Pac-12: Jabari Ruffin

USC roundtable: Impact, battles and more 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:15
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The WeAreSC staffers discuss various topics related to the opening of USC Trojans fall camp practices next Monday.

Who will have the biggest camp impact? (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Steve Sarkisian says this will be a physical run-first offense and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Buck Allen to establish himself early as a critical piece of the system. The reigning Trojans MVP is in great shape and appears ready for that kind of role. On defense, Leonard Williams may be the most talented and Hayes Pullard is the most productive -- but in terms of impact, I'm going to go with Su'a Cravens. His athleticism should allow for him to make a lot of plays.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesThe Trojans' offense will run through quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback Javorius "Buck" Allen.
Johnny Curren: On offense, I'm going to go with Allen. The fourth-year junior tailback is in fantastic shape right now, and with Sarkisian showing a real desire to pound the ball on the ground, he should get plenty of chances to shine. On defense, Williams is the one to watch. Close to 100 percent after undergoing offseason surgery on his shoulder, there's every reason to believe he'll have an even bigger 2014 campaign than his season of 2013, when he garnered ESPN.com first-team All-America honors.

Greg Katz: Cody Kessler on offense. The Trojans' offense may have more explosive players, but the system doesn't work unless Kessler works, and he has been relentless in not only learning Sark's no-huddle, fast-paced offense but executing it and teaching others. Williams on defense. Teammates of the "Big Cat" know he played with pain in his shoulder last season and was never 100 percent. In the summer, however, it was darn scary just how must quicker and intense he was during voluntary workouts.

What will be the best position battle?

Paskwietz: The Trojans enter camp with no clear-cut starter at left guard and as many as four candidates for the job. The one veteran in the mix is Jordan Simmons, but he is coming off knee surgery last fall. The other three possibilities are all true freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. All are extremely talented, but all will be taking part in their first fall camp practices as Trojans, though Lobendahn did participate in spring drills.

Curren: I'm tempted to say the battle at Sam linebacker between Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell, but after seeing J.R. Tavai shine throughout the summer workouts, I'll go with the competition between he and Scott Starr at rush end. Both performers are excellent athletes who play physical and fast to the ball off the edge, and I look forward to watching them bring out the best in each other in fall camp.

Katz: Because of the importance of both offensive guard positions, one would have to lump this as a critical unit position battle. Whether starting senior right guard Aundrey Walker, coming off an ankle injury, and Simmons, coming off of a knee injury, at left guard can be physically in shape and hold up to the pace of the offense remains in question. What isn't in question are the true freshmen O-liners such as Lobendahn, who is a well advanced talent despite his inexperience.

Who will be the surprise player of camp?

Paskwietz: It's hard to call Adoree' Jackson a surprise player in anything when you consider he was the highest-rated recruit in this USC class. The surprise will come, however, in just how good he will be from the word go. And I'm not talking just at one spot, he will make a case for playing time on offense, defense and special teams.

Curren: I really liked what I saw out of Leon McQuay III, both in the spring as well as this past summer. He's going to really open some eyes in his role as the starting free safety. Having bulked up considerably since his freshman season, he's also played with a new level of confidence over the past six months.

We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Linebacker. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks are in great shape with inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick returning next to outside linebacker Tony Washington. The only departure they’ll have to account for is Boseko Lokombo, and that spot appears destined for Tyson Coleman once he’s completely healthy following a knee injury that sidelined him for the Alamo Bowl. Sophomore Torrodney Prevot is one of several talented young players to keep an eye on when the Ducks empty their bench during blowouts.

Oregon State: The Beavers are deep at linebacker with D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor projected to start in their 4-3 scheme. Rommel Mageo was a starter down the stretch last season and should see plenty of playing time, as will Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy.

USC: Only outside linebacker Devon Kennard is gone from a a solid group that should have a rather seamless transition playing in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 defense. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao figure to start inside, with Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell playing outside opposite J.R. Tavai.

Washington: The Huskies weren’t fully stocked during the spring, but figure to have one of the best groups in the conference with John Timu playing between Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney. Cory Littleton can be listed at defensive end or outside linebacker -- UW calls him a rush end -- and is coming off a productive sophomore season.

GOOD SHAPE

Colorado: Addison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last year (8.9) and will likely start between sophomore Kenneth Olugbode and senior Woodson Greer. The Buffaloes have depth, too, with Brady Daigh, a reliable backup for Gillam, and outside linebacker Deaysean Rippy, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh. Rippy was listed as an alternative starter to Greer on Colorado’s post spring depth chart.

Stanford: There might not be a more difficult task in the conference than replacing outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom drew All-American accolades in multiple season. Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, already a three-year starter, is one of the conference’s unheralded players and outside linebacker James Vaughters is poised for a breakout senior season. Kevin Andersen has seen a lot of playing time over the past two years at outside linebacker, but the other inside spot needs to be ironed out.

UCLA: Like Stanford, the Bruins have a tough task in replacing Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but have two talented returners in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. UCLA could very well end up one of the best groups in the conference pending the development of Kenny Orjioke, Deon Hollins, Isaako Savaiinaea and Zach Whitley.

Utah: Junior Jason Whittingham is a potential first-team all-conference type player and the Utes are high on Jared Norris, who started seven games last year. The group looked even better when Miami-transfer Gionni Paul was projected to contribute, but the start to his season is expected to be delayed by a broken bone in his foot. Uaea Masina, after contributing on special teams last year, will likely see a lot of playing time.

Washington State: Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen return as starters and Tana Pritchard, who saw his role grow as the season went along, will be leaned on heavily. The final spot up for grabs is the ‘buck,’ which looks like it will come down to Kache Palacio, a slight favorite who started at the end of the season, and Ivan McLennan. Chester Su'a could also make some noise after missing last season with an injury.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats need to replace three-year starter Marquis Flowers and two-year starter Jake Fischer. Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman last season and gives the Wildcats a good piece to start with, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach once the other pieces are in place. The good news is that Arizona has recruited well at linebacker.

Arizona State: Salamo Fiso returns, but having to replace three of the four starters from a year ago leaves more questions than answers. Early-enrollee D.J. Calhoun drew rave reviews during spring practice, but will have to beat out redshirt junior Antonio Longino for a starting job. Eriquel Florence (devil), and Laiu Moeakiola/Marcus Washington (spur) were also listed as starters at the end of spring practice.

Cal: Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are all back, but after last season’s defensive woes it’s hard to go in with much optimism. The situation at linebacker is clearly better than it was last year, but that’s not inspiring enough not to erase speculation.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:

Pac-12 bold predictions for 2013

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
9:00
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As all of you know, the Pac-12 blog -- Kevin and myself -- is bold. Not bold like, "Hey, this is a bold cabernet!" but bold like a guy willing to jump into a volcano to save his remote control.

There is no fear with the Pac-12 blog. None. Other than cockroaches. We don't like those. And I personally found "The Ring" pretty unsettling, but it's not as if I woke up with nightmares for a month or anything ("Don't you understand, Rachel... she never sleeps!").

The point is you folks out there know we'd storm the beaches at Normandy in Speedos to protect your freedoms.

Bold.

So, without further delay, we present BOLD PREDICTIONS for 2013.

The Pac-12 will dethrone the SEC and win the final BCS national title: The SEC's streak of seven national titles will come to an end in an appropriate place: the Rose Bowl. But who will do the honors, ruining Alabama and Nick Saban's hopes for a three-peat?

That team will be Oregon: The Ducks have a lot of nice pieces coming back in 2013 -- 15 position players -- but the key one will be Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanCan Marcus Mariota lead Oregon to a national championship?
Yes, that's Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota: Mariota will be in New York with USC receiver Marqise Lee and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, but it will be the Hurling Honolulan walking away with the bronze statue this time.

No Pac-12 coach will be fired in 2013: Considering there's only one coach truly on the hot seat, what we're really saying is...

Lane Kiffin and USC will post a bounce-back season: We expect the Trojans to win 10 games -- that's with a highly favorable 13-game schedule, by the way -- and return to the national rankings. Although the Trojans won't return to dominance, they will play better all-around football in 2013, and it will be enough to quiet Kiffin's critics -- at least enough for him to return in 2014. We don't, however, expect USC to win the South Division.

