Pac-12: Dez Bryant

Which juniors jump?

December, 11, 2009
12/11/09
12:19
PM ET
Every year teams lose stars a year early to the NFL draft.

Heck, sometimes they even lose middling players -- see California tight end Cameron Morrah leaping early last winter so he could catch one pass for three yards as a Seattle Seahawks seventh-round draft choice.

Some big Pac-10 names appear to be on the cusp of bolting early so they can get paid to play on Sundays.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Here are the candidates.

Arizona

TE Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski figures to be torn. He's said he will return to Arizona if he's not a certain first-round draft pick. He's certainly got first-round talent. The issue will be whether NFL teams will be worried about the back injury that sidelined him the entire season. And Gronkowski surely has to look at the quarterback Nick Foles and the offensive firepower the Wildcats will welcome back in 2010 and know he could play his way into the top-half of the first round with a big showing next fall.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.

California

RB Jahvid Best

Best is a first-round talent who might fall out of the first round for a variety of reasons, chief among them his durability. That also is a big reason the Best should take the leap. Running backs only have so many years in them.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

Oregon State

DT Stephen Paea

The first-team All-Pac-10 defensive tackle didn't put up huge numbers this year and he's still learning the game, but he is a powerhouse whose measurables would be impressive and he might star in the right scheme.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? Yes.

WR James Rodgers

Rodgers has put together three consecutive strong seasons, each better than the last. He's not big, but he's a playmaker with diverse skills and will be one at the next level. Of course, he's poised to become a star next fall, which likely will be his last opportunity to play beside his brother, Jacquizz.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? Yes.

Stanford

RB Toby Gerhart

He's gone. Good for him.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

UCLA

DT Brian Price

Price was the most dominant defensive player in the Pac-10 this year. He might be a first-round pick, though there are some big-time D-tackles who figure to get selected ahead of him. If he came back, he might be the first one taken in 2011.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

USC

WR Damian Williams

Williams was the best pure receiver in the Pac-10 this year and he also can return punts. He could be a late first-round pick. In fact, he might be the second receiver off the board behind Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant.

Should he return? No. Will he return? No.

DE Everson Griffen

Griffen is a great talent and he had a good year, though not a great one. NFL scouts will be impressed by his combination of size and speed and his ability to rush the passer off the edge. Of course, with the Trojans entire front seven returning next fall, he could put up huge numbers and play his way into the top-10 in 2011.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.

Washington

QB Jake Locker

For some Washington observers, even great admirers of Locker, it seems slightly strange that Locker is widely projected as a top-10 pick, perhaps the second -- or even first -- quarterback taken this spring. Locker is an outstanding talent who eclipsed expectations with how quickly adapted to a pro-style scheme, but he's still a work in progress. The reason to return is fairly simple: At his present pace of development, Locker would go first overall in the 2011 draft.

Should he return? Yes. Will he return? No.

Best-Worst of the Pac-10 bowls

January, 13, 2009
1/13/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Superlatives from the bowl season. In both directions.

 
  Charles Baus/Icon SMI
  Mark Sanchez completed 28 of 35 passes, setting the Rose Bowl record for completion percentage.

Best performance by a leading man: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez accounted for five touchdowns -- four passing -- and completed 28 of 35 passes for 413 yards in the Trojans 38-24 blitzing of Penn State in the Rose Bowl. After being blamed much of the season for USC's inconsistent offense, Sanchez turned in the day's most spectacular performance, one that might have proved he's NFL-ready.

Best defense: With its offense struggling without James and Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State's defense throttled Pittsburgh to secure a 3-0 victory in the Sun Bowl. The Beavers had five sacks and held the Panthers to just 178 yards and 10 first downs and limited All-American running back LeSean McCoy to just 85 yards on 24 carries. Pittsburgh's deepest penetration was the Beavers' 36-yard line. This is the same unit that gave up 65 points and 694 yards to Oregon in the regular-season finale.

Worst start: Oregon's defense looked, well, defenseless to start the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State, giving up 199 yards and 17 points in the first quarter. Cowboys quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant hooked up seven times for 89 yards and a touchdown in the first frame. The Ducks, however, would surrender 270 yards and 14 points over the final three quarters.

Best defensive play: With the score tied and 3:28 left in the Emerald Bowl, California linebacker Zack Follett caught Miami quarterback Jacory Harris from behind and slapped away the football. Cal recovered on the Hurricanes' 2-yard line, setting up the game-winning touchdown pass from Nate Longshore to Anthony Miller. It was Follett's second sack of the game, but the savvy play was the cornerstone of the Bears' 24-17 win.

Worst way to set a record: Arizona receiver Mike Thomas had a great career but he didn't have a good Las Vegas Bowl. He entered the game needing just three receptions to eclipse former Arizona State great Derek Hagan's Pac-10 career record of 258. He broke the record on a 3-yard pass on the final play of the game, during garbage time when the Wildcats' victory was well in hand.

Best hit, quarterback class: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli set the Ducks physical tone in the second half of the Holiday Bowl by running over Oklahoma State safety Quinton Moore on a 41-yard touchdown run. Masoli finished with three rushing touchdowns and one passing.

Best Heisman Trophy showcase: California running back Jahvid Best was spectacular while rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Miami in the Emerald Bowl, accounting for well over half of the Bears' offense on the evening. The sophomore had runs of 42, 32, 28 and 25 yards, and probably earned a spot on most short lists for the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

Worst fourth quarter: USC probably lost a couple of potential No. 1 votes when it went to sleep in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl and gave up 17 points and 159 yards to Penn State. While the Nittany Lions deserve credit for fighting until the end, college football fans -- and pollsters -- were reminded how indifferent the Trojans can look at times.

Best way to go out as a record-setting senior: Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama rewrote the Wildcats' passing record book but never led his team to a bowl game, much less a bowl victory, until the final game of his four years as a starter. And he saved his best for last, completing 24 of 35 for 325 yards and two touchdowns, leading Arizona to its first bowl win in a decade. He also ran six yards for a score.

Best bowl records (tie): Oregon State's Mike Riley improved to 5-0 in the postseason as the Beavers' coach. While you can't argue with perfection, it's hard to ignore that USC's Pete Carroll improved to 6-2 in bowl games since he took over at USC, including a 6-1 mark in BCS bowls.

Holiday Bowl: Oregon 42, Oklahoma State 31

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
12:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It looked like a potential Oklahoma State blowout. Then it became a swirl of momentum shifts.

 
  AP Photo/Denis Poroy
  Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson, left, celebrates with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli after Johnson's 76-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma State during the first quarter of the Holiday Bowl.

And then Oregon just asserted itself with a physical brand of Pac-10 football that wore down the Cowboys.

In a battle of big-time offenses, the Ducks pounded the Cowboys with 307 of their 566 yards coming on the ground in a 42-31 victory in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl.

As for defense, the Ducks were vastly superior.

Before the game, a few of the Ducks defensive players -- namely All-American end Nick Reed -- groused about not getting respect.

When the Cowboys jumped to a 17-7 first-quarter lead, gaining nearly 200 yards in the process, their gripes made them look silly.

But Oklahoma State, which rushed for only 118 yards, scored just 14 points over the final three quarters.

So the Ducks defense, which pounded quarterback Zac Robinson and took control of the line of scrimmage, deserves nearly as much credit as an offense that scored 35 second-half points.

Now there is a huge qualifier: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant was the best player on the field in the first half. But he hurt his knee with about four minutes before halftime and, though he shifted in and out of the lineup, he wasn't the same player afterwards.

Bryant caught 13 passes for 167 yards but was a non-factor after the injury, and Robinson looked lost without him.

Meanwhile, Ducks sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, clearly out of sorts during the early action, carved up a physically overmatched Cowboys defense in the second half. He earned game MVP honors by rushing for 99 yards with three touchdowns -- running over Cowboy tacklers multiple times -- and passed for 259 yards and a touchdown.

The Ducks, ranked 15th in the final AP poll, finish the season at 10-3 -- their fourth 10-win season under coach Mike Bellotti -- and should receive top-10 consideration because of their mastery of the No. 13 Cowboys.

With the Pac-10 improving to 3-0 in the bowl season with two more to play, the so-called down season in the conference is looking more and more like a fluke of ambitious nonconference scheduling.

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl: Oregon (9-3) vs. Oklahoma State (9-3)

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
9:57
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pacific Life Holiday Bowl gets the Pac-10 bowl season rolling again with a doozie. This might be the most entertaining game of the bowl season.

