Pac-12: Butch Lewis

USC banged up for spring practices

March, 14, 2011
Michael Lev of the Orange County Register provides an injury update for USC, and it ain't pretty: 12 players who are either projected starters or likely contributors are expected to be out or limited when spring practices start on March 22.

Obviously, as Lev points out, it's premature to panic because sitting out spring is often about being healthy in the fall.

Still, it's quite a list (see link for details): WR Kyle Prater, OL Khaled Holmes, OT Kevin Graf, C Abe Markowitz, DE Wes Horton, DL Armond Armstead, DT Christian Tupou, MLB Devon Kennard, OLB Shane Horton, S Drew McAllister and CBs T.J. Bryant and Torin Harris.

Of particularly concern: Three offensive linemen and eight defenders are out.

The Trojans lack depth on their offensive line, which must replace three starters as well as part-time starter Butch Lewis. Now it appears that left tackle Matt Kalil will be the only full-go returning starter available this spring.

Meanwhile, the defense is looking to bounce back from a sub-par year under coordinator Monte Kiffin. While injuries to veterans will allow younger players to see more action, there's something to be said for the veterans being available to more fully digest the elder Kiffin's schemes during spring when there's more time to teach.

More bad news at USC

August, 12, 2010
The good news for USC fans? At some point, there has to be good news. Just not today.

The latest issues? First, impressive freshman running back Dillon Baxter has been suspended for season opener against Hawaii on Sept. 2 for violating team rules.

And it doesn't sound like coach Lane Kiffin and Baxter are on the same page here. Said Kiffin: "He wasn't happy by any means but he has two choices. This is adversity right now for him and he can deal with it two ways, like I told him. He can sit around and pout and think that he's being picked on, used as an example and he can stay over there and we can move on without him or he can take this and move on from here and work to get ready for the Virginia game."

The LA Times reported this as the violation:
A source with knowledge of the situation said Baxter was the unnamed individual cited in a USC Department of Public Safety incident report for "violating a team curfew" and "being under the influence of a controlled substance" that was filed at 2:47 a.m. Tuesday. The report, which could be viewed over the Internet, indicates the incident occurred at Fluor Tower, where USC football players are housed for the first few weeks of training camp.

But that's not even potentially the biggest issue.

More troubling is the health of two starters: end Nick Perry and guard Butch Lewis.

Perry hurt his knee and ankle and was carted off the field on Wednesday. Lewis has been missing practices with a hip problem and was scheduled to see a specialist Wednesday night, according to the Orange County Register.

Perry recorded eight sacks as a backup in 2009. The Trojans are deep and talented on the defensive line, but paired with the loss of tackle Christian Tupou to a season-ending knee injury in the spring and the transfer of backup end Malik Jackson to Tennessee, things are starting to look a bit thinner.

Unlike the D-line, the offensive line can't afford too many injuries. With Lewis out, redshirt freshman Kevin Graf moves up the depth chart, though there could be some shuffling of the few bodies the Trojans have on the line.

It's been an eventful first few months for Kiffin, both on and off the field. Training camp was supposed to be an escape but so far it hasn't been.

Opening camp: USC

August, 4, 2010
USC opens preseason camp today. Here's a quick look.

Who's back: Six starters on offense, six on defense and punter Jacob Harfman.

Big names: QB Matt Barkley, C Kristofer O'Dowd, DT Jurrell Casey

What's new: Everything? Pete Carroll is out; Lane Kiffin is in. The only holdover from Carroll's staff is receivers coach John Morton. The postseason is out; NCAA sanctions are in. AD Mike Garrett is out; Pat Haden is in. Defending Pac-10 champions is out; finishing with four conference losses is in. Certain dominance is out; questions about the future are in.

