Pac-12: David Douglas

Over on the SEC blog, Alex Scarborough decided to take a look at some heartbreakers in the SEC in recent years in honor of the U.S. soccer team’s heartbreaking finish on Sunday.

The Pac-12 is no stranger to last-minute agonies. They might not have fancy names like “The Kick-6” or "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare." But whether it’s nonconference or in-conference, the last few years have provided Pac-12 fans with plenty of tears in their tea (or tears of joy, depending on which colors you wear).

Here are a few in that last few years that come to mind.

[+] EnlargeKivon Cartwright, Tanner Hedstrom, Theron West, Joe Dahl
AP Photo/Matt YorkA second-half New Mexico Bowl collapse, where it squandered a 22-point lead to Colorado State, ended Washington State's 2013 season with a thud.
Misery in New Mexico: Colorado State was down by eight points with less than two minutes left in last year's New Mexico Bowl. But they were able to capitalize on a pair of late fumbles from Washington State as the Rams went on to erase a one-time 35-13 deficit. Lost was a sensational six-touchdown, 410-yard effort from Connor Halliday. Remembered is a meltdown so inconceivable, the Pac-12 blog still can’t fully comprehend it.

Busted in South Bend: Did he or didn’t he? Stanford fans will swear up and down that Stepfan Taylor crossed the goal line with a second effort. Notre Dame fans are convinced the play was dead and the Fighting Irish had stopped Taylor on fourth down in overtime, sealing a 20-13 victory. The review judge agreed with the Irish. If it’s any consolation, the Cardinal went on to win eight straight games and the Rose Bowl. But that one was a stinger.

Apples and apples: Washington State has been on the good side of a few close Apple Cups. Therefore, by definition, Washington has been on the bad side. There was the 2012 game where Washington let an 18-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter. And, of course, the famed 2008 "Crapple Cup", where winless Washington fell 16-13 in overtime to 1-11 Washington State.

Masoli mastery: Oh ‘Zona Zoo ... you were so ready to storm the field in 2009. Then Jeremiah Masoli hit Ed Dickson on an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left to tie the game at 31-31 before his 1-yard touchdown locked up a 44-41 win in double overtime. Cheers for the Ducks, heartbreak for the Wildcats.

Another Ducking: This one was as slow burn. After California pulled to within 15-13 against the Ducks in 2010, the hurry-up Oregon offense slowed down. The Ducks went on a grinding 18-play, 65-yard drive that even David Shaw would have to fist bump. It lasted 9 minutes and 25 seconds to run out the clock and prevent the Golden Bears -- who put forth a stellar defensive effort -- from ever getting the ball back.

Double Ducked: Oregon wasn’t on the cheery end of all the close games in the last few years. Field goal misses in 2011 and 2012 put Oregon on the sour side of a couple close games. In 2011, it was a missed 37-yard field goal at home against USC that would have tied the game at 38-38 as time expired. The kicking game cost the Ducks again in 2012 at home against Stanford, where a missed 41-yard field goal set up Jordan Williamson’s 37-yard game winner for a 17-14 Cardinal win.

Territorial blues: We can’t mention close games without bringing up the 2010 Territorial Cup. First, Arizona State's James Brooks blocked a PAT that would have given Arizona a 21-20 edge with 27 seconds left in the game. Instead, the game went to two overtimes. And with ASU leading 30-23, David Douglas scored on a 9-yard run for 'Zona. But the PAT was blocked again, by Brooks, again, giving the Sun Devils a 30-29 victory.

Seattle thriller: I can’t think of a single instance of the Pac-12 blog second-guessing a coach’s decision to go for two and end a game. This isn’t one of them. It’s gutsy. So first, I say bravo to Mike Riley. That said, a failed 2-point attempt was the difference in Washington’s 35-34 2OT win in 2010. As it turns out, the Beavers would go on to lose four of their next six and miss the postseason. Washington would finish with seven wins and advance to the Holiday Bowl.

There are more. Of course there are more. There are always more. And I'm sure you'll remind us of them. Ted would love to hear your thoughts.

Lunch links: Cougs center out for SD State

September, 16, 2011
Happy Friday.
While there is no on-the-record clarity on the situation, it's fair to say that Arizona's All-Pac-10 receiver Juron Criner's season is at-risk due to an "undisclosed personal issue," which a source told the Pac-12 blog was a "non-injury, medical issue."

[+] EnlargeJuron Criner
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJuron Criner is the best player among a deep group of receivers at Arizona.
Arizona is not commenting because of student privacy guidelines. A source inside the football office texted the Pac-12 blog that his hope was Criner "will be ready for the season."

