Pac-12: Jairus Byrd
But that smile hints at something else. It's a happy smile, yes, but happy in the way a lion looks just before he takes a huge chomp out of a gazelle.
Me: I just made a list of the top-25 of players in the Pac-12.
Boyett: [Big laugh] I heard.
Me: You were left off.
Boyett: [More laughing] I heard.
Me: [Nervous laugh] Are you competitive with the other guys?
Boyett: Very competitive.
If you've watched Boyett play, that shouldn't be a surprise. A soon-to-be four-year starter for the Ducks, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior from Napa, Calif., is child of a football family, and he's obsessed with the game, whether that's about conditioning or watching film or playing with an intensity that easily endures the filtering presentation of a TV camera.
How competitive is he? Competitive enough to be, yes, just a bit irked not only at that ole top-25 list but also that he ended up second-team All-Pac-12.
"I'm not just going to say I feel like I'm the best safety because it's me. I'm a realist," he said. "But I really do feel I'm the best safety in the country. I probably wouldn't believe that if [secondary coach John Neal and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti] hadn't told me the same thing."
But Boyett, who's led the Ducks in tackles two of the past three season and finished second in 2010, didn't come to this discussion unarmed. He's completely aware of whom his rival is for best safety in the Pac-12: USC's T.J. McDonald. McDonald was first-team All-Pac-12, first-team All-American with The Sporting News, ended up ranked 19th on the top-25 list and is widely considered the best senior safety in college football.
"I know T.J. McDonald's stats," Boyett said. "I know all the safeties I am competing with in the draft. I know all their stuff. But I'm not stupid competitive. I don't get into all the politics. I'm here to help my team win. If we get into another BCS championship game, I don't care if you give me first team or 20th team, I just want to help the team win."
Boyett continues, "But it is crazy when you look at it. I look at my stats compared to everyone else. And I'm not a big stats guy, I just want to win games."
"But of course you've got to look at it every once and a while. I've got 276 tackles, nine picks and like 29 pass breakups. And the other guy's [McDonald] got like  tackles, six picks and nine pass breakups. I've got him by  tackles, three picks and 20 pass breakups! And they are still getting...
"That's why I don't get caught up in all that stuff."
Not completely, at least.
What Boyett really does get caught up in is winning. Oregon has done that during his career like it never has before with a 34-6 record over the past three seasons. He was recruited to a 2007 team that fell out of the national title hunt when quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee. In 2008, his redshirt season, the Ducks went 10-3 and won the Holiday Bowl. Yet those were the down years. He became a starter in 2009 when T.J. Ward got hurt, and since then the Ducks have won three consecutive Pac-12 titles and played in two Rose Bowls -- winning one -- as well as the national title game after the 2010 season.
Boyett believes the Ducks will again be in the hunt in 2012. And he believes this defense might be the best unit with which he's played.
"We lose three or four guys, but all the guys coming in for them are just as good as them," he said. "[Aliotti] asks me how the defense is doing, and I seriously tell him, 'This defense is going to be the best since I've been here.'"
Boyett is part of an impressive recent legacy of Oregon defensive backs. When he arrived, the Ducks' secondary included Ward, Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung and Walter Thurmond. The first three were second-round NFL draft picks, while Thurmond went in Round 4.
Those are the guys who first taught him how to play, but they aren't exempt from Boyett's competitive streak either. He's got big plans for this year, and part of that plan is leaving no doubt in the eyes of NFL scouts.
Said Boyett, "Coach Neal says if I have another great year I'm going to get drafted as high if not higher than them."
What do you notice?
That the former Pac-10 defensive players went one, two, three in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
Not too shabby.
Five Pac-10 defensive players are candidates to be drafted in the first two rounds this spring: UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price, USC safety Taylor Mays, USC defensive end Everson Griffen, California cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu. Oregon State's junior defensive tackle Stephen Paea would join that list if he opts to enter the draft.
Wonder if any of them will challenge Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry or Gerald McCoy for 2010 Rookie of the Year honors?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Yes, keeping up with Oregon's myriad injuries isn't easy. But Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard provides a helpful primer with this notebook.
