Pac-12: Gerald Munns
He's one of the most talented linebackers in the nation. His physical skills and instincts suggest the true sophomore is a future first-round NFL draft pick. Just go to YouTube and look up some of his highlights.
But now he's headed to the bench for Saturday's game at Washington. Not because of his play but because of how he conducts himself on the field, which is consistently bad.
He's been flagged for numerous personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in his one-plus year as a starter. Almost all of them fall into the "what-is-he-thinking?" category.
The latest, which inspired coach Dennis Erickson to bench Burfict in favor of senior senior Gerald Munns, who's pretty darn good anyway, is the pointless headbutt Burfict delivered to Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz last Saturday during the Sun Devils 31-28 loss.
What best tells the story is seeing Sun Devils linebackers coach Trent Bray ask Burfict through a baffled, angry expression, "Why did you do that?"
That's the million dollar question -- as in, I wish the NFL would mail me the money Burfict is losing with his behavior.
"This has totally to do with Arizona State and our football program and Vontaze," Erickson told The Arizona Republic. "I want him to be the best he can be, and if he learns from this he'll be the best he can be. He's got that issue, and he's going to overcome it and be a successful player here. At this point, if he does that he just can't play."
Burfict almost never talks to the media. The official explanation for this is he doesn't like to do interviews and that he's shy. The unofficial word is that Burfict needs to be protected.
Before benching Burfict, Erickson said on Monday that opponents were "baiting" Burfict. What Erickson's move on Tuesday shows is a realization that Burfict isn't 10-years-old. Trash-talking -- baiting -- is a part of a physical, emotional game. Burfict needs to grow up. Either that, or he needs to drop this loony persona he's adopting because he believes for some reason -- bad advice from outside the team? -- that it creates an attention-getting aura that might in some through-the-looking-glass way help him professionally.
Vontaze, the NFL is a business of winning. The demented gladiator routine is not a part of the process.
Make the play. Share a howl with your teammates. Then shut up and get back in the huddle.
If you do that, you will become an All-American, first-round NFL draft pick and receive all the benefits that includes.
If you don't, five years from now, you'll be showing YouTube clips to your buddies telling them how good you used to be.
He topped a list of 48 Sun Devils who were honored.
A news release from the school said the "Hard Hat Program was created to reward those individuals who do what's right in the weight room even when no one is looking ... a Hard Hat Player is someone who is self-motivated, a competitor, committed to personal and team excellence, dependable, accountable, disciplined and most importantly, puts the team first."
To become a Hard Hat Player, a player has to achieve a certain point total during winter workouts. He earns points based on his effort for strength training, speed development and conditioning sessions. They are also awarded points for competitive events and performing extra workouts in the "Blitz Package Program." Each athlete is evaluated after every workout by the sports performance staff with input from an athlete's position coach when applicable.
The list of the honored includes: Corey Adams, Derrall Anderson, George Bell, Omar Bolden, Jarrid Bryant, Mike Callaghan, Jonathan Clark, Chris Coyle, Dean DeLeone, Eddie Elder, Steven Figueroa, Evan Finkenberg, Clint Floyd, Garth Gerhart, Lawrence Guy, Jon Hargis, J.J. Holliday, Matt Hustad, Osahon Irabor, Patrick Jamison, Keelan Johnson, Brandon Johnson, Anthony Jones, Kyle Johnson, Cameron Kastl, Ronald Kennedy, Dan Knapp, Trevor Kohl, LeQuan Lewis, Shelly Lyons, Cameron Marshall, Shane McCullen, Jamal Miles, Bo Moos, James Morrison, Gerald Munns, Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad, Cole Rarrick, Jamarr Robinson, Andrew Sampson, Zach Schlink, Max Smith, Adam Tello, Steven Threet, Matthew Tucker and Thomas Weber.
Starters or key contributors who didn't make the list (for whatever reason, including injury or excused absence) include: linebacker Vontaze Burfict, receiver Gerell Robinson, receiver Kerry Taylor, defensive end James Brooks, defensive tackle Williams Sutton, defensive tackle Saia Falahola, defensive end Greg Smith and linebacker Brandon Magee.
Everybody is talking about: While the Sun Devils have many holes to fill, the competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Brock Osweiler at quarterback will produce the most headlines.
Bigger shoes than you think: Strong side linebacker Travis Goethel
Goethel was the only Sun Devil who ranked on our post-season list of the Pac-10's top-30 players. He wasn't flashy but, playing on a unit that ranked first in the Pac-10 in total defense (297.8 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (21.1 points per game), he tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss and ranked third in total tackles with 57. He also was particularly effective at neutralizing an opposing tight end.
Who's stepping in? Shelly Lyons, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 tackles last year, so he's not completely green. He's not as big as the 6-3, 237-pound Goethel, so he may be challenged by big tight ends. The Sun Devils must replace two of their three starting linebackers: Goethel and veteran Mike Nixon. With talented but mercurial sophomore Vontaze Burfict back in the middle, and junior Brandon Magee expected to step in for Nixon, the crew in 2010 will be more athletic but less experienced. It will be interesting to see where senior -- and former starter -- Gerald Munns fits in.
Strong: Defensive front seven
Why it's a strength: The Sun Devils take some significant hits on defense, losing seven starters, including five of their top six tacklers, but the young talent coming back is impressive, particularly up front. Start with the defensive line. Sure, end Dexter Davis is gone, but he's the only departure on the three-deep. And here's a guess that tackles Lawrence Guy, William Sutton and Corey Adams take a step forward in 2010. Linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel must be replaced, but rising star Vontaze Burfict returns inside and Gerald Munns, Brandon McGee and Shelly Lyons have experience. Count on this: The Sun Devils, owners of the conference's No. 1 rush defense in 2009, won't be easy to run against again next fall.
Why it's a weakness: It will not be a pattern of this feature to indict an entire side of the ball, but the Sun Devils have huge issues on offense for a third consecutive season. Last year, they ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring and ninth in total offense. And only four starters are back this spring. Ouch. Skill positions? There's uncertainty at quarterback. The top two receivers are gone, as is starting tailback Dimitri Nance. The line? Three starters need to be replaced, including the unit's leader in 2009, tackle Shawn Lauvao. Answers may be found this spring. Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler will battle at quarterback, while Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad will immediately bolster the receiving corps. Injuries the past two seasons mean lots of returning guys on the line have experience. And there are plenty of choices at tailback. Still, there's a lot of uncertainty here.
Freshman linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the highest rated recruit in Arizona State history, has been rule academically eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse, the school announced Friday afternoon.
Burfict, ranked the nation's 16th-best overall prospect in 2009 on the ESPNU 150, will play Saturday in the Sun Devils season-opener against Idaho State.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Burfict, who starred at powerhouse Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., has been impressive in preseason camp and is expected to see significant action and even push for a starting job. He is presently listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind senior Gerald Munns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Just about every Pac-10 team feels good about its linebackers.
Not an easy position to rank.
- UCLA: Senior Reggie Carter was second-team All-Pac-10, up-and-coming sophomore Akeem Ayers and senior Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while sophomore backup Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick was second-team All-Pac-10, and the two-headed monster on the weakside -- Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey -- is back. Sophomore David Pa'aluhi -- a mixed martial arts fighter -- is promising in the middle.
- USC: Yes, USC gets the benefit of the doubt, despite three new starters. By season's end don't be surprised if Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith look like the conference's best unit.
- Oregon: Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews return, and Eddie Pleasant steps in for Jerome Boyd on the outside. There's good depth and good speed here.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils have a lot of experience as well as young talent, but the starting crew of Travis Goethel, Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon doesn't possess top-end speed. And sophomore Shelly Lyons is hurt and the NCAA Clearinghouse hasn't yet cleared spectacular true freshman Vontaze Burfict.
- California: On the outside, Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young have plenty of experience. Inside, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt are promising but green. The depth is solid.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are fast with Sterling Lewis, Xavier Kelly and Vuna Tuihalamaka, and Lewis and Kelly have starting experience. There's a pretty fair drop-off to the second unit.
- Stanford: Clinton Snyder will lead a solid crew that includes Will Powers and Chike Amajoyi. The uncertain status of Alex Debniak (knee) hurts.
- Washington: The Huskies have a solid triumvirate. E.J. Savannah returns after missing all of 2008 due to a suspension. He'll play outside opposite Mason Foster with Donald Butler in the middle. Depth is an issue.
- Washington State: Andy Mattingly's return on the strongside from defensive end should help. Jason Stripling is a senior on the weakside, but isn't terribly experienced -- he missed almost all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. JC transfer Alex Hoffman-Ellis will man the middle. He redshirted last year. It would help if undersized but quick Louis Bland was 100 percent because he would add much-needed speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The 2006 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.
