Pac-12: David Pa\'aluhi

Q&A: Oregon State assistant Mark Banker

September, 10, 2010
Oregon State's defense had mixed results against TCU in a 30-21 defeat last weekend.

The Beavers muted the Horned Frogs passing game and picked off two passes. They also were pretty good on first and second down.

But the run defense yielded 278 yards, and the Horned Frogs were 11 of 17 on third down, which is back-breaking. TCU was particularly effective running quarterback Andy Dalton and attacking the perimeter of the Beavers defense.

With a bye week to review the film before playing host to Louisville on Sept. 18, it seemed like a good time to check in with defensive coordinator Mark Banker and hear his thoughts on how things went.

Tell me your general impressions after reviewing game tape from TCU.

Mark Banker: From an alignment side of it, communication side of it, the basic things, we were pretty good. We were pleased. Tackling, for a first game, was probably a B+. That has been something that has been a concern over the last few years, and we worked hard on that in the spring and in summer camp to remedy that. From the standpoint of the technical aspect of the game itself, we were really disappointed in our perimeter defense. If you would have told me they were going to run the ball outside on us, I would have been really happy and would have welcomed that. But that's where we broke down. We struggled to get into good leverage positions to turn the ball back into our pursuit. Our pursuit and our effort to the ball all night was excellent. That's a starting point for us and an emphasis for us. The guys really did a good job of executing their primary assignment and going to the ball. The other thing that was interesting in the game was we got them into 17 third-down situations. Over the course of the 2009 season, they probably only averaged maybe eight a game. Unfortunately, we didn't do a good job of getting off the field. Traditionally, situations of third-and-5 or more, you normally see the ball in the air. But they felt they could run the quarterback on the perimeter, as well as his ability to scramble. We fell short in that area. There were some good moments for us. The game was definitely winnable. There wasn't anything we felt, physically, athletically, that our team couldn't handle. We just didn't execute well enough to put our team in a winning situation. But the game is over, we can't do much about it now, other than we took some time during this bye week to make some corrections. We're looking forward to the Louisville game.

Any specific concerns about the run defense?

MB: The understand of everybody's responsibility. In some cases it didn't look like that. Like I said, in some cases we didn't get the positions and leverage we needed to. In some cases, they were able to beat the safeties to the corners, the outside linebacker in some fit positions, where they spill the ball. Those hurt us. It's not so much a concern as it is about correcting it and making sure we understand how it all fits together. Initially, we were concerned about their inside run game. But we feel good about our tackles, specifically Stephen Paea being such a force. At the same time, we're trying to replace a starting middle linebacker [David Pa'aluhi] who we thought we'd have for two more years. So this summer, we were really working on the interior of our defense. But we seemed to play well vs. their inside running game. The breakdowns occurred on the perimeter. It wasn't a physical thing; it was more about an understanding of how to get your fits on the outside perimeter game.

Who had a good game?

MB: A lot of players. You start up front. I think the three tackles -- Paea, Kevin Frahm and Brennan Olander -- consistently played well. I thought DE Gabe Miller played pretty well. DE Taylor Henry in his first full game starting. He did some nice things. I thought that OLB Dwight Roberson showed up and did some good things. He knows that had he made maybe four more plays and finished on some tackles by being in better position, he could have made an impact on the game. But he played pretty well. I thought the two safeties -- Lance Mitchell and Suaesi Tuimaunei -- played well. At the same time, Mitchell, just like Roberson, he had some situations where if he made four more plays in third down situations out on the perimeter, it changes third-down situations. He and Tuimaunei showed up with a lot of tackles, the reason being they ran outside quite a bit. Yet there were still some plays to be made.

How about the pass rush in general: It was a struggle last year. Did you see grounds for hope in 2010?

MB: Absolutely. When you play a game when the quarterback is like a running back and the ends have to be responsible to the end of the line of scrimmage on the QB, but at the same transfer to a pass rush, they did a good job. The ball was out quick, quite often. A couple of times the interior, Stephen Paea, got loose inside and chased Andy Dalton off his set-up point. Very encouraging from that standpoint.

Any personnel changes coming out of Week 1?

MB: We're still looking at the middle linebacker position, who starts the game [between Rueben Robinson and Tony Wilson]. The combination of plays they get. We've got to get deeper on our rotation on the outside. We know who our starters are, but we've got to continue to improve some of our younger players there. We had a position change at the end of summer camp when Cameron Collins, who started for us at safety last year, has moved to outside linebacker. If we thought he was one of the best 11 guys last year, we still feel he's one of the better players on our team. We've got to figure out a way to get him moving along at that position. From a starting standpoint, the only starter I can see at this point in time, possible change, might be inside. But that would just be who starts the game. The same guys will rotate that position. It looks like Kevin Unga, who's been our third [MLB] in camp so far, will push for more playing time.

What about Louisville: Give me a preview of the Cardinals, who lost 23-16 to Kentucky in their opener.