To sum: Remember the talented 2008 secondary -- Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond and T.J. Ward -- which started 12 of 13 games together last year?
The crew starting at UCLA will be four entirely new parts -- a junior, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman.
Chung and Byrd are in the NFL. Thurmond suffered a season-ending knee injury. Ward is questionable for Saturday with a high ankle sprain. And Thurmond's senior backup, Willie Glasper, is also done for the season with a knee injury suffered this week.
That means the starting secondary figures to be sophomore Javes Lewis at rover (he started the first five games), redshirt freshman John Boyett at free safety (he's started the past four games for Ward), junior Talmadge Jackson at right corner (also a five-game starter) and sophomore Anthony Gildon at left corner (the third player to start in the spot this season).
Touted true freshman Cliff Harris also could be in the mix.
The Bruins are not a great passing team, but that rejiggered secondary surely raised an eyebrow or two in Westwood.
Toss in the likely absence of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (knee) and tackle C.E. Kaiser (shin), and the Ducks will face the Bruins without five starters (including running back LeGarrette Blount) on their preseason depth chart, and that only counts left cornerback once.
During the preseason, it looked like a number of Pac-10 teams would be solid in the secondary. If ball hawking is a good measure of that, then preseason expectations are being met -- and surpassed.
Last year, Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon and Oregon cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III tied for the Pac-10 lead with five interceptions.
Three game into the 2009 season, UCLA safety Rahim Moore already has five interceptions, which leads the nation.
Last year, California safety Sean Cattouse ranked 10th in the conference with three interceptions.
Three games into the 2009 season, four players already have at least three and a fifth has two.
In addition to Moore, Nixon, UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner and Arizona corner Trevin Wade rank among the nation's top 10 with three picks apiece.
Six teams have three or more picks so far, and five have already returned an interception for a touchdown. Washington State did it twice in its win over SMU.
Still, matching last year's team production won't be easy. In 2008, five Pac-10 teams ranked in the top-26 in the nation with 16 or more interceptions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If Oregon's defensive coordinator had a reality show, it would be called, "Nick Aliotti: It's Complicated."
Some Ducks fans look at Aliotti's defense and only see a unit that surrendered 28 points and 390 yards per game, both measures ranking in the bottom half of the Pac-10.
|Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images|
|T.J. Ward needs to become more "cerebral" if he's to take the next step, according to Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.|
"If we only could match a dominant defense with our already dominant offense!" the thinking goes. "Then we'd be USC, only with more colorful and creative uniforms!"
But it's not that simple.
The Ducks offense operates faster than any other. It rolled up 485 yards and 42 points a game in 2008, despite playing against five defenses ranked in the top 26 in the nation and using five different quarterbacks.
But it ranked last in the nation in time of possession: 25:11 per game.
That means Duck defenders often were only halfway through a sideline orange slice before they were called back to the field.
Only one team faced more plays on defense last season than Oregon: Missouri, which also seeks a ludicrous pace on offense.
And here's an interesting factoid: The Ducks yielded just 4.90 yards per play.
That's a better number than Virginia Tech, which ranked seventh in the nation in total defense, Georgia (22nd), Oregon State (23) and Arizona (24), among others.
Oh, and Oregon also ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 with 40 sacks and No. 2 with 31 forced turnovers.
Still, many Ducks fans never got past "a unit that surrendered 28 points and 390 yards per game."
"Complicated" sometimes doesn't wash with football fans.
So it seemed reasonable to stop by for a chat with the affable Aliotti, who's replacing six starters from last year's unit.
Nick Aliotti: Had an excellent summer! Did a lot of fun things. Played a lot of golf. I finally got my handicap down to a reasonable amount but you know how that goes -- I won't swing again until June or July.
So after one spring and offseason, what's the biggest difference for you working under Chip Kelly as opposed to Mike Bellotti?
