Pac-12: Bryant Cornell
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
And finally there were linebackers. Or a lack thereof.
All three first-team All-Pac-10 linebackers are gone. USC and California both lost three starting linebackers from elite units.
The only team that welcomes back an intact crew is Washington, which is a mixed blessing when a defense is among the worst in the nation the previous season.
That said: No one is completely rebuilding.
Each linebacker unit, other than USC, has at least one starter back, and the Trojans crew has seen significant playing time and is probably as talented as any in the Pac-10.
- UCLA: This is a position of strength for UCLA, with a lot of experience and athletic ability, led by middle linebacker and leading tackler Reggie Carter, who was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago. Akeem Ayers and Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick, second-team All-Pac-10, leads another solid corps of Beavers linebackers from the strongside. Middle linebacker Bryant Cornell is gone, but he only ranked fifth on the team in tackles. Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey are back on the weakside, while David Pa'aluhi is slated to replace Cornell.
- USC: Sure, all three starters are gone, but we just can't pull the trigger and downgrade the Trojans. The general feeling that Chris Galippo inside with Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan on the flanks will be as physically talented as any crew in the conference. Each saw significant action last year and recorded double-digit tackles, with Morgan leading the way with 24, including five for a loss.
- Arizona State: Lost second-leading tackler Morris Wooten but the Sun Devils get everyone else back, including Gerald Munns, who left the team early last season due to personal issues. Moreover, young players such as Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will push for playing time.
- Arizona: Lost leading tackler and leader Ronnie Palmer in the middle, but Sterling Lewis (five starts) and Xavier Kelly (eight starts) are back and Vuna Tuihalamaka, who is slated to replace Palmer, saw a lot of action in 2008.
- Stanford: Pat Maynor is gone, but Clinton Snyder leads an experienced crew that includes Chike Amajoyi, Will Powers and Nick Macaluso.
- California: Lost three of its four starting linebackers, but both Eddie Young and Mike Mohamed started games last year, with Mohamed ranking third on the team in tackles.
- Oregon: Jerome Boyd is gone but second-leading tackler Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are back. Eddie Pleasant likely steps in for Boyd.
- Washington: Because the Huskies defense was so bad last year, it's hard to rank them in good shape just because all three starters are back. But the addition of 2007 leading tackler E.J. Savannah, who was suspended by former coach Tyrone Willingham, makes this an area of least concern on a team with many concerns.
- Washington State: It might seem like we're picking on the Cougars by leaving them alone down here but here's the situation. WSU lost its best defensive player and leading tackler, middle linebacker Greg Trent, from the nation's worst rushing defense (248 yards per game). Undersized weakside linebacker Louis Bland, who had nine tackles for a loss in 2008, is back, and word is Andy Mattingly might move back to linebacker from end. If that happens, the position upgrades substantially.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The vast majority of players suiting for the Civil War on Saturday aren't from the state of Oregon. Therefore, that vast majority had to experience the rivalry before they appreciated it. They had to learn to hate the Ducks or Beavers and, in the process, hear all the reasons why each fan base finds the other so completely lacking in redeemable qualities.
That's not the case for Oregon State linebacker Bryant Cornell. He's from The Dalles -- just down the road, he explained -- and his brother Jared played for the Beavers in the Oahu (1999) and Fiesta Bowls (following the 2000 season).
Cornell, a senior, seems like a nice young man. His parents are teachers.
But it's not easy for him to maintain the bland decorum demanded by coaches in order to keep highlighted quotes from ending up on locker room walls.
Cornell really, really wants to say what he thinks about Oregon but he really, really knows that's not what he should do.
"I wouldn't say we have animosity toward the [Oregon] players, but certainly there's a certain... feeling toward the other university," he said.
Hmm. How so? Does Cornell subscribe to the Beaver belief that Oregon gets too much credit in the media and Oregon State too little?
"Oregon gets a lot of media, but I'd hate to think my media was coming from the uniforms I was wearing," he said. "I feel like a lot of their pub is what Phil Knight is doing for them."
Phil Knight being the Nike founder and an Oregon mega-booster.
Sure, it's a raspberry sent toward Eugene, but Cornell does have a point.
Oregon, which has by far the best football facilities on the West Coast, almost always finishes ahead of the Beavers in the recruiting rankings and almost annually starts ahead of them in the preseason rankings. But Oregon State has finished ahead of Oregon five of the last eight years in the final Pac-10 standings.
The Beavers also have won five of the last eight Civil Wars, including the last two. In 2007, they broke a 10-year run of the home team winning the rivalry game when they clipped the Ducks 38-31 in double-overtime in Autzen Stadium.
The Beavers are a 3-point favorite to make it three in a row Saturday in Reser Stadium, where they have won five in a row, the Ducks last win in Corvallis coming in 1996.
So there's a bit of a role-reversal in this one, at least in terms of outsider expectations. The Beavers are the favorites gunning for the Rose Bowl with a victory, while Oregon is trying to play the spoiler.
