Pac-12: Chris Galippo

Take 2: All-Pac-12 risers

August, 3, 2012
The question before us today: Which Pac-12 player is ready to rise to All-Pac-12 this fall? Our parameter is this: He can't have been any better than honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2011.

There are a lot of good choices. Here are a couple from our -- and I think we can all agree on this -- very large Pac-12 blog brains.

Kevin Gemmell: There's a reason Cameron Marshall was left off of the All-Pac-12 teams last year. It didn't have as much to do with Marshall as the four guys who were named to the first and second teams ahead of him.

[+] EnlargeCameron Marshall
Norm Hall/Getty ImagesMore downhill running in a new offense could improve Cameron Marshall's profile.
LaMichael James ... good. Chris Polk ... good. Stepfan Taylor ... good. John White IV ... good. Cameron Marshall ... good ... but not good enough -- at least not last season. Yes, he tied with James for most rushing touchdowns in the conference (18), but of the seven backs who rushed for more than 1,000 yards, Marshall had the lowest yards per carry with 4.6. His touchdowns, combined with his 1,050 yards was more than enough to make him deserving of honorable mention.

This year, if Marshall stays healthy, he has as good a chance as any running back in the conference to land on either the first- or second-team. For starters, he's 100 percent. All of those aforementioned numbers -- that was done despite a nagging ankle injury all season. He's surgically repaired and ready to go.

Also, the scheme he's in plays to his skill set much better than the previous one. He was able to be a 1,000-yard rusher in a spread offense that had a pass-run ratio of 56 percent. A lot of Marshall's runs last year were stretches outside the tackles -- sideline-to-sideline. Marshall is fast, but that's not the strength of his game.

At 5-foot-11, 223 pounds, Marshall is a wrecking ball with potential energy that's waiting to be unleashed. He's better meeting tacklers head on and driving through them than he is dancing around them. He has quickness and can be elusive, but that quickness will serve him better going downhill and exploding through the hole than it will trying to stretch out the defense. That should also play particularly well in the Pac-12, where linebackers are traditionally speedier than beefier.

I like him to land on the postseason list, but when you consider the backs in this conference -- White, Taylor, Kenjon Barner, Curtis McNeal, Silas Redd, Isi Sofele -- it's no guarantee. A couple of guys are going to be disappointed. Winning helps, too, so the Sun Devils can do Marshall a huge favor by avoiding long stretches of mediocre play -- which is what plagued them at the end of last season.

Also, to his credit, Marshall is a very complete back and a good blocker. Of those other backs just mentioned, only Taylor had more catches last year (25) than Marshall (24). None of those other backs broke the 20s and only Barner (17) and White (13) were in the teens.

Marshall is one of the four best, most complete backs in the Pac-12. And if he stays healthy, there's a good chance he'll be rewarded with a spot on the all-conference team.

Ted Miller: A very good choice for Kevin. Here's a ditto from me. Of course, as he notes, there's a lot of depth at running back in the conference this year.

[+] EnlargeHayes Pullard
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comLB Hayes Pullard tied for the USC lead in tackles last season as redshirt freshman last season.
Same could be said of linebacker, my position of focus after Kevin took the offense. Stanford, USC and Oregon are loaded at linebacker. I particularly think Ducks linebacker Kiko Alonso is headed for a big year if he can stay focused.

But we're tapping USC weakside LB Hayes Pullard. Here's a guess that many educated Oregon fans who were going, "It must be a DUCK!" Are now going, "Oh, yeah. He's really good. I sort of hate Pullard, in fact."

You see, Pullard's name was called many, many times in Autzen Stadium last fall during the Trojans' upset victory over the Ducks. Fourteen times, to be exact. Twice he hushed the crowd with sacks. Another time, he forced a fumble. Toss in an outstanding game against rival UCLA, and it could be argued -- and has been -- that he played better than fellow linebacker Dion Bailey down the stretch, and Bailey was second-team All-Pac-12 and the conference's Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

Pullard, a 6-1, 235-pound redshirt sophomore, tied Bailey for the team lead in tackles last year (81, though Bailey missed a game). He also had 6.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups.

