Pac-12: Jacquizz Rodgers

The story goes that when the USC buses pulled up to Reser Stadium on Sept. 25, 2008, just about every member of the No. 1 team in the nation was fast asleep. Perhaps visions of sugar plums were dancing in their heads.

Ah, but they were about to get a rude awakening! For their dreams were going to turn into nightmares! Or, you know, make up your own sleep-related riposte with dramatic voice-over. We all know what happens when the Trojans go to Corvallis, Ore., their football Bermuda Triangle. They seem to underestimate the Beavers, then get whipped. In this case, they were sliced and diced by 186 yards rushing from Jacquizz Rodgers in a 27-21 defeat.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesCan Scott Crichton and the Oregon State defense shut down the Trojans' offense this weekend?
That 2008 team didn't lose again. The nation's most talented collection of players -- probably by a wide margin -- finished No. 3 in the AP poll and second with the coaches. Ah, what could have been in Pete Carroll's penultimate season at USC.

Yet there's a strong case the 2008 team should have known better. In 2006, third-ranked and unbeaten USC went down 33-31 in Corvallis, ending Troy’s 27-game Pac-10 winning streak and 38-game regular-season winning streak.

Most recently, in 2010, with Lane Kiffin leading his first Trojans team, the Beavers dominated in a 36-7 victory.

That was the most recent meeting between these teams, a third consecutive Beavers win in Corvallis. That's USC's longest current road losing streak to a Pac-12 foe. Historically, the Trojans have dominated this series, holding a 59-11-4 advantage, which includes a 26-game winning streak from 1968 to 1999. But Corvallis, USC's destination on Friday, seems to be where the Trojans go to be humbled.

"I think you have to give Mike Riley and Oregon State the credit," USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said. "Those guys do a tremendous job when the Trojans get up there. It seems he always has his team ready to play for us, a great game plan. We need to do a better job of preparing our team for playing in a hostile environment."

OK, credit to Riley. Everyone knows he's a great coach. Often lost in the discussion of these wins over touted USC teams is that the Beavers were pretty darn good in 2006 (10-4) and 2008 (9-4). Still, is there some special Beavers mojo created when the Trojans take Route 34 into Corvallis?

"The only real explanation there is we maximized our playing when we've played them in the past," Riley said. "That's what it's always taken, they've been so good."

Of course, this is all academic, probably nothing more than a curiosity in a conference series. While William Faulkner would tell us "The past is never dead. It's not even past," football coaches don't think that way. What happened last year has little relevance to this year's game, so games that took place three, five and seven years ago are even more irrelevant. None of the prominent names in the 2010 box score will figure in the game Friday. Both programs are in different places, too.

USC, by the very fact of Orgeron's title, is a team in transition. The Trojans are trying to salvage a respectable season after Kiffin's firing, then they'll learn who their next coach will be. They need two more wins on their 13-game schedule to become bowl eligible.

As a team, the Trojans' offense has mostly been woeful, and injuries are making it difficult for it to right itself. The defense, other than hiccups against Arizona State and Arizona, has been mostly stellar. That leads into this game's big matchup: Oregon State QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks versus the USC defense.

The Trojans shut down Utah last week in a 19-3 win. They held the Utes to 201 total yards and recorded six sacks, three interceptions and kept them scoreless after a field goal on their first possession. The Beavers have the nation's most potent passing attack, but it was mostly muted by Stanford's defense last weekend. The Cardinal sacked Mannion eight times, and the Beavers had yielded only nine sacks in the previous seven games.

Riley said the protection issues against Stanford were about missed assignments as well as some one-on-one battles that didn't go well.

"We made some assignment mistakes on some stuff Stanford did, and that cost us some sacks, and then physically we'd get beat from time to time," he said. "Sean battled in there. He actually played about as well as he could, considering the circumstances."

USC will try to create the same circumstances, though the Beavers' cause is helped by the fact that Trojans outside linebacker Morgan Breslin (hip) again won't play. Even without Breslin, however, defensive lineman Leonard Williams leads a strong Trojans front seven.

The Beavers need a win to keep themselves in the Pac-12 North Division picture. A victory also might propel them back into the national rankings, and it would certainly boost their bowl prospects with three games to play.

Here's a guess that USC's players won't be fast asleep when their bus pulls up to Reser Stadium on Friday evening.
Over on the Big 12 blog, David Ubben decided to go through all the teams in the conference and see how they've done against the Top 25 since 2008.

That sounded like a ton of fun, so here's a look at the Pac-12 results. For seasoning, I added a best/worst category against Top 25 teams, which is very subjective and, as always, open to debate.

Since 2008 the Pac-12 is 52-105 against Top 25 teams. Utah and Colorado records prior to 2011 are not factored in, but we'll still look at them in the team-by-team breakdown.

Oregon carries the flag for the conference with a robust .705 winning percentage while Washington State has a Blutarsky.

Here's how the entire conference shapes up:

Oregon

Record vs. Top 25: 12-5 (.705)

Best win: The Stanford victories in consecutive years put the Cardinal back in their place (and last year, signified the clear leader in the North), but the 45-38 win over No. 10 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year was a breakthrough for the program. It put an end to the "can they win the big one" questions and was critical for the legitimacy of the league. Oregon to the rest of the conference: You're welcome.

Toughest loss: The Boise State loss in 2009 was a stinger. But anytime you lose in the National Championship game to the No. 1 team -- and the way it went down in those obscure final two minutes -- it's tough. That loss brought about some of the questions the Ducks were able to answer with the Rose Bowl win.

USC

Record vs. Top 25: 9-5 (.642)

Best win: The 35-3 win over Ohio State in 2008 stands out. But the victory at No. 4 Oregon last year bloodies the water for this year's much-anticipated showdown.

Worst loss: Also from last year, the triple-overtime loss to No. 6 Stanford shouldn't have ended the way it did. Maybe Stanford still would have won -- but that game was too epic to end on a fumble.

Stanford

Record vs. Top 25: 7-6 (.538)

Best win: The '09 win over Oregon stands out because the Ducks were a Top 10 team on a seven-game winning streak. Toby Gerhart ran wild -- picking up 223 yards and three scores. It was really Stanford's declaration that they'd arrived in the conference under Jim Harbaugh.

