Pac-12: Devon Kennard

USC Trojans season preview

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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Previewing the 2014 season for the USC Trojans:

2013 record: 10-4, 6-3 Pac-12; beat Fresno State 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Final grade for 2013:: B-minus. That might seem high for a season in which the Trojans lost to Notre Dame and UCLA and fired their head coach, but the Trojans showed mental toughness instead of imploding, winning 10 games, a bowl game and achieving a final top-25 ranking.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesCan Leonard Williams and the Trojans' defense beat ASU and Arizona in back-to-back weeks in 2014?
Key returnees: WR Nelson Agholor, QB Cody Kessler, RB Javorius Allen, DT Leonard Williams, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Josh Shaw.

Key losses: WR Marqise Lee, C Marcus Martin, OLB Devon Kennard.

Projected win percentage ( Stats & Information): 0.711

Chances to win the conference ( Stats & Information):: 10.8 percent

Instant impact newcomers: OG Toa Lobendahn, WR/DB Adoree Jackson, WR JuJu Smith, DT Delvon Simmons.

Most important game: Nov. 22 at UCLA. The Bruins have won two in a row in the series. New coach Steve Sarkisian could endear himself to fans by ending that streak.

Biggest question mark: Depth. If the Trojans trot out their best 22, they can play with anyone. But they are still working with substantial depth issues due to the residual effects of NCAA sanctions. Two major injuries on defense, season-enders for OLB Jabari Ruffin and talented DT Kenny Bigelow, already have put a damper on preseason camp.

Best-case scenario for 2014: 11-1

Worst-case scenario for 2014: 7-5

Over-under win total (Bovada): 9

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Arizona. The Trojans are going to want a piece of Arizona State on Oct. 4, as the Sun Devils humiliated them in Tempe a year ago. That might leave them emotionally spent before a tough trip to Tucson.

They said it: "I don't look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played." -- USC QB Cody Kessler on whether he compares his numbers with the other Pac-12 QBs.
The honors keep coming for three former Pac-12 football players now with NFL teams.

Stanford's Trent Murphy, USC's Devon Kennard and Washington State's Deone Bucannon were all named Pac-12 Tom Hansen Conference Medal winners Monday, an honor that takes into account athletic and academic performance and leadership. Each school in the conference honors one male and one female student-athlete.

Murphy, a team captain, graduated with a degree in science, technology and society before being drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. The outside linebacker led the nation with 15 sacks and was a consensus All-American.

Kennard was a second-team All-Academic team selection in the conference as he worked on a master's degree in communication management. He was selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round.

Bucannon was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round after standout career for WSU in which he finished fourth on the school's all-time tackle list and third in interceptions. He majored in criminal justice.

Here is the full list of winners:

Arizona: Lawi Lalang (XC/track and field); Margo Geer (swimming and diving)
Arizona State: Cory Hahn (baseball); Stephanie Preach (volleyball)
California: Brandon Hagy (golf); Alicia Asturias (gymnastics)
Colorado: Andreas Haug (skiing); Shalaya Kipp, (XC and track and field)
Oregon: Robin Cambier (tennis); Laura Roesler (track and field)
Oregon State: Josh Smith (soccer); Jenna Richardson (soccer)
Stanford: Murphy; Chiney Ogwumike (basketball)
UCLA: Joe Sofia (soccer); Anna Senko (swimming and diving)
USC: Kennard; Natalie Hagglund (volleyball)
Utah: Ben Tasevac (tennis); Mary Beth Lofgren (gymnastics)
Washington: Sam Dommer (rowing); Kaitlin Inglesby (softball)
Washington State: Bucannon; Micaela Castain (soccer)

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.

USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, USC Trojans, Washington State Cougars, Oregon State Beavers, Jordan Zumwalt, Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins, Devon Kennard, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Tyler Gaffney, Stanford Cardinal, Deandre Coleman, Will Sutton, Colorado Buffaloes, Todd Graham, Arizona Wildcats, Oregon Ducks, Xavier Su\'a-Filo, Andy Phillips, Shayne Skov, Keith Price, Evan Finkenberg, Sean Parker, Soma Vainuku, Cassius Marsh, Xavier Grimble, George Uko, Hayes Pullard, Marquis Flowers, Taylor Kelly, Hroniss Grasu, Sean Mannion, Eric Kendricks, Paul Richardson, Anthony Barr, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Chris Coyle, Anthony Jefferson, Cody Kessler, Chris Young, Brett Hundley, Vincenzo D'Amato, Kevin Graf, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jordan Richards, Shaq Evans, Deone Bucannon, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, Marqise Lee, Khalil Wilkes, Kevin Danser, David Yankey, Davon Coleman, Dion Bailey, Alex Carter, Alden Darby, Terron Ward, Dres Anderson, Randall Goforth, Derrick Malone, Damante Horton, Connor Hamlett, Isaac Seumalo, Andrew Furney, Henry Anderson, Gannon Conway, Scott Crichton, Rashaad Reynolds, Ka'Deem Carey, Andrus Peat, Shaq Thompson, Will Oliver, Ben Gardner, Trevor Reilly, Ty Montgomery, A.J. Tarpley, Cameron Fleming, Trent Murphy, Su'a Cravens, Byron Marshall, Josh Mauro, Nelson Agholor, Ellis McCarthy, Marcus Mariota, Erick Dargan, Joe Hemschoot, Devin Fuller, Leonard Williams, Grant Enger, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Jared Tevis, Marcus Martin, Keith McGill, Marcus Peters, Ed Reynolds, Jamil Douglas, Bryce Treggs, Elliott Bosch, Tony Washington, Marion Grice, Eddie Vanderdoes, Ryan Murphy, J.R. Tavai, Carl Bradford, River Cracraft, Myles Jack, Thomas Duarte, Alex Redmond, Jake Brendel, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Tom Hackett, Bralon Addison, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Travis Coons, Robert Nelson, Tyler Johnstone, De'Marieya Nelson, Jaelen Strong, Tenny Palepoi, Steven Nelson, Tevin Hood, Micah Hatchie, Vyncent Jones, Jason Whittingham, Addison Gillam, Scooby Wright, Zane Gonzales, Sean Covington, Kris Albarado, Hau'oli Kikaha, Fabian Moreau, Javorius Allen, Jayon Brown, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Nate Phillips, Mike Adkins

Midseason report: USC

October, 15, 2013
It’s not too often that a midseason report includes the impact of a coaching change but such is the reality for the 2013 Trojans.

