Pac-12: Chris Guarnero
Here are some outstanding senior Pac-10 players, none of whom made first- or second-team All-Conference teams.
Arizona: NT Lolomana Mikaele
The fifth-year senior was a co-captain this season who matured significantly during his time in Tucson. He missed the 2008 season because of a suspension for violating team rules, but he returned in 2009 and 2010 as one of the Wildcats quiet leaders and became well-respected by his teammates. He started all 12 games and finished with 32 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss.
Arizona State: S Max Tabach
The Scottsdale native grew up a Sun Devils fan: He's quoted in his bio as saying that "the day he received a scholarship from ASU was 'one of the best days' of his life." Despite only starting six games -- out of the final seven -- he tied for third on the team with 64 tackles. He also chipped in a sack and two interceptions. He was ASU's most consistent safety in 2010.
California: C Chris Guarnero
It's not easy to replace the best center in program history: Alex Mack. And Guarnero is not terribly big -- 6-foot-2, 270; Mack is 6-5, 316 -- but he started 27 career games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors the past two seasons.
Oregon: WR D.J. Davis
Davis, the Ducks second-leading receiver, has started 20 games, but his 36 receptions for 410 yards don't tell his whole story. For one, he's a tenacious blocker, a key part of the Ducks rushing success the past two seasons. Second, he's a class guy. Davis, who in high school won the Watkins Memorial Award as the nation’s top African American male scholar athlete, was so moved by the death of Notre Dame student videographer Declan Sullivan, he decided to make a touching tribute this season.
Oregon State: WR Aaron Nichols
Nichols is a former walk-on who ended up tied for third on the Beavers with 29 receptions for 330 yards. When the Beavers needed a clutch play this year -- particularly after James Rodgers went down -- Nichols was often the go-to guy. And he's been accepted into Oregon State's highly competitive Doctor of Pharmacy Program.
Stanford: OG Andrew Phillips
Phillips is the unsung leader of one of the nation's best offensive lines, and he played well this season despite a heavy heart: In August, his father, Bill Phillips Sr., died in a plane crash.
UCLA: DT David Carter
Carter never started until he was a fifth-year senior, yet he led all Bruins defensive linemen with 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Further, he's a history major and honor roll student.
USC: FB Stanley Havili
Havili is a four-year starter who's made so many big plays he's hardly "unsung." But he's still underappreciated. He was named USC's Most Inspirational Player Award and was named Co-Lifter of the Year. He played the entire season with a shoulder injury. His 116 career receptions are the most of any fullback in program history.
Washington: OLB Victor Aiyewa
He's a two-time first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection (2nd team this year) and made All-Pac-10 honorable mention. A former safety who moved to "Sam" outside linebacker this season, he ended up leading the Pac-10 in tackles for a loss with 18, 11th-most in school history.
Washington State: OT Micah Hannam
The four-year starter and three-time Pac-10 All-Academic first team member started more losses than any player in the 107-year history of Cougars football. That's perseverance.
Okanes notes that coach Jeff Tedford has been more open about revealing the pecking order at competitive positions, which is a great help when practices are closed.
So there is a lot of choice info here:
On offense, [Tedford] said the definitive starters as of right now are QB Kevin Riley, RB Shane Vereen, WR Marvin Jones, WR Keenan Allen, TE Anthony Miller, LT Mitchell Schwartz and C Chris Guarnero. Allen was the only player he quantified with “as of now.”
On defense, Tedford said the only concrete starters are DE Cameron Jordan, ILB Mike Mohamed and OLB Mychal Kendricks.
Tedford also said Giorgio Tavecchio would handle both kickoffs and field goals if the season started today.
Key tidbit there: That's true freshman Keenan Allen at receiver next to Jones, which confirms the scuttlebutt coming out of practices that a number of freshmen are in the mix.
As for defense:
A few days ago, Tedford said Keith Browner was the starter at weakside linebacker. But today he said true freshman Dave Wilkerson is still in the mix there. Tedford also said Kendrick Payne is probably the starter at nose tackle, but it is still competitive with Derrick Hill and Aaron Tipoti in the mix.
Tedford said both corner positions are still up in the air, with Darian Hagan, Steve Williams, Bryant Nnabufie and Marc Anthony competing for the two spots.
