Pac-12: Christian Ramirez
Injury issues as well as a lack of inherited talent have slowed the Bruins' development. The biggest problem: The lack of a dependable running game due to poor line play. An experiment with Nevada's pistol offense, which was intended to bolster the running game, appears to have been cut short as preseason camp has gone on.
Recruiting under third-year coach Rick Neuheisel has picked up substantially, though mostly in terms of collecting skill players. It hasn't helped that the yield of elite offensive linemen on the West Coast over the past two years has been surprisingly low.
So where do things stand with the Bruins' work-in-progress offense? We checked in with Chow.
So where is QB Kevin Prince with his strained oblique and when does that become a concern with the opening game approaching?
Norm Chow: He is right there. If we err, we're going to err on the side of caution. He's ready to go. He's had a great summer. He's been to all the meetings. He stayed with it mentally. He's going to be fine.
In general, where do things stand with the pistol offense? Are you seeing improvement since spring?
NC: We sure have. We obviously haven't adopted it totally. But the parts that we do, we like. Hopefully it will allow us to run the ball better.
How much option do you anticipate using?
NC: Quarterback option? Not too much, if any.
You guys have taken some hits on the offensive line. What have you seen from that unit this spring? What are they doing well and what are they struggling with?
NC: We're actually real pleased with our offensive of line. Our two guards [Darius Savage and Eddie Williams] both played last year, started some last year. Our center [Kai Maiava] is back from last year. Our right tackle is actually a sixth-year player [Micah Kia] who was hurt last year, who started before. Our starting left tackle at the present time has been a guy who it kind of took a while to figure out college and college football but is doing a nice job. And that's Sean Sheller. We have four seniors and a junior on the offensive line. They bring us leadership. They bring us maturity. We feel real good about it. The concern of it is, as it always is in a college program, is when you get someone hurt. We have some adequate backups, but they need to continue to develop just in case.
Explain the "F" position to me. You've got a lot of different body types at that spot on the depth chart.
NC: It's an old H-back deal. It's nothing new; no new revelation. It's the old H-back that a lot of people have used. It's a guy who can catch, who can block, who can run a little bit. We're blessed that we've got some talented people who can handle that: Morrell Presley, Christian Ramirez, Anthony Barr -- a young freshman who just came in -- they are very talented guys. We feel like we've got that position pretty well covered
Seems like you've got plenty of potential playmakers. Who's impressed you so far in camp?
NC: Our receivers are older and wiser. This is Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario's third year playing and starting for us. Ricky Marvray and Randall Carroll have had tremendous camps. Then we have a transfer from Colorado who has to fight through some injury stuff, Josh Smith, who was a nice player at Colorado. So we have five that we think are good receivers. We just have to see how the game develops. Obviously if we are able to run the ball, it opens up the passing game and allow these guys to show their stuff.
Are the touted freshman, Jordan James and Malcolm Jones, going to break into the rotation at tailback, or are Derrick Coleman and Johnathan Franklin still ahead?
NC: We don't have to make that decision today. We have three weeks before we play a ballgame. Jordan James got cut short with a little hamstring pull. Malcolm Jones has had a terrific fall. He's certainly challenging the other two, but the other two have played well as well. So it's a nice situation to have. With injuries, and so forth we'll probably need them all. I'm sure Malcolm will have a real hand in the rotation we come up with.
Overall, how close do you feel your guys are to breaking through?
NC: I don't know. If I did know that, I probably wouldn't be coaching. I'll tell you what we have done: Our young guys have worked real hard. We've had a good summer. We lost the weight we needed to. We got stronger. We're excited about it. We'll just have to wait and see. We temper our enthusiasm because we play a really difficult schedule. I've heard it's the third toughest in the NCAA. But we're going to meet that challenge. We're excited about that challenge. We'll see what happens.
It's time, to use his phrase, to "let the fur fly."
