Pac-12: Cyrus Hobbi
Colorado (2-0, 0-0) at Oregon State (3-1, 1-0) 3 p.m. Pac-12 Network: This is the first meeting of these teams as Pac-12 members. The Buffaloes lead the series 3-2, including a 28-21 win in 1988, the team's last meeting. There should be plenty of passing in this game. Buffs QB Connor Wood has passed for 370.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation, while Oregon State's Sean Mannion has passed for 401.0 yards per game, which ranks second in the nation. Mannion also leads the nation with 15 touchdown passes. His top target is Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation with 10.8 catches per game and has caught seven of Mannion's TD throws. Meanwhile, Woods has Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. The last time these teams played, Colorado rallied from a 21-16 fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 28-21 win. Buffs RB Eric Bienemy carried the ball 20 times for 211 yards and three TDs, including a 66-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to put Colorado on top. Oregon State QB Eric Wilhelm was 27-of-38 for 353 yards and 2 TDs.
Arizona (3-0, 0-0) at No. 16 Washington (3-0, 0-0) 7 p.m. FOX: Washington leads the series 18-10-1 but the Wildcats rolled the Huskies 52-17 last year in Tucson. Unlike the above game, this one might be about rushing. Arizona ranks fifth in the nation with 322.3 yards rushing per game, while Washington ranks ninth with 303.7 yards rushing per game. RB Ka'Deem Carey leads Arizona with 149.5 yards rushing per game, while the Huskies counter with Bishop Sankey, who averages 148.7 yards per game. Arizona leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (8.7 ppg). Washington is third in the Pac- 12 in scoring defense (10.0 ppg). The Wildcats have given up just 26 points through three games. The last time they gave up 26 or fewer points through the first three games of the season was in 1996. The Wildcats are 2-9 over their last 11 league road games, with five of those nine losses coming against ranked opponents. The Huskies are 3-0 for the first time since 2001, and have scored 34 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 2002. UW senior QB Keith Price tossed three TD passes to add to his Husky career record total of 61 (t20th all-time in Pac-12). Price has completed 77 percent of his passes this season with seven TDs and just one INT.
No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0) vs. Washington State (3-1, 1-0) 10 p.m. ESPN (CenturyLink Field, Seattle): Stanford leads the series 37-25-1, including a 24-17 victory last year. At 61 percent, Stanford is one of three Pac-12 teams with a third-down conversion rate better than 60 percent (UCLA at 68.3 percent, Washington at 65.9 percent). All three Pac-12 teams are among the top five nationally in third-down conversion. Stanford has won 11 straight dating back to last season, which is currently the second longest streak in FBS (Ohio State is at 15). Stanford is returning to CenturyLink Field, where it suffered its lone conference defeat last year, to Washington. Cardinal junior WR Ty Montgomery is third in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yardage (165.7 ypg) and averages 20.7 yards per touch. In the win over Idaho, Washington State junior QB Connor Halliday recorded his sixth career 4-touchdown game, tying Ryan Leaf for most all- time in school history. With 346 yards passing, he also posted his third straight 300-yard performance, and eighth career 300-yard performance. Sophomore WR Gabe Marks posted career-highs with 11 receptions and 146 yards in the win over Idaho. His 31 receptions this season are currently tied for fifth among all FBS players. The Cougar defense is allowing just 221.7 yards per game over the last three games. The Cougars have won three in a row for the first time since the 2006 season and are looking to make it four straight for the first time since the winning the final game of the 2004 season and the first three contests of the 2005 season. In last season's surprisingly close game, Stanford sacked Cougars QB Jeff Tuel a record 10 times.
USC (3-1, 0-1) at Arizona State (2-1, 0-1) 10:30 p.m. ESPN2: USC leads the all-time series against Arizona State, 19-10. The Trojans are 12-1 in the series since 2000, with ASU’s lone victory coming in 2011, a 43-22 win to end an 11-game losing streak. Prior to this millennium, ASU was 9-7 all-time against USC. The Trojans beat the Sun Devils in Los Angeles last year in a 38-17 rout in the Coliseum. Arizona State RB Marion Grice is ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring (16) and No. 5 in rushing TDs (6). Over the past six games, he has scored 14 TDs (11 rushing, three receiving), scoring once every 7.8 touches in that span. Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly set a new career high with 367 passing yards against Stanford, and is sixth in the nation at 339.7 passing ypg. USC OLB Morgan Breslin leads the Pac-12 in sacks (1.3 per game) and tackles for loss (1.8 per game) -- Breslin missed the opener against Hawaii due to injury. USC has four players on its roster from Arizona (OLB Devon Kennard of Desert Vista HS, C- OG Cyrus Hobbi of Saguaro HS, SNP Peter McBride of Chaparral HS and S John Auran of Brophy College Prep), while the Sun Devils feature 39 Californians.
