Pac-12: Christian Westerman

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Arizona State Sun Devils.

2013 record: 10-4-4, 8-1 Pac-12; lost to Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl, 37-23.

Final grade for 2013: B+. Following the regular season, the Sun Devils were in line for an A, but lopsided losses to Stanford in the conference title game and to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl knocked them down a peg.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
David Madison/Getty ImagesTaylor Kelly and the Sun Devils will look to build on their winning 2013 season.
Key returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, WR Jaelen Strong, RB D.J. Foster

Key losses: DT Will Sutton, RB Marion Grice, TE Chris Coyle, LT Evan Finkenberg, DB Alden Darby, DB Robert Nelson, LB Carl Bradford

Instant impact newcomers: OL Christian Westerman, CB Kweishi Brown

Projected winning percentage ( Stats & Information): .671

Chances to win the conference ( Stats & Information): 6.5 percent

Most important game: versus UCLA, Sept. 25

Biggest question mark: After losing nine defensive starters, there are holes to fill on that side of the ball.

Best-case scenario: 12-2

Worst-case scenario: 4-8

Over/under win total (Bovada): 7.5

Upset special: UCLA starts the season as the Pac-12 South favorite, but the defending division champs have a chance to change that on Sept. 25.

They said it: "Our program's about winning championships, period. Our motto this year is unfinished business. You see it on my wristband." -- coach Todd Graham.
On Thursday, we looked at the Pac-12 North Division. Today, we turn to the South:


Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  • QB competition: Coach Rich Rodriguez has used first-year starters in his first two seasons at Arizona and will make it three-for-three in 2014. For the most part, things worked with both Matt Scott and more recently B.J. Denker, which should make Wildcats fans optimistic about what should be a wide-open competition.
  • Replacing Carey: As intriguing as the quarterback competition will be, the battle to replace all-time great Ka'Deem Carey at running back could be more important. None of the returning running backs had a carry last year, which led to this comment from Rodriguez: "Now it’s a mystery. That’s going to be one of the positions, like quarterback, that will be kind of open to see if we can get guys to get better."
  • Keep Austin healthy: After tearing his ACL last spring following a breakout season in which he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, receiver Austin Hill has been given a clean bill of health. Said Rodriguez: "He is still wearing the knee brace but I think it is a little bit more precautionary. He is 100 percent doing everything. He’s even a bit bigger and stronger so he should have a big spring. I know he’s hungry to get out there, too."

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • OL changes: Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, a prototypical guard, could be the Sun Devils' best offensive lineman, which makes things interesting considering both starting guards -- Jamil Douglas and Vi Teofilo -- will be back next year. Douglas, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, has worked at tackle in the past and could shift outside to replace first-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Evan Finkenberg.
  • Getting defensive: Coach Todd Graham's college roommate, Keith Patterson, has arrived as the defensive coordinator, but Graham will remain the play-caller and Chris Ball's title will still read co-defensive coordinator. Got all that? New coaching dynamics get sorted out in the spring, too.
  • Looking for replacements: On defense, ASU needs to replace seven starters, highlighted by DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford and CBs Robert Nelson and Alden Darby. If ASU is to build off its impressive 2013 season, those holes need to be filled quickly. They'll benefit from a schedule that starts with Weber State, New Mexico, Colorado and a bye, but after that the Sun Devils have UCLA, USC and Stanford in a span of four weeks.

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • QB development: Sefo Liufau's development will be interesting if for nothing else than because the jump from Year 1 starter to Year 2 starter is always intriguing with quarterbacks. It's tempting to assume a big statistical jump is coming, but it's not always that simple (see: Hogan, Kevin; Mannion, Sean; Hundley, Brett). Liufau will need to get on the same page with his receivers as they combine to …
  • … Replace Paul Richardson: Look for Nelson Spruce, D.D Goodson and Tyler McCulloch to lead what will be a much more balanced receiving corps following Richardson's early departure for the NFL. Spruce was the Buffs' second-leading receiver last year, but Goodson, going into his second season at receiver, figures to make the biggest jump.
  • Rising expectations: It took MacIntyre three years to turn San Jose State into a winner, but there was a four-win improvement in the second year. He won't match that with the Buffs, but a two-win improvement gets Colorado bowl eligible. Colorado has a chance to match last year's win total (4) in the first five games next year: vs. Colorado State, at Massachusetts, Arizona State, Hawaii, at Cal. In fact, it's probably the internal expectation.

