Pac-12: Big shoes 2013

Biggest shoes to fill: Arizona

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
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: QB Matt Scott

Without question, it's the quarterback who guided the Wildcats to an 8-5 mark in their first season under Rich Rodriguez and was second-team all-conference who leaves the biggest shoes to fill. Scott led the Pac-12 and finished sixth nationally in total offense, accounting for almost 344 yards per game. He completed 60.3 percent of his throws with 27 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He also rushed for six touchdowns. He was tailor-made for the RichRod offense, and in just one season helped elevate the profile of the program -- so much so that the Wildcats are being discussed as a team in play for the South title in 2013. The question is, how much of a drop-off will there be in his absence?

Stepping in: To be determined ...

Everyone loves a quarterback competition -- except for coaches, who would much rather have their starter already in place when spring starts. But the Arizona quarterback-to-be has some great weapons to work with -- like the nation's leading rusher last year in Ka'Deem Carey and a potential Biletnikoff Award finalist in Austin Hill. Worth noting, too, that whoever wins the job will also be working with a new center with Chris Putton and Beau Boyster in the mix to replace Kyle Quinn. B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen, and incoming freshman Anu Solomon will all get a chance -- though Denker has been getting a lot of the reps this spring with Scroggins recovering from foot surgery. Denker had a little bit of work last season -- though Solomon could be the X factor as one of the higher-rated dual-threat quarterbacks.

Biggest shoes to fill: Arizona State

March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
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.

Biggest shoes: LB Brandon Magee

Magee wasn't just about being the Sun Devils leading tackler last year with 113 stops. Nor was it his 12.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Nor is it his 231 career tackles. And, really, it's not about him being a member of the Pac-12 Blog's All-Interview team, though of course that is a significant honor. It's about leadership. You could make the argument that the difference between 2011 and 2012 for ASU, at least on defense, might have been a healthy Magee. Magee's leadership wasn't just fiery. It was smart. There's a lot of talent coming back on the Sun Devils' defense. But Magee's departure, hopefully to the NFL, leaves a decided void.

Stepping in: Redshirt freshman Carlos Mendoza

Mendoza isn't a typical redshirt freshmen. He was generating a lot of positive buzz in preseason camp and saw significant action in the first two games, grabbing two interceptions against Illinois. But then he injured his shoulder and therefore donned a redshirt. If he hadn't gotten hurt, he was well on his way to 40 or so tackles as a top backup, seeing he had seven tackles, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble in his limited action. He's not big at 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, but he's speedy, reportedly running a 4.5 40. Speaking of buzz, there's also true freshman Chans Cox, a touted recruit who enrolled early. But he started off backing up "Devil" LB Carl Bradford, and now may be out with an ankle injury. A healthy Cox has the skills to play any of the four LB spots, where there are three returning starters. Another option is senior Grandville Taylor, who had 13 tackles last year, and the Sun Devils signed five other linebackers besides Cox. So there are plenty of options here, though things will skew young at the position, post-Magee.

Biggest shoes to fill: California

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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.

Biggest shoes: Center Brian Schwenke

Like yesterday's "Biggest Shoes" subject, Colorado offensive lineman David Bakhtiari, it's tough to really quantify what Schwenke meant to the team. But when you look back over his career -- the fact that he appeared in 48 games and started at three different positions along the way -- you start to get a feel for how important he was to the line. Over the final three seasons he started 36 games and in 2012 was a first-team all-league selection. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as the No. 2 center Insider in the upcoming NFL draft.

Stepping in: Matt Cochran or Mark Brazinski

Neither has much experience -- which makes this one of the more intriguing position battles in Berkeley this offseason. While so much attention is going to be on who is throwing the ball in Sonny Dykes new up-tempo offense, almost equally important is who is going to be snapping. Cochran, a redshirt freshman, was a well-respected recruit who ranked among the top 60 players in the state as a prep lineman. Reports out of camp are that he may be the frontrunner. Brazinski was originally slated as a starting left tackle last spring until an injury knocked him off course. He's appeared in four games in his career -- and only two in each of the past two seasons. Schwenke's consistency and versatility will be missed -- especially during a time of transition.

