Pac-12: Jared Crick

Best case-worst case: Washington

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
7:45
PM ET
Seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last season's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Washington

Best case

It wasn't an impressive 2-0 start, but the hope among Huskies fans was that Washington had kept a lot of scheme under wraps during wins over Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Most believe the Huskies will need to open up a bag of tricks to put on a respectable show against a motivated Nebraska team in Lincoln.

"I'm not taking anything away from Washington," Cornhuskers All-American defensive tackle Jared Crick said. "They beat us in the Holiday Bowl. But we weren't there emotionally. That's out fault, though. We'll be 100 percent focused when in Memorial Stadium. We expect to make a statement."

On the Huskies first play of the game, they try a flea flicker. Keith Price just misses the a wide-open Jermaine Kearse, who'd slipped behind the Cornhuskers coverage.

On second down, Chris Polk rushes for four yards. On third down, Polk rushes for six yards. On first down, Polk rushes for six yards. On second down, Polk rushes for six yards. On first down, Polk rushes for eight yards. On second down, he rushes for two yards. On first down, he rushes for one yard. On second down, he rushes for 16 yards. On first down, he rushes for four yards. On second down, he rushes for four yards. On third down, he rushes for four yards.

On first down, Polk rushes ... no, it's play action: 19-yard touchdown strike from Price to true freshman Kasen Williams.

"That was a physically dominant showing that I don't think many saw coming," ESPN GameDay's Chris Fowler says of the Huskies 28-10 victory. "Polk rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns. Price taking advantage with a couple of touchdown passes. And a bruising defensive showing on the road for a Pac-12 team."

"Did Alameda Ta'amu really eat Taylor Martinez?" Kirk Herbstreit replies. "I know that start out as just a silly rumor, but I'm hearing no one has seen Martinez since that third-quarter sack."

Martinez is later found safe in an airport bathroom in Lincoln.

The Huskies nip California 24-21 and rise to No. 12 in the rankings. But Price turns in his first poor performance at Utah in a 21-17 defeat, despite 140 yards and a touchdown from Polk. The Huskies bounce back with a home win over Colorado. Up next, a visit to No. 3 Stanford.

"Obviously, Andrew Luck is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate," says Fowler. "But what if Polk puts up a big number in a Huskies victory?"

Polk strikes an early blow, with first-half touchdown runs of seven and 28 yards, and the Huskies lead 14-10 at the break. Luck answers with two touchdowns in the third -- one running and one throwing -- and the score is knotted 24-24 with two minutes left in the game.

On a third-and-five from the Huskies 28, Luck scrambles away from pressure and finds tight end Coby Fleener wide-open in the endzone for a 31-24 lead. The Huskies have 40 seconds and one time out.

On third and 5 from the Washington 40, Price finds Polk on a hot route. Polk breaks a tackle and breaks away, sprinting all the way to the Stanford 17. Price lines up and spikes the ball.

There are eight seconds left. Price evades pressure, then shovels it again to Polk.

"Polk across the 10, to the five, breaks a tackle... dives... tttt... nooo," says Huskies play-by-play man Bob Rondeau. "He's ruled down inside the 1-yard line. Wow. The clock has expired. Unless the officials rule Polk got in, the game is over and Stanford wins."

Play stands.

"Chris Polk is the best player in college football," Luck says.

The Huskies take out their frustrations in a 35-20 win over Arizona, sacking Nick Foles five times. Up next, No. 1 Oregon.

"Yeah, I'm aware Oregon has won seven in a row against us, all by at least 20 points," Polk tells reporters. "I know this because Coach Sark has that factoid typed up and taped in all of our lockers."

Headline in the Eugene Register-Guard: "Will the Ducks overlook the Huskies?"

"We don't overlook anybody," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says. "We play a faceless opponent every week. Every game is a Super Bowl for us. We are not concerned with any outside influences. We have a vision for what this football program is supposed to be about and we prepare against that vision. We compete against that vision every Saturday and that's how we measure ourselves. Win the day."

Coach Steve Sarkisian gathers his team in the locker room. Above, Husky Stadium is throbbing.

"I don't need to tell you guys to play your hardest. I know you're going to do that. I don't need to tell you about this rivalry, or what that team over there has done against the Huskies for the past seven years. Sure you all know that. That's not what this is about. That's not why we're about to shock the nation. This is about us. What I want from you guys is to live in the moment tonight. I want you soak up every bit of joy from every moment of this game tonight. And I want you to take it from them. We have the players. We have the plan. We have prepared perfectly. It's going to be a lot of fun celebrating this victory, but our celebration won't be nearly as fun what will happen between the white lines, as we take this game from them, one play at a time. Go out there and take it, one play at time."

