Pac-12: Alterraun Verner

Yards to Glory: 'Pick-six'

August, 2, 2011
8/02/11
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A football field is 100 yards long, and each yard marker has produced immortal memories in college football.

ESPN.com is looking at some of the most famous touchdowns in college football history for each and every yard marker, and Alterraun Verner's interception return against California in 2007 is the choice at 76 yards.

You can check out video of the player here.

You can check out "Yards to Glory" here.

And here's what I wrote about Verner's interception return versus Cal.

76. Pick-Six

Alterraun Verner seals UCLA win over Cal with interception

Oct. 24, 2007: California, which notably lost to Oregon State a week before and blew its shot to be No. 1, was driving for a comeback win in the final two minutes, but Alterraun Verner intercepted a Nate Longshore pass and sprinted 76 yards to the end zone with 1:33 remaining. Neither team would do much of note for the rest of the season. The Bruins improved to 5-2 but would lose five of their final six games, and coach Karl Dorrell lost his job. Meanwhile, the 10th-ranked Bears became snared in a downward spiral that would see them lose six of their final seven games.

USC, UCLA: Battling for Los Angeles

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
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The fourth installment of our series examining the unique circumstances faced by FBS programs that reside in metropolitan markets alongside an NFL franchise is a story from Ivan Maisel on USC and UCLA.

The gist:
In other words, the only thing standing between the Trojans and Bruins and the 18 million potential ticket buyers in southern California is the beach. And the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks and Galaxy. And Disneyland, Universal Studios and Six Flags. I hear the movies are pretty big in Los Angeles, too.

When trying to sell college football tickets in a major media market, not having an NFL team is no panacea.

Things are different at USC today, following the reign of Pete Carroll.
Carroll has gone to the NFL. The BCS asked for its 2004 crystal football back. The public access to the Trojans is curtailed, a result of procedures installed after the NCAA penalized USC last year. [Jose Eskenazi, USC associate athletic director and director of corporate services] is paid to market USC athletics. He's a company man but he isn't shy about saying that those procedures make his job harder.

What makes UCLA's situation more challenging that USC's? For one, USC's stadium is for the most part on campus.
UCLA's issues will sound familiar to several urban teams in NFL markets. The Rose Bowl, the Bruins' home since they left the Coliseum 30 years ago, is the most iconic stadium in the sport. But it is also 26 miles from UCLA's Westwood campus. Anyone with experience in L.A. traffic understands that distance is equal to, yes, a marathon.

But sometimes savvy marketing strategies work:
UCLA sliced the price of a student season ticket from $149 in 2009 to $99 last year. The strategy worked. The university sold 7,761 such packages, the second-highest total in the last 50 years. Throw in single-game tickets and, despite the price cut, UCLA generated $1.03 million in student sales, a 45 percent increase over the previous year.

Former UCLA CB Alterraun Verner reflects on the Bruins-Trojans rivalry from a UCLA perspective here.
"The rivalry is a big thing," Verner says. "You're either a UCLA fan or a USC fan, growing up. I was always a UCLA fan so it was something I always paid attention to. It was a great experience trying to take USC down, because they were always at the top. It was our goal to bring them down a notch. Lately USC has been dominant but UCLA is getting more athletic. I wouldn't say USC is getting weaker but I think we're elevating our game and we're going to start making it competitive."

And former USC LB Keith Rivers provides the USC perspective here.
Just as the highlight for Verner was upsetting USC in 2006, which knocked the Trojans out of the national title game, so was it the lowlight for Rivers.

"They took us away from the national championship game," he says now, with not a hint of over-it in his voice.

They sure did. The Trojans were just one touchdown away from meeting Ohio State in the title game that season. Rivers was a junior then, and, in his four seasons at USC, he beat the Bruins three out of four tries. He also lost just five total games as a Trojan, won a national title and earned first-team All-American honors his senior season. Yet that loss to the Bruins still stands out to him, and that's USC-UCLA for you.

"It's everything," Rivers, 25, said last week of the long-standing rivalry between the two Los Angeles schools located just 15 miles apart. "You throw the records out the door and you just play, no matter the situation."

