Pac-12: Everson Griffen

Mustain arrested on narcotics charge

February, 2, 2011
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Former USC quarterback Mitch Mustain was arrested late Tuesday night and held on a felony narcotics charge, Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson Bruce Borihanh confirmed Wednesday to ESPN Los Angeles.

Mustain was arrested at 8 p.m. PT on Tuesday. Bail was set at $30,000. Mustain has not paid bail and is still in jail, Borihanh said.

The LA Times reported "the arrest came as the result of a sting operation."

Mustain, 22, might be the nation's best-known backup quarterback. Considered one of the nation's top QB recruits in 2006, he signed with his home-state team, Arkansas, and he went 8-0 as the Razorbacks starter as a true freshman. But he opted to transfer to USC in 2007 after a highly publicized falling out with coach Houston Nutt.

At USC, however, he was unable to beat out Mark Sanchez and then Matt Barkley. While he only started one game at USC -- a 20-16 loss to Notre Dame this season, when Barkley was hurt -- he was still considered an NFL prospect.

This arrest, obviously, dims those prospects.

Mustain is the second former Trojan to be arrested this week. Former defensive end Everson Griffen, now with the Minnesota Vikings, was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony battery, when LAPD officers used a Taser to subdue him after a traffic stop near campus. Prosecutors told the LA Times "that felony charges would not be filed because officers were not injured and Griffen lacked a criminal history. The case is being forwarded to the Los Angeles city attorney's office."

Looking back at 2007 recruiting

January, 31, 2011
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Recruiting is an inexact science -- just ask any coach. Recruiting rankings are the same.

ESPN Recruiting went back and reviewed its 2007 rankings and found it had plenty of hits and plenty of misses.

Right USC?

Recall that the Trojans had the nation's No. 1 class, featuring four top-20 players and eight in the top-50. Some of the names will inspire a "who?" from those who don't follow recruiting closely.

Oregon and Stanford, which earned the Pac-10's two BCS bowl berths this season, only had one player on the 2007 ESPNU 150: Oregon's Kenny Rowe. Rowe was also the only member of the ESPNU 150 from 2007 to earn first- or second-team All-Pac-10 honors this year, though a couple, such as Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski, are already in the NFL.

You can start your review of the ESPNU 150 from 2007 here.

Here's a re-ranking of the top-10 of the recruiting rankings.

And here's a "best of" from the ESPNU 150.

For quick reference, here are the Pac-12 players who made the list.

Top 25
1. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
2. Chris Galippo, LB, USC
3. Marc Tyler, RB, USC
18. Marshall Jones, S, USC

25-50
31. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
33. Aaron Corp, QB, USC
43. Dominique Herald, S, USC
47. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC

51-75
68. Martin Coleman, OT, USC
70. Apaiata Tuihalamaka, DE, Arizona
71. Ryan Miller, OT, Colorado

76-100
None

101-125
104. Conrad Obi, DE, Colorado
107. DaJohn Harris, DT, USC
111. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
116. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
122. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC

126-150
133. Chris Forcier, QB, UCLA
135. Raymond Carter, RB, UCLA

A look back at 2007 recruiting

July, 21, 2010
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The 2007 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.

Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses. (And, yes, we did this last summer with the 2006 class, which you can review here -- Ducks fans should get a kick out of it).

As for the 2007 rankings, USC ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. Oregon, at No. 23, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.

Scout.com ranked USC No. 2 in the nation, Oregon ninth, and California 12th. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Washington (29th in nation), UCLA (36th), Arizona State (38), Oregon State (40), Stanford (43), Arizona (49) and Washington State (54).

Here's an overview.

Arizona

Class: 17

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (DE Apaiata Tuihalamaka, TE Rob Gronkowski)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (RB Nic Grigsby, CB Trevin Wade, WR William Wright, K Alex Zendejas)

Misses: Tuihalamaka, QB Bryson Beirne,

Verdict: Obviously, the biggest catch of this class, Gronkowski, is gone. Otherwise, a lot of these guys qualify for the "where are they now?" file.