Spring start: April 1
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Manage expectations: The Bruins are in new territory this offseason with expectations through the roof. They'll likely be a preseason top-10 team, which will drum up chatter about a potential national championship run. Likely message from coach Jim Mora: "Tune out the noise."
  • The #Hundley4Heisman campaign: It's a real thing and Mora threw his weight behind it when he tweeted the hashtag on Jan. 26 with a picture of the Heisman Trophy. Get used to reading "Heisman candidate" next to "Brett Hundley" a lot between now and September. At times, it might feel unavoidable.
  • Leading rusher? They're set at quarterback and bring a lot of talent back at both receiver and on the offensive line, but the running back situation isn't as clear. Hundley was the team's leading rusher in 2013, but someone needs to step up to take pressure off him and LB/RB Myles Jack. It's an important spring for both Jordan James and Paul Perkins, who had varying degrees of success last year.

Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Under center? Cody Kessler is back, but coach Steve Sarkisian immediately made it known there would be an open competition for the quarterback job. Max Wittek is no longer around, but Kessler should get a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Max Browne. With a new offense to learn, spring will essentially serve as preparation period for the real competition during fall camp.
  • Catch your breath: The most noticeable change in USC during the first game will be how much faster it's playing offensively. Sarkisian installed a high-tempo offense at Washington last year and, pleased with the results, will continue to press the tempo with the Trojans. Goodbye, huddles.
  • Change it up: As is the case when new coaching staffs arrive, there will likely be a higher percentage of position changes than usual and a more fluid depth chart. It's hard to peg exactly where that'll occur with USC, but it'll be worth monitoring throughout the spring.

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Wilson's road back: Travis Wilson is expected to be the Utes' starting quarterback next season, but he'll be limited to non-contact drills during the spring. That's about the best news Wilson could have received following an early November discovery that he had an undiagnosed injury to an intracranial artery -- a condition that threatened his career. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will not join the team until after he graduates in May, but he'll be immediately eligible to play.
  • Revolving OC door: Dave Christensen moves in, Dennis Erickson moves over and Brian Johnson moves out. Kyle Whittingham introduced the Utes' seventh offensive coordinator is seven years in early January. Christensen believes in similar philosophies to what the Utes had under Erickson/Johnson, but the terminology will change and the tempo will increase.
  • Pressure building? Utah was used to winning big before it got to the Pac-12 in 2011. Whittingham lost just 20 games in his six full seasons as the school's head coach while a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the three years since, Utah's dropped 19 and qualified for just one bowl. No one should doubt Whittingham's ability as a coach -- he's a good one -- but the jump in competition has been difficult.

Offseason spotlight: Arizona State

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: Arizona State guard Christian Westerman, 6-4, 305, R-Jr.

[+] EnlargeChristian Westerman
AP Photo/Dave MartinChristian Westerman hasn't seen much game action since committing to Auburn in 2011 then transferring to Arizona State.
2013 summary: Westerman sat out the regular season after he transferred from Auburn, but played sparingly after becoming eligible for the National University Holiday Bowl.

The skinny: Arizona State teammates and coaches refer to him simply as “The Prototype,” but Westerman isn’t satisfied with just looking the part of an NFL guard. He’s anxious to prove he can live up to the expectations created when he was one of the most recruited Arizona-based players in history as a part of the Class of 2011.

Westerman chose Auburn, which had just won the national title, and didn’t strongly consider playing for the Sun Devils.

“The philosophy wasn’t what I wanted it to be (at ASU),” he said. “It just really wasn’t the place to be.”

However, after a redshirt season and an injury-riddled 2012 campaign, neither was Auburn -- at least not for the former five-star recruit. Westerman had kept tabs on ASU and came away impressed with the turnaround under coach Todd Graham. When he chose to leave Auburn, it was clear where he wanted to be.

“I really missed home,” he said. “I missed the family atmosphere and the not just from family, from the people I’m around here. The support I have now is much better.”

Forced to sit out the 2013 regular season due to NCAA transfer rules, Westerman was relegated to mostly scout team duty in practice. That meant a lot of quality one-on-one time working against two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton.

“That was awesome going against a guy that has accomplished so much,” Westerman said. “That definitely helped me get better ... the top guy in the league the past two years.”

ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen said Westerman competed well and held his own against Sutton.

“We put him down here on the scout team, which, for him, probably wasn’t very fun,” Thomsen said. “But from a competition standpoint, it made him better and helped him develop.”

Westerman was eligible to play in the Holiday Bowl, but was used minimally as an extra lineman in jumbo packages as the staff didn’t want to mess with the chemistry the line had built throughout the season. It was just the third real game he’d appeared in since high school.

“That’s been the hardest thing. Not being on the field,” he said. “I’m ready to start playing again and hoping to get out there and have a good season.”

It’s unclear what guard position Westerman will wind up at, but he’ll be an important cog on what has a chance to be a very good unit.

“You look at him and say, ‘that’s what a guard is supposed to look like in the Pac-12,’” Thomsen said. “He’s a guy that’s ready to prove himself. He was so decorated coming out of high school. Guys like that want to get on the field quick. I know he’s eager to make his mark.”

Previous spotlights
Rich Rodriguez has some work to do in his own backyard. That's the conclusion from ESPN The Magazine's LaRue Cook, who examined the worst in-state recruiters. Along with the RecruitingNation crew, ESPN The Magazine poured over the past five years of ESPNU 150 rankings, (750 total recruits) and found the worst 10 BCS programs at holding on to homegrown, elite talent.

Per the study, Arizona is 0-for-12 during that stretch at landing ESPNU 150 recruits while USC has been the top program in that state over that time.
Writes Cook:

Arizona has signed just two ESPNU 150 recruits over the past five years, and neither DE Apaiata Tuihalamaka (Gardena, Calif.) nor TE Rob Gronkowski (Pittsburgh) was a home-state product. While the Trojans have had the most success here, Arizona State was at least able to land two preps within its state borders. Last year, the state's top prospect (OT Christian Westerman of Chandler) signed with Auburn. In 2012, all eyes in Tucson are on the nation's top ATH Davonte Neal (Scottsdale), who's still considering the Wildcats and would certainly kick start Rich Rodriguez's tenure.

But Arizona isn't alone in the Top 5. Pac-12 brethren Stanford and Cal check in on the list at Nos. 3 and 4 respectively. Like Arizona, USC has been California's top recruiter during 2007-2011. Stanford has nabbed just 2-of-73 ESPNU recruits.
Cook on Stanford:

We gave Stanford props for its ability to go out of state to sign top prospects, but there's no ignoring the program's inability to create an elite pipeline in its state. (Meanwhile, UCLA has signed 12 in-state ESPNU 150 recruits over the last five years.) Sure, Cardinal fans can blame their program's struggles on academic constraints, but out of 73 players, surely more than two could qualify. In 2012, David Shaw doesn't have a single ESPNU 150 commit from California -- USC currently has four and UCLA has two -- but No. 4 OT Kyle Murphy (San Clemente) still has Stanford on his short list.

Cross-Bay rival Cal hasn't been much better. The Golden Bears have hauled in just 4-of-73 ESPNU 150 prospects during that time.
Cook on Cal:

We could make the same knock against the Golden Bears over the last five years, but Jeff Tedford has nearly matched his 2007-11 total in 2012. Cal is close to signing three of the state's top eight prospects, including the nation's No. 3 S Shaq Thompson (Sacramento).

You can cut Cal and Stanford a little slack, since California is a recruiting goldmine for the rest of the country -- not just USC. It isn't just the rest of the conference they are trying to fend off. And to compensate, both schools were praised by Cook as top five programs at recruiting out of state.

Best-worst case redo: Arizona State

January, 26, 2011
Every preseason we take a look at potential best-case and worst-case scenarios for every Pac-10 team. While these are often tongue-in-cheek, they nonetheless represent the top and bottom we see for each team.

So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.

Next up is Arizona State, which finished 6-6 and didn't qualify for a bowl game.

Best case: 9-4 with a Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech

What was right: The 2-0 start, losses to Oregon schools, California and USC and wins over Washington, Washington State, UCLA and Arizona. Brock Osweiler as the starting quarterback at the end of the season.

What was wrong: The two hooks: An upset win at Wisconsin and the season-changing win over Stanford. The Sun Devils lost those games by a combined five points. Osweiler as the starting quarterback at the start of the season; Steven Threet won the job before getting hurt. Elite local recruits Christian Westerman Insider and Brett Hundley Insider are headed to Auburn and UCLA, respectively.