Criner, a second-team All-American, led the Wildcats with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Arizona starts fall camp Aug. 3.

What does this mean for the Wildcats? Well, nothing yet. This is obviously a serious situation, but the endgame won't reveal itself until Criner's status is made official.

But it does force us to speculate what the Wildcats offense might be without Criner. The short answer is "probably OK."

While no team wants to lose an All-American, the Wildcats have one of the deepest and experienced crews of receivers in the conference and the nation. Sure, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Criner was the headliner, a guy who could tax a defense in a variety of ways and who always seemed to be the go-to guy when the screws tightened.

But, as we noted with our review of Pac-12 receiving corps, the Wildcats should be better than OK, even without Criner. To quote ourselves:

"David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrence Miller and Richard Morrison -- each caught between 19 and 52 passes a season ago. Oh, and there's also Texas transfer Dan Buckner, Austin Hill, Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin. There's size, speed, depth and experience."

What this does mean is that Buckner needs to live up to the high expectations we've been hearing for months, and at least one of the speedy youngsters needs to step up as a deep threat.

Still, the Wildcats and quarterback Nick Foles will be able to line up in a four- and even five-receiver set without resorting to a scrub as the last option.

Criner made the Wildcats receivers looking like a great unit. But even -- potentially -- without him, they should be very good.

More on the Criner situation here. And here.

Of course, Wildcats fans already might be thinking about "what-might-have-been" before the 2011 season begins. Criner is potentially the third projected starter lost since the end of last season. Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer suffered knee injuries this spring, as did backup running back Greg Nwoko and backup defensive tackle Willie Mobley.

Hope & concern: Arizona

May, 16, 2011
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

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.

First up: Arizona

Biggest reason for hope: The Wildcats passing game will be potent.

Three-year starter at quarterback who's thrown for more than 5,000 yards and 39 touchdowns (Nick Foles)? Check. All-American candidate at receiver (Juron Criner). Check. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound transfer who was good enough to catch 45 passes as a sophomore on a team that played for the national title (Dan Buckner). Check. Three other receivers with at least 29 receptions in 2010 (David Douglas, David Roberts and Terrence Miller)? Check. A converted QB who surged late in the season catching the ball (Richard Morrison)? Check. Intriguing, athletic young players (Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton). Check. An offensive coordinator with a Texas Tech-Mike Leach background (Seth Littrell). Check. A backup QB (Matt Scott) who has proven himself capable as a starter? Check. Arizona led the Pac-10 with an average of 307.7 yards passing last year. Don't be surprised if that already high number goes up.

Biggest reason for concern: There are five new starters on the offensive line.

Another reason the Wildcats might pass a bunch in 2011 is because a young line might not be able to push anyone around. The Wildcats are replacing all five starters from 2010, and only center Kyle Quinn has ever started a game. And he's only started one -- last year's Alamo Bowl -- because Colin Baxter had a knee injury. Further, these guys were on the bench while last year's starters often struggled: The Wildcats gave up 32 sacks, ranking eighth in the Pac-10, and also ranked eighth in rushing. If the Wildcats have to throw the ball 45 to 50 times a game, Foles is probably going to take some hits. That's why Scott is a valuable security blanket. Things went OK for the line in spring practices, but the unit will be the biggest concern heading into the season.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nick Foles and Seth Littrell almost sound sympathetic. The Arizona quarterback and offensive coordinator realize that it's not easy for a secondary to match up with one Juron Criner. So it figures to be even more taxing to matchup with two.

[+] EnlargeDan Bucker
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona has high expectations for receiver Dan Buckner, a transfer from the Texas Longhorns who sat out last season.
Criner, the Pac-10's best receiver in 2010, is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Texas transfer Dan Buckner is 6-4, 220. He caught 45 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 and ranked as the Longhorns' No. 3 receiver as a true sophomore.

Gifted with size and speed, both will present matchup problems. Secondaries that would prefer to double-cover Criner might find that Buckner has the ability to punish them for taking that approach.

"He's a hard matchup, I would think, for a lot of corners," Littrell said. "He's definitely a deep threat. If people want to play tight coverage on him, he's a matchup problem. If people want to matchup with Juron and try to bracket Juron, you're going to leave someone one-on-one. So pick your poison. If a team wants [to double Criner], I'm fine with that."

Then, when you toss in the Wildcats' other receivers -- David Douglas, David Roberts and Richard Morrison -- well, suffice it to say that more than a few defensive coordinators will be stressed in advance of facing the Wildcats' passing attack.

"We've got a great receiving corps. We don't have just one guy. We have several guys," Foles said. "If I were teams, I'd still try to bracket [Criner]. They probably will try to make us beat them elsewhere. But [bracketing Criner] is going to be tough to do with the receivers we have."