"Three springs into our term here, expectations are higher, not only externally but also internally," Neuheisel said. "The intensity needs to go up compared to springs before."
- Neuheisel said sophomore Kevin Prince starts spring as a solid No. 1 at quarterback. Said Neuheisel, "We have a starter in Kevin Prince and he deserves to be named that. He had a very, very solid freshman season. But I don't want to water down Richard Brehaut's hopes of earning his spot in this lineup."
- Neuheisel said Prince needs to become more accurate, while Brehaut, also a sophomore, needs to refine his knowledge of the offense.
- Three seniors will miss spring practices due to injuries: offensive guard Darius Savage (back), offensive tackle Micah Kia (knee) and defensive end Reginald Stokes (knee).
- Junior strong safety Tony Dye might be limited during practices due to a lingering toe problem. Offensive guard Eddie Williams is coming back from a foot injury, so he also might see only limited action, though he has been cleared for contact.
- Two transfers are expected to immediately jump into the mix: sophomore tight end Joseph Fauria (Notre Dame) and junior receiver/return man Josh Smith (Colorado).
- The only true freshman participating in spring practices from the 2010 recruiting class is offensive guard Wade Yardall. He's listed third on the left side of the line behind Jeff Baca and Stan Hasiak. True freshman linebacker Jared Koster is a grayshirt who joined the team in January.
- Xavier Su'a-Filo, who started at left tackle as a true freshman, has gone on a two-year Mormon mission. Redshirt freshman Nik Abele is listed No. 1 at his spot, ahead of sophomore Brett Downey.
- Four players have switched positions: sophomore Morrell Presley (receiver to tight end), junior Nate Chandler (tight end to defensive tackle, where he's listed as a starter), junior Glenn Love (safety to weakside linebacker) and senior Christian Ramirez (running back to defensive back).
Here are top competitions in the conference this spring.
Arizona State, quarterback
Top candidates: junior Steven Threet, junior Samson Szakacsy, sophomore Brock Osweiler
This one is wide-open, particularly with a fresh set of eyes in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone now overseeing things. All three have some playing experience. No one has a lot. Or was particularly impressive when he played. Threet, a Michigan transfer, might be the frontrunner, based on early scuttlebutt, but that might just be folks leaning toward the unknown, new guy. Issue with Szakacsy is whether his arm strength will be consistent because he's struggled an elbow injury.
Oregon State, quarterback
Top candidates: sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich
How much of a competition will this really be? Katz has steadily improved and owns a clear advantage over the Virginia transfer before spring practices start. Both have good arms, though at least one Oregon State beat writer has taken to calling Katz "Nolan" Ryan Katz. Still, Lalich has playing experience -- albeit limited -- and he could make a move during the spring that could make things interesting in August.
Top candidates: Senior Kevin Riley, sophomore Beau Sweeney, junior Brock Mansion
This is an interesting one. Riley has started 22 games, but he's been consistently inconsistent. Coach Jeff Tedford said the competition will be open this spring, just as it was last year when Riley triumphed over Mansion and Sweeney. This time, Sweeney, who eclipsed Mansion on the depth chart last fall, will be the top challenger. Is Riley really going to lose his job as a senior? Well, it happened just across town at Stanford last year, with fairly positive results.
Top candidates: junior Derek Earls, junior Paul Vassallo, senior C.J. Parish, sophomore R.J. Young, sophomore Jake Fischer
Coach Mike Stoops talked last fall about being thin at linebacker behind his three senior starters, so this wide-open -- and fairly urgent -- situation isn't a surprise. Earls and Vassallo are JC transfers who are already enrolled and were not brought in to watch from the sidelines. Parrish, Young and Fischer were listed on last year's depth chart but combined for just 16 tackles.
Stanford, running back
Top candidates: sophomore Stepfan Taylor, senior Jeremy Stewart, sophomore Tyler Gaffney.
