Pac-12: Dewitt Stuckey
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Dennis from Washington, D.C., writes: Rather than focus on high level Oregon at USC, what are your thoughts on the matchup between Oregon defense vs. USC offense? The questions for Oregon largely center on QB, but we know that Oregon's defense is stacked and fast, and USC's offense is going to be great on offense.
Ted Miller: The season hasn't even started and we're already zeroing in on Nov. 3!
Oregon is going to be very good on defense. Perhaps as good as the Ducks have been since the Gang Green days. Yet I'd give the USC offense anedge. The Trojans are a little 2005-ish -- as in epically talented.
The Trojans offense has no obvious weakness. Perhaps there's a question how well Aundrey Walker will play at left tackle. And there are some depth concerns on the O-line. But you have nine starters coming back from a unit that averaged 35.8 points and 456.8 yards per game. You have the best quarterback in the nation throwing to the best receiver combo in the nation in front of four returning starters from a line that gave up just eight sacks in 2011. You have two 1,000-yard tailbacks. You have two future NFL tight ends. You have an X-factor guy like George Farmer.
It almost doesn't seem fair.
In last year's 38-35 USC victory in Autzen Stadium, the Trojans jumped ahead 38-14 in the third quarter, as Matt Barkley threw four touchdown passes, before the Ducks mounted a furious comeback to almost force overtime. USC rolled up 462 yards on the road. Oregon fans point out -- reasonably -- that defensive end Dion Jordan and linebacker Dewitt Stuckey were hurt, and losing Jordan in the first quarter can't be discounted. He's the guy who should have made life tough for Barkely. USC fans would counter -- reasonably -- that wide receiver Robert Woods was playing on one leg and the Ducks still couldn't stop Barkley and Marqise Lee.
But to me -- and be prepared to hear this much of the season from me -- the big issue is the game being played in the Coliseum. That means you give a four-year starter at QB -- Barkley -- plus total control at the line of scrimmage with no crowd noise issues. That favors Barkley, though I'm sure more than a few Ducks would point out the same could have been said in advance of the 2011 Stanford-Oregon game with Andrew Luck.
And, oh by the way, the Ducks will be using a first-year starter in the biggest stadium in the conference. I know a lot of Oregon fans feel great about Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett, perhaps even liking them more than Darron Thomas. But this is the sort of game where you'd want a veteran such as Thomas behind center. And I bet Thomas, who's apparently still looking for a pro team to give him a shot, wishes he were there, too.
Now, just because I give the very, very good USC offense an edge over the good Oregon defense doesn't mean the Ducks are doomed. I see the Oregon offensive line having an advantage against a thin and uncertain Trojans defensive front. With Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Chip Kelly's very, very big brain, it's entirely possible Oregon will be able to go point-for-point with the Trojans.
Of course, both teams might want to take heed of the eight games that separate them and this hot date.
Spence from Salt Lake City writes: USC is the obvious front-runner in the South. If they are upset what team is next in line to represent the South division in the PAC-12 championship game?
Ted Miller: My pick for No. 2 in the South is Utah, though I've sort of got a nagging UCLA thing of late, which I'm trying to resist because I've gotten that bug before.
Here's the problem with theorizing about an alternative team winning the South: Can it upset USC AND take care of business for the rest of the conference schedule? To me, that means going no worse than 7-2 in conference play because I don't see the Trojans losing more than two conference games.
The Utes, with no games with Oregon and Stanford, and USC coming to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 for a Thursday-night matchup on ESPN, seem like the best bet to get that done. But they went 4-5 in their first year of Pac-12 play and were handled pretty easily by Washington, Arizona State and California, losing by a combined count of 100-38 in those three games. And two of them were in Rice-Eccles. Utes fans, of course, would note that they played those games without QB Jordan Wynn, who went down for the year in the first half against Washington.
It's possible that USC could implode, perhaps after losing a game it thought it would win or catching a horrible injury bug. But my present feeling is "overwhelming" would be the best way to describe the Trojans frontrunner status in the South Division.
Justin from Dallas writes: What's your opinion on early-season neutral-site games? Like Alabama v Michigan at Cowboys Stadium and LSU v Oregon last year there. Shouldn't these games be preserved for the campus? All about the $$ right?
Ted Miller: Well, yes, everything is about the $$. This is the USA. We like money. A lot. And if you don't, send me yours. I'll put it to good use, like buying a bigger TV.
