Pac-12: Jamere Holland
Who's back: Nine starters on offense, eight on defense, P Jackson Rice
Big names: RB LaMichael James, LT Bo Thran, WR Jeff Maehl, DE Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews, DT Brandon Bair
What's new: The Ducks staff returns intact for Chip Kelly's second year as head coach. They will be breaking in a new QB after Jeremiah Masoli was given the boot.
Key competition: The QB battle between senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas will be the conference's most-watched competition. Things also are uncertain at left cornerback, where freshmen Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson eclipsed the more experienced Cliff Harris during the spring. There's an "Or" between Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner on the depth chart at defensive end. And things are unresolved at kicker, where Rob Beard will try to hold off freshman Alejandro Maldonado, who has Lady Gaga in his corner.
Breaking out: The 6-foot-7 Jordan is an intriguing talent. James' backup Kenjon Barner, a dynamic athlete, will get plenty of touches. Maehl surged late last season and could turn in an All-Conference season. While listed as a backup, LB Michael Clay has consistently drawn raves. FS John Boyett, LB Spencer Paysinger and DT Brandon Bair also appear poised to be in the All-Conference picture.
Quote: Kelly on the QB competition: “It’s always a question mark when you lose your quarterback. We have two competent players in Nate Costa and Darron Thomas who will battle it out in preseason camp. Both are prepared and worked really hard for it. All of our offensive line, receivers and running backs are back. They will have a supporting cast around them.”
Notes: James and Beard will be suspended for the season-opener against New Mexico because of off-field issues... Talented backup LB linebacker Kiko Alonso was suspended for the season after he received a DUI... Receivers Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson were both declared academically ineligible and are not expected to return to the team... Receivers receiver Jamere Holland and Garrett Embry also were dismissed from the team.
It's fair to assume that Oregon State fans are no longer tee-heeing about all of Oregon's off-field troubles. While the Beavers haven't approached the headline-grabbing, are-you-kidding-me? shock of a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback stealing thousands of dollars worth of electronics from a fraternity, their run of incidents has certainly ramped up of late.
The latest two items may threaten the status of one starter, defensive lineman Brennan Olander, and a potential backup quarterback, Peter Lalich. Olander was part of a golf cart joyride gone wrong, which is more of an issue for him than fellow alleged offenders, Lyle Moevao and Keaton Kristick, because: 1. he's still on the team; and, 2. he was involved in a previous incident. Lalich, meanwhile, was charged with a boating DUI over the weekend. He was kicked out of Virginia for two alcohol-related offenses.
If you've forgotten the Ducks' rap sheet, you can review it here: thefts, brawls, DUIs, a domestic incident, Facebook tirades, suspensions and expulsions. Lots of page turners.
As for the Beavers, Paul Buker sets it all up nicely here, while this is another effort from the Statesman-Journal.
Lalich's arrest is the Beavers' seventh police incident this offseason. The Ducks had eight.
Now, here's our issue: There have been rumbles of media criticism over how the incidents have been covered, with a few Ducks feeling like the Beavers got a free pass compared to the national coverage of Oregon's woes.
We, of course, would never minimize incidents that require police involvement, but come on folks. Let's get real here.
Three Beavers take a joyride in a golf cart and flip it, doing significant damage. Dumb, but just imagine the scene in your head. Are you honestly possessed with a "let's get tough on crime!" outrage. No, you are not.
As for Olander's previous offense, which obviously slipped under the media radar, Buker of The Oregonian writes, "Olander may face additional team sanctions because he has been in court before, having pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by receiving stemming from a May 2009 incident. That incident involved a bike that had been reported stolen and was later found in Olander’s possession. Olander told authorities he had purchased the bike from a transient for $50."
The other three incidents? Two were freshmen cited for minor in possession of alcohol charges. The third was a freshman walk-on who is no longer with the team getting arrested on May 2 for resisting arrest, interfering with a police officer and being a minor in possession.
The names here? John Braun, Tyler Thomas and Kaua Olds.
Compare that to: Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James, Jamere Holland, Garrett Embry, Josh Kaddu, Kiko Alonso and Rob Beard.
In other words, the Ducks in trouble for various reasons were stars and contributors from a team that played in the Rose Bowl. In Holland's case, he was an oft-troubled but big-name USC transfer who went nuts on his Facebook page, which is an underhanded pitch for reporters.
Further, the Masoli theft case was a mystery that challenged mainstream reporters for whom Internet rumors are not sufficient grounds to go forward with a story. While the fraternity theft happened on Jan. 23, Masoli was never arrested or officially named a suspect until just before he pleaded guilty on March 12. Those days in between, while a variety of other incidents occurred, therefore created an atmosphere of intrigue: Did he really do it?
Further, James' domestic incident also inspired a significant undercurrent of speculation: she's railroading him versus he beat her up. Turned out, it was a complicated, nuanced situation that was handled well by authorities. But, again, there was a long stretch between arrest and resolution. If that had been a single incident, the spotlight wouldn't have burned so bright during the interregnum. It wasn't.
From a media perspective, there was way -- WAY -- more going on with Oregon vs. Oregon State, in large part because it became a perfect storm of unresolved matters involving star players augmented by a scattering of new incidents along a timeline that provide new reasons to revisit the unresolved matters involving star players.