MB: They operate under center and out of the gun. Their base run plays are the zone, the stretch and the counter. They roll with two backs who are a little different in stature. One guy is a 6-1 kid who seems to be 215 pounds and is a very strong runner. He also had a breakaway run and has some good speed. They have another guy who looks to be more of an outside guy. He's a big-time cut-back runner. They are going to possess the ball. I thought the QB would be more of a runner -- like TCU -- we thought we'd see more read-zone option concepts. We saw some from a structure standpoint when they operate out of the gun with an off-set back, but the QB only ran with the ball one time with a designed play. But we still have to be cognizant of that. In the passing game, because of their run game, they are going to use play-action passes, where it's protection first, then pass. They are not a team that sends five people out into the route. They haven't shown empty a lot either. More possession type passes. They took a couple of shots downfield last week, just trying to get positive plays. The drop-back pass game only appeared on obvious passing downs -- third down or second and long. It seems like they are structured to try to have positive plays and then turn things over to their defense to manage the game.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 6, 2010
One week is in the books, and it wasn't a good one. The Pac-10 went 6-4 and ended up frowning in each of its major tests.

Team of the week: Other than a brief first-half lull, Arizona looked like a good team in midseason form, despite losing both of its coordinators and rebuilding its defense. The 41-2 blitzing of a solid Toledo team featured dominance in all three phases. Goodbye bad taste from the Holiday Bowl. The Wildcats outgained the Rockets 518 to 183. Nuff said.

Best game: It's very possible that Oregon State lost to a TCU team that will play for the national title. I came away more impressed with the top-to-bottom quality of TCU than believing the Beavers got exposed. As it was, it was a competitive, well-played, entertaining game. And if Beavers fans need to vent for the sake of venting -- as we all sometimes do -- I'd suggest wondering how might the Beavers' defense have looked if end Matt LaGrone and middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi, returning starters from 2009, hadn't decided to quit the team.

Biggest play(s): Washington twice had fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter inside BYU's 30-yard line. Both times QB Jake Locker threw an incompletion. The Huskies lost 23-17. Great QBs need to make those plays.

[+] EnlargeBarner
AP Photo/Rick BowmerKenjon Barner rushed 17 times for 147 yards and four touchdowns Saturday.
Offensive standout(s): Wow. Lots to choose from. USC QB Matt Barkley completed 78 percent of his passes at Hawaii with five TDs. Arizona's Nick Foles and Stanford's Andrew Luck also were outstanding. But the top notice has to go to Oregon's "backup" running back Kenjon Barner, who was a force of nature against New Mexico, rushing for 147 yards on 17 carries -- 8.6 yards per tote -- with four TDs. Oh, he also caught a short pass he turned into a 60-yard TD.

Defensive standout: Wow. Not a lot to choose from. While it's hard to laud a player from UCLA's defense after it got pushed around by Kansas State, OLB Akeem Ayers showed why so many NFL scouts are salivating over him. He piled up 11 tackles with a sack and a pass breakup. But what really stands out is his ability to get his hands on the football -- he recovered two fumbles. He might want to refrain in the future, however, from pushing a running back when he's out of bounds.

Special teams star: USC receiver Ronald Johnson not only caught three TD passes against Hawaii, but he also went 89 yards for a TD on a punt return. It's notable that UCLA kicker Kai Forbath ignored a preseason injury that was supposed to keep him on the bench and went 3-for-3 on field goals at Kansas State, with a long of 44.

Smiley face: The QBs lived up to the preseason hype. The known guys -- Barkley, Foles, Locker and Luck -- each played well. The new guys -- Arizona State's Steven Threet, Oregon's Darron Thomas and Oregon State's Ryan Katz -- were solid. California's Kevin Riley played well, and Washington State's Jeff Tuel was hardly the reason the Cougars went down hard at Oklahoma State. The only QB who played poorly was UCLA's Kevin Prince, and he probably looked rusty because he sat out most of fall camp with a back injury.

Frowny face: Defense. The top two rushers in the nation at present -- and three of the top 14 -- played against Pac-10 defenses this past weekend. And look who ranks 106th in the nation in total defense, two slots below Washington State.

Thought of the week: This is a quiet week with few marquee games, other than the start of the Pac-10 slate with Stanford's visit to UCLA. But the week of Sept. 18 will define how the Pac-10 is perceived nationally this season. Consider the slate:

Iowa at Arizona
ASU at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Washington
Cal at Nevada
Wake Forest at Stanford
Houston at UCLA
USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at Oregon State

Five at home, four on the road. Three ranked teams. No patsies. The Pac-10 needs to get at least six wins or you'll start to hear how it's a "down year" instead of folks lauding the conference's depth.

Questions for the week: Can California (vs. Colorado), USC (vs. Virginia) and Washington (vs. Syracuse) take care of business against inferior BCS conference foes at home? Same for Oregon: Will the Ducks be able to handle the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee team the Ducks shouldn't have too many problems against? How will the Trojans' defense react after a terrible effort at Hawaii? Who's got the advantage between UCLA's new pistol offense and Stanford's new 3-4 (which the Cardinal didn't use vs. Sacramento State)? How do the Huskies react to a disappointing loss at BYU?

Katz sharp in Oregon State scrimmage

August, 25, 2010
New Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz has answered every question he can during preseason practices. Now the question is what he can do in games. On the road. Versus top-10 teams, such as TCU and Boise State.

Katz was sharp in the Beavers' scrimmage Tuesday, completing 4 of 5 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns, including a 48-yard scoring strike to James Rodgers.

The Oregonian quoted coach Mike Riley on Katz: "He's got every bit of range. Every bit of range. And the beautiful thing is, he doesn't need a big runway to throw it in. He can stand there and throw the ball unbelievably far. ... the one thing we can do is threaten people down the field for sure.''

It also appears that Jordan Jenkins' production -- I think it's fair to say pleasantly surprising -- at running back has continued since the spring. He figures to help add depth at the position behind Jacquizz Rodgers after the season-ending shoulder injury to Jovan Stevenson.