Key competition: There are lots of areas of intrigue, starting with returning starter Chris Galippo trying to hold onto the job at middle linebacker against converted end Devon Kennard. Who will replace the injured Christian Tupou at defensive tackle: Either DaJohn Harris or Hebron Fangupo. What's the pecking order behind Allen Bradford at tailback? And what about receiver, where freshmen Kyle Prater, Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles figure to challenge returning veterans. The only certainty in the rebuilt secondary is CB Shareece Wright. Oh, and freshman Kevin Graf is listed ahead of returning starter Butch Lewis at left guard.

Breaking out: Wright, O'Dowd, WR Ronald Johnson and DE Armond Armstead will be all-conference if they stay healthy. What will Barkley in Year 2 look like after starting as a true freshman? Kennard looks like a rising star. Freshman RB Dillon Baxter had folks whispering "Reggie Bush II" in spring practices. Hopefully without the greedy parents and accompanying parasites.

Quote: Kiffin on the team's strengths and weaknesses: “I feel good about our defensive line. Depth in general is going to be an issue. We have to be extremely intelligent and smart. Seven of our 10 coaches have NFL experience. We’re going to have to be NFL-oriented because of our situation.

Notes: The Trojans were picked second in the preseason media poll. They received 12 first-place votes compared to 15 for Oregon. It was the first time in seven polls USC hadn't been picked first. ... 13 returning starters is the second fewest in the conference. ... Players who left the program after NCAA sanctions were announced: safety Byron Moore (junior college), linebacker Jordan Campbell (Louisville), wide receiver Travon Patterson (Colorado), fullback D.J. Shoemate (Connecticut), defensive end Malik Jackson (Tennessee). Also, the Trojans released touted offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson (Miami) and linebacker signee Glen Stanley (Florida State) from their scholarship commitments.

Three Pac-10 players first-team All-American

June, 22, 2010
Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict and two players from UCLA -- kicker Kai Forbath and safety Rahim Moore -- were named first-team All-Americans by The Sporting News.

The second-team offense has a state of Oregon flavor -- Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Oregon's LaMichael James are the running backs. The second-team offense also includes Stanford center Chase Beeler, USC guard Butch Lewis and Stanford kick returner Chris Owusu. The second-team defense features UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers.

The third-team defense includes USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and Arizona cornerback Trevin Wade.

Here are all three teams.



QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

RB Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

OL Mike Pouncey, Florida

OL Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State

OL Stefan Wisniewski, Penn State

OL Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU

TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame

WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

WR A.J. Green, Georgia

K Kai Forbath, UCLA

KR D.J. Monroe, Texas


DL Jared Crick, Nebraska

DL Robert Quinn, North Carolina

DL Von Miller, Texas A&M

DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

LB Greg Jones, Michigan State

LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

CB Brandon Harris, Miami

S Rahim Moore, UCLA

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

P Drew Butler, Georgia

PR Greg Reid, Florida State


QB Kellen Moore, Boise State

RB LaMichael James, Oregon

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

OL Matt Reynolds, BYU

OL Chase Beeler, Stanford

OL Kyle Hix, Texas

OL Dan Hoch, Missouri

OL Butch Lewis, USC

TE Ben Guidugli, Cincinnati

WR Julio Jones, Alabama

WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame

K Grant Ressel, Missouri

KR Chris Owusu, Stanford


DL Marcell Dareus, Alabama

DL Sam Acho, Texas

DL Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh

DL Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA

LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma

LB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama

CB Kendric Burney, North Carolina

CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

S Mark Barron, Alabama

S Tyler Sash, Iowa

P Tress Way, Oklahoma

PR Jeremy Kerley, TCU


QB Case Keenum, Houston

RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech

RB John Clay, Wisconsin

OL Caleb Schlauderaff, Utah

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

OL Barrett Jones, Alabama

OL Zach Hurd, Connecticut

OL Clint Boling, Georgia

TE D.J. Williams, Arkansas

WR James Cleveland, Houston

WR Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

K Alex Henery, Nebraska

KR Tyron Carrier, Houston


DL Allen Bailey, Miami

DL Jurrell Casey, USC

DL Cameron Heyward, Ohio State

DL Jeremy Beal, Oklahoma

LB Tank Carder, TCU

LB Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut

LB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU

CB Trevin Wade, Arizona

CB Curtis Brown, Texas

S Jeron Johnson, Boise State

S Deunta Williams, North Carolina

P Derek Epperson, Baylor

PR LaVon Brazill, Ohio

Phil Steele announces his All-American, Pac-10 teams

May, 19, 2010
Phil Steele has released his All-American and All-Conference teams.