As in, no resolution today? Well, let's debate whether Oregon is out of control under coach Chip Kelly.
What's the bottom line here?
It is this: Oregon and Oregon State fans should know -- and I read a lot of newspapers because it's a major part of my job as a blogger -- that both teams are covered well by responsible, skilled beat reporters who work very hard to get the story correct.
There's no media bias or conspiracy. Promise.
Happy anniversary coach.
Then, since late January, Kelly's Ducks decided to dominate the police blotter and become a national sensation as a team supposedly full of out-of-control delinquents.
And, now, on his 364th day as Oregon's coach, Kelly announced that his star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- a potential Heisman Trophy candidate -- has been suspended for the entire 2010 season after he pleaded guilty to a second-degree burglary charge stemming from the theft of two laptops and a guitar from a campus fraternity house in late January.
And that his star running back LaMichael James -- the Pac-10 offensive Freshman of the Year -- has been suspended for the 2010 opener vs. New Mexico after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge and was sentenced to 24 months on probation and 10 days in jail.
And that his kicker Rob Beard also was suspended for the opener after he pleaded guilty to a harassment charge for his part in a Jan. 24 brawl.
Kelly refused to answer any questions Friday. He spoke only for a few minutes and said, "I want to eliminate any uncertainly that our level of expectations are the same for all our student-athletes regardless of the role they play on this team.”
You can review the entire rap sheet here. In summary, Masoli is the biggest name atop a list of incidents involving nine players, three of whom were kicked off the team and two others were suspended for the 2010 season.
It surely represents one of the most embarrassing periods for the program in decades. Kelly should have talked to reporters. He'll likely get skewered for not doing so. But he probably just wanted to go lie down in a dark room and listen to soft music. Chopin, perhaps.
Is Kelly to blame for the recent run of incidents? No. And Yes.
He's only been the head coach for one year after serving for two as offensive coordinator. He's participated in creating a team culture, but it's also accurate to say that the program doesn't yet entirely belong to him. These will be Chip Kelly's Ducks when the vast majority of players in the locker room were recruited by him as head coach. That's presently not the case.
But, yes, Kelly deserves blame. He's the head coach. He's paid a lot of money to run a successful program, and that includes fielding a team that doesn't embarrass the university off the field. It's the ole "buck stops here" rule.
Has Kelly handled this run of off-field incidents well? Yes. And no.
Kelly took a measured, case-by-case approach. He sent a message to his locker room that he's not going to bow to outside pressure and quickly hand out harsh punishments just to look like he's a disciplinarian. Meanwhile, he did hand out several harsh punishments.
Did he send a mixed message? Some people felt that way. But I was never confused about his message -- felt like I knew where Kelly stood all along.
Kelly believed Masoli and James both had credible positions in regard to their incidents. Turns out James did. And Masoli did not.
What particularly stands out about the Masoli case is that he lied -- to Kelly and to police -- about his initial involvement. Even though charges against Masoli were reduced to a misdemeanor, the lying is likely a big part of why he won't suit up in 2010.
But Kelly also handled this terribly. Why? Because, for one, it happened, one incident after the other (recall where the buck stops). Second, because it was impossible to handle well.
It was embarrassing that the day after he laid down the law in front of reporters with an, "I'm in charge speech," linebacker Kiko Alonso got a DUI. And that receiver Jamere Holland decided to launch a Facebook tirade about his perception of Kelly's reaction shortly thereafter.
And that just a week ago, as things seemed to get quiet for a few days, linebacker Josh Kaddu was busted for minor in possession of alcohol.
Still, it's hard to believe that, short of putting his players on lock-down, Kelly could have prevented them from acting like knuckleheads. They've had 18-to-22 years -- pre-Kelly -- to develop such traits.
Going forward, however, is where things need to be different.
It's one thing for a first-year head coach to suffer through a run like this. It's a far different thing for it to happen in year three or four.
Kelly's a smart, organized guy, though. While his considerable ego likely will prevent him from publicly admitting mistakes -- probably one of the reasons he decided not to take questions Friday -- know that he most certainly is formulating a plan to ensure the program doesn't suffer through another run like this anytime soon.
Will he go Martin Luther and hang "The Ninety-Five Theses" in the Ducks locker room? That wouldn't shock me.
In fact, the guess here is he'll spend most of his coaching anniversary thinking about that very thing.
So, again, happy anniversary coach.
Here's Canzano reviewing the debate a day later.
Couple of things.
Both guys score points.
Canzano makes a valid point -- Kelly admits as much -- that running back LaMichael James should be suspended after he was charged with domestic violence last week.
Canzano notes an inconsistency that backup linebacker Kiko Alonso was suspended for the 2010 season after being charged with DUI early Saturday morning.
Not sure if I agree. Alonso's and James' cases are substantially different. There's no field test for truth with James' case.
Clearly, Kelly believes that there are two sides in James' case. "I believe my player," he said. So Kelly is withholding judgment until the case goes forward in court -- a questionable but not indefensible course of action.
Canzano talks about public perception and how Kelly needs to send a message to his team.
"I don't speak for the public, but I speak for this team," Kelly replied.
That's an interesting assertion in a way that might not be immediately clear.
While Kelly's program is getting trenched by the media -- and rightfully so, by the way -- Kelly's handling of events is almost certainly playing well in the locker room.
And it will help Kelly in recruiting.
Players -- and players' families -- want a coach who's got their backs, even when they're in trouble.
Know who first told me that? Bobby Bowden, who was often accused of being lax on discipline.
Zero-tolerance discipline makes for a good sound bite. There are plenty of people who love its seeming righteousness.
It's just not the only -- or necessarily most effective -- way to manage people in the real world, particularly when many controversies have significant gray areas.
Speaking of the real world, some have pointed at a potential double standard. Kelly has suspended or booted three backups and a walk-on but no starters involved in off-field problems.
First, that's only a superficial take. When reviewed on an individual basis, Kelly's logic for handling each player is defensible. For example, dismissed backup receivers Garrett Embry and Jamere Holland are completely aware of why they are no longer with the team. I -- and other reporters -- inquired about both of their statuses in advance of their recent headline-making transgressions.
But, beyond that: Of course there's a double standard! A walk-on plays by different rules than a star quarterback. Sorry that assertion won't end up on a coaching Hallmark card, but it's true.
Where in our society aren't there double standards? You could start with economics, but let's just put it this way: Does a typical boss favor highly productive people over less productive ones?
Don't take this as a ringing endorsement of how Kelly's handled Oregon's recent off-field problems. It's only that it seems fairer to give him an "incomplete" rather than an "A" or "F" at this point.
Managing a group of people -- particularly 100-plus men ages 18 to 25 -- is complex and delicate. Things can go haywire quickly, and it never helps to operate in the media glare, particularly in our age of "citizen journalism" -- Twitter! Facebook! random blogs! -- where, er, standards of measuring rumor versus fact are a bit looser.
Things could go haywire at Oregon, a team that at present seems determined to take a hammer to high expectations for the 2010 season.
What's great is hindsight is (typically) 20-20. It's likely we will be passing ultimate judgment on recent events next December, when Kelly and his Ducks either celebrate a great season and a second consecutive Pac-10 championship -- and a locker room saturated with character! -- or mourn what-might-have-been amid a whirl of further controversies.
His mind moves upon silence.
- Checking in with former Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is now trying to rebuild Florida State's defense. Rob Gronkowski won't run at the NFL combine.
- There is a ton of California information in this link. Just read it and hope your brain doesn't explode with knowledge.
- Oregon coach Chip Kelly is in a bind with off-field problems, but, despite his critics, he might actually be handling things fairly well. And recently dismissed Duck Jamere Holland continues to spend time on Facebook, when perhaps some quiet time in front of a mirror would help.
- Former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and former Texas QB Colt McCoy are becoming fast friends. Spring football questions for the Cardinal.
- Thoughts on the Carnell Lake's departure from UCLA -- and who should replace him.
- Life continues for USC's football and basketball programs, despite the hovering dark shadow of the NCAA. An interesting T-shirt.
- Steve Sarkisian is in the house, Long Beach. Word.
- Washington State should have some nice competition at running back.
Sometimes your words just hypnotize me
And I just love your flashy ways
Guess that's why they broke, and you're so paid (uh)
- Bob Gregory talks about leaving California for Boise State, and some of his comments seem to tweak Bears coach Jeff Tedford.
- Now-former Oregon -- and USC -- receiver Jamere Holland needs to grow up.
- Oregon State is still focused on recruiting. Video here.
- Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh wants his favorite band to reunite and play at a Cardinal game this fall.
- All USC can do now is wait on the NCAA to make its ultimate ruling.
- A couple of Washington notes.
- Now former AD Jim Sterk says goodbye to Washington State.
The latest is Oregon coach Chip Kelly announcing Sunday he had booted Jamere Holland from the team, in all likelihood because of the receiver's expletive-filled posts on his Facebook page.
That was just the final act of another bad weekend for the Ducks. Hours after coach Kelly met with reporters Friday to reassure Ducks fans he had control of the team, linebacker Kiko Alonso was arrested early Saturday for DUI.
Running back LaMichael James, 20, was arrested last week on a domestic violence charge.
Kicker Rob Beard has been cited with investigation of misdemeanor assault in a Jan. 24 brawl that left him seriously injured and involved other players, one of whom, walk-on Matt Simms, was booted from the team.
It's been a rough month for the program.
Holland was a talented but often troubled receiver with great speed who transferred from USC but never broke through. He was academically ineligible for the Rose Bowl after catching 17 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons.
Here's The Oregonian story, which includes information about Holland's unwise Facebook posts.
Ohio State has its own issues along these lines, too.
Holland, a junior transfer from USC who was expected to be a deep threat for the Ducks offense this year, started the first two games but lost his job and never broke through. He struggled with drops and ended up catching only 13 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns.
1. Oregon State needs to play sound run defense: Oregon’s spread-option running game does three things to stress a defense. It tries to fool you. Then it tries to block you. Then it tries to make you miss. It will be first things first for the Beavers defenders: Do your job. That means play within the scheme. Defend your gap. Don’t freelance. The rest is just a physical question. Defeat the block. Don’t miss the tackle. Expect your teammate to do the same.