Still no resolution at middle linebacker between Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson and Kevin Unga.

Some more notes on the scrimmage and video on Katz here. And a story.

The gist of all this: The Beavers look good on offense, even with a rookie QB. But the defense has some issues -- struggling against the run and yielding big plays -- while replacing David Pa'aluhi at MLB has proven difficult.

Opening camp: Oregon State

August, 8, 2010
Oregon State opens preseason camp today. Here's a quick look.

Who's back: Eight starters on offense, seven on defense and both specialists.

Big names: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers, DT Stephen Paea, K Justin Kahut

What's new: The Beavers coaching staff returns intact under coach Mike Riley. The Beavers will be breaking in a new QB in sophomore Ryan Katz.

Key competition: Tony Wilson leads the competition at middle linebacker with Rueben Robinson and Kevin Unga. Burke Ellis leads a competition to fill the right guard spot, the lone void on the offensive line. The depth is uncertain at running back. Who's the No. 1 alternative at WR to Rodgers? Darrell Catchings, Markus Wheaton or Jordan Bishop.

Breaking out: DE Gabe Miller flashed signs over the spring that he can be a threat as a pass rusher. Unheralded CB James Dockery might become more heralded this year. H-back Joe Halahuni might be ready to be known for more than his amusing tweets. OT Michael Philipp figures to be better after going from touted recruit to wide-eyed true freshman starter in 2009. The big-armed Katz has tremendous upside.

Quote: Riley on Katz: “Ability-wise, he has a wonderful arm. He can throw all the passes. He is pretty much unflappable, so I don’t think he’ll be intimidated by anything. He has two years of experience in the program. The transition always provides a mystery. Jacquizz (Rodgers) and the guys are going to have to give Ryan a lot of support, but he’s going to be good.”

Notes: Two returning defensive starters quit the team, middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi and defensive end Matt LaGrone... Outside linebacker Keith Pankey ruptured an Achilles tendon in February but is apparently ready to return to full-speed action in fall camp... JC transfer Dominic Glover, a former Oregon Duck, is expected to bolster the depth at defensive end... Peter Lalich, a Virginia transfer and the the likely backup QB, was dismissed in May after being arrested for a boating DUI... The Beavers were picked third in the preseason Pac-10 media poll and were ranked 22nd in the coaches poll.

Preseason position reviews: linebacker

August, 4, 2010
Linebacker is not an easy position to rate in the Pac-10. It's fair to say that only Oregon is worry-free at the position.

There are plenty of good individual players: Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, California's Mike Mohamed and UCLA's Akeem Ayers are getting preseason All-American attention and Washington's Mason Foster looks primed for a breakout. But other than the Ducks, every team gives you reason to pause over the depth chart.

So what's the pecking order?

Great shape

  • Oregon: The Ducks are fast and deep and experienced. Casey Matthews was second-team All-Pac-10, while Spencer Paysinger was his equal in production. Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokombo are impressive enough that returning starter Eddie Pleasant moved to rover. And sophomore Michael Clay might end up the best of the lot by season's end.
  • USC: Everyone read all about the Trojans problems at LB during spring practices, but that was mostly about a lack of depth. The bottom line is there are three returning starters from the Pac-10's No. 1 scoring defense, and sophomore Devon Kennard may be good enough to beat out Chris Galippo in the middle.
Good shape
    [+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
    Matt Kartozian/US PresswireVontaze Burfict had 61 tackles and two sacks last season.

  • Arizona State: Burfict may be the best middle LB in the conference, and Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons saw plenty of action as backups for a unit that ranked No. 1 in the conference in total defense. Still, there's reason to pause over the loss of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, two heady, productive players.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal switched to a 3-4 defense, and the lineup of LBs is impressive in terms of potential. Sophomore Shayne Skov is a budding star and Owen Marecic is a beast, though this will be his first season as a full-time LB after playing FB last year. It's possible Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser will be better OLBs than DEs. But we'll have to see.
  • California: Mohamed led the Pac-10 in tackles last year and, though two starters must be replaced, there's talent and experience on the depth chart, particularly if Mychal Kendricks breaks through. The Bears ranked second in the conference in run defense in 2009.
  • UCLA: The Bruins are breaking in two new starters next to Ayers, though MLB Steve Sloan started nine games in 2008. But Ayers may end up the conference's defensive Player of the Year, so he makes up for a lot of the issues here.
  • Washington: Mason Foster is as good a LB as any in the conference, and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who starts on the strong side is one of the Huskies' biggest preseason questions.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing their two best linebackers: Keaton Kristick and David Pa'aluhi. Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson both have significant experience platooning on the outside, though it remains to be seen how full-speed Pankey is after tearing his Achilles during the offseason. Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson are competing in the middle.
We'll see

  • Washington State: Though the Cougs are replacing two starters, they have plenty of experience. The problem is the run defense has been terrible the past two years.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats, you might have heard, are replacing all three starters. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are JC transfers who have never played a down in the Pac-10. Sophomore Jake Fischer is hardly a veteran. Things could turn out fine, but as the title says, "We'll see."

Opening the mailbag: Neuheisel vs. Sark discipline

July, 23, 2010
Happy Friday.