Buckner is the wild card. Though his performance fell off over the final half of the 2009 season, keep in mind that he was good enough to be a contributor to a team that played for the national title. He's not your typical transfer who arrives with only message-board fanfare and then turns out to be one of those "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane" sorts.

Of course, there's a backstory. Buckner is in Tucson -- he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules -- because he got into trouble at Texas. He was arrested in College Station, Texas in January of 2010 on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. The Arizona Daily Star, citing police reports, said Buckner "was visiting a female acquaintance in College Station, Texas, when a dispute broke out. Officers arrived on the scene, but couldn’t get him to leave."

"I got into some trouble and made some bad decisions like a lot of people do. I needed a change. I needed to get out of there," Buckner said. "I think it was a blessing in disguise. I feel like it humbled me. I've seen things in life that I may not have seen."

Buckner, described as "goofy" by Foles, doesn't seem like a bad seed. He's bright, outgoing and quick with a joke.

Still, Foles said meshing Buckner into what was already one of the nation's best receiving groups is still a work in progress.

"We're still working to get on the same page," Foles said.

When asked about complementing Criner, Buckner is quick to take on the role of No. 2: "Juron is getting me open," he said.

As for the transition from Texas and the Big 12 to Arizona and the Pac-12, Buckner, a native of Allen, Texas, seems to feel right at home.

"I like the West Coast," he said. "It's sunny and pretty and there are palm trees. It's a change, and at that point in my life I just needed a change."

Mailbag: Arizona's receivers aren't the best!

April, 15, 2011
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the many who asked: I have no idea when the NCAA will rule on USC's appeal. On Saturday, it will be 12 weeks since USC met with the appeals mmittee. I thought it might happen this week. If it doesn't happen next week, the term "absurd" will start to apply.

The notes.

Chris from Seattle writes: You've been calling Arizona's group of receivers "the best in the conference." I'd like to submit that, it's far less clear than you are painting it. The way I see it, UW is equally as deep at receiver. Kearse and Aguilar are two returning seniors who merit pre-season all-conference mention and Kearse is potentially a first teamer and all-american. From there, James Johnson (stellar freshman year who is returning to form), Kevin Davis (really turning it on this spring), DiAndre Campbell (great hands and big plays this spring), and Cody Bruns (another returning senior) are all in the mix for the third spot. But, let's not forget that Kasen Williams (the Parade All-America player of the year - if you have forgotten) will be showing up in the fall. I'd say that group would go toe-to-toe with UA's group any day! Sure, UA has a better QB at the moment, but if we're talking about talent at the receiver position, I think you haven't done your homework and I'd appreciate it if you stop matter-of-factly stating they are the best in the conference. In your UA spring review, you said, "the conference's deepest, most talented crew of receivers." I call BULL! Prove me wrong!

Ted Miller: OK, I'll prove you wrong, you, you, Bull Caller!

Washington has good receivers, but the Huskies don't match up with the Wildcats.

So let's do our homework!

You note Jermaine Kearse (63 receptions, second-team All-Pac-10) and Devin Aguilar. Aguilar caught 28 passes last season. Every one else you mention is a "maybe." Why do I type that? Here are the official stats. Johnson caught one pass last year. Bruns? Seven.

And, really, Kearse has plenty of room to improve -- see dropped passes, see struggles versus physical cornerbacks.

Down in Tucson, you have the best receiver in the Pac-12: Juron Criner (82 receptions, first-team All-Pac-10).

Then you have David Douglas (52 receptions), David Roberts (45), Terrence Miller (29) and Richard Morrison (19). Oh, and you also have Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who caught 44 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 for the Longhorns.

I'd even counter that Arizona's "maybes" are every bit the match of Washington's: redshirt freshmen Tyler Slavin, Austin Hill, and speedster Garic Wharton.

JJ from McCall, Idaho writes: Looking at returning running backs, it's amazing to see USC in 10th position. What happened to all those 5 star recruits?

Ted Miller: USC isn't exactly hurting at running back. In fact, off the top of my head, I'd rate the Trojans fourth in the Pac-12 at the position behind Oregon, Washington and Stanford.

First, let's recall the Trojans averaged 190 yards rushing per game in 2010. That ranked third in the conference.

Second, Marc Tyler, who rushed for 913 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, is back. Yes, he's injury prone, but not so injury prone that he didn't nearly crack the 1,000-yard mark in 2010.

And there is plenty of young talent, starting with Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan. Further, the Pac-12 blog has always thought that if Curtis McNeal, academically ineligible in 2010, got touches, he'd make plays.

