Pac-12: Big shoes 2012

Biggest shoes to fill: Washington

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Biggest shoes: Running back Chris Polk

Polk earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and finished third in the conference in rushing in 2011, earning a No. 9 spot on our list of the top-25 players in the Pac-12 this past season. He rushed for 4,049 yards during his career, which ranks No. 2 on the Huskies' all-time list. He scored 26 touchdowns along the way and -- oh by the way -- caught 78 passes. But he's off to the NFL. He leaves behind huge shoes, particularly if the Huskies want to remain balanced, instead of relying entirely on quarterback Keith Price.

Stepping in: Running back Jesse Callier

Callier is not unlike Oregon's Kenjon Barner. He's been a capable backup to a superstar for two years, as Barner backed up LaMichael James for three seasons. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Callier has rushed for 693 yards -- 5.6 yards per carry -- and caught 25 passes over the past two seasons. He's also seen extensive action as a kick returner. He's looked good at times, but not spectacular. He will get the first chance to prove he's an every-down, 25-carries-a-game guy. But he will be pushed by sophomore Bishop Sankey and JC transfer Antavius Sims, who is likely to play a hybrid running back/wide receiver role. No matter what, Callier won't get all the touches, just as Polk didn't. But it will be up to Callier to take over as the showcase back, instead of becoming a 1A with another runner becoming 1B. Or the Huskies could be going with the proverbial "running back by committee."

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Biggest shoes to fill: Utah

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
12:30
PM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Offensive tackles Tony Bergstrom & John Cullen

We have two sets of shoes here for multiple reasons. First, replacing both offensive tackles is always a concern. Those guys protect the edges from attack. Second, both these guys earned All-Pac-12 honors, Bergstrom on the first-team and Cullen on the second. But the third reason is the ugly secret. The Utes' line didn't do that well last season. Sure, it opened holes big enough for running back John White to rank 11th in the nation with 116.85 yards rushing per game. But the Utes only ranked eighth in the Pac-12 and 80th in the nation in rushing with 137.6 ypg. But that's not the worst news. Not only did the Utes struggle to throw the ball after starting quarterback Jordan Wynn got hurt, they did a terrible job preventing sacks. They gave up 33 sacks, and their 2.54 per game ranked 95th in the nation. Yet, even that doesn't tell the whole story. Cover your eyes, Utes fans. Utah yielded 33 sacks on just 302 passing plays. Yeah, that means they surrendered a sack on nearly 11 percent of their passing plays. For comparison, Washington State gave up the most sacks in the conference: 40. But the Cougars only gave up sacks on 8.1 percent of their passing plays.

Stepping in: Offensive tackles Daniel Nielson & Percy Taumoelau

While these are the two leading guys, there might be some plot twists ahead, because things don't feel settled. Nielson, a 6-foot-6, 317-pound redshirt freshman, replaces Bergstrom on the right side. Taumoelau, a 6-4, 315-pound junior, steps in for Cullen on the left. Nielson is smart (he was physics Student of the Year at Hurricane (Utah) High). He also is a former state wrestling champion. And he was around for 2011 spring practices, so he's not as green as most redshirt freshmen. A minor knee injury last week, however, had 6-6, 316-pound junior Kapua Sai running with the first team. Taumoelau has seen action the past two seasons, but has yet to log a start. How to look at these guys? Promising but unproven is probably the safest way. The same goes for the reinforcements: Utah signed nine offensive linemen in February, including three from junior colleges. It's possible -- likely? -- that some of those guys could push for playing time, though not necessarily at the tackle spots.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Biggest shoes to fill: USC

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Offensive tackle Matt Kalil

Big shoes? How about this: Kalil is almost certain to be the first offensive lineman picked in the NFL draft on April 26. And he's almost certain to go among the top-five picks. So these are very big shoes, in addition to the 6-foot-7, 295 pounder being one of only five 2011 starters not returning this fall. Further, Kalil protected quarterback Matt Barkley's back side, and did it very well, not yielding a sack. In fact, he was the cornerstone of a line that surrendered just eight sacks, second fewest in the nation.

Stepping in: Sophomore Aundrey Walker or junior Kevin Graf

Walker might have pulled ahead of Graf, who started at right tackle in 2011. The 6-6, 320-pounder was listed at 375 pounds when he played guard as a true freshman a year ago, but his athleticism has long been obvious. If he continues in his present trajectory of conditioning and performance, he'll be the next Trojans offensive lineman to get picked in the top-half of the first round of the draft. Whoever replaces Kalil, the other will almost certain start at right tackle. Both will be charged with protecting USC's most precious asset, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: WR Nelson Rosario

One of the most prolific wide receivers in school history, Rosario leaves the program ranking fifth all-time in receptions (146) and receiving yards (2,362). The 6-5, 219-pound receiver caught 64 balls last year for 1,161 yards -- including a team-long 76-yard touchdown. He finished the year with five touchdown receptions.