USC entered the season under Lane Kiffin and went 3-2 –- including two losses in the Pac-12 -- before athletic director Pat Haden decided it was time to make a change. Longtime defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named as the interim coach, and he instantly set about putting his touches on the program, including the popular gesture of returning cookies to the USC training table.

The Trojans won their opening game under Orgeron by holding on against Arizona, but now things get tougher with a road trip to South Bend to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and then a return home to play Utah, which just beat Stanford. Games against the Cardinal and UCLA also await down the road.

Look for Orgeron to continue developing the Trojans' run game behind a deep group of tailbacks that includes Tre Madden and Silas Redd. The big unknown right now for the offense is the status of Marqise Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner who suffered a knee injury against Arizona State and has not returned. On defense, the front line has been a bright spot with Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin but the secondary has struggled at times, particularly at the corner position.

Offensive MVP: Madden -- A former linebacker who sat out the 2012 season with a knee injury, all Madden did to open the season was rush for more than 100 yards in four of the Trojans' first five games.

Defensive MVP: Williams -- The Trojans are ranked among the top-20 defenses against the run and in sacks and tackles for loss. That starts up front with Williams, a dominant big man who is second on the team in tackles (36) and is tied for the team lead with 7.5 tackles for loss.

USC seeks fresh start under Orgeron

October, 10, 2013
Almost everything will be the same for the USC Trojans when they take the field Thursday night against Arizona in their first game since losing to Arizona State on Sept. 28.

The players are the same. The schemes/concepts are the same. Uniforms, helmets, etc., all the same. It’s what’s under the helmets -- specifically between the ears -- that might be noticeably different.

That ... and also a new coach. You might recall Lane Kiffin was fired nearly two weeks ago and the Trojans have spent the past 11 days going through a rebirth of sorts. The hope in Troy is that their minds are right for Thursday night's kickoff.

“There is a lot of energy and excitement right now which is a good thing going into the Arizona game,” said USC linebacker Devon Kennard. “When Coach Kiffin first got fired, some guys were really surprised and some guys were sad. After our first meeting, we bounced back and we’re ready to move forward and we’re really buying into what Coach O is doing and the direction he’s trying to take this program. We believe. That’s a good start.”

Coach O, being Ed Orgeron, was named interim head coach following the near-immediate dismissal of Kiffin following the 62-41 loss in Tempe, Ariz. He’s spent the bye week doing everything he can to put the fun back in USC.

“It was a critical week for us to get back to USC football,” Orgeron said. “These guys have been through a lot, so I tried to ease up on them and change a couple of things that were going on in the program. I thought we needed some change and to let the guys know it was going in a different direction. It’s been great. The guys have been walking around and smiling. There is a lot of energy in the room. A lot of energy on the practice field. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, but still focused.”

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesEd Orgeron has tried to lighten up the atmosphere at USC.
Kennard said many of the players were surprised Kiffin was fired. He added that they were aware of the outside noise, but few thought it would actually happen during the season. Kennard said he’s swapped text messages with Kiffin and thanked him for everything he did for him.

Then he, Orgeron and the Trojans got down to business.

“Coach O addressed the hard circumstances, but reminded us that the only thing that matters is the men in this room,” Kennard said. “We’ve got to fight the rest of the season. We really have a unique opportunity to turn this season around with a fresh start and a new beginning. That really fired a lot of the guys up.”

So what will the Trojans look like under Orgeron? Probably not too different than the previous Trojans. But Orgeron said there will be subtle tweaks that hopefully will have not-so-subtle results. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will call the plays and Clancy Pendergast will continue to run the defense.

“It’s hard to make wholesale changes in a week,” Orgeron said. “... There is hope. You’ve seen the running game; we’re making strides. Our strength is our running backs. The offensive line is doing a better job. We got out of whack in our passing game and it was not what USC used to be. We went back to some fundamentals. Some things they do really well and some things they aren’t ready to do. We’re making it quarterback-friendly so we can do some things we know we can do to get the ball deep.”

Arizona knows a little something about changing coaches in midseason. It happened to the Wildcats in 2011 when Mike Stoops was let go. The Wildcats came out the following game and beat UCLA 48-12. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said his team is preparing for an emotionally charged USC squad.

“I would hope we would play normally like ourselves no matter what,” Rodriguez said. “But I did tell the players that this game is going to be more difficult because USC is going to play extremely fired up, loose and come out with a chip on their shoulder. We will get USC’s best shot.”

Kennard and his teammates see the change as an opportunity to move forward and erase the negativity that has plagued the program for the past nine months.

“At this point in the season, coming off the ASU loss, things could be a lot more down around the locker room than they are,” he said. “But because of the change, there is a lot of energy and guys feel like it’s a fresh start and a new opportunity for everyone. In that sense, it gives us a clean slate. Nothing that happened up until this point matters. All that matters is the future.”