NA: It's always tough when you compare somebody because one guy could get offended by what you say sometimes. But, not being too political, I think the biggest difference is we play in hyperspeed now and we practice in hyperspeed. Chip, having not been a head coach before, is more into coaching football -- doing X's and O's -- and not that CEO-type job yet. And that's not a knock on Mike. I'm just explaining my answer. So practicing at hyperspeed and Chip being a football junkie jump out to me.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon signee Cliff Harris, a ESPNU 150 cornerback out of Fresno, pleaded no contest Wednesday to obstructing a police officer in the line of duty -- a misdemeanor -- and was sentenced to one year of probation and fined $300, according to the Fresno Bee.
Harris said in the story he will report to Oregon on Aug. 9, though preseason camp begins on Aug. 7. (He may have misspoke).
Harris, 18, was pepper sprayed and arrested on April 22 after trying to help his younger brother, who was in a scuffle with police. Harris' brother, a minor who was also arrested, had become agitated when a police officer insisted he take off his red cap, which apparently violated the Edison High School dress code, according to the newspaper.
Oregon needs to replace two members of its secondary, including cornerback Jairus Byrd, so Harris is a candidate to earn early playing time. He's also a dangerous return man on special teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.
- There are known and then there are soon-to-be-known quantities in Arizona prep recruiting.
- California spring review: Quarterback Kevin Riley helped his cause.
- Former Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd, who left the Ducks after his junior season and was picked in the second round by the Buffalo Bills, will play free safety in the NFL.
- Oregon beat writer John Hunt, video star, breaks down the Ducks spring game.
- Oregon State's secondary issues are firstary. Beavers beat writer Paul Buker interviews himself about his team and does this video about the spring game. Of course, that's a stand-in. This is the real Paul Buker doing an interview with a Beaver.
- Whatever happened to former Stanford defensive lineman Babatunde Oshinowo, a member of the Pac-10 blog's all-name team? (How fun is that name to say over and over again!) Got a feeling things are going to work out for the bright-even-for-Stanford Oshinowo.
- Once a highly touted signee, UCLA running back Aundre Dean is thinking about transferring. What we learned from the Bruins spring: There's a lack of speed and passion at receiver.
- Here's why former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga fell in the draft. What we learned from the Trojans this spring: There's insane riches at cornerback.
- Former Washington defensive back Mesphin Forrester signs with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Talked to Oregon coach Chip Kelly this morning -- he's the Wednesday Q&A -- and he told me he's not surprised in the least that his defense has been stout this spring.
It surprised me. The Ducks lost three starting defensive linemen and likely starting tackle Tonio Celotto quit football, not to mention rover Patrick Chung and corner Jairus Byrd are off to the NFL.
Yet it fits a pattern this spring. Everybody keeps telling me how good their defense looks.
So here's a guess that the Pac-10, a year after four teams ranked in the nation's top-26 in total defense, will play its best defense in years next fall.
Only two teams welcome back fewer than five starters: USC and Oregon State. And those two, with just three starters back apiece, have been the conference's most consistent units in recent years.
And I'll just go ahead and tell you USC will rank in the nation's top 10 in total and scoring defense next year. Promise.
But other than the Trojans and Beavers -- and perhaps also Oregon (we'll see Coach Kelly) -- the other seven teams appear poised to play better defense in 2009.
Washington and Washington State couldn't help but improve. The Huskies have 10 starters back, and that doesn't include linebacker E.J. Savannah, who's a legit difference-maker.
Arizona, Arizona State, California and UCLA each have defenses that could rank in the top-25 in the nation, and Stanford, with eight starters back and a much-needed injection of athleticism courtesy of some position switches, should be vastly improved.
It certainly looks like a particularly strong year for defensive linemen. Only Washington State doesn't have at least one player up front who is widely considered an NFL prospect.
And can any conference match this secondary: FS Taylor Mays (USC), SS T.J. Ward (Oregon), CB Walter Thurmond III (Oregon), CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA) and CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California) (You choose who's the nickel)? And that leaves out Arizona corner Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2008.
If there is a position that may slide from 2008, it's linebacker, with USC, California, Arizona and Washington State taking significant hits at the position.
Yet what transpired this spring suggests each feels pretty good about the guys who will be stepping into the voids.
Toss in issues at quarterback throughout the conference, which might not bode well for a return to typical high-flying Pac-10 offenses, not to mention a number of teams with significant issues on the offensive line, and 2009 might be the year the conference hangs up impressive defensive numbers.