In the interest of space -- Steele publishes four All-American lineups and four All-Conference teams -- here are his Pac-10 All-Americans as well as his first-team All-Pac-10 team.

You can see all four All-Pac-10 teams here.


C Kristofer O'Dowd, USC
K Kai Forbath, UCLA
KR Chris Owusu, Stanford

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
C Colin Baxter, Arizona

WR James Rodgers, Oregon State

QB Jake Locker, Washington
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
K Thomas Weber, Arizona State

LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
S Rahim Moore, UCLA

DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DT Jurrell Casey, USC

LB Mike Mohamed, California
CB Trevin Wade, Arizona
P Bryan Anger

LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

All-Pac-10 first-team

QB Jake Locker, Washington
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State
WR James Rodgers, Oregon State
WR Ronald Johnson, USC
WR Jermaine Kearse, Washington
TE Kavario Middleton, Washington
C Kristofer O'Dowd
OG David DeCastro, Stanford
OG Butch Lewis, USC
OT Bo Thran, Oregon
OT Adam Grant, Arizona

KR Chris Owusu, Stanford
PR William Wright, Arizona

DE Ricky Elmore, Arizona
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DT Jurrell Casey, USC
DE Thomas Keiser (LB), Stanford
LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
LB Mike Mohamed, California
LB Mason Foster, Washington
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
CB Trevin Wade, Arizona
CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
S Rahim Moore, UCLA
S John Boyett, Oregon

K Kai Forbath, UCLA
P Bryan Anger, California

USC's Casey and Thomas return to practice

September, 10, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback Kevin Thomas, both starters, returned to practice Wednesday after missing the previous two days due to illness.

It also appears likely that All-American center Kristofer O'Dowd will return to the starting lineup after missing the opener with a dislocated kneecap.

The need for O'Dowd's presence might be more pressing now because guard Butch Lewis sprained his ankle and sat out Wednesday. With O'Dowd back, Jeff Byers could move back to left guard from center, where Lewis started against San Jose State.

USC's O'Dowd will have to win his job back

September, 7, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- This is how USC is different: The questionable health of an All-American center is greeted with a shrug even before a marquee game with national championship implications.

Kristofer O'Dowd practiced Monday for the first time since dislocating his knee cap three weeks ago, but there's no rush to push him back into the starting lineup Saturday when the Trojans visit Ohio State.

"We won't play him unless we feel like we're going to be fine," coach Pete Carroll said. "We're not going to play Kris just to play him. We're going to play him because we feel right about him and he's all right ... We're fine with the guys we have."

With O'Dowd out last weekend against San Jose State, sixth-year senior Jeff Byers moved over to center from guard and Butch Lewis and Alex Parsons played guard. Both Lewis and Parsons started last year -- Lewis at right tackle -- so the drop-off was minimal.

The Trojans rushed for 342 yards against the Spartans.

Moreover, while Carroll didn't say this, true freshman Matt Barkley made his surge to be the starting quarterback while taking snaps exclusively from Byers, so there is some issue of continuity.

O'Dowd, of course, is having none of that.

"I'm definitely going to be back for this game," he said. "I'm not going to settle for second string. That's not what I'm shooting for."

So USC's competition Tuesday is going to be just that for O'Dowd -- he's got to compete, prove his knee is 100 percent and win his job back.

In other injury news, the Trojans got one D-lineman back while another was missing.

Tackle Jurrell Casey missed practice because he was ill, while Averell Spicer practiced after sitting out the San Jose State game with a sprained ankle.

"He looked pretty good," Carroll said.