Quick look at Week 5 Pac-12 games

September, 23, 2013
Here's a quick look at Week 5 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

Colorado (2-0, 0-0) at Oregon State (3-1, 1-0) 3 p.m. Pac-12 Network: This is the first meeting of these teams as Pac-12 members. The Buffaloes lead the series 3-2, including a 28-21 win in 1988, the team's last meeting. There should be plenty of passing in this game. Buffs QB Connor Wood has passed for 370.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation, while Oregon State's Sean Mannion has passed for 401.0 yards per game, which ranks second in the nation. Mannion also leads the nation with 15 touchdown passes. His top target is Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation with 10.8 catches per game and has caught seven of Mannion's TD throws. Meanwhile, Woods has Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. The last time these teams played, Colorado rallied from a 21-16 fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 28-21 win. Buffs RB Eric Bienemy carried the ball 20 times for 211 yards and three TDs, including a 66-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to put Colorado on top. Oregon State QB Eric Wilhelm was 27-of-38 for 353 yards and 2 TDs.

Arizona (3-0, 0-0) at No. 16 Washington (3-0, 0-0) 7 p.m. FOX: Washington leads the series 18-10-1 but the Wildcats rolled the Huskies 52-17 last year in Tucson. Unlike the above game, this one might be about rushing. Arizona ranks fifth in the nation with 322.3 yards rushing per game, while Washington ranks ninth with 303.7 yards rushing per game. RB Ka'Deem Carey leads Arizona with 149.5 yards rushing per game, while the Huskies counter with Bishop Sankey, who averages 148.7 yards per game. Arizona leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (8.7 ppg). Washington is third in the Pac- 12 in scoring defense (10.0 ppg). The Wildcats have given up just 26 points through three games. The last time they gave up 26 or fewer points through the first three games of the season was in 1996. The Wildcats are 2-9 over their last 11 league road games, with five of those nine losses coming against ranked opponents. The Huskies are 3-0 for the first time since 2001, and have scored 34 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 2002. UW senior QB Keith Price tossed three TD passes to add to his Husky career record total of 61 (t20th all-time in Pac-12). Price has completed 77 percent of his passes this season with seven TDs and just one INT.

No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0) vs. Washington State (3-1, 1-0) 10 p.m. ESPN (CenturyLink Field, Seattle): Stanford leads the series 37-25-1, including a 24-17 victory last year. At 61 percent, Stanford is one of three Pac-12 teams with a third-down conversion rate better than 60 percent (UCLA at 68.3 percent, Washington at 65.9 percent). All three Pac-12 teams are among the top five nationally in third-down conversion. Stanford has won 11 straight dating back to last season, which is currently the second longest streak in FBS (Ohio State is at 15). Stanford is returning to CenturyLink Field, where it suffered its lone conference defeat last year, to Washington. Cardinal junior WR Ty Montgomery is third in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yardage (165.7 ypg) and averages 20.7 yards per touch. In the win over Idaho, Washington State junior QB Connor Halliday recorded his sixth career 4-touchdown game, tying Ryan Leaf for most all- time in school history. With 346 yards passing, he also posted his third straight 300-yard performance, and eighth career 300-yard performance. Sophomore WR Gabe Marks posted career-highs with 11 receptions and 146 yards in the win over Idaho. His 31 receptions this season are currently tied for fifth among all FBS players. The Cougar defense is allowing just 221.7 yards per game over the last three games. The Cougars have won three in a row for the first time since the 2006 season and are looking to make it four straight for the first time since the winning the final game of the 2004 season and the first three contests of the 2005 season. In last season's surprisingly close game, Stanford sacked Cougars QB Jeff Tuel a record 10 times.

USC (3-1, 0-1) at Arizona State (2-1, 0-1) 10:30 p.m. ESPN2: USC leads the all-time series against Arizona State, 19-10. The Trojans are 12-1 in the series since 2000, with ASU’s lone victory coming in 2011, a 43-22 win to end an 11-game losing streak. Prior to this millennium, ASU was 9-7 all-time against USC. The Trojans beat the Sun Devils in Los Angeles last year in a 38-17 rout in the Coliseum. Arizona State RB Marion Grice is ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring (16) and No. 5 in rushing TDs (6). Over the past six games, he has scored 14 TDs (11 rushing, three receiving), scoring once every 7.8 touches in that span. Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly set a new career high with 367 passing yards against Stanford, and is sixth in the nation at 339.7 passing ypg. USC OLB Morgan Breslin leads the Pac-12 in sacks (1.3 per game) and tackles for loss (1.8 per game) -- Breslin missed the opener against Hawaii due to injury. USC has four players on its roster from Arizona (OLB Devon Kennard of Desert Vista HS, C- OG Cyrus Hobbi of Saguaro HS, SNP Peter McBride of Chaparral HS and S John Auran of Brophy College Prep), while the Sun Devils feature 39 Californians.

California (1-2, 0-0) at No. 2 Oregon (3-0, 0-0) 10:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: California leads the series 39-34-2, but the Ducks prevailed 59-17 win last year. In that game, Ducks QB Marcus Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions, which was a 230.79 passing efficiency rating. Cal is facing its second-consecutive top-five opponent -- two weeks ago the Bears played Ohio State -- and third ranked foe this season. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff tops the FBS with 435.3 yards passing per game. The Ducks are 13th in the FBS in pass efficiency defense, so the Goff versus the Ducks secondary is an interesting matchup. Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is second in the FBS in scoring, averaging 61.3 ppg. It has scored 50 or more points in a game three straight times, and in 10 of the last 16 games. The Ducks have scored in less than two minutes in 23 of 28 scoring possessions. 12 different players have found the end zone for the Ducks.

