Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats
Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.
Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.
California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.
Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.
Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.
Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.
Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.
UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.
USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.
Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.
Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.
Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.
- Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey improved his 40-yard dash time, slightly, at the Wildcats' Pro Day.
- Arizona State's Pro Day is Friday.
- California has reportedly reassigned former defensive coordinator Andy Buh to another job within the athletic department.
- More touchdowns, fewer field goals. That's what Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is preaching.
- Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti is "very excited and pleased" to be a College Football Hall of Fame nominee.
- Former NFL player Rockne Freitas is receiving a prestigious honor from Oregon State.
- Stanford notes before Saturday's second open practice of the spring.
- In case you missed it, former UCLA running backs coach Steve Broussard was hired by SMU.
- An argument for USC as a playoff contender next season.
- An on-camera interview with Utah's Moana Ofahengaue, who has been hospitalized for more than a week after a scooter crash.
- Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson got in a running back drill during Huskies practice.
- WSU has set a date for when it will open its new football operations building.
But let's get specific. While some units or position groups are fully stocked -- UCLA and Oregon both have nine starters coming back on offense -- there are a lot of questionable areas across the conference that will get their coaches full attention this spring.
You could start with Arizona State's defense, which welcomes back just three starters and lost six All-Conference performers.
The Sun Devils' friends in Tucson, Ariz., also have some questions. While the quarterback battle is a headline grabber, it's perhaps even more notable that Arizona is replacing its top three rushers from 2013, including All-American Ka'Deem Carey, and have no healthy RB this spring who produced more than 50 yards on the ground last season.
Stanford is replacing four big-time players on its offensive line, but the Cardinal might have more issues with their defensive front seven, which is replacing LBs Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Jarek Lancaster as well as defensive linemen Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.
Washington ranked second in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense in 2013, but it must replace three starters as well as a top backup in its secondary. Cornerback Marcus Peters returns, but the Huskies' 2013 depth chart was otherwise full of freshmen.
Finally, Utah loses three of four starters on its defensive line, topped by two All-Conference performers, end Trevor Reilly and tackle Tenny Palepoi. Only end Nate Orchard is back in 2013.
While a lot of these teams feel they have answers among young or incoming players -- or those miracle junior college transfers who will solve all your woes! -- none of those answers are sure-things by any measure.
So which unit faces the biggest rebuilding job?
Ted Miller: Spring practice is the official transition from taking stock of the 2013 season, including recruiting, and looking ahead to next fall. The 2013 season was all about top-to-bottom depth for the Pac-12 -- and the lack of an elite national-title contender. That might be the case again in 2014, but if the conference is going to be nationally relevant in year one of the four-team College Football Playoff, I think it will be because of the depth and quality of the quarterbacks.
If Travis Wilson is cleared to play at Utah, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back 2013 starters, and many of these guys are All-American candidates, most notably Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion
What most interests you this spring with the Pac-12?
Kyle Bonagura: As a result of the continuity at quarterback, offenses should be in line for a collective step forward. How far could be determined by how quickly the conference's seven new defensive coordinators acclimate to -- and perform at -- their new jobs.
We won't get a great read on how that process is going during the spring, but it'll be interesting to see in what ways defenses evolve moving forward.
For Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, the change will be minimal. Todd Graham will remain heavily involved in how ASU plays defense and the other three promoted staff members will use the framework and schemes already in place. USC might have a new staff, but considering coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were in the conference last season, it should be an easy transition.
I'm more interested to see how things play out at California and Washington.
Washington is set up for success with the much-anticipated arrival of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who brought his defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, Pete Kwiatkowski. They have a talented front seven to work with and a favorable early schedule that'll allow the staff to iron out any kinks: at Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State.
Art Kaufman's job taking over the Cal defense won't be as easy. The Golden Bears should be in better shape than last season from a health and experience standpoint -- the latter partially a result of 2013's injury woes -- but there's a lot of ground to cover between where they were and being competitive.