Just so you know: quarterback Andrew Luck was Stanford's second-leading rusher last year behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. All three candidates have experience, though Stewart is coming back from a knee injury. An incoming freshman, such as Anthony Wilkerson, could join the fray in the fall.
UCLA, running back
Top candidates: sophomore Johnathan Franklin, junior Derrick Coleman, sophomore Milton Knox, sophomore Damien Thigpen, senior Christian Ramirez
This is a logjam of talented players who have yet to break through -- note that senior fullback Chane Moline became the go-to guy by the end of the 2009 season. However the pecking order establishes itself this spring, expect the outstanding incoming freshmen class -- Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and, if he stays at running back, Anthony Barr -- to get a chance to break into the rotation.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There are some high-profile injuries in the conference right now. Here's an update.
- Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski (back): He's trying to practice this week in order to play at Iowa but the guess here is the best-case scenario is Gronkowski seeing only a handful of snaps. Coach Mike Stoops might opt to rest him hoping he'll be ready when the Pac-10 games start on Sept. 26. And, if Gronk plays, keep in mind he missed almost all of preseason camp. As good as he is, there should be some rust.
- Arizona State DT Lawrence Guy (biceps): It appears Guy will play against Louisiana-Monroe. Dennis Erickson told the Arizona Republic on Tuesday: "I don't think he's 100 percent, but he's pretty close."
- Oregon FS T.J. Ward (ankle) & LB Spencer Paysinger (elbow): While Oregon coach Chip Kelly calls all his injured players "day-to-day" -- thereby forcing all haggard sportswriters to reply, "Aren't we all, coach?" -- Ward seems far closer to doubtful than questionable for the Utah visit. Paysinger practiced Tuesday, so he sounds probable.
- Oregon State WR Darrell Catchings (wrist): Catchings was catching Tuesday, so let's upgrade his status to questionable. If he's ready to go that should elevate the Beavers passing game with a tough Cincinnati squad coming to Corvallis. Some other injury info here.
- Stanford DT Matt Masifilo: Masifilo suffered a knee injury at Wake Forest and will be out six weeks. The good news is backup Sione Fua has experience.
- UCLA RB Christian Ramirez (ankle), DE Reginald Stokes (knee), OL Nick Ekbatani (knee) & WR Gavin Ketchum (hamstring): Though it's unlikely any of these four will be available for Saturday's game with Kansas State, all four are at least doing light running, meaning they could be ready after the bye week for the Pac-10 opener vs. Stanford on Oct. 3.
- USC QB Matt Barkley (shoulder) & FS Taylor Mays (knee): Barkley didn't throw during Tuesday's practice, so it's becoming increasingly possible that sophomore Aaron Corp will start at Washington. That might make things interesting if Corp is lights out. Mays is a senior and a two-time All-American who came off the bench in his first game as a true freshman and has started every game since. He's from Seattle. Odds are that Mays will play, even if he sits out all week.
- Washington DT De'Shon Matthews (knee) & DE Darrion Jones (knee): Both are decidedly questionable and closer to doubtful. The reason that this is big is because USC has a dominating offensive line -- one that is surely unhappy with how it performed at Ohio State. The Huskies aren't deep on the D-line in any event.
- Washington State LB Andy Mattingly (concussion, thigh): The Cougars are banged up -- it was too complicated to list here. With another run-and-shoot offense -- SMU -- coming to town, the defense can't afford to be missing many starters, such as Mattingly, who is questionable.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Based on news reports and this this useful Web site: The latest on injuries heading into week one.