2. The poised team is going to the Rose Bowl: In last year’s Civil War, Oregon swaggered into Reser Stadium and played fast and loose. And dominated. The Beavers were tight, knowing that a win earned them their first Rose Bowl invitation since the 1964 season. For the Ducks, the Civil War was the thing. For the Beavers, the focus was the Rose Bowl. That's a mistake that coach Mike Riley and his players talked about repeatedly this week. While it could sound counterintuitive, it might help the Beavers to be on the road. Autzen Stadium won’t intimidate the Beavers, and it may help them focus. The Ducks, meanwhile, could tighten up at home -- like the Beavers did -- if things don’t start well.
3. Arizona needs to rediscover its running game to beat USC: What has made the Wildcats' offense so tough the past two seasons is balance. Sure, they spread out a defense, but Arizona has been perfectly comfortable going mano-a-mano with the power running game. But with injury issues at tailback -- starter Nic Grigsby won’t play against the Trojans -- the running game has been inconsistent, at best. Quarterback Nick Foles will need some help against the Trojans defense, which probably will be perfectly comfortable if Foles throws 40 times. Moreover, Foles is nursing a broken bone in his non-throwing hand. Being able to hand the ball off and gain 4 yards will be a big boon to him.
4. Is California or Washington more focused and hungry? Surging Cal is coming off a bye week. It should be rested, but sometimes bye weeks hurt teams that are playing well. Washington is coming off the emotions of a big Apple Cup win, but for the Huskies, this should feel like their bowl game, only in front of their home fans. It’s possible one or both teams will be flat. It’s also possible this will be a spirited battle, with Jake Locker trying to keep the Bears from improving their standing in the Pac-10 bowl pecking order.
5. Ducks stars vs. Beavers stars -- or someone else? Either Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli or Oregon State’s Sean Canfield is going to be the first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback. It’s also possible that either LaMichael James or Jacquizz Rodgers will be first-team tailback (though both seem like locks for a tripartite backfield with Stanford's Toby Gerhart). Toss in Canfield’s favorite target, James Rodgers, and Masoli’s top man, tight end Ed Dickson, and you have a crew of impact offensive stars hoping for their close-up. On the other hand, big games often produce unlikely heroes. Who might that be? Two names to think about: For the Beavers, tight end Joe Halahuni. For the Ducks, receiver Jamere Holland.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A few weeks ago, some Oregon fans were clamoring for a quarterback change. Now, they may get it when they no longer want it.
Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who's been masterful over his last six quarters, didn't practice Monday due to a knee injury he suffered in the second quarter against Washington State and may not be ready for the visit to UCLA on Saturday.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly said Masoli is "day-to-day," which is his standard answer for any injured player. The nature of Masoli's injury also is unclear. The Eugene Register-Guard reported that Masoli was "moving around with a stiff limp and had an ice wrap at one point" on Monday.
If Masoli can't play at UCLA, junior Nate Costa would start.
Costa was slated to be the starter in 2008 before he suffered a major knee injury during the preseason that required season-ending surgery -- the third such knee injury he's suffered.
Costa played well after replacing Masoli against the Cougars. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 80 yards and ran for 26 yards and a touchdown. For the year, he's 11 of 16 for 115 yards with 38 yards rushing.
Kelly said he believes Costa has put his injury history behind him.
"He's over it," Kelly said. "He's taken some hits in the two games he's played. He's scrambled around the pocket and done a nice job. If we have to go with Nate, I've got all the confidence in the world in him."
The Ducks No. 3 quarterback is sophomore Darron Thomas. Thomas saw some quality action last year as a true freshman, most notably while leading a late comeback against Boise State, but the goal is to redshirt him.
Losing Masoli would be a big hit. After a slow start -- a really slow start -- he's completed 35 of 43 passes -- 81.4 percent -- for 369 yards with four TDs and no interceptions over the past six quarters. He's also rushed for 73 yards and a score during that span.
Masoli isn't the only wounded Duck. Right tackle C.E. Kaiser suffered a shin injury against the Cougars and also is questionable for this weekend. If he can't play, Darrion Weems or Nick Cody would replace him -- both of whom are in a regular rotation on the offensive line.
Running back Kenjon Barner (shoulder) and receiver Jamere Holland (knee) also didn't practice Monday, according to the Regiser-Guard, while safety T.J. Ward (ankle) did conditioning drills. Ward hasn't played since the Boise State game but could be ready for UCLA.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
- Arizona expects its injured players -- including running back Nic Grigsby and defensive end Brooks Reed -- to be ready to play at Washington. It appears, based on that notebook, that some youngsters who didn't travel to Oregon State should have ordered a pizza and watched a movie instead of hitting the town.
- Arizona State safety Jarrell Holman is playing for more than himself. At the bottom of that notebook is more bad injury news on the offensive line.
- California vs. USC is more about desperation than exultation -- only seven times has a Pac-10 champion suffered two conference defeats. Recalling a classic between these two teams. Interesting comments about how Oregon confused the Bears with unanticipated changes on both sides of the ball.
- The absence of cornerback Walter Thurmond will tax Oregon's banged-up secondary. Hard to say which way receiver Jamere Holland's career is going.
- "Groundhog Day" is a great movie but Oregon State would prefer to avoid the obvious reference as it tries to avoid its fourth consecutive 2-3 start. LB Keaton Kristick is coming home but he's battling a stinger. If you've ever had one of those, you know that injury would be better described as a "debilitating lightning bolt shooting through your neck" -- "stinger" is just shorter.
- Chris Owusu's ability on kickoff returns gives Stanford a big field-position edge. And if you read the entire notebook, you get to imagine Jim Harbaugh singing.
- They may play for rival UCLA, but Rahim Moore and Johnathan Franklin are tight with USC's Stafon Johnson, a former high school teammate, who suffered a serious windpipe injury in a weight-room accident. Playing at Stanford will be a big test for quarterback Kevin Craft, who's trying to re-write his UCLA legacy.
- USC quarterback Matt Barkley's shoulder still bothers him but that's not going to stop him from playing at California. Pac-10 sack leader Nick Perry is the latest Trojan to get hurt.
- After getting pushed around by Stanford, Washington needs to get stronger. What did Steve Sarkisian say on his radio show?
- It's a real challenge to keep up with Washington State's injuries, so we're going to let Vince Grippi, one of the legendary Golden Knights from the storied program of St. Francis High in Southern California, do it. Suffice it to say the Cougs will take a beaten up team -- with a true freshman QB -- to Oregon. As for the frosh QB, he gives the Cougs their best chance to win.
- USC writer Michael Lev makes a good point about leaving early for the NFL: If you can, go. The folks who want you to stay are thinking about themselves, not you.
Happy Friday... It's a sparkling day in Portland.
To your notes, the first earns an apology from me.
Mike from Atlanta writes: Todd,I have never read your material, and after viewing your idea of the top 25 Power Rankings, I don't think I ever will. How can you possibly justify ranking BYU 23rd and not even listing FSU??? I am not even a Seminoles fan, but I have to believe you made a mistake or are trying to upset a lot of Seminole fans. They almost beat UM (ranked 9 on your list) and they crushed BYU, who by the way, beat Oklahoma (number 8 on your list). Maybe you are biased against East Coast teams, or maybe you honestly think that BYU is better than FSU. Whatever the case may be, those two teams played each other and the visiting team prevailed by more than three touchdowns. I hope you can take just a few minutes to answer my question. I would really enjoy reading your point of view. Thanks.
Ted Miller: It's Ted, not Todd, but I guess I deserve that.
Got a lot of notes like this.
My response: A screw-up on my part. Florida State just got lost while I shuffled and re-shuffled my rankings.
If I could do it over -- which I do this week -- I'd drop the Seminoles in at No. 15.
Nathan from Portland writes: Are you surprised that the Ducks aren't better? A lot of analysts (wisely) predicted a step down from last year-- but their offense has been unimpressive. What do you see as the key for improvement?
Ted Miller: First, we don't know the season's whole story. Recall things were iffy early on last year before Jeremiah Masoli became the nation's best pass-run quarterback and the Ducks rolled to a final top-10 ranking.
But, yes, I thought they'd win at Boise State. And I didn't think Masoli would be so out of sorts to start the season, though I can think of three or four long passes that were dropped that might have changed things significantly.
Yes, just a handful of plays can change everything -- imagine, Ducks fans, if you could ask this, "Will Jamere Holland ever drop a pass?"
As for what the problem is: It starts with a young offense line that got whipped at Boise and is still getting its legs under it. In fact, there isn't an area on offense that is thriving, though it seems like LaMichael James will offer some nice playmaking at running back.
The defense has been fine, perhaps better than expected after some big losses on the line and in the secondary.
As Chip Kelly told me yesterday, experience was the key ingredient in the improvement from game one to game three.
And if the Ducks win game four, well, full-steam ahead.
Andrew from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Your discussion of the linebacker and cornerback depth in the Pac-10 is spot on. Based on how many playmakers there are in the conference, do you think this year that the Pac-10's defensive units from top to bottom are the best in the nation? (ie. better than the fabled stout SEC defenses)
Ted Miller: Hey, thanks!
It's early. Alabama, Florida and South Carolina certainly have elite defenses. Let's see how the Pac-10 crews rate vs. them by mid-season.
That said, I've been covering the Pac-10 since 1999. This feels like the best year for defense in the conference since I started.
I also will be curious to see how things stack in the NFL draft this spring, particularly if a couple of big-names bolt early.
Kalin from Oakland writes: Hello Mr Miller,My name is Kalin I'm 9 years old. My dad finally encouraged me to write you.I love my cal bears! Like I told my daddy back in December at the emerald bowl in San Francisco: "wouldn't be cool if cal and Miami ended up in the championship game next year?" both teams are very good this year. What do you think? (Dear Mr Miller I went ahead and told my son to write to you. He is very interested in covering sports at some capacity when he grows up, he tells me. Of course that could change. I worked in Miami for a few years.
Ted Miller: Miami-Cal for the title, eh? Wouldn't be the nuttiest championship game.
Both teams, however, have a lot of work ahead -- just look at this weekend with Miami visiting Virgina Tech and Cal headed to Oregon. And then Cal gets USC and he Hurricanes get Oklahoma.
