Pac-12: Brent Burnette

BOULDER, Colo. -- Colorado's practice went well over two and a half hours Tuesday. There was plenty of hitting and suffice it to say that new coach Jon Embree leads an animated, vocal staff.

Some observations.
  • There seems to be little question that Tyler Hansen will be the starting quarterback. He didn't have a great practice, but even then his command and presence stood out. Redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman seemed to lead in the battle with JC transfer Brent Burnette for the backup job.
  • Two defensive players who stood out haven't done so previously in their careers: senior defensive tackle Conrad Obi and junior linebacker Douglas Rippy. Both pass the eyeball test and, more important, both have been consistently making plays. Obi, in particular, is intriguing: Athletic 310-pound defensive tackles are really, really nice to have.
  • The offense ran better than it passed. Running back Rodney Stewart and company will benefit from a pro-style scheme that uses a fullback. Of course, seeing that the Buffaloes didn't use a fullback last year, the fullback candidates converted from other positions, including Tyler Ahles, who was in the rotation at linebacker last fall.
  • Embree said before spring he would emphasize special teams and he's clearly following through, though that doesn't mean the special teams were consistently good.
  • UCLA fans probably won't want to watch Colorado's offense this year: Sophomore receiver Paul Richardson, who transferred from UCLA after an off-field incident, appears poised for a breakout season. He's clearly the Buffaloes best receiver.
  • Junior Ray Polk may have the inside track at safety, where he'd start beside senior Anthony Perkins, who's out with a knee injury. Cornerback still seems unclear among a gaggle of candidates, including senior Jonathan Hawkins, sophomore Deji Olatoye, junior Makiri Pugh and sophomore Jered Bell.

Pac-12 QBs: Who's set and who's not?

February, 15, 2011
Though there are notable exceptions -- Oregon last year, for one -- it's typically better to have a returning starter at quarterback than to have questions at the position heading into spring practices.

The Pac-12 will boast the best collection of quarterbacks in the country next fall. In fact, no other conference is even remotely close. Seven teams welcome back quality starters, and four of them -- Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles -- are legitimate All-American candidates.

On the flip side, five teams have questions at the position, though just three competitions appear wide open: California, UCLA and Washington.

Here's a quick look at where each team stands.

Who's set?

Arizona: While Nick Foles had some downs in 2010, he's still one of the premier quarterbacks in the country. The more interesting story is the Wildcats would like to redshirt capable backup Matt Scott so he can take over in 2012.

Oregon: Darron Thomas greatly exceeded expectations as a sophomore starter in 2010. What will he do for an encore?

Oregon State: Ryan Katz had his ups and downs last fall but his ups suggested tremendous upside. He might have the best arm in the conference. And history shows Beavers quarterbacks get better with age.

Stanford: Andrew Luck likely would have been the top pick in this spring's NFL draft. Suffice it to say, the Cardinal are set at the position.

USC: Junior Matt Barkley has been a starter since his true freshman season and he made a significant jump forward in 2010. He's expected to do so again this fall and then jump into the NFL draft.

Utah: Jordan Wynn will sit out spring practices after shoulder surgery, but there is no question he's the Utes starter.

Washington State: Jeff Tuel started as a true freshman in 2009 and took some knocks. He made a huge leap forward with a better supporting cast in 2010. And if he duplicates that improvement as a junior, the Cougars will start to win a few games.

Who's not set (working down to most uncertain)

Arizona State: The biggest uncertainty here is Steven Threet's status after suffering three concussions in 2010. He has not been cleared to participate in spring practices. But the expectation around the program is that Brock Osweiler will be the starter this fall.

Colorado: Experienced senior Tyler Hansen is the decided frontrunner, but there's a new scheme and coaching staff and he's coming back from a ruptured spleen. JC transfer Brent Burnette and redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman are the competition.