TE Rob Gronkowski, back, questionable
OG Vaughn Dotsy, finger, probable
WR Delashaun Dean, hamstring, probable
OT Tom Njunge, biceps, questionable
C Garth Gerhart, toe, questionable
C Thomas Altieri, concussion, probable
OG Zach Schlink, knee, out
DT Lawrence Guy, biceps, probable
DE James Brooks, suspension, out
RB Jahvid Best, toe, probable
TE Tad Smith, knee, out
OT Mitchell Schwartz, leg, probable
S Marcus Ezeff, ankle, questionable
WR Michael Calvin, knee, probable
LB Robert Mullins, knee, out
TE Skylar Curran, ankle, probable
WR Rory Cavaille, shoulder, out,
OT Bo Thran, knee, questionable
WR Darrell Catchings, wrist, out
WR Markus Wheaton, NCAA Clearinghouse, questionable
WR Geno Munoz, abdominal, questionable
QB Lyle Moevao, shoulder, out
RB Ryan McCants, knee, out
CB Brandon Hardin, leg, out
OT Timi Oshinowo, knee, out
LB Tony Wilson, knee, out
S Josh LaGrone, knee, out
S Lance Mitchell, hamstring, probable
OT Allen Smith, knee, out
S Taylor Skaufel, knee, out
OT Chris Marinelli, shoulder, probable
LB Alex Debniak, knee, out
OG Micah Kia, knee, out
OL Nick Ekbatani, knee, out
DE Reginald Stokes, knee, out
DT Jess Ward, knee, doubtful
RB Christian Ramirez, ankle, questionable
DE Chinonso Anyanwu, hip, out
WR Gavin Ketchum, hamstring, questionable
OG Stanley Hasiak, stinger, probable
FB Chane Moline, hip, probable
CB Shareece Wright, knee, academics, questionable
WR Ronald Johnson, collarbone, out
DE Armond Armstead, foot, out
C Kristofer O'Dowd, knee, doubtful
DT Averell Spicer, ankle, questionable
OG Nick Howell, ankle, questionable
LB Luthur Brown, academics, out
TE Blake Ayles, heart condition, probable
QB Aaron Corp, leg, questionable
QB Mitch Mustain, illness, probable
CB Patrick Hall, knee, out
CB Justin Glenn, knee, questionable
DT Cameron Elisara, shoulder, probable
RB Johri Fogerson, ankle, probable
RB Chris Polk, concussion, probable
WR James Johnson, ankle, probable
DE Darrion Jones, illness, probable
TE Kavario Middleton, hamstring, probable
DE Everrette Thompson, ankle, questionable
S Jason Wells, Achilles, doubtful
WR Jeshua Anderson, hamstring, probable
RB James Montgomery, knee, probable
CB Brandon Jones, ankle, probable
WR Jeffrey Solomon, ankle, probable
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, foot, questionable
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.
- Fear the Gronk, who is a Threat (and hope his back is OK). Who is going to be Arizona's quarterback? This from Ryan Finley: "Stoops could name a starting quarterback at his 11 a.m. news conference in McKale Center. But don't count on it -- Stoops and his assistants have been super secretive on the quarterback front over the last week, and could opt to keep Central Michigan guessing until kickoff. Regardless of what's said -- or not said -- Monday, the smart money's on sophomore Matt Scott."
- Oregon State focuses on Portland State.
- Stanford is tough on the D-line.
- Nick Holt brings energy to Washington.
and Jacquizz, will be good to go for the opener, but quarterback Lyle Moevao is still a ways away, meaning Sean Canfield likely will have to lose the starting job this season. As far as team concerns, it appears the defense is going to be OK -- more than OK -- but the offensive line is young and thin. Stanford: Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck only increased his lead over senior Tavita Pritchard during preseason practices, and Luck will have a much deeper receiving corps to work with this fall. It appears the offensive line will feature two redshirt freshmen starters. UCLA: Things are going according to expectation. The defense looks very good but there hasn't been much consistency at quarterback and along the offensive line. Tailback Christian Ramirez has struggled with injuries. USC: While the quarterback competition has garnered the most headlines -- Aaron Corp must return to practice by Tuesday if he wants to beat out freshman Matt Barkley for the opener vs. San Jose State -- the Trojans' defensive line might be down two starters when it plays at Ohio State on Sept. 12, with end Armond Armstead (broken foot, out) and tackle Averell Spicer (ankle, questionable) hurting. Nonetheless, the defense has mostly controlled things during the preseason. Washington: Johri Fogerson's switch from safety to running back looks like a success -- he could share snaps with Chris Polk. There has been an apparent shakeup in the receiving pecking order, with true freshman James Johnson and Jordan Polk and Devin Aguilar running with the first unit, ahead of D'Andre Goodwin and Jermaine Kearse. Washington State: The quarterback competition between Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael is on-going, though Lopina has seemed to be ahead while Lobbestael tries to regain his form after knee surgery. There also is uncertainty due to injuries at receiver and left tackle, where sophomore Steven Ayers, freshman Tyson Pencer and junior Joe Eppele are competing.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.