Former USC linebacker Chris Galippo, in fact, picked Pullard as his breakout player for 2012, telling Michael Lev of the Orange County Register, “He’s probably the best tackler on the team, besides T.J. (McDonald),” Galippo said. “Just the way he gets to the ball and makes plays. Being as young as he was, he’s only going to get better.”

Pullard playing like he did late in the season suggests All-Pac-12.

The only problem, just like running back, is the depth of talent at the position -- Bailey, Stanford's Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, Oregon's Alonso and Michael Clay, among others. Further, the Trojans are questionable on the defensive line. It's far more difficult for a linebacker to look impressive when he's dodging D-linemen skating backwards.

Still, if the Trojans are to contend for a national title, as many expect, they will need to be elite on defense. If that comes to pass, expect many to point at Pullard as a big reason why.

USC spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
2011 overall record: 10-2
2011 conference record: 7-2 (1st, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Matt Barkley, S T.J. McDonald, OL Khaled Holmes, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, RB Curtis McNeal, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, K Andre Heidari

Key losses
OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, FB Rhett Ellison, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, WR Brandon Carswell, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)
Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)
Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)
Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)
Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Spring answers

1. Marqise Lee is ready for prime time: It’s no secret that Lee is a talented player who put together a terrific freshman season, but he took that performance to an even higher level this spring when he was the best player on the field for the Trojans. We’re seeing a rare athlete in Lee, one whose acrobatic style is being compared to Lynn Swann.

2. The USC defense is worthy of mention: There is so much attention paid to Matt Barkley and his offensive weapons -- and deservedly so -- but this spring was a reminder that the Trojans defense is going to be pretty good too. The back seven will be a strength, as the starters return intact plus there is a nice supply of talented depth.

3. The future of the USC quarterback spot is in good hands: Spring was an extended audition for Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, as Barkley was limited in his reps. Both players had their moments as they look to settle into the No. 2 role and the inside track to be Barkley’s heir apparent. The Trojans also got a verbal commitment from Max Browne (No. 2 rated pocket passer in ESPN 150), who will enroll next spring.

Fall questions

1. Interior of the D-line: One of the keys of spring was replacing two senior starters from the middle of the line. George Uko stepped in at defensive tackle and had flashes of real solid play. After Uko, however, things are not so clear. There is no established backup for him and no set starter at nose tackle, as J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods continue to battle for the job.

2. Lack of depth at tailback: The Trojans have a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal but not a lot of experience behind him. D.J. Morgan had 42 carries in 2011, Buck Allen redshirted last season and Nelson Agholor has yet to join the team. That’s the extent of the playing time for the 2012 USC reserve tailbacks.

3. Protecting the blind side: There wasn’t a ton of worry last year about left tackle with Matt Kalil but replacing him has not been easy. Kevin Graf got the first look, but then the coaches moved Aundrey Walker into the spot. Lane Kiffin said Walker was not consistent but he showed enough with the potential of the size benefits he brings that he will stay as the starter heading into fall camp.

WeAreSC links: Draft day

April, 26, 2012
Garry Paskwietz writes: High school teammates Matt Kalil, Chris Galippo and D.J. Shoemate dreamed of playing together at USC. Once they accomplished that, their careers went in drastically different directions.

WeAreSC Roundtable Insider: WeAreSC's panel discusses which off-the-radar Trojans NFL prospects are best suited for a long professional career.

WeAreSC chat wrap: A recap of Garry Paskwietz's weekly Wednesday chat session.

Kendricks outshines Burfict at combine

February, 28, 2012
Maybe California's Mychal Kendricks really is a better inside linebacker than Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, even when you don't consider Burfict's baggage.