Defense bails out Trojans again

September, 21, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- USC was hoping to use the game against Utah State as a way to build some positive momentum, but the 17-14 victory over the Aggies showed that the Trojans still have a long way to go.

Make no mistake, it’s always nice to get the win but this is a game where the Trojans had a huge advantage in field position and also got the usual solid game from the defense. Unfortunately, the USC offense couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities to put the game away in the second half and, if not for some special teams miscues by Utah State, the result could have been very different.

“It was a very hard fought game today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Very much like what we anticipated. I felt like there was a rhythm early on when we were able to run the ball, but obviously we wanted to finish better in the second half.”

USC started off strong with a Tre Madden touchdown run on the second series of the game to go up 7-0. The Trojans defense put good pressure early on Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, primarily with defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko as well as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin. USC dodged a bullet when Utah State clanged a first-quarter field goal off the upright, a miss that would loom large.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams, Hayes Pullard
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLeonard Williams (left) and the USC defense put the crunch on Utah State on Saturday.
Each team added a touchdown in the second quarter, and as the second half started it was clear it was anyone’s ball game.

The Trojans had their chances with the Aggies playing an eight-man front, leaving the USC receivers against man coverage. Normally, that would spell a big day for Marqise Lee and/or Nelson Agholor, but there were some dropped passes and some pressure on Cody Kessler which prevented the Trojans from capitalizing. Lee ended the day with six catches for 72 yards, while Agholor had two catches for 38 yards. Neither player reached the end zone.

“I missed some throws and we had some drops, but they are things we can fix,” Kessler said. “Thanks for the job our defense did, we were able to come away with the win.”

The USC defense is rapidly becoming known as the side of the ball which will win games for this team. Williams led the team in tackles with eight and added three tackles for loss. Uko had five tackles and a sack, Breslin had two sacks and Kennard added a sack. They did a terrific job of limiting Keeton -- who came into the game completing 78 percent of his passes -- to a rather pedestrian stat line of 21-of-39 passing for 179 yards and a pair of scores. Good numbers to be sure, but not enough to get it done against the Trojans.

“We had a good game plan from Coach O (Orgreon) the whole week,” Uko said. “We just wanted to angle in and rush tight and keep them in the box”

The battle for field position really started to impact the game in the second half, as the Trojans’ average starting field position was the Utah State 45, while Utah State started at its own 16. It didn’t help the Aggies that their punter had a shanked 12-yard kick at the end of the third quarter that led directly to a 25-yard Andre Heidari field goal, which proved to be the winning margin. There was also a strange fake punt from the Aggies on a fourth-and-11 from their own 34-yard line in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass from tight end D.J. Tialavea.

If you’re looking for bright spots for the Trojans, look no further than punter Kris Albarado, who pinned five punts inside the Aggies’ 20-yard line to help win the field position battle. Little things like that are big on a day when the two teams are basically even in total yards (285 for USU to 282 for USC).

Madden fell short in his bid for a fourth-straight 100-yard rushing day but did run for 93 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked three times and took several big hits.

Now the Trojans turn their attention to a big road game next week in Tempe against Arizona State. There was hope that things would be clicking after a four-game opening stretch that included three games at home but at this point the offense can best be described as a work in progress. Thankfully the Trojans have their defense, a unit which once again put the team on their shoulders to come away with a tougher-than-expected win.
HONOLULU -- There was so much talk coming into the game about the USC quarterback situation that the new look Trojans defense went somewhat under the radar.

After a disappointing defensive showing in 2012, the Trojans made a change at the coordinator spot by bringing in Clancy Pendergast to install his 5-2 scheme. There was a lot of hope that the transition would bring about instant results.

Well, if the performance against Hawaii is any indication of what’s in store for this defense, USC fans are going to like what they see in 2013.

The defense wasted no time as Dion Bailey got things started with a sack of Warriors quarterback Taylor Graham on the first play of the game.

On the next drive, true freshman Su’a Cravens got the first of what should be many interceptions in his USC career.

There was more pressure on Graham, lots and lots of pressure. Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams and George Uko were coming from every angle and the Hawaii offensive line simply couldn’t keep up. By the time the game was over the Trojans had notched seven sacks and had four interceptions of Graham.

In fact, the interceptions were the difference in the ballgame. USC was able to convert those interceptions into 18 points and they won by 17 points. You do the math.

The timing of the first-half dominance by the defense couldn’t have been better as the Trojans offense struggled to get going early. In fact, midway through the second quarter the score was 5-3 in favor of the Warriors but it was then that Hayes Pullard intercepted Graham at the Hawaii 30. Cody Kessler quickly hit Nelson Agholor with a pretty 19-yard touchdown pass and the Trojans were up 10-5.

On the next Hawaii drive, Graham was picked by Josh Shaw, who returned it 35 yards for a score and a 17-5 USC lead. From that point on the Trojans basically had the game in hand and the halftime stats showed how dominant the defense had been. Graham completed only six of 20 passes in the first half for 56 yards and he was sacked five times along with the three picks. The rushing numbers weren’t any better for the Warriors with 19 yards on 22 carries.

“We didn’t play very well on offense but we were great on defense,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I thought it was a very good effort and I liked the aggressiveness that we showed. Hopefully we can continue to improve on that as the season goes along.”

The individual stars were all over the place on the USC defense.

In addition to his opening play sack, Bailey added a third-quarter interception and led the team in tackles with seven. It was a good sign for Bailey, who had been banged up in fall camp with a hip injury in addition to making the position switch from linebacker to safety.

