campaign

October, 6, 2009
10/06/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


A little bird called Monday and told the Pac-10 blog that a handful of influential Stanford donors think that Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart should be rising on the Heisman Trophy charts.
Phil Carter/US Presswire
Toby Gerhart has 650 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

Moreover, they're apparently willing to put some resources into a privately organized and funded campaign -- obviously, as long as the program and athletic department are on board.

One idea the group apparently is keen on: A New York City billboard, not unlike former Oregon QB Joey Harrington's deal in 2001.

OK. It wasn't a bird that called. Cardinal is a color for one. And it was a fairly big Cardinal -- former team captain and center Alex Fletcher.

Fletcher missed out an NFL career because of a kidney condition, but Stanford graduates tend to land on their feet. He works for Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in Manhattan.

These are not great financial times at Stanford, so it's unlikely the athletic department would use a lot of funds to support a dark-horse Heisman campaign, which could go off the tracks if the 4-1 Cardinal lose a couple of games.

Gerhart ranks fourth in the nation in rushing with 130 yards per game and has scored eight touchdowns. That he also plays baseball and is a major league prospect adds depth to his story.

And he's jumped into seventh place on the ESPN.com's Heisman Watch.

The big hurdle is the late schedule. Stanford's final four games are Oregon, at USC, California and Notre Dame.

But just imagine if Gerhart rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a season-ending victory over the Fighting Irish, which boosts the Cardinal to 9-3 on the season, and Gerhart finishes with 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns.

That might be enough to get him an invitation to New York to at least see his own billboard.

Pac-10 lunch links: Stanford spurned in favor of Alabama

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A ranking of the top-five shows on Noggin according to my six-month-old and his caddy (me): 1. Yo Gabba Gabba: Strange stuff, but Jack Black's guest appearance was priceless; 2. The Backyardigans: I just hope Pablo, the blue bird, doesn't try to negotiate one of those "first among equals" contracts; 3. Maggie and the Ferocious Beast: I laugh every time I see the Ferocious Beast; 4. Go, Diego, Go!: Diego nips his cousin, Dora the Explorer, because Rosie Perez does the voice of "Click the Camera", which always reminds me of her run on Jeopardy in "White Men Can't Jump"; 5. Dora the Explorer: I've got one thing to say: "Swiper, no swiping!"

  • San Jose State drops Stanford for a 2010 game at Alabama. Yep. It's about money. 
  • Arizona State has a commitment from a speedy linebacker.
  • Here's a look at Minnesota's new stadium, where California will face a tricky nonconference road game.
  • Oregon has lost a receiver recruit to pro baseball.
  • Oregon State season ticket sales are down, which figures to be the story throughout the conference.
  • Former Stanford center Alex Fletcher's NFL career is over due to a kidney problem. That's too bad. Hope everything works out, Alex. Guessing that Stanford degree will come in handy.
  • UCLA lost a D-line recruit this week, but it appears they will get an O-lineman into school.
  • USC loses one of its greats from the 1950s.
  • Checking in with the Dawgfather.
  • Billy Cannon might have some advice for Ryan Leaf, who's in big trouble. It's a John McGrath column so you know it's good.

Stanford spring football wrap-up

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
9:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Stanford Cardinal
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Toby Gerhart, OT Chris Marinelli, FB-LB Owen Marecic, DE Tom Keiser, FS Bo McNally, NT Ekom Udofia

Key losses

C Alex Fletcher, OT Ben Muth, DE Pannel Egboh, LB Pat Maynor, CB Wopamo Osaisai

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Toby Gerhert* (1,136)
Passing: Tavita Pritchard* (1,633)
Receiving: Ryan Whalen* (508)
Tackles: Bo McNally* (76)
Sacks: Tom Keiser* (6)
Interceptions: Bo McNally (4)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sep. 5 at Washington State
Sep. 12 at Wake Forest
Sep. 19 San Jose State
Sep. 26 Washington
Oct. 3 UCLA
Oct. 10 at Oregon State
Oct. 17 at Arizona
Oct. 24 Arizona State
Nov. 7 Oregon
Nov. 14 at USC
Nov. 21 California
Nov. 28 Notre Dame