Oregon will play Arizona State in Pac-12 title game: The Sun Devils will emerge from a pack that includes the Trojans and UCLA to win the South.

Stanford won't win the North, but it will play in a BCS bowl game. Again: The Cardinal will lose only to Oregon and finish ranked in the top five.

The Pac-12 will finish 2013 with six teams in the Top 25: That will be six of this seven: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.

The Washington renaissance will arrive: The Huskies will finish 9-3 in 2013, opening the new Husky Stadium in style.

Colorado will win four games in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre: And Buffs fans will be reasonably encouraged.

Washington State will go 5-7 in Year 2 under Mike Leach: And Cougs fans will be reasonably encouraged, particularly when the offense starts to look Leachian.

The sledding will be rough in Sonny Dykes' first season at California: The Bears don't have great talent coming back, but the schedule is the biggest problem. By my guess, Dykes will play eight ranked teams in his first season, including a strong Big Ten duo at home the first and third weekends of the season (Northwestern and Ohio State).

Arizona's offensive numbers will make everyone realize how good Matt Scott was: Arizona averaged 37 points and 522 yards per game last year because of QB Matt Scott, who ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 338.5 per game. He was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's K offense. We expect the Wildcats' offense to take a step back in 2013, whether B.J. Denker or JC transfer Jesse Scroggins wins the QB job. As good as national rushing champion Ka'Deem Carey is, he will find the holes a bit smaller without Scott, even with a solid offensive line coming back.

Defenses will continue to rise: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr will be first-team preseason All-Americans, and Stanford will again have one of the nation's top 10 defenses. But we also expect across-the-board improvement on defense.

But it will still be the Conference of QBs: Mariota will win the Heisman and again earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, but the battle for second-team will be hot between Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Washington's Keith Price, who will be the conference's Comeback Player of the Year.

Players of the Year? Mariota and Barr will win the offensive and defensive player of the year awards in the conference. Sutton and Stanford's David Yankey will repeat as Morris Trophy winners as the best linemen. Incoming Oregon running back Thomas Tyner will win offensive freshman of the year, and USC redshirt freshman linebacker Jabari Ruffin will earn defensive freshman honors.

Breakout player: Junior Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks will earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors with Marqise Lee.

Breakout player II: Dykes will figure out a way to get talented junior running back Brendan Bigelow touches. Bigelow will make Dykes glad he did.

Speaking of newcomers: Utah doesn't look as if it sets up for a great 2013, in large part thanks to issues on both lines. But things might perk up if 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive tackle Junior Salt proves equal to expectations. And stays healthy. Salt was a JC transfer -- a former Florida recruit -- who sat out last year after breaking his foot in August. Coach Kyle Whittingham practically blushed talking about him and how he made Star Lotulelei look small.

And Oregon State's starting QB in 2013 is ...: Heck, what do you think we are... psychic?

Were Pac-12 recruiting needs met?

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Every team had needs going into 2012 national signing day. Last week, Ted Miller looked at the needs of each team in the North Division and South Division. Here’s a look at whether those needs were met.

Arizona: Either Javelle Allen or Josh Kern -- both Texans -- could be the long-term answer at quarterback. Noticeably missing is the lack of an impact linebacker. But there is some good depth to the offensive line.

Arizona State: Nice pickup with running back D.J. Foster. Richard Smith and Josiah Blandin boost the wide receiving corps. Nine JC signees? We’ll see.

Cal: QB Zach Kline (No. 2 QB) is the jewel of the class, and receiver Darius Powe could be an immediate impact player. Cal wins the award for bipolar recruiting season, but this is still a solid class.

Colorado: If Yuri Wright can keep his thumbs in check, he’s a huge addition. He and Kenny Crawley boost a secondary sorely in need of playmakers.

Oregon: Arik Armstead headlines a diverse class that, as expected, is heavy on speed and addresses depth across the board. Next to duct tape, few things are quick fixes than a juco kicker.

Oregon State: No. 1 offensive guard Isaac Seumalo and tackle Garrett Weinreich fill immediate needs on the line. A lot of unproven commits on a defense that still needs help.