Worst loss: Many will think it's the Fiesta Bowl last year because the wound is still fresh and the manner in which it went down. But losing the Big Game 34-28 to No. 25 Cal in 2009 -- especially after notching back-to-back wins over Oregon and No. 9 USC -- is simply deflating. If the Oregon game was a declaration of arrival, the Cal game was a reminder of how deep the conference can be.

Utah

Record vs. Top 25: 4-5 (.444)

Best win: The 2008 Sugar Bowl. Big, bad 'Bama gets bounced by a tiny little non-AQ, leaving most West of the Mississippi with a great-big smile.

Worst loss: An overtime loss hurts. An overtime loss to a rival hurts more. An overtime loss when the opposing quarterback gives you a verbal smack down following the loss is just brutal. The 2009 Holy War loss to No. 19 BYU will always sting.

Arizona

Record vs. Top 25: 4-10 (.285)

Best win: Willie Tuitama was simply prolific in carving up No. 16 BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, throwing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and running for another in a 31-21 win. It was Arizona's first bowl win in a decade.

Worst loss: The double-overtime loss to Oregon in 2009 was tough, but the 33-0 beat down by No. 22 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that same year was a real stinker.

Oregon State

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Jacquizz Rodgers busted out 186 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 27-21 stunner of No. 1 USC in 2008. Doesn't get much sweeter than an unranked knocking off a No. 1. Though the 3-0 win over No. 20 Pitt. in the 2008 Sun Bowl gets a tip of the cap simply for the novelty.

Worst loss: The Beavers were shutout 38-0 by No. 6 Stanford in '10. That came a week after a 36-7 win over No. 20 USC. Talk about highs and lows.

Washington

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Because of the record the previous year and because it was Steve Sarkisian against Pete Carroll, the 16-13 stunner over No. 3 USC in 2009 is one worth re-living over and over if you're a Washington fan. Erik Folk was so clutch.

Worst loss: Anything from 2008 will do.

UCLA

Record vs. Top 25: 4-12 (.250)

Best win: Maybe No. 7 Texas was looking ahead to the showdown with Oklahoma. Oh well, don't turn the ball over four times in the first 30 minutes. Great performance from Johnathan Franklin in the 34-12 win in 2010.

Worst loss: Toss up between the 35-0 loss to No. 25 Stanford at home in 2010 or the 59-0 loss to No. 18 BYU in 2008. Both were brutal -- but the BYU one probably stung more since the Bruins had clipped No. 18 Tennessee in overtime just 12 days earlier in the season opener.

Cal

Record vs. Top 25: 3-10 (.230)

Best win: What's bad for the Cardinal is generally good for the Bears. The 2009 Big Game win at No. 17 Stanford was extra tasty -- especially when a late Andrew Luck interception in the red zone sealed the deal. Shane Vereen was on fire with 193 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

Worst loss: The No. 6 Cardinal reclaimed the axe the following year with a 48-14 thrashing in Berkeley. Stepfan Taylor produced three touchdowns and Luck produced a Stanford fan's dream highlight with his forearm deflection of Sean Cattouse.

Arizona State

Record vs. Top 25: 3-11 (.214)

Best win: The USC and Missouri wins last year were pretty big, but there is nothing sweeter than beating a rival, in double-overtime, on the road, when they are ranked and you aren't. That was the case in 2010 with a 30-29 win over No. 23 Arizona. James Brooks will always be remembered for blocking an extra point near the end of regulation to force overtime. And then blocking a second extra point -- seriously -- to lock up the win. As bizarre as it was magnificent for the Sun Devils.

Worst loss: The loss to No. 7 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last year was completely uninspired and capped a horrific end to the season. The Sun Devils went into a tailspin and Todd Graham has to pull them out.

Colorado

Record vs. Top 25: 2-12

Best win: In his first career start in 2009, Tyler Hansen threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and ran for another to spark an upset win over No. 17 Kansas. That was Colorado's last win against a Top 25 team. The Buffs are 0-7 since.

Worst loss: Back in the day before they joined the Pac-12, Colorado had a little rivalry with a midwest school named Nebraska. The No. 15 Cornhuskers sent Colorado into the Pac-12 with an ugly 45-17 loss in 2010.

Washington State

Record vs. Top 25: 0-12

Best win: You have to think the streak ends under Mike Leach -- and sooner rather than later.

Worst loss: Tragically, there are so many choices. But we'll go with the 69-0 to No. 6 USC in 2008 because at the time, WSU was riding the nation's second-longest streak without being shutout (280 games). That came to an end in a very embarrassing fashion. While Mark Sanchez threw for five touchdowns, the Cougars managed just 116 yards of total offense.

Opening the mailbag: LaMike vs. Jacquizz

March, 23, 2012
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Here's hoping everyone's bracket is in fine shape.

If you go here, you will be able to answer the question of just how fun it would be to follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Brenden from Portland writes: I was curious of your thoughts as to the potential draft place of LaMichael James. It seems with RBs trending down in recent draft positions, and LM potentially having inflated "system" numbers, might spell a much lower draft position than people are anticipating (especially those overly confident duck fans). But really I am just looking for a glimmer of hope with a long ago bet (a delicious bottle of whiskey) made with a friend on who'd get drafted higher, Quizz or LM.Thanks,An Optimistic/Delusional Beaver Fan.

Ted Miller: James will be drafter higher than Jaquizz Rodgers, of that I'm almost certain. Rodgers was selected in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons last spring. If James falls past the third round, I'll be shocked. Mel Kiper has moved James up to No. 2 among available running backs Insider, behind only Alabama's beastly Trent Richardson.

James' stock has been rising since he got a solid 40 time at the NFL combine and was even faster during Oregon's pro day. He also has shown that he can be a capable receiver, which used to be a knock on him.

As many of you might recall, I've entertained this James vs. Rodgers debate a number of times, favoring Rodgers as sophomore but then admitting that James had grown as a player and had become more than just a speed back after the 2010 season. My feeling now is that James ranks among the top five running backs all-time in the Pac-12.

James and Rodgers are similar in stature -- James is a bit taller and Rodgers is a bit thicker -- but James is clearly faster, and speed is something you can't teach. Both have been compared to Darren Sproles, an undersized but highly productive back. A better comparison, to me, might be James to former California speedster Jahvid Best, only far more durable.

Will James become a feature back? Hard to say. It's critical for him to get into the right situation. I think it's ignorant that some folks dismiss James as a "system" back, or that he can't run between the tackles. That said, my feeling is James will be more effective if he's playing with an offense that uses a lot of zone blocking, as Oregon does. That fits better into his skill set.

Scott from Lafayette, Colo., writes: When you fill us in on Colorado's Spring practice can you find out if they are going to move senior LB Jon Major inside or leave him on the edge. Inside I think he could lead the conference in tackles and be our next All American LB. Outside, teams scheme away from him and he is in coverage so much he losses production in the run game. He started inside his sophomore year and was unblockable before going down with an injury. Paired with a healthy Rippy, they could make up one of the better LB duo's in the conference.

Ted Miller: Major is listed as the Buffaloes starting strong side linebacker on the pre-spring depth chart. Brady Daigh is presently listed No. 1 at MLB, but when Douglas Rippy comes back, he's almost certain to be the starting "Mike." Junior Derrick Webb is the weakside 'backer.

But defenses aren't inflexible. Recall that the Buffs were officially a 3-4 last year but are now back to a 4-3. I expect to see Major move around as the Buffs use different looks, so plenty of times he will appear to be playing an inside LB position.

And if Rippy and Major stay healthy, they are potentially one of the better tandems in the conference.

Pete from Calgary writes: Stanford's secondary took a lot of criticism last season for a number of reasons, usually revolving around not being able to tackle in space after a catch. Accepting the premise of the question (that they didn't play that well), do you think this is a result of the defensive scheme they ran (stop the run first, and let the opposition catch a few balls), injuries, not having the right players, something else, or all of the above? Do you see any reason to believe they will be better this coming season?

Ted Miller: There's a bit of all of the above, but there's also a need for some perspective.

Yes, when Stanford's defense got burned this past season, it did seem like it was the secondary getting burned. Still, playing against Pac-12 offenses, the Cardinal yielded 21.9 ppg and 337.62 ypg, totals that both ranked among the nation's top-30. Further, Stanford's defense got ripped by three teams: Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC. Those are the Nos. 2, 3 and 16 offenses in 2011.

Yes, there were some missed tackles, most notably against Oregon and Oklahoma State. Yes, it still seemed the Cardinal was just short of the sort of across-the-board athleticism you'd like to have in a secondary. There was a little too much 4.6 and not enough 4.4. Further, there were some injury and youth issues.

So what about 2012? Well, the return of CB Wayne Lyons should help. You'd also hope the youthful growing pains experienced by safeties Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards will yield mature, seasoned players a year later. And you'd hope that good recruiting -- such as incoming freshman Alex Carter -- will bolster the unit.

Further, it also might help that Derek Mason, the Cardinal's secondary coach, will be coordinating the defense alone, instead of sharing the job with Jason Tarver, who was hired to coordinate the Oakland Raiders defense. That way the front and backhalf will be hearing from one chief voice.

Tim from California writes: I know you're a braves fan so can we get a shout out to Chipper Jones for an amazing career he had, since he announced he's retiring at the end of the year. Also, what are Nickell Robey's NFL prospects?

Ted Miller: Wow, Chipper Jones. A tip of the cap to a great ballplayer. I turn 43 in September, and he turns 40 in April, so his career runs pretty parallel to my adult life. I remember the pure joy of running around Buckhead with my buddies during those glory days in the 1990s when winning was still fresh for Braves fans.

As for Robey, a first-team All-Pac-12 choice, he's certainly a very good college player. He will be a third-year starter in 2012 after winning the job as a true freshman in 2010, and I ranked him 23rd overall in the conference 2011. He was Pac-12's best cover corner last fall.

But the NFL is going to raise an eyebrow at his size: 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, particularly with the proliferation of big receivers. Robey's coverage skills will get him noticed, but his size likely will prevent him from being an early-round draft pick.

Top performances 2011: Malcolm Agnew

February, 17, 2012
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We're looking at the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Up next: Malcolm up the middle.

Who & against whom: Oregon State true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew made a splash in his collegiate debut against Sacramento State, looking very much like the replacement back to Jacquizz Rodgers.

The numbers: Agnew broke loose for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Two of the touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter and the third -- a 17-yard score -- came in overtime.

A closer look: One problem. Oregon State lost. And to an FCS team no less. Sacramento State opted for a 2-point conversion in overtime, which it converted to lock up the 29-28 upset win. If you can get over that fact, then you shouldn't let it damper a very good debut by an up-and-coming back in the conference. If you can't, it's understandable. Sacramento State (4-7, 3-5 Big Sky) didn't exactly go on to do great things last season. Unfortunately for Agnew, this was as good as it was going to get in 2011. Injuries kept him out of six games -- though he did bounce back briefly to rush for 103 yards and a score against Washington State. Coach Mike Riley said hopes Agnew will be at full speed for spring ball and if the Beavers get their offensive line situated, Agnew could be one of the more intriguing backs to keep an eye on in the coming years.

Q&A: Mike Riley, part 2

February, 13, 2012
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Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a lot on his mind these days. He has a new recruiting class with one of the top offensive linemen in the country -- which is good for him, since a large part of his O-line is still rehabbing from last season. There's talk of his seat being toasty next season, and what's the next step for his young quarterback and standout defensive linemen?

Here's part one of a Q&A with the OSU head coach.

Passing yards you were top 20 nationally, rushing yards almost last. Is making those numbers a little more balanced a priority next year?

Mike Riley: Oh man, it was so unlike who we've been. We've always prided ourselves on the running game. We've had great runners with great production through the years -- we've been a good running team and it's been a key to the success that we've had. Last year, not running the ball was an indication of the lack of success we had. As I visited with our coaches coming off recruiting, I basically said, "work on the running game. Find our identity. Get our people positioned correctly on the line of scrimmage and let's have a great plan going into spring practice of who we're going to be and how we're going to do it." That's our No. 1 priority offensively. We can throw the ball. We have a good quarterback and receiving corps. We'll tweak what we do in the passing game as Sean [Mannion] gets older. But none of it is going to matter if we can't run the ball better than we did a year ago.

Depending on who you talk to, some are considering next year a "hot seat" year for you. Do you buy that? And do you care?

MR: You know what, I don't think about those things. I think coaches probably feel the hot seat every game. I think that's natural. The biggest pressure you have in the world is the pressure you put on yourself and the team to do well. I've coached 36 years and I know that kind of talk is natural. It doesn't affect my day-to-day life or my day-to-day thoughts. I know what has to be done. We're the least satisfied of everyone who pays attention. The people right here in the coaches' offices are the ones who were most displeased by what went on. We want to win. The biggest pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves.

What's your impression of the four new coaches in the conference?

MR: I think they were exciting hires. As long as I've been in the league, you end up being pretty good friends with the guys you get to coach against. I was disappointed for the guys who were let go and I have a lot of respect for them and thought they were doing a good job. But life goes on. There have been some very exciting hires and I know they have given a boost of enthusiasm in those programs. It will be, for us, with new staffs, new preparation. It's not going to be building on a plan for how Arizona State has been with Dennis [Erickson]. We're going to have to look at a new team and a new scheme and study as it grows and not have much history. It makes it interesting. I think we play every team that has a new coach next year. That will be four new kinds of preps for us and the gathering of new knowledge.

What's the next step for Sean Mannion?

MR: I think continued efficiency. He's got great poise and great knowledge and a great desire to succeed. He's a tremendously hard worker. He's a really neat guy. Relatively quiet, but really well-respected by the team for the work he puts in and he handles tough situations like we were in last year very well for a young guy. It's just a matter of more knowledge, more growth, more repetitions. I think his efficiency can jump up. He threw for a pretty good percentage but he can be a higher percentage. We want to be able to throw the ball down the field and he has the accuracy and the arm to do that. We want to help him make better decisions about taking that shot down the field or dumping the ball tot the tailback. When we're going good, our tailbacks or fullbacks or tight ends should be catching a lot of balls. [Rodgers] caught 78 balls one year and Sean Canfield was at his peak of making decisions, throwing the ball down the field or dumping it to [Jacquizz Rodgers]. When we're doing that, we're at our best. That's where Sean needs to continue to grow. When to get that ball down and when to take that shot. We want to have a high yards per completion and we want to have a high percentage so we'll continue to grow him in those areas.

On defense, Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton both had very good years for youngsters. How exciting is it going to be to watch them develop and grow up side by side on the defense?

MR: I really am excited about that. Those are two pretty special guys to start as freshmen for us. I think they have talent and they also have a lot of tenacity. They play hard. Joe Seumalo does a good job coaching them. They are pups, but they have a lot of experience behind them. And they are two of our hardest working guys. I think they're going to do nothing but grow. What's going to help them is they have a base talent level, but they are hard workers and now they have played a little bit so I think that combination of being talented and having experience should push them into spring practice and fall camp being ahead of where they were.

You need good cornerback play if you're going to survive in this conference. Jordan Poyer comes back as one of the best in the country. Talk about his growth this year and what you expect from him next season?

MR: I just love that guy. He's an ultimate gym rat. He played football, basketball and baseball. Matter of fact, he could have signed a baseball contract out of high school. Pat Casey our baseball coach thought he was a great prospect. We were going to allow him to play both sports, but he opted just for football after playing as a true freshman here. He brings a special savvy for sports. You can put him in a ping pong match and he'd be good. He just competes and he stays on top of everything. You might beat him once, but probably not twice because he's so smart and so aware. He's got that big-play potential. He'll step in front of a ball and take it all the way. He has that knack to him. He's not overly fast, but he is a very good athlete with very good ball skills and a very good sense of what he's doing.
Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a lot on his mind these days. He has a new recruiting class with one of the top offensive linemen in the country -- which is good for him, since a large part of his O-line is still rehabbing from last season. There's talk of his seat being toasty next year, and what's the next step for his young quarterback and standout defensive lineman?

Here's part one of a Q&A with the OSU head coach.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireThe pressure is on Mike Riley to avoid a repeat of last year's 3-9 season.
This past year, 10 true freshman and 23 first-time starters played. Once the injuries started to pile on, was the thought just to get these guys as much playing time as possible and hope it pays off in the future?

Mike Riley: When you're right in it, the immediate thought is we have to get the best players into the game because I've always had the philosophy that the best way to do well in the future is to take care of the present. We didn't just shove freshmen into prominent roles. There was either an injury or they earned the opportunity. It was the nature of our team last year. We had obviously lost some good players, like [Jacquizz) Rodgers, so it was open competition. Malcolm Agnew originally won it and then he had a significant hamstring and missed four or five games. We played them because we thought they were the best players and gave us the best opportunity to win. Even though we had a bad record, I liked the team. I think with that youth, they kept their spirits up and kept working hard and hopefully now it does pay off for the future.

You have 17 starters coming back and 58 players who saw time last season. What sort of dividends will that pay in the next few years?

MR: If we and the players use it correctly, it should pay great dividends. There is nothing like experience, especially if you can combine it with talent and in the offseason you can enhance your talent with good, hard physical work. When you come into spring practice, you should carry much more knowledge and much more physical preparation into the next year. That's very encouraging to me. I think we have a hard-working team. I think guys will take advantage both of their work and of their experience.

Speaking of spring ball, give us some rehab updates. Are you expecting most everyone to be ready for spring?

MR: I think we'll be very limited with a couple of guys that played a lot in the offensive line. Colin Kelly had surgery on his ankle and he won't be ready for spring. Grant Enger had surgery on his shoulder and I don't think he's going to be ready for spring. Malcolm Agnew continues to go through a specific rehab program for his hamstring. I think he will be practicing and hopefully full speed in the spring time. I think the offensive line -- we won't be deep in spring ball and that's the reason we signed seven guys in this class. I think we'll have to do a lot of individual development because I don't know what it will look like as a group in total. One good thing is Michael Philipp, who was injured and redshirted because of his injury after he started for two years, he'll be back in spring. I'm very excited about that and getting him going and hopefully he'll be a stronger, better player when we get to spring ball. We're looking at developing some new faces on the line while we wait for that class to come in.

What are your first impressions of your recruiting class?

MR: The realistic look at it is that I think it was an outstanding class in almost all ways. The disappointing factor -- we had four corners committed going into the last week. We got one of them. I'm very excited about Tyler Hasty from Bellevue, Wash. We're probably going to play Zach Robinson out of Tahlequah Ok., we're probably going to try him at corner first. He's a long body that can run. Was a real good receiver and defensive back. He might be that big corner we're looking for. But the rest of the class, I think we hit all the marks. Offensive line was a priority in recruiting and we got seven kids I'm really excited about then. Then, defensively, we needed more defensive backs in general and we signed three safeties. Nice-sized kids, good athletes. Two of them in particular played major roles as receivers. They are all around football players. Linebackers, we got two junior college linebackers which should help us right away and then we signed a couple of underclassmen that I think will be real good players down the road, Caleb Saulo and Joel Skotte. Then on offense, we just needed kind of one of each. We ended up with two tight ends I'm really excited about. Caleb Smith is a well-known prospect from the state of Washington and Dustin Stanton is not well-known, but he has tremendous potential. Big, 6-6 kid that runs well. Real good basketball player and a really good athlete for his size. We were really after one wide receiver. At the end, I thought we were going to get two. But we got Malik Gilmore and he was our first pick from the beginning. I'm really excited about Malik. Then I think we got an outstanding running back and quarterback. Kind of the bonus at the very end was we ended up signing the kicker from Arroyo Grande. Really good athlete, was a wide receiver.

I think we saw in the conference that you need kickers?

MR: Oh my gosh, no kidding. I have a great special teams coach in Bruce Read, been with me for many years here at Oregon State and then with the Chargers. He stayed in the NFL for a while and we got him back. He's a great evaluator and a great coach. We've always had some really good specialists here.

It's usually tough for offensive linemen to come in right away and play. Do you see Isaac Seumalo and or/ Garrett Weinreich being able to make an immediate impact?

MR: We're going to let them go in there and play. We know Isaac so well and he's a real talented kid. Who knows exactly where he'll go with it. But we're anticipating great things from him. As we place our group, we'll be very careful as to where we put him. He can play every position on the line. He could play center, guard or tackle. As we place our players we have to be very aware about him and everyone else. We're really excited about Stan Hasiak. He has experience starting in the conference. Coming out of high school we thought he was a really good player so we're expecting his competition right away. I also really like the talent and the tenacity of Grant Bays from Oceanside, Calif. I think physically and mentally he could fit in right away too. It's a good group.

Season grade: Oregon State

January, 17, 2012
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The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.

Up next: Oregon State

Offense: The Beavers, who welcomed back seven starters from 2010, ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense (373.7 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (21.8 points per game). Notably a year after running back Jacquizz Rodgers bolted early for the NFL, the Beavers ranked last in the conference -- and 118th in the nation -- in rushing with 86.9 ypg. That, of course, put a lot of pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion, who ranked 10th in the conference in passing efficiency with a conference-high 18 interceptions and 16 TDs. The Beavers' 31 total turnovers was the most in the conference by seven, and they were by far the worst team in the red zone. Of course, Mannion was the story of the season. He was expected to be signalling in plays from the sidelines to Ryan Katz, but he -- in a surprise to many -- unseated Katz before the season was two games old. Why? He had consistently outplayed Katz in practice, which seems like a good enough reason, only not when a program accustomed to going to bowl games every year goes 3-9. Mannion flashed ability, but the outcome on offense was poor. Further, no Beaver earned All-Pac-12 first- or second-team honors on offense.

Grade: F.

Defense: The Beavers ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in total defense (411.3 ypg) and scoring defense (30.8). Those numbers actually are surprising in a positive way considering the Beavers ranked last in the Pac-12 and 1o1st in the nation in run defense (196.8 ypg) and were ninth in the conference and 104th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The defense forced 23 turnovers, which was tied for fourth in the conference, and that helped a bunch. Other bright spots: Freshman defensive end Scott Crichton ranked second in the conference with 14.5 tackles for a loss, and junior cornerback Jordan Poyer earned second-team All-Conference honors. This unit welcomed back just four starters from 2010's mediocre unit, and the only one of them to start (almost) every game in 2011 was safety Lance Mitchell. An argument could be made that, based on what coordinator Mark Banker had to work with, the unit performed at least adequately.

Grade: C.

Overall: In the preseason, Oregon State had a lot of questions, and coach Mike Riley was the first to point that out. There were, particularly, concerns on both lines, but the defense seemed far more worrisome, considering it lost defensive tackle Stephen Paea, defensive end Gabe Miller and cornerback James Dockery from a unit that was below average in 2010. In August, few thought quarterback would generate the most controversy, and that the offense would end being perhaps the worst during Riley's tenure. Still, though the Beavers looked potentially down in 2010 -- 6-6 down or perhaps 5-7 down -- few foresaw a 3-9 record that included a loss to Sacramento State, an FCS team. In other words, it was a bad year in Corvallis, one that has Riley facing a critical year in 2012.

Grade: D

Who just missed the top-25?

August, 25, 2011
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With the No. 3 name -- Oregon QB Darron Thomas -- now published on our countdown of the top-25 players in the Pac-12, it's probably fairly obvious who are going to be Nos. 1 and 2.

Make that really obvious, considering the top-two players from the 2010 postseason list are back in 2011.

So who just missed?

We'll tell you. But before we do, some perspective.

Here are the 11 players who returned from the final 2010 tally.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
4. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
13. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington

Obviously, they weren't going to get dropped from the list, unless, as with Arizona State CB Omar Bolden, they suffered a serious injury before the season began. So that meant 10 of 25 spots were already taken. Divvying up just 15 remaining spots among 12 teams is almost certain to chafe a few fans.

So here's the slate of folks who were considered and will be candidates to earn their way onto the postseason list.

Justin Washington, DT, Arizona
Paul Vassallo, LB, Arizona
Garth Gerhart, C, Arizona State
Junior Onyeali, DE, Arizona State
Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California
Keenan Allen, WR, California
Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado
John Boyett, S, Oregon
Lance Mitchell, S, Oregon State
James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Tony Dye, S, UCLA
Nickell Robey, CB, USC
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Jordan Wynn, QB, Utah
Tony Bergstrom, OT, Utah
Chaz Walker, LB, Utah
Hau'oli Jamora, DE, Washington
Travis Long, DE, Washington State
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State

That's a heck of a list, eh.

Who were the last cuts? In no particularly order: Bergstrom, Boyett, Miller, Onyeali and Wynn.

If Oregon State receiver James Rodgers had been healthy this preseason, he would have ranked in the top-10. He was sixth in the preseason last year, after all.

In fact, a review of last year's preseason list should help smooth the feelings of Beavers fans, who are surely aware no Oregon State player made the preseason top-25. With three of the top-six in 2010, including No. 1 Jacquizz Rodgers, it's probably unreasonable to believe I have a bias against ranking the Beavers.

Utah fans also expressed some frustration because no Ute was on the list. But who would they knock off this top-25? Bergstrom, who made our preseason All-Pac-12 team, and Walker earned only second-team All-Mountain West honors in 2010. Wynn didn't get honorable mention, which surprised the heck out of me.

If Utah surges in its first year in the Pac-12, it's almost certain a Ute will be on the postseason list.

Further, plenty of guys not listed above are already on the radar, guys like Colorado receiver Paul Richardson and Oregon State receiver Markus Wheaton. I'd bet $1 that at least one member of Oregon's rebuilt front-seven ends up on the postseason list, and Arizona's secondary has some intriguing young talent.

Auditions for the postseason list start, by the way, on Sept. 3.
Look, the Pac-12 is the conference of quarterbacks. Everybody knows that. No other conference even approaches the talent the Pac-12 has at the position in 2011.

Stanford's Andrew Luck, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles each could be first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Luck is almost certain to go No. 1 overall. Oregon's Darron Thomas, Oregon State's Ryan Katz, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Washington State's Jeff Tuel also are experienced, talented guys with plenty of upside.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireQuarterback is the position of power in the Pac-12, but LaMichael James and his fellow running backs can make a strong case as well.
So the Pac-12's position of power is, obviously, quarterback.

But don't sleep on the running backs, either.

The conference welcomes back five backs who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last fall, including Oregon's Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, LaMichael James. That crew includes Washington's Chris Polk, Colorado's Rodney Stewart, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. Those are five backs who ranked among the top-38 in the nation in rushing last fall, including three in the top 13.

(And, by the way, if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen hadn't opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, the conference also would include the nation's No. 21 and 23 rushers from 2010).

Further, only California, Oregon State, Utah and Washington State have questions at the position. USC is stacked with talented backs, whether senior Marc Tyler (913 yards, nine TDs in 2010) comes back from suspension or not. Arizona State's Cameron Marshall (787 yards, nine TDs) is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and Arizona's Keola Antolin (668, seven TDs in 2010) has rushed for 1,830 yards and scored 21 TDs in three seasons.

Further, many of the backups -- Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Washington's Jesse Callier, Arizona State's Deantre Lewis or Kyle Middlebrooks, Stanford's Anthony Wilkerson and UCLA's Derrick Coleman (or Malcolm Jones/Jordan James) -- are talented and experienced (other than James, a redshirt freshman).

So conference of quarterbacks, conference of running backs -- both are positions of power.

Perhaps the Pac-12 in 2011 is now the Conference of Backfields?

Issues facing the veteran QBs

August, 9, 2011
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It's great having a veteran quarterback, particularly a veteran quarterback who is proven.

But a veteran quarterback can have his own concerns. Here's what the returning starters at the position in the Pac-12 will be fretting about -- though they'd never own up to fretting -- during preseason camp.

Nick Foles, Arizona: Foles has a talented and deep crew of receivers but he also has five new starting offensive linemen in front of him, which not only will be an issue in pass protection but also for creating a running game that will slow down a pass rush.

Tyler Hansen, Colorado: The good news for Hansen is the job is his and he no longer has to worry about the coach's son, as he did under Dan Hawkins with Cody Hawkins. The bad news also is it's all on him, though Hansen seems like the sort who would see that as good news. A more tangible worry for Hansen is a lack of depth at receiver. Paul Richardson can ball and Toney Clemons is solid. After that, things are thin.

Darron Thomas, Oregon: Talk about a debut. Most folks thought Nate Costa was going to win the starting job over Thomas last preseason, but Thomas not only prevailed, he thrived, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and, oh by the way, playing in the national championship game. But now Thomas is playing behind a less-experienced offensive line and without his top-two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis. Further, he's the man now, the first guy his teammates will look at in the huddle, though running back LaMichael James also figures to play a significant leadership role. Thomas seems up to increasing his responsibilities, but he can't do it alone. He will need some young receivers to step up, just as he did last year.

Ryan Katz, Oregon State: Katz might have the biggest arm in the conference and he certainly had some impressive moments, most notably a tour-de-force performance at Arizona. But he sure could use the return of a healthy James Rodgers, who was a big help against the Wildcats before he suffered a terrible knee injury. But receivers are not among Katz's chief worries. His offensive line welcomes back four starters, but it underperformed in 2010, both as run- and pass-blockers. And Katz no longer has certainty at tailback, with Jacquizz Rodgers off to the NFL.

Andrew Luck, Stanford: Luck is the best quarterback in the country, but that means many will expect him to be perfect, which he can't be. For one, his dominant 2010 offensive line is replacing three starters. We don't know if the Cardinal running game will match what it did the previous two seasons. That line also protected Luck as well as any line protected its quarterback in the nation. But more pressing for Luck is a questionable crew of receivers. If speedy Chris Owusu is healthy all season, things should work out. But without him, Luck doesn't have any options who can scare a defense. No one stepped up during the spring, which makes receiver perhaps the Cardinal's most worrisome position.

Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley looks poised for a breakthrough in his third year as a starter. While Luck is super special, watching Barkley throw the ball at practice is pretty darn special, too. He's certainly an NFL talent, and he's got plenty of young talent around him at the skill positions to help him put up big numbers this season. But his offensive line was awful during spring practices. Injuries were the chief explanation, but he needs his starting five to stay healthy because there is a decided lack of depth. Offensive line is probably, in fact, USC's biggest question mark.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: First, Wynn needs to worry about himself. He's coming back from shoulder surgery, so he needs to pace himself this preseason, both in terms of not overthrowing and in terms of not seeking out any unnecessary contact. After taking care of himself, Wynn will need to develop chemistry with a receiving corps that is replacing two of its three top guys. Beyond that, Wynn will be paying attention to running back, where the Utes' top two rushers from last season need to be replaced. Utah wants to be a downhill running team, and a hard-nosed running game certainly makes things easier for a quarterback when he steps back into the pocket.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Tuel and his receivers are going to be fine -- more than fine if they get some help from an offensive line that struggled horribly in 2010, failing to protect Tuel or to create running lanes for an anemic running game. Tuel did an admirable job handling 51 sacks last fall. But if he gets sacked that many times again in 2011, it's hard to imagine him starting all 12 games.

Indispensable player: Oregon State

July, 12, 2011
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See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: Oregon State

WR Markus Wheaton

This one is a little different, because we're basing it on a potential worst-case scenario: What if receiver James Rodgers (knee) and H-back Joe Halahuni (shoulder) miss some, much or all of the season, or are not themselves when they see action? If Rodgers and Halahuni are back, then the Beavers have a strong crew of pass-catchers that will improve the quality of quarterback Ryan Katz's life. In that scenario, then Katz would become the Beavers' most indispensable player, even though the coaches feels good about sophomore backup Cody Vaz and the potential of redshirt freshman Sean Mannion, particularly after a strong spring from Vaz. Still, Wheaton will be a critical guy for the Beavers no matter what, with or without Rodgers and Halahuni. The junior is a playmaker, the Beavers' leading returning receiver with 55 receptions for 675 yards and four touchdowns. He also was the second-leading rusher in 2010 with 220 yards and two touchdowns, as he became the fly sweep guy when Rodgers was lost. Further, he can help in the return game -- punts and kicks. You get the idea that Oregon State coaches want the ball in Wheaton's hands. And if Rodgers and Halahuni aren't around or are limited, then who will the playmakers on offense be, other than Wheaton? Consider last year's stats. Junior Jordan Bishop has tantalizing skills but he only caught 22 passes last fall. Senior Darrell Catchings has struggled to stay healthy and to be consistent when healthy. Oregon State doesn't look like a team that will be able to line up and run right at you -- see the offensive line struggles of 2010 and the departure of multi-purpose back Jacquizz Rodgers to the NFL draft. It's going to have to throw the ball to win. Katz can do just that --- he has loads of talent and a year of experience under his belt. But he needs weapons. Wheaton, at this point, looks like the first choice in his arsenal. Perhaps even if Rodgers and Halahuni come back.

Indispensable player: Colorado

July, 8, 2011
7/08/11
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See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up next: Colorado

RB Rodney Stewart

You could make an argument that Stewart is as important to the Buffaloes as quarterback Andrew Luck is to Stanford. That might be just a bit extreme, but Stewart was the Buffaloes' offense last fall. He rushed for 1,318 yards, which would have ranked third in the Pac-10 in 2010, and scored a team-high 10 touchdowns. The Buffs' No. 2 rusher, Brian Lockridge, gained 146 yards. How extreme is that difference? It would have been the lowest number for a No. 2 rusher in the conference last fall. Heck, Oregon State's No. 2 rusher behind workhorse Jacquizz Rodgers gained 220 yards, and he was a receiver: Markus Wheaton. Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked 51 times, but he still managed to rush for 204 yards. Stewart finished with 290 carries. That would have ranked second in the conference -- Oregon's LaMichael James had 294 -- 30 ahead of Washington workhorse Chris Polk and 34 more than Rodgers. He also caught 29 passes for 290 yards, making him the Buffs' No. 4 receiver. Have we mentioned that Stewart is 5-foot-6, 175 pounds? Further, the depth behind Stewart is uncertain. Lockridge, also a senior, is still dealing with an ankle injury and might not be ready by the start of the season. There are high expectations for redshirt freshman Tony Jones after a solid spring, and sophomore Josh Ford also is a possibility. Still, Stewart is the unquestioned engine of the offense. New coach Jon Embree wants to be a run-first, physical team -- he brought back the fullback position -- and if the Buffs are going to be a bowl team in Year 1 of the Pac-12, they will ride Stewart there.

Polls reaction: What you think, what I think.

May, 15, 2011
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On Thursday and Friday, we took the pulse of the Pac-12 with a series of polls, and thousands of you responded.

Democracy rocks!

Here's how you voted, and my reaction.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireRick Neuheisel brought in Mike Johnson and Jim Mastro to tweak the Pistol offense into its current incarnation.
Which is the biggest can't miss game in the Pac-12?
53 percent LSU vs. Oregon
32 percent Oregon at Stanford

Comment: Concur. I understand the idea that the Stanford-Oregon game is the favorite to decide the Pac-12's top team, but the LSU-Oregon game will have significant national ramifications that figure to ripple throughout the season. Of course, same could eventually be said for Ducks-Cardinal, but we know RIGHT NOW that the Oregon-LSU game will match top-10 teams. We don't know what everything will look like on Nov. 12, when the Ducks visit Stanford.

Which team will be the biggest disappointment?
27 percent Arizona State
24 percent Washington

Comment: Interesting. Lots of Sun Devils doubters out there, and more than a few apparently don't believe the Huskies have actually turned the proverbial corner. Thought one of the North favorites -- Oregon and Stanford -- might have garnered more attention. Of the five choices, Oregon ended up last, so folks are pretty confident that the Ducks won't disappoint.

Which team will be the biggest surprise?
33 percent Utah
20 percent Washington State

Comment: Concur. While some believe that the Utes contending for the Pac-12 South Division title will be a surprise, a corresponding group believes that's just what's going to happen. The Cougars will be picked to finish last by just about everyone, but this is the first time in a while many will pause before doing so. And might even change their minds.