Preseason position reviews: cornerback

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
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The good news for all those big-name Pac-10 quarterbacks? Every conference team has questions at cornerback.

And, for the first time in Pac-10 blog history, no one earns a "Great shape" tag.

Only one cornerback who earned All-Pac-honors is back: Arizona's second-teamer Trevin Wade. Only one other returning corner, Washington's Desmond Trufant, even earned honorable mention.

Three teams welcome back both starting corners from 2009: Oregon, Stanford and Washington. But the Ducks have moved Javes Lewis to rover, and a pair of true freshmen -- Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson -- are battling for the starting job opposite Talmadge Jackson. Stanford and Washington? They ranked eighth and ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense last season.

USC and Arizona State are replacing both starting cornerbacks, but both actually look fairly strong at the position with plenty of returning experience and athleticism.

A number of teams might end up pretty good at the position. But no one looks like a sure-thing during the preseason. (Heck, we thought California was a sure thing in 2009 and things didn't exactly go according to plan).

So how do things stack up?

Great shape
  • No one.
Good shape
  • Arizona: Wade is an All-American candidate, and Marcus Benjamin showed he can play with a good performance against USC in 2009. And Mike Stoops always has good cornerbacks, so we won't dwell on the questionable depth.
  • Oregon: Probably not a lot of worry here for the Ducks. Injuries in 2009 earned young players experience, and Oregon did rank third in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense. Still, it remains uncertain who will start opposite Jackson, with the freshmen outplaying the more experienced Cliff Harris and Anthony Gildon during the spring.
  • Arizona State: On the one hand, both starters are gone from a unit that ranked second in the conference in pass efficiency defense. On the other, Omar Bolden would have been a starter if he didn't get hurt, and Deveron Carr, Osahon Irabor and LeQuan Lewis give the Sun Devils a nice mix of talent and experience.
  • USC: Shareece Wright was academically ineligible last season, but he might end up first-team All-Pac-10. He might, in fact, be the conference's best cover cornerback. Torin Harris and T.J. Bryant are battling for the other spot in a secondary replacing all four 2009 starters.
  • Washington: Trufant is an up-and-comer, Quinton Richardson is experienced, and backups Vonzell McDowell and Adam Long have starting experience, so the Huskies should be much improved here in 2010. The operative word, though, is "should."
  • UCLA: It isn't easy to replace an Alterraun Verner. Sheldon Price returns at left cornerback after a good freshman season as a starter, and Aaron Hester has potential on the opposite side. Undersized junior Courtney Viney is an experienced third option.
  • Oregon State: James Dockery is solid and new starter Brandon Hardin is big -- 6-2, 215 pounds. There's respectable depth. But the Beavers gave up 23 touchdown passes in 2009, tied for the most in the conference. Of course, the Beavers cornerbacks suffered last season because of an anemic pass rush. That might change in 2010.
We'll see
  • Stanford: If the Cardinal is going to take another step forward, it must get better in pass coverage. Three players who started last seaon are back: Richard Sherman (who's a sure-thing at left corner), Corey Gatewood and Johnson Bademosi. But opponents completed 63 percent of their passes with 23 touchdowns against those guys. Might redshirt freshman Terrence Brown make a move?
  • California: Syd'Quan Thompson is gone; is Darian Hagan back? As in the 2008 version, not the one who lost his job and got buried on the depth chart in 2009. After being touted as one of the best secondaries in the country, the Bears finished 111th in the nation in pass defense in 2009. Bryant Nnabufie, who started four games in 2009, is listed No. 1 opposite Hagan, but Josh Hill (a five-game starter) and Marc Anthony and redshirt freshman Steve Williams are in the mix.
  • Washington State: The Cougars feel pretty good about junior Aire Justin and sophomore Daniel Simmons, who was the defense's best cover corner before he got hurt midway through last season. But it's hard to ignore that the Cougars ranked 112th in the nation in pass efficiency defense with opponents completing nearly 67 percent -- 67 percent! -- of their passes.