Hope and concern: USC

July, 17, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Eighth in a series on grounds for optimism and worry.

Biggest reason for hope -- An intact offensive line leads nine returning offensive starters.

Coaches often say it all starts with the offensive line (though this is an interesting contrarian argument), so the Trojans should be off to a good start with five starters returning and depth so talented it might unseat a veteran or two -- see tackle Tyron Smith challenging Butch Lewis. Kristofer O'Dowd is an All-American and may be the best center in the country. Guard Jeff Byers and tackle Charles Brown are All-Pac-10 guys who may get national honors, too. Last year, USC averaged 195 yards rushing per game and surrendered just 18 sacks, fewest in the conference. Best line in the nation? Maybe.

Biggest reason for concern -- This is probably the nation's toughest schedule.

Unlike many other programs in other conferences that hope to compare themselves to USC, the Trojans are not afraid of playing tough nonconference games on the road. Good for them, but some years it sets up a brutal slog of a schedule. USC figures to be the only team in the nation to play four nationally ranked opponents on the road -- Ohio State, California, Notre Dame and Oregon. The opener against San Jose State? Heck, the Spartans have won 20 games over the past three seasons since Dick Tomey took over. Toss in the quality depth of the Pac-10 and the round-robin conference schedule and no other team in the nation faces fewer weeks off than the Trojans. [Edit note: A reader pointed out that Arkansas will play at Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. That's a comparable road schedule and maybe even a little tougher. But Arkansas also plays Missouri State, Eastern Michigan and Troy).

USC's brainy Byers leads line that ranks among nation's best

June, 30, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Jeff Byers has been around a long time at USC and he's seen a lot. He started games for the 2004 team that won a second consecutive national championship. And he's seen his promising career almost end due to injuries, which killed two of his seasons.

"Old Man Byers," as some of his teammates hail the sixth-year offensive guard, will anchor perhaps the nation's best offensive line this fall as a sixth-year senior. Yet his chief reason for hanging around for so long might surprise you.

"I came back because I wanted to finish my masters' degree, first off," said Byers, who will turn 24 in September.

  Icon SMI
  USC guard Jeff Byers has been smart about his career and education.
Let's just say that Byers has used his time at USC wisely. While many yakety yak endlessly about college athletes not getting paid, Byers has parlayed his football scholarship into a bachelor's degree in business administration and tossed in an MBA for good measure.

That would cost most folks around $350,000.

Of course, when you are a conscientious student that long, you pick up some quirks. Byers, for example, often answers questions in outline form: "A. B. C."

Such as: "Jeff, are you guys already thinking about the marquee matchup at Ohio State on Sept. 12?"

Byers: "No, because: A. We've got to get through summer workouts; B. We've got to get through camp; and, C. We've got to beat San Jose State before we can start thinking about Ohio State."

Byers is one of five returning starters from a line that: A. Gave up only 18 sacks in 2008, fewest in the Pac-10; B. Led a rushing attack that averaged 195 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry; and, C. Is very deep considering the entire 2008 two-deep is back, and touted sophomore Tyron Smith is pushing to eclipse Butch Lewis at right tackle.

More than a handful of publications have ranked the Trojans line as the nation's best unit, not that Byers cares.

"It's hard to be called the best when you haven't played a down of football yet," he said. "It's like getting ranked No. 1 in the preseason. What does it matter? If you don't finish No. 1, it doesn't matter. It puts a target on your chest, but at the same time, you've got to remember it truly means nothing right now. Just because they say you're the No. 1 offensive line right now doesn't mean you are going to play like it."

That's sort of how Byers is. He's not flashy. He doesn't self-aggrandize. He's skeptical of hype.

Given an opportunity to join the chorus of USC fans who griped -- not without justification -- about the Trojans getting left out of the national championship discussion in 2008, Byers instead just scoffed.