Another true freshman in Wilkerson. Payne ahead of Hill is a bit newsy, too, but that's three pretty good nose tackles, which is a key position to keep fresh in a 3-4 defense. As for cornerback, my money is on the first two -- Hagan and Williams -- but it's not like I've seen them practice this month.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Call me irresponsible -- call me unreliable
Throw in undependable, too
Do my foolish alibis bore you?
Well I'm not too clever -- I just adore you!!!!
- Shhhh! Arizona is going to pick a quarterback this week but might not tell you who it is.
- A number of freshman will play for Arizona State, and that might include one at quarterback.
- Enjoy this practice report because it appears that California coach Jeff Tedford is closing down practices. Both quarterbacks are playing well. Injury news in both stories on Jahvid Best, center Chris Guarnero, tight end Tad Smith and receiver Michael Calvin.
- Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount missed practice for personal reasons. Backup QB Nate Costa continues to shine, but there is no quarterback controversy.
- It appears that Virginia transfer Peter Lalich is growing up and growing into Oregon State's program and looks like he'll be a factor at quarterback in the future. Tim Clark will lead the Beavers' secondary. The injury list. Yikes.
- Stanford has an interesting slogan: "EUTM: Enthusiasm unknown to mankind."
- Randall Carroll will address UCLA's need for speed.
- Is Mitch Mustain USC's forgotten man?
- Washington tailback Chris Polk almost quit. Notes from Tuesday's scrimmage.
- Washington State's two sessions were different.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The 2006 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.
Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses.
In the big picture, USC ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., behind No. 1 Florida (sorta makes sense, eh?). UCLA, at No. 19, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.
Scout.com ranked USC No. 1 in the nation, Arizona 19th, UCLA 20th and California 23rd. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Arizona State (32nd in nation), Washington (35th), Stanford (38), Oregon State (41), Washington State (45) and Oregon (52).
Oregon last? Hmm.
Anyway... here's an overview
How many are expected to start in 2009: Nine (CB Devin Ross, DT Earl Mitchell, FS Cam Nelson, WR Terrell Turner, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore, WR Delashaun Dean, OG Conan Amituanai, C Colin Baxter)
Misses: QB Tyler Lyon, RB Derke Robinson
Verdict: This is an underrated class -- even guys who aren't listed as starters are projected to contribute in 2009. It's also notable that the few who didn't pan out -- or were problems, such as DE Louis Holmes -- were the big names.
Misses: DE Jermaine Williams, RB Rodney Glass
Verdict: A solid class when you consider that nine of the 24 signees were JC players who have already moved on -- a group that included RB Ryan Torain and S Troy Nolan, who were the class's most elite performers.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Six (CB Darian Hagan, DT Derrick Hill, QB Kevin Riley, C Chris Guarnero, DE Tyson Alualu, LB Mike Mohamed)
Verdict: Ratings, smatings. Montgomery, Slocum and Prueitt were highly rated, Alualu and Mohamed barely registered. Overall, a solid class.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Five (C Jordan Holmes, LT Bo Thran, RT C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Spenser Paysinger)
Verdict: Decidedly mixed. One thing is for sure: This class bolstered the Ducks offensive line. Also interesting, Bair and Paysinger transitioned to their current positions from tight end and receiver, respectively.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
BERKELEY, Calif. -- There will be no thunder clap at the end of spring practice at California.
"There will be no key decisions made after spring ball on who the starter is," coach Jeff Tedford said.
At this point in the story, Tedford and new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig would hasten to add redshirt freshman Beau Sweeney into the mix, because that's what both did when only asked about Riley's and Mansion's progress.
Ludwig said he thought things would start to heat up during the first spring scrimmage Saturday, but it's clear he, too, isn't eager to reveal a pecking order, if there even is one.
So question No. 1 with the Bears isn't going to be answered anytime soon. (We had interesting chats with both quarterbacks and will post a story on that Friday.)
And, to be honest, this team doesn't have many questions other than that. Tedford listed fullback as his biggest concern.
"We didn't lose a lot," he noted.
Those three departed linebackers from the Bears 3-4? Worries are few about Eddie Young, Mychal Kendricks, Mike Mohamed and D.J. Holt. All four played last year, with Young and Mohamed logging starts.