Worst case: 3-9, the program's worst record since 1994, and coach Dennis Erickson fired.

What was right: Very little other than a 2-0 start and a win over Washington State.

What was wrong: The notion that the Sun Devils would go 1-9 versus FBS competition and play Erickson out of a job, which was no where near as threatened as some made it seem.

Conclusion: Considering the Sun Devils lost four games by four points or fewer, the best case is far closer to what happened in terms of the Sun Devils' overall quality. Might the best case become the reality in 2011? Said Fake Dennis Erickson, "We feel like we'll be in the Rose Bowl hunt in 2011."

Best-worst case redo: Arizona

January, 25, 2011
Every preseason we take a look at potential best-case and worst-case scenarios for every Pac-10 team. While these are often tongue-in-cheek, they nonetheless represent the top and bottom we see for each team.

So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.

Starting with Arizona, which finished 7-6.

Best case: 10-3 finish after Alamo Bowl victory over Oklahoma and final No. 11 ranking.

What was right: The Wildcats did start 7-1, with the loss coming in a tight game with Oregon State. They did suffer a dispiriting loss at Stanford in Week 9. They ended up in the Alamo Bowl.

What was wrong: What happened after the fast start. The best case had the Wildcats going 3-1 down the stretch after the Stanford loss, losing only to Oregon. The reality was a five-game losing streak, including a blowout bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Worst case: 5-7 finish, no bowl game

What was right: Defensive struggles frustrating coach Mike Stoops. Losses to Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Oregon and Arizona State, with the loss to the Sun Devils coming in particularly excruciating fashion.

What was wrong: Losses to Iowa and Washington. The Wildcats reached a bowl game. Elite state recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley have committed to Auburn and UCLA, not Arizona State.

Conclusion: The Wildcats made the best and worst cases come true. The first half of the season was the best case. The second, the worst case.

Best case-worst case: USC

July, 23, 2010
The final post in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: USC

Best case

It starts with a Tennessee football helmet.

Perhaps it is fitting that Lane Kiffin, who always took the high road after his completely reasonable departure from Tennessee, would use the symbol of a program that hated him to solve a major environmental crisis. Where the oilmen and scientists failed, Kiffin, with an assist from USC quarterback Matt Barkley, successfully plugs the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

"It was pretty cool," Barkley says. "I don't know where the Tennessee football helmet came from, but he just swam right into the middle of the oil flow -- it was really jetting out of there -- and slammed the helmet in the hole. I was a little worried about him for a second, but all of the sudden -- slam! -- and the oil stopped. And then, of course, there was that trip to the White House."

The trip to the White House turns eventful when Kiffin invites President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh out for a beer.

"Pelosi is a riot -- you don't get that on TV," Kiffin says. "She and Limbaugh start singing "99 Red Balloons" together, and the President manages to extract this pesky splinter from Boehner's thumb. Dude just brightened. Great smile. Everybody got along famously and agreed to stop bickering over fatuous things and actually solve problems. I joked that a good start would be NCAA sanctions against the Trojans."

While USC enters the season as a slight Pac-10 favorite, much of the preseason talk centers on Kiffin's skill as a diplomat and humanitarian.

"Look guys," Kiffin tells reporters after the Trojans open with a 42-7 win at Hawaii. "This isn't about me. I've never been a 'me' guy. I'm about team, whether you're talking about the world, the United States or USC. But I'm the USC coach and let's keep the focus on USC and not Lane Kiffin. Darn it! Did I just talk about myself in the third person! That's terrible. Sorry."

USC doesn't allow a touchdown in wins against Virginia and Minnesota. Barkley throws his 11th TD pass of the season at Washington State before sitting out the second half of a blowout victory. USC needs a late scoring run from Allen Bradford to beat Washington and Steve Sarkisian.

"Steve is a friend first and rival second," Kiffin says afterwards. "Men of character can compete and compete hard but still break bread together. I would hope that's a lesson for my team. We're not just about winning at USC, though we do a lot of that. We're about family and character and building leaders."

USC whips Stanford 33-10.