I love these big intersectional games -- neutral site or not. They might be my favorite thing in college football, other than the Rose Bowl. If it's necessary to use a venue like Cowboy Stadium to lure nationally ranked teams from different conferences to play regular season games, so be it.
We spend a lot of time comparing conferences. To me, these games are most revealing. My respect for LSU as a program -- and its incredible 2011 regular season -- is based more on its beating Oregon and West Virginia than winning the SEC West. It took guts to make that schedule.
I do not doubt that the SEC is the nation's best conference. In our BCS system, it has been able to win six consecutive "national title" games. But I also firmly believe -- as do all SEC coaches and athletic directors -- that if the SEC scheduled more tough nonconference games, the size of its perceived superiority would narrow considerably. Why? Because if Florida or Georgia or Auburn or Arkansas or South Carolina scheduled more home-and-home series with teams like USC, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and the like, they'd lose a lot more often.
My hope with our new four-team playoff format and a selection committee is that it becomes a requirement -- if unwritten -- to schedule ambitiously out of conference.
Eric from Pullman, Wash., writes: Will Washington State be able to hold any Pac-12 opponent to fewer than 27 points this season (which was the fewest they allowed last year)?
Ted Miller: Maybe. But I suspect the Cougs will have to outscore folks, which is what Mike Leach did when he was at Texas Tech, by the way.
The Cougars allowed 34.6 points per game in conference play last year, which ranked 10th in the league. My belief is they will be a bowl team if they can become poor-to-middling on defense this year -- say surrendering 28 to 30 points per game -- rather than egregious.
But here's something that's simpler: 3-1.
The Cougs need to start at least 3-1 -- 4-0 is entirely possible, by the way -- to post a six- or seven-win season, one that will get them to a bowl game for the first time since 2003.
Rob from Redwood City, Calif., writes: As you are well aware, Cal has reinstated linebacker Cecil Whiteside, and added Khairi Fortt from Penn State. What impact if any would this have on your position ranking of the Cal linebackers? And even if neither starts how important is depth at a postion like linebacker when you run a 3-4 scheme? Do most teams really rotate players very often at this postion or are they important just in case of injury?
Ted Miller: Cal likely would boost up from the top of "Good shape" to the bottom of "Great shape." I'd still rate Stanford, USC and Oregon ahead of the Bears, because they have more proven players at the position. Both Whiteside and Fortt have seen action but they aren't sure things.
Cal had a good defense last year, and it's hard not to give conference Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks a lot of credit for that. And folks will tell you that while Kendricks was the engine of the Bears defense, fellow inside 'backer D.J. Holt was the brains. So those are legitimate voids they left behind.
I will say this: Cal has some real questions, such as receiver and offensive line. But its defense isn't going to keep Jeff Tedford up at night.
Scott from the U.S. Virgin Islands: Please please please help me settle a dispute that has been going on for months. Who is better at this point, Oregon or FSU? Every ranking on ESPN, Athlon, and the coaches' poll have Oregon ranked higher than FSU. The exception is Phil Steele's preseason ranking. I try to have this conversation with my FSU buddy but he will not admit anything. He agrees with Phil Steele on the rankings but then when it comes to strength of schedule by Phil Steele, Oregon 55th and FSU 70th, then Phil Steele doesn't know ACC football. I told my friend no one knows ACC football with the exception of VA Tech taking their usual thumping in the Orange Bowl. Please please please talk some sense into this guy.
Ted Miller: Tough one. Just like a lot of folks, I'm high on Florida State this year. But a significant part of FSU getting a high preseason ranking is its playing in the ACC. You need look no further than the past two Orange Bowls to make a definitive statement about the ACC.
If I were talking to your friend, I'd say something like this: "Did you say something? I'm sorry. I was distracted by this shiny Rose Bowl trophy, three consecutive BCS bowl games and 34 victories over the past three years. Where do you guys keep your trophy from the Champs Sports Bowl? I bet it's really cute, you little champ! Nice nail-biting, four-point win over Notre Dame. The Irish only lost by 14 points to a Stanford team we beat by 23. You lost four games last year. We've lost six over the past three years. Look I like your spunk. I like your enthusiasm. It makes me want to pinch your little garnet cheeks. But we're Oregon. We're there. You're a nice little team down below eyeballing our behinds. I'm not even sure I'm allowed to talk to a guy who's a fan of a team that lost to Wake Forest, Virginia and Clemson last year. Ergo, you've got the next round to compensate me for my noblesse oblige."