Pac-10 deep & thin: Stocked and depleted positions

June, 2, 2010
6/02/10
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At what position is the Pac-10 deep? At what position in the Pac-10 thin? Here's the second of three parts taking a look at just that.

(By the way, some of you wondered about QB. The Pac-10 is, without question, the nation's deepest conference in terms of quarterbacks -- and it would have been deeper if not for a certain Duck making a very, very poor decision. But that's so obvious and been written about so much that we're not including it in this three-part package).

Deep: Running back

[+] EnlargeJacquizz Rodgers
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireJacquizz Rodgers is one of several talented running backs returning to the Pac-10 this season.
Why is it deep? Six of the top-10 running backs from 2009 are back, and four of them rushed for more than 950 yards. Eight teams welcome back a player who qualifies as a starter or at least an experienced veteran. Only Arizona State and Stanford, which is replacing Heisman Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart, are uncertain at the position. But it's not just about starters. There's depth. Most teams can point to one or more solid backups, not to mention there are a number of elite incoming freshmen recruits expected to immediately contribute.

The big names: Start with Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon's LaMichael James, who has All-American potential. They combined for just under 3,000 yards and 35 TDs in 2009. Then there's Washington's Chris Polk (1,113 yards rushing), California's Shane Vereen (952 yards, 12 TDs) and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, who rushed for 1,153 yards in 2008. The Wildcats, in fact, have their top four rushers back, including Keola Antolin, who's rushed for over 1,100 yards and 14 TDs over the past two seasons. USC and UCLA are both experienced in the backfield and have highly rated freshmen recruits who figure to be in the mix, particularly USC's Dillon Baxter, who was spectacular this spring. Washington State has three of its top four rushers back.

Thin: Cornerback

Why is it thin? Three of the four All-Pac-10 cornerbacks are gone: UCLA's Alterraun Verner, California's Syd'Quan Thompson and USC's Kevin Thomas. Each of them were NFL draft picks. Only second-teamer Trevin Wade of Arizona returns. In fact, only one returning CB even earned honorable mention all-conference recognition (Washington's Desmond Trufant). Only Oregon, Stanford and Washington welcome back both starting CBs from 2009, and each of them is hardly settled at the position after spring practices. Arizona State and USC are replacing both corners, though the return of Omar Bolden from injury and Shareece Wright from academic ineligibility should bolster the Sun Devils and Trojans, respectively.

Fill the void? Wright might turn out to be the conference's best cover corner and a top NFL draft pick. Wade had five interceptions last year and could earn national attention. Bolden had a great spring after missing last season with an injury and suffering through a disappointing sophomore year. Trufant, UCLA's Sheldon Price, USC's Torin Harris and Oregon's Cliff Harris are youngsters who might break through. Oregon's Talmadge Jackson and Oregon State's James Dockery are veterans who could take the next step.

Pac-10 Q&A: UCLA defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough

May, 25, 2010
5/25/10
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UCLA's must replace six starters on defense, including three first-team All-Pac-10 performers.

That is a cause for concern.

On the other hand, safety Rahim Moore, linebacker Akeem Ayers and end Datone Jones are future high NFL draft picks who provide a cause of optimism.

Although the Bruins walked away from spring practices with some questions -- particularly at two linebacker spots -- and an obvious need for some youngsters to immediately contribute, there's enough talent for them to again rank as one of the Pac-10's top defenses.

[+] EnlargeChuck Bullough
Rose Palmisano/Icon SMIChuck Bullough needs to identify some new leaders on his defense.
Here's what coordinator Chuck Bullough had to say.

You lost a lot of guys who saw a lot of action: Who's going to be hardest to replace?

Chuck Bullough: All of them were good. The hardest to replace? It's really different aspects. Obviously, Brian Price being such a disruptive force up front -- that's a guy you're going to miss. Then we have our two linebackers. Reggie Carter was a four-year starter, so obviously his experience, him knowing everything. He was a team leader of the defense. And obviously Alterraun Verner, who was one of the best corners to ever play here. But we have young guys who played well in spring who we hope can step up. Now, I don't know if they will be at the same level as those guys were because those guys were obviously seniors and these guys are younger. But these guys have the ability to get to that level.

