Pac-12: Dion Jordan

Chaos could happen. Alabama could lose to Auburn. Florida State could go down in the ACC title game. Ohio State could lose to Michigan. Baylor could falter at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTailback Tyler Gaffney's big day -- 45 carries for 157 yards -- helped Stanford crush Oregon's hopes of playing in the national title game.
Then the Pac-12, in the form of either Stanford or Oregon, could slip into the final -- final! -- BCS national title game. Honestly, it wouldn't even require all of that. Because of the top-to-bottom quality of the conference this year, a one-loss Pac-12 team might end up first among equals in the BCS standings. Unbeaten Alabama and a bunch of one-loss teams? Stanford probably would come first among those with a single blemish, though then the nation would commence a bitter and grotesque "quality loss" debate.

So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Pac-12 wiggles its way back into one of the top two spots.

But our premise here is that doesn't happen, that things don't go all 2007 again. Our premise here is the Pac-12 again is shut out of the national title game.

A CliffsNotes version of what follows: Drat. But justifiable.

The Pac-12's last national championship was USC in 2004, which means the drought will be a full decade when we head into the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.

The conference did play a supporting role in two of the best BCS title games: USC falling to Texas after the 2005 season in one of the greatest college football games in history, and Oregon being nipped by Auburn by a last-second field goal after the 2010 season.

Still, in the preseason this felt like the year of a breakthrough. This felt like the year in which the Pac-12's two top dogs, Stanford and Oregon, had the pieces in place to win a title and dethrone the SEC after seven consecutive championships. They both had experience at quarterback. Both looked strong on the offensive line. Both had A-list talent on defense.

(And both had united to defeat evil!)

Sure, both had questions. But all teams do. Stanford and Oregon had begun to look like programs that answer questions on an annual basis. You know: Like Alabama, which was supposed to be questionable on defense and, well, isn't.

Yet after both the Cardinal and Ducks went down, those questions returned. Stanford's middling passing attack was a major reason the Cardinal lost at Utah. And one suspects that if linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were on hand, Oregon wouldn't have allowed Stanford to convert all seven of its third-and-2 or shorter plays with Tyler Gaffney runs last Thursday.

Might have things been different for either team if, say, Stanford had a healthy Henry Anderson for Utah, or if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent last Thursday? Maybe. But that's speculation trying to subvert the bottom line reflected on the scoreboard.

Judging who should play for the national title, which is always subjective in our present system and will continue to be with the four-team playoff, ultimately involves the totality of the season, so how things look on Nov. 11 is pretty meaningless. But how things look to me today is that Alabama and Florida State should play for the national title and that they both look better than either Stanford or Oregon.

Maybe that changes, because a week ago I was ranking Oregon No. 1. It probably would change if Alabama lost to Auburn, or if Florida State went down in the ACC title game. Stranger things have happened.

But my chief reaction after the Stanford-Oregon game was: Neither of these teams would beat Alabama. My feeling wasn't as strong for Florida State, but the Seminoles have yet to reveal any weaknesses so far this season.

I can feel the rage already exploding out there from Pac-12 fans. Such an assertion surely will make Pac-12 fans angry, but I suspect that 75 percent of those currently enraged actually, perhaps not even that deep down, agree with me. They just don't want to hear it or read it.

But the role of the Pac-12 blog is not to advocate for the conference. It distributes tweaks to other regions when necessary or even just for the amusement of doing so. But there's also a credibility issue. If we're telling folks Oregon/Stanford has the best chance of any team in the nation to beat Alabama and end the SEC's run, it should be a honest assessment, not a stroking of the regional ego or some public-relations move.

So today's assessment, impermanent as it may prove to be, is this: The Pac-12 will not play for the national title this season because it doesn't deserve to.

Again: Drat. But justifiable.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is pleased. It has just been noted to him that his Ducks showcased brilliant coverage in the secondary during their 45-24 win at Washington. It's the same observation that had been made by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, but you get the feeling that Aliotti is not weary of hearing about it.

He admits he even allowed himself some extra time to savor the blanketing of white on black during a postgame film session with his players.

"I said, 'Look at this! There's nobody open for [Washington QB Keith] Price to throw the ball to!'" Aliotti said.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
Just like any other coach, Aliotti will tell you the only statistic that matters is about three letters, not numbers: W-I-N. That said, he takes a lot of pride in his defense and the players he sends onto the field. While Aliotti projects an amusing, avuncular personality, just below the surface is an intense competitor. That pride and competitiveness led to his postgame tirade two-plus weeks ago after Washington State scored two late touchdowns against his reserve players in a 62-38 Ducks win.