California (1-2, 0-0) at No. 2 Oregon (3-0, 0-0) 10:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: California leads the series 39-34-2, but the Ducks prevailed 59-17 win last year. In that game, Ducks QB Marcus Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions, which was a 230.79 passing efficiency rating. Cal is facing its second-consecutive top-five opponent -- two weeks ago the Bears played Ohio State -- and third ranked foe this season. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff tops the FBS with 435.3 yards passing per game. The Ducks are 13th in the FBS in pass efficiency defense, so the Goff versus the Ducks secondary is an interesting matchup. Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is second in the FBS in scoring, averaging 61.3 ppg. It has scored 50 or more points in a game three straight times, and in 10 of the last 16 games. The Ducks have scored in less than two minutes in 23 of 28 scoring possessions. 12 different players have found the end zone for the Ducks.
Barkley's, USC's coronation was premature: There is no certainty in college football, particularly when you're questionable on the line of scrimmage. That's what USC quarterback Matt Barkley found out. His offensive line couldn't block Stanford's defensive front seven, which sacked him four times and harassed him constantly. Barkley, even with elite receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, completed only 20 of 41 passes with two interceptions in a 21-14 loss. Sure, losing center Khaled Holmes to an ankle injury was a major blow -- the Cardinal exploited his replacement, Cyrus Hobbi -- but the Cardinal's domination up front wasn't about one spot. And that domination was on both sides of the line. The Cardinal, with a first-year starting quarterback, outgained the Trojans 417 yards to 280. Barkley's Heisman Trophy hopes took a major blow, as did the Trojans' hopes for a national title, that bit of unfinished business that brought Barkley back for his senior year.
Luck had nothing to do with it: That was a sign in the crowd at Stanford, duly noted by ESPN analyst Robert Smith. Stanford has billed itself as a physical, run-first team, even when it had Luck. So, without him, it figures the Cardinal would remain themselves. Still, many of us doubted whether the Cardinal would be as physical without now-NFL offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. They were. Stanford figured out a way to neutralize the Trojans' flash, and then the Cardinal exploited their superiority on both lines of scrimmage. The most telling number? The Cardinal outrushed USC 202 yards to 26. The Pac-12 game of the year still might be Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. But if Stanford takes care of business, it might end up being the Cardinal's visit to Oregon on Nov. 17.
Arizona, UCLA avoid letdown: Arizona and UCLA posted big upset wins over ranked teams last weekend and became ranked teams themselves. Sometimes teams that do that fall flat the next week while still drunk on the past instead of focusing on the present. The Wildcats and Bruins did not. They both rolled big and improved to 3-0. Sure, both played overmatched foes, a convenient bit of scheduling. Particularly the Wildcats against South Carolina State. But both now head into interesting matchups -- UCLA hosts Oregon State and Arizona visits Oregon -- riding plenty of positive momentum, sitting prettier than most had imagined in the preseason.
Arizona State's reinvention remains a work in progress: Arizona State had three turnovers in its first two games. It had four in its 24-20 loss at Missouri. QB Taylor Kelly had zero interceptions in the first two games. He had two against the Tigers. The Sun Devils had five penalties for 35 yards in the first two games combined. They had seven for 54 yards at Missouri. The point: As cleanly as the Sun Devils played in the first two games, their becoming a disciplined team on a consistent basis is still a work in progress. That probably shouldn't be surprising. It's hard to completely reinvent a team culture in just two games. And the Sun Devils' fourth-quarter surge, coming back from a 24-7 deficit, showed backbone. That's a positive.
California and Utah can't be overlooked: Cal lost its opener to Nevada, spoiling the debut of remodeled Memorial Stadium. Utah lost at Utah State in Week 2, ending a 12-game winning streak in the series. Both losses were greeted with gnashing teeth by the respective fan bases. Their performances on Saturday, however, showed that both are certainly not easy outs and could become factors in their Pac-12 divisions. Utah beat a 25th-ranked BYU team that waxed Washington State. The Utes' defense remains formidable, no matter the issues on offense. And the Bears were just a couple of plays away from pulling the upset at No. 12 Ohio State before succumbing 35-28.