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli

There's been lots of talk about both offenses, but Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson clearly enters as the matchup's marquee quarterback. If the game is going to be the scoring extravaganza that most expect, though, Masoli is going to have to make plays with both his legs and his arm. Much of the year, running was his thing -- see 612 yards rushing -- but late in the season, his passing picked up. If the Ducks are going to keep up, they need Masoli to create a passing threat.

What to watch: Dez Bryant vs. the D-Boyz

All-American receiver Dez Bryant is a force. The Oregon secondary was supposed to be one, too, this year, but results have been mixed. The Ducks gave up 24 touchdown passes, only grabbed 14 interceptions and allowed foes to complete 58 percent of their passes. This is a shot at redemption. And it's going to be hard to win if Bryant stretches the Ducks' defense and opens up running lanes.

Why to watch: If you like offense, this is the place to be. Both offenses rank in the nation's top eight in points and yards per game. In fact, if both hit their season averages -- which is possible because both defenses are mediocre -- then we'll see 84 points and 975 yards of production. Beyond that, it's two ranked teams trying to boost their respective conference's reputation. The Pac-10 is trying to redeem itself, its national perception hurt by posting a poor record against a tough nonconference schedule. The Big 12 has been touted as perhaps the nation's best conference all season, but it didn't play anyone out of conference. While it's dangerous to compare scores, keep in mind the Cowboys opened the season with a somewhat competitive game against Washington State, winning 39-13 and gaining 367 yards. A few weeks later, Oregon crushed the Cougars 63-14 and outgained them 507 yards to 271.

What to watch: Emerald, Holiday and Sun bowls

December, 24, 2008
12/24/08
9:46
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate from the upcoming Emerald, Holiday and Sun Bowls.

California will do its Best against Miami's run defense: As the intrepid Heather Dinich pointed out, Miami's run defense, solid much of the year, went belly-up at season's end, surrendering an average of 345.5 yards over the final two games, which, not surprisingly, were defeats. California, the Hurricanes' Emerald Bowl foe, averaged 184 yards rushing per game, and speedy running back Jahvid Best might be the most explosive running back in the nation. He busted up Washington for 311 yards -- in just 2 1/2 quarters -- in the season finale and is capable of going yard every time he touches the ball.

Which D takes a Holiday? Culturally, Oregon and Oklahoma State couldn't be much more different. It will be amusing to see the fans mixing in San Diego's Gaslamp District before the Holiday Bowl. But, statistically, the teams are very similar. Both have top-eight offenses: Oregon ranks seventh in points per game (41.92) and eighth in yards per game (478.17). OSU ranks eighth in points per game (41.58) and seventh in yards (489.25). The defensive numbers also are nearly identical -- mediocre. The scoreboard figures to be churning in this one -- only Ball State-Tulsa has a higher over-under -- but at some point the winner will get one or two more big plays from its defense.

Who steps up for the Rodgers Brothers? With playmakers James and Jacquizz Rodgers out of the Sun Bowl with shoulder injuries, Oregon State will face a good Pittsburgh defense without 50 percent of its offense. That means other guys are going to have to step up. Big time. First, 236-pound running back Ryan McCants, who looked like budding star in the preseason before the Jacquizz Juggernaut began, will shoulder the rushing load with Jeremy Francis and keep the running threat alive. Second, receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales and quarterback Lyle Moevao will have to make plays downfield to keep the Panthers from ganging up against the run.

The Bears need to pressure the true frosh QB: Miami will start true freshman quarterback Jacory Harris in the Emerald Bowl because starter Robert Marve was suspended for missing classes. That sounds worse than it is. Harris has been a better quarterback than Marve much of the year. Harris finished the regular season with 10 touchdown passes, one more than Marve, completed a higher percentage of his passes (60.8 vs. 54.5) and threw interceptions at a better rate than Marve. But three of Harris' six picks came in the final two games. Cal, meanwhile, finished third in the nation with 23 interceptions while recording 33 sacks. The Bears could make things easy on themselves by rattling a young quarterback and forcing the Hurricanes to make mistakes.

D-Boyz vs. Zac & Dez: If there is a difference between Oregon and Oklahoma State, it's that the Cowboys are a better passing team -- 233 yards per game vs. 200 -- with All-American receiver Dez Bryant and solid quarterback Zac Robinson. In the preseason, the Ducks secondary was widely touted as among the best in the nation -- the unit even gave itself a nickname, "D-Boyz". But results weren't terribly good. The Ducks yielded 24 touchdown passes -- tied with Washington for most in the Pac-10 -- and allowed opposing offenses to complete 58 percent of their passes. The Ducks also only grabbed 14 interceptions. While All-American end Nick Reed led the conference's best pass rush -- 38 sacks -- the D-Boyz need to prove their "D" doesn't stand for debilitated, decrepit or delicate.

Stop LeSean, who's the real McCoy: Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy might be the best running back in the nation. He rushed for 1,403 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging nearly five years per carry. He's he engine of the Pitt offense. Oregon State had a highly ranked run defense until Oregon rushed for 385 yards in the Beavers Civil War bloodbath. If the Oregon State defense doesn't regain its run-stuffing form, it could be a long day for the Beavers.

How tasty is homecooking? Miami is crossing the country to play in the Emerald Bowl. California is crossing a bridge. The Hurricanes are 3,500 miles from home. The Bears are sleeping in their own beds. The crowd at AT&T Park figures to be hugely pro-Cal. How much will all this work in the Bears favor? Or will the Hurricanes, who've been known to enjoy wearing black hats, be inspired by playing the incorrigible house guests?

Cowboys may want to Duck: Folks have been talking about fancypants offenses in the Big 12 this season, but that's mostly inspired smirks on the West Coast, where if your offense is simple -- you know, like the Big 12 almost every previous season -- you can't survive. Now, Oregon's offense? It just plays at a higher level because coordinator Chip Kelly is smarter than nearly every defensive coordinator. The only team that stopped the Ducks rushing attack was USC. The Cowboys aren't USC. In fact, not a single player on their defense would start for USC. And they've not seen a team that combines scheme, speed and physical play like the Ducks. Oklahoma State needs Oregon to make mistakes because that's the only way it will slow down the Ducks.

Are the Beavers still pining for Roses? Oregon State coach Mike Riley is great at preparing his team for the post-season, see a 4-0 record in bowl games. But his Beavers were sniffing roses most of the season, and the Sun Bowl is a bit of a let down. Big time. Toss in the dispiriting defeat in the Civil War and the absence of the Rodgers brothers, and there are plenty of reasons for the Beavers to be down. Or, perhaps, highly motivated to prove themselves anew.

Will the Pac-10 vindicate itself? Win or lose the Rose Bowl, USC doesn't need to prove anything. Every college football fan with a brain knows what USC is: The nation's best program. But when folks criticize the Pac-10, they mostly take shots at USC's competition, and the Pac-10 struggled this year against perhaps the toughest nonconference schedule in college football history -- 2-8 in games vs. the top-18 of the final BCS standings. But the conference already posted a decisive win over a ranked team to open the bowl season -- Arizona whipping BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl -- and three more ranked teams remain ahead. Only Oregon is an underdog -- by three points -- and a 5-0 or 4-1 b
owl record is not inconceivable. Such a tally could slam a glass of shutup down the throats of the Pac-10's critics.

Holiday Bowl: Oregon (9-3) vs. Oklahoma St. (9-3)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
8:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A matchup between ranked -- and similar -- teams that should feature a lot of points.

Oregon ranks seventh in the nation in scoring (41.92) and Oklahoma State ranks eighth (41.58). The Ducks rank fourth in rushing (278 ypg); the Cowboys, seventh (256).

How about stopping the other? The Ducks are 24th vs. the run (119 ypg); the Cowboys are 27th (124). Oregon ranks 78th in scoring defense (28 ppg); the Cowboys rank 70th (27 ppg).

If there is a major difference between the teams, it's that Oklahoma State is a much more consistent passing team, with quarterback Zac Robinson ranking fourth in the nation in pass efficiency while throwing to the extremely dangerous Dez Bryant, who's hauled in 74 passes for 1,313 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli threw for 572 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games of the season, but he was inconsistent passing much of the year.

This is perhaps the most important bowl for the Pac-10 in terms of perception. If the Ducks manage to win, the maligned conference would prove that it's not just USC and nine dwarfs.

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