[+] EnlargeMychal Kendricks
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCalifornia linebacker Mychal Kendricks had a strong workout at the combine.
Kendricks, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, was the top inside linebacker at the NFL combine on Monday in the 40-yard dash (4.47), vertical jump (39.5) and broad jump (10-7). He tied for fifth overall at the combine in both the vertical and broad jump. He also had a time of 4.19 in the 20-yard shuttle, the fifth fastest for linebackers.

And there's this from Scouts Inc.:

The surprise of the inside linebacker group was California's Mychal Kendricks (5-11 1/8, 239), who absolutely crushed his workout. Kendricks had the top 40 (4.47), vertical (39 1/4) and broad jump (10-7) in the group, and was in the top five in the short shuttle (4.19). He was also above-average on the bench with 24 reps.

Kendricks' explosiveness showed up during drills, when he stayed low to the ground, showed quick feet and was effective shaving the edge as a pass-rusher. He was under control at all times, and this performance combined with good things seen recently on film give him a realistic shot to come off the board late on Day 2.

Things went much worse for Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict (6-1 3/8, 248), whose 40 time (5.09) and broad jump (8-7) were well below the four-year averages. Burfict's 2011 film says he's a third-rounder, and when you add in those results along with character baggage and poor interviews his stock is beginning to plummet.

USC linebacker Chris Galippo also struggled a bit:

USC MLB Chris Galippo didn't do enough to show teams he's more than just a two-down linebacker who will come to the sideline on passing downs. Galippo almost lost his balance when asked to backpedal between bags, and he didn't show great burst out of breaks in coverage.

Another Pac-12 defensive standout was former USC end Nick Perry, who ran a blistering 4.64 40. That said, ESPN's Todd McShay is a bigger fan of Clemson's Andre Branch.

Clemson's Andre Branch (6-4 1/4, 259) and USC's Nick Perry (6-2 3/4, 271) are similar conversion/hybrid players and both rank on the edge of the first round. Perry has better workout numbers but Branch is more athletic and shows better bend as an edge rusher. Perry has more straight-line explosiveness, but Branch blows him out of the water in terms of change-of-direction skills and lateral quickness in space.

Another take on Perry:

USC DE Nick Perry had a strong day. There is some tightness in his hips, and it showed when he was asked to open up in space. But Perry moved well enough to give base 3-4 defenses something to think about as a possible outside linebacker. The 271-pounder is quick and gets to depth, and he showed that he can pluck the ball out of the air. His most natural fit is at defensive end, though. Perry showed above-average lateral mobility and quick hands during bag work.

There were a few Pac-12 defenders that didn't burn up the 40, though. Washington defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu ran one of the slowest 40s at 5.37, but he injured his hamstring while doing so. For the defensive ends, Cal's Trevor Guyton (5.07) and Arizona State's Jamaar Jarrett (5,02) were among the slowest in their position group.

WeAreSC: LB Dawson adjusts to new role

November, 8, 2011
Garry Paskwietz writes: True freshman middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and senior Chris Galippo are adjusting to new roles after Dawson passed the veteran on the depth chart.

Erik McKinney writes Insider: USC has the best class in the Pac-12 to date, but Arizona State and UCLA are looming.

McKinney writes Insider: Several Pac-12 North teams are primed for big recruiting finishes, as Stanford, Cal, Oregon and Washington are in on many top prospects.

McKinney writes Insider: An early look at the top junior targets for the Trojans in the backfield.

Jeremy Hogue writes Insider: While it might feel weird, it's in the best interest of USC fans to root for Stanford the rest of the way. The Cardinal's success could help the Trojans down the road.

Pac-12 links: Stanford's biggest game ever

November, 8, 2011
She knew that you could love somebody more than anything and still not love the person all that much, if you were busy with other things.

Manti Te'o a true threat for Trojans

October, 20, 2011

In football, like in life, you're usually either moving downhill or uphill. There's very little in between.

Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o is definitely a downhill mover. Or so says USC freshman fullback Soma Vainuku, in charge of emulating Te'o in Trojans' scout-team drills this week, and Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin -- and just about everyone else who talks about Te'o for any amount of time, for that matter.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesManti Te'o is an imposing presence in the middle of the Notre Dame defense and Lane Kiffin wishes he was in cardinal and gold.
They always bring it up. Te'o, they say, plays football fast, diagnoses plays quickly, and, above all, plays downhill.

So, what exactly does that mean on the field, and what does that mean for USC's game against the talented Te'o and Notre Dame in two days' time?

It means he's going to bring a lot of Trojans down. The junior from Hawaii is averaging just short of 10 tackles per game this season, tied for 21st in the country, and 8.5 tackles for loss, tied for 25th in the country. Both numbers are better than anyone USC has faced this season and, currently, better than anyone it will face in the second half of the year.

He also leads the Irish in sacks with four after posting just one sack a year ago. His overall tackles numbers are slightly off his pace from a year ago, but all the other figures represent significant improvements from his first year in coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 system -- or at least it appears so.

"I don't think it's that much different," Kiffin said this week. "I just think it's his second year in the system, even though he's started before. Now he's playing extremely fast. He's off-the-charts physical, downhill, aggressive, and he plays every snap like its third-and-one.

"He's a great player. I wish he was here."

Well, yeah -- he almost was. Everyone expected Te'o to sign with USC until the morning of signing day back in 2009, when he spoke with former Trojans coach Pete Carroll at length on the way to making his announcement that he was attending Notre Dame.

It was the surprise of the year at the time, and the decision's followed Teo throughout his first two-plus years in college. In the past he has admitted to feeling a different combination of excitement and nervousness in the week leading up to Notre Dame's annual game against the Trojans. But he says that feeling is no longer.

(Read full post)

USC needs defense to improve

August, 31, 2011
In 2008, USC produced one of the all-time great college defenses. It took just two years for the unit to become mediocre-to-bad.

Last fall, the Trojans surrendered 44 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranked 102nd in the nation. By comparison, the 2008 unit yielded just 14, the lowest total over the past three years by six.

So what happened?

[+] EnlargeMonte Kiffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Trojans hope the second year in Monte Kiffin's defense yields better results.
Well, for one, Pete Carroll, who'd built one of the nation's premier defensive powers, bolted for the Seattle Seahawks. Next: The talent he left behind for new coach Lane Kiffin wasn't nearly as good as it had been from 2002-2008. Then Kiffin, worried about injuries, significantly limited tackling during preseason camp. Finally, it seemed that the Trojans never fully figured out new coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme, which had been so successful in the NFL.

The result? A unit that surrendered a Pac-10-high 30 TD passes (five more than ninth-place Washington State) and wasn't much better against the run, ranking sixth in the conference (140.5).

But if you're wondering why many still rate the Trojans as the favorites in the Pac-12 South Division and believe they will improve upon their 8-5 finish of a year ago, the defense is a good place to start.

"I feel like we know what we're doing a little bit better as far as it being the second year in the system," Lane Kiffin said. "And in scrimmage formats, we're tackling better."

That will be put to its first test Saturday when Minnesota comes calling to the Coliseum.

The Trojans welcome back seven starters from last year's unit. They look strong at end with Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton. And few teams boast a better safety-cornerback combination than All-American T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. But there are questions at linebacker, where they will be young around injury-prone Chris Galippo.

The Golden Gophers shouldn't provide too difficult a test. Coming off a 3-9 season in which Tim Brewster got fired and was replaced by Jerry Kill, who rebuilt Northern Illinois, they are replacing three starters on their offensive line and they don't look like a team that will be throwing the ball well. They are, however, intriguing at quarterback. That's where MarQueis Gray steps in. He's a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior who has been primarily a receiver, though he got behind center in "Wildcat" formations. Passing the ball over the past two years, he's just 8-of-23 for 86 yards with a TD and an interception.

Of course, Kiffin went the "oh, no" route and compared him to former Texas quarterback Vince Young.

"It's very scary for us," he said. "We've got our hands full. This is a big-time challenge for our defense."

USC won at Minnesota 32-21 last year, a victory that was part of a 4-0 start. But the Trojans proved inconsistent on both sides of the ball once conference play began, inspiring some questions of motivation because NCAA sanctions made them ineligible for the postseason. That's an issue again this fall, though it's probably not one in the season-opener, when everyone is fired up to play.

"I don't think the motivation shows up as much early in the year," Kiffin said. "It becomes more of an issue towards the end of the year or if you hit one or two losses in a row there."

Still, with Matt Barkley at quarterback and a strong crew of receivers, the Trojans should at least be a factor in determining other team's postseasons. As for the South Division, that probably hangs on how much the Trojans' defense reverts back to its old ways. Preseason optimism about knowing the scheme better and improved tackling only goes so far.

Said Kiffin: "That all sounds good but it won't mean anything if come Saturday we don't do it when it really counts."

Best case-worst case: USC

August, 26, 2011
Ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last season's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: USC

Best case

In the bowels of the Coliseum, USC gathers before taking the field against Minnesota.

"I want to read you something," coach Lane Kiffin says, flicking open a one-page letter

"President Nikias. I appreciate your grace last week when announcing that USC would not pursue any further redress against the NCAA. What I find unconscionable is where this leaves the NCAA. I have personally reviewed the facts of USC's case before the Committee on Infractions, and I can tell you that I am not the only one inside these walls who has long been troubled by the Committee's findings and the resulting severe sanctions against your football program. USC was wronged well before news broke of the massive scandal at Miami under former athletic director Paul Dee, who was not fit to sit judgment of USC as the Committee chair. The combination of a poorly reasoned and unjust ruling and Dee's hypocrisy simply cannot stand. That is why I am taking the unprecedented action of ruling sanctions against USC null-and-void. Sincerely, NCAA president Mark Emmert."

That was not good news for the Golden Gophers, who go down 52-3.

"I'll tell you what it means," says linebacker Chris Galippo. "It means that the rest of college football hears one thing echoing in its collective head right now, 'They're baaaaaaack!'"

A rumor starts to float that SEC commissioner Mike Slive was found locked in his office closet, repeatedly murmuring, "But I don't want USC to be eligible. It's not fair!"

Poll voters immediately promote USC to No. 10 in the polls.

The Trojans batter Utah in the first Pac-12 game, 41-17.

"I know it's the new Pac-12," says ESPN's Chris Fowler. "But it seems a lot like the old Pac-10, circa 2002-2008."

The Trojans bludgeon Syracuse, 60-6 and rise to No. 5.

"Arizona State is going to test USC," says ESPN's Kirk Herstreit. "The Sun Devils have already manhandled a two good teams in Missouri and Illinois."

USC rolls the Sun Devils 38-10, with quarterback Matt Barkley throwing his ninth and 10th TD passes on the year. He throws 11, 12 and 13 in a 41-17 victory over Arizona and two more in a 44-7 win at California and a 33-17 win over Notre Dame.

"Barkley has 17 touchdown passes in seven games; Stanford's Andrew Luck has 16," says Fowler. "Fair to say the winner Saturday becomes the Heisman Trophy frontrunner?'

Stanford nips the Trojans 30-27, with Luck scrambling for 20 yards on third and 8 to set up the game-winning field goal.

The Trojans bounce back with blowout wins over Colorado and Washington, setting up a showdown with top-ranked Oregon, which is coming off a 33-30 overtime win over Stanford.

LaMichael James rushes for 154 yards and two scores in a 33-24 Ducks victory.

The Trojans batter UCLA, 45-20, beating the Bruins for the 12th time in 13 years.

The No. 8 Trojans face the top-ranked Ducks (again!) for the inaugural Pac-12 crown.

They gather before running into Autzen Stadium. Kiffin begins: "What a ride. We've seen a lot of stuff together these two years, huh? Stuff that was out of our control. Stuff that didn't let the Trojans be what Trojans truly are: Champions. But we're in control again, aren't we? It's about us again. And we've got a chance tonight to reclaim what has been taken from us. What is ours. Understand: Our victory will be remembered. It will become an important part of Trojans history. No, we're not going to get an opportunity to play for the national title like a lot of 'SC teams, though I'd like our chances in a playoff. But USC fans and former Trojans are going to remember you as the team who took back our championship identity, which was stolen from us. They will say, 'That was the team that reestablished the tradition.' And they will remember your names. The rest of college football is watching tonight, rooting against us, worried about the return of USC. Well, let's go out there and show them that their worries are 100 percent justified."

James is stuffed by Galippo on a fourth-and-goal inside the USC 1-yard line with 45 seconds left. Three Barkley sneaks later, and USC is a 29-23 winner, headed back to the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champions.

USC stuffs Wisconsin 35-17 in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

"I'm coming back for my senior year," Barkley announces. "because I want to win a national championship before I leave."

The Trojans signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

"I'd like to announce a home-and-home series with USC," says a grim-faced Alabama athletic director, Mal Moore.

"Mr. Moore, over here," shouts an uncommonly stylish reporter. "Is this a reaction to the rumored reality series for the Pac-12 network this fall, 'See what SEC athletic directors do when USC calls!'"

"Shutup Miller," a grim-faced Alabama athletic director says.

Worst case

Quarterback Matt Barkley throws three touchdown passes in a 30-23 season-opening win over Minnesota.

"Yeah, I think everyone is curious what Utah will bring to the table," says Barkley. "Our job is to give them a rude welcome."

The game is tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter. On a third and 3 from its own 15, Utes QB Jordan Wynn finds DeVonte Christopher for an 85-yard, game-winning touchdown after USC cornerback Nickell Robey fell down.

The Trojans bounce back by whipping Syracuse 33-10, but Arizona State sacks Barkley four times in a 24-10 victory. USC improves to 3-2 with a home win over Arizona, but gets drubbed at California 35-20 and gives up a late TD in a 30-24 loss at Notre Dame after another coverage breakdown. Andrew Luck throws three TD passes in a 40-24 Stanford win over the Trojans.

USC shows some fight, winning at Colorado and at home over Washington, but it looks lethargic while taking a 48-20 whipping at Oregon.

"We play a faceless opponent every week," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says when asked if it still feels special to stomp USC, which Oregon has done three years in a row.

"Is it easier selling that to your players now than it was in 2008?" asks an uncommonly stylish reporter.

Kelly smiles, "Shutup, Miller."

"We still have plenty to play for," Kiffin says. "For one, we always want to beat UCLA. That can make a season. Finishing .500 is certainly better than the alternative. And we can stop the Bruins from winning the South Division."

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones sacks Barkley three times as the Bruins roll over the Trojans 33-17.

"Do I feel sorry for USC?" Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel says. "A little."

The Bruins lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game but they whip Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl and finished 10-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA's 31-player class -- six elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2011 class -- ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Notre Dame.

"It was great to cherry-pick Southern California recruiting," says Neuheisel. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

USC's class of 15 ranks eighth in the Pac-12.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do," says Kiffin. "Wait... where did I hear that?"

Murmurs USC athletic director Pat Haden, "Not for long if they go 5-7 as USC's head coach."

Barkley, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Nick Perry, defensive end Devon Kennard and safety T.J. McDonald each announced they are entering the NFL draft.

Ring! Ring!

"Pat, hiya! Mal Moore down here at the University of Alabama," says Mal Moore to Haden. "How you? Good, good. You want to bring your boys down here for a football game? We'd love to see 'ya!"

Lunch links: Buffs' issues at cornerback

August, 11, 2011
There are two kinds of people in this world : those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.

Lunch links: Osweiler defends Erickson

July, 21, 2011
They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin. Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours. The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall.
The Pac-12 welcomes back a number of good linebackers this fall, including five who earned spots on the watch list for the Butkus Award: Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, USC's Chris Galippo, Oregon's Josh Kaddu, California's Mychal Kendricks and Stanford's Shayne Skov.

But just about every team, other than the Sun Devils, has questions.

So how do things stack up? Read on.

Great shape

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireVontaze Burfict leads a deep group of Arizona State linebackers.
Arizona State: All three starters are back, including preseason All-American Vontaze Burfict, who might be the nation's best linebacker. Further, there's experienced, capable depth.

Stanford: The Cardinal, who run a 3-4, lost two good LBs in Owen Marecic and Thomas Keiser, but Shayne Skov on the inside and Chase Thomas on the outside are all-conference talents, and Max Bergen, Alex Debniak and Blake Lueders have experience and talent. While we don't like to include incoming freshman in this evaluation, we've seen film of James Vaughters and, well, he's good and may end up starting.

Good shape

California: Two starters are gone from the Bears' 3-4, including mainstay Mike Mohamed, but D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks are an outstanding combo inside, while hopes are high on the outside for David Wilkerson and Cecil Whiteside. And there's intriguing young talent, including top guys in an incoming recruiting class.

Utah: Utah loses one of three starters, but standout Brian Blechen moved from safety to "stud" linebacker and looked good this spring. Further, Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez are a good returning combination, and the potential return of former starter Nai Fotu, who was suspended after a DUI arrest in February, makes this a position of strength for the Utes.

Oregon: Sure, Oregon lost multiyear starters Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, but a regular rotation of backups the past two seasons means there's plenty of experience surrounding returning strongside backer Josh Kaddu. Junior Michael Clay is a budding star, and Boseko Lokombo, Dewitt Stuckey and Derrick Malone are also going to see action. The wild card is MLB Kiko Alonso, a big hitter who had a great spring but is presently under indefinite suspension for a criminal mischief arrest in May.

Arizona: The Wildcats were an interesting case at LB in any event: They began spring with three quality starters back but almost no depth. Then Jake Fischer went down with a knee injury. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are a nice tandem, but after them things are murky.

UCLA: The Bruins have plenty of potential here, despite the loss of Akeem Ayers. Patrick Larimore has flashed all-conference ability at in the middle -- a shoulder injury ended his 2010 season -- while Sean Westgate has been a steady starter on the outside. Glenn Love and Jordan Zumwalt are competing for the strongside spot. Redshirt freshman Aramide Olaniyan, Isaiah Bowens, Eric Kendricks and Ryan Hofmeister are also in the mix. A caveat: The Bruins were terrible against the run last year.

Colorado: Leading tackler Michael Sipili is gone, but the guy who would have led the Buffs in tackles -- Jon Major -- is back after suffering a knee injury midway through the 2010 season. Patrick Mahnke and Liloa Nobriga have experience, while Douglas Rippy had an outstanding spring at middle linebacker.

USC: The Trojans lost two of three starters, and Devon Kennard moved back to defensive end, but Chris Galippo is back in the middle. Shane Horton has some experience, but he's competing with impressive redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard, as are Dion Bailey and Marquis Simmons on the strong side. Depth is an issue.

We'll see

Washington: Cort Dennison is back in the middle, but things are unsettled outside, where Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa made a lot of plays. The post-spring depth chart list seven youngsters at the two outside spots separated by an "or."

Oregon State: Outside LBs Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson are gone, and it's uncertain if Rueben Robinson will again start at MLB, as he's being challenged by Tony Wilson and Kevin Unga. That said, hopes are high for Cameron Collins and Michael Doctor on the outside. A former safety, Collins has 13 career starts, though only two at LB. Doctor is an impressive youngster with a nice motor.

Washington State: On the one hand, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, C.J. Mizell, Sekope Kaufusi and Mike Ledgerwood give the Cougars an experienced foursome at the position. But after ranking 115th in the nation in run defense, the only option is to wait and see. On the plus side for Cougars fans, this looks like a position that could be dramatically improved this fall.

Five Pac-12 linebackers on Butkus list

July, 15, 2011
Five Pac-12 players were named to the 53-man watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's best linebacker.

You can view the entire list here.

The Pac-12 players on the list are:

Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
Chris Galippo, USC
Josh Kaddu, Oregon
Mychal Kendricks, California
Shayne Skov, Stanford

Pac-12 NFL prospects in 2012?

May, 2, 2011
The 2011 NFL draft is over, which means it's time to look at who the Pac-12's top senior prospects in 2012 likely will be.

First of all, plenty of top non-seniors from the conference might -- or are likely to -- enter the draft, including Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Oregon RB LaMichael James, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and USC QB Matt Barkley. Those four range from sure to likely first-round draft picks.

But this list includes only players in their final year of eligibility. And some might rate a bit of a reach as NFL prospects.

Arizona: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, CB Trevin Wade

Arizona State: CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, C Garth Gerhart

California: S Sean Cattouse, TE Anthony Miller, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, OT Mitchell Schwartz, P Bryan Anger

Colorado: OG Ryan Miller, RB Rodney Stewart, DT Conrad Obi, TE Ryan Deehan

Oregon: TE David Paulson, SS Eddie Pleasant, OT Mark Asper, LB Josh Kaddu

Oregon State: S Lance Mitchell, WR James Rodgers, FB-TE Joe Halahuni

Stanford: WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleenor, S Delano Howell

UCLA: S Tony Dye, FB Derrick Coleman, TE Cory Harkey

USC: LB Chris Galippo, DE Armond Armstead, TE Rhett Ellison, RB Marc Tyler

Utah: OT Tony Bergstrom, LB Chaz Walker, OT John Cullen

Washington: DT Alameda Ta'amu, WR Jermaine Kearse, OT Senio Kelemete, K Erik Folk

Washington State: DT Brandon Rankin, OG B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter

USC releases depth chart (sort of)

April, 26, 2011
Since 12 USC players expected to be on the 2011 two-deep missed all or much of spring practices, coach Lane Kiffin seemed torn on whether to release a depth chart after the session concluded Saturday, thereby irritating Trojans beat writers who view the release of a depth chart as a rite of spring.

Ah, but here it is. You might notice a number of "or"s on the chart, which means this is only a hint of a pecking order.

Couple of thoughts.
  • You'll note freshmen are listed under the returning players. Count on several of them, particularly on the O-line, moving up quickly. Fair to say that three spots on the line are wide-open.
  • It's notable that there's still an "Or" between backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins and the two freshmen, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, who arrived early and participated in spring practices. Not a huge surprise, but it shows that Kiffin hasn't made a final decision on Matt Barkley's backup.
  • Senior Brandon Carswell is listed as the starting receiver opposite Robert Woods. He'll have to fight off Kyle Prater and incoming freshman George Farmer in the fall.
  • "Or"s separate the top-four tailbacks: Curtis McNeal, Marc Tyler, D.J. Morgan and Dillon Baxter, though Tyler is listed in bold caps. So stay tuned, I guess.
  • Wes Horton and Nick Perry are listed as the No. 1 defensive ends. Christian Tupou and George Uko are No. 1 at defensive tackle, which seems like a minor tweak on returning starter DaJohn Harris, who was inconsistent this spring. Tupou started in 2009 but missed all of last season and spring practices with a knee injury and Uko is a redshirt freshman.
  • Armond Armstead is listed No. 2 at defensive tackle behind Uko. He missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition and his status is uncertain. He mostly played at the end of last year.
  • Devon Kennard is No. 1 at middle linebacker and Chris Galippo is No. 1 at weakside LB. Both missed spring. An "or" separates Marquis Simmons and Dion Bailey on the strongside.
  • There's an "or" between Tony Burnett and Torin Harris at the corner opposite Nickell Robey. There is not one at strong safety between Marshall Jones and Demetrius Wright, so Jones heads into the fall as the starter. Jawanza Starling and Drew McAllister are listed as T.J. McDonald's backups at free safety.