Oregon leads 28-24 with nine minutes left. A Jackson Rice punt rolls out of bounds on the Huskies 1-yard line.

On first down, Polk rushes for three yards. On second down, Polk rushes for eight yards. On first down, Polk rushes for four yards...

"Wow, this is tough to watch," Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen says. "16 plays, all Chris Polk runs. He's over 200 yards for the day, and the Huskies have first down on the Ducks 8-yard line with 40 seconds left."

Polk rushes for three yards. Polk rushes for two yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk scores the winning touchdown as time expires.

"Wow, Chris Polk just ripped the hearts out of Oregon fans everywhere!" says Allen.

The Huskies suffer a classic letdown the following weekend at USC, but roll over Oregon State and Washington State to finish the regular season 9-3 and earn a berth in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.

Polk finishes second to Luck in the Heisman vote, and wins the Doak Walker Award. The Huskies bury the Cowboys 38-20 and earn a final No. 10 ranking, their first top-25 ranking since 2001.

Oregon is blown out in the national title game by Alabama. Kelly bolts for the Oakland Raiders. The Ducks hire Joe Avezzano to replace him.

Polk opts to return for his senior season. Washington signs the nation's No. 5 recruiting class.

"Gee, I really like this team," says Bill Gates. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe," replies athletic director Scott Woodward.

Worst case

And in the rubber match, Nebraska was plenty motivated.

The Cornhuskers humble Washington 41-10, making Price's day a miserable one with five sacks. It doesn't help that Polk's status remains unclear after arthroscopic knee surgery during preseason camp.

"Things aren't going as fast as we would like," coach Steve Sarkisian says. "He could sure help us but we're not going to rush him back."

The Huskies fall at home to California 21-17, again without Polk, and drop to 2-2 on the year. They lose at Utah in overtime but, with Polk back in the lineup, beat Colorado 27-24.

Things get ugly -- again -- at Stanford, which blasts the Huskies 42-17. The Huskies even their record at 4-4 with a win over Arizona. Up next: No. 1 Oregon.

"Did Chip Kelly run up the score?" a reporter asks after the Ducks whip the Huskies 55-14 in Husky Stadium, their eighth victory in a row in the series, each by at least 20 points.

Sarkisian pauses, "Well, it's our job to stop them. And I guess he thought getting LaMichael James rushing for 300 yards would help his Heisman Trophy chances."

With Polk limited to just 10 carries, USC whips Washington 33-20, intercepting Price three times. Polk sits out, and the Huskies bow out at Oregon State, 28-17.

"No, beating Washington State won't make up for a tough season for us," Sarkisian said. "But there's always a lot to play for in rivalry games. And they're trying to get bowl eligible, so we can ruin their season."

With five seconds left, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel takes on knee on the Huskies 5-yard line instead of added to a 35-24 victory. Huskies fans at CenturyLink Field bombard the Cougars with bottles and sundry trash as they leave the field.

"That's not who we are," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said. "We have classy fans. I guess the Huskies fans were frustrated. But we're excited about the postseason. What bowl is Washington going to? Kidding! I'm kidding."

Oregon wins the national championship. Washington State wins the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Joshua Garnett, Zach Banner, Jeff Lindquist and Cedric Dozier sign with Washington State, giving the Cougars their first top-25 class.

"Gee, I really like the Cougars," says Bill Gates. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Maybe," replies athletic director Bill Moos.
No team in the Pac-12 wows you at defensive tackle. No team is a sure thing. There is a lot of "maybe" at the position. And probably some maybe not.

The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.

That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?

So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.

Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.

Great shape

USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.

Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.

Good shape

Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.

Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.

Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.

Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.

UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.

California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.

We'll see

Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.

Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.

Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.

Holiday Bowl preview

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
9:43
AM ET
Breaking down the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl between No. 20 Arizona (8-4) and No. 22 Nebraska (9-4).

WHO TO WATCH: Arizona quarterback Nick Foles doesn't have great mobility -- though his supposed lack of mobility is overplayed -- but the reason he wasn't sacked many times this year is his quick release in the Wildcats' short passing game that emphasizes spreading the field with four or five receivers, hitting screens and quick hitches and trying to beat one-on-one matchups. The key to slowing down one of the best defenses in the country -- the Cornhuskers rank second in the nation in scoring defense (11.23 ppg) and ninth in total defense (284.5 yards per game) -- is to distribute the ball before the pressure arrives. That's Foles' job and he's done it well most of the year. But can he do it against Nebraska?