Washington: The Huskies competition to replace Jake Locker is fairly straight-forward: sophomore Keith Price vs. redshirt freshman Nick Montana. Though Price, the 2010 backup, has a slight edge, in large part due to a solid start at Oregon last year, expect the battle to last into preseason camp.

UCLA: Kevin Prince would be the slight favorite due to experience, but he's coming back from a knee injury and it is questionable how much he'll be able to do this spring. Where does Richard Brehaut stand, seeing he's playing baseball? And might Rick Neuheisel and new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson decide to go with touted true freshman Brett Hundley?

California: This one is completely up in the air, though Brock Mansion likely takes the first snaps since he started the final four games of 2010 after Kevin Riley went down. The candidates after him include: sophomore Allen Bridgford, redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, junior Zach Maynard and junior Beau Sweeney. Spring figures to winnow the field to two, maybe three, candidates.

Pac-12 offseason to-do list

January, 21, 2011
What tops the to-do list in the newly formed Pac-12 this offseason? Read on.

Hey, why are there 12 teams here? Hey, it's because the Pac-10, the conference we've known since 1978, is now the Pac-12, with two new teams -- Utah and Colorado -- and North and South divisions and a conference championship game. It will take some getting used to. For one, goodbye nine-game, round-robin schedule; hello conference misses. And hello this debate: "The North rules!" "No way, man, the South is where it's at!" In any event, the dynamic will be different, and you can count on coaches thinking about how it will be -- in recruiting and on the field -- over the coming months.

Solving the QB intrigue: Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State are set at quarterback. Oh, and Stanford, too. But five schools have varying degrees of intrigue (and even Arizona needs to figure out what to do with capable backup Matt Scott). Arizona State needs to establish a pecking order between Brock Osweiler and Steven Threet. At Colorado, Tyler Hansen returns from an injury and will try to fight off a challenge from junior college transfer Brent Burnette this spring. California has a wide-open competition with a bunch of names and no clear favorite (transfer Zach Maynard?). Is true freshman Brett Hundley ready to take over at UCLA, or are Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut going to prevail? (And will Prince be ready to compete this spring after knee surgery?). And Washington is a battle between Keith Price and Nick Montana.

Tending to the hot seats: No Pac-10 coach was fired this year, though newcomer Colorado dispatched Dan Hawkins. But that might not be the case after the 2011 season, seeing that a couple of seats range from steamy to warm. Topping the hot-seat list are UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and Washington State's Paul Wulff. Both need to win this season to survive. Neuheisel, coming off his second 4-8 season in three years, probably needs seven or eight wins. Wulff probably needs to get his team to a bowl game. Arizona State is expected to be a top-25 team. If it's not, Dennis Erickson could be in trouble. Arizona coach Mike Stoops and California coach Jeff Tedford might not be on hot seats, per se, but their seats aren't as comfortably chilled as they once were.

Hello, my name is Coach New Guy: Two Pac-12 teams welcome new coaches: Jon Embree at Colorado and David Shaw at Stanford. Shaw will need no introduction to his players; he was the Cardinal's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh, who bolted to the San Francisco 49ers. (I'm concerned I will suffer some sort of Harbaugh withdrawal this spring.) But he's rebuilding an outstanding coaching staff that suffered a major brain drain on both sides of the ball, including Greg Roman (offense) and Vic Fangio (defense). Embree has stocked his staff with plenty of familiar names and faces and lots of impressive NFL pedigree, which will appeal to recruits. Still, both are first-time head coaches so it will be interesting to see how they adjust to their big corner offices.

Where's the beef? Most Pac-12 teams take significant hits on their offensive or defensive lines -- or both, in the case of Arizona, Oregon and Stanford. Colorado loses just one lineman, but that's left tackle Nate Solder, a likely first-round NFL draft pick. Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC must replace at least three offensive line starters. Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah and Washington State need to replace at least two on the D-line. If you watched the conference's two BCS bowls -- Stanford in the Discover Orange and Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game -- you saw what happened when you win the battle in the trenches.