Stepping in: Ricky Marvray, Jerry Johnson, Damien Thigpen and/or Devin Lucien.

It could be one or two of the above -- or all of them. With a whole new offensive scheme, it's tough to project who will fill which roles. Johnson and Thigpen are coming off of injuries, but the X factor could be Lucien, who impressed during practices last year. Depending on how the quarterback situation shakes out, this is one we're not really going to be able to answer until we're a few games into the season. Of the group, Johnson is the most comparable in size to Rosario (6-4, 218). But the previous coaching staff was high on Lucien. We'll have to wait and see if he can impress the new administration.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Biggest shoes to fill: Stanford

March, 28, 2012
3/28/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: QB Andrew Luck

Obvious? Yep. Are there other shoes to fill? You bet. When you are looking to replace, potentially, four first-round picks, there are going to be holes. But this series is the biggest shoes to fill. And when you have to replace a once-in-a-generation player like Luck, the shoes don't get any bigger and the stakes don't get any higher. No need to re-hash his credentials. The two-time Heisman runner-up is being touted as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning -- and possibly further back -- to John Elway. He leaves Stanford as arguably its greatest player and he has the career numbers to back it up.

Stepping in: Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes (we think)

Head coach David Shaw declared a five-man race following the end of the season. Though earlier this week he said that Nottingham and Nunes have separated themselves from the pack and it appears those two will continue their competition through the summer. So much of the new guy's success depends on what happens with some of those other holes. Filling out the offensive line, working three-tight-end formations without Coby Fleener, etc. But the good thing for whoever wins the job is that Luck set the bar so high that a first-year starter will likely get a little more wiggle room for error. Shaw said he doesn't expect the next guy to be the next Luck, which is good, because there is a 99.9 percent chance he won't be.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: WR James Rodgers

How big are his shoes? Well, Rodgers only leaves as Oregon State's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (6,377) and receptions (222). Not to mention he was tied for third all time for career receiving touchdowns (19) and fourth all time for career receiving yards (2,582). It is also worth noting that it will be the first time since 2007 that a "Rodgers" brother won't be on the roster. His impact last season wasn't as significant -- 45 catches and just three touchdowns -- but he leaves OSU as one of its most celebrated receivers.

Stepping in: Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks

Wheaton actually clicked well with quarterback Sean Mannion last season and was the team's leading receiver with 73 catches for 986 yards and a touchdown. He tied for fifth in the conference with 6.1 catches per game. Cooks was tied for third on the team with 31 catches for 391 yards and three receiving touchdowns (including a team-long 59-yarder against BYU). With a renewed focus on the running game, coach Mike Riley said he hopes the balance will allow for better bang-for-buck in the passing attack.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon

March, 26, 2012
3/26/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: WR Lavasier Tuinei

While De'Anthony Thomas was the Ducks' most dynamic receiver in 2011, Tuinei was the team leader in receptions with 48 and touchdowns with 10. And we all saw what he did in the Rose Bowl: eight receptions for 158 yards with two touchdowns. Oregon has plenty of holes to fill: quarterback, tailback, rover, defensive end and two spots on the offensive line. But in most cases you can say who will step in, or at least you can talk about how good the folks are competing at that position. You can't say that about who will replace Tuinei.

Stepping in: Josh Huff, Rahsaan Vaughn,Devon Blackmon, B.J. Kelley or Tacoi Sumler

If ability meets performance, the Ducks will be fine at receiver. But there are no guarantees that will happen based on the actual past performances of these five thus far in their careers. Huff? Forget for a moment his off-field issues. He's yet to prove he's a natural receiver, a guy ready to catch six or so passes per game. Vaughn is the same thing. He's a talented JC transfer but he, nonetheless, only caught 14 passes last season. And then there are the three redshirt freshman, whom we've previously noted. They each were touted recruits and have plenty of talent. But none were impressive enough to Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich to drop their redshirt in 2011. The bottom line: There is no sure-thing here.