How might the 2010 defense be different than the 2009 unit?

CB: We'll be a little younger. We lost those five seniors. But the guys who played this spring -- [middle linebackers] Steve Sloan and Patrick Larimore -- played really well. Replacing Kyle Bosworth at "will" linebacker we've got [Sean Westgate] and we moved a safety down there, Glenn Love, who played real well and was a real surprise of spring. They have a chance to be comparable to the guys from last year. We moved Nate Chandler over from tight end to defensive tackle. He's a big 6-foot-5, fast with great feet. Between him and David Carter and a couple of the young puppies coming in, we'll replace Brian Price. Well, a Brian Price only comes along every once in a while with his explosiveness. But these guys are good football players. The guy stepping in for Verner would be Sheldon Price. He was a freshman last year but he started as a true freshman just like Verner did. It all depends on them taking that next step and being leaders. We lost all our leadership. So I think, with the defense, it will have to be seen as to who takes over the leadership role with these guys gone, when it comes to the fall and it's time to play games, who are the leaders of the defense.

Let's go through the three levels: What are you happy with concerning your defensive line and what concerns you?

CB: We feel very good about our D-line. Obviously, we lost both our tackles, but like I said, Nate Chandler came over and played really well. David Carter has improved. Both of those guys are big bodies -- 6-5 and 6-4, 290 and both of them can run. A tackle we have coming in, Cassius Marsh, who we've been keeping in touch with, is really strong for a freshman, which is usually the problem they have coming in and trying to play Pac-10 football from high school. They aren't strong enough. But he's really strong and he's got a nasty streak. So we're expecting him to have to be in the rotation. We've got a guy, Sealii Epenesa, from Hawaii, who's a big, huge body guy. We'll have to see if he can hold up strength-wise but he'll definitely have the ability down the road. Then we have a guy named [Wesley] Flowers who's coming in. We're not sure if he's a D-end or D-tackle yet. But defensive tackle-wise, I feel pretty confident with the switch-over with Nate and having those other guys step up and grow up and the young puppies coming in and being able to help -- they probably won't be able to start -- but they will be able to help. We'll play about four tackles a game. Defensive end, we lost Korey Bosworth, but we have Iuta Tepa and Keenan Graham who made big improvements during spring. Obviously, Datone Jones should become a dominant defensive line player at tackle and end. He's taken a step up. I project for him down the road that he will be a first-round draft pick. He's that good, that big, that fast and he's really hungry. The other two guys obviously didn't play much, so when the live action starts we'll have to find out about those two. And obviously we have [Owamagbe Odighizuwa] coming in -- one of the top defensive ends in the nation. Then again, can he learn the defense? He's got the ability. But you never know until they get here and try to learn the defense. Obviously there's a lot more scheme in college. So we came out of spring feeling pretty good defensive line-wise, compared to going in. Going in we didn't know what Nate Chandler had, we didn't know what Keenan Graham had, we didn't know that Datone had made such a big jump, which he did.

At linebacker, what does Akeem Ayers need to do to become an All-American sort of player?

CB: He's a guy who should be another high-round draft pick for the NFL. He's grown with the defense and he's probably the most athletic linebacker you're going to find. He's a guy who, the more he's in the system, every year, he's gotten better. His second year, we had to play him as a nickel linebacker because he couldn't mentally handle both base and be a nickel. Those were just two different spots. Last year, he could. This year, we feel he should be even more comfortable with the defense. He should not even have to think at all. He still had to think a little bit last year, I believe, but he should just react now because he knows the defense inside and out

How do the competitions at middle and weakside linebacker stand?

CB: I've mentioned Sloan and Larimore need to battle it out next fall and Westgate and Love got to battle it out in the fall. Both are open. Both will be competitions in training camp. They have three months here to improve and we'll see in training camp. But we've got four guys who we believe can play. They did a good job in spring and showed it. Now it's just going to be a training camp battle.

Rahim Moore is already an All-American: Where can he improve?

CB: He's started for two years. He's into the system for a third year. Now his role has become that he has to be the leader in the secondary. Verner was kind of the leader last year. Now Moore has got to be the leader.

Besides Moore, tell me about what's good and what concerns you in the secondary?

CB: We feel pretty good with our two safeties. Obviously, both Tony Dye and [Moore] have both played. They've started for two years now. That's where our veterans are in the secondary and the safety position. And obviously we have Dietrich Riley coming in who's a big-time recruit who is very bright. We expect him to be able to come in and contribute and play. And we've got some guys who've got another fall to improve. We feel good about the safety position. The corners, obviously I mentioned Price before. He's a second-year starter. He's a tall guy who's gaining weight. Last year, he didn't have enough weight. He was probably 160 pounds. He was too small. But he's gained 15 or 20 pounds, I think, without losing his 10.5 speed in the 100 [meters]. He could be a special player and it's his turn to take over at corner. Then we have Aaron Hester who was a starter before he broke his leg. He's another big, tall, long-armed guy who can run like the wind. We feel comfortable with him. We have Andrew Abbott and Courtney Viney behind those two who are two savvy veterans that we feel can play. And obviously we've got a couple of freshmen coming in. We've got Anthony Jefferson and Tevin McDonald. With Tevin McDonald, we don't know if he's a safety or a corner. We also have Shaq Richardson coming in. So we have some guys there. But it's hard to know with those rookies until they actually play. If those guys can play, they will just be bonuses.

When you lose six guys like you lost, most folks think you'll take a step back. Do you think the 2010 unit can be as good as your 2009 crew?

CB: I think it will be interesting who steps up and becomes a leader. The "mike" [middle] linebacker in my defense has always been that guy. He makes all the checks. So Sloan and Larimore, one of them -- whoever it is -- has got to step up. Reggie Carter grew up into that leadership role as he got older. In spring, we saw Datone and Ayers and Rahim take up that leadership role which last year was with the older guys. Those three guys should be the leaders because they've played so much and gotten a lot of accolades.

UCLA spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
7:30
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UCLA

2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-6

Returning starters

Offense: 7, Defense: 5, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: K Kai Forbath, QB Kevin Prince, WR Nelson Rosario, FS Rahim Moore, LB Akeem Ayers, DE Datone Jones, P Jeff Locke

Key losses: TE Logan Paulsen, OT Xaiver Su'a-Filo (LDS mission), DT Brian Price, CB Alterraun Verner, LB Reggie Carter, DE Korey Bosworth, LB Kyle Bosworth

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Johnathan Franklin* (566)

Passing: Kevin Prince* (2,050)

Receiving: Nelson Rosario* (723)

Tackles: Reggie Carter (79)

Sacks: Brian Price (7)

Interceptions: Rahim Moore* (10)

Spring Answers

1. The revolver will evolve: While the new "revolver" offense -- read: Nevada's pistol -- wasn't a smashing success, coach Rick Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow believe adopting some spread-option elements will add productive wrinkles to the offense, which will burden an opposing defense's preparation. Quarterback Kevin Prince ran something similar in high school and is a good athlete. Will it become the base offense? We'll see.

2. There's speed on the rebuilding D: Sure, the Bruins should take a step back on defense. Losing six quality starters, including three first-team All-Pac-10 performers is a blow. But one thing may accelerate the rebuilding: The defense will be faster in 2010. That doesn't mean it will be better, but speed makes for a more favorable margin of error.

3. The transfers will help: While they were both banged up this spring, receiver Josh Smith and tight end Joseph Fauria -- transfers from Colorado and Notre Dame respectively -- both flashed enough potential during the off-season and the spring to make clear they will be major contributors to the offense.

Fall questions

1. Is there enough in the trenches? UCLA's depth is questionable on both lines, most particularly the offensive line. If everybody stays healthy, things should work out fine -- there's enough experience and talent to get the job done. But a couple of injuries could mean trouble.