Receiver? Everyone is back, so this will be a far more seasoned group than 2008. And there are new names -- youngsters and players returning from injuries -- making the list of potential contributors long.
Sophomore Marvin Jones? "He's a guy if you ask who stood out the first week, it was Marvin Jones," Tedford said.
Mansion praised sophomore Alex Lagemann, who also earned a note from Tedford. A couple of practice kibitzers expressed esteem for redshirt freshman Charles Satchell. Sophomore Michael Calvin, who's sitting out spring while still recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2008 season, might be the most talented of the lot.
Ludwig, meanwhile, gushed about the depth and athleticism at tight end.
Ludwig likes to talk about playing "pitch and catch." The Bears didn't do that very well last year, ranking seventh in the Pac-10 and 83rd in the nation in passing.
There seems to be plenty of catchers. The issue that likely will decide if Cal is a top-10 team is the pitcher.
Some other notes:
- Tedford's special project with Riley during the offseason was shortening the junior's throwing motion. After watching film of 2008, Tedford said that as the season wore on Riley developed a bigger wind-up that hurt his passing accuracy.
- While the secondary returns intact -- and was very good last year -- cornerbacks Josh Hill and Mark Anthony, both redshirt freshmen, have made an impression and could work their way into the rotation.
- It appears that Mike Tepper and monstrous sophomore Mitchell Schwartz, a budding star, are set at left and right tackle, and Chris Guarnero leads in the competition to replace Alex Mack at center. The prime competition is at the guards.
- Tedford raised a few eyebrows -- or was it panic? -- among Cal fans when he talked about running back Jahvid Best being out of his wheelchair. Best was in a wheelchair because he'd had both elbow and foot surgery, so he couldn't use crutches. Tedford said neither was a major procedure and he's confident Best will be 100 percent by the fall. "He's on track," Tedford said. "This week he's going to start running." Tedford added that it's actually been hard to keep Best in check: "He has so much energy bound up in him. Even with his boot on when he's out there, you'll see him start to jog and you'll go, 'Wait. Woooh. Are you supposed to be jogging in that boot?'"
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
One of the charms of college football is the mostly predictable roster rotation. Young guys break through, become stars and then leave after their third, fourth or fifth year. Then a new cast tries to fill the void.
While there are numerous size 36 EEE shoes to fill -- figuratively speaking, of course -- in the Pac-10 this spring, we'll focus on five here.
|Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|It's going to be tough for the Trojans to replace Rey Maualuga.|
And because quarterback competitions across the conference are so obvious, we're going to make this a "non-quarterback" category.
Also note that spring is a time for the experimentation. Coaches love to mix-and-match players, so there might be some surprises we didn't anticipate.
Big shoes: USC LB Rey Maualuga
Stepping in: Sophomore Chris Galippo
- Out goes everybody's All-American Maualuga, in goes everybody's 2006 prep All-American Galippo, a sure tackler who packs a punch at 255 pounds. He had 12 tackles, two coming for a loss, and an interception last season. He saw action as a true freshman before suffering a herniated disk in his back, an injury that also limited him last season. He seemed healthy the second half of the season, but back injuries are tricky. That might be the biggest issue standing between Galippo and future stardom.
Big shoes: California C Alex Mack
Stepping in: Junior Richard Fisher or junior Chris Guarnero
- Fisher is a former walk-on and a vegetarian. For real. He was listed as the backup behind Mack last season. Guarnero started the first three games at left guard before suffering a season-ending toe injury. He is expected back for spring ball. With a new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, and lots of returning starting experience -- seven players have started at least one game -- there might be lots of experimenting up front this spring.
Big shoes: Oregon DE Nick Reed
Stepping in: Junior Brandon Bair, junior Kenny Rowe, JC transfer Zac Clark
- Reed had 20 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last year (29.5 for his career). His potential replacements had no sacks last season. Some Oregon fans took issue with my suggesting in our "What to watch this spring," that Bair was the frontrunner to replace Reed. I wrote that because Rowe was listed at 215 pounds on last year's depth chart and was almost exclusively a pass-rush specialist. Meanwhile, Clark is an unknown quantity as an incoming JC transfer. On the other hand, Bair is more in the mold of returning big end Will Tukuafu, so perhaps Rowe, who's listed at 230 pounds on the updated roster, and Clark will battle it out. Guessing this one is wide open, to be honest.