4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.
5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.
6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.
7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.
8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.
9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.
10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The seventh of 10 quick updates on offseason Pac-10 goings on.
UCLA in a sentence
- Year Two of the Rick Neuheisel Era comes on the heels of an outstanding recruiting haul in February and features 17 returning starters and legitimate hope for a push into the top-half of Pac-10 standings and a bowl berth.
The big issue
- The Bruins, even with guru Norm Chow calling the shots, were terrible on offense in 2008, and struggles at quarterback and along the offensive front will be nagging concerns until youthful players break through.
Quick hit news
- Six players will not return for various reasons -- safety E.J. Woods, quarterback Chris Forcier, offensive lineman Sonny Tevaga, receiver Dominique Johnson and running backs Raymond Carter and Aundre Dean.
- Besides returning starters, the Bruins have five players again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and offensive tackle Sean Sheller.
- Joseph Fauria, 6-7, 260-pound tight end, transfer from Notre Dame to UCLA. He will be eligible to play in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Results of the annual Pac-10 media poll will be announced on July 30, but here's a guess at how most ballots will look:
1. USC; 2. California; 3. Oregon; 4. Oregon State... 9. Washington; 10. Washington State
And from five to eight all heck breaks loose.
Now, some -- such as Phil Steele -- think Oregon will tumble. Some have issues with Oregon State. And some think Washington will be a surprise team.
But a plurality figures to vote these six teams as they appear above and then throw the other four into the air and leave it to the college football spirits to decide.
So where do you rank Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA?
I wouldn't be completely shocked if any of those four actually broke into the top four. I also wouldn't be astonished if any finished ninth.
I think I've written at various times that all four should end up bowl-eligible, even though eight conference teams with a .500 record or better is difficult to pencil out. (It did, however, happen in 2006 -- and Washington even finished 5-7).
I changed my own 5-8 a number of times. I won't tell you how I voted yet. My boss threatened to tear off my arm and beat me with it if I did. He's done it before so I believed him.
Why the difficulty?
For one, each of the Unfixed Four will break in a new quarterback, though Stanford and UCLA both have their starters back from 2008.
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
Ninth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
Don't be surprised if ... UCLA's offense is much better in 2009.
OK, this one doesn't exactly come out of left field.
There is one obvious and overwhelming reason that this one is a near-certainty: UCLA's offense will be hard-pressed to be any worse than it was in 2008.
The Bruins ranked 109th or worse in the nation in five major statistical categories. The prime problems were turnovers (29) and poor offensive line play (83 yards per game rushing; 35 sacks surrendered).
The reason to project at least a modest turnaround are plentiful, though:
- No way a Norm Chow offense lays another egg like this one. In the quarter-century-plus he's been coaching offenses, he's never had one as bad as 2008.
- The offense welcomes back nine starters, though redshirt freshman Kevin Prince has unseated Kevin Craft at quarterback.
- Five players who would have started last year but were unavailable for various reasons -- injuries, suspension, transfer rules, etc. -- will be good to go in 2009: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and offensive tackle Sean Sheller.
- That beleaguered offensive line not only welcomes back Sheller, it also gets six guys back who started at least five games last fall. What's more, incoming freshmen Stan Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-filo, as well as JC transfer Eddie Williams, represent one of the nation's best recruiting hauls of O-linemen.
A modestly improved offense -- paired with an above-average defense -- should be good enough to get to 6-6 and bowl eligible. And if things fall into place ... well, at least one highly respected college football pundit projects a top-25 finish, which requires eight or nine wins.
The key for pushing into the top-half of the Pac-10 likely hinges on the Bruins producing a respectable running game. Chow would probably say "Deal!" on 150 yards per game.
That rushing threat not only would take the pressure off Prince, it would burn some clock and allow the Bruins' defense to rest (Chow did a commendable job of burning the clock and trying to shorten games last year, as the Bruins' average time of possession was 30:07 per game).
While it would be premature to project Chow's offense making a dramatic transformation, the entirely realistic goal of becoming merely mediocre probably will be enough to get the Bruins' win-loss ledger back into the black.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If you just want to cut to the chase, he's the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football.
In 33 seasons at the collegiate level, Norm Chow has been part of three national championships, guided three Heisman Trophy winners, coached eight of the NCAA's top 30 in career passing efficiency and produced six first-round NFL draft picks at quarterback.
But UCLA's offense stunk last year.
|AP Photo/Ric Francis|
|UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is hoping to see improvement in his offense in 2009.|
It ranked 116th in the nation in rushing, 111th in total offense, 109th in scoring, 109th in passing efficiency and 110th in sacks allowed.
Bad. Very bad.
The good news for Bruins fans, however, is that it seems almost impossible to imagine things not getting better. A lot better, in fact.
It's hard to bet against Chow, 63. His head coach, Rick Neuheisel, also owns a highly respected offensive mind -- though it often appeared that mind was about to explode as TV cameras zeroed in on his reactions to the offensive foibles last fall.
The question is: What are realistic expectations in 2009?
Improving from bad to merely below average might get the Bruins enough juice to win six games, particularly with a defense that should be very good.
But going from bad to average might boost UCLA back into the top half of the Pac-10.
So we thought nothing of calling Chow during his annual Hawaiian get-away to see what he's thinking this off-season.
Taking a quick look backwards: Is there anything you'd change about how you guys ran the offense last year?
Norm Chow: No. I think we were obviously all disappointed. I'm not so sure there was much else we could have done as far as personnel went. We were down to our third quarterback. We started 10 different combinations on the offensive line. Obviously, we were disappointed we didn't do better with just what we were doing. I don't think we could have made dramatic changes. That wasn't our style. We just didn't play well enough and coach well enough.
Considering how successful you've been running offenses, how tough was it for you watching your players struggle to get much of anything going?
NC: It was hard. But it's not about me. It's about our players and their willingness to work, which they did. They played as hard as they could and they did everything we asked them to do. It just didn't work out. It's not their fault. We as coaches have to take the major part of the blame because we didn't get it done. The guys are working hard now and we're looking forward to everything. We've been together for a year now. Prior to us getting there, the quarterbacks told me that we were their fourth different offensive style of ball in four years. What we called 12, [former coach] Karl Dorrell called 92. You go through that four times and it's hard on young guys. Perhaps we should have gone a little slower. We just didn't do what we should have done.
Obviously Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback, is an offensive guy. And he's a hands-on head coach. Did you guys ever butt heads during the season?
NC: Not at all. We have respect for each other. We're both trying to get the same things done. We have very similar ideas about offense. No, it was a joy. This past year, of all the years I've ever coached, was the first time I worked with an offensive coach, an offensive-minded head coach. I've always worked with defensive-minded head coaches, both in college and the NFL. They kind of have a tendency to leave you alone. But Rick was very good about suggestions and thoughts. All you're trying to do is get better. We got along very well. In fact, it was fun. He was a joy to work with. He's a nice guy. He's a fun guy. He's an intense guy. He's perfect for the head coaching position at UCLA.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Guys get hurt, need surgery and time to rehab. Or they get suspended. Or they need some, er, extra time to work on their grades.