Darren from Monterey, Calif., writes: I'm getting a little nervous about the PAC-12 Network not coming to DISH. Should I be worried? Or should I wait until August 24th-ish?
Ted Miller: The Pac-12 Network is pretty confident in its position. It's already happy with its distribution deals on cable. And DirecTV has its own issues.
I think the deal will get done, though the Pac-12 Networks launch date of Aug. 15 is getting pretty close.
The satellite carriers have less leverage than the Pac-12 Network does. And you, as a customer with options, shouldn't be shy about telling your satellite carriers about how great cable looks with the Pac-12 Networks. If the satellite carriers don't make a deal with the Pac-12 Networks, they essentially are saying they don't care about major West Coast markets. They are throwing sand in the eyes of their Pac-12 footprint customers.
Here is a handy FAQ page for the Pac-12 Network.
Gary from Eugene, Ore., writes: Guess what a new Duck song is out by Xile, you can check it out here and the news story that talks about the former Ducks in the video.
Ted Miller: Every time I get one of these, I think, "OK, enough is enough. No more Oregon videos." But my policy is to post it if it's good, and that's pretty darn fresh.
Are they still saying "fresh"? Or did I just look really 40-something?
Excuse me while I pull up my black socks up from my sandals.
- There's plenty of work ahead for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.
- A tribute to former Arizona State great Randall McDaniel. Maybe former Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict was all-hype?
- California's renovated Memorial Stadium will be ready for the season opener.
- Colorado's Nick Hirschman isn't planning to hand the starting quarterback job to Connor Wood.
- A tip of the cap to former Oregon linebacker Dewitt Stuckey, who is funding a scholarship as a tribute to a high school teammate who passed away in 2010.
- Will those young Oregon State players forced into action in 2011 be better for it in 2012?
- The official release on Stanford's new linebackers coach.
- A chat with UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
- Things look solid for USC at cornerback.
- New Utah offensive coordinator Brian Johnson gets a nice raise after his promotion.
- An overview of Washington's secondary.
- Walk-on quarterback Alex Cappellini is hoping to make some noise this spring with Arizona.
- A list of ASU players who will either see limited action or are out for spring ball. Todd Graham also spoke with season ticket holders, and House of Sparky has the complete breakdown. Plus a podcast chat with Brandon Magee.
- Cal and Washington State have both targeted Marin Catholic quarterback Jared Goff, and a lot of the conference isn't far behind.
- A very cool story from The Register-Guard's Rob Moseley about former Oregon linebacker Dewitt Stuckey establishing a scholarship fund for a friend who died. Bryan Bennett talks about taking on a bigger leadership role as he battles for Oregon's starting quarterback job.
- Which Oregon State players are making the biggest strides in the offseason?
- Stanford is now the place for blue-chip football players. Ten players vital to Stanford's success next year.
- UCLA has decided to close its pro day to the media and the public.
- Previewing USC's wide receivers and running backs. Matt Kalil understands what it takes to succeed in the NFL.
- Former Utah lineman Tony Bergstrom could be one of the players to earn some buzz at the combine.
- Former Washington tackle Senio Kelemete is doing a combine diary.
- Former Washington State assistant Timm Rosenbach is the new offensive coordinator at Montana.
Alonso had played well this spring -- the Ducks' spring practices concluded Saturday -- but this doesn't figure to help his standing, particularly considering he was suspended for the 2010 season after a DUI arrest. That arrest, you might recall, came just a day after coach Chip Kelly met with reporters to talk about the run of recent off-field trouble his team was having.
Alonso, a junior from Los Gatos, Calif., ended up blowing out his knee last spring, so he wouldn't have been available in 2010 in any event.
As for the Ducks' options at middle linebacker, here's what Rob Moseley wrote in the Eugene Register-Guard.
Senior Dewitt Stuckey entered the spring atop the depth chart at middle linebacker, but Alonso pushed him early in April and then took over full-time with the first-string after Stuckey suffered a concussion in a scrimmage. They are the only scholarship middle linebackers currently on the roster, though the Ducks signed a talented group of recruits at the position in February, including four-star middle linebacker Anthony Wallace of Dallas, Texas.