"If we wanted to play for the national championship, we should have beaten Oregon State," he said. "That's the way it goes. If you lose, then you let your fate be in other people's hands. If you go 12-0, you've got a pretty good shot of getting to the national championship game. All it would it would have taken for us was beating Oregon State. Then there's no questioning. I'm not upset about it. Worrying about that is not going to help anything. It's not going to change it. It's the way the system works."

That sense of perspective probably comes from seeing just about everything in his career since he was a consensus prep All-American out of Fort Collins, Colo., in 2003: a national championship, a 34-game winning streak, major back and hip injuries, Vince Young going super-human to stop the Trojans from three-peating, a loss to 41-point underdog Stanford and five consecutive Pac-10 titles.

Things are never boring around the Trojans. It's not easy to leave that behind. So Byers applied for and earned a sixth year from the NCAA.

Said Byers, "If you've got an opportunity to keep playing in college, A. It's not going to hurt you in the NFL; and, B. Playing for one of the best teams in the country, and arguably the best coach in the country, you can't go wrong with that. The NFL is going to be there next year."

Byers is heading into a third consecutive healthy season, which should help his draft prospects. He also played at a light 285 pounds last year. Now he's just under 300, and he thinks his quickness and flexibility are better.

As for the Trojans offense, it welcomes back nine starters. The pregunta gigante, of course, is who plays quarterback: Can true freshman Matt Barkley beat out sophomore Aaron Corp, who was tapped No. 1 coming out of spring?

"Whoever plays between those two, we're going to have a great shot of winning a lot of football games," Byers said.

But Byers also echoes what just about everyone else says when assessing Barkley: He's special.

"Barkley is very mature for his age -- I forget all the time that he is only a freshman," Byers said. "We'll be sitting there wanting to give the younger guys a hard time and it's like, 'Wait a second. Barkley is with these guys!' Regardless of whether he plays this year or not, he's going to have a very bright future."

As for his future, Byers hasn't decided how he's going to use his MBA just yet. He interned at Toyota's North American headquarters doing strategic planning. There's always consulting. And investments and portfolio analysis are also intriguing.

Oh, and there's the business plan of getting a fat NFL signing bonus, not that Byers is planning to go all fleet-of-Bentleys on us.

That's not Old Man Byers' style: "I'm happy with my '98 Nissan Maxima," he said.

Who's loaded at one position?

May, 28, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

We've discussed positions of concern a lot. But where are teams (almost) worry-free?

Here are some spots.

USC's offensive line: The Trojans welcome back all five starters, including the nation's best center, Kristofer O'Dowd. And, oh by the way, super-sophomore Tyron Smith might displace returning starter Butch Lewis at tackle. The Trojans averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year and surrendered only 18 sacks, fewest in the conference.

California's secondary: All four starters are back, including first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, from a unit that finished third in the nation with 24 interceptions and ranked sixth in pass efficiency defense. And the backups are so good that a couple of returning starters are hearing footsteps.

USC's secondary: Start with Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard, the best safety combination in the nation -- though Pinkard played corner last year. Sure, two starters -- Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris -- are gone. But three players -- safety Will Harris and corners Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas -- have starting experience. And a couple of the youngsters turned in impressive springs.

Oregon State's quarterbacks: The Beavers have two successful starting quarterbacks in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao, though Moevao is coming back from shoulder surgery. They also have an impressive No. 3 in redshirt freshman Ryan Katz, and Virginia transfer Peter Lalich is a wildcard who had disappeared before coming up big in the spring game. His questionable attitude won't help him climb the depth chart, though.

UCLA's tight ends: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he was Logan Paulsen's backup until Paulsen's season ended with a foot injury in the opener against Tennessee. The Bruins also like sophomore Cory Harkey, and then there's touted freshman Morrell Presley, who's more a hybrid receiver-tight end. Lots of options here. Just got to get them the ball.

What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 8

October, 17, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Dear Arizona -- Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas: What does a dominating running game do for a team? Well, it wasn't just that Stanford had 286 yards rushing last weekend in its win over Arizona, it was that it ran 72 total plays vs. 57 for the Wildcats. What could a team do with 15 more plays? A lot. But if you only have 57, more than six of them should involve tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Mike Thomas.

2. Nate Longshore needs to grab hold of Cal's quarterback spot: California would love to run right at Arizona like Stanford did, but the Bears are down two starting offensive linemen and struggled just two weeks ago to get the running game going at home against Arizona State (79 yards on the ground). While it will help to get speedy Jahvid Best back, he's not going to give Cal 25 carries coming back from a dislocated elbow. That means Nate Longshore, making his second consecutive start, will need to make plays in the passing game. It doesn't help that receiver Michael Calvin was lost for the year this week to a knee injury. But Longshore should be plenty motivated to erase the three-interception performance he had in Tucson in 2006, an upset defeat that cost the Bears their first Rose Bowl berth since 1958.

3. How much does Washington still care?: The Huskies' players don't live in caves. They know that their fan base is hollering for coach Tyrone Willingham's coaching noggin'. They also can look at the guy under center and know he's no longer their leader, Jake Locker, who's done for the year with a thumb injury. While last season's bitter defeat at Oregon State should serve as motivation to play hard in front of the home fans, it will be interesting to see if the Huskies fight all four quarters if things start to get out of hand. And what if the Beavers jump on them early? Will a white flag come out?

4. Beavers stop the pass, own the field: Washington senior guard Casey Bulyca, who rivals center Juan Garcia as the Huskies most physical player, underwent knee surgery Tuesday and is done for the year. The line has been mostly mediocre this year, in any event. The Huskies don't really have a starting tailback, with Willie Griffin, Brandon Johnson and Terrance Dailey shuffling in and out. Locker, the best run threat, is, again, out. The Huskies average 2.9 yards per rush, and Oregon State's run defense has improved dramatically since yielding 239 yards at Penn State. This means it's up to UW quarterback Ronnie Fouch and his young receivers to make plays. But the Beavers likely will welcome the pass because safety Al Afalava and cornerbacks Brandon Hughes and Keenan Lewis are back to full speed after nursing injuries previous weeks.

5. USC will not be at full speed at Washington State: USC is banged up and it might make sense for coach Pete Carroll to lean toward caution with players who are borderline-ready to play at Washington State. Running back Joe McKnight (toe) won't make the trip. Neither will defensive end Everson Griffen and offensive lineman Butch Lewis (both are sick). Offensive guards Jeff Byers (knee) and Zack Heberer (toe), linebackers Brian Cushing (shoulder) and Kaluka Maiava (foot) and tight end Blake Ayles (groin) also missed significant practice time this week.

6. Don't hold the ball, Kevin Lopina: A team (hopefully) never expects to lose, but Washington State's prime directive is to get quarterback Kevin Lopina safely through USC's visit. Lopina is making his first start since going down with a back injury on Sept. 20 against Portland State, and the Cougars have a bye next week for him to further get his health, rhythm and timing back. The Trojans put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, often with just a four-man rush. Lopina needs to get the ball away in a hurry. That means three-step drops, roll outs, a two count and throw -- heave the ball into the stands if necessary. Just don't give up the sack, the INT or get hurt. The Cougars Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks are done for the season, and the guys next in line are a walk-on and a true freshman, so they really need Lopina to keep taking snaps.

7. Can Stanford run up the middle on UCLA?: Stanford has become the Pac-10's most physical running team. Running back Toby Gerhart is a 230-pound guy who's not afraid of contact, and the Cardinal line, led by center Alex Fletcher, has been the conference's best unit to this point of the season. But UCLA has perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle tandem in Brian Price and Brigham Harwell. Can Fletcher and his guards move these guys out of the way? The going should be far tougher up the middle, though the Bruins haven't been dominant against the run this year by any means, ranking eighth in the Pac-10 with 171 yards given up per game.

8. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft needs to put four quarters together: Stanford is going to gang up on the run and try to force Craft to win the game. For much of the season, the Cardinal secondary looked vulnerable, but last weekend it did a masterful job containing Arizona's top targets, Rob Gronkowski and Mike Thomas, and didn't allow quarterback Willie Tuitama to throw a touchdown pass. Stanford also brings a lot of blitzes (see 19 sacks on the season). Craft has had fits and starts of success, and he seems to go in and out of rhythm throughout a game. He was sacked six times by Oregon and he threw a lot of ill-advised passes that were dropped by Ducks defenders. If the Bruins are going to defend their home turf, Craft needs to make plays consistently.

9. The solution for Arizona -- Stop the run: Arizona has lost twice this season. In both games, a power back ran all over the Wildcats undersized defense. But Cal doesn't have a Rodney Ferguson (New Mexico, 158 yards) or a Toby Gerhart (116 yards), who both tip the scales at 230 pounds. If the Wildcats force the Bears to throw into a secondary that is the defense's strength that will help in multiple ways. Not only will it ease the pressure on the defensive front, it also will stop the clock more often and allow the potent Arizona offen
se to get more plays.

10. Can any Pac-10 teams win on the road?: Pac-10 teams are 6-20 on the road this year -- 2-8 in nonconference play and 4-12 in conference. While Washington and Washington State have proved hospitable for obvious reasons -- stinking -- the rest of the Pac-10 has treated guests with disdain. Stanford and California are both looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in order to do that they will have to prove they can win on the road someplace other than Washington or Washington State.

Trojans offensive line might surprise

September, 12, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- A little gamesmanship from Pete Carroll? You decide.

USC's coach was asked how much of a step up Ohio State's defense will be from the Trojans first opponent, Virginia.

Said Carroll: "These guys are the best defense in America -- every single guy played last year. This was the best defense in the country last year statistically. This is the ultimate challenge for our guys at this point. How can you play somebody better than the best?"

Golly. Then the USC offensive line has no chance, right?

"When you lose four starters, that's huge," noted Trojans center Kristofer O'Dowd about USC's rebuilt line.

If there's an area where folks would think the Buckeyes have an advantage, it would be a comparison of the offensive lines.

The Buckeyes welcome back four starters. The Trojans are replacing four starters.

The Buckeyes are huge, averaging about 318 pounds per man. The itty-bitty Trojans only go 296 pounds on average across the front.

O'Dowd, however, just grins at those numbers. He thinks skinny is good.

"We work on our six packs," he said. "There aren't any beaches out in Ohio."

If Carroll and O'Dowd sound a bit glib, it's because folks around Heritage Hall don't seem too worried about the USC line, which might be one of the nation's most athletic units.

This crew -- senior OG Jeff Byers is the only returning starter -- completely dominated at Virginia, giving QB Mark Sanchez an eternity in the pocket and opening wide swaths in the overmatched Cavaliers D-line.

Sure, it's ridiculous to compare Virginia's defense to Ohio State's, but O'Dowd and his linemates are quietly confident they can produce another sterling performance. After all, they practice against a fairly salty defense every afternoon.

If there's a unit that has dramatically improved from the beginning of spring practices to the end of preseason camp, it's the line.

They've even won a few "Competition Tuesdays" against the defense.

"It took us a while, but towards the end of camp we really jelled well together and during our preparation for Virginia, everything clicked," O'Dowd said. "We feel comfortable now, so that question doesn't even bother us."

O'Dowd saw the question coming, though. He knows the line will remain the Trojans' biggest area of concern until it provides a definitive answer.

Perhaps that's why O'Dowd doesn't hide his own ambition for Saturday. He's looking forward to hunting down one guy in particular.

Said O'Dowd, "My primary guy? The guy I'm going after? Oh, it's 33! You want to go up against the best."

No. 33 is, of course, All-American LB James Laurinaitis.

It's a little misleading to call the USC line inexperienced, even though O'Dowd, OG Zach Heberer and OT Butch Lewis are all sophomores. Each of the "new" guys, including junior tackle Charles Brown, started at least one game last year.

But they have yet to face a unit like Ohio State.

The "best defense" in America should provide a pretty good test.