1. Luck of the Cardinal: While coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't say after spring practices ended that Andrew Luck will be Stanford's starting quarterback at Washington State on Sept. 5, all signs point to the talented redshirt freshman besting 19-game starter Tavita Pritchard in their competition. Luck was brilliant in the spring game and barring any dramatic fall-off -- or injury -- he'll be the guy running the Cardinal offense.

2. Two-way can work: Players like Owen Marecic (fullback and middle linebacker), Michael Thomas (cornerback and receiver), Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver) and Alex Debniak (linebacker and running back) -- among others, potentially -- likely will see playing time on both sides of the ball. That's one way to address depth issues and to get the best athletes on the field as much as possible.

3. Howell shores up secondary: Sophomore Delano Howell was switched from running back to strong safety to give the secondary some much-needed athleticism, and the move was widely viewed as a success as Howell proved himself a physical player as well as a guy who can move. He almost immediately ascended to the first-team defense.

Fall questions

1. Can they run? Last year, Stanford became one of the Pac-10's most physical running teams with a tough-guy offensive line and 237-pound running back Tony Gerhart. But Gerhart might sign a pro baseball contract and two key starters are gone from that line. The depth behind Gerhart is questionable, and the line took a hit when talented but star-crossed offensive tackle Allen Smith re-injured the knee that kept him out in 2008.

2. Can they run II? For Stanford to push into the top half of the conference, it's got to get faster across the board, but particularly in the secondary and at receiver. The need for speed inspired some of the spring position changes, and the touted incoming freshmen should inject some speed. But will it be enough...

3. ...To end the eight-year itch? Stanford hasn't been to a bowl game since 2001, when Tyrone Willingham was the coach many moons ago. But with 17 starters back from a team that finished 5-7 and lost three games by a touchdown or less, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Of course, such a breakthrough might renew talk about Harbaugh becoming a hot head-coaching candidate.

A couple more free-agent signings

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
12:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Some more free-agent signings:

California
QB Nate Longshore, invited to Miami Dolphins minicamp
LS Nick Sunberg, Carolina Panthers

Stanford
DE Pannel Egboh, San Francisco 49ers
CB Wopamo Osaisai, San Diego Chargers
C Alex Fletcher, New Orleans Saints
RB Anthony Kimble, Miami Dolphins
OL Ben Muth, San Diego Chargers

Pac-10 regular-season wrap

December, 10, 2008
12/10/08
10:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

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

The top-four teams in the Pac-10, however, went 1-1 vs. the MWC, the loss being the Beavers' down-to-the-wire, 31-28 defeat at No. 6 Utah, one of four nonconference foes playing in BCS bowl games.

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

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

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

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

Not too shabby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-10 internal affairs: 3-4 defense, Riley's mobility help Cal

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
10:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Masoli won't run wild vs. California's 3-4 defense: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has rushed for 255 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the Ducks' last two games, both victories. He's only passed for 189 yards in those games. He's been effective because defenses haven't been accounting for him as a runner -- or at least the accounting has been ineffective. But Masoli's ability to run out of the spread-option is no longer a surprise wrinkle. Moreover, California's 3-4 defense is better cut out for spying on the ball misdirection Masoli uses to lure defenders out of their assignments. The Bears' four linebackers are athletic and experienced, and Oregon's offensive line, though a veteran group, likely will need some time to figure out blocking a scheme they haven't faced this season. Masoli's passing has been hot and cold this year, but he may need to be hot against Cal for the Ducks to win.