"That's total [bleep] that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did," Aliotti said to reporters. "And you can print that and you can send it to [Cougars coach Mike Leach], and he can comment too. I think it's low class, and it's [bleep] to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team."

It might have been the most controversial moment of his 38-year career, and it cost him $5,000 after he was fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12. Aliotti apologized to Leach and called himself "embarrassed" in a release from the school two days later.

"It was probably an old guy who didn't understand the Internet, how the media can get going so fast," Aliotti said. "Just making an honest, simple statement about what I thought at the time. Obviously, I made a huge mistake by overstepping my bounds. I shouldn't have said those things. These days, you've got to be politically correct. Not one of my strong suits."

While, no, those comments weren't terribly smart coming from a veteran coach, it's not difficult to ascertain the source of Aliotti's frustration. While there typically have been hat tips to his defense during Oregon's rise to elite national power, most of the nation sees Oregon as being all about offense. That high-tempo, flashy offense is the big story when it rolls up eye-popping numbers, and it's the big story when it gets slowed down.

Recall the gloating from SEC fans about Auburn, with a middling SEC defense, shutting down the Ducks in their 22-19 victory in the 2010 national title game? Why was it not almost as notable that Oregon held Auburn to 18 fewer points than the Tigers averaged against SEC defenses?

Or when Stanford ruined Oregon's national title hopes last fall in a 17-14 overtime win, it was all about the Cardinal shutting down the Ducks with nary a mention of Aliotti's defense holding Stanford to 10 points below its season scoring average.

There's, of course, an obvious answer: The winning team sets the postgame agenda and analysis. Amid all the Ducks winning since 2009 -- 54-7 record -- the offense almost always leads.

That's apparently the big story again as No. 3 Oregon visits No. 5 Stanford on Thursday: Will the Stanford defense be able to thwart QB Marcus Mariota, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Ducks again?

Yet here's a bet that the game won't turn on that. Here's a bet that Stanford's defense doesn't even approach its success from last year and that the bigger issue will be whether Stanford's struggling offense can score enough to keep it close.

Because, by the way, it's Oregon that enters the game with the Pac-12's best defense, not Stanford.

Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in both scoring defense (16.9 PPG) and yards per play (4.41). It leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in the nation in both pass efficiency defense and turnovers forced (23).

And this is happening after losing three All-Pac-12 linebackers, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Stanford coach David Shaw has noticed.

"They are missing three dynamic football players," Shaw said. "The crazy part is, without those outstanding players, the defense as a whole looks better. They are fast. They are big."

Shaw is one of more than a few Pac-12 coaches who frequently gush about Aliotti's defense, about how he maximizes his players' talents and puts them in position to be successful and how his perplexing, flexible scheme is both sound and sometimes baffling.

"It's a different scheme than most 3-4 teams," Shaw said. "It takes some getting used to, to prepare for it."

The enduring ideas about Oregon's defense, even when it is given credit, are quasi-dismissive compliments: scrappy, aggressive, quick, blitz-heavy. Those words are no longer accurate. The Ducks have comparable future NFL talent with many of the nation's top defenses, starting a secondary chock-full of future NFL starters.

Things have changed in part because winning has bolstered recruiting. The Ducks are no longer undersized. They are fast and big -- see eight defensive linemen in the regular rotation who are 6-foot-4 or taller, including three over 6-6. The secondary has become -- and will continue to be -- an NFL pipeline. And at linebacker, things are going fairly well for Alonso these days.

The improved talent has meshed with a good scheme, but Aliotti and his staff also are good at teaching and making sure each player understands what his assignments are. And trusts them.

"Our players believing in what they are doing," first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "I think Nick and the defensive staff have done a great job of taking advantage of our overall strengths and maybe hiding our potential weaknesses a little bit. I think, collectively, it's a ton of guys playing hard."

Aliotti tweaks things every year. This season, the Ducks are blitzing less, due in large part to the myriad mobile quarterbacks in the Pac-12, a group that includes Stanford's Kevin Hogan, though their respectable 2.88 sacks per game suggest they are still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

We won't know if this turns out to be Aliotti's best unit until season's end, but it's certainly good enough to merit a spot on the marquee next to the Ducks' ludicrous speed offense.