You can follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Tristan from New York writes: As a UCLA fan, I was impressed with Rick Neuheisel's decision to suspend the three freshmen who were accused of theft. They were all given a chance to rejoin the team and re-enroll at UCLA if they improved their behavior. Obviously Josh Shirley just committed to Washington, but how does this bode for Coach Sark and Washington? Seems like a questionable move.

Ted Miller: It means Neuheisel is a disciplinarian and Steve Sarkisian is slack! Kidding.

Coaches walk a tightrope on discipline. Go too harsh and you lose good players and maybe your locker room. Go too lenient and you cultivate a culture of limit-pushing where players act without fear of substantive penalty.

Neuheisel has a reputation -- fair or unfair -- as being a "player's coach" who is slack on discipline. The early impression of Sarkisian is he doesn't take a lot of crap. So the booting by UCLA and salvaging by Washington runs counter to the present impression.

But you know what? Coaches are paid to win. Neuheisel may have felt he needed to make a statement about discipline, so he may have helped his program, in the long run, by taking a notable hard line. Sarkisian really, really needs an outside linebacker. He probably thinks rolling the dice on Shirley will help him win.

You'd hope that Shirley is embarrassed about being caught allegedly stealing a purse and has learned his lesson. So, as a firm believer in second chances, I say good for UCLA and good for Washington.

Jeremy from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: With all the information coming out about agents, I saw [a commentator] say that the players should be paid $5000 a year. I used to be in favor of paying players, but then I realized that even just $5000 a year means universities paying out an extra $425000 a year. That probably means the elimination of at least one other men's team because of Title IX (travel and per diem allowance) and most athletic departments are operating in the red. I don't think a lot of big name universities (like Stanford) would be on board for this and I understand why. Do you think they could stop as low as $5000 (like that's going to stop future Reggies) or that it is even reasonable?

Ted Miller: You can't pay football players because you'd then have to pay all athletes -- at least at public institutions -- per Title IX.

Moreover, college athletes do get paid: They get a college scholarship, room and board and a stipend. When people say college athletes aren't paid, they either don't know what they are talking about or are being disingenuous. College athletes get paid about -- conservatively -- $30,000 to $60,000 a year (depending on where they play) even if they never set a foot on the field over five years.

How much did you get paid when you were 18 to 22 years old? Any parents of college-aged children out there think a full-ride scholarship sounds financially super-awesome?

I know, I know: College football generates millions -- heck, billions -- and everybody is getting rich but the athletes.

Know what really generates billions? The jerseys.

Old Dame from Portland writes: Do you see Oregon State's success hinging on the defense? Last year in losses they gave up 28, 37, 42, 37, and 44 points and on average 400 yards. The only game you could argue the offense was an issue was against Cinci. (don't give me the wind bowl and it's negative yardage punts). With what they have coming back, I don't see the offense being an issue again this year. In past years OSU had near tops in the conference defense but it disappeared last year.

Ted Miller: Well, we'll have to wait and see at quarterback. Recall that Oregon State is replacing the first-team All Pac-10 QB -- Sean Canfield -- with a sophomore who has yet to play a meaningful snap. Ryan Katz has looked great in practice, but you just don't know how he will do when the spotlight shines down on him and he's running from 250-pound ends.

But I hear you on the defense. I haven't had my annual summer chat with defensive coordinator Mark Banker yet, but I'd imagine some of last year's game tape gives him indigestion. The Beavers defense has been near the top of the Pac-10 most years under Banker but last year it ranked sixth in scoring (25 ppg) and sixth in total yards (350 ypg). While a downturn was not completely unexpected -- see the linked Q&A -- what was unexpected was how few big plays the Beavers were able to generate in 2009.

They recorded just 17 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference, and forced 16 turnovers, the fewest in the conference. For a defense that thrives on pressure, those are worrisome numbers.

At the end of the 2009 season, Oregon State's depth chart was encouraging: Nine starters were scheduled to return, topped by perhaps the conference's best defensive tackle in Stephen Paea. But then two starters with promising upsides quit: end Matt LaGrone and middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi. And outside linebacker Keith Pankey tore his Achilles (he's expected to be ready for fall camp; we'll see). More to worry about.

To me, the guy who holds the key in 2010 is end Gabe Miller. He's a great athlete who appears poised for a breakthrough as a pass rusher. With Paea collapsing pockets from the inside, and Miller hurling himself at the QB from the outside, the Beavers should generate more pressure -- so more sacks and more forced turnovers.

Oregon State is going to be pretty good next year. The difference between seven or eight wins and nine or 10 wins is mostly going to be about solid QB play and more big plays on defense.

Matthew from Corvallis writes: ATTENTION TED MILLERATTENTION TED MILLER I have started to notice that you don't seem to think that Oregon State is Oregon's arch nemesis (Please see Oregon's best case - worst case, specifically worst case where Locker wins the Heisman).Just so you know, since Washington hasn't been relevant for quite some time. Also, the Oregon State - Oregon rivalry is BIGGER than Ohio State and Michigan.Please adjust Oregon's worst case scenario, so that Rodgers wins the Heisman, because that really would be the worst thing to happen to UO.Thanks,Beaver Nation P.S. I better see this e-mail on the mailbag blog, or else I'll be forced to switch to Buker's blog, and nobody wants that.

Ted Miller: Have you been to an Ohio State-Michigan game? Yeah, well, me neither. But I hear it's super-cool.

Anyway perhaps that's a future poll question for Oregon fans: Whom do you hate more, the Huskies or Beavers? (I still think the Ducks hate the Huskies more but maybe I'm wrong).