Matt from Salt Lake City writes: With the Utah Utes bringing in a new O and with [quarterback Jordan Wynn] out of the spring how far behind is Wynn and do you think he can get the new O going and be ready for the fall?

Ted Miller: No matter how much of a "glass half-full guy" you are, it's not ideal for Wynn to be sitting out spring practices after undergoing shoulder surgery. A full spring practice with new offensive coordinator Norm Chow and pro style offense would have been valuable.

But there are a couple of things that work in Wynn and Utah's favor here. For one, Wynn is only a few weeks from full-go throwing again, so he'll have a full summer to work with his receivers and backs and get a general feel for the playbook.

Second, Wynn told me he played a pro style offense in high school, so this shouldn't be an overwhelming transformation. He actually called it a "better fit" than the Utes old spread-option. Third, Chow was most taken with Wynn's intelligence, noting that Wynn seems to be picking things up quickly in meetings and film sessions. Said Chow, "Just sitting in meetings with him, it's extremely obvious he's very bright. To me the key element for a quarterback is you've got to be smart. He gets it all."

Further, Wynn is a one-and-a-half-year starter. He's a veteran who knows game speed. That should help him digest things during fall camp.

Again, not ideal. But far from a cause for panic.

If Utah fans are looking for something to worry about -- and what fan isn't? -- backup quarterback might be a good place to release a harrumph or two. It doesn't seem like either Tyler Shreve or Griff Robles have figured things out.

Thomas from San Francisco writes: Cal fans are a bit up in arms about a quote from Jeff Tedford in your latest article, and I was hoping for some clarification. Specifically, this quote: "I have it back in focus now, not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again." You bracketed "2009" and "8-5" which means he didn't actually say those terms, but you interpreted him to be referring to 2009 and 8-5. Is it possible he was referring to going 8-4 in 2005? Or something else? It is concerning because it sounds like Tedford is happy with 8-5, which he should not be (especially because there were a handful of blowout losses in those 5 losses, which you note in the story). Is there any way you can post the full Q&A? Or at least enough to get the context of what he was saying? Or simply why you interpreted him to be referring to 2009/8-5?

Ted Miller: You are an observant reader. Oh, you Cal fans!

What Tedford said was a little confusing to me at the time also. The recording is gone, but, to paraphrase, he said "a couple of years ago" in the context of this quote but said "8-3" as the record, as well as the 3-8 reverse. Obviously, there is no 8-3 season, though he could have been referring to finishing the 2005 regular season 8-3 and then winning the Las Vegas Bowl over BYU.

So I did make an assumption based on a couple of things: He said "couple of years ago," which suggested two to me. And I remembered very little carping after the 2005 season, seeing that was the first season after Aaron Rodgers (Joe Ayoob!), though Bears fans feel free to correct me.

Either way, to me, the gist is the same: In the past, he allowed fan reaction to irritate him after an eight-win season. He's now trying to ignore fan reaction after a five-win season because he's got plenty of other things to think -- and get irritated -- about.

I've never had the feeling that Tedford would be happy with 8-5. I do think that he was a bit surprised how quickly Cal fans became bored with winning seasons.

Todd from Mission Viejo, Calif., writes: Regarding the Pac-12 media deal, should I be worried about the Pac-12 signing a long-term deal (say 15 years)? Yes, it would provide stability, but if the college sports media market continues to grow, could the media rights become undervalued for the final part of its contract. Would it not be better to sign a medium length media deal, then renegotiate to reflect the new value of the media property?

Ted Miller: Larry "Let's make a deal!" Scott is seeking a 10-year deal worth $220 million, according to multiple reports, including the Wall Street Journal, which I think got the number from the myriad great articles Jon Wilner has been doing on the behind-the-scenes machinations.

If there is a downside to a 10-year, $220 million deal, I don't know what it is. Other than it's not a 10-year $230 million deal, with the extra $10 million going to the Pac-12 blog, which of course would buy a yacht and throw a righteous party for you loyal readers.

Miriam from Stanford, Calif., writes: In addition to reading the stories on the blog, I often go to your lunch links to find interesting news items about Stanford and other teams. I know that you don't always include a link for every team every day, but I've noticed a lot of times when you seem to have a story for every team except Stanford (see 4/6/11, 4/12/11). Is it really that much harder to find news stories about Stanford than about the other teams in the conference? Or is it just my selection bias coming into play, only noticing when my team is the one missing?

Ted Miller: Yes, it is that much harder to find stories on Stanford football, and it annoys me, too. I even groused about this to Wyndam Makowsky of The Stanford Daily, noting that the Daily's enlightened policy of covering all of Stanford's 14,524 sports teams vexed me when, really, people only care about football.

Some teams get so much local coverage, it's often difficult to figure out which articles to post and which to exclude. That's not the case with Stanford, in large part because Bay Area newspapers have significantly rolled back their staff numbers.

Every weekday morning I go through a series of websites -- newspapers, responsible fan blogs, even the official website -- that offer Stanford coverage. If you don't see a Stanford link at lunch, it's because I couldn't find a story.

Same thing goes for every Pac-12 team.

Daniel from Eugene, Ore., writes: You probably already know this is out there, but I thought it'd be nice if you could post this. Really a quality podcast all about the Ducks.

Ted Miller: Wow, you put the bad boys of podcasting, Ty and Dan of "Solid Verbal," on the same wavelength with The One They Call "Rob Moseley" and you've got the makings of an epic Guy Ritchie shoot-em-up.

Video: Arizona WR David Douglas

April, 15, 2011

Ted Miller talks with Arizona wideout David Douglas.

Arizona spring notes

April, 14, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It was just a short, shells -- shorts and shoulder pads -- practice Thursday at Arizona, but even then there was plenty of "wow" in the downfield passing game.

No team in the Pac-12 can offer up two quarterbacks as good as Nick Foles and Matt Scott. No team in the Pac-12 can match the Wildcats depth and talent at receiver.

That's the good news. Questions, though, remain, starting with five new starters on the offensive line.

"We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that," coach Mike Stoops said.

As for folks questioning the line, Stoops understands and has no problem with it. He hopes it bothers them.

"They'll hear about it," Stoops said. "I think that will serve as motivation."

On defense, the Wildcats must replace defensive ends Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed. And it's not good that talented safety Adam Hall is standing on the sidelines with a surgically repaired ACL.

Some notes from Arizona practice -- two days before Saturday's spring game -- after chats with Stoops, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Tim Kish.
  • The plan remains to redshirt Scott, if possible. He's certainly not going to enter a game late in the fourth quarter to take a knee. But if Foles gets hurt, Scott would be the guy. He'd probably start for a majority of teams in the Pac-12.
  • At running back, Daniel Jenkins has had "one of the best springs of any of our young players," Stoops said. He looks like Keola Antolin's backup. Both Stoops and Littrell, however, expect incoming freshmen Ka'Deem Cary and Jared Baker to perhaps push into the mix.
  • Receiver? Well, there's Juron Criner -- an All-American candidate -- David Douglas, Texas transfer Dan Buckner, David Roberts, Richard Morrison, Tyler Slavin, Austin Hill, Terrence Miller and speedster Garic Wharton. Suffice it to say, the Wildcats will be able to spread the field in 2011.
  • As it stands now, the starting offensive line goes line this: LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin, RT Fabbians Ebbele. Only Quinn has started a game -- the Alamo Bowl last December -- and both tackles are redshirt freshmen. On the plus side, if you want to look ahead, no lineman on the two-deep is a senior. Four are freshmen, two are sophomores and four are juniors.
  • H-back Taimi Tutogi hinted at great things last preseason but was ultimately disappointing. There's a feeling that he could break through in 2011. While he's not an elite blocker by any stretch, the 260 pounder isn't easy to deal with when he has the ball in space.
  • On defense, the ends are C.J. Parrish and Mohammed Usman. Both are listed at 245 pounds, which means the Wildcats will be much smaller at end compared to a year ago. On the depth chart, redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato and converted tackle Dominique Austin are listed, but JC transfer Lamar De Rego is likely to immediately jump into the mix.
  • Kish called Parrish "a pleasant surprise...We didn't think he'd pick it up as quick as he did and be as effective as he is."
  • Inside at defensive tackle, there's solid depth. Justin Washington, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury, and Sione Tuihalamaka are the starters and Willie Mobley and Kirifi Taula are the backups. Aiulua Fanene is a fifth option.
  • Stoops said the Wildcats "are much better inside," and Kish made an interesting point about last fall. Because Reed and Elmore were so good at pinching down from the outside against the pass, while the tackles were limited and not getting much inside push, the Wildcats often created passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. Passing lanes and running lanes, which some of you Wildcats fans might remember quarterbacks scrambling through, such as Arizona State's Brock Osweiler.
  • The good news is all three starting linebackers are back. The bad news is a lack of depth, particularly after R.J. Young -- the fourth LB -- and Trevor Erno quit. Presently, walkon Bilal Muhammed -- "He's damn good," said Kish -- is the backup at two spots and undersized though athletic Kyle Benson is No. 2 behind Jake Fisher on the outside. Both Kish and Stoops expect help from incoming freshmen Rob Hankins, Dominique Petties and Hank Hobson.
  • The good news in the secondary is the renewed focus of cornerback Trevin Wade, who had a poor junior year after earning accolades as a sophomore. Stoops and Kish don't hold back when talking about Wade's struggles in 2010, but both see a different player this spring: "He took a lot for granted (last year)," Stoops said. "He has a different attitude, a different level of effort (this spring)."
  • Along with Wade at corner, there's Jonathan McKnight, brother of former USC RB Joe McKnight and perhaps the best pure cover corner, and Shaquille Richardson, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury.
  • Robert Golden has moved back to safety from cornerback -- he's started extensively at both spots -- after Hall went down, where he's beside free safety Marquis Flowers. Redshirt freshamn Jourdan Grandon is making a bid to be the nickel, though there's clearly competition for backup roles. Neither Mark Watley nor Josh Robbins has made a decisive push for playing time. And there's some hope that Hall could make a fast recovery and be back by October.
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