And, Kalin, there are a few Cal fans just a bit older than you -- some call them "Old Blues" -- who probably would be just as happy to see the Golden Bears in their first Rose Bowl since 1959.
As for sportswriting, good luck. My advice is to write, write, write and study hard in school. Also, you can't be a sportswriter if you don't always obey your parents and teachers.
Just please don't take my job.
Ben from Stanford, Calif., writes: Some things have been said in the last week by Coach Sarkisian of Washington about his team practicing with the music turned off to simulate the quieter atmosphere in Stanford Stadium for their game this weekend. Whilst I would admit that Stanford Stadium is, at times, less than full, the student section is becoming rowdier by the minute encouraged by some encouraging performances and a Head Coach who truly cares about the program. So next time you are at Stanford for a game, I would like to invite you to come and spend some time with the students down in the RedZone and get a sense of how the nerds at Stanford do it.Thanks
Ted Miller: Only if you find out why the graduate English program at Stanford rejected me in 1991.
"Dear Mr. Miller: You are not smart enough to attend graduate school here. Go away. But thanks for the application check.
Got a curiously similar note from Cal, by the way.
Oh, wait. Football.
Winning is the key. Just look over at your friends at Cal. During a few games I covered during the Tom Holmoe Era, I can recall hearing mostly crickets in Strawberry Canyon.
Stanford is a rising program, with a nice stadium and the most entertaining band in the country. My guess is that as the wins pile up, more folks will notice.
Mike from Phoenix writes: ASU is going to take it to Georgia. 42 - 30.
Ted Miller: I'd be fairly surprised if these teams combined for 72 points, but your prediction is duly noted.
Samuel from Helmand, Afghanistan writes: What is the deal with Mitch Mustain? He got better arm strength, more experience and decision making in the pocket than Aaron Corp, but he's going to do punts now? Is this a move to prevent Corp from transferring to another school or is Mustain that deep in the doghouse? While watching the Washington game going into the 4th quarter and Aaron Corp still under center, it showed very poorly on the coaching staff. I'm still an avid Trojan fan, but reality is that we may end up losing a couple more games, and is not from rebuilding, but for poor coaching and poor playcalling.Thanks
Ted Miller: No, Samuel, thank you. From all of us.
As for your question: You are not alone. I get the feeling many USC fans just want to see what Mustain can do, even if the message coming from Heritage Hall is that he's not playing because he's the third-best quarterback.
As Pete Carroll noted, the most popular player on a team with a struggling offense is the backup QB -- or in this case, No. 3.
Even during the Mark Sanchez Era, however, Corp's advantage vs. Mustain was decision-making. The feeling I get from watching practices, talking to coaches and guys who cover the team is that Mustain has never consistently outplayed Corp -- even though he's had a couple of impressive scrimmages when he did just that.
The folks who want to see Mustain now, though, are wondering if Mustain might just be a mediocre practice player who can thrive in games. The early returns are that Corp was worse under game pressure, though it's not fair -- or wise -- to judge a player by his first-career start.
I don't think many would have been disappointed if Carroll had inserted Mustain in the fourth quarter against Washington.
Still, any coach will tell you, a quick QB change can come back to bite you.
So Carroll's position is: Matt Barkley is No. 1, Corp No. 2 and Mustain No. 3 because that's the competitive pecking order and the pecking order that gives USC the best chance to win.
As for the play calling, feel free to question it. It didn't work against a defense that lacks speed in the secondary, so Carroll and Jeremy Bates deserve as much blame as Corp.
Eric from Corvallis writes: Ted, im confused. Most of the time everyone seems to think that Oregon State isn't any good, and yet showers a ranked Cincy team with mounds of praise after winning "a huge" game. If the beavs are so bad, then what gives? Help me out.
Ted Miller: I noticed that, too.
It was like folks wanted to praise Cincinnati for winning a tough road game but didn't want to give too much credit to the Beavers, a team that has finished ranked in the final top-25 three consecutive seasons.
Still, Oregon State has earned enough street cred that it will return to the top-25 if it wins is next two games: Arizona and at Arizona State. Losing to the eventual Big East champ won't damage the final sheet too badly.
Dalton from Austin, Tx., writes: That's the best quarterback we've played in nine years here." HERE, meaning HERE at WASHINGTON. Carroll was NOT referring to all of the teams that USC had played.Very, very sloppy Ted. You misunderstood a statement by one of college football's top authorities. Based on that misunderstanding, you wrote an erroneous article. You need to withdraw your article and post an admittance of error.
Ted Miller: Dalton is referring to this.
No, I wasn't wrong.
Glad to clear that up for you though.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Last year, Oregon ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 485 yards per game.
Two games in 2009, Oregon ranks 107th in the nation in total offense with 254 yards per game.
It's been the sort of start that makes a former offense coordinator who enjoyed talking numbers transform into a head coach who is only about the bottom line.
Said Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Monday, "We don't talk about yardage, statistics, any of those things. Our goal as an offense is very simple. Win is No. 1. And score points is No. 2."
The Ducks did the former and mostly took care of the latter against Purdue, though a pair of defensive touchdowns came in handy in the 38-36 victory.
Oregon gained only 152 total yards -- 31 rushing -- with six first downs in the opener at Boise State. Against the Boilermakers, the Ducks rolled up 356 yards -- 193 rushing -- with 17 first downs.