Williams had a pair of sacks to go along with five tackles, Uko had two sacks and Kennard had two tackles for loss along with a forced fumble. There were also encouraging performances from players such as Lamar Dawson and Jabari Ruffin.

If there is a concern coming out of the game it is the situation at cornerback. That spot was already a primary area of emphasis because of the coverage duties for the cornerbacks in the 5-2 defense and the loss of both starting corners during the game doesn’t help. Kevon Seymour left the game early after being on the receiving end of a big hit and Anthony Brown was later forced to leave due to an apparent ankle injury.

Torin Harris and Devian Shelton were the two corners for the remainder of the game and there were mixed results. Harris tied for second on the team with five tackles while Shelton had three tackles and both players had two pass break-ups but there were also some obvious coverage issues that will need to be shored up.

“We will have to get back home and check on the status of guys who were hurt,” Kiffin said. “That’s something that we will definitely have to deal with as we get ready for conference play.”

At the end of the day, however, this was a day to celebrate for the Trojans defense. A check of the final numbers shows some pretty impressive stats; on top of the sacks and interceptions there were also nine tackles for loss, a total of 23 rushing yards and four of 18 third-down conversions for the Warriors. That is some good defense.

Now the Trojans return home to face the wide-open passing offense of Mike Leach and Washington State and they do so with some good confidence about their new defense and what is possible in the coming season.
The Senior Bowl released its watch list for the 2014 game and 38 players from the Pac-12, representing 11 of the 12 schools, are on the list.

Arizona State leads the way with seven players, followed by Stanford and UCLA with six each. Arizona is the lone Pac-12 school not represented.

The SEC dominated the list with 72 players, followed by the ACC (48), Big Ten (46) and then the Pac-12.

The list, which is made up of more than 400 players vying for 110 roster spots, isn't set in stone. Additional players can be added throughout the year.

You’ll note some players are listed out of position -- mostly because they are expected to fluctuate back and forth. For example, USC’s Morgan Breslin is listed as a DE, but he’ll spend just as much time at OLB this season in USC’s new scheme.

You can see the complete watch list here. And here’s the breakdown from each Pac-12 team.

Arizona State (7)
  • Chris Coyle, TE
  • Alden Darby, S
  • Marion Grice, RB
  • Osahon Irabor, DC
  • Kevin Ozier, WR
  • Will Sutton, DT
  • Chris Young, OLB
California (1)
  • Deandre Coleman, DT
Colorado (2)
  • Gus Handler, C
  • Parker Orms, S
Oregon (5)
  • Taylor Hart, DT
  • Josh Huff, WR
  • Wade Keliikipi, DT
  • Boseko Lokombo, LB
  • Avery Patterson, DC
Oregon State (1)
  • Rashaad Reynolds, DC
Stanford (6)
  • Tyler Gaffney, RB
  • Ben Gardner, DE
  • Ryan Hewitt, FB
  • Trent Murphy, LB
  • Shayne Skov, LB
  • David Yankey, OG
UCLA (6)
  • Anthony Barr, LB
  • Seali’i Epenesa, DT
  • Shaq Evans, WR
  • Cassius Marsh, DE
  • Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE
  • Jordan Zumwalt, LB
USC (5)
  • Morgan Breslin, DE
  • Kevin Graf, OT
  • Devon Kennard, LB
  • John Martinez, OG
  • Silas Redd, RB
Utah (2)
  • Tenny Palepoi, DT
  • Trevor Reilly, LB
Washington (2)
  • Sean Parker, DC
  • Keith Price, QB
Washington State (1)
  • Deone Bucannon, S
Josh Shaw transferred from Florida to USC in the spring of 2012 thinking he was leaving an SEC power for a national title contender. Didn't exactly work out like that.

"I think everyone had big goals -- we all had national championship aspirations," said Shaw, a regular contributor for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2011. "But that didn't come true. In the middle of the season when we saw that going down the drain, we were like, 'OK, let's just win one game at at time and see where that takes us.'"

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireUSC defensive back Josh Shaw, who transferred from Florida, raved about Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defense.
It seemed, however, the Trojans were not capable of finding solace in more mundane goals. Where the mindset of winning one game at a time took USC was a 7-6 spiral into the muck, including a disastrous performance in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.

While QB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin took most of the blame, the mediocre play of a talented but underperforming defense can't be overlooked. And it wasn't. Kiffin gently led his father, Monte, a legend among NFL defensive coaches, out the door.

In came Clancy Pendergast, whose 3-4 scheme at California has morphed into a 5-2 for the Trojans. The early returns in spring were strong, and the early returns in preseason camp might be even stronger. Devon Kennard, back after missing 2012 with a torn pec, and Morgan Breslin look like a dynamic pair of outside linebackers, while Leonard Williams and George Uko are an A-list tandem at defensive end.

If fact, the Trojans' entire front seven looks stout, even with some iffy depth. The question is the secondary.

Check that. With Shaw moving from corner and Dion Bailey moving from linebacker to their more natural safety positions, the Trojans have added experience to a position deep with intriguing though young talent.

"I love it in this defense," Shaw said. "You're pretty much a general back there. You have to know what everyone else is doing. You have to be able to cover and come down into the box. You have to do it all."

So safety looks good. Cornerback? It's the big question on defense, and that likely won't completely work itself out until the final days of preseason camp, though the position is hardly bereft of talent.

Of course, the defense looked pretty good on paper last year, too. While looking back -- endlessly -- at 2012 due to media curiosity is not the No. 1 fun thing to do for the Trojans, it is part of the inevitable process of beginning to look ahead. It's about correcting mistakes and avoiding mental and emotional pratfalls that upended a season that began with such promise.

Shaw doesn't point a finger at Monte Kiffin. He points it at the players.

