Pac-12: Chris Polk

Quick look at Week 8 Pac-12 games

October, 15, 2012
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Here's a quick look at Week 8 in the conference. All times are ET.

Thursday

No. 3 Oregon (6-0, 3-0) at Arizona State (5-1, 3-0) 9 p.m. ESPN: The series is tied at 16-16, but the Ducks have won the last seven meetings, including a 41-27 win last year in Eugene. The Ducks have won 11 of 14 games against the Sun Devils dating back to 1998 and have won the last four games in Tempe, averaging 43.8 points in those games. Oregon and Arizona State rank Nos. 1 & 2 in scoring offense in the Pac-12. Arizona State is No. 1 in scoring defense and Oregon is No. 4. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly is ranked first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is second.

Saturday

No. 20 Stanford (4-2, 2-1) at California (3-4, 2-2) 3 p.m. FOX: Stanford leads the series 52-44-10 and has won two in a row, including a 31-28 win last year. The game matches the No. 2 rushing defense of Stanford (89.5 yards per game) against the No. 3 rushing offense of Cal (195.0). Stanford has struggled on the road this year, most notably the offense and QB Josh Nunes. In two road games, they have failed to score an offensive touchdown, and Nunes is a combined 30-of-62 (48 percent) for 295 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Colorado (1-5, 1-2) at No. 10 USC (5-1, 3-1) 6 p.m. Pac-12 Network: USC leads the series 6-0, including a 42-17 win last year. Colorado is last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and scoring defense. The Buffaloes also should offer a chance for USC's struggling passing game to get on track. The Buffs are last in the conference in pass defense and pass efficiency defense.

Washington (3-3, 1-2) at Arizona (3-3, 0-3) 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Washington leads the series 18-9-1, including a 42-31 win last year. The Huskies have lost two in a row, the Wildcats three in a row. All of those losses came to ranked teams. In last year's UW win, Chris Polk scored five TDs, rushed for 144 yards and caught four passes for 100 yards. In 2010 in Tucson, then-backup QB Matt Scott led the Wildcats team to a 44-14 win, completing 18-of-22 passes for 233 yards and two TDs.

Utah (2-4, 0-3) at No. 8 Oregon State (5-0, 3-0) 10:30 p.m. ESPN2: While Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1, the Utes have won four of five, including a 27-8 win last year. That was the Utes' first Pac-12 victory in five tries. The teams split their last two decisions in Corvallis with Utah getting its only win there in 1991 and OSU winning in 2007. The Utes are last in the conference in total offense and 11th in rushing offense. Oregon State is first in the conference and fourth in the nation in rushing defense.

Huskies get extra time to solve Stanford

September, 19, 2012
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Washington is off this weekend. Here's a guess there won't be much chill time for Steve Sarkisian and his staff.

The Huskies play No. 9 Stanford on Thursday of next week. You might have heard that Stanford folks are grinning ear-to-ear these days. The following Saturday Washington visits No. 3 Oregon. Huskies and Ducks have a warm and friendly regard for each other. And then the Huskies play host to poor ol', now-13th ranked USC.

(If you throw in the 41-3 loss at No. 2 LSU on Sept. 8, it's possible the Huskies are playing one of the most difficult five-week stretches in the history of college football.)

Of course, the Huskies can't afford to look ahead at the big picture (and who'd want to anyway). Stanford offers plenty. Not only are the Cardinal coming off a rugged performance against the Trojans that suggests they again are among the nation's most physically imposing football teams, there's a bit of history here, too.

No team over the past three years -- not even those hated Ducks -- has manhandled the Huskies like Stanford. In 2009, Washington yielded 321 yards rushing in a 34-14 loss. In 2010, they were humiliated 41-zip at home, outgained 470 yards to 107. Last year, they surrendered 446 yards rushing, a Stanford school record, in a 65-21 defeat.

After that 2011 defeat, Sarkisian said, "They wear you out and they wear you down."

So how can things be different this go-around as Washington tries to climb out of the Pac-12's muddled middle?