So will the trend continue on the uptick when the Ducks play host to No. 18 Utah on Saturday?
The Ducks might not again double-up their previous production against a tough Utes defense, but the improvement from game one to game two was significant.
It started with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was terrible against Boise State, barely recognizable to those who witnessed his incredible production over the final three games on 2008.
Masoli completed 11 of 21 passes for 163 yards and rushed 14 times for 84 yards, a total that led the Ducks. He was inconsistent throwing, but so were his receivers, particularly speedster Jamere Holland, who for the second straight game dropped what should have been a long TD pass.
"[Masoli] became more of a factor in the running game," Kelly said. "When he's running and making defenses defend the entire field, that obviously opens up holes in the running game for us. And he was more consistent throwing the ball."
And with Masoli seeming to find his rhythm, the Ducks young running backs in the post-LeGarrette Blount era -- redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kejon Barner -- seemed to get more comfortable.
Both started slowly until Kelly told them to "run like you do in practice."
"They kind of got their first-game jitters out of their system," Kelly said. "They are both special players when they have the ball in their hands."
The Ducks developing offense -- the line is still struggling -- and opportunistic defense will be tested by a Utah team that is a bit of a mystery.
The Utes, though they own the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games, have hardly looked impressive during a wins over Utah State and San Jose State.
It's likely, however, that they have only partially cracked open their playbook.
Still, injuries to offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff (knee) and running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) cloud the issue for a Utes offense that already was rebuilding.
Not that Kelly thinks inexperience or the environment in Autzen Stadium will make the Utes wide-eyed, even if they are untested in 2009.
"Utah played in the Sugar Bowl, so I think they've played in some big games," Kelly said. "I don't think this is going to be their first rodeo."
Nor for the Ducks, who after being bucked by the Broncos, are still trying to get back on their horse.
This is the first of our position rankings. On Tuesday, which is Pac-10 day on ESPN.com -- hey, take the day off; it should be a national holiday! -- we will continue with quarterbacks, which is one of our monumental stories for tomorrow's package. Feel free to disagree. This took quiet a while to put together, with lots of shuffling and re-thinking, etc.
USC: Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson are one of the best pairs in the nation. They combined for 17 touchdowns in 2008. There's outstanding depth and athleticism behind them, led by David Ausberry.
Arizona: This is a shaky No. 2 because Delashaun Dean has been hurt almost all of camp, but he and Terrell Turner combined for 86 receptions last year. William "Bug" Wright and Juron Criner ar
UCLA: Terrence Austin and Taylor Embree combined for 93 receptions last year but only one touchdown. Nelson Rosario should be more a factor this fall, while freshman speedster Randall Carroll and Ricky Marvray look ready to contribute.
Arizona State: Chris McGaha, Kerry Taylor and Kyle Williams combined for 81 receptions and eight touchdowns last year, while Gerell Robinson looks a lot better after struggling as a true freshman.
Oregon: This might be a little high, considering the Ducks' top two receivers from 2008, Terence Scott and Jaison Williams, are gone. Jeff Maehl -- 39 receptions, five touchdowns -- is the only returning receiver with double-digit receptions. But speedy Jamere Holland and newcomers Lavasier Tuinei, Tyrece Gaines, and Diante Jackson have opened eyes during practices (though Gaines and Jackson have battled injuries).
California: Everybody from 2008 is back as is talented sophomore Marvin Jones, who missed most of last year with a knee injury. The crew had potential last year, but it wasn't realized. There's more experience now, so it's likely things will trend up at the position for the Bears.
Oregon State: James Rodgers is a great start, but Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales will be the toughest combination to replace in the conference. And this ranking doesn't include the injured Darrell Catchings, which means this is a young and unproven unit. Damola Adeniji, Jordan Bishop, Casey Kjos, Geno Munoz and Markus Wheaton have had their moments this preseason.
Washington: D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar combined for 100 receptions last year. The bad news is they scored only three touchdowns. Toss in freshman James Johnson, and this is one of the Huskies strongest positions. They may well be better than eighth, but they've got to prove themselves.
Stanford: The Cardinal is expecting dramatic gains for its passing offense with quarterback Andrew Luck. And the receiving corps might be ready to jump aboard. Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin combined for 64 receptions last year, and Chris Owusu and some intriguing young players, such as Jamal-Rashad Patterson, will help. But after averaging 152 yards passing last year, the receivers, like the Huskies crew, need to prove themselves.
Washington State: The Cougars had the worst passing offense in the conference last year -- six touchdowns, 21 interceptions -- and the departed Brandon Gibson represented a third of that production. Speedy Jeshua Anderson could be a more refined receiver this fall, and there's some youngsters who might make an impact. Injuries have hurt during the preseason.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Up next: Oregon
Just because Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is a chill dude doesn't mean he can't hold a grudge.
That became abundantly clear when he took a spread option keeper and smashed his shoulder into the chin of Boise State safety Jeron Johnson. It appeared that Masoli, who was knocked out of last year's upset loss to the Broncos on what some described as a cheap shot, had no interest in juking Johnson, who left the game with a broken jaw.
Call it revenge on the blue turf, but Boise State is no match for the enraged Ducks, who roll up 574 yards of offense in a 56-28 win.
"Guess our offensive line is going to be OK," Ducks coach Chip Kelly quips afterwards.
The Ducks don't let up, breaking the 50-point barrier in wins over Purdue and Utah. Masoli's newfound proficiency of as a passer starts to generate Heisman Trophy buzz.
"I always knew he could be a proficient passer," Kelly said. "It's not newfound."
[A Pac-10 blogger notes to himself that it's eerie that Kelly seems to be participating in a fantasy post about the Ducks].
"Why is it eerie?" Kelly asks.
[Voices ... in ... my... head. Quiet!].
Oregon ascends to No. 5 in the national rankings, and a visit from No. 8 California brings ESPN's College GameDay to Eugene.
Lee Corso dons the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit taps the Bears.
"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler says about Masoli and Cal's Jahvid Best.
Cal's defense is a different animal. It bottles up Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount. The Bears lead 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.
With 3:05 left, the Bears lead 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley does a play-action fake to Best and launches a bomb.
But Ducks safety T.J. Ward doesn't bite on the fake, and he outleaps Marvin Jones for the interception.
Masoli takes over at the Oregon 5-yard line. He connects with Jamere Holland for 15 yards. He finds Ed Dickson for 26. He scrambles for 18. A screen to Blount goes for 12 to the Cal 34.
But Jeff Maehl can't haul in a tough ball over the middle, Blount drops a short pass in the flat and a scramble nets only two yards.
It's fourth and 8 with 0:55 left. Masoli sets up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan is on him. Masoli stiff arms Jordan, and starts to backpedal. Jordan is joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reverses field and starts directing receivers downfield.
There's room to run. Masoli tucks and makes a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stops and lobs the ball into the corner of the endzone.
Dickson leaps, but the ball is tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.
And into the hands of Rory Cavaille. Touchdown.
"Oregon might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit says after the game.
The Ducks roll through Washington State, UCLA and Washington.
No. 2 USC heads to town to take on the No. 3 Ducks. It's billed as the biggest game in Autzen Stadium history. GameDay comes back to Eugene. It's impossible to get a seat at Beppe & Gianni's Trattoria.
But this is not the Ducks day. The Trojans have the offense to match and their defense is fast enough to keep up with the Ducks. USC wins 38-28.
"We should have won this game," Kelly said. "Why didn't we win this game?"
[Must ignore him... how does he do that? We knew he was a control freak but this is a little much.]
Predictions of a hangover prove overstated. The Ducks roll through their final four games, including a 40-28 win over Oregon State.
With USC playing Florida for the national title, it appears Oregon will head to the Rose Bowl to face Ohio State. But by some complicated BCS machinations that everyone agrees would make your head explode if they were explained, the Ducks head south to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Masoli finishes third in the Heisman Trophy race.
"Neh," he says. "No big deal. I ate at Le Bernardin and hung out with Thomas Pynchon and the the Kings of Leon. That was cool."
Oregon, which has thrived on balance much of the year, throws only four passes but rushes for 388 yards against the Bulldogs in a 48-21 victory.
After USC beats Florida in the BCS title game, Oregon finishes No. 2 in both polls.
Boise State doesn't lose on the blue turf, and the Broncos season-opening 38-35 victory over Oregon becomes the foundation of an unbeaten season and another BCS bowl berth.
The Ducks rebuilt offensive line plays fairly well, but it surrenders three sacks. The defense, however, is clearly a work in progress, with Boise quarterback Kellen Moore throwing three touchdown passes and the Broncos rushing for 190 yards.
Oregon whips Purdue and outlasts Utah, but quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffers a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Nate Costa is the surprised starter the following week against California, but he goes down in the second quarter. With a thumb injury.
Darron Thomas comes off the bench and plays well, but the Bears roll 40-24 on 173 yards and two touchdowns from Jahvid Best.
The Ducks whip Washington State and UCLA, Masoli returning to action against the Bruins.
Then they head to Husky Stadium. The Ducks have owned rival Washington of late, winning five in a row in the series.
Huskies quarterback Jake Locker passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 98 yards another score, but the key play comes when it seems like Oregon is driving late for the victory.
From the Huskies 8-yard line, Masoli throws the ball to his left into the flat toward the endzone pylon, but Washington cornerback Quinton Richardson snags the ball and sprints down the sideline.
"Quinton Richardson's gonna score!" screams Huskies play-by-play man Bob Rondeau.
Huskies win 31-20.
Richardson's 97-yard interception return for a game-clinching touchdown becomes known as "The Pick," and it will be played repeatedly in Husky Stadium whenever Oregon visits in the future.
The Ducks seem lethargic while losing 35-17 to USC, but they bounce back with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and, in double-overtime, at Arizona.
The stakes in the Civil War are mostly pride. Oregon State appears headed to the Holiday Bowl in any event, while Oregon could end up in the Sun Bowl with a victory.
Yet the Beavers clearly have revenge on their minds for the disaster of 2008. They pound the Ducks defense with Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 159 yards and three scores, and Masoli and company never find their rhythm in a 35-20 defeat.
Oregon then beats Boston College in the Emerald Bowl and finishes 8-5.
Three days later, Nike files for bankruptcy.