And, yes, Aliotti wouldn't mind if he and his players received some credit.

"It's about winning games, but we do all take pride in our job," he said.

What are Oregon's weaknesses?

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Oregon is terrible on fourth down. The Ducks have converted on just seven of 18 fourth-down plays this year. Their 38.9 conversion rate ranks 10th in the Pac-12, behind struggling teams like Colorado and California.

We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon appears to have no glaring weaknesses, yet first-year coach Mark Helfrich says the Ducks can get better in every phase.
The Pac-12 keeps track of 33 statistical categories, covering offense, defense, special teams, penalties, turnovers, etc. The Ducks rank first in the conference in 11 categories, including the two most important: scoring offense and scoring defense. They rank in the top three in 18 categories. Most of the categories they are not doing well in -- time of possession, onside kicks, opponent penalties -- evoke a "neh."

Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.

This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?

"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."

In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?

Check, check and check.

The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.

Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.

Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.

"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."

Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.

"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."

The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.

Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.

"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."

Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.

"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."

Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).

Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.

Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.

"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."

That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.

Lokombo leads Oregon LBs

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Just because a position is questionable in the preseason doesn't mean it's not answerable.

Questionable: Oregon is replacing three A-list linebackers. Dion Jordan was first-team All-Pac-12 and the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both second-team All-Pac-12, with Alonso getting picked in the second round of the draft. Clay was cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.

The lone returning starter is Boseko Lokombo, who only ranked 10th on the team in tackles last year.

Answerable: Lokombo, a fantastic all-around athlete, has been a dominant playmaker during preseason practices, and the Ducks have five other linebackers with significant playing experience.

With the first official depth chart out, Tony Washington, as expected, will step in for Jordan at the position listed as defensive end opposite Taylor Hart, though everyone and their grandmother knows the Ducks defense is a base 3-4 and Washington will be an outside linebacker opposite Lokombo.

Juniors Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who were injured during spring practices, are the starters inside.

The three new guys are hardly green. Washington started twice for Jordan last year and finished with 20 tackles. Malone had one start and finished with 41 tackles, which ranked eighth on the team. Hardick had 11 tackles.

Depth? Backup Tyson Coleman, who can play inside and outside, had 34 tackles last year, and Rahim Cassell had 19. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks played nine linebackers against woeful Nicholls State on Saturday.

Still, Lokombo is the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound senior could play his way into the early rounds of the NFL draft next spring if his production equals his potential this fall.

"He's a guy who is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," Oregon's first-year coach Mark Helfrich said. "We expect huge things from him. But he needs to be more consistent."

Lokombo had 39 tackles last year, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Look for the sack numbers, in particular, to go up. Lokombo is powerful -- 500 pound squat -- and fast, though he's more quick than a 40-yard dash guy. He started all 13 games last year and the native of Congo has seen action in 40 since arriving at Oregon from Abbotsford, British Columbia four years ago.

He doesn't seem too worried about the new starters surrounding him.

"Some of them already played a lot last year," he said. "They are ready to take on their roles. It's next man up and that's that."

It also helps that Oregon's defensive line and secondary are both among the best units in the Pac-12, with the secondary widely considered as good as any in the nation.

The Ducks 2012 defense was very good. This one might still be able to match it, even with a question at linebacker.

Said Helfrich, "We have a lot of unproven guys, but a bunch of guys who have played to this point in camp really hard and really well."

Most to prove in the Pac-12

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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
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?

GREAT SHAPE

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.

GOOD SHAPE

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.

WE'LL SEE

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:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker
Happy Friday.
Five Pac-12 players were selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday.

Here's the chart:


So... what's our take?

Thanks for asking.

Kevin Gemmell: I must say, very, very interesting first round. And one that I think most Pac-12 fans can be relatively pleased with. The five players drafted Thursday night are the most since the league sent six in 2008. So that's progress.

Two things really stood out as surprising to me. First, it's not that Dion Jordan went third overall to the Miami Dolphins. It's that he went to a 4-3 defense. Perhaps Jeff Ireland is a huge fan of the Pac-12 blog and was reading our Take 2 from a few weeks ago. And if that's the case, you're welcome, Jeff.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Dolphins traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the first round to select Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Jordan is pretty good at stopping the run -- but it's not the strength of his game. As every draftnik in the world noted before and after the selection, he's a beast at speed rushing off the edge, but has some work to do in other aspects of his game. They also made the apt comparison to former Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. Fitting since both players have similar frames and skill sets. He had an OK career, so maybe it all works out.