Biggest shoes: Colorado

March, 21, 2013
3/21/13
7:00
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.

Biggest shoes: David Bakhtiari

Quantifying the impact of an offensive lineman is always difficult. Quantifying the impact of an offensive lineman on a one-win team that was either last or near last in the league in almost every offensive category is even tougher. But anyone who followed Colorado the past couple of seasons understands the impact of the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder. He started 11 games at left tackle and yielded 2.5 sacks for the entire season -- meaning he did his part for a team that allowed 50 sacks in 2012. He consistently continued blocks downfield and is a legitimate NFL player.

Stepping in: To be determined…

Though completely reasonable, Colorado was still a bit caught off guard when he decided to jump to the NFL early, so there wasn't much time spent grooming a replacement. At this point – especially with a new coaching staff coming in and shifting to a pistol offense, it’s pretty wide open. We could see someone like Stephane Nembot move over to the left side. Jack Harris is also a possibility -- as is a guard like Jeromy Irwin shifting positions. It’s up in the air – and replacing the two-time second-team all-conference selection won’t be easy.

Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
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: ILBs Kiko Alonso & Michael Clay

Look, we're doing it again: Citing two guys having "Big Shoes." We could include OLB Dion Jordan and make it a troika of All-Pac-12 players. The point is this: Oregon has very few worrisome areas, but if you were to cite one chief area of concern, there's no doubt it's linebacker, where three of four starters must be replaced. While Jordan is the most elite in terms of NFL prospects, Alonso and Clay, manning the two inside spots, were one of the nation's most dynamic combos in 2012. And the departure of Clay, a member of the Pac-12 blog's All-Interview team, means we have to find a new go-to postgame interview guy on the Ducks' defense. So there are big shoes here in more ways than one. Clay led the Ducks with 101 tackles -- 20 more than the closest player behind him -- while posting 10 tackles for a loss, three sacks with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Alonso, despite battling a broken wrist much of the season, finished second to Clay with 81 tackles, including 14 for a loss. He added four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Alonso was the playmaker. Clay was the leader. Both wore big shoes.

Stepping In: Sophomores Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick

These two will get first shot, and Malone is close to a sure thing. He was a primary reserve last year, replacing Clay and Alonso when they were hurt, and he finished with 41 tackles. Hardrick saw less action in 2012 than he did as a true freshman the season before, so there's a feeling he might have been hurt more than he regressed (this take courtesy of Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard more so than a vague hint from coordinator Nick Aliotti). Sophomore Tyson Coleman can play inside or outside, but he seems more likely to backup Boseko Lokombo because he's got pass-rushing skills. There's also sophomore Rahim Cassell and redshirt freshman Brett Bafaro, and you'd think JC transfer Joe Walker wasn't brought in to sit on the bench. There are options here, but it's hard to imagine the Ducks won't take a step back on the position in 2013.

Biggest shoes to fill: Stanford

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
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: TEs Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo

These guys rate a tandem because Ertz was a unanimous All-American, Toilolo was a towering No. 2 and they represented one of the great innovations during Stanford's rise into the nation's elite: The "Big" formations featuring multiple tight ends who catch the ball like receivers and block like tackles. When you toss Coby Fleener in there from 2011, and you recall how special that troika was. And now all three are gone and no tight end remains on the roster who has caught a pass. This is further notable because both Ertz and Toilolo could have returned this fall. Ertz's decision to leave wasn't a surprise. He's a potential first-round NFL draft pick. Toilolo's was, and more than a few folks think he made a mistake, surrendering an opportunity to be the lead guy, and answer questions about his inconsistent hands. It also doesn't help that the Cardinal lost their Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, running back Stepfan Taylor and receiver Drew Terrell. But the void isn't just about catching the ball. Stanford's tight ends have played a key role in the rise of a dominant power running game. While the offensive line should be strong again this fall, it's questionable if the "Big" formations will be as fearsome, at least the tight end options.

