Pac-12: Alfonso Jackson
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Safeties are the last resort. They help on run support. A big-hitting safety can make a receiving corps wilt.
The Pac-10 was strong at safety last year: USC's Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison, Oregon's Patrick Chung and T.J. Ward, Arizona State's Troy Nolan, Arizona's Cam Nelson, UCLA's Rahim Moore and Oregon State's Greg Laybourn and Al Afalava.
Of that group, only Mays -- a huge surprise -- Ward, Nelson and Moore are back.
So where does everyone stand?
- USC: Mays is a certain consensus preseason All-American and a certain first-round NFL draft choice. He might be the best all-around athlete in college football. Will Harris started the final six games last year and played well while Ellison was hurt.
- California: All four safeties on Cal's two-deep depth chart are back. None of them made all-conference honors, but the Bears' pass defense ranked second in the conference and intercepted twice as many passes (24) as TD throws (12) it gave up.
- Arizona: The Wildcats might be in great shape here if sophomore Robert Golden's move to strong safety from cornerback works out. Junior Cam Nelson was third on the team last year with 67 tackles.
- Stanford: Strong safety Bo McNally, with his 24 consecutive starts, leads an experienced crew -- Sean Wiser and Taylor Skaufel both started games last year at free safety. But the Cardinal pass defense wasn't very good, which is a problem.
- Oregon: It's hard to replace a guy like rover Patrick Chung, but the big-hitting Ward -- a free safety in 2008 -- is a good start. Stepping in for Ward figures to be sophomore Javes Lewis.
- UCLA: Strong safety Bret Lockett is the only loss among the six names on the depth chart at the end of the 2008 season. Moore looked like a budding star at free safety at times last year. A name to look out for is redshirt freshman E.J. Woods, who could jump some folks on the depth chart this spring.
- Washington State: Free safety Xavier Hicks, tied for fourth in the Pac-10 with 7.8 tackles per game in 2008, is back. Strong safety Alfonso Jackson is gone, but Chima Nwachukwu started seven games last year. Among the issues facing the Cougars, safety is down the line.
- Arizona State: Starters Troy Nolan and Rodney Cox are gone. There's plenty of young talent ready to step up, but it is unproven.
- Oregon State: Two highly productive starters are gone, but the Beavers actually might be better at the position in 2009, or at least more athletic, with Suaesi Tuimaunei and Lance Mitchell stepping in.
- Washington: Nate Williams earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last year, but it's wide open who will start beside him. Recall that the Huskies gave up 24 touchdown passes and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of their passes last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Here's a musing: What's the over-under on rushing yards for UCLA (nation's worst rushing offense at 19 yards per game) against Washington State (nation's worst run defense at 330 yards yielded per game)? Now there's an Oct. 4 story line when the Bruins and Cougars clash.
- Georgia's offensive talent impresses Arizona State, though the Bulldogs also are looking for answers on their O-line.
- Arizona needs to win at UCLA to score with So-Cal recruits. A key is not letting UCLA QB Kevin Craft get his confidence back.
- California is using bye week practices to hit and perhaps make a few position shifts, but the bad news is touted freshman WR Marvin Jones hurt his knee Wednesday.
- Here's a bet that both offenses get creative when Oregon and Boise State strap it on Saturday. Not to go too far but it's possible that Oregon's QB of the future -- Chris Harper -- could shortly become it's QB of the present. But Jeremiah Masoli isn't chopped liver either.
- Oregon State LB Isaiah Cook has improved on the field, but that's not the best part of his story. Some notes.
- Stanford must contain this trio of San Jose State Spartans, which has a surprising advantage at QB.
- Brian Dohn looks to psychologists for an explanation of UCLA's peculiar recent history of inexplicable wins and losses. Good stuff. Odds are that RB Kahlil Bell won't play against Arizona. The running game needs him. There's a new guy calling the shots from the middle of the defense. OG Darius Savage owns a lot of upside.
- USC QB Mitch Mustain hoped for better than No. 3 on the depth chart. The Trojans' depth at LB might be about to get better because Chris Galippo's back is healing. It's unclear whether CB Shareece Wright will face any type of suspension for his resisting arrest charges. Checking in on the freshmen. And consider this from Dan Weber's notebook:
"'Easy"' was one word defensive end Kyle Moore used after missing practice two days last week with back spasms before having the game of his life (eight tackles, a fumble recovery, two tackles for loss for 19 yards, including a sack for 15).
"You can tell they don't practice full speed," Moore said of the massive Buckeyes who made it "easy" to fly past them.
"They were still getting into their [first blocking] move, and we'd already be into our second move [on defense] and past them," Moore said.
- Thoughts from Bob Condotta on the new Washington AD. Thoughts from Art Thiel, who wrote about what a mess the search was a day ago. Notable from his column: "[School president Mark] Emmert said he made the decision last week. When I talked with Woodward on Monday for a column Wednesday, he never let on that he had the job, speaking as if others were still in the hunt (heads up to football coach Tyrone Willingham: Assume nothing in your conversations)." Woodward's background, by the way, is in politics and as a lobbyist.
- Washington State appears to be madly shuffling personnel in search of the right combination. That includes the well-traveled Alfonso Jackson
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Washington State ranks ninth or 10th in the Pac-10 in every single major statistical category save one: pass defense.
But the Cougars don't rank second in pass defense because they are good at it. They rank second because teams don't have to pass against a defense that ranks last in the nation -- 119th -- in run defense.
When you give up 330 yards rushing per game, eight yards per carry and five rushing TDs per game, why would an opponent need to throw the ball?
The 0-3 Cougars are struggling. Mightily.
They've lost by 26, 63 and 28 points and it's not like they've played three ranked teams. Baylor, which dominated the Cougars in a 45-17 win last Friday, might not win a game in the Big 12 this season.
Again, struggling mightily. It's impossible to find a BCS team that the Cougars likely would be favored to beat.
Two things are killing them: 1. The Cougars aren't terribly talented; 2. They make a lot of mistakes -- see a minus-8 turnover margin.
Coach Paul Wulff admitted that he didn't know just how bad things were in Pullman when he took over his alma mater after Bill Doba was pushed out.
"When I first arrived on campus, no, I did not know where we were as a program," Wulff said. "As we've gotten into the season here I've realized we've got a long ways to go. There's a lot of work to be done."
The good news is there is almost no way the Cougars will give up over 300-plus yards rushing on Saturday. For one, they're playing an FCS team, Portland State. Second, Portland State runs a pure run-and-shoot offense under coordinator Mouse Davis. The Vikings don't run the ball much, see 60 yards rushing.
In two games this season.
Beyond that, the WSU defense figures to be much stronger at safety with the return of Xavier Hicks from suspension. Hicks gained national notoriety when he was caught pouring rubbing alcohol into the contact-lens case of a former teammate. He served jail time for the offense, but Wulff said he has done everything he needed to to regain his standing with the school and team.
Will these moves solve all the Cougars woes? No. But Wulff and his staff are searching for any combination that might perk up their play while trying to rebuild the football culture the way the want it.
"We've got to play the kids who will play their tails off and develop guys," Wulff said.
Portland State is probably the softest spot on the Cougars schedule. A loss Saturday would be a major embarrassment and could presage a season of total disaster.
That means the Cougs shouldn't take the Vikings lightly.
Wulff said that, of all teams, he doesn't expect his to become overconfident.
"I don't think they need to be told that," Wulff said. "We need to focus on ourselves. Regardless of who we're playing, if we continue to play the same way, we're going to struggle in every game."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
How about Stanford! Glad I picked that upset. Wait. I didn't pick that upset. D'oh.
- As a North Scottsdale resident, I can tell you we had a wicked-crazy storm out here in the desert. For me and my wife, it was just a fancy show of lightning. But down south in Tempe, it was a little uglier, apparently doing severe damage to Arizona State's new, $8.4 million indoor practice facility. Hopefully, this won't scare the Sun Devils freshmen, because a lot of them are going to play, though RB Keegan Herring may not.
- Arizona fans are dying for a winner. They'll get one when the opponent is Idaho. There are more ways than one to play a Gronkowski.
- More on the suspension of California DE Cameron Jordan. So he won't help stop a Ringer. Some notes from practice and a twist.
- Oregon's season preview. Ducks D is motivated. Seattle Times looks at the Mike Bellotti Era.
- The Oregon State perspective on its loss to Stanford.
- Stanford made a statement by beating Oregon State -- it's no longer a pushover. Toby Gerhart was impressive, eh? Game notes. Maybe more Stanford fans will show up next time?
- UCLA wants to be like USC only it wants to be UCLA while it's doing it. Understand? Frosh WR Taylor Embree should help. Debating the Bruins prospects, which hang heavily on the defense.
- It might be wet at Virginia, so turnovers will be a key. But when are they not? The matchups. The weather.
- Washington won't have its starting TE at Oregon. Freshman DT Senio Kelemete will be there though -- and starting. As will former walk-on LB Josh Gage. The always-incisive Steve Rudman looks at past true freshmen starters at Washington.
- Washington State CB Alfonso Jackson says to not count the Cougars out. Four Coug freshmen will start vs. Oklahoma State.
- From the Bleacher Report... team nicknames and their winning percentages.