2. Who wins out at linebacker? Akeem Ayers is a given at strongside linebacker, but the other two spots haven't been decided. In the middle, sophomore Pat Larimore is battling junior Steve Sloan, while Sean Westgate and Glenn Love, a converted safety, are competing on the weakside.

3. Will Prince break through? Prince has talent and he's been productive at times. A run of injuries hampered his progress in 2009. If he takes a step forward this fall and stays healthy, he has enough skill around him for the Bruins to score plenty of points.

Pac-10 lunch links: LB Galippo is battling to remain USC starter

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
2:39
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Um, he's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious.

Taylor Mays hurting after draft tumble

April, 24, 2010
4/24/10
11:19
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The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)

Big names gone, UCLA to reload on defense

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
2:35
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LOS ANGELES -- The UCLA glass is half-empty on defense. Everyone acknowledges that losing first-team All-Pac-10 tackle Brian Price, cornerback Alterraun Verner and linebacker Reggie Carter as well as three other starters from one of the best units in the conference is an issue.

But the Bruins glass is also half-full on that side of the ball.

"Rahim Moore, Akeem Ayers, Datone Jones, David Carter -- those four guys are big-time players," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "They all will get chances to play at the next level. The next seven who come after them have to play their [rear ends] off. I think there's enough talent. There's just not a lot of experience."

Fact is the Bruins look pretty good getting off the bus. Take converted tight end Nate Chandler, a 6-foot-5, 291 pounder who's lining up beside Carter at defensive tackle.

"He's a physical specimen. In the weight room, he's a freak of nature," quarterback Kevin Prince said.

Then there are cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester. Both are over 6-feet. Both are fast. Both have good hips.

"You can't go out and look at two prettier corners," Neuheisel said. "They look like what the NFL looks for. But they've got to play like it."

Glenn Love has a 6-foot-4 frame that could fill out and make him a speedy outside linebacker instead of an inconsistent safety. Hard-hitting Patrick Larimore is making noise at middle linebacker, where he's competing with Steve Sloan.

Still, the front-seven depth is questionable. What is not questionable is whether a highly rated crew of incoming freshmen will contribute. "They have to," Neuheisel said.

The Bruins led the conference in turnover margin a year ago in large part because they forced 30, which was five more than any other team. Three fourths of a secondary that grabbed 20 interceptions is back. UCLA ranked third in scoring defense (21.2 ppg) and total defense (334 yards per game), which was even more impressive when you consider that the offense was mostly rotten.

The offense should be better this fall because Prince and most of the starters are back. The question now is whether -- or how much -- the defense falls off. It has been solid in recent years in large part due to Price, Verner and Carter, who combined for 120 starts over the past four seasons.

"I feel real comfortable with the defense," Prince said. "They don't have the names yet but I think they will start establishing names for themselves."

That's the message. The big names are gone. Which means new names are poised to grow.

Jones, for one, thinks the defense will be faster in 2010. And, he said, it will play angry.

"A lot of guys think we lost a lot but we're going to be loaded," he said.

Bigger shoes than you think: UCLA

April, 2, 2010
4/02/10
12:29
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Seventh in a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.

UCLA

Everybody is talking about: Three defensive players who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors need to be replaced: defensive tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner.

Bigger shoes than you think: The Bosworth brothers: defensive end Korey and weak side linebacker Kyle.

These two never became stars but they were multi-year starters who played hard and made plenty of plays for a good defense. Kyle ranked second on the Bruins in 2009 with 77 tackles, with 7.5 coming for a loss. Korey ranked sixth on the team with 58 tackles, 14 coming for a loss. He also broke up five passes.

Who is stepping in: There's not much experience at either position, and it's possible that incoming freshman will immediately enter the mix at both spots. At end, redshirt freshman Keenan Graham is atop the spring depth chart ahead of sophomore Iuta Tepa, who recorded a single tackle last year. There's also senior Reginald Stokes, who's seen plenty of action but is sitting out spring practices with a knee injury. His status for the fall is "undetermined." At linebacker, junior Sean Westgate will get first crack. He recorded 18 tackles last year. Behind him are true freshman Jared Koster, who grayshirted in 2009, and converted safety Glenn Love.

Strong & weak: UCLA

March, 9, 2010
3/09/10
9:11
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The seventh of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

UCLA

Strong: Safety

Why it's a strength: Junior free safety Rahim Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions last year and is a potential preseason All-American. So the Bruins should feel pretty good about that spot. Junior strong safety Tony Dye ranked fourth on the defense with 73 tackles, while his backup, junior Glenn Love, saw plenty of action and finished with 27 tackles. While life for the safeties might be a little bit more difficult without cornerback Alterraun Verner, the Bruins probably have the best returning crew at the position in the conference.

Weak: Defensive front seven

Why it's a weakness: The Bruins not only lost five starters from their front seven, they lost five quality starters, including stalwarts like defensive tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and the Bosworth brothers, end Korey and linebacker Kyle. What's more, the depth is questionable and/or inexperienced, particularly at defensive tackle. While any team would be glad to welcome back players like end Datone Jones or outside linebacker Akeem Ayers, the Bruins will be young up front and that typically is a reason to worry.

Pac-10 lunch links: USC makes another hire

March, 8, 2010
3/08/10
2:46
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Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.

Thoughts on the 2009 top 30

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
4:30
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It feels like this is our final goodbye to the 2009 season: Our reworked top 30, which was topped Wednesday by Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

No surprise there, right?

Some notes on the list, and then we firmly turn our attention to 2010:

  • Oregon State led all teams with five players, including four in the top 10. Imagine if you'd read that 11 years ago?
  • Washington State had none -- only center Kenny Alfred was considered. Arizona State had just one, though the Sun Devils had a few who just missed the cut -- linebacker Mike Nixon, for one -- and a couple who figure to be on our 2010 preseason list (linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy).
  • 2009 was a highly competitive season in the conference, and that showed in the rankings. Arizona, California, Oregon and USC each had four players ranked. UCLA and Washington had three. Stanford two.
  • Only one offensive lineman -- USC's Charles Brown -- was on the list. USC's Jeff Byers and Stanford's Chris Marinelli just missed the cut. O-line is a questionable position for the conference next year, even with a lot of starters back. Only three of ten All-Pac-10 linemen are back -- and none from the first-team.
  • Five quarterbacks and five defensive ends made the list, making those the top two positions. Four quarterbacks will be back but just two of the DEs, which the quarterbacks might be happy to hear.
  • Thirteen of the top 30 are back next year, including seven of the top 10 (though none of the top three).
  • Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona each will have three players from the list back in 2010. USC will have none.

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 1

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
1:28
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
Ivan Pierre Aguirre/US PresswireToby Gerhart won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.
Click here for Nos. 2-30. Preseason rankings are here.

1. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford (25): Gerhart was the best player in the nation, so it makes sense that he sits atop the Pac-10 list. A consensus All-American, Gerhart finished second to Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history -- Ingram's playing for a national title contender clearly provided him the slim margin of victory -- but he beat out Ingram for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation's best running back. Gerhart led the nation in rushing (1,871 yards) and touchdowns (28) -- only one other runner had more than 21 TDs. His 143.9 yards rushing per game was 25 yards more than any other conference running back. He also caught 11 passes for 157 yards and even threw a TD pass. Defenses crowded the line of scrimmage and tried to gang up on Gerhart. It just didn't matter.

2. Brian Price, DT, UCLA (6)
3. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State (NR)
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9)
5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 2

February, 23, 2010
2/23/10
12:45
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

Click here for Nos. 3-30. Preseason rankings are here.

Price
Price
2. Brian Price, DT, UCLA (6): Everyone knew Price was coming; they just couldn't stop him, even with a double-team. The Pac-10 defensive player of the year -- a likely NFL first-round pick this spring -- led the conference with 23.5 tackles for loss, which is eight more than No. 2 (Washington's Donald Butler). That total ranked fourth in the nation. Seven of those TFLs were sacks, a total that ranked first among conference interior linemen. He also had 48 total tackles and forced a pair of fumbles.

3. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State (NR)
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9)
5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

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