In other words, while their teammates are fighting -- and sweating -- to retain or win jobs, they stand on the sidelines watching. Or sitting on a stationary bike. Or dressed in a red jersey.
Still, most fans pencil them into the lineup, worry-free.
To which we say: We shall see.
C Blake Kerley & OT Phillip Garcia: Kerley had started 29 games before injuring his knee last year, and in his absence Colin Baxter entrenched himself at center. Garcia is an intriguing talent who was limited this spring after knee surgery. Both of these guys could fight into the starting lineup. Or they could provide capable depth. Or they could stand on the sidelines.
OT Matt Hustad: Hustad, a sophomore, is athletic and physical and if he were healthy he'd find a spot on the Sun Devils' beleaguered offensive line. But after two years of knee issues that's starting to become a significant "if."
RB Jahvid Best: We know, we know. Jahvid's fine! Foot and elbow surgery? No worries. That hip issue last year? Didn't look like it hurt him in 2008, did it? All is well. Heisman Trophy here we come ... wheee! But, honestly, Cal fans, aren't you eager to read about him practicing again?
RB LaMichael James: James' potential is beguiling. He's the lightning -- taking Jeremiah Johnson's place -- to match with LeGarrette Blount's thunder in the backfield. But he missed spring with a shoulder injury and he'll need to prove himself in the fall.
QB Lyle Moevao: Moevao "Wally Pipped" Sean Canfield last year, and it appears Canfield might return the favor this fall. Moevao missed the spring after shoulder surgery -- just like Canfield last year -- and he's fallen behind Canfield in the quarterback competition because of that -- just like Canfield last year. Of course, Moevao is a scrapper, so counting him out might be a mistake.
OT Allen Smith: Smith and his pesky patella, which killed his 2008 season and which he re-injured this spring. He's an NFL talent, and he could answer a lot of questions on the Cardinal offensive line, but he's got to stay healthy and it doesn't appear that he can.
TB Christian Ramirez: The Bruins' coaches must love Ramirez because he still tops the depth chart after being academically ineligible last year and being limited most of spring with a bum hamstring. With two other tailbacks already opting to transfer, the pressure is on Ramirez to reward his coaches' faith.
TB Joe McKnight: McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). McKnight sat out practice with injuries (skip). Hey, he's a great talent, but my biggest memory of him last year wasn't a play -- it was of him sitting in a golf cart watching practice. Did they bring the golf cart back this spring?
S Jason Wells: Remember this guy, Husky fans? I didn't until Seattle Times beat writer Bob Condotta reminded me. He's a two-year starter who suffered a knee injury in 2007 that killed his 2008 season and then missed spring with an Achilles injury. The Huskies have a lot of issues in their secondary and Wells could help. If he's healthy, that is.
DT Bernard Wolfgramm: The JC transfer redshirted last year yet was listed as a starter on the pre-spring depth chart. But he's had persistent back issues, which limited him this spring, so it's hard to say what he could give the Cougars in 2009. And they really need some help on the defensive line, so Wolfgramm's health is a critical issue.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Two weeks after asking being granted a release, sophomore Aundre Dean has decided to transfer from UCLA, according to the Los Angeles Times, making him the second Bruins running back -- and third player overall -- to bolt after spring practices.
Dean, who gained 22 yards rushing as a true freshman while battling a pesky ankle injury, will look at schools closer to his Katy, Texas, home.
Dean joins sophomore Raymond Carter and receiver Dominique Johnson as players who have been released by UCLA.
Junior Christian Ramirez, who sat out the spring with a hamstring injury, tops the depth chart at running back. Redshirt freshman Johnathan Franklin and sophomore Derrick Coleman also are in the mix. Two freshmen, Dalton Hilliard and Damien Thigpen, arrive this fall.