As for Buker's blog, I'd be careful. That guy is all into a mind control and stuff like that. Just look at his picture.

Oregon State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010

2009 overall record: 8-5

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

Returning starters

Offense: 8, Defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: RB Jacquizz Rodgers, WR James Rodgers, C Alex Linnenkohl, DT Stephen Paea, DE Gabe Miller, LB Dwight Roberson, CB James Dockery

Key losses: QB Sean Canfield, LB Keaton Kristick, LB David Pa'aluhi, DE Matt LaGrone

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Jacquizz Rodgers* (1,440)

Passing: Sean Canfield (3,271)

Receiving: James Rodgers* (1,034)

Tackles: Keaton Kristick (95)

Sacks: Stephen Paea*, Gabe Miller* (3)

Interceptions: Lance Mitchell* (3)

Spring Answers

1. Cool Katz: Sophomore Ryan Katz entered the spring as the favorite to win the quarterback job and he didn't disappoint. He has a big arm and good mobility. All he is missing is experience. He'll enter fall camp as the clear leader, while Peter Lalich and Cody Vaz compete for the backup job.

2. There are plenty of offensive weapons: Everything starts with the Rodgers brothers, running back Jacquizz and receiver James, but it doesn't end there. Receivers Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop and tight end/H-Back Joe Halahuni will give Katz plenty of options when he distributes the football.

3. Solid in the secondary: The Beavers will be experienced -- not to mention big -- in the secondary, with three starters back from 2009 and all four first-teamers measuring over 6-feet. James Dockery and 6-foot-2, 219-pound Brandon Hardin are the corners, while Lance Mitchell, 230-pound Cameron Collins and Suaesi Tuimaunei have combined for 29 starts at safety.

Fall questions

1. Front seven issues: Taylor Henry stepped up at defensive end after Matt LaGrone quit the team, but what's unclear is if he can hold off touted JC transfer Dominic Glover as the starter. Things also are fluid at linebacker. Will Keith Pankey be 100 percent by fall camp after missing spring with a torn Achilles tendon? Will Tony Wilson or Rueben Robinson step in at middle linebacker?

2. How will the offensive line shake out? Starters Grant Johnson and Michael Philipp missed spring with injuries, which forced line coach Mike Cavanaugh to do some mixing and matching. The good news was the re-emergence of tackle Wilder McAndrews, who almost quit due to persistent wrist problem. It's possible that McAndrews could take over at left tackle and Philipp could move inside to guard. Then Johnson and Burke Ellis could compete at the other guard.

3. Who is Katz’s backup? The story of spring might have been Katz's impressive effort, but Vaz also deserves note. His rise is more about how well he played than Lalich not producing. Considering how often a backup quarterback is needed, this will be an interesting competition to follow during fall camp.

Post-spring Pac-10 power rankings

May, 3, 2010
The post-spring power rankings do not match the pre-spring power rankings.

Why? After all, no games were played.

Well, it's an extremely complicated process that's difficult to explain unless you are familiar with the jargon of sportswriting and theoretical physics. In layman's terms, a supersymmetry exists between bosons and fermions as viewed through a prism of the spring football action principle -- the Nambu-Goto action or the Polyakov action or the Masolian action -- which describes how footballs move through space and time.

Or, I just changed my mind. For now. (Still think Nos. 4-8 are a toss-up).

1. USC: The Trojans move up to the top spot not just because Oregon moved down when the Ducks lost starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to a season-long suspension, though that's the biggest reason. USC will have the best defensive line in the Pac-10, the value of which can't be underestimated, and the hunch here is that Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley are going to make beautiful music together. (Talked to a BIG Tennessee fan over the weekend who, while not a big fan of Kiffin -- surprise! -- acknowledged that his transforming quarterback Jonathan Crompton into a fifth-round NFL draft pick was a minor miracle).

2. Oregon: Oregon takes a step back without Masoli, but the Ducks weren't widely seen as national title contenders just because of him. Nine other starters are back on offense and eight on defense and if you watched the Ducks practice this spring, it was hard not to be impressed. These guys look like the fastest team in the conference.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers were rated No. 3 before two defensive starters quit the team: Linebacker David Pa'aluhi and end Matt LaGrone. Considering they are one of just three teams in the conference breaking in a new quarterback, they seemed ripe for a demotion. But sophomore QB Ryan Katz was so impressive this spring, the Beavers hold steady.

4. Stanford: The Cardinal make the big jump all the way from sixth. Why? We ranked them sixth because we obsessed over what was missing (namely Toby Gerhart) and what was questionable (the defense). They are now fourth because of what is there -- quarterback Andrew Luck, a good offensive line and solid receivers -- and the impression the defense will take a significant step forward with new coordinator Vic Fangio's new 3-4 look.

5. California: Considering the Bears were the only Pac-10 team with nearly all spring practices closed to the media, it's hard to form an impression other than one based on the pluses and minuses from the 2009 depth chart. And that impression remains: There are enough quality pieces here to believe a consistent senior season from quarterback Kevin Riley would make the Bears a top-25 team.

6. Washington: It's tempting to move the Huskies up just because of Year Two of the Steve Sarkisian-Jake Locker combinaton. But we're holding off until we hear reports that defensive ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson are back and running at 100 percent after sitting out spring with worrisome injuries.