The second thing that surprised me was that Star Lotulelei was not the first defensive tackle taken. We figured he could go pretty much anywhere in the top 15 -- most mocks had him where he landed at No 14 to the Carolina Panthers. One pick earlier, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets. I admit I don't know a ton about Richardson. I just know that Lotulelei graded out higher, had a comparable 40 time (though it was inconsistent because it was at a pro day, not the NFL scouting combine) and he had eight more reps on the bench. Maybe it's just personal preference, but I was pretty surprised he wasn't the first defensive tackle off the board.

Liked the pick of Oregon's Kyle Long by the Bears. They are getting a versatile player who could really fit in at any position across the line after he gets a little seasoning. We've seen him slowly creep up in mock drafts -- starting several months ago in the third-round range -- and that buzz was legitimized with his pick at No. 20.

And I liked that Atlanta had Desmond Trufant targeted and they traded up to get him. It was a need position and they jumped at the chance to get an NFL-ready starter. Good pick.

Datone Jones is a guy Ted and I have been talking about for a couple of years now -- how we just kept waiting for him to breakout. And then UCLA switches to the 3-4 and he blows up. He could be a real solid player for years in Green Bay's 3-4 front.

Overall, I'd call it a fair-to-good first day for the Pac-12.

Ted Miller: Of course, the big question many will ask is how did the Pac-12 compare to the other conferences.

Here are the first-round numbers. Yes, there will be SEC crowing, with some justification.

  • SEC – 12
  • ACC – 6
  • Pac-12 – 5
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • MAC – 1
  • C-USA – 1
  • Big East - 1
  • Big Ten - 1

The SEC's 12 picks ties the record set by the ACC in 2006. Don't forget the SEC now has 14 teams. Or, for that matter, the Big 12 has 10.

My first-round takeaways? Well, the above numbers are meaningful.

The SEC? Well. I'll let you guys try to explain those away. (Good luck with that.) I tweeted this story the other day, and I think it well relates how SEC dominance, once a chimerical creation from a region that often doesn't fret the truth getting in the way of a good story, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The bottom, however, is almost as telling -- see the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner, the Big Ten with just one selection. That certainly validates the perception that conference has slipped, something we've seen on the field in recent years.

As for the five Pac-12 picks, I had a nice conversation with Jordan at the Fiesta Bowl about how his fortunes had turned. He seemed genuinely awed by it. And grateful. After the game, I was standing there when his mother worked here way through the crowd to give him a hug. Apparently it was raining inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

One of the things I always think about on draft day is how through-the-looking-glass strange it's got to feel for guys, at least the reflective ones. Sure, most top picks get fronted money by their agents, so they've been living the life for a few months. But when it becomes official, a guy in his early 20s suddenly become certifiably rich.

The third pick last year, Cleveland's Trent Richardson, got four years at $20.4 million. Just imagine yourself at 23 having a conversation about $20 million. And how it's a bit low.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMatt Barkley could be the next Pac-12 alum off the board.
As for the rest, the Panthers got a steal with Star Lotulelei at No. 14. The Panthers just put a checkmark in the box for the middle of their defensive line. And I think Jets fans will remember in a very Jets fans way that the Jets took Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson a pick before the Panthers.

Oregon O-lineman Kyle Long at No. 20 was a mild surprise, but the Bears probably swooned over his obvious upside. You can't beat his bloodlines either.

The Trufant pick clearly validates the Pac-12 blog at the expense of Washington fans. See... we told you he was good.

Wait. I may not be recalling that accurately. Two words: Kevin's fault.

And Jones, whom we've been touting pretty much since he arrived at UCLA, obviously found his rhythm over the past year.

As Kevin noted, there are a lot of good Pac-12 players left on the board, including a substantial handful who figure to get selected in the next two rounds. Things should continue to be interesting, starting with who steps up and picks USC quarterback Matt Barkley.
It didn’t take long for there to be some drama in the 2013 NFL draft. And former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan was right in the middle of it.

Jordan, the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker, was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 3 pick ... much to the surprise of the ESPN draft coverage crew. And Jordan.

After offensive tackles went first and second, Jordan was the first defensive player taken in the draft when the Oakland Raiders traded the pick to the Dolphins.

Jordan’s selection was met with mostly positive, yet still mixed responses. Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Chris Berman praised Jordan’s athleticism and ability to rush off the edge. But they also questioned whether that’s worth the No. 3 overall pick. Obviously, the Dolphins thought it was.