"I don't know anything about 'What's your deal?'" Kiffin says afterwards. "Revenge? That's not why we play football at USC. We play for the pure joy of sport and competition. We should share that with our opponent. So we should always strive for a respectful relationship with our foe. That's the deeper meaning to me."

The Trojans beat California and a ballyhooed showdown with No. 5 Oregon becomes just another blowout win. USC rises to No. 1 in the AP poll.

There simply is no stopping the Trojans. Their defense ranks No. 1 in the nation. Barkley leads the nation in passing efficiency. They are the nation's least penalized team. Meanwhile, on the student side of things, players switch majors from criminal justice and recreation science to pre-med, English and political science.

"Unusual to hear players talking about theoretical physics?" linebacker Chris Galippo replies to an eavesdropping reporter's question. "Really? We talk about stuff like that all the time here in the locker room. Coach Kiffin encourages it. You should hear [fullback Stanley] Havili. He's obsessed with movies. He's always going on about 'mise en scène'. You should have heard him after movie night at the Boys & Girls Club when we saw 'The 400 Blows.' Dude really has a thing for François Truffaut."

USC rumbles past Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State and gets a standing ovation from Notre Dame fans after a flawless performance in South Bend.

A column appears on UCLA blog "Bruins Nation": "Is it wrong from Bruins to respect Kiffin?" Writes "Nestor": "It's like John Wooden and USC fans. Wooden's greatness transcended the bitter rivalry. So it's possible to acknowledge that a great man is the leader of your hated enemy. Of course, I'm not yet ready to compare Kiffin to Wooden after just one season. But the idea obviously has hatched."

USC beats UCLA 30-17. Kiffin and Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel share a warm handshake afterwards.

Once-beaten Florida wins the BCS title game. The AP crowns unbeaten but NCAA-sanctioned USC national champions.

"Are we the true champions?" Kiffin says. "Well, I like our team. I like its character. But Florida is a great team with great character, too. [Gators coach Urban] Meyer has done such a great job down there. I called him yesterday to congratulate him. I feel bad about how things started between us. I feel like we're both ready to move past that. I think doing so would be a great example to our players and our fans."

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

Worst case

Four games. Four blowout victories. It doesn't look like USC has taken a step back. Perhaps it's taking a step forward under Lane Kiffin?

And, yes, Trojans players, knowing they are banned by the NCAA from the postseason, start to crow. The general theme is: "We're the best and everybody knows that."

Such talk gets a bit quieter when Washington quarterback Jake Locker takes a Heisman Trophy turn in the Coliseum during a 35-21 Huskies victory. Kiffin runs off the field yelling at the officials instead of meeting his friend, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, at midfield for the postgame handshake.

Last year, Toby Gerhart dominated USC during Stanford's blowout win. This year, it's quarterback Andrew Luck, who tosses four TD passes in a 41-24 victory.

"Do I think [Jim] Harbaugh ran up the score on us?" a steaming Kiffin says. "Absolutely. His quarterback throws TD passes. Ours throws interceptions. His guys are physical. Ours quit when things get tough. We had a good plan. Our players just didn't execute it. Harbaugh's got a good thing going. But we won't always be down. We'll get our guys in here and then let's see how things go."

After said speech, even those who are just learning English become familiar with all the nuances of the phrase, "throwing under the bus," a cliche that appears in nine out of 10 columns about the game.

"We're playing for ourselves, for our teammates, not for Kiffin," an anonymous player is quoted in the LA Times after the Trojans beat California.

Oregon rolls up 510 yards in a blowout win in a half-empty Coliseum. After the game, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin announces that he will retire at the end of the season.

The Trojans beat Arizona State 10-9, an effort that's attributed to a show of respect for the elder Kiffin. But the Trojans drop their next three games before visiting arch-rival UCLA.

"Any of you guys think it's funny UCLA plays in the Rose Bowl?" Kiffin asks reporters during his weekly press conference. "What's the word I'm looking for? Ironic? Isn't it ironic that the Bruins play in the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl is the Trojans home. We'll be back playing in the real Rose Bowl soon enough."

Replies UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, "Whatever."

The Bruins prevail 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards.

"I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woodsannounce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA finishes a consensus No. 1 in the nation in recruiting. With its last full class before scholarship limitations are invoked, USC finishes fifth in the Pac-10.