7. Arizona: The Wildcats have plenty of talent on offense but the defense is replacing seven starters. Moreover, while reviews of the new four coordinator system -- co-coordinators on both sides of the ball -- were positive, it remains worthy of a raised eyebrow, at least until it is properly measured by actual game-day stress.

8. UCLA: The new revolver offense, a knockoff of Nevada's "pistol," got mixed reviews, but the rebuilding defense probably looked better than expected. Questions about the offensive line remain, and it's fair to believe that line will be the reason the Bruins either climb into the conference's top half or remain in the bottom five.

9. Arizona State: There were encouraging signs of offensive improvement, even though the quarterback competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Brock Osweiler, who appeared to lead as spring ended, wasn't resolved. It didn't help, however, that guard Jon Hargis, a starter the previous two seasons, blew out his knee and won't be available in 2010.

10. Washington State: Coach Paul Wulff called it the Cougars' best spring since he arrived. Every account notes that the Cougars will be physically superior to the teams that won just three games over the previous two seasons. Depth is clearly better. On the downside, it wasn't good that Toby Turpin got kick out of school and that Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are struggling to remain academically eligible. Those are three of the Cougars' top four defensive tackles.

Beavers' RB Rodgers eyes Roses, not Heisman

April, 27, 2010
It's been a fairly quiet spring for Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers. That's typical and how he likes it.

There are no issues or controversies with Rodgers. Just production. He's established and has little to prove. The only mystery is how spectacular his numbers will be in 2010.

Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREOregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers wants to break off more long runs for touchdowns this season.
He will enter his junior season needing 1,169 yards rushing and eight touchdowns to move into second place on the Beavers all-time list, numbers he easily eclipsed his first two seasons, once as the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year -- the first true freshman to win the honor -- and the second as a first-team All-Pac-10 running back. At his present trajectory -- if he opts to play two more seasons -- he'll end up second on the Pac-10's all-time rushing list behind former USC Heisman Trophy winner Charles White.

It's not a question of whether Rodgers will be good. He'll be a preseason All-American. Then he'll chew up yardage as a runner and receiver. It's a near-certainty, barring injury.

The question is how good? Will he be Heisman Trophy good?

The Pac-10 has plenty of candidates, though the list was whittled down by one when Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for the season: Washington quarterback Jake Locker, Oregon running back LaMichael James, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, to name the obvious possibilities.

Rodgers mostly shrugs when asked about the Heisman -- "I'm just out here playing football," he said -- but he is aware of Masoli's unexpected absence and what that might mean for the Pac-10 frontrunners, who happen to be the Beavers arch-rivals.

"Anytime you lose anybody that important to your offense, it's going to set you back just a bit," Rodgers said.

More than a few Pac-10 fans see Masoli's absence, as well as USC's 2009 slide, as beacons signaling that the conference is as wide open as it was pre-Pete Carroll, when eight different teams won or shared the title from 1995-2001.

So, does Rodgers see the Beavers stepping to the fore because Masoli is out? Absolutely.

"But even if he was there, I'd feel the same way," he said.

Oregon and USC are still almost certain to be atop preseason predictions for the Pac-10. The Beavers, a solid No. 3 pick, might have received more of a boost among prognosticators after the Ducks off-field woes and the Trojans coaching change if not for the unexpected defection of two starters from their defense: linebacker David Pa'aluhi and end Matt LaGrone.

But the impressive spring produced by sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz appears to be solving the Beavers biggest issue, which is replacing Sean Canfield. That might give rise to a simple query: Why not Oregon State?

And if Oregon State, which welcomes back 17 starters from a squad that was just a few Civil War plays away from earning a berth in its first Rose Bowl since 1965, proves to be a contender, Rodgers' Heisman candidacy will gain legitimacy.

What's not to like? His rushed for 2,693 yards and scored 32 touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2009, he caught 78 passes, which ranked second -- overall, not among running backs -- in the Pac-10. He's fumbled only once in 640 touches. A year after critics pointed out his lack of explosion plays, he produced at least one run over 20 yards in 10 of 13 games.

But Rodgers wants more. Twenty, 30 or even 40-yard runs? Not enough.

"I need to finish off long runs -- score those 60 or 70-yard touchdowns," he said. "That's what's missing from my game."

Rodgers will get a couple of good early showcases. The Beavers brutal nonconference schedule includes matchups with TCU and Boise State, both likely top-10 or even top-five teams. The Sept. 4 opener against the Horned Frogs will be played on a huge stage -- Cowboys Stadium -- which will represent a homecoming of sorts for the native of Richmond, Tex.

The going might not be easy early on, at least until Katz proves he can making plays in the passing game. Defenses will focus on Rodgers, stack the line of scrimmage with defenders and dare Katz to beat them.

But at least one person thinks the best way to get Katz going is to give Rodgers the ball and allow him to do his thing.

"If we get the running game started, that can help a quarterback get started," Rodgers said.

And if the big-armed Katz makes a few plays downfield, things might play out a bit like they did with Toby Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck at Stanford last year.

Which would mean an invitation to New York for Rodgers.

Former OSU LB Pa'aluhi may resurface at Hawaii

April, 19, 2010
It was a big blow to Oregon State when middle linebacker David Pa’aluhi quit the team.

A potential All-Pac-10 player in 2010, the official reason for the decision was Pa'aluhi had family issues and wanted to join the military.

It seemed an extreme and short-sighted decision at the time, but, hey, it's his life, right? And military service is certainly honorable.

It appears that Pa'aluhi now wants to play football again at Hawaii.

Says the Beaver nation: Hmm.

The Oregonian reports that the deal isn't done but that Pa'aluhi asked for and was a granted a release by coach Mike Riley and will be eligible to play in 2011.

From the story:
Riley said he was “disappointed’’ at how this is turning out but he was not about to slam the door shut on Pa’aluhi playing football again, or earning a degree.

“With his immediate family situation pretty much overwhelming for him (in Corvallis) maybe it’s best this way with more family around to help with the baby,’’ said Riley.

While Riley and Beavers linebacker Keith Pankey both seem a bit put off by Pa'aluhi's change of course, their reactions are notable for a lack of bile.

Said Pankey to the newspaper: “He’s my friend until the day I die, but he does play (again) I wish he was playing for us... As long as he’s happy and doing better, it’s hard to have malice for your friend even though he’s not doing what you want him to do.’’

Oregon State fans might want to salve their frustration over Pa'aluhi's machinations by taking a moment to admire Pankey's generous and level-headed maturity.

Quick notes from Oregon State's practice

April, 7, 2010
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Watched Oregon State's practice Wednesday so here are some quick observations.

  • While the big story is the quarterback competition between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich -- Katz is clearly ahead -- what I came away with was the feeling the Beavers are well-stocked at quarterback. Both Katz and Lalich look the part and can make plays. Redshirt freshman Cody Vaz also was impressive.
  • Vaz hooked up with split end Darrell Catchings on what might have been the play of the afternoon. Catchings hauled in a deep toss from Vaz under tight coverage by trapping it against his helmet as he fell out of bounds. "Good coverage, good catch," said coach Mike Riley.
  • Defensive tackle Stephen Paea is one thick dude. He played at around 285 last year and said he's around 310 now -- and it looks like all the new weight is muscle. It's well-distributed on his 6-foot-1 frame and he's far from top-heavy. His lower body is as impressive as his upper.
  • Receiver James Rodgers and cornerback James Dockery had a couple of nice one-on-one battles, with the 6-foot-1 Dockery holding his own vs. the powerful, super-quick, 5-foot-7 Rodgers.
  • Brandon Hardin has to be the biggest starting cornerback in the Pac-10. He's a linebacker-like 6-foot-2, 219 pounds. In fact, he and No. 1 safety Cameron Collins, who is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, have to be the biggest secondary pair in the conference.
  • The move of Kevin Frahm from defensive end to tackle seems like a good call. While he's undersized at 267 pounds, he'll be more effective as a quick tackle in the Beavers gap-cancellation scheme than as an end who struggled to disengage blockers against the run and was perhaps a step slow on the perimeter.
  • The loss of middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi and end Matt LaGrone -- both quit for personal reasons -- were substantial blows to the defense, but LaGrone's departure might hurt worse. Sophomore Tony Wilson is a capable replacement at linebacker, but it remains to be seen whether sophomore pass-rushing specialist Taylor Henry can be an every-down end. The coaches are crossing their fingers that junior college transfer Dominic Glover -- a former Oregon player -- will be able to step in and help immediately.
  • On the plus side, everybody seems to feel that DE Gabe Miller is headed toward a potential All-Conference sort of season.
  • It's obvious who is the leader of the offensive line: center Alex Linnenkohl. The three-year starter seems to spend almost all of his downtime during drills giving tips to younger players.
  • Incoming freshman quarterback Sean Mannion watched practice with his dad, John, who has been hired as Silverton (Ore.) High School's new head football coach.

Bigger shoes than you think: Oregon State

March, 31, 2010
Fifth in a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.

Oregon State

Everybody is talking about: The Beavers not only must replace their quarterback, they must replace Sean Canfield, who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors after posting an outstanding senior season. Therefore, the marquee competition this spring is between sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich.

Bigger shoes than you think: Middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi

The obvious answer here would be first-team All-Pac-10 linebacker Keaton Kristick, who started 27 games during his career and led the Beavers in tackles in 2009. But this isn't about obvious. Moreover, the Beavers will be moving senior Keith Pankey, who's sitting out spring practices with a torn Achilles tendon, to Kristick's strongside spot. Pankey has started 13 games while previously platooning with Dwight Roberson at weakside linebacker, so he's hardly green. There will be no such veteran presence ready to fill the void at MLB. Pa'aluhi, an underrated player who looked ready to blossom in 2010 as a junior, opted to quit the team for personal reasons and, reportedly, to join the military. He started all 13 games last year and ranked second on the team with 77 tackles and tied for second with eight tackles for a loss. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors.

Who is stepping in: It figures to be an interesting competition. Sophomores Feti "Kevin" Unga and Rueben Robinson and senior Walker Vave combined for 32 tackles in 2009, but sophomore Tony Wilson, who sat out last year with a knee injury, might be the frontrunner. There's plenty of potential here, but it's mostly unproven.

Oregon State loses starting defensive end

March, 29, 2010
Oregon State's projected starting defensive end Matt LaGrone has left the team for personal reasons, The Oregonian reported and a school spokesperson confirmed.

The Beavers started spring practices Monday.

LaGrone, a former Nevada basketball player, started four of Oregon State's final five games in 2009 and was listed No. 1 on the spring depth chart ahead of sophomore Taylor Henry, redshirt freshman John Braun and injured senior Mitchel Hunt.

According to The Oregonian, LaGrone was struggling with being separated from his family -- a wife and two daughters -- who live in Reno.