Many believed that former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, was going to take Jordan with the fourth pick. Instead, the Dolphins moved one spot ahead, leaving Kelly to take Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.

“I was surprised ... I wasn’t expecting that,” Jordan told ESPN’s Suzy Kolber. “I’m very blessed. I’m going to bring tremendous athletic ability … I’m ready to get in there and work with the guys.”

Jordan, Oregon’s highest drafted player since Joey Harrington went No. 3 overall in the 2002 draft, was the first of what turned out to be five first-round picks for the Pac-12 on Thursday night. It was the most first-round picks since the league had six in 2008.

After the Jordan selection, things quieted down for the league until the 14th pick, when the Carolina Panthers selected Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. He was the second defensive tackle taken in the draft after Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson went at No. 13 to the New York Jets.

“He is a space-eater,” said Kiper after the selection. “He’s a stay-at-home type defensive tackle. He won’t give you a lot of pass rush. But he’s strong. He’s quick. He’s a tough kid. I thought a very good player, but the pass rush wasn’t there.”

ESPN's Pat Yasinskas has a good breakdown of what this means for the Panthers.

The second “surprise” pick of the draft also involved a Duck – when the Chicago Bears drafted Oregon offensive guard Kyle Long.

Said Kiper: “He has the kind of skill set you want. [But] he needs a lot of coaching ... he’s a developmental prospect … [His] versatility and mean streak intrigued a lot of people.”

Just two picks later, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to get Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant at No. 22. After posting a 4.38 at the NFL scouting combine -- third fastest among the defensive backs -- his stock jumped from early second round to first-round selection.

Said Kiper: “He’s an instinctive ball hawk. A guy I think really got better as his career moved along … this is a need area and [Atlanta] went up aggressively to get him.”

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones became the league’s fifth selection when the Green Bay Packers took him at No. 26. ESPN's Jon Gruden was a fan of the pick.

“If you’re into combine workouts, you’re into Datone Jones. Because he dominated the combine,” Gruden said. “The arrow is going up on this kid. He’s my sleeper of the first round. He has NFL movement skills ... he can play on a tight end. He can play inside. And the Packers need a dominant inside defender. Good pick.”

There is still plenty of intrigue looking ahead with names like Zach Ertz, Robert Woods, Matt Barkley, Keenan Allen, Matt Scott, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Markus Wheaton, Jordan Poyer, David Bakhtiari, Chase Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin and about a dozen more from the league still on the board.

Settle in for a draft-filled weekend.

Pac-12 draft primer

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
11:00
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After all that mocking, the NFL gets around to beginning its real, live draft tonight at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, NFL Network).

As usual, the Pac-12 should be well-represented in the first round and throughout. As Kevin pointed out this week, as many as nine conference players are prospects for the first round.

Here's Todd McShay's Mock Draft 6.0 Insider:
The there's Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest Mock Draft Insider:
And don't completely count out USC quarterback Matt Barkley or California receiver Keenan Allen. Remember: It takes just one GM to fall in love with a guy.

Also, here's an interactive version Insider of Kiper's mock draft.

Here's a complete seven-round Mock Draft Insider, where former Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson is the last conference player off the board with the 12th pick of the final round -- No. 218 overall.

Of course, there are a lot of mock drafts out there. Here are a few to consider before things get real.
Tomorrow, we'll know. But for one more day, we mock.

The Darrelle Revis trade forced ESPN.com's Todd McShay to go back in and reevaluate the Mock Draft 5.0 Insider that he released earlier this month. That was a good looking mock draft for the Pac-12, which had Oregon's Dion Jordan going No. 2, Utah's Star Lotulelei going No. 4, Washington's Desmond Trufant at No. 21 and UCLA's Datone Jones going No. 29.

But the Revis trade sent shockwaves -- at least through the mock world. Things look a little different Insider for the conference in Mock Draft 5.1.
The trade also has Mel Kiper Jr. re-thinking his first round Insider. Here's where the Pac-12 players stand in his updated mock draft.
Interesting to see that McShay dropped Trufant all the way off his board, while Kiper has him in the top 20. Also, an appearance from Long in the first round suggests that his stock has risen considerably in the last few weeks.

Obviously, tomorrow will settle the debate. But we've now seen anywhere from three to nine Pac-12 players who could go in the first round. As of Feb. 19, the consensus among the fans (though not by much) was that the Pac-12 would have four players go in the first round.