"I don't know if you can pinpoint one thing that went wrong," Shaw said. "Sometimes we just didn't come to play as a defense. Sometimes we had the right call in. You'd go into film and you'd see it was us as players not executing. It was the players more than anything."

That said, Shaw likes Pendergast's new scheme, in large part because it seems more conducive toward countering the diverse offensive schemes in the Pac-12, where one week you play a power offense such as Stanford and then square off with myriad versions of an up-tempo spread.

"The biggest difference is we are able to do so much more," Shaw said. "Last year, we only had a few calls. This year, we have so many different types we can call."

The chief call Shaw and USC wants to make, of course, is one that will silence those still tittering about the 2012 faceplant.
Linebacker should a strong position in the Pac-12 this fall. You could argue that six or seven guys are or could become All-American candidates.

So how do the units stack up?


Stanford: Three starters back for the Pac-12's best run defense, including All-American candidates Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Even the competition to replace Chase Thomas between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders is between two A-list veterans. Depth is good, too. Might be the best unit in the country.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr is a big reason why the Bruins boast one of the Pac-12 best linebacker corps.
UCLA: Well, start with Anthony Barr on the outside. The general reaction to him at media day, "Dang. He's big. I didn't know he was that big." Then there's the underrated Eric Kendricks inside along with the solid Jordan Zumwalt. There doesn't seem to be much concern about the vacancy at the other OLB, where Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orjioke and, perhaps, incoming freshman Myles Jack are competing.

USC: Inside 'backer Hayes Pullard and Morgan Breslin on the outside make for a good start, as the Trojans transition to a 3-4. Fellow inside linebacker Lamar Dawson had a forgettable 2012 season, but he reacted well to being challenged this spring. Then there's the return of Devon Kennard, who should finally feel comfortable playing the OLB position he was made for.

Washington: As previously noted, the Huskies are extremely strong here, though it doesn't seem that many folks realize it. They will. The general feeling among just about everyone is that Shaq Thompson will make a move toward All-American recognition this year, while Travis Feeney and John Timu also are well above average. Rush end Josh Shirley also merits note as a hybrid LB/DE in Justin Wilcox's amorphous scheme.


Oregon State: Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are both back, giving the Beavers speed and experience on the outside. Joel Skotte is expected to win the job at MLB. Depth is a little iffy, but the Beavers run defense was strong in 2012.

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite Brandon Magee is gone, and for that we are terribly sad. Incredibly productive Devil 'backer Carl Bradford is back, as are Steffon Martin and Chris Young, as well as Anthony Jones. Sun Devils struggled a bit against the run last year.

California: The Bears are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means Chris McCain is now officially a rush end, not an outside linebacker. But this is a better-than-you-think crew, despite the lousy numbers from 2012. Nick Forbes is strong inside, while Jalen Jefferson is back on the strongside. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt is finally healthy and ready to roll. Depth is a little questionable.

Arizona: Everyone is back, led by Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and the Pac-12 blog is of the mind the Wildcats are actually OK at linebacker. The issue is the guys in front of them not being very good at gobbling up blockers. Terrible run defense last year, though.

Washington State: We think one of the big surprises this year might be how solid the Cougars are on defense, and linebacker is one of several reasons why. Most of the 2012 two-deep is back, though losing OLB Travis Long is a big hit. Darryl Monroe is the leader inside.


Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks lost three of four starters. It's that they lost OLB Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay inside. Each is on an NFL roster, Jordan being a first-round pick and Alonso going in the second round. No team in the country lost anything approaching that at linebacker. Boseko Lokombo is back on the outside, but injury issues this spring prevented there from being much depth chart clarity.

Utah: While the 2012 run defense was solid, the Utes didn't play well at linebacker last year, though injury issues were the chief concern, preventing any type of week-to-week continuity. Trevor Reilly, who played "stud" 'backer last year, has returned to his more natural end position. A healthy Brian Blechen will take over at "stud" after bouncing back and forth at safety -- he's 230 pounds, too -- and that should help. Big area of fall competition here.

Colorado: Senior Derrick Webb is a strong presence on the weakside, but Jon Major and Doug Rippy are gone. The Buffaloes likely will be young here, see true freshman Addison Gillam topping the post-spring depth chart.

You can see previous previews here:


Running back


Tight end

Offensive line


USC's new defensive scheme for the 2013 season should maximize the talent the Trojans have in the front seven.

Mailbag: Colorado blues

May, 17, 2013
Another healthy mailbag. Settle in.

As always, follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Ex-Buff fan in Pac-12 dungeon writes: I am so sick of Colorado being the loser on the block. We were two points away from having ZERO wins last year. I was pumped about our new coach until I hear that he can't even hang on to the few good players we have. Not to mention we have? you guessed it ZERO quality recruits for 2014. Give it to me straight doc: how bad will this year be in terms of win total? Because last year, besides Southern Miss, we were the absolute laughing stock of college football. A retirement home football team could have beaten us.

Kevin Gemmell: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Buck up little camper. Step away from the ledge, inhale deeply, take a cleansing breath and settle down.

I tend to lean more on the glass-half-full side of life. How about this ... you were only 14 points away from having four wins last year -- three more games were decided by a touchdown or less. If you want to make the argument for the lone win, then you also have to concede that they were competitive in those other games.

As for recruiting, it's May. Relax. Yes, we post the recruiting roundup every few weeks. But that's simply to inform. Mike MacIntyre knows how to recruit -- and more importantly he knows how to recruit California. That's going to pay huge dividends in the future.

Players who have left -- meh. Do you need them? If they aren't on board with what Mac's trying to do, so be it. See ya. Make room for someone who is. Of those who left, how many were all-conference?