The Huskies were brutalized at LSU, gaining just 183 total yards while the Tigers rushed for 242. The offense has been inconsistent both on the ground and through the air. The offensive line has struggled, giving up eight sacks. The defensive front has been poor against the run, yielding 174.7 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Steven Bisig/US PresswireWashington's Bishop Sankey said he's focusing this spring on becoming a more complete running back.
Stanford, you might have noticed, likes to run and stop the run. And then pound your quarterback. Ask Matt Barkley, who was sacked four times in the 21-14 loss and hit repeatedly.

Sarkisian said Monday he's concerned about the Huskies' lack of a pass rush, but he's probably more worried about the Cardinal's pass rush against quarterback Keith Price.

Washington's retooled offensive line played better against Portland State, an FCS team -- "Not bad, not bad," Sarkisian said -- as the Huskies rushed for 209 yards and gave up just one sack. But the Vikings are not Stanford.

"We have an idea of the runs we like now," Sarkisian said. "I think we are starting to figure out what our guys do well, so now we can get a little more creative as far as running the ball."

The Huskies ran the ball well in the first half against Stanford last year, particularly on 46- and 61-yard touchdown runs from Chris Polk. Polk is gone, though, and sophomore Bishop Sankey is now the No. 1 run option. He rushed for 103 yards and two scores on 14 carries against Portland State. The Huskies will need to create some sort of run threat to keep the Cardinal's deep and capable defensive front from completely zeroing in on Price.

And then the Huskies defense is going to need to figure out a way to contain Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor better than the Trojans did. The one area in their favor is this will be new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes' first road start.

Still, preparing for Stanford probably merits a few extra days.

Sarkisian spent a lot of time lauding Stanford in two different news conferences, particularly its size. He then was asked how he planned to counter it.

"We'll find out next Thursday," he said. "We've got some work to do.''

Pac-12 Lunch Links: No. 12 at Stanford

August, 8, 2012
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I am slashing a path through the rank vegetation of American popular culture with the warped machete of my mind.

Huskies open with plenty of 'maybe'

August, 6, 2012
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Washington was ranked 26th in the preseason coaches poll. Now there really isn't a "26th" in the coaches poll, a 25-team list. The Huskies are merely first among the "others receiving votes." But 26th does fairly represent where the program stands in year four under coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Huskies are close to returning to the national picture. Folks know about them, respect them even. But the breakthrough from respectable to good has yet to happen.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Ted S. Warren/AP PhotoCoach Steve Sarkisian enters his fourth season, and the pressure is on for the Huskies to win.
"We're not flying under the radar anymore," Sarkisian said during a news conference Monday as the Huskies begin preseason camp. "Teams have circled us on their schedules."

Sarkisian made some bold -- and well-publicized -- offseason moves to bolster his coaching staff, particularly on defense. That one of them required firing longtime colleague and friend Nick Holt as defensive coordinator clearly demonstrated that Sark was willing to make tough business decisions to advance the Huskies up the next rung of the college football ladder. And, yes, that includes playing defense that isn't embarrassingly horrible.

What's clear is this is now Sarkisian's team, even if five fifth-year players remain from the Tyrone Willingham era. It features just 12 seniors, so it's still a young team. But there's plenty of experience coming back, certainly more than the official number of returning starters -- 13 -- suggests.

"We're becoming a more mature football team," Sarkisian said.

Still, the Huskies enter the 2012 season with quarterback Keith Price and lots of "maybe." The top three receivers from 2011 are gone, but sophomore Kasen Williams leads a promising crew coming back. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appears to be a budding All-American, and the interior offensive line looks solid. But it's unclear who the tackles will be -- Sarkisian said Drew Schaefer, a two-year starter at center, will get a look at tackle. And the pecking order at running back is unclear after the departure of the highly productive Chris Polk.

The defense? The big surprise is how many potentially good players it could feature -- OLB Josh Shirley, end Hau'oli Jamora, DT Danny Shelton, safety Sean Parker, cornerback Desmond Trufant, etc. The turnaround under new coordinator Justin Wilcox could be dramatic, but let's recall more than a few folks (cough, cough) thought the Huskies' defense looked pretty salty in advance of the 2011 season.

In 2009, Sarkisian's first season, he played 16 true freshmen. Last year, he played four. It will be interesting to see how many break through this fall. Safety Shaq Thompson, one of several players likely to see action on both sides of the ball, seems like the only sure thing.