Right now Jordan and Lotulelei seem like locks. We thought Trufant was a lock (and the Pac-12 blog still believes he is), though McShay thinks otherwise. Ertz has been on the fence -- though Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert has widened the gap between the top two tight ends. One scout told the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner that Ertz's "lack of being a blocker " likely has him targeted for the second round. Stepfan Taylor might disagree.

Jones and Long are intriguing possibilities. Jones' stock has been climbing since the NFL scouting combine in February. Woods, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Cal's Keenan Allen are all up in the air and have been projected anywhere from the first to third rounds.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti knows transition. He's coached at Oregon in five different decades and under four head coaches. He's seen tough times and BCS bowl games. So Chip Kelly's departure to the Philadelphia Eagles isn't going shake the earth beneath his feet.

Kelly's exit and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich's ascension to head coach? Just part of the business, which for him is business as usual running the Duck defense.

"At this point in the game, it's been a very smooth, easy transition, to the point I don't feel or see any difference," Aliotti said. "I guess until we start playing games and things start happening that are meaningful I might have a better answer. But my gut feeling tells me that there will be very little difference in the way Chip did things and the way Mark will do things."

Which bodes well for the program, because Aliotti, 58, isn't going to change either.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti brings back much of his defense but also has some major holes at linebacker.
Oregon's defense, as has been typical during its national rise, was again outstanding in 2012. Some folks still don't understand how the Ducks' ludicrous-speed offense skews certain numbers, which enables a scattering of lunkheads to perceive mediocrity.

Such as this: Oregon ranked sixth in the conference and 44th in the nation in total defense (374.2 yards per game).

Solid, but not above a chortle from our SEC friends.

Ah, but Oregon ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced -- 40, two more than anyone else -- 15th in in pass efficiency defense, 14th in third down efficiency, 10th in redzone efficiency and 26th in yards per play. Oh, and 25th in the nation in scoring (21.62 points per game).

So, yeah, the Ducks had one of the nation's 15-to-20 best defenses in 2012. Looking ahead, eight starters are back from that unit in 2013, and that doesn't include talented and experienced depth, particularly on the line and in the secondary.

Said Aliotti, "Eight of 11 spots should be as good or better. Three we have to shore up."

Shoring up is right. Those three losses are huge in terms of talent, production and leadership. They are concentrated at linebacker in the Ducks' hybrid 3-4: outside linebacker Dion Jordan and inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Clay and Jordan were the Ducks most vocal leaders in 2012. Jordan is going to be a top-10 NFL draft pick, and Alonso figures to get selected around the third round. Clay, despite lacking ideal size, has a good chance to get drafted.

"They're irreplaceable initially," Aliotti siad. "Whoever steps in there obviously is not going to be that caliber when they first step in there. Those guys meant so much to us."

Tony Washington, who has plenty of experience, will step in for Jordan. Aliotti also said Boseko Lokombo, a returning starter at the opposite outside linebacker spot, Tyson Coleman and Christian French will help fill Jordan's void. All four have seen plenty of action.

"None of them are Dion but those four will man that position," Aliotti said.

As for replacing Clay and Alonso, Aliotti is less sanguine.

"I don't feel as comfortable in there as I do at the outside position to be honest with you," he said.

Part of that is injuries. Top candidates Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have been hurt this spring. That's brought Coleman inside -- he played well backing up Lokombo last year -- along with Rahim Cassell. Aliotti also mentioned Joe Walker.

When the discussion turns to the defensive line and secondary, Aliotti brightens considerably.

The D-line is big, athletic and, due to injury issues last fall, experienced. Expect senior end Taylor Hart to transition from underrated to properly appreciated. Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli provide 300-pound bodies inside, while DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci figure to improve dramatically after seeing significant action as true freshmen.

The secondary is potentially the best in the Pac-12 in both talent and depth. Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are the conference's best cornerback tandem. They both could end up first-team All-Pac-12, as Ekpre-Olomu did in 2012 after hauling in four interceptions and forcing six fumbles.

"I think they're pretty equal. I like them both the same," Aliotti said when asked which corner was better.

And backups Troy Hill and Dior Mathis likely would start for many conference teams, as would backup safeties Reggie Daniels and Erick Dargan.

The Ducks have three big voids, no doubt. But there's a lot coming back. Including Aliotti, who will be coaching his 22nd season in Eugene after he turned down an overture from Lane Kiffin to talk about USC's defensive coordinator vacancy.