So if don't expect a return to the good ole days of 42-40 games next fall. It figures there will be more 20-17.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].
The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.
The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).
Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).
USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.
Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.
Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.
Here's the complete list
Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh
Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth
Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Why is Oregon safety T.J. Ward standing in my driveway in full uniform? Pacing. And pacing.
To your notes.
Blake from Beaverton writes: I'm assuming the top two on your top thirty (one) list is Mays and Best which is understandable but how come T.J. Ward isn't on there somewhere? Ward is pretty close to Walter Thurmond, if not better.
Ted Miller: Ward is an outstanding hitter. My guess is he'll become a complete player this year. But, to be honest, I'd bet if I went up to Ward after practice and asked him why he thought I didn't rank him among the top 30 he'd look me in the eye and go, "I need to be more consistent in coverage. I also need to not bite on play-action fakes."
I will not, however, go and ask him this in my driveway. I want Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti around to protect me.
Tom from Sacramento writes: Ted, I've been following your list of the 30 best players in the Pac-10, and I believe you're making a huge omission: SPECIAL TEAMS. Where are all the kickers and punters and KRs and PRs? As a Cal fan, I know Bryan Anger is one of the best punters in the country, and was vital to Cal's success last season. Do you think the Pac-10 is full of glass boots, or do you just not respect the guys that coaches depend on in the final seconds of many close games?
Ted Miller: Fair point. And talk about Anger management. Got lots of notes about him.
I'd just point out how rare it is for an NFL team to draft a punter or kicker early in the draft. Great ones are extremely valuable. And Anger is a freak. But if I were starting a team, there's no one on this list I'd trade for a punter or kicker, no matter how good.
Nate from Nashville writes: You ought to create a revised 30 best players at season's end, see how they compare to your pre-season predictions. I think by then, there will be more than just three of my Cal bears on the list.
Ted Miller: Nate, you may be correct. And that is a good idea. Seeing as I keep noting a potential top-10 finish for Cal, my guess is a receiver, defensive lineman, linebacker and maybe even a quarterback could be Bears added to a post-eason list.
We shall see.
Danny from Los Angeles writes: Ted, With regard to your Top 30 of the Pac-10, I wonder if all the underclassmen that entered the draft remained, where would they rank in that list? (E.g., Is Mark Sanchez in the top 5? Does Cameron Morrah make the top 30?)
Ted Miller: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton and Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd all would have made the list, with Sanchez and Britton clearly ranking toward the very top.
California tight end Cameron Morrah would have been considered but I don't think I would have ranked him top-30. It would have been close.
Todd from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Can you look at the recruiting done so far this year (for 2010 class) and let me know if my excitement for the Husky class is justified. It looks like Sark is getting the best talent in the state, and some good talent from out of state, to commit early and build a class that Heaps cannot say no to. Let me know your thoughts.
Ted Miller: Well, the Huskies already have seven oral commitments, apparently the most in the Pac-10, and appear to be mopping up in-state, though marquee in-state quarterback Jake Heaps is still on the board.
How could you not be excited about that?
The momentum is there. And it feels completely different than last year.
Now the question is whether they can keep up that momentum and get the signatures.
You Husky fans have been through a lot over the past few years. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to get pumped up when even a whiff of good news wafts through the Seattle fog.
Patrick from Garden Grove, Calif., writes: While following one of the links covering Cal's quarterback Kevin Riley i noticed that Tad Smith, Cal's #1 Tight End on the depth chart, suffered a broken scapula during one of their practices and could be out as long as 4-6 months. After an early exit for the NFL draft by last years starter Cameron Morrah, isn't this a big injury for the bears?
Ted Miller: Patrick, I've got good news for you, courtesy of Jonathan Okanes. At the bottom of his story from Friday he has this:
Tight end Tad Smith underwent surgery on his broken scapula Tuesday and is expected to be sidelined for 3½ months. Tedford expects Smith to be ready by the beginning of fall camp in August.
So you can let out that breath.
Cam from Albany, Ore, writes: Ted, It is looking more and more like Oregon will have Masoli, Blount, Dickson, Harper, Maehl,and the speedster Holland on the field at the same time next year. Who around the Pac-10, or the nation, can match that kind of talent at every position on offense?
Ted Miller: Every position? There are 300-pounders everywhere grunting.
That's certainly a nice group at the skill positions, though the receivers are unproven. My guess is USC, other than a big if at quarterback, is fairly excited about the nine starters it's got back. Florida also might have something to say if you're thinking nationally.
Oregon's issue on offense in 2009 will be the maturation of a rebuilt offensive line. And, by the way, its issue on defense will be the maturation of its defensive line.
And, as for the O-line, it's not just me saying that either.
Logan from Tucson, Ariz., writes: After watching Arizona's spring game I came away very impressed with Foles ability to move in the pocket. He is my opening day starter as of now. If you were Mike Stoops who is your starting QB if games started this weekend?
Ted Miller: I only watched one practice in Tucson, but it sounds like the two quarterbacks, Matt Scott and Nick Foles, were neck-and-neck throughout spring. Stoops told me he was happy with both. And he intimated that he might play both in the opener vs. Central Michigan to see how each reacts under fire. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't let both play in the first two games before the big visit to Iowa on Sept. 19.
At least, that's what I'd do.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Walter Thurmond III, CB, Oregon: Over the past couple of seasons, Oregon fans were divided into two camps: Jairus Byrd or Walter Thurmond III. Who was the Ducks best corner? Last year, when the Pac-10 blog went with Byrd, the Thurmond camp stormed the Pac-10 blog's castle with torches and pitchforks. Figuratively. Thurmond struggled with various injuries last year and he only managed to tie for the Pac-10 lead with five interceptions, giving him 10 over the past two seasons. The budding four-year starter also has broken up 35 passes over the past two seasons and shown a penchant for fancypants plays at big times, see his 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the waning moments of the first half of the Civil War against Oregon State. Or his 91-yard kickoff return to start the second half of the Holiday Bowl. He had 66 tackles last year and 103 in 2007 -- eight for a loss -- which shows he can play the run as well as the pass. With Byrd opting to enter the NFL draft a year early, Thurmond, 6-foot, 180-pounds, will be the lead cover corner in the Ducks secondary this year. His combination of size and athleticism makes him a likely first-day pick in the 2010 NFL draft, and he could play himself into the first round with a big season.
11. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
12. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
13. Dexter Davis, DE, Arizona State
14. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA
16. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC
18. Will Tukuafu, DE, Oregon
19. Josh Pinkard, DB, USC
20. Reggie Carter, LB, UCLA
21. Stafon Johnson, RB, USC
22. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
23. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington
24. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State; Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
25. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
26. Tyson Alualu, DE, California
27. Devin Ross, CB, Arizona
28. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State
29. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
30. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If we are to believe the Pac-10 will continue to be a high-flying passing conference -- last year's downturn was clearly just an anomaly, right? -- teams will continue to need outstanding cornerbacks to slow down the track meet.
So where do things stand as we enter spring practices?
- California: The Bears are the only Pac-10 team that has two accomplished, full-time starting cornerbacks from 2008 -- senior Syd'Quan Thompson (first-team All-Pac-10) and junior Darian Hagan -- returning from a statistically impressive pass defense (24 Ints vs. 12 TD passes).
- USC: While the Trojans defense lost starting cornerback Cary Harris, three players with starting experience at the position return, including, Shareece Wright, who was the best of the lot before he got hurt and sat out the season. Oh, and the Trojans had the best pass defense in the nation in 2008, see just six TD passes surrendered. [Ed. note: As folks pointed out below, I screwed up and forgot that Josh Pinkard was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. My bad.]
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils just make the cut here. They not only welcome back three corners with starting experience, they get all six players back from their season-ending three-deep depth chart. And ASU ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense. That said, Omar Bolden didn't play up to expectations last year, and this figures to be a competitive spot during spring.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are nearly in "great shape." They lose starter Marquis Hundley -- recall his endzone INT that iced the Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU -- but sophomore Robert Golden is a star talent who should start opposite Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10. The Wildcats ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2008.