"I won't ever not play a kid because he's a freshman," Sarkisian said. "The best guys on the field are going to play for us. But I know it's harder for a freshman to get on the field now."

Another area of concern: Specialists. The Huskies are replacing two good ones.

The maturation of the program under Sarkisian, coaching upgrades and intriguing talent on both sides of the ball suggest a team ready to step forward. But when you pair the uncertainties with a brutal early schedule -- at LSU, Stanford, at Oregon and USC in the first seven weeks -- then it's not also difficult to identify some "maybe not."

That's not what Sarkisian sees, though. He sees another step in the rebuilding process. He sees a team built the way he wants to build it. He, not surprisingly, sees the hopeful side of "maybe."

"When your guys are speaking your language, your lingo, it's not coach-talk it's locker room talk, that's when I think you can really make strides," he said.

Take 2: All-Pac-12 risers

August, 3, 2012
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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.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 24

July, 31, 2012
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason Top 25 here.

24. Isi Sofele, RB, Cal

2011 numbers: Appeared in all 13 games for the Bears last season, rushing for 1,322 yards on 252 carries with 10 touchdowns. Had six catches for 33 yards.

2011 postseason ranking: Unranked.

Making the case for Sofele: You might have heard the rumblings that Cal is going to switch to more of a committee approach this year with its running game. And if that's the case and Sofele doesn't match last year's numbers or contributions, so be it. The postseason rankings will reflect that. But for now, given what he did last season, you can't leave him off this list. Sofele was one of seven backs in the Pac-12 last year to clear 1,000 yards, finishing fifth in the conference with 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns on 252 carries. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and was one of only five backs to average more than 100 yards per game (101.7). And the simple fact is that when Sofele thrived, so did the Bears. Cal was 7-2 last season when Sofele carried the ball at least 18 times. When he does well, so does Cal. And perhaps taking a few carries away from him will make him a more productive, well-rested back. Only Utah's John White (316) and Washington's Chris Polk (293) carried the ball more than Sofele. So while we might see fewer carries from the 5-foot-8, 190-pound back, we might also see better carries.

No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Poll: Pac-12's biggest loss

June, 8, 2012
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We closed last week with one of the meatier offseason discussions we've had on the Pac-12 blog -- whether running back LaMichael James or quarterback Darron Thomas was a bigger loss for the Ducks.

SportsNation

Which player is the biggest loss to his team?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    64%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,455)

While the folks at Athlon Sports, who prompted the original question, tend to lean toward the side of Thomas, many readers (and myself) think James will be the bigger loss.

But let's broaden the spectrum as we close another week and look at a few other of the marquee players who left us this past year.

We're going to keep James and Thomas on the list for a couple of reasons. 1) It sparked the original debate. 2) Ducks fans, who have been known to dominate Pac-12 polls regardless of the question, will actually be forced to split their vote based on the options. (And if you actually vote Andrew Luck, Duck fan, more power to you).

So which departed Pac-12 player is the biggest loss for his team?

You have James, an 1,800-yard rusher who is in the conversation for most explosive back to play in the conference in the last decade.

Thomas was a very dynamic athlete who was plugged in and was an instant winner. And traditionally quarterbacks are bigger losses than running backs.

Luck was Luck. One of the best college quarterbacks the conference has seen and a major catalyst for Stanford's tremendous rise over the last three seasons.

What about Washington running back Chris Polk? A true workhorse runner who had speed and power.

And if you're looking at importance, you certainly have to consider losing an immovable left tackle like Matt Kalil at USC.

Vote your conscious and have a great weekend.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

June, 8, 2012
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We've looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers and the 1,000-yard rushers in the Pac-12 over the last few days. But this is the conference of wide receivers -- a place for Biletnikoff's boys to run free and unabated up and down the field. So who's going to be in 2012's 1K club?

First, here's last year's 1,000-yard receivers:
With only four returning 1K receivers coming back from last season -- and two of them are on the same team -- how does that bode for the rest of the teams in the conference?

Arizona: The Wildcats lose their top three receivers from last year -- including headliner Juron Criner and his 956 receiving yards. Big boy Dan Buckner (6-foot-4, 214) returns after 42 catches and 606 yards last year, when he averaged 14.4 yards per catch. But the Wildcats will run the ball more this year. Buckner will likely improve on his numbers, but reaching 1K will be tough.