Win total this year, well, that's going to take a leap of faith on the part of the fans. Remember, San Jose State lost more games in MacIntyre's first year than the year before. But in Year 2 there was progress and by Year 3 they were a Top 25 team. So, and I know Colorado fans are tired of hearing this, you're going to have to be patient and let him do what he does. You probably won't see the results in the win/loss column this year -- although I do think Colorado can do better than 1-11. My best advice is don't lose faith. I think you guys have a good thing going with MacIntyre. It's just going to take time.

BHollandz next to Burrito Stadium writes: I used to be a Coach Riley supporter until I witnessed the horrific season of 2011 and the blunders of the 2012 season. Alamo Bowl game anyone????People say that Oregon State has the best coach it will ever get and that us fans should just be satisfied with that. Well, I'm not satisfied. I want a Rose Bowl and eventually a shot a Championship. Do you think it's possible for OSU to attract a high profile coach to succeed Coach Riley and get the Beavers to the next level? This is big time Pac-12 football after all.

Kevin Gemmell: This is a lot darker and more cynical from you than I expected. The grass always seems greener, but be aware Riley isn't going anywhere for a while. Which high-profile coach would you like?

Maybe a guy who has been a coach of the year? Perhaps someone with more than 80 career wins? Experience at the professional ranks would probably be good also. It's got to be someone who sells tickets and knows how to pack Reser Stadium and you'll want a veteran guy with almost 40 years of coaching experience.

You see where I'm going with this ... you've got him! Yes, he had two bad seasons. But in his 10 years since coming back, he's won at least eight games six times, led OSU to eight bowl games and consistently had the Beavers ranked in the Top 25. Last year was the hottest start in the history of the school. And you're already talking replacements?

Maybe I'm biased since I've known him since the Chargers days, but I know he shares the same goals as you. I do think that mistakes were made in the Alamo Bowl -- it had more to do with not adjusting offensively -- not getting more help to account for Alex Okafor -- but I'm not sold that a coach should be judged by one game. When you look at his body of work, it's outstanding. I don't know if he's the best coach you'll ever get. But he has more career wins at Oregon State than any other coach before him (81). That should be celebrated.

Ryan in New York writes: I have to give you chaps credit. You know how to make a point without being mean or hurtful. Good point about for every Ryan, there's a UCLA guy screaming just the opposite. But remember there's one difference. Us Trojans love SC above all. UCLA fans hate SC more than they love themselves.......Also, excellent point on Devon Kennard too. He must stay healthy and play well. Pass the good word to your partner in crime -- Theodore. Peace.

Kevin Gemmell: I won't get into which fan base loves itself or hates the other more. That's for the individual to decide through deep and meditative soul searching. I'm a big Kennard fan and think USC is going to experience a nice defensive boost by moving to the 3-4. Some guys are just better equipped for different schemes.

Now, I know I'm going to tick you off with this next point, but it's apt. UCLA's Datone Jones got into a 3-4 and absolutely exploded -- showing the potential that many believed he had but we'd rarely seen with him in the even front. Coming full circle, I see the same type of production from Kennard and Breslin, Leonard Williams and George Uko and even Dion Bailey moving back to safety. This is a good move for the Trojans. So says the clown.

Nameless in Escondido, Calif., writes: When will Stanford let Ricky Seale play, had another great spring. One of the best backs from San Diego no way he cannot play at Stanford.

Kevin Gemmell: Because Stanford closes its practices and is usually tight-lipped when it comes to position battles, all I can say is I don't know. Obviously there is something going on behind the scenes that is holding Seale back -- either he's not performing in practice or others are simply performing better.

And I'm a big Seale fan, having covered him since he was as sophomore in high school. I spent many a Friday night in Wilson Stadium watching him tear up defenses.

But I'm not in the position group meetings so I don't know what's being discussed. It's a deep group and the return of Tyler Gaffney (another San Diego great) makes it even deeper. From a coach's perspective, though, this is the proverbial great problem to have.

Darin in Monterey, Calif., writes: Good video with Mike Riley, My question is now that the Beavers have a pretty solid O-line, do you think that Storm will top 1,000 yards this year on the ground? It seems Oregon State has been lacking on thousand yard rushers like Simonton, Jackson, and jacquizz. I do like what i saw last year in Woods and Ward.

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, assuming he stays healthy, I have no problem going out on a very easy limb to go out on and say Woods is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013.

When you consider the receivers they had last year -- and the quietly efficient season of Connor Hamlett -- it made sense that the passing game was the stronger element of the offense. But with Markus Wheaton gone and question marks on exactly who is going to step up at the other receiver spot opposite Brandin Cooks, I think we're going to see an even bigger commitment to the run game -- which will take some of the pressure off the receiving corps. As noted in the video, the running game improved from 2011 to 2012. I think we're going to see it take an even bigger step in 2013 behind Woods.

Andy in Phoenix writes: Right now we only play one game back east the Alamo Bowl and not to many games against other Power 5 conferences except Big 12. Any word on what the bowl line up will look like in 2014?

Kevin Gemmell: I don't. The Pac-12 is heading into the final year of a four-year agreement with its current bowl lineup. Whenever I ask about it, I get the company line that they are very pleased with their bowl partners and look forward to continuing to work with them.

I agree: I'd love to see a Pac-12/SEC bowl game. But at the same time, let's remember that the Pac-12 hasn't exactly dominated the postseason of late -- so there isn't a lot of room for chest-thumping. Outside of the 2-0 mark in BCS bowl games last year, the Pac-12 went 0-3 against other BCS conferences and 2-1 against non-BCS conferences.