Big shoes: Arizona State FS Troy Nolan
Stepping in: Sophomore Clint Floyd leads a pack of possibilities
- Nolan had 64 tackles and four interceptions playing center field for the Sun Devils' defense, and he'll be the toughest guy to replace for a unit that should be fairly salty next fall. Floyd will get first crack, but junior Max Tabach, redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson and senior Jarrell Holman could make a move.
- Stroughter was the Pac-10's only 1,000-yard receiver last year. Morales added 743 yards, while this duo combined for 15 of the Beavers 25 touchdown receptions. Catchings caught only seven passes but was No. 2 on the depth chart. Bishop was impressive while redshirting, particularly during Sun Bowl practices. And slot receiver James Rodgers figures to see more balls downfield this fall after mostly being a fly-sweep specialist the past two seasons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
California won't run over Arizona: In Arizona's two losses, its defense got run over by a big back -- New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson and Stanford's Toby Gerhart, a pair of 230-pound bruisers. California is not a power-rushing team with Jahvid Best, who's expected to return after dislocating his elbow on Sept. 27, and Shane Vereen, neither of whom pushes the scale past 200 pounds. Moreover, the Bears have two injured starting linemen, tackle Mike Tepper and guard Chris Guarnero. Without Best, the Bears rushed for just 79 yards at home against Arizona State, and playing on the road makes it harder to use a variety of run audibles. Best and Vereen can hit home runs, but they don't grind out four yards and a cloud of dust. Cal will need balance to win, and the Bears passing game has not clicked this season. Meanwhile, the Wildcats pass defense is holding opponents to just a 55.3 completion percentage and has grabbed eight interceptions. Hmm.
A two-quarterback system might work for Stanford: Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard has steadily improved this year and was 13-of-17 for 113 yards and a touchdown before he was knocked out against Arizona with a concussion. He's likely to start against UCLA on Saturday. But Alex Loukas' running ability off the bench confused the Wildcats defense and was the key component of the 11-play, 60-yard game-winning drive. Loukas completed a 21-yard pass and ran four times for 32 yards, and apparently earned more playing time, according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Loukas not only adds a nice change of pace, but he also forces a defense to use valuable practice time preparing for a running quarterback and some spread-option plays.
Washington State's goal is to protect quarterback Kevin Lopina: If you read a week's worth of stories on Washington State, you can't help but wince. Two of the Cougars top three quarterbacks are done for the year. Kevin Lopina, who took over the starting job two games into the season, will return to face USC's fearsome defense after missing the past three games with a fractured vertebrae. If the Trojans knock Lopina out, the Cougars must turn to either walk-on freshman Daniel Wagner or burn the redshirt of true freshman J.T. Levenseller, with coach Paul Wulff suggesting this week he'd have no alternative but to go with Levenseller because there's half a season remaining. That means the Cougars figure to try to run the ball and use a lot of quick-hit passes to minimize the hits on Lopina, a strategy that isn't likely to put many points on the board. Of course, as a 43-point underdog, don't expect the Cougars to give the Trojans a scare. In fact, don't be shocked if USC coach Pete Carroll, who's team isn't exactly healthy, calls off the dogs fairly early and doesn't try to become the fourth Pac-10 team to score 60-plus on the Cougs.
UCLA may be able to force Stanford to pass: Sure, UCLA's rushing defense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 (171.3), which would seem to bode well for Stanford's potent ground game. But the Bruins have faced the nation's No. 6 (Oregon) and No. 16 (Fresno State) rushing attacks in recent weeks. Moreover, Stanford's more conventional power-running scheme matches strength-on-strength as the Bruins defensive tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell is as good as any in the conference. It's almost certain that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will try to force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw the ball. The Bruins secondary has been terribly inconsistent this year -- strong safety Bret Lockett is fighting to hold onto his job this week -- but Pritchard, while improving, has a tendency to force passes into coverage, see eight interceptions vs. seven touchdowns. The Bruins secondary has only four interceptions this season, but that has been a point of emphasis in practices this week. Stanford beat Arizona despite losing the turnover battle, 0-3. It will be harder to do that on the road.