A new, offensive minded head coach? No worries. Aliotti's seen it before and things have worked out just fine.

"It's been the same as before, so it's kind of cool," he said.
Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest Big Board , which looks at his top 25 NFL prospects, is out. And the prospects of a strong first-round for the Pac-12 is looking better and better. Two unranked players from last week are back in the top 25 -- Stanford tight end Zach Ertz and UCLA defensive end Datone Jones. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be first-round picks. But their stock -- and the stocks of other Pac-12 players -- seem to be trending up as the draft looms next week.

Here's a look at the Pac-12 players on this week's Big Board along with some comments from Kiper.

Oregon's Dion Jordan moves up from No. 6 last week to No. 5 this week.
Will be a dynamic 3-4 outside linebacker if he stays healthy. Elite speed and range for his size and he's alleviated some questions about whether he can cover, even as he profiles as a very good pass-rusher.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei stays at No. 7.
Tape shows a player who can't be blocked in the run game one-on-one, period -- but he's not a very good pass-rusher. He absorbs so much blocking help and frees up others, but he's not just a clogger, because he can show off a burst that he marries to a great sense for disrupting the run game in the backfield.

Ertz returns to the Big Board at No. 23. And for those of you who like the Sport Science clips, here's Ertz's turn with the crew.
Good speed given the length he provides, Ertz can stretch the seam, but knows the route tree and can work underneath and the sidelines. He's a hands-catcher, and goes out to get the ball, keeping defenders at bay.

Jones checks in right after Ertz at No. 24.
A versatile defender who gets a great burst off the snap and can clear blockers quickly, a reason he piled up 19.0 TFL. He has really good feet, allowing him to not look like a big DT who can't wrap up shifty runners. Pretty quick, he'll chase plays down.

When you factor in that Washington's Desmond Trufant probably goes in the first round -- and there's still an outside shot that USC quarterback Matt Barkley or Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen (or both) sneak into the top 32 -- the conference could potentially have six or seven first-round picks.

Pac-12 in NFL draft: Defense rules!

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
1:00
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ESPN draft guru Todd McShay has published his NFL mock draft 5.0, which includes analysis of several scenarios for each team Insider, and he projects four Pac-12 players being selected in the first round.

But that's not what's interesting.

What's interesting is all four are defensive players. The 14-team, defensive-minded SEC has six defensive players in McShay's projection.

While I'm too lazy to go through every previous NFL draft to find out if that has happened before, my guess is it hasn't.

McShay has it going like this:
Of course, there are several Pac-12 offensive players who could break up this foursome: Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, California receiver Keenan Allen and USC quarterback Matt Barkley all remain potential first-round picks.

Further, when you consider that the Pac-12 welcomes back two certain preseason All-Americans in Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as several other All-American candidates -- Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy, and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- it would seem the conference is on the defensive uptick.

Mailbag: Love from Pittsburgh

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
6:00
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Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

Greetings to all our new Pitt fans. Maybe you can start a blog club with Kansas State and Mississippi State fans?

To the notes!

Alex from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Ted,Your article about Rushel Shell's transfer reveals a lack of research on your part. Pitt's transfer policy has been consistent for the past 15 years. The University of Pittsburgh has never allowed transfers to schools with multiple former Pitt staffers. While the merits of this can be argued, this is an issue that needs to taken up with the NCAA as a whole, not just Pitt. If I remember correctly, in a previous article about Todd Graham leaving Pitt for ASU you told Pitt fans to get over it while not bringing to light the issue in college sports where college Presidents can freely lure coaches away from signed contracts. In other words, when Graham came to ASU there was no mention of the underlying NCAA issue at hand but when Shell transfers to ASU you are calling Pitt fans to take action against this problem that is an NCAA problem. It appears that you might be the one who needs to "get over" the fact that Shell won't be joining ASU or AZ unless he wants to pay his own way.

Ted Miller: This was one of the less addled responses to my column on Pitt blocking running back Rushel Shell from transferring to either Arizona or Arizona State, reportedly because former Pitt coaches are on the Wildcats and Sun Devils coaching staffs.

That, of course, includes Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who isn't very popular at Pitt.

There were a variety of counterpoints from Pitt fans -- see below -- none that I found terribly compelling. There's a reason for that. As noted in the article, there really isn't anyone in the world who doesn't believe Pitt coach Paul Chryst and athletic administrators are wrong for limiting a young man's transfer options for no credible reason other than being petty.