Ted Miller: One team that had coaching continuity at both coordinator spots is Arizona, and I think the Wildcats are setting up to be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, though I do see UCLA as a strong favorite at this point. The intrigue with Arizona, though, is at quarterback. It seems like the most wide-open competition in the conference.
If Cyler Miles gets back in Chris Petersen's good graces, he's got a significant lead for the Washington QB vacancy. At USC, I think that Cody Kessler is likely to retain his starting job over touted redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler steadily improved as a difficult season went on, and he still has his 2013 offensive coordinator/position coach in Clay Helton. At Utah, a healthy Wilson starts for the Utes.
But Arizona has four guys with a legitimate shot at winning the starting QB job next fall: Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall. Solomon was one of the jewels of the 2013 recruiting class, while the other three are transfers from A-list programs -- Scroggins from USC, Brewer from Texas and Randall from LSU.
The first big question will be whether Rich Rodriguez narrows the field at the end of spring practices. How much does he want to establish a clear pecking order? You'd think at least one of these guys is going to be relegated to fourth place because there are only so many practice reps to go around.
The good news is the guy who wins the job is going to have an outstanding crew of receivers. While he won't have running back Ka'Deem Carey lining up as a security blanket behind him, Rodriguez's offenses almost always run the ball well. The Wildcats will average over 200 yards rushing again next season, I feel confident saying that.
The million dollar question -- the difference between competing for the South title and winning eight games again -- is how efficient the guy behind center is.
Any position battles particularly intrigue you this spring?
Kyle Bonagura: Like you, I'm really intrigued to see how the quarterback competition at Arizona progresses. That's a lot of pressure for the three guys who already transferred from big-time programs. All of them clearly want to play, and it makes you wonder if one of them will end up at an FCS school before the season starts.
The most high-profile battle outside of quarterback has to be at Stanford, where four guys are competing to replace Tyler Gaffney at running back. I was out at the Cardinal's first open practice of the spring last week -- and will be out there again on Saturday -- and what stood out immediately was how balanced the reps were. If Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young didn't have equal reps with the first team, it was close.
However it plays out, it's unlikely Stanford will feature one back like it has the past six years with Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.
Wright probably holds a slight edge in terms of the overall package -- largely because of his capabilities in pass protection -- but there are more similarities than differences in comparing each guy. A lot of people ask about Sanders because of his famous father (my favorite football player as a kid), but the reality with him is that expectations were probably too high when he arrived. His name and recruiting profile are to blame, and the coaching staff isn't going to force his development.
Young, who switched back to running back from receiver, might be the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and Seale, a fifth-year senior, might have the best grasp of the offense.
Arizona: Jonathan McKnight returns, but the Wildcats will have to replace a good player in Shaquille Richardson. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez mentioned Derek Babiash and Devin Holiday as potential candidates for Richardson's spot. Babiash appeared in nine games with a pair of tackles last season, and Holiday appeared in all 13 with an interception. Junior college transfer Patrick Glover could be a factor, and freshmen Logan Bartlett, Jarvis McCall and Arlandis Hinton are coming off redshirt seasons.
Arizona State: With potentially 10 starting quarterbacks returning in the Pac-12, it's not a good season to lose both corners, which is the case for ASU. Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor are gone, and Lloyd Carrington returns as the most experienced player. Junior college transfer Kweishi Brown was the nation's No. 3-ranked corner and should be expected to contribute right away.
California: Kameron Jackson's surprising decision to leave early for the NFL leaves new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman without much experience. Cedric Dozier, Joel Willis, Adrian Lee and Isaac Lapite all started at least one game last season, but none more than four (Dozier). The newcomer is junior college transfer Darius White, who was the No. 7-ranked juco CB in the Class of 2014.
Colorado: The Buffs return both Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson, who topped the final depth chart of the season. Chidobe Awuzie started at nickel and the team also returns Jeffrey Hall, John Walker and Marques Mosley, all of whom appeared on the three-deep depth chart.