In the big picture, USC ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., behind No. 1 Florida (sorta makes sense, eh?). UCLA, at No. 19, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.
Scout.com ranked USC No. 1 in the nation, Arizona 19th, UCLA 20th and California 23rd. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Arizona State (32nd in nation), Washington (35th), Stanford (38), Oregon State (41), Washington State (45) and Oregon (52).
Oregon last? Hmm.
Anyway... here's an overview
How many are expected to start in 2009: Nine (CB Devin Ross, DT Earl Mitchell, FS Cam Nelson, WR Terrell Turner, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore, WR Delashaun Dean, OG Conan Amituanai, C Colin Baxter)
Misses: QB Tyler Lyon, RB Derke Robinson
Verdict: This is an underrated class -- even guys who aren't listed as starters are projected to contribute in 2009. It's also notable that the few who didn't pan out -- or were problems, such as DE Louis Holmes -- were the big names.
Misses: DE Jermaine Williams, RB Rodney Glass
Verdict: A solid class when you consider that nine of the 24 signees were JC players who have already moved on -- a group that included RB Ryan Torain and S Troy Nolan, who were the class's most elite performers.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Six (CB Darian Hagan, DT Derrick Hill, QB Kevin Riley, C Chris Guarnero, DE Tyson Alualu, LB Mike Mohamed)
Verdict: Ratings, smatings. Montgomery, Slocum and Prueitt were highly rated, Alualu and Mohamed barely registered. Overall, a solid class.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Five (C Jordan Holmes, LT Bo Thran, RT C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Spenser Paysinger)
Verdict: Decidedly mixed. One thing is for sure: This class bolstered the Ducks offensive line. Also interesting, Bair and Paysinger transitioned to their current positions from tight end and receiver, respectively.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The good news is Arizona State's defense has looked good this spring. The bad news is the offense hasn't.
The important question for the Sun Devils as they focus on erasing a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2008 is whether the defense looks good because the offense is bad or the offensive looks bad because the defense is really good.
|Nick Doan/Icon SMI|
|Linebacker Mike Nixon earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2008.|
"They're going through some growing pains," senior linebacker Mike Nixon said. "Hopefully it's more us playing really well right now than them helping us a little bit."
With just over a week until the April 18 spring game at Sun Devil Stadium, most are taking the optimistic approach: The defense is more athletic, experienced and deeper than it has been in recent years, so this crew could be one of the best units in the Pac-10.
With defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and end Dexter Davis, there are two certified stars -- and future NFL draft picks -- on the defensive line. The linebackers are running eight-deep with super-recruit Vontaze Burfict arriving in the fall. Coach Dennis Erickson says he's got "four or five" cornerbacks who can play. Replacing safety Troy Nolan won't be easy, but the coaches have been pleased with Ryan McFoy.
But it's not just about lots of bodies.
"We're getting close to the type of team speed we need on defense like my defenses have had over the years," said Erickson, referring to the sleek units he had at Miami and Oregon State.
Of course, the offense is breaking in a new quarterback -- senior Danny Sullivan is the decided leader to replace Rudy Carpenter -- and three potential starting offensive linemen are sitting out with injuries.
You may have heard ASU's offensive line struggles mentioned a couple of times over the past two seasons.
That's why a grizzled veteran like 25-year-old linebacker Mike Nixon, who played in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system until 2005, isn't ready to talk about the Sun Devils as the second-coming of USC, circa 2008.
Sure, the defense is having fun. Sure, it might talk a little smack to the offense, which seems overwhelmed at times. But these are not fall Saturdays.
"There's a fine line between being confident and being cocky," Nixon said. "We've got to be confident. But we've got to go out and prove what we think we're capable of this year. We had moments last year when we played great games defensively. But then you turn on the Oregon film or the [Arizona] film."
Nixon is recalling the 54 points and 537 yards the Ducks piled up. Or the 24 second-half points Arizona recorded that ended a three-year winning streak in the rivalry game and knocked the Sun Devils out of bowl eligibility.
|Tom Hauck for ESPN.com|
|Coveted prospect Vontaze Burfict could be an immediate starter at middle linebacker.|
The Sun Devils have been solid on defense the past two years -- ranking third in the Pac-10 in scoring defense in 2007 and fourth last year -- but coordinator Craig Bray said he's expecting a step up from solid to dominating.