- UCLA: Second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Alterraun Verner is back, but Michael Norris is gone. Redshirt freshman Aaron Hester is the favorite to start, but the competition for the vacancy figures to endure into the fall when a number of touted athletes arrive.
- Oregon: Jairus Byrd, first-team All-Pac-10, opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, but Walter Thurmond III is back and backups Willie Glasper, a senior, and junior Talmadge Jackson III saw significant action in 2008. A curiosity: The Ducks had a lot of talent in the secondary last year but gave up 270 yards passing per game and 25 total TD passes, both numbers being worst in the conference.
- Washington State: This may seem charitable because the Cougars ranked ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year, but both starters -- junior Romeo Pellum and sophomore Tyrone Justin -- are back, and California transfer Brandon Jones should challenge one or the other for a starting spot.
- Oregon State: The Beavers lose both starters, Brandon Hughes (second-team All-Pac-10) and Keenan Lewis (honorable mention), but they aren't desperate. Senior Tim Clark has started six games in his career, and junior James Dockery, who missed last season with a knee injury, figure to step in, though some young players, such as redshirt freshman Keynan Parker, might make a move.
- Stanford: Wopamo Osaisai is gone, while Kris Evans returns, but competition is wide open, with Michael Thomas, Mark Mueller, Corey Gatewood and Quinn Evans each trying to earn a starting spot. The Cardinal needs to get more athletic in the back-half after intercepting just seven passes a year ago.
- Washington: Both starters are back, but Washington ranked 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2008. Opponents completed 67 percent of their passes and threw 24 touchdown passes. The Huskies only grabbed seven interceptions. Of course, with little pass rush up front, corners Matt Mosely and Quinton Richardson often found themselves in coverage a long, long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
I worked on this longer than Carl Smith was USC's quarterbacks coach.
Drew from Los Altos, Calif., writes: Ted, I was looking at a CBS college sports early bird polls and it had Oregon 6th. This isn't the first time I've seen Oregon get this much credit. Why is this? They lose a starting RB, (they do get Blount back however) all the Offensive lineman, 2 wr's, a DE, DT, LB, and 3 Dbacks. To me, that doesn't make too much sense. I think Oregon will be good, no doubt. But 6th, I don't know about that. Your thoughts?
Ted Miller: My guess is that Dennis Dodd is showing respect for Oregon and the Pac-10. He also probably was charmed by Jeremiah Masoli's dynamic play at season's end and the way Chip Kelly runs an offense. Sixth? Maybe a little high, but Dodd's got a couple of teams ranked higher than that I think the Ducks would brick.
I think Oregon joins USC and California as a potential top-10 team next fall.
And, of course, Oregon State. Let us not forget the Beavers.
Ryan from Atherton, Calif., writes: How do you think [tight end Cameron] Morrah's departure will impact the Bears this season? Who do think will be the starting tight end next year? With Morrah gone, who do you suppose will be the go-to-guy on crucial passing plays? Also, will Cal's lack of a proven tight end significantly effect their chances of making a run at the pac-10 title in 2009?
Ted Miller: He led the Bears with eight touchdown receptions and was the second-leading receiver, so it's a hit. But the receiving corps, which was lackluster due to inexperience, injuries and inconsistency at quarterback in 2008, should be a lot better next year.
At tight end, I'm guessing Tad Smith will step in. He's far more physical player than Morrah. And sophomore Anthony Miller caught the winning touchdown pass against Miami in the Emerald Bowl, so he appears ready to step up.
Go-to guy? My feeling is Cal's strength will be having three or four capable receivers, not one who gets most of the touches.
Bob from Corvallis, Ore., writes: First off I'm an OSU fan not a USC fan but here goes... why is there such a backlash against [USC coach Pete Carroll] when he feels it better for his player to stick around for a year? ... Mark Sanchez isn't ready. Granted he looked great against PSU. But don't you think Carroll knows his players a bit more than the sensationalist media? Sanchez is very good. But not THAT good. He didn't carry his team like Ryan did at BC. He had great athletes around him. What happens when that all goes away? I think Sanchez could be another potential draft bust. And for some teams, that could be catastrophic. Who can blame the young man for taking his money and leaping to the NFL? I certainly would even in USC's system where backups can even start in the NFL. But I can't understand the dogging that Carroll is getting for seriously believing that the best thing for his player would be to wait another year
Ted Miller: Carroll deserves some heat. He didn't need to make his frustration, however valid, the star of the afternoon. That was supposed to be Sanchez, his player, who'd just won him another Rose Bowl.
I also think Sanchez would have benefited from another year. I think, with further seasoning and after a big year with a loaded offense, he would have ended up the first quarterback taken in 2010, over that duo from the Big 12. (Quick: Name all the Big 12 quarterbacks in the NFL. 'Nuff said).
But I also wonder if he'll end up the first quarterback taken this year. Georgia's Matt Stafford has two significant advantages on Sanchez -- arm strength and experience. Sanchez is better in most other areas, however, and, unlike Stafford, he worked in a complex, pro-style system.
Gary from Sacramento writes: Ted, While Byrd and Thurmond are certainly good, I wouldn't take any set of returning corners over Thompson and Hagan at Cal. You might consider adding "arguably" before the words "the best returning cornerback tandem."
Ted Miller: How about this: Cal now -- inarguably -- has a better set of cornerbacks heading into 2009.
Britton from Chicago writes: Who will USC's starting QB next year be? Mitch Mustain?
Ted Miller: At this point, the favorite is probably Aaron Corp.
Mustain has tantalizing talent. But he has been unable to stop forcing throws into places they don't belong. I remember watching some USC practices, and Mustain would look great up until the point that he threw an interception in the red zone because he couldn't stomach not trying to make a spectacular play.
Corp also has great speed, which is nice.
I am eager, however, to watch this one unfold this spring.
Michael from Alameda, Calif., writes: With all of this drama with Harbaugh, do you think this will be a bit of distraction to potential recruits and also potentially a bit of weird feeling between him and this players this season? Somehow I feel I can't trust him though he says he's 100% committed to Stanford. Oh and where do you see Stanford at next season?
Ted Miller: Yes, it is a distraction and recruits can't help but wonder if Harbaugh will be off to the NFL within a couple of years.
Of course, that's the situation with many teams. And there are reasons to go to Stanford other than Harbaugh. You know, like it being the premier academic institution playing in a BCS conference.
Next year? Stanford will finish in the middle of the Pac-10 pack but it will qualify for its first bowl game since 2001.
Adam from Oregon writes: Ted, i was wondering if you would be willing to apologize to us for having to listen to Sweatervested1 trash our conference? During the season he called our conference names like; Lac-9, Crap-10, Big sky West and Pac-1. He would also refer to USC as USCum Even in his question to you he trashed our conference. Most of us Pac-10 bloggers feel that Sweatervested1 rightly deserves what he got, so what do you think? Ive also noticed that since the end of the season, that more and more SEC people are on here, could you tell me why the SEC bloggers feel the need to come to our blog?
Ted Miller: The Pac-10 blog has only love for our SEC friends, particularly Sweatervested1 who's been having a tough go of it since the Sugar Bowl.
As for all the fans of other conferences hanging out on the Pac-10 blog, well, that's the price of being where the hip crowd gathers.
Be amused by the give and take. It's fun.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Don't link between meals.
- Tucson's Adam Hall is a big-time Pac-10 recruiting target who just earned Parade All-American honors. Think he's a critical guy for Arizona and coach Mike Stoops?
- Speaking of big-time Pac-10 recruiting target: This guy is the biggest.
- Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd talks about why he opted to enter the NFL draft early.
- Oregon State just got a big recruiting commitment, which might shock folks at UCLA and Stanford.
- Keeping up with the myriad staff changes at USC isn't easy. The LA Times' Gary Klein tries to help. And new hire Jeremy Bates has a reputation as a quarterbacks guru, which could come in handy as the Trojans try to replace Mark Sanchez. Here's a primer on what's been going on off the field for USC.
- A couple of days old, but Jim Moore checks in with new Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt.