Pac-12: Everette Thompson

Best case-worst case: Washington

July, 19, 2010
7/19/10
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Sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Washington

Best case

Certainly Washington quarterback Jake Locker answers the bell at BYU after a summer of coast-to-coast publicity that perhaps pushed to the precipice of proper decorum, but the more interesting story is the quarterback who found himself contemplating Provo's beautiful Wasatch Mountains from a supine position most of the day.

"All I saw was purple," says BYU's true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, who hails from the Seattle area. "I mean, I know they were in their road white jerseys and everything, but after the sixth or ninth hit, things started to get fairly dark out there for me."

The Huskies ostensibly suspect defense sacks Heaps five times and harasses him throughout the day. Ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson, who sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries, both take down Heaps twice.

"It was a most illuminating performance," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt says. "I told the lads to never give in. Never give in! Never; never; never; never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Reporters are baffled as to why Holt suddenly sounds like Winston Churchill, but then Locker comes out for his interview and distracts them.

After easily dispatching Syracuse, Nebraska pays a visit to an overflowing Husky Stadium. With ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus, it's billed as a showdown between Locker and the Cornhuskers top-ranked defense. What it becomes is an electric moment when all observers witness the realization of extraordinary potential.

In a tour de force performance, Locker completes 26 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies stun No. 7 Nebraska 31-24.

"Well," says ESPN's Chris Fowler afterward. "Guess the Locker skeptics will hush now."

The rejuvenated Husky nation comes back down to earth after a 35-27 loss at USC, but the Huskies bounce back to beat Arizona State and then announce themselves as Pac-10 contenders with a victory over Oregon State.

Still, while Locker is clearly ready for prime time, the Huskies remain a program clawing its way back into the national picture. An overtime loss at Arizona and a home loss to Stanford -- Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece in a duel of future NFL first-round picks -- knock the Huskies out of the national rankings. A visit to unbeaten and third-ranked Oregon doesn't look promising. The Ducks last lost to the Huskies in 2003 in the once-heated rivalry.

"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios after Washington rolls over the Ducks 41-17. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."

That victory becomes the first of a four-game winning streak, as Washington completes its return to national prominence.

Locker becomes the 76th Heisman Trophy winner and the first from Washington. A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns the Huskies a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking.

The school announces that Bill Gates has agreed to fund a $450 million renovation of Husky Stadium.

"He told me he now wants to be to Washington what Phil Knight is to Oregon," Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward tells reporters. "Only he's got a lot more money than Phil Knight."

Worst case

There are ankle sprains and there are "high" ankle sprains and then there are catastrophic ankle sprains.

The latter is what Locker suffers while diving into the end zone in the third quarter at BYU. The Cougars and Heaps come back from a 10-point deficit to earn the win.

"We hope Jake will be back soon," says coach Steve Sarkisian, "but he obviously has a future in this game, and we're not going to rush him."

With redshirt freshman Keith Price replacing Locker, the Washington offense does just enough to beat Syracuse, but gets dominated by Nebraska and USC. A 14-10 win over Arizona State provides some hope, particularly when rumors spread that Locker will be ready for Oregon State's visit the following weekend. But Locker aggravates his ankle while doing some light running, and the Huskies lose their next four, including a 51-10 loss at unbeaten Oregon.

"Embarrassing," says linebacker Mason Foster.

It's announced that Locker is done for the season.

The Huskies miss a late field goal and lose 21-20 at California, and they limp into the Apple Cup hoping to salvage some pride during a lost season. In Pullman, it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.

Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Price and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs into Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the end zone. The Cougars recover for a touchdown, and the PAT gives them a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.

Price drives the Huskies to the WSU 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.

Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Washington is 3-9.

"We're heard a lot during the summer about Washington being back in the Pac-10 hunt," Long says afterward. "Well, they took our place in the cellar and we've got everyone coming back next year. So you tell me which program is on the rise?"

Post-spring Pac-10 power rankings

May, 3, 2010
5/03/10
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The post-spring power rankings do not match the pre-spring power rankings.

Why? After all, no games were played.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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