All-Pac-10 bowl team

January, 14, 2011
Who distinguished themselves during the bowl season? Here's our All-Bowl Team.


[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck's performance helped key Stanford's blowout win against Virginia Tech.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck completed 18 of 23 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinal's 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl. He also rushed for 15 yards and was sacked just once.
RB Chris Polk, Washington: Polk rushed for 177 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown in the Huskies win over Nebraska in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.
RB Jeremy Stewart, Stanford: Sophomore Stepfan Taylor actually rushed for more yards, but Stewart, a senior who's battled injuries throughout his career, had 99 yards on just five carries, including a 60-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech.
WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon: Maehl caught nine passes for 133 yards with a long reception of 81 yards in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
WR David Douglas, Arizona: Douglas caught six passes for 91 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
TE Coby Fleener, Stanford: Fleenor had a career night in the Orange Bowl, catching six passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
OL Jonathan Martin, Stanford: Stanford rushed for 247 yards and allowed just one sack. Martin will be an All-American candidate in 2011.
OL Chase Beeler, Stanford: Beeler, the consensus All-American center, is the brains behind the bullies, leading one of the nation's best lines.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The first-team All-Pac-10 performer had a number of key blocks against the Hokies.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: Kelemete has a chance at All-Conference honors as a senior.
OL Cody Habben, Washington: The Huskies rushed for 268 yards and allowed no sacks versus Nebraska. A nice way for the senior right tackle to go out.


LB Mason Foster, Washington: Foster had a game-high 12 tackles, including two sacks in the Huskies win over Nebraska.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had a game-high 12 tackles, with three sacks and another tackle for a loss against the Hokies. He also broke up a pass.
LB Casey Matthews, Oregon: Matthews had six tackles, split a tackle for a loss and, most important, forced the late fumble from Cameron Newton that set up the Ducks touchdown that tied the count 19-19 late against Auburn.
LB Victor Aiyewa, Washington: Aiyewa had three tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in the Holiday Bowl.
DT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington: Ta'amu dominated inside, recording a sack and recovering a fumble against the Cornhuskers.
DE Hau'oli Jamora, Washington: The true freshman had three tackles for a loss and a sack versus Nebraska.
DE Kenny Rowe, Oregon: Rowe was second on the Ducks with nine tackles, four of which came for a loss. He also had a sack and a forced fumble.
CB Cliff Harris, Oregon: Harris had three tackles, two pass breakups and an interception. A second interception was not upheld by replay officials.
CB Richard Sherman, Stanford: Sherman had just one tackle against Virginia Tech. It appears that the Hokies, who completed just 16 of 31 passes, decided not to throw his way.
S Delano Howell, Stanford: Howell had an interception, a sack and four tackles in the Orange Bowl.
S Nate Felner, Washington: Felner had four tackles and an interception in the Huskies win over Nebraska.

Special teams

K Rob Beard, Oregon: There wasn't a lot of great kicking this bowl season in the Pac-10, but Beard connected on a 26-yard field goal against Auburn and scored a 2-point play on an option pitch.
P David Green, Stanford: Green didn't punt much in the Orange Bowl, but he did average 46 yards when he did (three times).
KR Travis Cobb, Arizona: Cobb returned five kickoffs for 179 yards, with a long of 64 yards.

Arizona spring wrap

May, 7, 2010

2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 6-3 (tied for second)

Returning starters

Offense: 9, Defense: 4, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, RB Nic Grigsby, C Colin Baxter, CB Trevin Wade, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore

Key losses: WR Terrell Turner, OT Mike Diaz, DT Earl Mitchell, LB Xavier Kelly, FS Cam Nelson, CB Devin Ross

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Keola Antolin* (643)

Passing: Nick Foles* (2,466)

Receiving: Juron Criner* (582)

Tackles: Devin Ross (81)

Sacks: Ricky Elmore* (11.5)

Interceptions: Trevin Wade* (5)

Spring Answers

1. So far so good with four coordinators: It was only a first run through spring practices but the Wildcats new arrangement with both offensive and defensive co-coordinators seemed to work well throughout spring practices. For one, it appears they've got a plan for the press box and play calling. Further, it helps that coach Mike Stoops is familiar with sharing a coordinator job (he shared the defensive job at Kansas State). It also probably helps that all four guys seem to like each other.