Arizona State

Class: 24

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (C Garth Gerhart, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, OG Matt Hustad)

Misses: OL Po'u Palelei, LB Oliver Aaron

Verdict: This is a decent class, particularly when you factor in the contribution of the since-departed JC signees, such as LB Morris Wooten and DE Luis Vasquez. And there are several non-starters who will contribute this year.

California

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (OT Matt Summers-Gavin, P Bryan Anger, LB D.J. Holt, WR Alex Lagemann, OT Mitchell Schwartz, S Sean Cattouse, S Chris Conte, OG Justin Cheadle, DE Cameron Jordan, RB Shane Vereen).

Misses: QB Brock Mansion, CB D.J. Campbell

Verdict: Obviously, ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., missed with its evaluation of this solid recruiting class, particularly when you consider RB Jahvid Best, WR Nyan Boateng and LB Devin Bishop were significant contributors before their tenures were done. Jordan and Vereen obviously were well underrated. And there were 21 running backs better than Best?

Oregon

Class: 29

ESPNU top 150 players: 1 (DE Kenny Rowe)

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (Rowe, WR D.J. Davis, LB Casey Matthews, CB Talmadge Jackson, OG Carson York, TE David Paulson, OG Mark Asper, WR Jeff Maehl, S Eddie Pleasant, DE Terrell Turner).

Misses: DT Myles Wade, S Malachi Lewis

Verdict: When you toss in DE Will Tukuafu, WR Aaron Pflugrad (a starter who transferred to Arizona State) and WR Terence Scott, this is a good, if not great, class. Three or four of these guys should be All-Conference players.

Oregon State

Class: 35

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (HB Joe Halahuni, S Cameron Collins, WR Darrell Catchings, CB Brandon Hardin, FB Will Darkins, DE Taylor Henry, LB Keith Pankey, WR James Rodgers)

Misses: CB David Ross, RB Reggie Dunn

Verdict: We don't have the time to go back and retrace the maneuvers that are part of managing a 35-man recruiting class (each class can only include a maximum of 25 members, but there are lots of ways to fudge numbers). Obviously, there are the Beavers typical crew of so-called diamonds in the rough -- hello, James Rodgers -- but here's a guess that coach Mike Riley winces over some of these names. Certainly not a lot of production from the six JC guys.

Stanford

Class: 19

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Six (P David Green, CB Corey Gatewood, LB/FB Owen Marecic, TE Coby Fleenor, DE Thomas Keiser, DE Matt Masifilo)

Misses: QB L. D. Crow, S Sean Wiser

Verdict: An interesting class considering that six of the eight lowest rated players are on the Cardinal's preseason two-deep depth chart, including three starters. In terms of skill positions -- see the two QBs -- this class doesn't measure up.

UCLA

Class: 11

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (QB Chris Forcier, RB Raymond Carter)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (LB Akeem Ayers, LB Glenn Love, LB Steve Sloan, DT Nate Chandler, OT Mike Harris)

Misses: Forcier, Carter

Verdict: This is a very small but highly productive class collected by former coach Karl Dorrell -- note that it includes DT Brian Price, who bolted early for the NFL. The only busts were the two highest rated players, Forcier and Carter, and JC LB Mike Schmitt. The other eight members are either on the two-deep or, in Price's case, already in the NFL.

USC

Class: 20

ESPNU top 150 players: 10 (RB Joe McKnight, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, S Marshall Jones, DE Everson Griffen, QB Aaron Corp, WR Ronald Johnson, OT Martin Coleman, DT DaJohn Harris, C Kris O'Dowd)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (LB Chris Galippo, WR Ronald Johnson, C Kristofer O'Dowd, LB Malcolm Smith)

Misses: S Marshall Jones, OT Martin Coleman

Verdict: Obviously, this class, ranked No. 1 in the nation, was overrated, even when you factor in that McKnight, Griffen and Damian Williams already are in the NFL, and NT Christian Tupou would be a second-year starter if he didn't blow out his knee this spring. Lots of guys who never contributed or left the program.

Washington

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (WR Devin Aguilar, LB Alvin Logan, LB Cort Dennison, SS Nate Williams, LB Mason Foster, CB Quinton Richardson, DE Kalani Aldrich, K Erik Folk)

Misses: DE Emeka Iweka, DT Nick Wood

Verdict: You read the names of the seven highest-rated players in this class and you have one reaction: Terrible. But then you see six defensive starters among the lower rated guys. Still, the Huskies defense is a huge question mark. How it performs this year will tell you how this class should be rated.

Washington State

Class: 26

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (CB Aire Justin, WR Daniel Blackledge, C Andrew Roxas, OG B.J. Guerra, SS Chima Nwachukwu)

Misses: WR Deon Ford

Verdict: Not much should be expected from Bill Doba's final recruiting class, and this one doesn't deliver much sizzle. A couple of solid hits, though, including a couple of departed JC transfers.

USC spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
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USC

2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-4 (tied for fifth)

Returning starters

Offense: 6, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 1

Top returners: QB Matt Barkley, FB Stanley Havili, OT Tyron Smith, DT Jurrell Casey, DE Nick Perry

Key losses: OT Charles Brown, WR Damian Williams, RB Joe McKnight, OG Jeff Byers, DE Everson Griffen, FS Taylor Mays

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Joe McKnight (1,014)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (2,735)
Receiving: Damian Williams (1,010)
Tackles: Taylor Mays (96)
Sacks: Everson Griffen, Nick Perry* (8)
Interceptions: Will Harris (4)

Spring Answers

1. The defensive line is legit: New coach Lane Kiffin seemed to be unhappy with just about everything during spring -- that may be his way of challenging the complacent Trojans -- but he did praise his defensive line, which is deep and talented. Jurrell Casey is expected to break out and become one of the nation's premier defensive tackles, while ends Nick Perry and Armond Armstead appear dominant at times. It was a significant blow, however, when returning starter Christian Tupou blew out his knee in the spring game, which will force the Trojans to tap into their depth.

2. Barkley is better at QB: A lighter, more experienced Matt Barkley played well throughout spring. His decision-making was particularly improved -- he threw 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions in four scrimmages.

3. After all the hullabaloo, the Kiffin transition has been smooth: There's always upheaval when a new coach arrives, particularly when the predecessor was as successful as Pete Carroll. But the fact is Kiffin knows USC: He was an assistant there from 2001-2006. And the offensive and defensive schemes are similar to what the players know: Kiffin was the offensive coordinator his final two seasons at USC, and his father and defensive coordinator, Monte, was Pete Carroll's defensive mentor.

Fall questions

1. Secondary issues: The Trojans must replace all four starters in the secondary. That's not completely true, though, because Shareece Wright would have started last year if not for being ruled academically ineligible. Wright might be the best cornerback in the conference, but after him things are uncertain, particularly at the cornerback spot opposite him.

2. Little O-line depth: Much of the spring, the Trojans only had six healthy offensive linemen. Kiffin spent plenty of time grousing about the production up front, too. The starting unit has the potential to be very good, but a couple of injuries could be a problem.

3. Who's in the middle? Devon Kennard was moved to middle linebacker to challenge 2009 starter Chris Galippo and he did, often looking like a budding star at the position. Yet Galippo responded with a strong spring himself. The post-spring depth chart listed an "OR" between the two, which means the competition will continue in the fall. Kiffin said that the loser, won't be relegated to the bench. In fact, he might displace Michael Morgan at strongside linebacker.

Sheriff Kiffin lays down the law at USC

April, 29, 2010
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LOS ANGELES -- This winter, Lane Kiffin was handed his second plum college head coaching job just three years after becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history. Yet his record is 12-21. How the heck did he get the cardinal and gold keys to USC's Heritage Hall? His most notable achievement is manufacturing controversy with both his words and actions. Substance? Kiffin's critics will tell you "there's no there, there."

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Jae C. HongLane Kiffin knows the only way to prove himself is by winning.
No there? We can tell you Kiffin was there, in his office at 3 a.m. PDT on April 15 watching frenetic defensive line coach Ed Orgeron scarf down a super-sized Red Bull -- No. 2 or 3? -- while presiding over his bleary-eyed staff. Why 3 a.m. on April 15? Because programs are allowed one call to a junior prospect during the spring recruiting evaluation period from April 15 to May 31, and Kiffin had decided that the first voice elite East Coast recruits would hear would be from a Trojan coach.