A defense can't dominate without speed everywhere, and that's why recruiting speed has been the chief concern since Erickson arrived.
That also means no veteran starter is safe, even Nixon, who's being challenged by sophomore Shelly Lyons, despite earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2008 and tying for the conference lead with five interceptions.
Incoming freshmen defensive tackles Corey Adams and Will Sutton are expected to get looks for the defensive line rotation, and Burfict is practically being penciled in at middle linebacker, where the Sun Devils have Travis Goethel and Gerald Munns, who both have significant starting experience.
"There's definitely a position for [Burfict]," Bray said. "If we have one position that's lacking athleticism, it's our 'Mike' 'backer. If Vontaze can pick it up -- and we're pretty simple -- then he's going to make a big difference."
Bray added that the depth at linebacker could inspire him to adopt some 3-4 looks to get more of them on the field, though he's yet to use the scheme this spring.
After another practice when the offense only produced a handful of positive plays, it's hard not to acknowledge what's going on: "Yeah, we've been dominating," Bray said.
Arizona State has long been known for quarterbacks and offensive firepower, and for 2009 to be a dramatically better season than 2008, the offense will need to pick it up.
But it seems fair to say that Erickson subscribes to the hackneyed football cliche, "Defense wins championships."
Might the Sun Devils be building a defensive power in the desert?
"It would be nice, being a senior, for that to be our legacy -- when ASU turned into a defensive program," Nixon said. "I think we've got the talent to do that. I think we've got the depth to do that. Now I just think we've got to actually do it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is throwing names around and reporters pens are racing and it's hard to figure out who's first team, who's second team and who's merely intriguing.
The confusion, by the way, is a good thing.
|Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire|
|Arizona State's Danny Sullivan is one of five guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.|
"We've got bodies for a change," Erickson said. "That also brings in the thing USC has -- competition."
Of course, when spring practices start on March 24, everyone will be asking about the quarterbacks, and Erickson is glad to answer.
And the names start flowing.
He's got five guys competing. Senior Danny Sullivan, who waited patiently while Rudy Carpenter owned the position the previous three-plus seasons, starts at No. 1. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy is No. 2, but he's got to prove his elbow has fully healed.
Then there's the tall guy.
He's No. 5 for now, but 6-foot-8, 235-pound Brock Osweiler, a true freshman from Kalispell, Mont., has already enrolled and already has tongues wagging.
"He's got a chance," Erickson said.
Coy isn't a term often applied to Erickson, but there's just a hint of that when he fields questions about Osweiler. Time's winged chariot might be hurrying near, as coach Andrew Marvell once told reporters, but Osweiler's candidacy could linger into the fall as the Sun Devils' coaches winnow the field to two or three guys.
"Age has nothing to do with who will be the guy," Erickson said. "None of them have any experience."
That's not completely true. Sullivan has seen spot action. He went 15-of-43 for 151 yards last year with two interceptions and one touchdown. But Erickson isn't counting those uninspiring numbers, or counting out Sullivan, whose lack of mobility is countered by his experience and strong arm.
"We've seen Danny Sullivan every day for two years, and I think he's very underrated," Erickson said.
Of course, quarterback isn't everything. The Sun Devils felt pretty good about Carpenter last year, but their inability to protect him over the past two seasons seemed to catch up to them as the season wore on and the record-setting hurler seemed to lose his rhythm.
Which brings us back to the exact same Big Issue Above All Others ASU had a year ago. Any Sun Devils fans know what's coming?
"Bottom line is you've got to block somebody," Erickson said. "Bottom line is you've got to be able to run the football."
That is where Erickson is most optimistic about improvement. He now sees a for-real two-deep depth chart with more guys who look like they can play.
The only certainty is workout-warrior Shawn Lauvao moving from guard to left tackle. After that, it's wide open.
On the other side of the ball, there's also going to be competition and player-shuffling, but the questions are more pleasant.
"Defensively, we've got a lot of good players coming back," Erickson said. "That's a strength for us."
The biggest position switch is Travis Goethel moving from strongside linebacker to the middle, replacing Morris Wooten, where he'll compete with former starter Gerald Munns, who's returning after leaving the team last season for personal reasons. The arrival of prep All-American Vontaze Burfict in the fall figures to further thicken the plot.