Oregon: Terrance Mitchell decided to leave a year early for the NFL, but the Ducks will benefit greatly from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's decision to return. Dior Mathis, who played in all 13 games last season, is the favorite to move into Mitchell's role, and Troy Hill should be in the rotation. Junior college transfer Dominique Harrison is on campus and a candidate for playing time and the coaches like Chris Seisay, who is coming off his redshirt.
Oregon State: Losing Rashaad Reynolds will be tough, but Steven Nelson, an all-Pac-12 honorable mention honoree, gives the Beavers a playmaker on one side. Like Nelson last season, junior college transfer DeMarlon Morris could be in line for immediate playing time. Dashon Hunt, a prize recruit of the Beavers' 2013 recruiting class, and Larry Scott, who played in 12 games last season, are two others to keep an eye on.
Stanford: Alex Carter is expected to miss all of spring practice with a hip injury, which will create reps for guys such as Ronnie Harris, Ra'Chard Pippens and Taijuan Thomas. Harris is the favorite emerge from that group at corner in nickel situations, when Wayne Lyons will shift over to cover the slot.
UCLA: The Bruins have a lot of talent back, starting with Fabian Moreau, who earned all-Pac-12 honorable mention in his first season as a starter last season. Ishmael Adams started every game and led the team with four interceptions. Priest Willis played mostly on special teams as a freshman, but the former big-time recruit is in line for more playing time on defense.
USC: Kevon Seymour's first season as a starter finished on a high note with a solid performance in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. He'll be expected to remain in that role with a competition for the spot next to him. Senior Anthony Brown figures to get the first crack, but injury problems have been a concern, as has been the case with Devian Shelton. It's a big spring for Chris Hawkins, who is coming off his redshirt, before a solid crop of recruits, led by Adoree' Jackson, arrive.
Utah: The Utes lose one of the draft's rising prospects in Keith McGill, who at 6-foot-3 provided a unique look for the Utah defense. Davion Orphey, a transfer from Santa Ana College, saw the most starts opposite McGill last season, but Justin Thomas and Reginald Porter also saw time in the starting lineup.
Washington: With Marcus Peters coming back, the Huskies have a good starting spot and will look for a new starter to play alongside him. It's an important spring for both senior Travell Dixon, who transferred from Alabama after a brief stop there in 2012, and freshman Jermaine Kelly as they try to make a positive impression on the new staff before four new corners arrive in the fall.
Washington State: Possibly the most important step for the Cougars this spring is to shore up the secondary -- a difficult task following the departure of seniors Damante Horton and Nolan Washington (in addition to Deone Bucannon at safety). Daquawn Brown, who is not short on confidence, started three games last season and fared well against USC's Marqise Lee. There isn't much other experience on the roster, and the team signed four corners from the high school ranks.
- Ka'Deem Carey isn't the only former Arizona player looking to impress at pro day.
- Check out former Arizona State DB Alden Darby's highlight film.
- How might California improve its game-day experience?
- Colorado RB Christian Powell will miss the start of spring football.
- Why are former Oregon players slower at the NFL combine?
- Former Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker is loony for a good cause.
- Stanford's young o-linemen are ready to step up.
- Former UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is impressive but raw.
- A look at USC's QB situation heading into spring practices.
- A scouting report on former Utah TE Jake Murphy.
- More on the suspension of Washington LB John Timu.
- Important question: Which Washington State football player is the best dunker (of a basketball, not a donut)?
Arizona: The Wildcats are going to be young at linebacker, as even returning starter Scooby Wright is a true sophomore. Stalwarts Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, the Wildcats' top two tacklers in 2013, are gone. Senior Hank Hobson was Fischer's backup last year, and sophomores DeAndre' Miller and Jake Matthews were officially behind Flowers. But there will be plenty of competition, with touted juco transfer Antonio Smothers, junior Keoni Bush-Loo and sophomore Derrick Turituri -- listed behind Wright last year -- also in the mix, along with a handful of redshirt freshmen.