2. There's a lot of skill here: Start with quarterback Nick Foles. Then there's Juron Criner, who is as physically talented as any receiver in the Pac-10. Then there's Bug Wright, David Douglas, Delashaun Dean, Travis Cobb and Gino Crump. And Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Taimi Tutogi in the backfield. Lots of guys who can do things with the ball in their hands.

3. The ends are the beginning: Ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are a good start for a rebuilding defense that lost seven starters. If a defense can pressure the quarterback -- and Elmore and Reed can -- that makes things easier everywhere else.

Fall questions

1. How will Matt Scott be used: While Scott lost the starting quarterback job to Foles early last season, the coaches still think he's capable of helping the offense, particularly with his speed. Scott also looked like a more confident and refined passer this spring -- guidance from new QB coach Frank Scelfo helped -- so he figures to have a few personal packages inserted into the game plan. And if Foles falters or gets hurt, Scott is a nice plan B.

2. How quickly will the new LBs pick things up? It's not easy to replace seven starters, but it seems particularly burdensome to have voids at all three all LB spots. Things are even more difficult when you're counting on a pair of JC transfers -- Derek Earls in the middle and Paul Vassallo on the weak side -- to immediately step into the starting lineup. The Wildcats will be fine in the secondary -- watch out for incoming freshman Marquis Flowers to get into the mix -- because that's Stoops' specialty. And there's some intriguing talent at defensive tackle, including redshirt freshman Sione Tuihalamaka. But the linebacker question wasn't answered this spring.

3. Paging Nic Grigsby: Grigsby can be a dynamic player with the ball. He's got home run speed and 2,424 career rushing yards. He averages 5.3 yards per carry. He's a good receiver out of the backfield. But he needs to find a way to stay healthy, which he didn't this spring or much of last year. With capable players like Antolin, Tutogi, Greg Nwoko and Daniel Jenkins eager for touches, at some point coaches might just sit Grigsby and go with guys who can stay on the field.

Strong & weak: Arizona

March, 2, 2010
The second of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.


Strong: Offensive skill positions.

Why it's a strength: The Wildcats welcome back just about all their top skill guys -- their top-two quarterbacks (Nick Foles and Matt Scott), top three rushers (Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko) and five of their top six receivers (Juron Criner, Delashaun Dean, Bug Wright, David Douglas and David Roberts). The only loss is 2009's leading receiver Terrell Turner. Even the early departure of TE Rob Gronkowski is eased by the fact that he didn't play in a single game last year.

Weak: Up the middle defense.

Why it's a weakness: It's a weakness because the Wildcats must replace both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and free safety Cam Nelson. Moreover, they head into spring without a lot of obvious answers at those position, seeing that the defense's top four tacklers and five of the top six are all gone. Lolomana Mikaele was listed as the backup at both DTs positions at the end of last year, but he finished with just 12 tackles. Two junior college transfers, linebackers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, are expected to earn starting positions. Toss in new co-coordinators -- though Tim Kish was promoted from linebackers coach -- and there are a lot of questions on this side of the ball.

Dykes says he's staying and other Arizona notes

December, 18, 2009
This notebook from Ryan Finley is overflowing with interesting Arizona news and notes.

  • Offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes denies the rumors that he's going to follow former Wildcats athletic director Jim Livengood from Arizona to UNLV and become the Rebels' head football coach.
  • New co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown, formerly Colorado's secondary coach, is attending practices. He will team with linebackers coach Tim Kish to replace Mark Stoops, who was hired by Florida State.
  • Running back Nic Grigsby (shoulder) and receiver David Douglas (thigh bruise) are feeling much healthier and should be ready to play against Nebraska in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.
  • Linebacker Sterling Lewis isn't going to party before this bowl game. He learned his lesson on that last year.
Being healthy on offense -- and having Dykes in place -- will be critical against the outstanding Cornhuskers defense, which, of course, is led by otherworldly defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Brown was a longtime NFL coach, specializing in the secondary, before joining Dan Hawkins' staff four seasons ago. Read his bio here. Stoops will coach the Wildcats through the Holiday Bowl.