The biggest competition will be to replace All-Pac-10 safety Troy Nolan. The list of candidates for Nolan's spot -- and strong safety for that matter -- includes Clint Floyd, Max Tabach, Ryan McFoy, Keelan Johnson, Jarrell Holman and freshman Matthew Tucker, who's already enrolled.
So, yeah -- whew -- that's a lot of guys.
Which has Erickson expecting his Sun Devils to emerge from spring practices believing 2008 was the program equivalent of eating a bad oyster.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
And finally there were linebackers. Or a lack thereof.
All three first-team All-Pac-10 linebackers are gone. USC and California both lost three starting linebackers from elite units.
The only team that welcomes back an intact crew is Washington, which is a mixed blessing when a defense is among the worst in the nation the previous season.
That said: No one is completely rebuilding.
Each linebacker unit, other than USC, has at least one starter back, and the Trojans crew has seen significant playing time and is probably as talented as any in the Pac-10.
- UCLA: This is a position of strength for UCLA, with a lot of experience and athletic ability, led by middle linebacker and leading tackler Reggie Carter, who was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago. Akeem Ayers and Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick, second-team All-Pac-10, leads another solid corps of Beavers linebackers from the strongside. Middle linebacker Bryant Cornell is gone, but he only ranked fifth on the team in tackles. Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey are back on the weakside, while David Pa'aluhi is slated to replace Cornell.
- USC: Sure, all three starters are gone, but we just can't pull the trigger and downgrade the Trojans. The general feeling that Chris Galippo inside with Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan on the flanks will be as physically talented as any crew in the conference. Each saw significant action last year and recorded double-digit tackles, with Morgan leading the way with 24, including five for a loss.
- Arizona State: Lost second-leading tackler Morris Wooten but the Sun Devils get everyone else back, including Gerald Munns, who left the team early last season due to personal issues. Moreover, young players such as Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will push for playing time.
- Arizona: Lost leading tackler and leader Ronnie Palmer in the middle, but Sterling Lewis (five starts) and Xavier Kelly (eight starts) are back and Vuna Tuihalamaka, who is slated to replace Palmer, saw a lot of action in 2008.
- Stanford: Pat Maynor is gone, but Clinton Snyder leads an experienced crew that includes Chike Amajoyi, Will Powers and Nick Macaluso.
- California: Lost three of its four starting linebackers, but both Eddie Young and Mike Mohamed started games last year, with Mohamed ranking third on the team in tackles.
- Oregon: Jerome Boyd is gone but second-leading tackler Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are back. Eddie Pleasant likely steps in for Boyd.
- Washington: Because the Huskies defense was so bad last year, it's hard to rank them in good shape just because all three starters are back. But the addition of 2007 leading tackler E.J. Savannah, who was suspended by former coach Tyrone Willingham, makes this an area of least concern on a team with many concerns.
- Washington State: It might seem like we're picking on the Cougars by leaving them alone down here but here's the situation. WSU lost its best defensive player and leading tackler, middle linebacker Greg Trent, from the nation's worst rushing defense (248 yards per game). Undersized weakside linebacker Louis Bland, who had nine tackles for a loss in 2008, is back, and word is Andy Mattingly might move back to linebacker from end. If that happens, the position upgrades substantially.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona State's defense took a big hit this week with the announcement that linebacker Gerald Munns is done for the year while he deals with undisclosed personal issues.
Coach Dennis Erickson said Tuesday during the Pac-10 conference call that Munns, a junior from Queen Creek, Ariz., wouldn't play at California this weekend. After practice, it came out that Munns wouldn't play again in 2008.
Munns was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded a team-high seven tackles, five solo, including a tackle for loss and an interception againt Stanford.
Senior Morris Wooten will replace Munns, with junior Mike Nixon and true freshman Shelly Lyons providing depth. Wooten was suspended for the first three games, but played well against Georgia, leading the Sun Devils with eight tackles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona State linebacker Gerald Munns won't play at California on Saturday, coach Dennis Erickson said during Tuesday's Pac-10 coaches' teleconference.
Munns, the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after the Sun Devils' win over Stanford on Sept. 6, is dealing with undisclosed personal issues and isn't practicing with the team.
Munns had 16 tackles with 2.5 coming for a loss in three games. He sat out the UNLV game while recovering from surgery on his pinkie finger.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- About the only thing that favors Arizona State tonight against No. 3 Georgia is the temperature, which stands at 99 degrees an hour before kickoff.
Not that it's difficult to imagine how the Sun Devils might beat the Bulldogs.
1. ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter picks apart a fair-to-middling Georgia secondary.
3. The Bulldogs give up a bunch of turnovers. The Sun Devils do not.
4. This is college football. Anything can happen.
But, if you watched UNLV mount an 18-play, 88-yard drive and a 10-play, 73-yard drive to force overtime in Sun Devil Stadium, it's hard to imagine that Moreno and Stafford won't be able to consistently make plays, even though ASU gets linebackers Gerald Munns and Morris Wooten and defensive end Jamarr Robinson back.
On the other side of the ball, if the Sun Devils can't run against UNLV, then how can they be expected to run against an SEC defense?
And if Carpenter is forced to pass just about every play, how can the questionable offensive line protect him against an athletic front with its ears pinned back?
As for the heat: This isn't Colorado coming to Tempe. The Bulldogs are used to the heat and humidity of the deep South. They won't lose because they're sweating.
Moreover, the Bulldogs are expecting 10,000 fans -- maybe as many as 15,000, according to some estimates -- to show up to support their beloved Dawgs.
And it's not like, in any event, that UGA is unfamiliar with hostile stadiums. They are 26-4 on the road under coach Mark Richt and are 9-2 vs. ranked teams.
This is college football. Anything can happen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A look inside the Pac-10 this week.
Arizona State: Sun Devils fans cringing at the defensive performance against UNLV, particularly the 18-play, 88-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the game-tying TD, will be glad to hear the defense will restock a bit with Georgia coming to town. First, middle linebacker Gerald Munns, whose physical performance against Stanford earned him conference defensive player of the week honors a week ago, returns after surgery on his pinkie finger, though he's going to sport a cast for about five weeks. Also, the Sun Devils welcomed back LB Morris Wooten and DE Jamarr Robinson, who both return from suspensions for undisclosed reasons. Wooten, a 245-pound senior, will add a physical presence behind Munns, while Robinson, a 233-pound sophomore, had three sacks in the spring game and will add another athletic threat on the perimeter.
Oregon: Forget for a second that that Oregon's QB position will be split between a pair of first-year players in JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper against Boise State. Both of those guys have seen action at home and on the road. With starter Justin Roper sidelined for at least one game, their holy-cow-this-is-D-I-football jitters are mostly gone. The more interesting matchup here is the Broncos redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore vs. the Ducks defense, which boasts one of the nation's best secondaries. Oh, and that little thing known as the chummy Autzen Stadium crowd. Moore is making his first start on the road. At Autzen. Not easy. Moreover, with four new offensive line starters, it won't be easy to rely on veteran RB Ian Johnson. Boise State only gained 340 yards at home last weekend in a 20-7 win over Bowling Green.
Arizona: After two games, Arizona QB Willie Tuitama was 11th in the nation in pass efficiency with five TDs and no INTs. But after the loss at New Mexico, his rating dropped 30 points because he threw a pair of picks and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. He also was sacked three times and fumbled twice against the Lobos. Two words: Bad night. So how will the senior bounce back at UCLA? The good news is he's getting a huge target back because TE Rob Gronkowski will play for the first time this season since he got sick (strep throat, mono). BYU QB Max Hall made the supposedly stout UCLA defense look like warm butter; can Tuitama regain his confidence and do the same?
UCLA: Remember how the media pounded home the questions about UCLA's offensive line during the preseason? Well, score one for reporters because we were right: This is a lousy O-line. Look no further than the rushing attack: Worst in the nation with 19 yards per game and 0.8 per carry. Longest run of the season? Seven yards. Yuck. Oh, and here's some more bad news. Center Micah Reed, one of two starters with significant experience, will be out two to four weeks with a partial tear of his MCL. The Bruins are scrambling for answers on offense, which includes trying a variety of combinations up front during a time when most teams are trying to create continuity with the same starting five. The visit from Arizona probably will go a long way toward answering this question: Was the Tennessee game a total fluke?
USC: So USC loses a pair of defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft -- Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson -- and then, nonetheless, turns in a pair of dominant performances to start the season. How do the Trojans do it? Well, depth of course. And look no further than the ledger from the 35-3 win over Ohio State. It wasn't just tackle Fili Moala and company whipping the Ohio State offensive line; it also was three true freshmen: tackle Armond Armstead, who recorded a sack, nose tackle Jurrell Casey and end Malik Jackson. That's the future D-line. The present, by the way, had five total sacks and 24 tackles against the Buckeyes.