Arizona State: Another team shifting its mentality from pass first to run first, and they lose their top receiver in Robinson. Jamal Miles had 60 catches and six touchdowns last year, but only 361 yards. His yard total should go up as the No. 1 guy, but with more focus on the run game, 1,000 yards might be a stretch.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWith quarterback (and half-brother) Zach Maynard more comfortable, Keenan Allen could put on a show for Cal during his junior season.
Cal: Keenan Allen. Yes. Quarterback Zach Maynard reportedly had a great spring and looks more comfortable in the offense -- and Allen might be the best all-around receiver in the conference (that phrase will be written a couple of times throughout this post). The Bears will lean heavily on Allen and he'll reward them with another 1,000 yard season.

Colorado: Prior to Paul Richardson's injury, it still would have been 50-50 with a new quarterback. But without their top receiving threat it leaves relatively inexperienced players like Tyler McCulloch and Nelson Spruce in the mix. The quarterback position is still in flux and with a pretty good offensive line and a talented running back in Tony Jones, the Buffs' focus will probably be more ground-based.

Oregon: Whether De'Anthony Thomas reaches 1,000-1,000 is a debate for another day. But I like his chances of 1,000 yards receiving. He caught 46 balls for 605 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Coach Chip Kelly finds creative ways to get Thomas the ball in space and then he just takes off. He'll make the new quarterback look good and suck up receiving yards in the process. My crisp $1 bill says yes to 1K.

Oregon State: Markus Wheaton returns after catching 73 balls for 986 yards. He's an extremely gifted wide receiver who is often forgotten among the Pac-12's A-list of pass catchers. But he shouldn't be. Sean Mannion should be more steady in his second year and as Brandin Cooks develops opposite Wheaton, it should open up more opportunities. He'll break 1K this season.

Stanford: Run-first team. The top three receivers (which includes tight end Coby Fleener) are gone and the leading, returning receiver is fullback Ryan Hewitt. Even if Andrew Luck were back it would be tough. The Cardinal spread the ball around so much that it's unlikely one guy would get all the catches. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, however, is a rising star in the conference and should have a very good season. He's Stanford's best chance at 1K.

UCLA: If the Bruins can get the quarterback spot situated and if they take to the new pass-happy offense relatively quickly, there is a good chance someone could emerge as a 1K receiver. Joseph Fauria is the strongest pass catcher, but Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray will have plenty of chances to emerge.

USC: Yes and yes. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are two of the best wide receivers in the country and with the quarterback they have throwing the ball, there is no reason to think both won't return as 1,000-yard receivers. This one is a no-brainer.

Utah: The Utes were dead last in the conference last year in passing offense. That's expected to change with new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson taking a more aggressive approach and quarterback Jordan Wynn staying healthy, they hope. When DeVonte Christopher did catch the ball (42 times) he made the most of it with one of the league's highest averages per catch (15.8). But running the ball is still going to be Utah's bread and butter. The numbers will improve, but a 1K receiver will be tough.

Washington: This is a tough call. Quarterback Keith Price has another year of experience, but there is so much distribution in the Huskies offense -- which includes a tight end who should see the ball at least five to seven times per game -- that there might not be a chance for one guy to separate himself. Kasen Williams and James Johnson both have big-play potential -- which might be part of the problem because they could take yards away from each other. And without Chris Polk running the ball, teams might not be as quick to send safeties down to defend the run.

Washington State: Not if, but when. Marquess Wilson, last year's yardage runner up is in a system that's tailor-made for him. Of the league's top receivers -- Allen, Woods, Lee, Wheaton -- Wilson might be the best of them all (doesn't that make for a fun debate?). There are plenty of other good receivers at Washington State. But Wilson is the guy. He'll clear 1K about the time you're recovering from your Halloween candy hangover.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

June, 6, 2012
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Last week we brought you our predictions for the Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers in 2012. And judging from the comments, it seems like at least 10 quarterbacks are going to hit the 3K mark.

Are folks just as optimistic about the running backs reaching 1,000 yards?

First, let's take a look at last year's 1K rushers:
So that's five of the seven coming back. Let's break it down by team.

[+] EnlargeKaDeem Carey
AP Photo/Don RyanArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is likely to get more carries in Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: The Wildcats ran the ball the second fewest of any Pac-12 team last season (331 attempts), but Carey still managed 425 yards on 91 carries. Arizona will run the ball significantly more under Rich Rodriguez -- who usually has one of the top rushing offenses in the nation. His running backs had more success at West Virginia than at Michigan, where QB Denard Robinson sucked up most of the yards. Carey will be close and it might come down to whether Arizona plays a 13th game.

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: He did it in a pass-first system on an injured ankle. Now he's in a run-first system and healthy. Do the math. Marshall should flourish in a downhill system. The Sun Devils have deep group behind him -- maybe the deepest in the conference -- but I can't imagine anyone cutting into his carries too deeply that it hinders his ability to get back to 1K.

Isi Sofele, Cal: There are mumblings that Cal might move to more of a committee approach and Sofele might not get the same number of carries as last year (252). Even so, he'll still probably be chairman of that committee and will have ample opportunity to reach 1,000 yards again. He'll get there.

Tony Jones, Colorado: The Buffs' offensive line might be their strongest offensive asset with standouts like tackle David Bakhtiari and center Gus Handler. That bodes well for Jones, who showed he can be very explosive backing up Rodney Stewart last year. But the Buffs spent a lot of time playing catch-up last season and couldn't commit to the run as much as Jon Embree probably would have liked (401 attempts). If they can't develop a downfield threat, Jones is going to see a lot of eight-in-the-box.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: He was knocking on the door last year with 939 -- and that was behind LaMichael James and his 1,805 yards. Barner will see more carries than his 152 last season, though he'll still have to split carries with De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks' new quarterback. Still, no one in the conference runs the ball more than Oregon so Barner shouldn't have any trouble getting there.

Committee, Oregon State: We know Oregon State wants to run the ball more. The Beavers were dead last in the conference last season in attempts (318) and rushing yards (1,043) and there are still issues on the offensive line that need to be sorted out. Several players are expected to contribute -- but chances are one individual won't get over 1,000 yards.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal have a committee approach, but even so, Taylor has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. The loss of guard David DeCastro hurts a bit, but the Cardinal are dedicated to the run and Taylor is a fantastic back. Shouldn't have any trouble three-peating.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The new system at UCLA will be pass-oriented. But Franklin (976 yards last year) won't be completely ignored. Just look at Marshall's numbers from ASU when Noel Mazzone was running the show and you can see that running backs are still a big part of the attack. And the Bruins might run a little more until the new quarterback finds his way in the system. He'll be close.

Curtis McNeal, USC: He just cracked the club by five yards last season. This year he'll have the benefit of a 13th -- maybe even a 14th -- game to get there. Can't imagine many teams will stack the box and dare Matt Barkley to beat them with his arm. McNeal should clear 1K easily.

John White, Utah: No back carried the ball more in the conference and only three players in FBS football had more rushing attempts. There's no reason to think the Utes won't take that same approach. White is an explosive back who is a proven workhorse. If Utah can get the passing game going, it will open up more for White who could probably match his yards total with fewer carries.

Committee, Washington: Chris Polk was a special running back -- the kind of guy who could run for speed and run for power. He's gone and there are questions on the offensive line where there weren't last year. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will probably headline the committee and Washington's balanced approach (52-48 run-pass ratio last year) will allow for plenty of opportunities for both. They should easily combine, but unless one steps up as an 18-20 carry-per-game back, it's unlikely an individual will reach 1K.

Committee, Washington State: The pie for carries is already small considering the offense. Then you have Rickey Galvin (1A), Carl Winston (1B) and Marcus Mason (1C) cutting into the pie even more to nibble on whatever slices are left. Running backs in Mike Leach's world are better used in the passing game on swings and screens in this offense. So don't expect a 1K rusher.

The Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers

May, 30, 2012
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Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.

Pac-12 lunch links: QB transfer to Colorado?

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
2:30
PM ET
So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now,
Over the hills where the spirits fly, ooh.
I really don't know.
Last week we gave you our thoughts on a couple of Pac-12 players who went undrafted this year. It wasn't really a debate, since we both felt that Washington running back Chris Polk not getting drafted was the biggest surprise.

SportsNation

Outside of Chris Polk, who was the most surprising Pac-12 player to go undrafted?

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    38%
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    9%
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    6%
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    40%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,457)

So instead, we just opined on a couple of undrafted free agents.

Miller predicts that Oregon safety Eddie Pleasant is going to have a fruitful NFL career, though he wasn't all that surprised that he wasn't drafted.

Gemmell was slightly surprised that a team didn't take a chance on ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict given the NFL's history of drafting players with questionable character.

There were a few other players who we thought might have ended up as draft picks but didn't make the cut.

Washington linebacker Cort Dennison, for example, who led the Pac-12 in tackles last season and was a second-team all-conference selection.

Also, Stanford safety Delano Howell was predicted by many to go in the draft, but ended up as a free agent.

Then there was Arizona State wide receiver Gerell Robinson -- who had more receiving yards than any wide receiver in the conference last year.

Which player did you feel should have been drafted but wasn't?
The 2012 NFL draft provided few surprises -- for about the first 10 minutes. After that, it was a slew of slips and falls that left many Pac-12 coaches and fans with a serious case of dry, itchy scalp.

When your Pac-12 bloggers got together this week in Arizona and started brainstorming ideas for this week's Take 2, the NFL draft was an obvious choice. We both agreed that the biggest surprise was that Washington running back Chris Polk was not drafted. No debate, no Take 2. So instead this week we decided to just toss out our thoughts on two more players who went undrafted.

Ted Miller: It's an NFL tradition to underrate Oregon defensive backs, then hand them starting jobs -- see Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Walter Thurmond, etc. So I am not shocked that former Ducks safety Eddie Pleasant didn't get drafted.

What will shock me is if he doesn't have an NFL career, whether that's with the Houston Texans, who signed him to a free agent contract, or not. I will admit that I vacillated between Pleasant and a more celebrated Pac-12 safety here: Stanford's Delano Howell. But I tapped Pleasant because I think he's a more consistent tackler and because, well, he played in the secondary at Oregon, which is an underrated NFL pipeline (and will continue to be so).

[+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
AP Photo/Dave MartinArizona State's Vontaze Burfict had a very poor NFL combine and did not get drafted.
Pleasant is not huge -- 5-11, 211 pounds -- and he's not hugely fast -- 4.63 40. But the main gripe on him was his struggles in pass coverage in space. Part of that likely is him only converting from linebacker -- where he started in 2009 after being a top reserve as a redshirt freshman in 2008 -- two years ago. In 2010, a lot of his struggles seem to come because he didn't exactly know what he was doing -- or feel comfortable doing it. His improvement in 2011 was notable because it suggested more is ahead. Finally, Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, despite having plenty of physically talented candidates, has spent the entire spring wringing his hands -- as only Aliotti can wring his hands -- over how difficult it will be to replace Pleasant. When Aliotti speaks, I listen. For edification as well as amusement. Pleasant is going to be playing football a lot longer than a lot of safeties who did get drafted. You can count on that.

Kevin Gemmell: The NFL is filled with stories of redemption. Sadly, my spidey senses tingle to the tune that Vontaze Burfict isn’t going to be one of them.

Still, I’m mildly surprised that no one decided to take a flyer on him in the later rounds. It wouldn’t have been the first time players with sketchy reputations/head cases/drug histories were admitted to the NFL fraternity via the draft. As one colleague said this week, NFL teams would draft an axe murderer if they thought he could help them.

After all, Warren Sapp took a little slide in the draft after he admitted to marijuana use pre-draft -- but still ended up in the first round. Luis Castillo was a first-rounder despite admitting to using androstenedione before the combine to recover from an elbow injury. Even Maurice Clarett found his way to Denver in the third round.

Sapp went on to have a very successful career, Castillo is still in the league with the team that drafted him and Clarett, well, he never played a down in the NFL. It goes to show that all it takes is one general manager to roll the dice.

The point is that Burfict must have been so unbelievably toxic that any potential he has as a linebacker was superseded by his shortcomings (pick one: physical, mental, emotional etc.)

Burfict’s reputation proceeded him before ASU's season began -- but he was perceived as such a talent that most had no problem projecting him as a first-round pick; then a second-rounder; then a third-day pick before most eventually predicted he wouldn't be drafted at all. Mob stoolies in cement shoes don’t sink that fast.

Maybe this is the wake-up call he needed. Burfict is an easy target for one-liners, but he’s also still in the infancy of his adult life. The Bengals signed him to a zero-risk, free-agent contract. Maybe a veteran will take him under his wing and show him how to start manning up, because right now Burfict is the biggest joke of the draft. But when you really peel back the layers of his downfall, it’s not all that funny.

Pac-12 lunch links: Lupoi gets commitments

May, 2, 2012
5/02/12
2:30
PM ET
McLovin? What kind of a stupid name is that, Fogell? What, are you trying to be an Irish R&B singer?

Pac-12 doesn't shine in NFL draft

April, 29, 2012
4/29/12
12:45
PM ET
California led the way in the Pac-12 for what was a poor showing in the 2012 NFL draft, with just 28 total players selected. It seemed perfectly reasonable to project more than 40 picks a few weeks and months ago.

In 2011, 37 players were drafted, one fewer than the SEC. This year, the SEC led the way with 42 draft picks. The Big Ten was second with 41 and the ACC was third with 31. The 10-team Big 12 had 25, which actually puts it ahead of the Pac-12 by a per-team measure.

California had six players drafted, tied for the second-most by Cal, which also had six players picked in both the 1977 and 2008 drafts. A school-record 10 Cal players were chosen in 1952.

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireDespite rushing for over 4,000 career yards, star Washington RB Chris Polk went undrafted.
There were plenty of negatives from the weekend, starting with Washington RB Chris Polk, who some had projected going as early as the second round, not getting picked. The reported explanation is concern that Polk has a shoulder problem. Polk and his horrible, no-good shoulder rushed for an often punishing 4,049 yards in his career, the second-most in school history.

The Philadelphia Eagles committed grand larceny when they signed him as a free agent.

Other negatives: Character counts. The Pac-12 bad boys, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and Oregon CB Cliff Harris, both once viewed as potential first-round picks, weren't drafted.

Oregon QB Darron Thomas, who surprised many when he opted to enter the draft a year early, went undrafted. (Meanwhile, in Eugene, Ducks fans watched redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota dominate the spring game in the competition with Bryan Bennett to replace Thomas).

Other undrafted notables: Arizona State WR Gerell Robinson, Oregon S Eddie Pleasant, Oregon State WR James Rodgers, Stanford WR Chris Owusu, Stanford S Delano Howell and Washington WR Jermaine Kearse.

Here's the conference draft tally. UCLA and Washington State had no players selected.

California: 6
Oregon: 4
Stanford: 4
Arizona: 3
USC: 3
Arizona State: 2
Colorado: 2
Washington: 2
Oregon State: 1
Utah: 1

And here's the round-by-round.

First round
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Indianapolis
4. Matt Kalil, OT, USC: Minnesota
24. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: Pittsburgh
28. Nick Perry, DE, USC: Green Bay

Second round
2. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: Indianapolis
5. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California: Cleveland
10. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford, Miami
14. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: Philadelphia
25. Brock Osweiler, QB Arizona State: Denver Broncos
29. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: San Francisco 49ers

Third round
7. Bryan Anger, P, California: Jacksonville
16. Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State: Chicago Bears
25. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Philadelphia
32. Tony Bergstrom, OL, Utah: Oakland

Fourth round
6. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State: Denver
14. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington: Pittsburgh
33. Rhett Ellison, FB/TE, USC: Minnesota

Fifth round
16. Senio Kelemete, OT, Washington: Arizona
20. Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon: Miami
25. Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado: Cleveland
31. Marvin Jones, WR, California: Cincinnati
33. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Oakland

Sixth round
8. Mark Asper, OG, Oregon: Buffalo

Seventh round
9. D.J. Campbell, S, California: Carolina
12. Trevor Guyton, DE, California: Minnesota
24. Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado, Pittsburgh
33. David Paulson, TE, Oregon, Pittsburgh
38. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona: Cleveland

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