WHAT TO WATCH: Can the Arizona offensive line handle the Nebraska defensive front? Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle in the country -- he might be the best overall player in the country after rolling up 19.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks despite near-constant double teams. And the guy beside him, Jared Crick, isn't chopped liver, either. Few teams have had any success rushing against the Cornhuskers, particularly between the tackles. The interior of the Wildcats' offensive line -- center Colin Baxter and guards Conan Amituanai, Herman Hall and Vaughn Dotsy -- will face its biggest challenge of the year. Of course, the return of slashing running back Nic Grigsby from a shoulder injury means the Wildcats' running game may seek the perimeter and use cutbacks to keep the aggressive Cornhuskers at bay.

WHY TO WATCH: It's a showdown between ranked teams from BCS conferences, and both programs are trying to maintain upward momentum heading into the offseason. It's also fair to say both teams should be happy to be in the Holiday Bowl, even though both were close to bigger bowl games. The Cornhuskers were nipped by Texas in the last moments of the Big 12 title game, while Arizona was only a play or two away from the Rose Bowl. Further, Suh will be playing his last college before heading off to the NFL, where he could be the No. 1 overall pick this spring.

PREDICTION: Don't expect a lot of points. Nebraska's great defense should be able to slow Arizona's good offense, while the Wildcats' solid defense should be able to contain Nebraska's struggling offense. The key for Arizona is Foles' quick release and the defense stopping the run and putting pressure on Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee to make plays passing. And turnovers. Never forget those. The game hints at being tight throughout, but it seems that Arizona's balance on both sides of the ball should help it prevail 23-20.

Arizona's O-line not afraid of Suh

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
6:01
PM ET
He may have grown up quick and grown up mean, but Arizona's offensive line is eager to challenge this boy named Suh.

Oh, the Wildcats have heard all the talk. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska's 6-foot-4, 300-pounds defensive tackle, is unstoppable. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist, the AP Player of the Year and he may be the No. 1 pick in this spring's NFL draft. Heck, against Texas in the Big 12 title game, he piled up 4.5 sacks, and the Longhorns are only playing for the national title.

Yes, they've heard it all and seen it all on film. Yes, Suh is very good. But if the Wildcats are scared, they are keeping it to themselves as they prepare for a date with Suh and the Cornhuskers in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on Wednesday.

"We're not intimidated at all," center Colin Baxter said. "We respect what he can do. We know we have to be on top of our game. But I don't think they've really seen an offensive line like us."

Baxter was more colorful in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star, apparently showing some signs of a new syndrome we'll call "Suh Questions Exhaustion."

"He's not some kind of Superman. He's a good player," Baxter told the Star. "The media talks it up a lot. You see the guy on 'SportsCenter' and some people get the idea that he's God or something. That he's Jesus as a football player, that he's just going to walk past the offensive line. He's a good player, and you have to respect that."

Suh is a little bit better than good. He's a spectacular athlete for a 300 pounder. He piled up 19.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks despite near-constant double teams.

"Any time guys use bad technique or get out of position he makes them pay for it," Baxter said.

Baxter hastens to add that the Cornhuskers other tackle, Jared Crick, "is no slouch." Crick had 12.5 tackles for a loss.

"He's really good too," Baxter said. "You can't only focus on Suh. Their defensive ends are good too. It's really a whole defensive unit."

That makes sense. One man doesn't make a defense, particularly one that ranks second in the nation in scoring defense (11.23 ppg) and ninth in total defense (284.5 yards per game).

But Suh is where everything starts. He commands extra attention, which frees up others, including Crick. It's nearly impossible to run between the tackles against the Cornhuskers, and few quarterbacks have found things safe and secure inside the pocket -- see a wide-eyed Colt McCoy in the Big 12 title game.

The Wildcats ran the ball fairly well this year (167 yards per game) and will benefit from the return of starting tailback Nic Grigsby, who's missed much of the year with a shoulder sprain. But their forte is the quick passing game with quarterback Nick Foles. The Wildcats only gave up 11 sacks in large part because of Foles' quick release.

Coach Mike Stoops noted that the Wildcats screen game will be important and in many ways could substitute for a ball-control running attack because Foles completes 66 percent of his passes.

Still, Suh isn't a guy who's easy to scheme around.

"He's very disruptive. He's very smart. He's a very complete player," Stoops said. "He's all over the place. That tells me he's very instinctive and smart and can read things very quickly."

Sort of like he's superhuman!

Perhaps that sort of talk will be more motivation for Baxter and the Wildcats O-line.

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