Oregon safety Patrick Chung briefly debated -- "Some people think we're the favorites," he said -- who was the underdog but then embraced the notion.
"We'll take being the underdogs," he said. "I like being an underdog. When we win, it will be a lot better."
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti didn't embrace the spoiler role this week. He said his team has plenty to play for itself. He pointed out that if the Ducks win, and UCLA upsets USC on Dec. 6, there would be a three-way tie atop the Pac-10, though that scenario would send the Beavers to the Rose Bowl.
The Ducks are hoping to get a Holiday Bowl invitation, among other things.
"To win in Corvallis, to win in the Civil War, to have bragging rights in the state -- those things in all honesty are more important than knocking somebody out of a game," Bellotti said.
Oregon's chances seemed to improve this week when Beavers coach Mike Riley termed running back Jacquizz Rodgers "very doubtful" due to a shoulder injury he suffered last weekend at Arizona. Rodgers, a true freshman, leads the Pac-10 with 1,253 yards rushing.
The Beavers also are unsettled at quarterback, though Riley said he'll name a starter this week between Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield. Moevao started the first eight games before injuring his shoulder against Arizona State. He came back two weeks later against California, but his shoulder started acting up again, and Canfield got his second start at Arizona.
There aren't any mysteries for Oregon. The Ducks rank sixth in the nation in rushing (268 yards per game) and they are going to run right at the Beavers. Well, not necessarily right at them.
"It's a lot of misdirection," Cornell said. "Some teams that have bigger front sevens that aren't as mobile have a tough time stopping it. I feel like Oregon State recruits smaller, faster guys for our scheme. I think our mobility and athleticism will allow us to stop them."
The Beavers are second in the Pac-10 in run defense (112 yards per game).
On the other side of the ball, the Beavers might change some things up. With Rodgers on the sidelines, 240-pound Ryan McCants takes over, but it was Jacquizz's brother James who made the biggest impact running the ball at Arizona. The speedy fly-sweep specialists ran 10 times for 102 yards against the Wildcats.
"If the one Rodgers brother is not there, the other Rodgers brother is going to get more carries," Bellotti said.
Of course, there's one aspect of the game that captivates everyone. Or as Riley pricelessly phrased it, "Everybody is talking about the, you know, residual parts of this game."
That residue is the Rose Bowl, which the Beavers will go to for the first time in 44 years if they win.
Toss in the fact that this is only the second time in the rivalry game's 111 previous matchups that both teams enter ranked, and this is a Civil War for the ages.
The stakes are always huge for both teams, but a potential rosy finish makes the Beavers day that much more resonant.
"It's come down to one game," Cornell said. "It's kind of a cause and effect. You win you go, you lose you don't."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
These links have a dislocated knee cap in tribute to USC QB Mark Sanchez.
- Arizona donned full pads, and Earl Mitchell is looking more and more like a DT instead of his former position of fullback. On offense, freshman QB Matt Scott has been impressive -- is he the favorite to win the starting job after senior Willie Tuitama graduates? The Wildcats defense has been surprisingly good so far, but Saturday's scrimmage will provide a bigger test.
- Arizona State's linebackers probably enjoyed their first full-pads practice, but a freshman is trying to break into their circle. And Thomas Weber, the nation's best kicker, may end up punting again this season. Mike Jones might be the best receiver you haven't heard much about.
- California's talented running back Jahvid Best survived full-contact work, providing further evidence that he's overcome his hip injury. The battle continues over the proposed sports training facility.
- Doesn't sound like Oregon coach Mike Bellotti has been impressed by his team's performance thus far. The Ducks defense is already thinking about Washington QB Jake Locker, even with Locker's hamstring injury.
- The injury bug also hit Oregon State, with a potential starter on the offensive line, tackle Wilder McAndrews, suffering a thumb injury. Oregon State has designs on building a reputation as the Northwest's Linebacker-U, so here's a story on Bryant Cornell. Things, apparently, aren't so bad at safety, either.
- How about these Pac-10 blood lines? Arizona State already has John Elway's son, Jack, on its roster. Now Stanford has offered a scholarship to Joe Montana's son, Nick. While the QB competition is still on at Stanford -- a new depth chart will be announced Tuesday -- things look good up front.
- The LA Times looks at the desperate straights of the UCLA offensive line. Good article that takes a historical perspective, noting no Bruin lineman has been drafted since 1999, which is fairly shocking for Jonathan Ogden's alma mater. Here are some practice notes. And this: QB Ben Olson's foot still bothers him.
- Here are some USC notes that don't involve Mark Sanchez's knee. And we now know who the real USC is.
- Maybe Washington QB Jake Locker's hamstring is no big deal. Some good news here for the Huskies: Nike's going to give them $39 million. Practice notes 1. Notes 2. And 3.
- What's going on in Washington State's competition at cornerback? Story included this note: "In the first few days, starting quarterback Gary Rogers has looked sharp, especially throwing the ball. Wulff wouldn't say the gap between Rogers and backup Kevin Lopina has widened." More on the goings-on in the Cougs secondary.