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET at Autzen Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN2. Here’s the link to the Oregon spring game on ESPN3.com.
Questions answered: The Ducks lost five starters from the defensive front seven, but this one may be more a reload rather than rebuild. This is due in large part to the experience of the so-called new guys, most of whom saw significant action last fall. Ends Dion Jordan and Brandon Hanna -- returning starter Terrell Turner sat out with a leg injury -- and tackles Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi all played well. At linebacker, Kiko Alonso takes over in the middle for Casey Matthews, while Michael Clay, Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokomobo capably man the outside spots. More depth is provided by Dewitt Stuckey and Derrick Malone.
Questions unanswered: The defense was mostly in control this spring, and a lot of that was due to three new starters on the offensive line. Things aren't settled there other than tackles Mark Asper and Darion Weems and guard Carson York. Further, the Ducks are replacing their top two receivers, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis, and that may be a spot the requires help from a touted crew of incoming freshmen.
Spring stars: Jordan was an intriguing prospect when he switched to defensive end last season. Now he's starting to look like a player. Alonso missed last season due to suspension -- he also was injured -- but he's brought a physical presence to the middle of the defense. Running back Lache Seastrunk has played well enough to earn touches at a deep position. Spring always provides good walk-on stories, and the Ducks have theirs in Ramsen Golpashin, a fifth-year senior who's in the mix at offensive guard. Now some of you less sentimental sorts might not be thrilled with what a senior walk-on winning the job says, but let's see the glass as half-full.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There are a lot of reasons to like Oregon's chances next season.
The Ducks are coming off a 10-3, top-10 finish, which includes a massacre of Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl.
They've got more certainty at quarterback with Jeremiah Masoli than just about any other team in the Pac-10. They've also got a 1,000-yard rusher returning in LeGarrette Blount, a marquee tight end in Ed Dickson and two of the best defensive backs in the conference in corner Walter Thurmond and safety T.J. Ward.
|Geoff Thurner/Oregon Media Services|
|Chip Kelly takes over an Oregon team that finished 10-3 last season.|
On the other hand, both lines need to be rebuilt. Not to get too technical about football, but lines are important in this game.
Chip Kelly will finish up his first spring as Oregon's head coach with the spring game on Saturday, so it seemed like a good time to check in.
So any thoughts on firing your quarterbacks coach [former head coach and incoming athletic director Mike Bellotti] this spring?
Chip Kelly: No, I actually gave him an incentive package to stay, but I don't think that's going to work out.
Any surprises in the process of going from offensive coordinator to head coach?
CK: No. It was exactly what I thought it would be. A lot more time needed for things outside of football. Trying to manage your day and your schedule and whatnot -- you don't get to just go off to practice or lock yourself away in a film room and watch tape all day. There are other things you have to attend to. But I knew that going in. It's just trying to get a set schedule and stick to it. You've got to learn to say no to some things. But it's what I expected.
Can you give me a couple of examples of changes you've made on how things might have been done in the past?
CK: I think we're practicing -- trying to get as much as we can out of practice. Our attention to detail and focus on the individual practices. I think that's a hard thing, no matter where you are during the spring. Obviously, your first couple of practices in the spring, you're flying around. On your scrimmage days, you're flying around. We've tried to increase the intensity in every practice and tried not to waste a day. I think that's kind of our philosophy. Our goal as a team is to win the day, and I think our kids have really adopted that, knowing that no matter if it's practice nine or practice 14, we've got to maximize it because we only get X amount of chances during the spring to be together as a group. So it's about not just going through the motions but to actually invest yourself. And our players have done that. It's really just changing the mindset a little bit. They've really done that and it's really a credit to our kids and the coaches here. Same thing as a coach. You can think, 'Ah, it's only spring ball.' But we need to get better every day and our players have bought into that.
We've joked about how Mike Bellotti is a West Coast guy and you're an East Coast guy. Have there been moments when some of the players saw some of that edgy East Coast come out and it was a little shock to their systems?
CK: I don't know if it's a shock to their system because I've been here for two years. But I think maybe because I will talk to defensive players now and special teams players -- things that weren't in my realm as offensive coordinator. During special teams [the previous two years], I'd take the quarterbacks off to the side and it was an individual period. Now, I'm trying to help Tom Osborne, our special teams coordinator, get the best looks we can possibly get. That's a little different. But because I've been here I think our players understand my personality.