"Recruiting rankings don't mean anything," Kiffin tells reporters. "We didn't want any of those guys that went to UCLA. Sure, we recruited a lot of them. But when I looked in their eyes, I could tell they weren't Trojans."

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Tennessee fans put up 15 billboardsaround the USC campus.

Best case-worst case: Arizona

July, 16, 2010
Fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Arizona

Best case

Toledo and The Citadel got Arizona's vanilla. Iowa got the Rocky Road.

Workmanlike efforts during a 2-0 start didn't generate much buzz, but when the Wildcats roll up 480 yards of offense in a 41-28 slamming of No. 8 Iowa, let's just say the 'Zona Zoo goes politely cuckoo. Quarterback Nick Foles & Co. make a defense reputed to be among the nation's best look like it's stuck in molasses, as five receivers catch at least four passes and Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combine for 193 yards rushing.

"Some folks were skeptical whether we could make four coordinators work," says coach Mike Stoops while giving the hairy-eyeball to a mild-mannered Pac-10 reporter. "Well, I've got one thing to say: 'Ha!'"

Arizona prevails over California in a hard-fought battle and, at 4-0, rises to No. 12 in the national rankings with No. 15 Oregon State coming to Tucson. The Beavers arrive having bounced back from a season-opening loss vs. TCU to win at No. 3 Boise State. With Jacquizz Rodgers emerging as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, Arizona fans try to mount a grassroots effort on behalf of Foles, who's thrown 11 touchdown passes and is averaging 295 yards passing per game. T-shirts and signs are distributed throughout the stadium asking, "Why not Nick?"

Neither Foles nor Rodgers disappoint, but it's the other Rodgers -- receiver James -- who takes a fly sweep 16 yards for the winning score in overtime.

"Our offense is doing great, but we're still looking for answers on defense," Stoops says.

That defense seems to find its rhythm though over the next month. The Wildcats whip Washington State, take revenge on Washington for 2009's controversial ending and slip by UCLA in the Rose Bowl. A trip to Stanford features two ranked teams that are still in the conference hunt and two quarterbacks who are hanging up All-America numbers.

Yet Foles seems out of sorts much of the afternoon as Stanford takes a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, just as Andrew Luck and the Cardinal look to be driving for the score that will put the game out of reach, Trevin Wade takes an interception to the house 72 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats get the ball back with 2:30 left and drive to the Cardinal 8-yard line. On fourth down, Foles scrambles away from pressure and lobs a toss to the corner of the end zone.

Where it falls just out of reach of a diving Juron Criner. It's a dispiriting loss, but Stoops rallies his team the following weekend, as they nip USC 20-17. They head to Oregon after a bye week still with an outside chance to play in the Rose Bowl.

The two teams played a double-overtime thriller the year before in Tucson, and this one is no different in Eugene, with dizzying momentum swings, odd-ball miscues and eye-popping playmaking. Only there is one difference: This time Nate Costa instead of Jeremiah Masoli makes the key plays that save the day for the Ducks in a 41-38 win.

The Wildcats take out their frustrations on Arizona State, blitzing the Sun Devils 33-10 and earning a berth in the Alamo Bowl opposite Oklahoma, which ensures a great media angle but makes Stoops and his brother Bob uncomfortable.

Still, one has to think Mike Stoops feels pretty good about his team's precise execution on both sides of the ball in a 28-20 victory. The Wildcats' 10-3 finish, their best since 1998, lands them at No. 11 in the nation in the final polls.

"It's been a great season, but this program has higher goals," Foles says afterward. "Next year, we want the Granddaddy."

Worst case

Talk about deja vu. For a second consecutive season, Iowa provides a physical humbling that takes the shine off Arizona's 2-0 start.

This time, however, the Wildcats' defense deserves much of the blame for the 40-27 loss, as Nick Foles passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Hawkeyes defense. But Iowa's offense, led by senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, pushes around and picks apart the Wildcats' rebuilding defense.

That becomes the theme of the season: Good on offense, inconsistent on defense. And, of course, that frustrates the defensive-minded Mike Stoops.

"Being inconsistent on offense frustrates me," Stoops says. "You might notice a look of frustration on my face."

The Wildcats squeak by California, in large part because of four Bears turnovers. But Oregon State comes to town, and the Rodgers brothers put together highlight film for the 'Zona Zoo. A win at Washington State is followed by a home loss to Washington, with Jake Locker rushing for 155 yards and passing for 240. Still, after a last-second win at UCLA, the Wildcats remain in position to secure a good bowl berth.