"We decided we were going to beat everybody in the country," Kiffin explained. "But we're on the West Coast. So if we're going to beat everybody, we're going to have to get up early and we're going to have to wake up East Coast parents."

At 4 a.m, the calls hit the Central time zone. At 5 a.m., they hit the Mountain time zone. And at 6 a.m., Kiffin and Orgeron, perhaps the best recruiting combination in the country, woke up the prospects in Los Angeles.

"The best part about it is Orgeron thinks everybody is going to be real excited about coming in at 3 a.m," Kiffin said. "He's so different. He goes, 'Hey guys, it's going to be great! I'm going to buy you guys donuts and Red Bull!'"

But donuts and Red Bull, and insanely intense recruiting, probably won't surprise you about Kiffin, who turns 35 on May 9. This might, though.

"It's more tightly run now. Businesslike, more serious," linebacker Malcolm Smith said. "We have to clean the locker room -- seriously -- now. They run us if you miss a class. There's no room for error. They've tightened the ship up."

According to Kiffin, if a player is "even one minute late" to a class, study hall or a session with a tutor, they have to meet Orgeron at 5 a.m. for extra running.

Smith's tone and expression makes the following line superfluous: "That is something you don't want to do."

When one coaching staff replaces another, the stories that immediately follow are predictable: The new staff is doing things better. More rules or more freedom? Players' coach or disciplinarian? Longer practices or shorter practices? Old is bad; new is good. Then there are the harder workouts, better schemes (attacking defense!), more coaching of fundamentals, etc.

Yet Pete Carroll's program was so open and observable that it's not speculative, or unfair, to note that things were a bit, er, loosey goosey at times. When the Trojans were regularly winning national and Pac-10 titles, that was a celebrated characteristic -- dancing with Snoop Dogg in the meeting room, wheeeeee! When the Trojans were getting manhandled by Oregon and Stanford and going -- disaster! -- 9-4, it was the root-cause of the fall of a football dynasty.

So if a basic contrast is to be drawn between the Ways of Carroll and the Ways of Kiffin as spring practices come to a close with Saturday's spring game, the early returns might be surprising: Kiffin seems to be closer to channeling Woody Hayes than Carroll, his old mentor.

There's a new sheriff in town and his name is Lane Kiffin. Y'all be cool.

"It's going to be done our way, which is the productive way of doing things right -- on and off the field," Kiffin said. "We feel that is how you are successful on Saturday and how you're disciplined on Saturday: how you are Monday through Friday. We are very hard on our guys. We have extremely high standards. We want it to be difficult to be a USC Trojan football player. They're never late to football meetings. So why are they late to other stuff? I believe it's emphasis."

Malcolm Smith
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireMalcolm Smith says Kiffin's staff is running a tighter ship.
Kiffin is aware he's in a bit of a pickle. Reporters repeatedly ask him about the team he inherited. If he notes shortcomings and concerns, he's seen as criticizing Carroll, who put Kiffin's career on the fast track when he handed him the keys of the Trojans offense in 2005. But Kiffin isn't good at not telling folks what's on his mind.

"It's not what it was when we left here," he said.

Kiffin sees sloppy play, noting the Trojans ranked 114th and 88th in the nation in penalties the past two seasons. He sees a lack of toughness when players skip practices and workouts because of minor injuries. He sees the "USC way" of players leaving early for the NFL draft only if they are first-round picks being abandoned -- see Everson Griffen, Damian Williams and Joe McKnight.

He sees a team that got its butt kicked last fall, posting the two worst losses of the Carroll Era.

"We have to figure out what went wrong because all of the sudden something really changed," Kiffin said.

The Kiffin Way means publicly calling out players, as he did when he stripped cornerback T.J. Bryant and receiver De'Von Flournoy of their No. 1 jerseys because they were under performing. Or when he said the running backs "don't have a clue right now on what we need to do to be a championship running team."

It means digging out players who fell out of favor with the old staff, such as defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, or challenging returning starters to fight for their jobs, such as linebacker Chris Galippo. It means repeatedly telling reporters that more than a handful of incoming freshmen will immediately compete for playing time.

The final one, actually, was a standard of Carroll's culture of competition that may have fallen off a bit the past couple of seasons.

No "there" there with Kiffin? Let's just say Kiffin seems to know exactly where he is.

He landed his dream job. And it will remain a dream job only if he wins -- and thereby proves himself a coach of substance.

Said Kiffin, "You can't come to this job with a rebuilding plan. You've got to win."

Taylor Mays hurting after draft tumble

April, 24, 2010
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The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)

Opening the mailbag: How does the Pac-10 survive (thrive)?

April, 23, 2010
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To the notes.

Robert from Seattle writes: Who does the Pac-10 ultimately answer to? The fans or to the presidents? A follow-up not-so-quick question. If the Pac-10 wants to survive as a conference, what do they do?

Ted Miller: Who does the Pac-10 answer to? Easy: $.

Commissioner Larry Scott's charge going forward is to maximize sports revenue, which means football and men's basketball (but mostly football). Of course, he doesn't want to completely compromise the culture and values of the conference -- academic or otherwise -- but my guess is his first interest is revenue.

He has two basic issues ahead of him that he'd like to have a handle on before he goes off to negotiate new media/TV deals after the first of the year (the Pac-10's contracts with Fox and ESPN-ABC expire after the 2011-2012 academic year).

The first is expansion: Would adding teams increase revenue per team? The 10 existing members want their pie slices to grow, not get smaller, with expansion. So he's looking for teams that: 1. are interested in joining the Pac-10; 2. would increase revenue. Much of that, of course, is tied to the idea of creating more value -- real and perceived -- when negotiating new TV contracts.

The second issue -- if he cannot bring the presidents an expansion plan that works -- is defending the Pac-10's interest if expansion becomes the rage back east.

If, suddenly, a 16-team Big Ten and 16-team SEC are nose-to-nose for domination, Scott has to figure out what that means for the Pac-10. At the BCS meetings, Scott said he doesn't necessarily believe that would force the Pac-10 to follow the leaders. Maybe. But maybe not.

It's possible that the new, powerful super-conferences would make demands, such as second automatic berth in BCS bowl games (and perhaps an option for a third) as well as other special accommodations. That could create a significant revenue imbalance.

Moreover, Scott has to be aware of what might happen if there is a long-term and significant revenue imbalance between the Pac-10 and the super conferences.

For example, what happens if the SEC-16 starts to pay assistant coaches an average salary of $750,000, while Pac-10 assistants average just $250,000? Or think about this: What if Florida offered Mike Stoops $2.5 million to leave Arizona to become the Gators defensive coordinator? Or what if the existing imbalances in facilities become so pronounced that a significant percentage of recruits from southern California start heading east?

The Pac-10 could suddenly learn what it feels like to be a non-AQ conference. Heck, it could become a non-AQ conference.

Still, as I wrote on Thursday, we are wallowing in speculation and hypotheticals.

Ultimately, Scott's job is simple: He's going to try to improve the Pac-10's position in the marketplace, but, failing that, he needs to at least maintain it.

Matt from Athens, Ga., writes: When is the last time a USC player was not drafted in the 1st round? Does that point to any talent drop-off at USC or is it more particular players not fitting teams' needs in a given year?

Ted Miller: Last time? All the way back to ... 2007.

This is a good note from the Orange County Register though: "In the 75-year history of the National Football League draft, USC (63), Miami (56) and Ohio State (53) have produced the most first-round selections. On Thursday night in the 2010 first round, they combined for zero."

As for USC's talent, I don't think this is a moment to say the sky is falling. USC figures to have perhaps six players go in the next two rounds: Everson Griffen, Taylor Mays, Charles Brown, Damian Williams, Joe McKnight and Anthony McCoy. That ain't too shabby.

Michael from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Your Pac-10 predictions discount an Arizona team the returns almost the entire talent-ridden offense that, despite new coordinators, will run the same offense. As for the defense, it's still a Stoops team that always ranks high defensively, star talent or not. What's keeping the Cat's out of Pac-10 favorites?

Ted Miller: First, those aren't "predictions" -- they are "power rankings." They are based at the present moment. Things can change (and probably will).