Beavers should be on upset alert: There is absolutely no logical reason to believe that Washington can upset Oregon State. The Huskies are winless, beaten up and about to fire head coach Tyrone Willingham. Oregon State has won three of four and is in the middle of the Pac-10 race. The Beavers are superior in just about every area and should be highly motivated. Yet this is college football, and only twice since 1999 has a Pac-10 team gone winless in the conference (though Washington did it in 2004). Moreover, the Huskies' loss last year at Oregon State was hotly contested and bitterly lost, including a controversial knock-out hit on quarterback Jake Locker by Beavers safety Al Afalava, which has been a hot topic this week (though let's be clear that the hit was legal). The Beavers won 19 games over the previous two seasons, but managed to get drubbed both years by inferior UCLA teams, so it's not inconceivable that the Beavers could come out flat with overconfidence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Best-case scenario is California running back Jahvid Best will return to practice next week in preparation for the Bears visit to Arizona on Oct. 18.
But coach Jeff Tedford was cautious assessing how quickly Best will recover from his dislocated elbow.
"All the signs are very positive," Tedford said. "But there is still a ways to go."
Best will start lifting weights later this week and catching passes over the weekend, but he won't return to contact work -- at best -- until early next week.
What might help Best stay healthy is the Bears offensive line finding some continuity. Down two starters -- tackle Mike Tepper (pec) and guard Chris Guarnero (toe) -- the coaches have been forced to switch some players around, looking for the right combination.
"They're doing OK. There's room for improvement," Tedford said. "We're still finding ourselves a little bit."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A few sentences looking at this week's matchups.
Oregon State (2-2) at No. 15 Utah (5-0) (Thursday): Any other Pac-10 fans feel like this is a big game, not only to validate the Beavers win over USC but to at least momentarily hush all the crowing coming out of the Mountain West Conference? Beavers bullied the Utes 24-7 last year, but they've got to prove they can win on the road.
No. 23 Oregon (4-1, 2-0) at No. 9 USC (2-1, 0-1): The Ducks are the nation's fourth best rushing team (309 yards per game), and surely eyebrows were raised at how poorly the Trojans defended the run against Oregon State. Oregon won a battle of top-10 teams a year ago, 24-17.
Arizona State (2-2, 1-0) at California (3-1, 1-0): California emerged with more questions than any team in history has following a 42-7 victory. The Bears lost star RB Jahvid Best to an elbow injury, the quarterback competition between Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore has begun anew and the injury bug hit starting defensive end Rulon Davis and offensive guard Chris Guarnero. The Bears also probably remember seeing a 13-0 lead disappear in a 31-20 loss to the Sun Devils last year.
Stanford (3-2) at Notre Dame (3-1): If Stanford has designs on making a statement that will resonate with college football fans, here's an opportunity. The Cardinal has lost six straight in the series -- including a sloppy 21-14 defeat last year -- and haven't won in South Bend since 1992.
Washington (0-4, 0-2) at Arizona (3-1, 1-0): Will the Huskies make any effort to save Tyrone Willingham's job? Or will the Wildcats take Washington too lightly and ruin a nice start to their season? Washington begins life after Jake Locker with redshirt freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch running what figures to be a more conventional offense. Last year, Arizona scored the final 22 points to overcome a 41-26 fourth-quarter deficit and win 48-41.
Washington State (1-4, 0-2) at UCLA (1-3, 0-1): UCLA's reinvigorated running game meets its perfect match: The nation's 118th-ranked run defense. The Bruins spoke of improvement after losing a tight game to Fresno State, but losing at home to the woeful Cougars and their redshirt freshman quarterback, Marshall Lobbestael, who is making his first start on the road, would be crushing, perhaps as crushing as the 59-zip loss at BYU. It's notable that the Cougs beat the Bruins 27-7 last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Best dislocated his elbow against Colorado State but the extent of his injury won't be known until he has an MRI this morning. Cal has a bye after the Sun Devils come to town and visit Arizona on Oct. 18, the earliest date Best could return.
Also on the injury list: hard-luck defensive end Rulon Davis, who suffered a leg injury that will sideline him six weeks, and guard Chris Guarnero, who's out for the year with a toe injury.
Davis missed half of the 2006 and 2007 seasons due to injuries.
The Bears' offensive line is already missing tackle Mike Tepper, who's been slow to recover from a pectoral injury.