Folks are interested to see how the No. 2 Trojans (2-0) do in their first real test of the 2012 season. Most expect that center Khaled Holmes will not play for USC and Cyrus Hobbi will handle snapping duties for the Trojans.
No. 21 Stanford (2-0) plays its third straight game at home.
A few things to keep an eye on.
- Stanford’s rushing attack vs. USC: The Cardinal haven’t run the ball great to start the year, but they have also faced nine-man fronts. The return of fullback Ryan Hewitt should help in run blocking and in the short-yardage passing game.
- USC’s receivers vs. Stanford secondary: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are all kinds of good. Expect quarterback Matt Barkley to take plenty of shots down field.
- Stanford’s front seven vs. USC’s offensive line: If Holmes isn’t going to play, and he’s not expected to, you have to wonder how much pressure the Cardinal will be able to get on Barkley. Do you turn up the blitzes to confuse Hobbi? Or do you hope that rushing four will get the job done.
But the reality that doesn't get nearly as much publicity is college athletes do a lot of good things, too. For every arrest you read about, there are 20 guys visiting a school or a children's hospital or raising money for a charity.
Last week, Kevin Gemmell wrote about 20 Stanford players who volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and who regularly participate with the program "Cardinal for the Community."
There's also this at Oregon: The second annual Oregon Football Bowling Tournament to benefit the Officer Kilcullen Scholarship Fund, in memory of Officer Chris Kilcullen, on Saturday, April 14.
And this is particularly impressive: USC quarterback Matt Barkley is going to Haiti this summer on a volunteer mission to help build houses, and he's bringing 14 other Trojans with him.
Getting any 15 guys to go to Haiti, which by all accounts is no picnic to visit, is notable. But getting 15 Pac-12 football players who have very little free time -- even in the summer -- to commit to such a challenging task? There's no way to fake that.
The full list of participants: Barkley, Devon Kennard, Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes, Nickell Robey, Hayes Pullard, Kyle Negrete, Scott Starr, Josh Shaw, Cyrus Hobbi, Kevin Greene, Max Wittek, Cody Kessler and Luke Freeman.
Notes Pedro Moura:
Barkley, an experienced foreign volunteer with trips to Nigeria and South Africa under his belt in the last few years, said his parents have been planning the six-day trip for some time. They recently thought to invite a number of the other players on the team who expressed interest in coming along too.
I know Barkley reminds some folks of this guy. He can seem cocky, in large part because he's not afraid of talking to the media -- or posting on his entertaining Twitter account -- and saying what he really thinks. But I'm not sure there isn't a better representative for college football heading into 2012 than Barkley.
Beyond his being the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate and almost certain top-10 NFL draft pick in 2013, and even his volunteer work, he was Pac-12 All-Academic second-team -- behind Andrew Luck! -- with a 3.22 GPA in communications.
How can you not be impressed with all that?
And know what's great about this post? Sports information directors across the Pac-12 are about to email me about all the great things their players are doing that I didn't mention.
Just something to think about next time you read about a player getting drunk and doing something stupid.
Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.
Biggest reason for hope: Barkley to Woods, repeat.
One of the highlights of my spring practice tour was seeing USC quarterback Matt Barkley smash receiver Robert Woods in the helmet with a pass. Woods didn't see it coming, and the ball had some mustard on it, but the talented sophomore was unhurt. Not sure why the moment so amused me -- was finishing off a a 20 oz Starbucks dark drip for the early a.m. session at the time -- other than it was a rare instance of miscommunication for this slick pair of future NFL starters. Woods earned freshman All-American honors last season, but made much of his noise in the return game. He was dominant at most times this spring and -- apologies to Arizona's Juron Criner -- might end up as the best receiver in the conference. Barkley will be entering his third season as the Trojans' starter. He improved last season over his true freshman campaign, and it's not unreasonable to expect him to make another jump in 2011, which might be enough to garner him All-American consideration. Barkley isn't shy about admitting he expects to push into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Bottom line: If Woods doesn't eclipse the 1,000-yard, 10 TD benchmarks, it would be fairly surprising.
Biggest reason for concern: Whither the offensive line?