A few points.

First, Arizona not only lost two coordinators, it lost two very good coordinators in new Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes and new Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. That can't be written off. The new foursome of co-coordinators are all smart, respected coaches, but it's prudent to take a wait-and-see attitude to how this unusual arrangement will work out going forward.

Second, Mike Stoops knows defense, without a doubt. But just like everyone else he needs players. As for "always" ranking highly: The 2007 unit ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and fifth in total defense.

Third, the 2010 defense must replace seven starters, including both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and half its secondary. That seven includes three second-team All-Pac-10 players from each level (tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Xavier Kelly and free safety Cam Nelson). Moreover, they are counting on a pair of JC transfers to start at linebacker. I'm skeptical of JC transfers until proven otherwise.

Now, despite all this, the Wildcats still look like a bowl team -- in large part because, as you note, the offense should be able to score on anybody. Therefore, they are a member of what I see as the Pac-10's extremely competitive and deep middle. I rank USC, Oregon and Oregon State as a clear top three. But from Nos. 4 to No. 8, you could arrange and re-arrange teams and not get much of an argument from me.

Luke from Philadelphia writes: I am a fan/follower of PSU and the Big Ten. But I am really excited about what looks like a lot of changes out there in Pac-10 country. Naturally I hate USC, so seeing them humbled last year was awesome. It's great to see the rest of your conference rise up and bring more drama to the season and the Rose Bowl. What's the feeling out there in the west? Did Pac-10 fans traditionally feel proud of USC for being the football flagship and thus feel sad about their becoming mortal in 2009? Or are they as happy as I am to see some drama in the conference, even if it means the Pac-10 could actually lose a Rose Bowl or two?

Ted Miller: Not getting a sense of any sadness from the other nine teams of USC slipping back -- potentially slipping back, I should type -- particularly when I was in Westwood last week.

A wide-open Pac-10 is more fun. For a while there, it felt like everyone was playing for second place behind the Trojans, though it's important to note that three times during the Pete Carroll Era, USC only shared the title with another conference team (2002, 2006, 2007).

As for pride in USC, it was more a case of a desire for more sympathy and less "Pac-1" ridiculousness. The Trojans would have dominated any other conference just as they did the Pac-10 from 2002-2008.

Would they have won seven consecutive SEC titles? Probably not. But I also think that if USC had played in the SEC, it would have won more national titles during that span.

Gerald from Norcross, Ga., writes: How's the Eric Berry versus Taylor Mays comparison looking?

Ted Miller: Fair to say that Berry is the decisive winner after going No. 5 overall. Heck, Pete Carroll even rated Mays below Texas' Earl Thomas by taking Thomas over Mays with the No. 14 pick.

And how about this: Who would have thought that Mays wouldn't even be the first Pac-10 safety selected (Cleveland just picked Oregon's T.J. Ward with the sixth pick of the second round)?

Tough day for Mays no doubt. But he'll eventually get drafted and have plenty of opportunities to prove his doubters wrong.

Craig from Corvallis, Ore., writes: Do you think that a super conference for the Pac-10 would be considered if it partially revived the old Southwest Conference? The conference could have two divisions, the pacific and southwest. The Pacific would be composed of the original Pac-8 members. The Southwest would include the Arizona schools and six Texas schools. Unfortunately, some of the old Southwest members would have to be left out (I know Arkansas would not mind, they are probably very happy in the SEC). I think the best fit would include: Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, SMU, TCU and Texas Tech (or Rice). It would be a bold move by Larry Scott but very interesting for the world of college football. I think it would be interesting to see SMU brought back to the forefront of college football after their long dark-age.

Ted Miller: The Country-Western Conference!

It would be even better if you dropped Baylor and added Oklahoma, though that breaks from your old Southwest Conference theme.

This is an interesting idea, and not a bad one. I think the chances of something like this happen are decidedly remote, but I've read ideas that were far worse.

Former Pac-10 players on top-100 list

April, 16, 2010
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Twelve former Pac-10 players -- topped by USC defensive end Everson Griffen at No. 20 overall -- made the Scouts Inc. top-100 list of NFL draft prospects, which was published in the latest ESPN Magazine.