Arizona's Grigsby, Douglas won't play at USC

November, 30, 2009
Arizona tailback Nicolas Grigsby and wide receiver David Douglas will miss Saturday's game at USC, coach Mike Stoops said Monday.

Grigsby has been battling a shoulder injury much of the year. He re-injured it against Oregon on Nov. 21 and didn't play in the win over Arizona State on Saturday.

Douglas suffered a thigh bruise in the Oregon game and also sat out Saturday.

Stepping in for Grigsby will be Keola Antolin, who's been battling a sprained ankle, Greg Nwoko and Nick Booth. Bug Wright will take Douglas' spot in the starting lineup.

Masoli has Ducks smelling roses

November, 22, 2009
TUCSON, Ariz. -- There were big plays. There were strange plays. There were seemingly huge gaffes that really didn't mean much. An Oregon cheerleader got knocked out by a water bottle hurled from the stands. There were expectant Arizona fans on the field, encircling this drama like a red ribbon, who ended up standing in stunned silence after Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli generated his sixth and final touchdown to conclude the second overtime of this thrilling and nearly four-hour evening.
[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesJeremiah Masoli threw for three scores and ran for three more to rally the Ducks.

"It got quiet really fast," Masoli said after Oregon prevailed 44-41 and took one step closer to its first Rose Bowl since the 1994 season.

Masoli scored three touchdowns running, including a 1-yard carry that won it. He also passed for three touchdowns, including an 8-yard toss that tied the score with six seconds left in regulation.

Oregon jumped to a 14-0 lead. Then Arizona scored 24 unanswered points. Both defenses were in control at times. And at times, both offenses seemed unstoppable. The score then was knotted at 24, 31 and 38, at which point Arizona's field goal in the second overtime fell short of the Ducks touchdown.

Both teams had 22 first downs. Oregon's 459 total yards was just 18 more than the Wildcats. It was about as closely contested as a game can be.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of," said Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns.

But the mood in the two locker rooms couldn't have been more different.

"I have no words for it," said jubilant Oregon running back LaMichael James, who rushed for 117 yards and set a new Pac-10 freshman rushing record with 1,310 yards.

The 11th-ranked Ducks (9-2, 7-1) now pause for a moment to collect themselves and before beginning earnest preparation for a Civil War showdown with Oregon State on Dec. 3 that has very simple stakes: The winner goes to the Rose Bowl.

James, by the way, broke the record Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers set last year.

The Wildcats (6-4, 4-3), meanwhile, will try to regroup for a visit to archrival Arizona State on Saturday.

Said Arizona's senior safety Cam Nelson, "I can sit here and say we're not going to let it [get us down] but at the end of the day, we all know it is. It's something that is going to stick with us the rest of our lives knowing we let this opportunity slip out of our hands. I can sit here and say 'no, we're going to put it behind us,' but I'm not."

Some game oddities:

  • Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas made a career-long 47-yard field goal just before the half, despite two timeouts from Oregon coach Chip Kelly intended to ice him. After which, he jawed at the Ducks sideline with amusing abandon. He also missed a 24-yard chip shot in the third quarter.
  • Oregon kicker Morgan Flint tied the game at 24-24 in the fourth quarter when his line-drive field goal bounced off the crossbar and decided to go through the uprights anyway.
  • Arizona receiver David Douglas fumbled right before he scored a touchdown in the first quarter, but Juron Criner turned a short bubble screen into a 71-yard touchdown despite seeming to be surrounded the entire run.

Perhaps most curious was when Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-4 from his 45-yard line with 6:26 left with Arizona ahead 31-24. The Ducks failed to convert, at which point the Wildcats fans started their plan to storm the field.

"We never flinched," Kelly said, bringing up the call before he was even asked about it. "I went for it on fourth down because I was confident we could get a stop and get another chance."

Which is exactly what happened. Foles threw his only interception in the end zone on a third and 16 play from the Ducks 40, which mostly functioned as a punt.

Masoli and company took over with 3:11 left.

"That's a lot of time for us," Kelly said.

Oregon went 80 yards in 15 plays. It converted a third-and-11 from the Arizona 46 with an 18-yard run up the middle from James. It converted on a fourth-and-4 from the Wildcats 22 with a 7-yard pass from Masoli to Jeff Maehl, who had a career-best 12 receptions for 114 yards with two touchdowns.

The drive was vintage Masoli. A little out-of-control. A little unconventional. Lots of things getting made up as he went along.

"He's unflappable," Kelly said. "Nothing bothers him."

That take was seconded by Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

"The plays he made in critical situations are remarkable," he said.

It was a remarkable game that was worthy of simplifying what had been a complicated Pac-10 race.

A Civil War on Dec. 3 will send one Oregon program to the Rose Bowl.