Barkley exemplifies Southern California cool, but he's not completely unflappable. He was frustrated at times during spring practices because he was working under constant duress behind a patchwork offensive line, and even memorably lost his temper once. (I also enjoyed Barkley mildly grousing to me about what he felt was a media overreaction to a fairly common football occurrence). USC is replacing three starters on its offensive line, and only left tackle Matt Kalil was available this spring. Moreover, Kalil is the only certainty heading into the fall, though Khaled Holmes is the likely starter at center and Kevin Graf should get the nod somewhere. But injuries not only exposed a lack of depth. There was a bit of, "These don't look like USC guys." USC has always passed the sight test. During the glory years under Pete Carroll, the No. 2 line looked more physically impressive than 90 percent of other FBS teams' starters. That's no longer the case. Touted incoming freshmen Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker are expected to be immediately in the mix. If you're looking for an area to start the discussion of an over-under for the Trojans getting eight wins in 2010, the offensive line likely will determine that trajectory.
But when USC coach Lane Kiffin throws it out -- "We're going to be extremely young" -- he recites numbers that back him up.
That means 35 players who aren't participating this spring will be new to competition for playing time during preseason camp. In other words, the USC you saw -- or read about -- this spring isn't really going to be the USC that shows up this fall.
At least, that's the hope for Kiffin, because things were far from pretty -- particularly on offense -- this spring.
- It's difficult to judge quarterback Matt Barkley this spring because his supporting cast was so thin. Kiffin mostly lauded his leadership, and the general feeling is that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods are going to light things up this fall. As for quarterback depth, it seems redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins took the lead for the backup role over touted true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Kessler seemed slightly more polished than Wittek this spring.
- The depth looks strong at running back, even if Marc Tyler can't stay healthy. Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan and Curtis McNeil each had their moments. Morgan is intriguing but "still very raw," said Kiffin, who added that McNeil, who was academically ineligible last season, "actually outperformed all those guys." The fullback is Soma Vainuku, a freshman.
- The receiving corps is going to be long on potential and short on experience. Woods often looks like a budding All-American. Said Kiffin: "Robert Woods has really taken his game to the next level. It's hard to imagine he's only in his second semester." If Kyle Prater can stay healthy, he also has all-star potential. Brandon Carswell, De'Von Flournoy and Markeith Ambles -- who's struggled to stay out of the doghouse because of discipline issues -- provide uncertain depth. It's almost certain that incoming freshmen, including the celebrated tandem of George Farmer and Victor Blackwell, will get immediate looks.
- Rhett Ellison has had a good spring and is getting looks at both tight end and fullback. Xavier Grimble, Christian Thomas and Brandall Telfair also are in the tight end mix, with each bringing different skills to the position.
- The offensive line? Huge question mark. The only certainty is Matt Kalil at left tackle. Khaled Holmes started at guard last season and is expected to start at center this fall, but he didn't do contact work this spring. Kevin Graf probably fits in somewhere. There really wasn't a second unit of scholarship players this spring. Incoming freshmen Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker will get serious looks in the fall. Former coach Pete Carroll was an outstanding recruiter, but he fell short recruiting offensive linemen over his final few seasons.
- Andre Heidari, the No. 1 prep kicker in the nation last year, has looked solid this spring. The hope is incoming freshman Kristopher Albarado will win the punting job.
- The big question on the defensive line is the uncertain health of Armond Armstead. An undisclosed health issue prevented him from practicing and his future is uncertain. Said Kiffin, "That's big. He really came on at the end of the year. We'll know more this summer." With him, the Trojans' defensive line could be elite. Without him, it still could be pretty good. Junior end Nick Perry, if he can stay healthy, will become an NFL prospect. He was clocked at 4.6 in the 40 at 250 pounds. Said Kiffin, "He's everything you want. He's an NFL dream, height, weight, speed, jumping." Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Uko has made the most gains this spring. End Wes Horton and tackle DaJohn Harris have experience, as does tackle Christian Tupou, who should return from a knee injury that killed his 2010 season.
- The likely starting linebackers -- Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard and Shane Horton -- sat out with injuries. Things are thin behind them, though redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard "has played extremely well," according to Kiffin. This is another position where incoming freshmen -- Lamar Dawson? Tre Madden? -- could make an impact.
- Cornerback Nickell Robey has had and outstanding spring, and safety T.J. McDonald is a budding star. There's less certainty at the other two spots, though Anthony Burnett appears to have caught Kiffin's eye at the other corner. Jawanza Starling, Drew McAllister, Demetrius Wright and Marshall Jones are competing at the other safety. Dion Baily is getting a look at a "nickel linebacker."
ESPN.com's Ryan McGee went searching for this year's "Cam Newton" -- minus the, er, baggage, I suspect -- and he included two new Trojans.
Trojan offensive linemen!
Here's what he wrote:
... Perhaps the biggest issue for his Trojans this year will be finding help to protect quarterback Matt Barkley. That help is likely going to have to come from Walker and Hobbi, true freshmen who ditched hometown schools Ohio State and Arizona State Sun Devils (Hobbi chose USC in part because he wants to be an actor when he grows up ... seriously). Both are listed as guards, but here's betting that Hobbi will come out of two-a-days as the Trojans' starting center.
Perhaps. An immediate problem, though, is both Walker and Hobbi don't arrive until August, and it's difficult -- and rare -- for true freshmen to start on the offensive line. Most coaches will tell you it's not ideal, even if a player is physically ready.
Of course, the first question for the Trojans is center, and the guy who must be replaced -- Kristofer O'Dowd -- was good enough to start as a true freshman, so there's certainly no hard and fast rule. That said: O'Dowd was the Trojans first true freshman to start at center as well as only the third Trojan true freshman to start a post-World War II opener on the offensive line. So said rule is fairly hard and fast.
It also appears that Hobbi will start off as a guard, and redshirt freshman Giovanni Di Poalo will get a look at center this spring. Michael Lev of the Orange County Register previous speculated that Khaled Holmes would move inside to center after starting at guard last season -- reasonably because Lane Kiffin told him as much -- but Holmes is still listed as a guard in the spring prospectus and figures to be limited this spring because of a shoulder injury. Junior Abe Markowitz, another candidate at center, will miss spring with a foot injury.
So, based on injuries and August arrivals, the first-team USC offensive line when spring practices begin March 22 might look like this: left tackle Matt Kalil, guard Jeremy Galten, center Di Poalo, guard John Martinez, and right tackle David Garness.
That's four players with little to no experience -- Galten and Garness are both junior college transfers -- so you can see why this is an area of concern for Kiffin this spring.
If you are trying to attach a silver lining to this, the coaches figure to get a good look at their depth before the veterans return and the newcomers arrive in August.
The Parade Magazine All-America team will be published this weekend, and Huskies recruit Kasen Williams is the Player of the Year.
Williams (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), who hails from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., is ranked 70th overall on the ESPNU 150.
Other players committed to Pac-12 teams on the list include offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi (USC) and defensive tackle Viliami Moala (California).
The "Bench" -- honorable mention -- included running back Amir Carlisle (USC), receiver George Farmer (USC), receiver Richard Mullaney (Oregon State) and defensive end Todd Barr (California).
Receiver Marqise Lee, who is deciding between USC, Oregon and Miami, also made the "Bench."
Lane Kiffin completely flubbed the first impression with Cyrus Hobbi.
But it also shows you how relentless Kiffin and his staff are in recruiting that they overcame that pratfall.
Hobbi and his family felt that they were snubbed on an unofficial visit to USC. Not only that, Hobbi's coach at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., John Sanders, is tight with Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson.
"I'm going to give USC credit," Sanders told the Arizona Republic. "First of all, USC had to deal with me, and I was not very friendly with them. No.1, I wanted the kid to stay home and go to ASU. And the way they handled early recruiting, I wasn't real fond of them. But I will tell you that Joe Barry and Lane Kiffin were relentless recruiting this kid and wouldn't take no for an answer."
It was a fairly major blow also for Arizona State and UCLA, which are sagging in recruiting as USC surges.
Arizona State also lost a committed linebacker the same day.
And UCLA again saw a top target commit elsewhere.
Meanwhile, USC appears on the cusp of signing a top-five class, despite NCAA sanctions.
Cyrus Hobbi, the nation's best offensive guard and No. 34 overall prospect, committed to the Trojans on Friday in a press conference at his school, Saguaro High in Scottsdale, Ariz.
He picked the Trojans over Arizona State and UCLA.
"I knew it was the place for me," he said. "Without a doubt, USC was high above both those schools."
Offensive line is a huge area of need for USC, so securing Hobbi is a big get for the Trojans.
- Offensive lineman Cyrus Hobbi will pick between Arizona State, UCLA and USC today at 3 p.m. EST. Watch it live here.
- California will get an intriguing walk-on.
- Colorado's specialists might have been "leg weary" in 2010. A Smart move for a graduate assistant.
- A review of Oregon's special teams.
- This Oregon State recruit might be ready to contribute immediately.
- UCLA QB Kevin Prince writes about "Man Maker Wednesdays."
- Did Lane Kiffin give WR Brice Butler a fair chance? Ranking USC and UCLA's top NFL prospects.
- Utah is competing for recruits in California, including a quarterback who is committed to Arizona State.
- A closer look at an incoming defensive lineman for Washington.
- Is Washington State really making Florida a regular stop in recruiting?