But the schedule over the final third of the season is brutal. Andrew Luck outduels Foles at Stanford. Matt Barkley throws for three TD passes in a USC win in Tucson. Oregon rolls up 500 yards of offense in an easy win in Eugene.

The stakes when Arizona State comes to town are high. Both teams are 5-6. Both, therefore, need a win in order to be eligible for a bowl berth. And, of course, these two programs hate each other.

Arizona leads 21-17 with 12 minutes left and pins the Sun Devils on their own 1-yard line. What ensues, however, will go down as perhaps the worst 12 minutes in program history. The Sun Devils drive 99 yards in 18 plays -- all runs and none longer than seven yards -- as their much-maligned offensive line takes control. Stoops is apoplectic on the sidelines, but it doesn't help.

"I'm worried that his head may explode," remarks the play-by-play announcer.

With 30 seconds left in the game, ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler sneaks in for the game-winning score.

A reporter meekly asks after the game if Stoops will continue to use four coordinators going forward. Four of five news stories the next day reference Linda Blair's 360 degree, head-turning scene in "The Exorcist" to describe Stoops' reaction.

Elite local recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley both announce that they have changed their minds and want to go to Arizona State.

Best case-worst case: UCLA

July, 14, 2010
Third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

Rick Neuheisel's critics might have called it "smug," but his reaction after UCLA's much-maligned "pistol" offense rolled up 450 yards in a 42-17 win at Kansas State more accurately should be termed "vindicated." Might even have been a bit of relief there.

"It took us a lot of hard work to get here," he says after the Bruins impressive road win. "But it will take us even more to get where we want to go."

Solid wins over Stanford and Houston mean the Bruins carry a No. 19 ranking to No. 3 Texas on Sept. 25.

"We aren't afraid of them," Bruins linebacker Akeem Ayers says before the game. "It's not like UCLA hasn't won at Texas before." Ayers refers to the 66-3 stomping the Bruins delivered the Longhorns during their last visit to Austin in 1997.

Of course, Texas isn't the same in the Mack Brown Era as it was during John Mackovic's ill-fated tenure. Still, the Bruins don't yield until a Kevin Prince pass is intercepted in the endzone in the waning moments. Texas holds on 20-17, despite four Bruins sacks of QB Garrett Gilbert.

"Ten [Ayers] and 56 [end Datone Jones] -- those guys can really run," Gilbert says afterwards. "Seemed like they were in my face all day."

After dispatching Washington State, it's made clear, however, that the Bruins haven't arrived. Four turnovers sinks them at California, and Oregon surprises the Bruins by going to the air, with Ducks QB Nate Costa throwing for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win.

The Bruins beat Arizona when kicker Kai Forbath drills a 55-yard field goal with 30 seconds left, but lose in double-overtime to Oregon State. The visit to Washington feels like a must-win, and the good news for everyone is it has nothing to do with Neuheisel's controversial tenure as the Huskies coach. Both teams are trying to fight into the top-half of the conference.

Huskies QB Jake Locker puts on quite a show. Only, on this evening, he's not as good as Prince, who runs for two scores and throws for three others as the Bruins win a shootout, 45-42.

A win at Arizona State then sets up the annual showdown with city rival USC. The stakes? Well, if the Bruins prevail, they earn a Holiday Bowl berth. And if USC wins? It goes undefeated and likely is voted No. 1 in the AP poll, despite NCAA sanctions that prevent it from playing in the postseason.

"It's clear we are the best team in the nation," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin says before the game. "Just look at the numbers. We've won every game by double-digits playing in the best conference in the country. Heck, even UCLA can almost win at Texas and the Longhorns look like they are going to play for the BCS title."

Kiffin uses finger quotes when he says, "BCS."

The Bruins win 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards. "I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woods announce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Worst case

Who's idea was this freaking "pistol" offense anyway?

That is the general feeling among UCLA fans after a lackluster 13-10 win at Kansas State, with Akeem Ayers 38-yard fumble return giving the Bruins their only touchdown.

Even the defense looks bad in a 30-17 loss to Stanford. The Bruins get their feet back under them -- after reverting back to a more pro-style scheme -- and outlast Houston and QB Case Keenum 33-30, but the Bruins' multiple issues are laid bare in a 35-10 embarrassment at Texas.