Stanford: Business should be booming in the Stanford cafeteria with seven new offensive linemen. And they get to grow with and block for Barry Sanders. Noor Davis and Alex Carter are elite defensive playmakers.

UCLA: Four ESPNU 150 players, headlined by athlete Devin Fuller. Who said Jim Mora wasn't cut out for college? Keeping Ellis McCarthy in Southern California -- and out of red and gold -- is big time.

USC: Don't cry for this tiny class. It features seven ESPNU 150 players and adds speed on defense with Jabari Ruffin, size on the offensive line with Max Turek and Jordan Simmons and athleticism with wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Another great haul for Troy.

Utah: A quarterback of the future is needed, and Travis Wilson (No. 39 QB) and Chase Hansen (No. 43 QB) should have a heck of a competition in the coming years. Lots of help and depth added to the offensive line.

Washington: A shaky recruiting season was saved at the last minute by the commitment of Shaq Thompson and the ability to hold quarterback Cyler Miles. Brandon Beaver helps a secondary that was one of the worst in the conference.

Washington State: Running back Robert Lewis and receiver Alex Jackson could prove to be money in the Mike Leach offensive overhaul. A few juco transfers should be stopgaps until depth develops and Leach's plan comes together.

Pac-12 signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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National signing day is over. But life is not, even if it feels that way.

Clearing away the confetti and reviewing what happened.

Top class: Stanford signed a class that is the envy of all but a small handful of teams in the nation. ESPN Recruiting ranked Stanford's class 12th. Rivals rated the Cardinal No. 5; Scout ranked Stanford No. 6; 24/7 sports ranked the Cardinal No. 9; and Tom Lemming ranked Stanford 10th. Stanford's haul of offensive linemen might be one of the best in the history of recruiting rankings.

Biggest surprise: Is UCLA coach Jim Mora a rookie or a freshman? However the NFL lifer is best described, his first recruiting haul was outstanding by any measure, but particularly for a coach with basically zero college experience. What you have to credit is Mora hiring a great recruiting staff. The Bruins signed a top-20 class and hit plenty of need areas.

Biggest disappointment: There are very few people who believe that Rich Rodriguez wasn't a great hire for Arizona. Zero, maybe. That said, the Wildcats didn't get a recruiting bump based on that perception. They finished at or near the bottom of most rankings of Pac-12 recruiting classes and didn't sign any recruits with at least a four-star rating from ESPN Recruiting.

Fastest riser: Just over a week ago, Washington's recruiting was surprisingly mediocre, particularly after the Huskies lured ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California. But the Huskies surged late, starting with a commitment from elite safety Shaq Thompson, a former Cal commitment. And the Huskies' surge didn't stop on signing day, as they moved up to No. 23 in the final national rankings.

Under the radar: While Pac-12 newbies Colorado and Utah didn't sign top-25 classes, both very quietly signed strong classes that addressed immediate needs, and they finished in the middle of the Pac-12 recruiting rankings. In their first season recruiting as real Pac-12 teams -- as in having a season of play under their belts -- here's a guess that both Colorado coach Jon Embree and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham are happy with how things went and are eager for another go-around in 2013.

Recruiter of the year: Many wondered if Stanford coach David Shaw could maintain the program momentum created by former coach Jim Harbaugh. Well, in his first season, he led the Cardinal to a BCS bowl game and top-10 finish. On Wednesday, he produced a better recruiting class than Harbaugh ever put together -- at least in terms of recruiting rankings. Those who think Stanford is going away because of the departure of Harbaugh and QB Andrew Luck might be in for a surprise.

Player you'll see next season: It would be surprising if Shaq Thompson isn't starting at safety for Washington in the opener against San Diego State. The same could be said for Isaac Seumalo on the Oregon State offensive line. In L.A., it will be battle between UCLA defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy, USC outside linebacker Jabari Ruffin and USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams for top freshman defender. It will be interesting to see how Stanford's elite class of frosh offensive linemen shapes up. There should be some hot competition there, with one freshman breaking through and at least earning playing time. Also interesting in the Bay Area: Is senior Zach Maynard the answer at QB for Cal, or might Zach Kline earn playing time as a true freshman?

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