Stepping in? Sophomore Luke Kaumatule

Kaumatule, a 6-foot-7 Hawaiian, certainly looks the part, and he is the early leader after a strong first spring session, though he's still learning the ins and outs of the position. Coach David Shaw also moved senior Eddie Plantaric and junior Charlie Hopkins, former defensive linemen, to the position, and senior Davis Dudchock brings veteran leadership and knowledge. Sophomore Alex Frkovic is trying to come back from a knee injury and sophomore Chris Harrell is promising but needs to get bigger and stronger. It's important to keep in mind that Stanford isn't looking for just one guy. It would like at least three to step up because it has plenty of designed plays with three on the field at the same time. Another thing to keep in mind: Stanford is deep at fullback, led by former tight end Ryan Hewitt, who at 6-foot-4, might be the tallest fullback in the nation. There's no reason that when Shaw says, "Give me a big, nasty guy who can run and catch," he won't finger a fullback for the role.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
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: RB Johnathan Franklin

Franklin rushed for a school-record 1,734 yards (6.1 average), averaging 123.9 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns. He also caught 33 balls for 323 yards and two touchdowns. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and became the Bruins all-time leading rusher, capping his career with a Pac-12 South Division title. Twice in 2012 he topped 200 yards rushing and six times he rushed for at least 160 yards. Against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game -- with the Cardinal boasting the best run defense in the conference -- he piled up 194-yard on 19 carries (10.2 average) with two touchdowns. He finished his career fifth on the Pac-12's all-time rushing list with 4,403 yards. It will be surprising if he lasts past the third round of the NFL draft.

Stepping in: A committee?

There isn't a running back on the Bruins roster who will make anyone forget Franklin. That could change, but it's presently a position decidedly in flux. Quarterback Brett Hundley was the Bruins No. 2 rusher last year, and undersized No. 3 rusher Damien Thigpen is coming back from a knee injury. Steven Manfro and Jordan James are nice supporting guys, but not the sorts who get 20-plus carries a game. More than a few folks are high on redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, but everyone felt the same way about former National Gatorade Player of the Year, Malcolm Jones, who has returned to the team as a walkon after three unremarkable seasons. The competition will get an injection of intriguing talent if incoming freshman Craig Lee gets academically eligible. All this, by the way, doesn't mean the offense and the running game can't match or exceed last year's strong production. For one, Hundley should be far saltier with a year under his belt. No. 2 -- and perhaps more important for the running backs -- the young offensive line, which struggled at times last year, should be much improved. It might actually turn out to be a good thing that carries are being shared more in 2013. That means guys will be fresher when the screws tighten late in what could be a special season in Westwood.

Biggest shoes to fill: USC

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
11:00
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: Quarterback Matt Barkley

You could go a couple of ways with USC. Center will be a huge position battle, with potentially three players battling to replace Khaled Holmes. The No. 2 receiver battle is intriguing, as is spots in the secondary to replace Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald. But four-year starters at quarterback are extremely rare. Barkley started 47 games for the Trojans -- more than any other USC quarterback in the school's history -- and went 34-13 as a starter. He leaves the program owning 20 school records and 10 Pac-12 records. While many agree that 2012 wasn't the season Barkley and the Trojans were hoping for, he still departs as one of the best statistical quarterbacks to ever play in the league and his charitable works were rewarded with the Wuerffel Trophy, which honors academics, athletics and service. He was a leader on and off the field and a player the Trojans will be hard-pressed to replace.

Stepping in: To be determined ...

Three players will compete to follow the guy who threw more touchdown passes than any other quarterback in the history of the league. When "USC" and "quarterback competition" come together, there is always intrigue. Max Wittek wasn't spectacular in his end-of-season audition -- losing to Notre Dame and then leading a floundering offense against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Cody Kessler has a couple of years in the system and was in a tight competition last spring with Wittek for the backup job. The X factor could be early enrollee Max Browne, a highly regarded pocket passer.

Biggest shoes to fill: Utah

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
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: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei

Lotulelei, a 2012 All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer, is likely to be an early first-round pick in this spring's NFL draft, even though he has some medical questions. He ranked sixth on the Utes with 42 tackles and led the defense with 10 tackles for a loss. His five sacks ranked second on the team. He also had three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and a blocked kick. But his value wasn't strictly -- or even predominantly -- about numbers. The 320-pounder simple was the nation's most imposing interior lineman, a guy who demanded constant double-teams. That opened things up for the rest of the front seven. The simple fact is you can't replace a guy like Lotulelei because no team in the country has two of him. Further aggravating matters: The Utes are replacing three of their four starting defensive linemen. So not only is the Utes' defense losing its Star, its losing its supporting cast.