The offensive line can't protect Kevin Prince. It can't open holes. And the defense is good but not dominant.

A win over Washington State only preludes a desperate five-game losing streak -- Cal, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington. Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow bench Prince in favor of Richard Brehaut for the trip to Arizona State.

"The offensive struggles aren't Kevin's fault," Neuheisel says. "But we need something to change. We want to see what Richard can do."

Brehaut does just enough to lead the Bruins to a win over Arizona State, but few fans are happy with the state of the program as it limps toward its annual showdown with USC, which is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

It further doesn't help the Bruins mood that the week is dominated by talk of how USC coach Lane Kiffin and QB Matt Barkley had, in late July, together plugged the BP oil spill in the Gulf, earning a commendation from the president.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Kiffin says. "We were on the beach and Matt said he wanted to swim out there and take a look. So we did. I just happened to have an old Tennessee football helmet with me, and Matt said we might be able to plug it with that. Not that I needed the helmet anymore. Hey, it worked. But you have to understand: That's what we do. We're USC Trojans."

USC wins 45-3. After two irrelevant teams play for the BCS title, the president and congress jointly decree that -- just like in 2003 -- anyone who says "BCS national champion" is required to use finger quotes.

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

July, 13, 2010
Second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Arizona State

Best case

Arizona State didn't inspire much confidence from its frustrated fanbase with a pair of workmanlike wins over FCS foes Portland State and Northern Arizona. The defense looked good, the offense didn't. Same old same old.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireIn either scenario, Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils should win their first two games.
The 24-13 win at Wisconsin, however, changed that. "We won't see a better defense than that," Badgers coach Bret Bielema says after the game. "And their quarterback impressed me."

That would be Brock Osweiler, who threw a pair of scoring passes vs. the Badgers.

Still, the schedule is unforgiving. The Sun Devils head to Washington smarting after an 0-2 start in conference play thanks to back-to-back losses against the Oregon schools. But the defense bottles up Jake Locker on a rainy Seattle day and ASU wins.

Losses at California and USC -- the Sun Devils struggle in the state of California -- are sandwiched around a win over Washington State. It's still unclear which way the season will go when 20th-ranked Stanford comes to town with a high-powered offense led by Andrew Luck.

But something clicks for the Sun Devils. The defense harasses Luck all day and forces three turnovers, while Osweiler tosses a pair of TD passes as the the Sun Devils roll 30-17.

After dumping UCLA, ASU heads to Tucson to take on arch-rival Arizona. Both teams enter the game at 7-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. A berth in the Sun Bowl, as well as bragging rights, is at stake. The bad taste of last year's dispiriting loss lingers for the Sun Devils.

ASU trails 21-17 with 12 minutes left when it takes over at its 1-yard line. What ensues will go down in Sun Devils lore: They drive 99 yards in 18 plays -- all runs and none longer than seven yards -- as the much-maligned offensive line takes control. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops is apoplectic on the sidelines, but it doesn't help.

"I'm worried that his head may explode," remarks the play-by-play announcer.

With 30 seconds left in the game, Osweiler sneaks in for the game-winning score.

Elite local recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley both announce that they have changed their minds and want to go to Arizona State.

The Sun Devils whip Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and finish 9-4. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is named national Assistant Coach of the Year.

"We feel like we'll be in the Rose Bowl hunt in 2011," says coach Dennis Erickson.

Worst case

Any optimism supplied by a 2-0 start -- albeit against FCS competition -- disappears when Arizona State manages to gain just 210 yards in a 20-3 loss at Wisconsin.

That's the first defeat in what becomes a five-game losing streak that only ends due to a visit from Washington State. The story is not unlike the previous two seasons: Good defense, bad offense. But the defense starts to leak as morale falls.

During a bye week after consecutive blowout defeats to USC and Stanford, coach Dennis Erickson is fired, though he agrees to coach the final two games.

Those are a pair of dreary losses, including a 30-7 beatdown by Arizona in Tucson, as the 'Zona Zoo lets the Sun Devils have it. The Wildcats head to another bowl game. The Sun Devils 3-9 finish is the program's worst since 1994.

"We were given an opportunity, and we just didn't get it done," Erickson says.



Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29