Those players are (number is top-100 rank):

20. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
21. Taylor Mays, S, USC
24. Brian Price, DT, UCLA
37. Tyson Alualu, DT, California
41. Jahvid Best, RB, California
43. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
46. Charles Brown, OT, USC
52. Damian Williams, WR, USC
62. Anthony McCoy, TE, USC
74. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
88. T.J. Ward, S, Oregon
94. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon

Nine Pac-10 players rank on Kiper's top-five list by position

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
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A bevy of Pac-10 players may not be selected in the first round of the NFL draft on April 22, but the second and third rounds will feature plenty of West Coast flavor, at least according to Mel Kiper.

Kiper ranks nine conference players among the top-five at their respective positions.
Notice that seven different schools have players ranked. While no Oregon State or Stanford players were ranked, both schools are certain to produce draft picks: quarterback Sean Canfield and linebacker Keaton Kristick for the Beavers and running back Toby Gerhart and offensive lineman Chris Marinelli for the Cardinal.

That leaves out only Washington State, and center Kenny Alfred might just get picked late in the draft -- he's not off the radar.

Not since 2007 have all 10 conference teams had at least one player drafted -- see some lean years for Stanford, Washington and Arizona.

Strong & weak: USC

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
9:35
AM ET
The eighth of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

USC

Strong: Front seven

Why it's a strength: USC listed 24 front-seven players on its 2009 defensive depth chart, and just four are not returning: end Everson Griffen, tackle Averell Spicer and linebackers Nick Garratt and Uona Kaveinga. Only Griffen was a starter. That sort of experience is certainly a strength, one that in past years might have struck fear into future opponents. The Trojans, however, were not dominant up front last year, ranking fifth in the Pac-10 against the run. Still, despite a sub-par year by USC's standards, the defense still ranked first in the conference in scoring (19.8 points per game). Moreover, 16 of these returning front-seven players were freshmen or sophomores last fall. There should be significant improvement with new coordinator Monte Kiffin and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Players like junior tackle Jurrell Casey, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard, sophomore end Nick Perry and junior tackle/end Armond Armstead could take a step toward stardom.

Weak: The secondary

Why it's a weakness: The Trojans are replacing all four starters -- multi-year starters at that -- including free safety Taylor Mays. That's four of the top seven tacklers. Moreover, the leader to replace Mays, Drew McAllister, will miss the spring due to hip surgery. Of course, the Trojans are hardly devoid of talent, particularly with the return of cornerback Shareece Wright. Wright, widely regarded as the team's best cover corner, would have started last year but he was academically ineligible. And there are plenty of promising youngsters on the depth chart who have already seen action, including corners T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham and safety T.J.McDonald. Still, this is a unit in transition that will face an outstanding crew of experienced Pac-10 quarterbacks.

Thoughts on the 2009 top 30

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
4:30
PM ET
It feels like this is our final goodbye to the 2009 season: Our reworked top 30, which was topped Wednesday by Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.

No surprise there, right?

Some notes on the list, and then we firmly turn our attention to 2010:

  • Oregon State led all teams with five players, including four in the top 10. Imagine if you'd read that 11 years ago?
  • Washington State had none -- only center Kenny Alfred was considered. Arizona State had just one, though the Sun Devils had a few who just missed the cut -- linebacker Mike Nixon, for one -- and a couple who figure to be on our 2010 preseason list (linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy).
  • 2009 was a highly competitive season in the conference, and that showed in the rankings. Arizona, California, Oregon and USC each had four players ranked. UCLA and Washington had three. Stanford two.
  • Only one offensive lineman -- USC's Charles Brown -- was on the list. USC's Jeff Byers and Stanford's Chris Marinelli just missed the cut. O-line is a questionable position for the conference next year, even with a lot of starters back. Only three of ten All-Pac-10 linemen are back -- and none from the first-team.
  • Five quarterbacks and five defensive ends made the list, making those the top two positions. Four quarterbacks will be back but just two of the DEs, which the quarterbacks might be happy to hear.
  • Thirteen of the top 30 are back next year, including seven of the top 10 (though none of the top three).
  • Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona each will have three players from the list back in 2010. USC will have none.