Had they gone 8-0, 7-1 or even 6-2, then I'd say it's time to bump up the competition level and get some more competitive games. But 4-4 isn't blowing anyone's socks off. And the Pac-12 is 40-41 in bowl games since 1999. I think it'd be more beneficial to dominate the current bowl lineup before worrying about bigger, badder competition.

Uh oh Chongo in Danger Island writes: Colorado and Utah are still having a bit of a rough go in the new conference. Two questions - which of those two gets to the Pac-12 title game first, and what do those programs need to do to get there?

Kevin Gemmell: Yikes, the crystal ball just melted down. So much of which team gets to the title game first depends a lot on what happens with other teams in the division. And it doesn't look like Jim Mora, Rich Rodriguez or Todd Graham are going anywhere quickly. And regardless of what happens with Lane Kiffin at the end of this year, USC is still going to be USC.

Utah is in a stronger position right now simply because it has continuity among the coaching staff. The new facilities will be open this summer and I think the addition of Dennis Erickson to the staff is going to pay dividends in years to come. That's probably not a hire the Utes could have made had they still been in the Mountain West -- financially or from a high-profile perspective.

Colorado, well, see the above answer. They are a long ways off from being in the mix for the league title game.

They keys for both of these teams -- and really every other team in the conference -- is depth and player development. Everyone can put a solid 22 on the field. But what does your next 22 look like? When that star player goes down, who can step in so you barely miss a beat? Who can turn that borderline recruit into an all-conference player?

ASU had injuries on the defensive line last year and they went into a skid. Washington battled offensive line injuries last year and were inconsistent. Utah's quarterback carousel last year was unfortunate -- but you've got to have that depth to be able to handle the losses.

The teams that can handle that -- Bryan Bennett stepping up for Darren Thomas; A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster stepping in for Shayne Skov; Oregon's safeties stepping up when they lost John Boyett -- these are the teams that are ultimately the most successful.

William Shatner at Priceline HQ writes: Hey Kevin, you've been doing a lot more work than Ted these past two weeks. Looks like you could use a vacation. I'll take care of airfare if you tell me what your ideal vacation would be?

Kevin Gemmell: Ted has been hitting the lecture circuit hard the last couple of weeks, appearing at several Ivy League schools to deliver his motivational speeches: "Who else besides Pitt hates freedom?" "Please note that you are wrong," and "Boy, I could sure use a me-tini."

He'll be back Monday.

As for me, every trip through the comments section is a daily vacation. By the way, I loved you as General Mortars in Loaded Weapon 1.
The recent selections of Will Sutton, Shayne Skov, Anthony Barr and Devon Kennard in our "Most Important Player" series has given rise to a very interesting question posed to me in the mailbag. As always, mailbags come out Friday afternoons, but Jerry in San Jose offered this: Kevin, we know Stanford has the best front seven in the league. Which team has the next best?

I won't be answering this question in tomorrow's mailbag for a very simple reason. I don't know. Nor do I immediately agree with his initial premise that Stanford has the best front seven. It might. But so might ASU, or UCLA and I think USC has to be in this conversation, especially if the transition to the 3-4 works the way many think it will.

Stopping the run is the primary role of the front seven, and Stanford certainly was the best in the league at that last year. So is making plays in the backfield, sacks, TFLs etc. Three of the top four and four of the top eight teams nationally in sacks last year hailed from the Pac-12. While it's true this is the conference of quarterbacks, it's also quickly turning into the conference of planting quarterbacks on their keisters.


Which Pac-12 team has the best front seven heading into 2013?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,275)

Instead of hitting this in the mailbag and opining for 700 words only to come with "I don't know" as the answer, it seemed like a dandy of a poll question.

Which Pac-12 team has the best front seven heading into the 2013 season?

Your options:

Arizona State: The Sun Devils were the best team in the country last year at getting tackles for a loss and they were No. 2 nationally in sacks. But they came up short stopping the run, allowing 182.8 yards per game on the ground. Still, with headliners Will Sutton and Carl Bradford flanked by an outstanding supporting cast, they should again be at the top of the rankings in backfield-havoc created.

Stanford: With three All-American candidates in Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, it's awfully easy to make an argument here for the Cardinal. They were No. 1 in the nation in sacks, second in tackles for a loss and fifth nationally against the run. Impressive, considering some of the offenses and running backs they faced. It's a deep and experienced group that has scary potential.

UCLA: They return the league's leading tackler in linebacker Eric Kendricks and the dangerous Anthony Barr, who is projected as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. I'm also of the belief that Cassius Marsh is going to have a monster season this year. But the loss of Owamagbe Odighizuwa for the year hurts.

USC: Any scheme that is going to make Morgan Breslin a better pass-rusher is frightening. Add on a healthy Devon Kennard and the league's freshman defensive player of the year in Leonard Williams, and you have a front seven that matches the talent of any in the league.

Other: Cal has a solid front led by standout defensive end in Deandre Coleman. Nick Forbes is a tested linebacker and a lot of folks are excited to see what a healthy Khairi Fortt can do. Oregon State has to rebuild its tackles, but the ends duo of Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn rival any in the conference and they are strong at LB with Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy watch list for 2013 has been announced and the Pac-12 is well-represented. Of the 42 players on the watch list, 11 hail from the Pac-12 with a wide range of players from all levels of defense.

The award, named in honor of USC and San Francisco 49ers great Ronnie Lott, goes to the country's Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year (IMPACT stands for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity) and, per its website "is unique because it represents the first trophy to give equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance from a defensive college player and is the first national college football award based on the West Coast."

Here are the Pac-12 players on the watch list:
The lone winner of the award from the conference was Cal's Dante Hughes, who won in 2006.



Friday, 10/24
Saturday, 10/25