Biggest shoes to fill: Colorado

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
1:00
PM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Quarterback Tyler Hansen

Coach Jon Embree called the quarterback position battle the No. 1 priority for the Buffaloes this spring and going into fall. That's good enough for us. Colorado isn't lacking holes to fill, so you might as well start at the top. Hansen didn't have great numbers by Pac-12 standards. His 56.1 completion percentage was last among conference quarterbacks, and his 20-to-11 touchdown to interception ratio and 2,883 yards were pedestrian in a league where half of the quarterbacks throw for 3,000-plus yards. But numbers aside, he was gutty, reliable and absorbed every one of the 82 sacks he suffered in a four-year career. He was a leader. And that's not easily replaced.

Stepping in: Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman, Stevie Joe Dorman or John Schrock

The quarterback competition, which was supposed to heat up this spring between Wood, a Texas transfer, and Hirschman, last year's backup, got put on ice after Hirschman suffered another broken bone in his foot. That means Wood has the entire spring to impress the coaching staff and work pretty much exclusively with the first team. Embree said the competition will resume when Hirschman returns in the summer, and the job is not Wood's by any means. Dorman and Schrock, are a pair of dark horse candidates that will also benefit from Hirschman missing spring, but both are expected to split reps with the second team.

The rest of the "Big Shoes" series can be found here.

Biggest shoes to fill: California

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Linebacker Mychal Kendricks

The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Kendricks piled up 258 career tackles, including a team-high 107 his senior season. His 14.5 tackles for a loss were tied for second in the conference. He also had three sacks, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. But it's not just a production void: Kendricks was the centerpiece of the Bears 3-4 defense. He had 25 more tackles than anyone else on the team. He knew the scheme and he knew where everyone was supposed to line up.

Stepping in: J.P, Hurrell, Robert Mullins, Dave Wilkerson, Nick Forbes, Jason Gibson, Steven Fanua

Considering both inside linebackers -- Kendricks and the solid D.J. Holt -- need to be replaced, it's difficult to handicap this one exclusively for Kendricks. Mullins and Hurrell, both juniors, were the backups inside last year, with Hurrell listed behind Kendricks. Wilkerson started three games on the outside, and the sophomore is an intriguing talent who may be more natural inside. But he needs to stay healthy. Forbes, a sophomore, and Gibson, a redshirt freshman, are talented youngsters who could be poised to break through. It's possible that there might be a rotation of three or four guys here getting regular playing time early in the season.

The rest of the "Big Shoes" series can be found here.
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

We continue with Arizona State.

Big shoes: QB Brock Osweiler

It's hard to overlook the five-game losing streak the Sun Devils are currently mired in. But during those five games, Osweiler still had nine touchdowns and averaged 352 yards in the air per game. He was a very efficient and talented quarterback, and that's why he's being talked about as a potential first-round draft pick following his surprising departure. He tossed 26 touchdowns and was second in the conference with 4,036 yards. His 13 interceptions won't be missed, but he led ASU to some significant wins in 2011, including victories over Missouri, USC and Utah. In those three games he had nine total touchdowns (one rushing) and zero interceptions.

Stepping in: Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank or Taylor Kelly.

People are excited to see Todd Graham's high-octane offense. But they are more excited to see who is actually going to be running it. Bercovici was the backup last year, but the question is whether he fits the Graham mold/scheme. Kelly has some experience at running a spread offense and Eubank -- a stellar athlete with a sturdy 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame -- seems to be a fan favorite. This is certainly one of the more intriguing quarterback competitions in the conference and the winner is likely to put up some pretty good numbers in Graham's scheme. It's worth noting that the new guy won't have the benefit of throwing to Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad or Mike Willie, three of ASU's top-four receivers from last season.

The rest of the "Big Shoes" series can be found here.

Biggest shoes to fill: Arizona

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
12:00
PM ET


Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

We start with Arizona.

Big shoes: WR Juron Criner.

This isn't just about Criner -- the Wildcats lose a ton of production at receiver -- but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Criner caught 209 passes and scored 32 TDs over the past four years. He's been the Wildcats go-to receiver for two years. Further, new coach Rich Rodriguez is almost completely rebuilding the receiving corps as he installs his spread-option offense. Arizona's top three receivers from 2011 are gone and that absence grows to four of the top five if you include departed running back Keola Antolin. Also, seventh-leading receiver Richard Morrison is playing QB this spring.

Stepping in: WR Dan Buckner

The first question is whether Dan Buckner can step up. The hyped, 6-foot-4 Texas transfer had a decent 2011, ranking fourth on the team with 42 receptions for 606 yards and two touchdowns, but he needs to be more consistent in order to step into Criner's shoes. There are other options, too, including 6-foot-3 sophomore Austin Hill. Or perhaps it will be Tyler Slavin or Garic Wharton? Or perhaps Rodriguez's run-first offense won't throw the ball enough for these shoes to be so critical?

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