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 1

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
1:28
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
Ivan Pierre Aguirre/US PresswireToby Gerhart won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.
Click here for Nos. 2-30. Preseason rankings are here.

1. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford (25): Gerhart was the best player in the nation, so it makes sense that he sits atop the Pac-10 list. A consensus All-American, Gerhart finished second to Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history -- Ingram's playing for a national title contender clearly provided him the slim margin of victory -- but he beat out Ingram for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation's best running back. Gerhart led the nation in rushing (1,871 yards) and touchdowns (28) -- only one other runner had more than 21 TDs. His 143.9 yards rushing per game was 25 yards more than any other conference running back. He also caught 11 passes for 157 yards and even threw a TD pass. Defenses crowded the line of scrimmage and tried to gang up on Gerhart. It just didn't matter.

2. Brian Price, DT, UCLA (6)
3. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State (NR)
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9)
5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 2

February, 23, 2010
2/23/10
12:45
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

Click here for Nos. 3-30. Preseason rankings are here.

Price
Price
2. Brian Price, DT, UCLA (6): Everyone knew Price was coming; they just couldn't stop him, even with a double-team. The Pac-10 defensive player of the year -- a likely NFL first-round pick this spring -- led the conference with 23.5 tackles for loss, which is eight more than No. 2 (Washington's Donald Butler). That total ranked fourth in the nation. Seven of those TFLs were sacks, a total that ranked first among conference interior linemen. He also had 48 total tackles and forced a pair of fumbles.

3. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State (NR)
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9)
5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 3

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
12:15
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

Click here for Nos. 5-30. Preseason rankings are here.

Canfield
Canfield
3. Sean Canfield, QB, Oregon State (NR): Sean Canfield's wild ride as the Beavers' quarterback -- the starter as a sophomore, he probably wouldn't have played much in 2009 had Lyle Moevao been healthy -- ended with first-team All-Pac-10 honors and a season that made him an NFL prospect. He led the conference with 3,271 yards passing -- no other quarterback threw for more than 2,850 yards -- and tied Washington's Jake Locker for first in the conference with 21 touchdown passes. He completed 68 percent of his passes and ranked second in the conference in passing efficiency. He did all that for an offense that rebuilt its receiving corps as well as its offensive line.

4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9)
5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

Pac-10 top 30 in 2009: No. 4

February, 19, 2010
2/19/10
1:30
PM ET
Our final top 30 player rankings from 2009 will start from the bottom and work up to No. 1.

Click here for Nos. 5-30. Preseason rankings are here.

Masoli
Masoli
4. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon (9): Masoli's value? How about 28 touchdowns, 13 running and 15 passing in 2009? He ranked ninth in the conference with 55.8 yards rushing per game and also passed for 2,147 yards with just six interceptions, which earned him second-team All-Pac-10 honors. But Masoli isn't only about numbers. It's his skill running the Ducks' spread-option, which manifests itself when fans and TV cameras (and opposing defenses) find out that -- for a couple of critical clicks -- they don't know where the ball is. It's his toughness, just ask Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell, whom Masoli ran over on a critical fourth-down play in the Civil War. And it's his unflappability. Masoli can make mistakes and he can seem out of rhythm. But he always seems to come up with clutch plays at crunch time (see his brilliant, six TD effort in the comeback, double-overtime win at Arizona).

5. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State (4)
6. Jake Locker, QB, Washington (11)
7. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State (24)
8. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (NR)
9. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State (22)
10. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (NR)
11. Damian Williams, WR, USC (7)
12. Taylor Mays, S, USC (1)
13. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon (16)
14. Tyson Alualu, DE, California (26)
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA (15)
16. Jahvid Best, RB, California (2)
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC (17)
18. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California (8)
19. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State (28)
20. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (NR)
21. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington (23)
22. Mike Mohamed, LB, California (NR)
23. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (NR)
24. Donald Butler, LB, Washington (NR)
25. Everson Griffen, DE, USC (30)
26. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona (NR)
27. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona (NR)
28. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon (NR)
29. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona (NR)
30. Travis Goethel, LB Arizona State (NR)

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