Stepping in: Senior Tenny Palepoi

This figures to be a fluid competition. Again, one guy won't "replace" Lotulelei. Palepoi, a 305-pound senior, was a JC transfer last fall and he had 21 tackles, including three for a loss with two sacks while backing up the Utes' other DT, Dave Kruger. Coaches are high on him. LT Tuipulotu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a 320-pound redshirt freshman, and Viliseni Fauonuku will be part of the spring depth chart. Junior college recruit Sese Ianu will be in the mix immediately, while freshmen Gaius Vaenuku and Sam Tevi will have an opportunity to prove they're ready to play in the fall. Coaches didn't like taking Lotulelei out of the game last year, and there is a school of thought that he got tired in some games. The bit of good news here is there likely will be more of a rotation in 2013.
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: Cornerback Desmond Trufant

The First-Team All-Conference defensive back was a staple at the position for the Huskies, starting 45 straight games at one point in his career. He was honored with the team's Guy Flaherty award -- Washington's oldest and most prestigious team award. He was a captain and posted 36 tackles in 2012, including 27 solo. He also registered 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and one interception. He didn't have the big numbers like a lot of other defensive backs -- in terms of pass breakups and defended -- but that's because teams respected him enough to throw the other way. He was 12th in the league in passes defended. But he still finished the year with a team high nine breakups and 10 passes defended. He also forced a fumble, blocked a kick and recovered a fumble.

Stepping in: It's almost a sure thing that Marcus Peters will continue to start on the opposite side. But who exactly steps in for Trufant remains to be seen. It could be Tre Watson or Greg Ducre. Transfer Travell Dixon could also be in the mix. Dixon is a JC transfer (who spent a spring at Alabama) and becomes eligible in the fall after joining the team in the middle of last season. Watson started the first five games last season and appeared in all 13. Ducre picked up a start when Trufant was injured against Colorado and also appeared in every game last season. Peters -- who started the final eight games last year -- shared the team high in interceptions with three and Watson also had a pick. No doubt Trufant -- who may end up being a first-round draft pick -- leaves a big hole. But there is good experience and depth so the Huskies don't have to reinvent the wheel at the position.
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: Outside linebacker Travis Long

Long was a four-year starter -- starting every game, in fact, 47 in row -- for a defense that was never even close to mediocre. Yet he was highly productive and highly respected throughout the Pac-12. The question that many Cougars fans right now have is: "Well, we stunk with him being our best player for four years ... what about next fall?" Yes, that's worrisome. Long piled up 20.5 career sacks, which ranks No. 6 on the team's all-time list. His 42 tackles for a loss is the fourth most in school history. Last fall, he led the Cougs and ranked sixth in the conference with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. He was third on the team with 61 tackles, including 42 solo efforts. Long earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 for three seasons, and was second-team all-conference in 2011.

Stepping in: Junior Logan Mayes

Excuse me, Mr. Sour Puss, but the Cougars only posted their best win -- and best defensive performance -- of the year in the Apple Cup victory over Washington with Long on the sideline injured. The Cougars held the Huskies to just 269 yards and recorded three sacks and five quarterback hurries. So while Long was undoubtedly a great Coug, this isn't the zombie apocalypse. Further, there's an obvious replacement at the "buck" linebacker position Long played after being an end the previous three years: the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Mayes. In limited time last year, Mayes recorded 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hurries. He had five tackles and two QB hurries against the Huskies. Further, there's a quiet confidence in Pullman that the front seven will be far stouter in 2013 across the board -- linemen Xavier Cooper and noseguard Ioane Gauta are particularly promising, and the entire corps of linebackers is back. The Cougars probably can't entirely replace Long with a single body, but that might be a good thing. Long was a one-star constellation for four years. It might be better for Washington State simply to aspire to good team defense.

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