Arizona State: Arizona State is replacing three of its four starting linebackers, most notably Carl Bradford and Chris Young. Sophomore "Sam" linebacker Salamo Fiso is the only returning starter. Expect Carlos Mendoza and Antonio Longino to top the spring depth chart at the "Spur" and "Will" spots. They combined for 11 tackles last season. Chans Cox and Viliami Latu could be in the mix to replace Bradford in the key "Devil" LB spot, though neither at present looks like the pass-rushing threat he was. There could be some mixing and matching, and safety Viliami Moeakiola played some linebacker last year. Also in the fray: true freshman early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, Eriquel Florence and juco transfer Darrius Caldwell.
California: Junior Jalen Jefferson, sophomore Michael Barton and sophomore Hardy Nickerson are back. They ranked among the Bears' top six tacklers in 2013. Those three seem likely to find a spot in the starting lineup, but this is a fluid situation after Cal was hit hard by injuries last year and has a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman. Nathan Broussard, who is coming back from an ACL injury, could be in the mix, as could Jason Gibson. Obviously, young players will have an opportunity to earn early playing time.
Colorado: While the Buffaloes lose Derrick Webb, they welcome back Addison Gillam, who had a sensational freshman year, and seniors Woodson Greer III and Brady Daigh, who both started and/or saw significant action last season. Sophomores Kenneth Olugbode, Ryan Severson and Clay Norgard also are in the mix. Watch out for sophomore Pittsburgh transfer Deaysean Rippy, cousin of former LB Doug Rippy. Deaysean Rippy, a touted recruit in 2012, seems likely to challenge for a starting job.
Oregon: The Ducks lose only one of their four starting linebackers from 2013 -- Boseko Lokombo -- and his backups, Tyson Coleman and Torrodney Prevot, saw plenty of action. Outside linebacker Tony Washington and inside 'backers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick should be better as second-year starters. Backup inside LBs Joe Walker and Rahim Cassell also have significant experience. It will be interesting to see if any youngsters, most notably Prevot, make a push.
Oregon State: This might sneak up on you, but Oregon State has one of the best linebacker trios in the conference coming back: D.J. Alexander, Michael Doctor and Jabral Johnson. Johnson replaced Doctor when his season ended in Week 2 with a foot injury, so it should be interesting how the outside spots work out. In the middle is sophomore Rommel "The Desert Fox" Mageo, who replaced the inconsistent Joel Skotte, a junior, in the starting lineup five games into the season. Sophomores Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy also saw plenty of action last year.
Stanford: The Cardinal are replacing two first-team All-Pac-12 linebackers from their 3-4 defense: OLB Trent Murphy and ILB Shayne Skov. James Vaughters is back on the outside and 2013 second-leading tackler A.J. Tarpley is back on the inside. Kevin Anderson is almost certain to replace Murphy. He had 6.5 tackles for a loss to go with 26 tackles last year. Blake Martinez, Joe Hemschoot and Noor Davis are competing for the other inside spot.
UCLA: The Bruins are replacing All-American OLB Anthony Barr and ILB Jordan Zumwalt, two highly productive players who figure to have NFL careers. The good news is the return of senior Eric Kendricks on the inside and sophomore Myles Jack on the outside. Junior Kenny Orjioke is the top candidate to replace Barr, and sophomore Isa Savaiinaea and senior Ryan Hofmeister have received a lot of playing time inside.
USC: The Trojans lose outside linebacker Devon Kennard, but welcome back three starters (considering OLB Morgan Breslin only played five games), including highly productive veteran ILB Hayes Pullard, who has led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Also back is OLB J.R. Tavai and ILBs Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson, co-starters last year. Still, things figure to be highly competitive this spring, with Pullard being the only sure thing. Sophomore Jabari Ruffin received plenty of playing time last season, and fellow sophomores Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell should be in the mix. Some touted freshmen might enter the mix in the fall.
Utah: While Utah loses Trevor Reilly, a hybrid DE/OLB, it welcomes back pretty much every linebacker from the 2013 depth chart. In the middle there's Jason Whittingham, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season. Also back are senior Jacoby Hale, who had 6.5 sacks last year, and Jared Norris. Further, Miami transfer Gionni Paul figures to challenge for a starting spot after sitting out last season, and there are several younger players who could make a move. Also, it remains to be seen where Brian Blechen, who has bounced back and forth between safety and linebacker, ultimately ends up.
Washington: Inside linebacker John Timu was suspended after he was charged with misdemeanor vehicle prowling, which wasn't a great welcome for new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Nevertheless, the Huskies are pretty stacked at linebacker. If Timu gets his act together, then the Huskies will have three players with starting experience, including the athletic duo of Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson on the outside. You could also include rush ends Corey Littleton and Josh Shirley as returning OLBs in the hybrid defense the Huskies ran under Justin Wilcox. While junior Scott Lawyer has some experience, the overall depth is young, if promising. Azeem Victor, Connor O'Brien and Keishawn Bierria are youngsters to watch.
Washington State: With junior Destiny Vaeao moving to end from "Buck" linebacker, the Cougars will be replacing two starters. Junior Darryl Monroe is a two-year starter and the leader in the middle, and Cyrus Coen is back at "Sam" LB. The battle to replace Vaeao figures to be between juniors Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan, and Tana Pritchard is the favorite to replace Justin Sagote at "Will" linebacker. A big question: Where does junior Chester Su'a fit in? He missed last year because of injury, and could play behind Monroe or challenge Pritchard. There are some intriguing young players who also could insinuate themselves into the rotation.
But for Arizona receiver Austin Hill, spring practice feels like he's standing in front of a spectacular buffet dinner. And he's really, really hungry.
Hill was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection following the 2012 season after ranking second in the conference in receiving yards. The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns.
But his 2013 season ended before it began on April 10 after he tore his ACL during the second-to-last session of spring practice.
Poof -- just like that, football was taken away, replaced by uncertainty and the daily burden -- and boredom -- of rehabilitation. That's why even a no-pads practice to start spring drills this week was invigorating.
Hill practiced with the Wildcats in a limited fashion during the final weeks of the 2013 season, but he's still not 100 percent healthy. While he's officially full-speed this spring, he's still wearing a knee brace and his explosiveness and speed are not fully back.
"That's basically the last step of ACL recovery," he said. "I'm still in those processes."
Neal and Jones both sat out last season, so Hill knows they share his hunger, while the returning starters and contributors don't want to yield repetitions. While it's a collegial atmosphere among the receivers at practice, it's also a competition for touches and position in the pecking order.
"Everyone is helping each other out on the field," Hill said. "It's fun to see athletes compete. It's always fun."
Of course, the competition at receiver figures to yield certainty -- an outstanding and deep crew of four or five guys in a regular rotation with one or two leading the way. The bigger issue is who is going to deliver the ball.
Hill laughs at the inevitable quarterback competition question, for an answer behind center probably won't be delivered until fall camp. Perhaps even late in fall camp, as it was last year.
Hill, for one, admits he'd prefer to get some clarity much sooner.
"Right now ... who knows? I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was," he said. "I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day."
“Of course, that's up to the QBs -- senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer, junior Jerrard Randall and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon -- and coach Rich Rodriguez, who has said repeatedly about QB competitions that he would prefer that one guy quickly and decisively wins the job.
I just hope it doesn't end up like it was last year, where even in the first couple of games we really didn't know who the quarterback was. I want it to be a QB we know is going to start. That's the most important thing for your passing game, that receiver-QB sync. It's hard to get that sync when you don't know who your quarterback is and it's getting switched up every day.” Arizona receiver Austin Hill on the Wildcats' quarterback competition.
Just don't expect it to happen this spring.
As for Hill's take, he often doesn't even know who's delivering the ball.
"The quarterbacks are getting switched around so much, sometimes it's even hard to tell which quarterback even went with my group when I went," he said. "We move so fast, I don't get to pay attention to what quarterback is throwing me the ball."
While the QBs work through their competition, Hill will be a veteran leader for the offense, back in action after a year of observing the team from the outside. When he looks around at practice at the improved personnel on both sides of the ball, he senses that the Wildcats are going to surprise some folks this season.
"I'm ready to help this team to a BCS bowl," he said. "I feel like that's where we're headed."
As Hill missed last season and is still not 100 percent, he, of course, can be forgiven for forgetting 2013 was the last season of the BCS era. His point is clear. He believes Arizona is going to be a threat in the Pac-12's South Division in 2014.
- In case you missed Rich Rodriguez's "Arizona Speed," here it is again. It's worth watching.
- Arizona State's Carl Bradford on his NFL combine experience.
- Looking at the state of Cal heading into spring practice.
- Are there bowl expectations at Colorado next year?
- Oregon picked up a commitment from an offensive lineman.
- This mock draft has Oregon State DE Scott Crichton to the Vikings.
- A Q&A with new Stanford running backs coach Lance Taylor.
- UCLA is No. 2 on this list of teams that could win a national title by 2020.
- Previewing USC's offensive line.
- New Utah QB Kendal Thompson said he needed a "fresh start."
- Washington suspended LB John Timu for the first two weeks of spring practice.
- Is it time to expand alcohol sales at Washington State football games?
Arizona: Coach Rich Rodriguez is confident in both Reggie Gilbert and Dan Pettinato and anxious to get junior-college transfers Jeff Worthy, who also spent a year at Boise State, and Jerod Cody acclimated to the system. Calvin Allen, Jack Banda and Luca Bruno are coming off redshirt seasons and represent a group Rodriguez said the team needs production from.
Arizona State: With the departure of Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, there is a question about the team's depth at end. Without Will Sutton clogging things up next year, the Sun Devils' lack of experience is even more of a concern. Sean O'Grady backed up Conway and Coleman last year, but ASU has several well-regarded junior-college transfers in Edmond Boateng, Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry.
California: The Bears list seven defensive ends, but former junior-college transfer Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa gained the most experience last season listed at the rush position. Antione Davis was outgoing starter Dan Camporeale's primary backup, but Brennan Scarlett's return is more important. He started nine games in 2012 and has been cleared to play following a hand issue that cost him the 2013 season. Todd Barr, Sione Sina and recent-transfer Jonathan Johnson are also in the mix.
Colorado: Colorado must replace Chidera Uzo-Diribe, but Juda Parker is back for his senior season, and several others have game experience. Samson Kafovalu is the likely candidate to start opposite him after making 18 tackles in seven games last year. Jimmie Gilbert was Uzo-Diribe's backup, Kirk Poston and De'Jon Wilson also played.
Oregon: The Ducks took a hit with the departure of Taylor Hart, who was named second-team All-Pac-12, but have a talented player in Arik Armstead lined up to take his spot. Armstead started five times in 2013 and left the basketball team midseason to shift his focus back to football. T.J. Daniel, Jason Sloan are projected to be in the mix for playing time.
Oregon State: Scott Crichton is gone, but Dylan Wynn remains and will likely be the Beavers' best defensive player a year after finishing fourth on the team in tackles. Lavonte Barnett, Crichton's primary backup in 2013, and Jaswha James figure to compete for the starting job, but there are two others to keep an eye on. Obum Gwacham recently switched from receiver and Mike Riley has been complimentary of Titus Failauga, who is coming off his redshirt.
Stanford: Henry Anderson has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the conference and Blake Lueders, who switched from OLB, began the spring atop the depth chart. The intriguing prospect is Luke Kaumatule, who was recruited to play defense but began 2013 as the team's starting tight end. Spring will be important for his development, but his raw ability is impressive.
UCLA: Both Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes were all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season and highlight a talented UCLA defensive line. Their return will help account for the loss of Cassius Marsh, who started 12 games last year. Both McCarthy and Vanderdoes can play inside or outside, but the Bruins listed them both at end. Highly recruited DE Kylie Fitts saw playing time as a true freshman last season.
USC: Leonard Williams, the only sophomore named first-team all-Pac-12 on defense last season, is the best in the conference. Delvon Simmons, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, has a lot of game experience. He started 12 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and had regular playing time as a freshman there in 2011. Both Simmons and J.R. Tavai, who was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection, can play inside or outside.
Utah: There's no replacing Trevor Reilly, who made 100 tackles despite lingering effects from a torn ACL, but Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick both saw extensive playing time last season. The Utes have five other defensive ends on the roster, but of that group only LT Filiaga made a tackle last season.
Washington: The Huskies are in great shape with the return of Hau'oli Kikaha, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Cory Littleton and Evan Hudson. Josh Shirley has 10 career starts, while Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching provide depth.
Washington State: With Toni Pole expected to move back inside, the depth chart will look similar to how it did going into last season, minus Matt Bock. After making 50 tackles last year, Xavier Cooper will start on one side, with Destiny Vaeao and Lyman Faoliu strong candidates for more playing time. Emmitt Su'a-Kalio is coming off a redshirt, and the Cougars also signed a pair of defensive ends from Hawaii in Kingston Fernandez and Hercules Mata'afa.
- Arizona announced some early season schedule changes.
- A scouting report on former Arizona State DT Will Sutton.
- A balanced Cincinnati perspective on new California defensive coordinator Art Kaufman.
- Colorado needs to sell more football tickets.
- One of the funniest men who ever lived dons an Oregon jersey.
- Sports Illustrated's Peter King has a high opinion of former Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks.
- A Stanford spring practice report.
- UCLA is making progress raising money for a new football facility.
- USC has offered a lot of scholarships in Florida.
- Details on new Utah OC Dave Christensen's contract.
- Washington has more than a few roster questions as spring practices begin.
- Some thoughts on former Washington State safety Deone Bucannon's improving NFL draft status.
Arizona: The Wildcats lose the steady Tevin Hood, the nose tackle in their 3-3-5 scheme. Last season he was backed up by rising senior Kirifi Taula and sophomore Dwight Melvin. They are undersized and combined for eight tackles, seven of which came from Taula. Two incoming juco guys should provide a boost. Jeff Worthy, a former Boise State player, at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, could play any of three positions along the line, and there's also 280-pound recruit Jerod Cody.
California: The Bears lose their best player in 2013, Deandre Coleman, who nonetheless seemed out of position at noseguard. They also lose DT Viliami Moala, a once touted recruit who entered the NFL draft early after an undistinguished career. The big question is the return of DT Mustafa Jalil, who is still recovering from the knee injury that ended his 2013 season before it began. He's long been a tantalizing talent. Other possibilities are Jacobi Hunter and Harrison Wilfley as well as juco transfers Trevor Kelly and David Davis.
Colorado: Five of the top six defensive tackles are back, including starters Josh Tupou and Justin Solis, both juniors. The only loss at the position is Nate Bonsu, whose contribution was just 13 tackles. Samson Kafovalu and Tyler Henington are also in the mix.
Oregon: The Ducks lose a pair of effective 300-pounders in the middle in the underrated Wade Keliikipi and backup Ricky Heimuli, but starting tackle DeForest Buckner is back, and noseguard Alex Balducci has significant experience. Depth is the question. Players such as Stetzon Bair and Sam Kamp need to step up, while younger players have a chance to break through. There's also incoming juco transfer Tui Talia.
Oregon State: The Beavers probably got more than they thought they would in 2013 from Mana Rosa and John Braun, but both are gone. Into that void will step Edwin Delva, Siale Hautau, Brandon Bennett-Jackson, Noke Tago and Miami transfer Jalen Grimble. Junior college transfer Kyle Peko arrives in the summer.
Stanford: The Cardinal runs a true 3-4, so the only true DT is David Parry. He's back but will be limited this spring while recovering from a lower abdominal injury. Parry likely will share the position with promising redshirt sophomore Ikenna Nwafor, but he is nursing a foot injury and will miss at least the Cardinal's first spring session. That leaves seniors Anthony Hayes and Lance Callihanto try and make an impression this spring. Aziz Shittu, previously an end, also is getting a look at NT this spring.
UCLA: The Bruins lose Seali’i Epenesa, but by the end of the season, freshman Kenny Clark was the starter. Ellis McCarthy and Eli Ankou also can play inside or outside in the Bruins 3-4.
Utah: The Utes lose Tenny Palepoi, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors, and fellow starter LT Tuipulotu as well as backup Latu Heimuli. Sam Tevi, Viliseni Fauonuku and Sese Ianu are back, and juco transfer Pasoni Tasini should be in the mix. Freshman Allan Havili graduated high school early and will participate in spring practices.
Washington: The Huskies welcome back 327-pound Danny Shelton, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2013, and Evan Hudson, who operated as a DT/DE in the Huskies’ hybrid scheme. Redshirt freshman Elijah Qualls also might make a move, and Jarett Finau and Taniela Tupou also are back.
Washington State: The Cougars lose nose tackle Ioane Gauta but welcome back Kalafitoni Pole, who is projected to move back inside and replace Gauta after playing DT last year. Xavier Cooper likely then moves from end and replaces Pole. Redshirt freshman NT Daniel Ekuale is promising, while Darryl Paulo, Gerald Sterling and Robert Barber are also in the mix.
If you're Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, you make fun of the rule in a YouTube video that spoofs the movie "Speed."
Rodriguez's starring role begins on a runaway city bus, where he is on a cell phone with a coach who is not officially identified as the coach of a school in Arkansas. From his lair in the "Old School Coach's Office," the villainous coach tells Rodriguez the rule is "for the safety of the players."
The comment visibly upsets Rodriguez and gives him a platform to give his real thoughts on the issue.
"Let's not distort the facts because of your personal agenda," Rodriguez said. "There's no evidence that shows that fast-paced offenses cause more injuries. In fact, there's less injuries with faster offenses."
Naturally, Sandra Bullock's character -- perhaps scared about how it will affect Hugh Freeze's offense at Ole Miss? -- is there to ask, "Why is all this happening?"
"I think there are some coaches that have a hidden agenda," Rodriguez tells her. "They want to slow the game down. They think fast-paced offenses lead to more injuries. There's no evidence of that at all that says that."
Channeling her inner Jim Harbaugh, Bullock's character responds, "What is this guy's deal?"
"I don't know. I just think they don't want to evolve the game. It's popular right now and they're holding college football for ransom," Rodriguez said. "It's a fundamental rule that we can go as fast as we can. People enjoy the game, they watch people, they want to see action. They don't want to see huddles, people holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya.'"
The Wildcats opened spring practice Monday. The 2015 Academy Awards will be held Feb. 22.
- Does Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey have what it takes to be a feature back in the NFL?
- A look ahead at Arizona State's upcoming spring practice.
- A peek at where former California coaches are now employed.
- A broad look at Colorado WR Paul Richardson as an NFL prospect.
- An in-depth look at Oregon's offensive line.
- A Q&A with former Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks.
- If people are counting out Stanford football, an argument for why they shouldn't.
- 5 things to watch during UCLA's spring practice.
- Former USC players speak well of Lane Kiffin.
- Is Utah CB Keith McGill a potential fit for the 49ers?
- A prediction of Washington's spring depth chart.
- Here's an optimistic look at Washington State in 2014.
Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.
Here are some notable takeaways:
- Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
- Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
- Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
- Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
- Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
- Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
- Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
- Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012
Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team: The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.
Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team: The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.
No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012
MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team: Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.
No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013
Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.
No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008
Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team: The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.
No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013
Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team: The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.
No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008
Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team: The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.
Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.
No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011
Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.
No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005
Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.
No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009
Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.
No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008
Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.