LaGrone is the second projected starter to leave the team. Middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi also left the Beavers to reportedly join the military. The Beavers also lost receiver Casey Kjos (injuries). Linebacker Keith Pankey will miss spring with a torn Achilles.

"It does (hurt the team), because [LaGrone] had made a lot of progress and played a lot,'' Beavers coach Mike Riley told The Oregonian. "I think we've got good depth. We've got young guys coming up who I think will be good players but it's a tough loss. ... it's just like Pa'aluhi. You've got a guy almost at the stage to get his best performance, and then he's gone.

Roster, depth chart changes for OSU

March, 17, 2010
Oregon State coach Mike Riley met with his beat writers Tuesday, and lots of interesting stuff came up.

Riley and his coaches have moved some guys around on the Beavers' depth chart. And the quarterback battle between Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich is a competition, not a coronation for Katz, Riley said.

Of note:

  • Kevin Frahm will move inside from defensive end to tackle. Frahm is more a powerful, high-energy guy than an edge rusher, so the move makes sense. Of course, Frahm, a 6-foot-2, 267-pound junior, will be undersized. But, playing next to Stephen Paea, he can expect some one-on-one battles that he can win with quickness. Frahm starts off behind Brennan Olander.
  • The best news coming from Riley was optimism that linebacker Keith Pankey, who will sit out spring after surgery on his Achilles' tendon, will be recovered in time to play next fall.
  • The battle at middle linebacker to replace David Pa'aluhi, who left the team for personal reasons, will feature Tony Wilson, Rueben Robinson, Kevin Unga and Walker Vave.
  • Jordan Poyer has moved from safety to cornerback, where he's listed behind James Dockery.
  • Sophomore Markus Wheaton and Darrell Catchings are competing for the starting job at split end. Looking at the receiver depth chart, the Beavers look strong at the position, with plenty of experience and talent, topped, of course, by James Rodgers.
  • The Beavers need to replace Gregg Peat at right guard. The depth chart features Burke Ellis, Colin Kelly and Colin Lyons.
  • A couple of guys to watch on the O-line are Timi Oshinowo and Wilder McAndrews, who are No. 2 and 3 at left tackle behind true sophomore Michael Philip. Both likely would have been starters last year, if healthy. Oshinowo is coming back from a knee injury, while McAndrews' status is decidedly iffy due a wrist problem that has limited him to three games over the past two seasons.
  • In addition to Pankey, five players will sit out spring while recovering from injuries, including starting guard Grant Johnson (shoulder). The others are: cornerback Sean Martin and defensive end Mana Rosa (both shoulder) and defensive lineman Mitchel Hunt and offensive lineman Rory Ross (both knees).

The Underrated Players of the Year

December, 16, 2009
Not everybody gets invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony or earns All-America or all-conference honors.

While stars -- playmakers on both sides of the ball -- are important, a team often thrives because of the lunch pail guys, players who do their jobs quietly and reliably off to the side and away from media and fan adulation.

Who played well in the shadows this season?

Here's a team-by-team list with their "Underrated Player of the Year."

Arizona WR Juron Criner: The 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore doesn't figure to be underrated for long. He led the Wildcats with 579 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, while 27 of his 43 receptions resulted in a first down or touchdown.

Arizona State LB Travis Goethel: Goethel, a senior, ranked third on the Sun Devils' stingy defense with 57 tackles, 40 of which were solo. He also had seven tackles for loss, one interception, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. His responsibilities including the thankless job of taking care of the opposing tight end.

California RB Shane Vereen: Vereen, a sophomore, rushed for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns as Jahvid Best's backup and then the Bears' starter when Best went down with a concussion. He rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns in the Big Game against Stanford. He also caught 22 passes for 224 yards, ranking third on the Bears, with two touchdowns.

Oregon LB Spencer Paysinger: Paysinger may have been the Ducks' best linebacker among three very good linebackers. The junior tied with Casey Matthews for third on the team with 72 tackles, with 6.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

Oregon State LB David Pa'aluhi: Pa'aluhi, a sophomore playing in the shadow of celebrity linebacker Keaton Kristick, ended up second on the Beavers with 67 tackles and seven tackles for loss. He also had two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

Stanford TE Jim Dray: Dray, a senior, is an outstanding blocker. He also caught 10 passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns, which ranked third on the team.

UCLA LB Akeem Ayers: Ayers, a sophomore, won't make this list next year because he appears poised for a breakthrough after leading the Bruins with 12.5 tackles for loss with six sacks and 66 total tackles.

USC LB Malcolm Smith: USC's defense seemed to play better when Smith was healthy. Despite playing in just nine games, he finished third on the Trojans with 66 tackles -- one behind MLB Chris Galippo -- with five tackles for loss and one interception, which he returned 62 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. He also had four pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Washington LB Mason Foster: Only Cal's Mike Mohamed has more tackles than Foster's 190 over the past two seasons -- and Mohamed edged him by two because he played in a bowl game. No. 1 in the Pac-10 last year with 105 tackles, Foster had 85 stops in 2010, which ranked second on the Huskies and seventh in the conference. He also led the team with three interceptions and set a school record with six forced fumbles.

Washington State S Xavier Hicks: Hicks' career hasn't always been smooth sailing, but the senior became a leader on the Cougars defense this season, ranking second on the unit with 81 tackles, including four for a loss. He led the Cougs with three interceptions and also forced two fumbles.