Who will win the Pac-12?
54 percent Oregon
27 percent Stanford

Comment: Not a surprise. Mildly surprised it wasn't a little closer between these two. But, then again, Oregon fans are very, er, active in support of their team.

Which Pac-12 coach needs to win the most?
46 percent UCLA's Rick Neuheisel
20 percent USC's Lane Kiffin

Comment: Don't agree. I'd rank Washington State's Paul Wulff No. 1 and Neuheisel No. 2. And I'd be very surprised if Kiffin isn't back in 2012. His numbers here probably included a few Tennessee fans, no?

Who is the offensive player of the year?
41 percent Stanford QB Andrew Luck
33 percent Oregon RB LaMichael James

Comment: Yep. Two returning Heisman Trophy finalists makes this obvious. At least in the preseason.

Who is the defensive player of the year?
42 percent Oregon CB Cliff Harris
28 percent Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict

Comment: As an added bonus for participating in this poll, Burfict will be visiting everyone who didn't vote for him. We'll post what happens on YouTube. By the way, Vontaze, you got my vote.

Who will be the conference's biggest impact player?
36 percent Stanford QB Andrew Luck
35 percent Oregon QB Darron Thomas

Comment: Concur. Luck is the best player in the nation. Thomas, even more than James, likely will decide just how good the Ducks' offense will be in 2011.

Who will be the conference's most improved player?
39 percent Oregon State QB Ryan Katz
24 percent Alameda Ta'amu

Comment: Reasonable choices. Katz's improvement might hinge on his supporting cast -- as in, if he gets receiver James Rodgers back at full speed after a knee injury, Katz will "improve" more. My vote, however, would go for Colorado defensive tackle Conrad Obi, who could go from career disappointment to All-Conference and NFL draft pick if he keeps his eye on the prize.

Toughest player to replace?
44 percent Washington QB Jake Locker
36 percent Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Comment: I'd have voted for Rodgers. Locker just didn't have a good 2010 season, and, in large part, the Huskies started "replacing" him when they began leaning on running back Chris Polk. Rodgers, whom everyone knows I highly esteem, was such a versatile player -- run, receive, block, lead -- that you know in advance the Beavers won't really replace him.
The reality of college football is that all players eventually leave and the best players often leave sooner -- for the NFL draft -- than fans and coaches would want.

So while many view a count of returning starters as a great measure of what things might look like in the future, filling voids is really what spring practices are all about.

Many key conference players are off to the NFL. But which leaves behind the biggest hole?

For four years, Jake Locker was the face of Washington. While his numbers weren't good in 2010, he was the Huskies unquestioned leader, not to mention being good enough to go eighth overall in the NFL draft.

Just like Locker, Jacquizz Rodgers was the face of Oregon State, starting with his thrilling debut in the 2008 upset of USC. Speaking of difficult to replace, what about one player who was two players? That was Stanford's Owen Marecic in 2010, who was the Cardinal's starting fullback and linebacker.

Oregon is replacing three starters on its defensive line, but none was as productive over the past two seasons as end Kenny Rowe, who produced 20 sacks and 31.5 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons.

Spring wrap: Oregon State

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
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OREGON STATE

2010 overall record: 5-7

2010 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7, Defense: 5, punter/kicker: punter

Top returners

QB Ryan Katz, WR James Rodgers, WR Markus Wheaton, TE Joe Halahuni, S Lance Mitchell

Key losses

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, C Alex Linnenkohl, DT Stephen Paea, DE Gabe Miller, CB James Dockery

2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Jacquizz Rodgers (1,184)

Passing: Ryan Katz (2,401)

Receiving: Markus Wheaton* (675)

Tackles: Dwight Roberson (88)

Sacks: Stephen Paea (6)

Interceptions: James Dockery (4)

Spring answers

1. Primary in the secondary: Safety Lance Mitchell leads a solid group in the defensive backfield. Brandon Hardin is back at one corner -- he struggled at times in 2010 but had a solid spring -- with talented Jordan Poyer on the other side and Rashaad Reynolds as an emerging option. Anthony Watkins is the other safety with Josh LaGrone supplying the depth.

2. Outside linebackers are fast: While things are still uncertain at middle linebacker, Michael Doctor and Cameron Collins are fast and aggressive on the outside. Doctor, a sophomore, looks poised for a star turn. Collins is a converted safety who is building a reputation as a big hitter.

3. Backup plan: While starting quarterback Ryan Katz sat out with a wrist injury, sophomore Cody Vaz asserted himself in the competition for the backup role with talented redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. Katz is expected to be full speed this summer, but Vaz eased concerns about potential "what if" plans.

Fall questions

1. Hurting playmakers: Four of the Beavers top five offensive playmakers missed all or some of spring -- Katz, receiver James Rodgers, receiver Jordan Bishop and tight end/H-back Joe Halahuni -- and Katz is the only one who is expected to be good to go for fall camp. Rodgers, of course, is the most worrisome. At 100 percent, he's one of the most dangerous players -- catching the ball or in the return game -- in the nation. But he suffered a severe knee injury in October, and his prognosis is uncertain.

2. Lines of fire? The offensive line welcomes back four starters, but it underperformed last season and wasn't terribly impressive this spring. Coaches are still looking for the right combination of players. The defensive line didn't play terribly well in 2010 either, and it lost its two best players -- tackle Stephen Paea and end Gabe Miller -- who were both NFL draft picks. Who's going to be the edge rusher? Who's going to anchor inside? Line play -- on both sides of the ball -- will tell the tale of the Beavers' season.

3. Taking a Quizz: You don't replace a running back like Jacquizz Rodgers easily, but Beavers fans probably recall hand-wringing in the past over how to replace previous 1,000-yard rushers. Seems like the program just finds a solution. This spring a committee of backs did fairly well. Still, among the group -- Ryan McCants, Jovan Stevenson, Terron Ward, Malcolm Marabel, Jordan Jenkins and the incoming freshmen -- the ultimate pecking order hasn't yet been worked out.

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