Of course, some liked the idea of being petty. At least they were honest.

I did read one writer who said allowing Shell to transfer where he wanted would set a "bad precedent." That sort of thinking emerges from the perspective of "program above all else, right or wrong." Within that thinking is the justification that is that if Shell gets to join Graham at Arizona State, others might follow.

The gee whiz solution to that false problem is to make your program appealing so players don't want to leave. And if they do, good riddance.

Further, part of establishing a strong locker room culture as well as credibility with recruits and their parents is not doing things that are counter to the interests of student-athletes. Yes, schools that recruit against Pittsburgh will add the treatment of Shell to their clip file.

Alex from Ann Arbor seems like a pretty bright sort, but I'm not sure his initial point is very effective: "Your article about Rushel Shell's transfer reveals a lack of research on your part. Pitt's transfer policy has been consistent for the past 15 years. The University of Pittsburgh has never allowed transfers to schools with multiple former Pitt staffers."

You are correct. I didn't research whether this was institutional policy. For one, CB Lloyd Carrington already followed Graham from Pittsburgh to Arizona State (apparently Pitt didn't know his destination, other than to be closer to his Texas home, when he was granted his release). And, second, I don't think it bolsters Pitt's position to point out that a petty decision by Pitt is actually a petty institutional policy.

As for "college Presidents can freely lure coaches away from signed contracts," well, college presidents can freely fire their head coach, too. Within those signed contracts are buyout clauses that explain what happens if a coach is fired before his contract is over or if he decides to go elsewhere before his contract is over. These are business relationships. Not marriages.

Neither Pitt denying Shell the freedom to transfer where he wants to go, nor Graham leaving Pitt are NCAA issues. The NCAA does have transfer rules -- Shell will lose a year while he sits out the season -- but Pitt has the power to decide the nature of its release.

Beyond Alex's note, most of what landed in the mailbag -- and on Twitter -- made the following weak assertions:
  • "Arizona State is tampering!" Really? That's an NCAA violation. Report it.
  • "Everybody else does this!" Er, no. But, still, this is what happened TODAY. Ergo, my column.
  • There were lots of attacks on Shell's character, which is called "changing the subject." And being petty and churlish in a new way.
  • There were lots of "You defended Graham." Yep. I don't believe a guy should be forced to not take a job he really wants or to stay in a place he doesn't want to be.
  • There were lots of "You live in Scottsdale!" Yeah ... since 2008. Lived in Seattle from 1999-2008. Mobile, Ala., before that. Went to the University of Richmond. And was born and raised in Atlanta. So what?
  • There were accusations of a "hatchet job." This column wouldn't exist without Pitt's actions. No hatchet. Just doing my job.
  • There were lots of "Get your facts straight" with zero examples of facts not being straight.
  • And there were plenty of the classic, "Your an idiot."

Kevin also dropped me a note, thanking me for ruining his spring vacation to Pittsburgh.

Steve from Highland, Mich., writes: Can you please tell me why the Oregon Ducks have not been hit with sanctions yet? Is it because of the big bucks of Phil Knight with Nike? I find it rather odd some of the other schools are getting hammered with the exception of Oregon.

Ted Miller: Nothing to do with Phil Knight and Nike.

The NCAA simply moves at a glacial pace, which is unfair to the investigated school because part of the ultimate punishment becomes the prolonged presence of a dark cloud over the program.

I wrote this in December, and it still holds true today.

And you might have noticed the NCAA has its own issues these days.

Jay from Cambridge, Mass., writes: In a world where a lot of people around the country still characterize the Pac-12 as an offense-only conference, to what degree does having someone like DE Dion Jordan going as a second-overall draft pick remind people otherwise?

Ted Miller: It's even more than that: Both ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay project the first three Pac-12 players picked in the first round will all play defense: Jordan, Utah DT Star Lotulelei and Washington CB Desmond Trufant.

It probably will surprise some folks, but the Pac-12 has long had plenty of good defenses and plenty of good defensive players. The more pass-happy and, more recently, uptempo styles of offense out West have skewed defensive numbers, often making them look worse than they are.

Just about every Pac-12 team that has beoame a national contender played good defense, most notably Washington under Don James, USC under John McKay and Pete Carroll. Oregon under Chip Kelly and coordinator Nick Aliotti consistently played underrated defense. And Stanford's legitimacy as a national title contender is more about defense than offense.

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