It's easy to run on Washington State; Stanford should pass: Talk about tempting. Stanford owns the most physical running game in the Pac-10 with an outstanding offensive line led by center Alex Fetcher and tailback Toby Gerhart. And Washington State offers the 118th-ranked run defense in the land, which surrenders an eye-popping 266.3 yards per game. Stanford could run every play and win going away. But Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard needs to regain his confidence and rhythm. He was out of sorts in the loss to UCLA two weeks ago, completing just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Stanford is going to win this game and improve to 5-4. But finding a sixth win and earning bowl eligibility is the ultimate goal. That's going to require a passing game, considering the ruggedness of the upcoming schedule: at Oregon, USC, at Cal. So Stanford should force itself to showcase a balanced attack because that's what it will need to get to a bowl game.

Mark Sanchez, Washington's pass defense is like a magical pill for struggling quarterbacks: While the dominance of USC's defense should have been the main story coming out of the Trojans' 17-10 win at Arizona, more than a few folks focused on the continuing inconsistency of quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez completed 21 of 36 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown, interception and costly fumble on the USC 15-yard line and he was off-target most of the night. But Pac-10 schedulers have a gift for him waiting in the LA Coliseum: The milquetoast that is the softest pass defense in all the BCS conferences. Sanchez and his receivers should absolutely feast on Washington, which allows opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes, yields 10 yards per completion and has surrendered 19 touchdown passes. The Huskies have grabbed just three interceptions and recorded five sacks. In other words, a day of target practice with little to no resistance should restore Sanchez's rhythm.

It's shocking to say but Oregon State has the advantage at quarterback: That can't possibly be true, right? Arizona State boasts Rudy Carpenter, who's climbed high on the Pac-10 passing charts and will be making his 39th consecutive start. But Carpenter hasn't been the same since he sprained his ankle. He ranks fourth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency -- one spot below Beavers quarterback Lyle Moevao, whose 13 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions bests Carpenter's 9 and 7. Carpenter was the decided difference in the Sun Devils' comeback from a 19-0 deficit for a 44-32 win against Oregon State last year. While Carpenter passed for 361 yards with four touchdowns -- including scoring tosses of 64, 43 and 48 yards -- then-Beavers starting quarterback Sean Canfield hurled five interceptions. Carpenter now faces one of the Pac-10's best secondaries and aggressive pass rushes without the benefit of a quiet home crowd facilitating his line of scrimmage audibles. And the Sun Devils' offensive line and running game? Never mind. Advantage Moevao.

Cal quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will be critical vs. Oregon's aggressive pass rush: Bears quarterback Nate Longshore played one of his best games in Cal's classic 31-24 win at Oregon a year ago, throwing for 285 yards and two touchdowns. But the Bears' offensive line isn't as good this year and the Ducks' pass rush is even better. That's why it should be a significant benefit having the far more athletic Riley under center. Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.5 sacks per game, and ends Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu rank one-two in the conference with eight and six sacks. Meanwhile, the Cal line is beaten up, likely down three starters and a reserve on Saturday. That suggests the Cal quarterback will need to be on the move a lot, and Riley is far better at moving than the slow-footed Longshore.

Pac-10 lunch links: Masoli is the man for Oregon

October, 27, 2008
10/27/08
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting linky with it.

  • Enough about USC's defense... what about the job Arizona's defense did against the Trojans? But the physical game means it's a good week for a bye.
  • Considering the two state of Arizona athletic programs: Things are changing. Which is the football school? Which is the basketball school? It's all very confusing.
  • Headed to Oregon State, Arizona State is on the verge of its first six-game losing streak since 1929. Maybe a new punter will help.
  • A three-TD win over UCLA didn't answer all California's questions with Oregon coming to town, and there are more injury issues on the offensive line.
  • Jeremiah Masoli has earned the starting quarterback job for Oregon.
  • Oregon State probably used its off-week to shore things up in the secondary, which was spotty against Washington.
  • Good story on Stanford center Alex Fletcher, who's the leader of the Pac-10's most physical offensive line.
  • UCLA needs a spark on offense: Is a quarterback change the answer? Maybe.
  • USC needs a lot of things to go its way to get back into the BCS title game.
  • No news out of the Washington football office as of yet but any remaining mystery about coach Tyrone Willingham's possible survival is gone.
  • Washington State coach Paul Wulff has a plan.

Center of attention

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
5:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 is popularly known as the "Conference of Quarterbacks." This year, that's been changed to "The Conference of Injured Quarterbacks."

But one position has shone in this offensive-minded league that isn't terribly offensive-minded this year.

Center.

It's possible the All-Pac-10 First-Team will feature three and maybe four centers.

Seven conference centers are on the 44-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy.

Most folks know about California's Alex Mack and Oregon's Max Unger. Both are All-American candidates -- Phil Steele made both Second-Team Midseason All-Americans -- and are likely first-day picks in the NFL draft this spring. Mack may even go in the first round.

But I'm not sure that either of them is playing any better than Stanford's Alex Fletcher, who's the unquestioned leader of the Cardinal line, which is the conference's best run-blocking unit.

And USC sophomore Kristofer O'Dowd is a future All-American who will be hard to keep off the All-Conference team.

Toss in Washington's Juan Garcia, who was second-team All-Pac-10 last year, and Arizona's Blake Kerley, who was knocked out for the year in game four because of a knee injury, and Washington State's Kenny Alfred, who's having a good season on a terrible team, and you've got extraordinary depth at one position.

Too bad "Conference of Centers" isn't very catchy.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 8

October, 17, 2008
10/17/08
9:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.

2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?

4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.

5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.

6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.

7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.

8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.

9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.

10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.

On Stage: Stanford's Jim Harbaugh

July, 24, 2008
7/24/08
1:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh weighs in from Pac-10 media day:

On DE Pannel Egboh:

"I barely even recognized him this summer. He's gotten bigger."

The quarterback competition between Tavita Pritchard, Alex Loukas and Jason Forcier:

"Our football team is blessed with three QBs who we think we can win with...It will be a QB competition in the truest sense of the word... I wish we had it at every position."

On injured TE Jim Dray:

"He is ahead of schedule to return to action on Sept. 1."

On injured OT Allen Smith:

"There's a chance he will play this year and there's a chance he will not play this year." [Said Ben Muth would start in Smith's place at tackle.]

What you might, might not hear at Pac-10 Media Day

July, 24, 2008
7/24/08
10:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

As previously posted, here's the schedule today:

9:35 a.m. -- Tyrone Willingham/QB Jake Locker -- Washington
9:50 a.m. -- Jim Harbaugh/C Alex Fletcher -- Stanford
10:05 a.m. -- Paul Wulff/FL Brandon Gibson -- Washington State
10:20 am -- Jeff Tedford/C Alex Mack -- California
10:35 a.m. -- Mike Stoops/QB Willie Tuitama -- Arizona
10:50 a.m. -- Mike Bellotti/ROV Patrick Chung -- Oregon
11:05 a.m. -- Break
11:15 a.m. -- Rick Neuheisel/DT Brigham Harwell -- UCLA
11:30 a.m. -- Mike Riley/CB Brandon Hughes -- Oregon State
11:45 a.m. -- Dennis Erickson/QB Rudy Carpenter -- Arizona State
Noon -- Pete Carroll/SLB Brian Cushing -- USC

I'm going to try to update the blog after every coach, but that might be a bit ambitious.

Here are some of the BIG questions for each team.

  • Washington: 1. Pressure with win-now season?; 2. How's C Juan Garcia's foot?; 3. Will QB Jake Locker be used as much as a runner this season?; 4. Who's going to step up on a rebuilding defense?
  • Stanford: 1. Will injured OT Allen Smith and TE Jim Dray play this season?; 2. Who's your QB?
  • Washington State: 1. What's the status of troubled DL Andy Roof?; 2. Is QB Gary Rogers a good fit for your no-huddle, spread offense?
  • California: 1. Who's your QB, Nate Longshore or Kevin Riley?; 2. What's your feeling on the Tree Sitters?; 3. Why did everything fall apart so badly over the second half of last season?
  • Arizona: 1. Pressure with a win-now season?; 2. What's DE Johnathan Turner's status?; 3. Who's going to step up on a rebuilt defense?
  • Oregon: 1. Is Nate Costa your QB?; 2. Are RB Jeremiah Johnson, LB John Bacon and LB Jerome Boyd healthy?; 3. What's the pecking order at WR behind Jaison Williams?
  • UCLA: 1. How's it feel to be back in the Pac-10?; 2. What's up with your beleaguered offensive line?; 3. Can QB Ben Olson lead this offense?
  • Oregon State: 1. What's the status of touted DE transfer Simi Kuli?; 2. How's OG Jeremy Perry's leg?; 3. Who's your QB?; 4. Is it really just reload on defense with eight 2007 starters gone?
  • Arizona State: 1. Will your offensive line hold up?; 2. Who's your TE?; 3. Are you worried about the players looking ahead to the Georgia game?
  • USC: 1. Is Mark Sanchez a certainty at QB?; 2. What's the pecking order at RB and WR?; 3. Does replacing four starters on the OL concern you?; 4. Will your defense be as good as last year?; 5. Are the Reggie Bush/O.J. Mayo investigations distractions and/or concerns?

And here are...

Top 10 things you won't hear at Pac-10 Media Day

10. I've been silly about closing practices, considering all the best teams in the Pac-10 have open practices. -- Washington's Tyrone Willingham.

9. Anyone want to bet we reach a bowl game? -- UCLA's Rick Neuheisel

8. We going to miss Louis Holmes on defense, but we're really going to miss his leadership. -- Arizona Mike Stoops

7. I have no comment. I hate you guys. -- Oregon State's Mike Riley.

6. My trip to Napa with the Neuheisels? Oh, it was great fun. Beat him in golf for the first time. Then, get this, I hung up the scorecard in the club house and started chanting, "Scoreboard!" It was rich. -- Oregon's Mike Bellotti.

5. I'm feeling guilty. I'm going back to Idaho. -- Arizona State's Dennis Erickson.

4. How do I sell Washington State? I tell recruits it's just like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and Seattle except without all the stuff. -- Washington State's Paul Wulff.

3. Jeff Tedford will not attend today. He's joined the Tree Sitters in the oaks outside Memorial Stadium -- A release from the California football offices.

2. Gosh, I'm depressed. And sleepy (Zzzzzzzzzz). -- USC's Pete Carroll.

1. USC, USC, USC... blaa blaa blaa... We're going to kick the pooh out of them again -- Stanford's Jim Harbaugh

Ranking the Pac-10 offensive lines

July, 18, 2008
7/18/08
3:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

There's two things you can say about offensive lines: 1) Every good team has a good one; 2) People tend to notice offensive lines more when they are bad.

There aren't any "Oh my gosh, those guys are terrifying" crews this season. Only UCLA and, to a lesser extent, Arizona State, have significant issues up front.

A couple of the lines also need qualifiers: If Washington center Juan Garcia wasn't going to start the season on the injured list, the Huskies would rank No. 2. And Oregon State would rank higher if guard Jeremy Perry's health wasn't an issue, not to mention that tackle Tavita Thompson isn't expected back from suspension until Nov. 1.

USC only welcomes back one official "starter," but three of the new faces topping the depth chart started at least two games last season. Plus, with four incoming prep All-Americans at the position, and highly respected line coach Pat Ruel calling the shots, it's hard to believe the Trojans line will be a milquetoast.

 
 Tom Hauck/Getty Images
 Alex Mack earned All-American honors a year ago.

So here are the hogs... (returning starters)

  1. Oregon (3): Center Max Unger and tackle Fenuki Tupou were All-Pac-10 for the best conference's best rushing team in 2007. The two new starters are experienced seniors.
  2. California (3): All-American center Alex Mack leads three returning starters from a group that surrendered only 11 sacks last season.
  3. Washington (3): Even without center Juan Garcia for a few games, Mike Denbrock's well-coached unit led the conference's second-best rushing attack and was above average in pass protection.
  4. USC (1): The Trojans, with only guard Jeff Byers back, get the benefit of the doubt that the 2007 backups would start for most teams.
  5. Washington State (4): Four starters back from a unit that only gave up 22 sacks.
  6. Arizona (4): Among the four returning starters is tackle Eben Britton, who will play on Sundays. Run blocking shaky.
  7. Oregon State (3): With mauling guard Jeremy Perry, this is a top-flight unit, but without Perry it's easy to remember 36 sacks in 2007.
  8. Stanford (3): Alex Fletcher, who has converted from guard to center, is outstanding, but the unit still ranked ninth in rushing and gave up 48 sacks (ninth also).
  9. Arizona State (2): The Sun Devils' season may hang on how much the line improves. Just two starters are back from a unit that gave up a stunning 55 sacks in 2007.
  10. UCLA (2): Injuries, attrition and lack of talent are the problems. Just two starters and little depth return from group that gave up 36 sacks and was mediocre at run blocking.

Pac-10 media day: The elected stars

July, 16, 2008
7/16/08
4:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Pac-10 media day is July 24. It's the day that tells fans the season is just around the corner, and for reporters it means they won't see their families again until February.

Here's the schedule of coaches and players.

9:35 am -  Tyrone Willingham/QB Jake Locker - Washington
9:50 am -  Jim Harbaugh/C Alex Fletcher - Stanford
10:05 am - Paul Wulff/FL Brandon Gibson - Washington State
10:20 am - Jeff Tedford/C Alex Mack - California
10:35 am - Mike Stoops/QB Willie Tuitama - Arizona
10:50 am - Mike Bellotti/ROV Patrick Chung - Oregon
11:05 am - Break
11:15 am - Rick Neuheisel/DT Brigham Harwell - UCLA
11:30 am - Mike Riley/CB Brandon Hughes - Oregon State
11:45 am - Dennis Erickson/QB Rudy Carpenter - Arizona State
12:00 noon - Pete Carroll/SLB Brian Cushing - USC

Did you just stifle a yawn and wonder what this means to you?

Well, wake up, because this list is meaningful.

Think about it: Including specialists, there are 24 starters on a team and typically a handful of stars. The player who will take the podium with his coach was chosen as THE representative of his team.

Why? A couple of reasons:

1. Star power.

2. An ability to handle a media grilling without saying something controversial.

To some players, it's a reward. Others view it as a drudgery. But, hey, it's a free lunch.

Of course, coaches and sports information directors sometimes opt to use a laconic senior instead off the mouthy superstar underclassman everyone wants to talk to because they want to keep said star from getting too full of himself. Or some star players just tell the SID to go jump in a lake.

For example, that was sort of the case (as in all of the above) when Cal kicked off Marshawn Lynch's Heisman campaign by bringing Daymeion Hughes to media day.

You'd be surprised at how relaxed and open some guys can be. Matt Leinart held court a few years back and was candid and entertaining for over an hour. And I'm going to miss Bill Doba, who was always fun to talk to -- even though he'd always toss a "that's off the record" after expressing a strong opinion.

My favorite time, though, is the evening before in the hospitality room, which fills up with Pac-10 officials, SIDs and freeloading reporters. A handful of coaches come down and hang out -- Mike Bellotti (every year), Jeff Tedford, Dennis Erickson, Jim Harbaugh -- and it's nice to get to casually chat about stuff other than next week's game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES