Pac-12: Jeff baca

UCLA Bruins season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:30
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the UCLA Bruins.

UCLA

Coach: Jim Mora: (9-5)

2012 record: 9-5 (6-3 Pac-12 South)

Key losses: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
James Snook/US PresswireCoach Jim Mora's Bruins have a brutal two-game stretch in late October.
Key returnees: QB Brett Hundley, OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Anthony Barr, WR Shaq Evans, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt.

Newcomer to watch: Now that the NCAA has signed off on his Irish exodus, five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes might be able to jump in immediately and help restore some depth to UCLA’s defensive front, which has suffered some attrition through injury and graduation.

Biggest games in 2013: There are plenty of them, as the Bruins' schedule figures to be tougher than last season. At Nebraska (Sept. 14) highlights the nonconference slate and the back-to-back games at Stanford (Oct. 19) and at Oregon (Oct. 26) is a vicious two-week stretch. They close with ASU (Nov. 23) and at USC (Nov. 30) in a span that will likely decide the South Division.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There are more than most fans would prefer to see -- like a youthful secondary that’s without Tevin McDonald (dismissed from team) and Dietrich Riley (medical retirement) and gaps across the defensive front. But replacing Franklin -- or at least replicating most of his production through a committee -- has to be a top priority. The Doak Walker finalist departs as the school’s all-time leading rusher and was a comforting and stabilizing presence for Hundley in his first season as a starter. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Craig Lee, Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro make up the crowded committee – which will get even more crowded when Damien Thigpen returns from injury sometime in October.

Forecast: Picked by the media to take the Pac-12 South for the third straight year, the Bruins aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this season. Mora had a fantastic first season as a collegiate head coach and Hundley proved to be as advertised -- if not better. But he loses his favorite red zone target in Fauria, the aforementioned Franklin, and there are still holes on the offensive line that need to be sorted out.

The defense, as noted above, also has holes, but there are some exciting young players in the secondary eager to make a name for themselves. And, of course, Anthony Barr returns as one of the nation’s premier defensive players and a probable first-round draft pick -- possibly even top 10.

The schedule ramps up significantly in 2013. The Bruins go to Stanford for a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 title game and also face Oregon for the first time in the Mora era. Almost all of their toughest games are on the road, including Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC. With some of the previously mentioned offensive stars gone, Hundley will be asked to do more with the offense than he did last year -- which includes better decision-making and command of the offense.

Yet despite all of their success in 2012, the blowout loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl lingers. As does the fact that the Bruins were the most-penalized team in the country last year and they gave up an unhealthy amount of sacks. Mora is making sure his players know they haven’t arrived yet.

The Bruins are a fascinating balancing act of proven playmakers and untested youth. If their youth matures quickly, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them in the title game for the third straight year.

UCLA Bruins spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
8:00
AM ET
UCLA Bruins

2012 record: 9-5
2012 conference record: 6-3 (First in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Brett Hundley, OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Anthony Barr, WR Shaq Evans, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt.

Key losses: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauira, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnathan Fraklin (1,734)
Passing: Brett Hundley* (3,745)
Receiving: Shaq Evans* (877)
Tackles: Eric Kendricks* (149)
Sacks: Anthony Barr* (13.5)
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott, Sheldon Price (4)

Spring answers
  1. When in doubt, form a committee: There is no replacing Johnathan Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and a finalist for the Doak Walker award last season. But the hope is that a group of backs can combine to replicate his production. Jordon James looks like he might have a leg up as the leader of the committee, though Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones had solid springs. Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen shouldn't be counted out, either, heading into fall since the coaches have said they are fine with using five backs in a game.
  2. The corps stepping up: The coaches were extremely pleased with the production of the wide receiver corps this spring. Devin Fuller might have had the strongest spring of the group -- though returning leader Shaq Evans (60 catches, 877 yards, three touchdowns) still figures to be the primary target. Jordan Payton, Kenneth Walker, Eldridge Massington and Devin Lucien round out what should be a solid group.
  3. LB depth: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt make up a fantastic linebacking unit. Barr and Kendricks were among the national leaders in production last year. But this spring the Bruins saw the emergence of players like Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orijoke and Taylor Lagace and Aaron Porter. Defensive depth was a big concern for the Bruins last year. And for now, at least, it looks like they have solidified the two-deep at all the linebacking spots.
Fall questions
  1. Speaking of depth: The Bruins return the bulk of their offensive line -- but as we learned in the Baylor game when two linemen went down -- you can never have enough depth on the line. Finding backups will be key. And while players like Ben Wysocki stepped up this spring -- showing he can fill in at tackle or guard -- there will be plenty of competition with some good offensive linemen joining the team this fall. The starting five might be close to set -- but nothing is solidified.
  2. Secondary issues: As in issues in the secondary, not secondary concerns. Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson looked solid at cornerback and Brandon Sermons and Randall Goforth stepped up at safety. Though it’s likely that several, if not all four spots, will still be up for grabs come August. A highly-rated group of recruits join the secondary in the fall and playing time in the secondary is expected to be highly contested.
  3. Looking for leaders: Franklin, gone. Jeff Baca, gone. Datone Jones, gone. Damien Holmes, gone. These were leaders who rallied the troops when times were tough and, in their own ways, pulled their respective units together. Head coach Jim Mora talked about the importance of leadership and said it can’t be forced. Rather, it has to happen organically. He said he started to see some guys develop this spring, but the next few months before they meet for fall camp will be very telling in regards to who takes this team on their shoulders.

Mailbag: I ku, you ku, we haiku

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
6:00
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Well, the call for iambic pentameter and haiku was very, very well received. As promised, those jump to the front of the line and since you took the time to write in Haiku or verse, I'll take the time to answer in Haiku or verse. It's a good ol' fashioned Pac-12 blog poetry slam.

As always, follow us on Twitter. (And a birthday shout-out to Fvstokes this weekend).

To the poetry!

Darius in "Wish I were at Stanford" writes:

Stanford's wide receivers:
Will they be any good, I wonder?
Hope, good news; otherwise, panic.

Kevin Gemmell:

Experience thin;
Need go-to threat on outside;
Paging Montgomery.




Uh Oh Chongo in Danger Island writes:

Pac-12 road trip time.
What is your destination?
Best away game this year?

Kevin Gemmell:

It's too soon to tell;
Though Pullman in winter rocks;
Says Cougarbrian.




Nathan in Seattle writes:

When will the Cougs rise?
When will our time come again?
How far are 10 wins?

Kevin Gemmell:

10 wins are a lot;
For now, enjoy Apple Cup;
New season brings hope.




Yellow in the Pac-12 blog writes (and I'm assuming he's a Washington fan):

Stadium rebuilt,
But can only see one game,
First game or rival?

Kevin Gemmell:

Truly, a tough choice;
Broncos or Cougars, hard call;
DirectTV? Doh!




Ryan in Portland writes:

Do Ducks win Pac-12?
And what about the natty?
I love roses man!

Kevin Gemmell:

Saying 'Natty bad;
Even in form of Haiku;
No roses for you!




Richard in Winters, Calif. writes: Will David Shaw, his conservative ways relent, And more aggressive nature, can invent?

Kevin Gemmell: A coach of the year twice he's been named. Conservatism seems not to dull his fame.




Basho in San Francisco writes: As I once famously said, "Furu ike ya (An old pond) Kawazu tobikomu (A frog jumps in) Mizu no oto (Sound of water)." In other words, do you think that Helfrich will be able to successfully make a splash jumping in as the new HC for the Ducks?

Kevin Gemmell: It's not often that deceased 17th century Japanese poets write in. So this is a treat. And who knew he was an Oregon fan?

I think Mark Helfrich has a higher burden of expectation than any other coach in the country because if he doesn't win at least 10 or 11 games, there are going to be rumblings. With that said, he obviously knows the system and he was the school's top choice all along, so they seem to think he can keep the momentum going. I tend to agree based on the talent they have coming back -- and coming in.

Chip Kelly went to four straight BCS games -- including the national championship. That is a tough act for any coach to follow -- veteran or otherwise. And Helfrich's ascension comes at a time when Stanford is now a player on the national stage and Washington and Oregon State are trending up. That could create a bit of a paradox. Because if Oregon loses to those teams, will it be because Chip Kelly left? Or is it because the other teams are simply better?

If you're looking for a splash, a spot in the BCS championship game would certainly be nice -- or at least a win in a BCS bowl game. That would reassure the faithful and be considered a splash in his first season. I think that's possible. Anything less than 10 wins, though, will be seen as a disappointment.




Card fan in Rocklin, Calif., writes: "Complacency" seems to be the new buzzword around Stanford Football, as in "Don't get complacent." How realistic a concern do you think this is?

Kevin Gemmell: Not much. David Shaw continues to instill that "us vs. them" mentality. And from the players and coaches I've talked to, they continue to buy into it. Even Stanford's biggest critics say they beat a Wisconsin team that didn't deserve to be in the Rose Bowl and they only beat them by six points.

But those who follow the conference closely knew going in that the Rose Bowl wasn't going to be a blowout either way and that Stanford wins its games by close margins and with white knuckles. For those who understand Stanford football, they realize the Cardinal dominated that game.

They might be getting the respect they deserve as a program -- and three straight trips to BCS bowl games certainly warrants a high level of respect -- but the impression I get from speaking with Shaw is that no one thinks they've "arrived." They didn't buy the negative hype when everyone said they'd take a tumble post-Andrew Luck. And they aren't buying the positive hype now. The team's demeanor matches that of its coach. Which is a good thing.




Papa John in Santa Barbara writes: I love all these interviews that you and Ted are posting. Which made me wonder: What's your Pac-12 all-interview team for 2012?

Kevin Gemmell: I can only work off the guys I interviewed last year. But since I also did the weekly Q&A, I talked to a lot. My team.

Offense

QB: Matt Barkley, USC/Jeff Tuel, Washington State -- Both are great, candid speakers. Tuel's Q&A might have been my favorite of last season. Very honest. Brett Hundley and Keith Price get honorable mention.
RB: Kenjon Barner, Oregon. Loves to talk, and we love to listen.
OL: Jeff Baca, UCLA. Get him talking about beach volleyball and you'll run out of batteries on your recorder.
OL: David Bakhtiari, Colorado: Forthright, very well-spoken.
OL: David Yankey, Stanford. Clear, concise, on message.
TE: Joseph Fauria: My go-to guy at UCLA always had something colorful to say, win or lose.
WR: Marqise Lee, USC. Always seems to have a big smile when he talks.
P: Josh Hubner, ASU: Punters are typically pretty funny guys to talk to. Hubner was no exception.

Defense

DL: Terrence Stephens, Stanford: Possible MVP. One of my all-time favorites.
DL: Ben Gardner, Stanford: With our without the mullet, he's a great talker.
DL: Will Sutton, ASU: Good sense of humor.
LB: Brandon Magee, ASU. Right up there with Stephens for MVP.
LB: Michael Clay, Oregon: Another guy with a big smile every time he talks.
LB: Travis Long, Washington State: Exudes class and leadership when he speaks.
CB: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State: Speaks with a quiet confidence.
S: T.J. McDonald, USC: Knows how to handle the limelight and does so with poise and maturity.

Pac-12 scouting combine notebook

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
11:00
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Some tough news coming out of the scouting combine this weekend for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported that Lotulelei -- a projected top-five pick -- would not be allowed to work out today with the rest of the defensive lineman after an echocardiogram revealed a heart condition that requires additional testing.

From Mortensen's story:
Lotulelei was discovered to have an abnormally low Ejection Fraction, detecting that the left ventricle of his heart was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, sources said. The normal range is between 55-70 percent efficiency.

The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Lotulelei will undergo further testing in Salt Lake City in an effort to seek more clarity with the condition, a source said. If it's a confirmed chronic condition, medical experts consider it an indication of possible heart damage.

The All-American posted 42 tackles in 2012, including 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He's expected to visit a specialist this week and plans to participate in Utah's Pro Day on March 20.

Scouts Inc. ranks Lotulelei as the No. 1 overall player in the draft.

Schwenke rising

Former Cal offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, longtime friend of the Pac-12 blog, had a strong combine performance. He was among the top performers in the 3-cone drill and 40-yard dash (see results below). Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com said Schwenke's stock is trending up.

Writes Jeremiah:
I really liked Schwenke on tape and he continued to impress with an excellent week at the Senior Bowl. On Saturday, his draft stock received another boost. Schwenke posted a great 40 time (4.99) and enjoyed a fine field workout. I could see his name being called in the early portion of the third round.
Zach Ertz versus Tyler Eifert

One was a unanimous All-American. The other won the Mackey Award for the nations' best tight end. The battle for the top tight end taken in the draft might be too close to call at this point.

Per ESPN's Todd McShay, Insider Ertz had a good day, but Eifert may have closed the gap.
Depending on who you ask, there are varying opinions on which of the two is the best tight end. If you took a poll, it would probably come out even at this point. So, of the two who are jockeying for position as the top TE in this class, Eifert won the day. It doesn't mean he'll be the first TE drafted, and if he is, it doesn't mean he's going to be the better NFL player. But for what it's worth, he had the better Saturday. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he's slightly bigger and longer. He ran an unofficial 4.6 in the 40 and had an impressive 35-inch vertical leap.
Here's John Clayton's take:
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz were considered the top two tight ends in the draft, and it's starting to look like it will be a good battle for the top spot. Eifert may have challenged for the lead after running a 4.68 compared to Ertz's 4.76.
40 times/bench

For complete workout results, you can check out the NFL.com combine page. Here's some of the top results for the fleet-footed and pectorally gifted (per NFL.com).

Running backs
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 4.49/18 reps
Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 4.52/20 reps
C.J. Anderson, Cal: 4.60/17 reps
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: 4.76/17 reps

Wide receivers
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State: 4.45/20 reps
Marquess Wilson, formerly of Washington State: 4.51/7 reps
Robert Woods, USC: 4.51/14 reps

Quarterbacks
Matt Scott, Arizona: 4.69/Did not lift

Offensive line
Kyle Long, Oregon: 4.94/Did not lift
Brian Schwenke, Cal: 4.99/31 reps
Jeff Baca, UCLA: 5.03/ Did not lift
David Bakhtiari, Coloraod: 5.09/28 reps
Khaled Holmes, USC: Did not run/13 reps

Tight end
Nick Kasa, Colorado: 4.71/22 reps
Zach Ertz, Stanford: 4.76/24 reps
Levine Toilolo, Stanford: 4.86/17 reps

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
10:00
AM ET
The official list of college players invited to the NFL combine is out and 38 from the Pac-12 made the cut. At least one player from every team in the conference was invited. A total of 333 players were invited and workouts begin Feb. 23. You can see the complete list here.

Pac-12 chat wrap

January, 3, 2013
1/03/13
9:00
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I must say, yesterday's chat was by far the best Pac-12 chat of the year. You can read the whole thing here or catch the highlights.

Tim Gray (Palo Alto): Does Stanford finish in the top 5 in the BCS standings?

Kevin Gemmell (2:03 PM): Very good possibility. Depends if folks are able to look past the non-cosmetic victory. If they understand that's just how Stanford is built, they should finish in the top 5.

JR (Houston): Kevin don't be a sore loser, let me hear you say it..2013: Big 12 > Pac 12Baylor WRECKED your south champion and Texas (on an off year) bested your Cinderella team. Even your northern champion had a tough time beating mediocre 8-6 Wisconsin. But hey don't feel bad, at least ya'll are still ahead of the ACC..

Kevin Gemmell (2:04 PM): No sore loser here. Baylor brought it. UCLA didn't. Horrible, horrible performance by the Bruins. UCLA and Oregon State made the Big 12 defenses look like the '85 Bears. Great showing by Baylor and Texas. Poor showing from the Pac-12 teams.

biggeazy206, middle earth [via mobile]: How sick will the PAC 12 North be next season? Toughest division in CFB?

Kevin Gemmell (2:05 PM): Potentially. If Stanford can rebuild again (and let's start assuming they will), plus with all that Oregon brings back, an Oregon State team trending up, Washington is hopefully tougher, Washington State should show some improvement and we'll see what Dykes can do at Cal. Very tough division.

Don (Berkeley, CA): Will David Shaw lose at least one of his top assistants during the offseason?

Kevin Gemmell (2:11 PM): Maybe -- but it will have to be for a head coaching job or an NFL assistant job. I don't see either Pep Hamilton or Derek Mason making a lateral move within college football.

BHollandz (Next to The Burrito Stadium): Why didn't Coach Riley make the adjustment against Texas to get Kelly help blocking Okafor? Also why did he abandon the run the 2nd half?

Kevin Gemmell (2:12 PM): As questionable as staying with Vaz was, that's what shocked me most. No max protect, no running back chipping on Okafor. No extra tight end to help block. Schematically, it was a bad showing.

drake [via mobile]: Kevin people are already writing off Arizona for the south, but we return an all American a great oline and tremendous WR's. Which will all make the new QB's job easier and we return the whole defense and add depth. Too early to write off the Cats

Kevin Gemmell (2:13 PM): I'm not writing anyone off in the South. It's going to be the wild-freaking-west. Right now I see four teams that could win it.

Angelique (Pasadena): Which team will show the most improvement next season: UCLA or USC?

Kevin Gemmell (2:14 PM): Probably the Bruins. Hundley will be another year older. I think there are four offensive linemen back (Baca is the only one gone ... I think) and some of the young WRs will have gotten good experience. Finding a replacement for Franklin will be tough. Expect a by-committee approach for at least the first few weeks.

Gowazzu02 (Sark 0-1 V Leach): Who is next year's Oregon State? OSU despite their terrible bowl loss had a heck of a year following a 3-9 season.

Kevin Gemmell (2:15 PM): Not to get GoooooooooBears hopes up, but I think Cal has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. If they take to the scheme, I could see a quick turnaround.

Optimistic Bear Fan (Bronx, NY): Sneaking in a question here on my prep period. Do you think Cal has a chance to retain Sonny D if he has success in Berkeley?

Kevin Gemmell (2:20 PM): I'm going to tell you a quick story. When Chuck Long was hired as the head coach at San Diego State, a competing newspaper wrote a story that "big time" programs could come knocking. He was the OC at Oklahoma and had a "name." He tanked, horribly. The lesson here is let the guy coach a bit before you start worry about losing him.

Tim (San Diego, CA): The annual Chip Kelly to the NFL talks are an inevitable offseason storyline. What type of situation is he waiting for? What NFL team would you guess he goes to?

Kevin Gemmell (2:35 PM): I think a team where he has some personnel control. Also, he needs an owner/GM who are going to give him the freedom he needs to do things his way. It might go against the grain of NFL thinking and it's not always easy for GMs to allow that. It has to be the right fit. But it could work.

Gecko (Fudge Texas.): Which is better: An 8 team playoff (all at-large), or a 16 team playoff (11 conference champs and 5 at large)?

Kevin Gemmell (2:41 PM): I think eight teams is enough. If you're No. 9, too bad.

Ray (Denver): Who is the better coach, Shaw or CK?

Kevin Gemmell (2:47 PM): Interesting question. Different coaches. Different philosophies. Different approaches. Different styles. I don't think Shaw would be a good coach at Oregon and I don't think Chip would be a good coach at Stanford. Both are great for what they do and where they do it.

Weez (An Office near Boulder): MacIntyre's staff at Colorado will be announced in the next day or so. The rumor is it will mainly be his SJSU assistants. With the assistant pool $ he was given should he have looked more outside?

Kevin Gemmell (2:57 PM): Not if he trusts his guys. It wasn't just him that rebuilt San Jose State. If those are his guys, he should bring them with him.

ESPN.com All-Pac-12 team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
9:00
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It wasn't easy putting together an All-Pac-12 team for 2012. Lots of tough choices, particularly at running back, where four guys were deserving.

It was difficult to leave off UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. As a tandem, they are better than just about any other conference's first-team backs.

Oregon, the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at season's end, led the way with six players. UCLA and Stanford, which played for the Pac-12 title, had four each. Oregon State had three. California, Colorado and Washington were shut out.

Offense
QB Marcus Mariota, RFr., Oregon
RB Ka'Deem Carey, So., Arizona
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Jr., Stanford
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
K Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
KR Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah

Defense
DE Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DT Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah
DT Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
DE Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
OLB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
ILB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
OLB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford
CB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
S Ed Reynolds, So., Stanford
S Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA

Pac-12 2012 awards announced

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
5:50
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The Pac-12 conference has announced its 2012 individual honors and all-conference first and second teams as voted on by the coaches.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State.
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Fr., Oregon
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
RB Ka’Deem Carey, So., Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Sr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL Brian Schwenke, Sr., California
OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Matt Scott, Sr., Arizona
RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr., UCLA
RB Stepfan Taylor, Sr., Stanford
WR Austin Hill, So., Arizona
WR Robert Woods, Jr., USC
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
OL David Bakhtiari, Jr., Colorado
OL Sam Brenner, Sr., Utah
OL Kevin Danser, Sr., Stanford
OL Sam Schwartzstein, Sr., Stanford

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
DL Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DL Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah (2)
DL Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
LB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford (2)
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
DB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
DB Ed Reynolds, Jr., Stanford
DB Desmond Trufant, Sr., Washington

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Henry Anderson, Jr., Stanford
DL Morgan Breslin, Jr., USC
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Datone Jones, Sr., UCLA
LB Kiko Alonso, Sr., Oregon
LB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
LB Brandon Magee, Sr., Arizona State
DB Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Jr., Arizona State
DB T.J. McDonald, Sr., USC
DB Nickell Robey, Jr., USC

FIRST-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Vince D'Amato, Jr., California
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA
RS Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah
ST Jordan Jenkins, Sr., Oregon State

SECOND-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
P Josh Hubner, Sr., Arizona State
RS Marqise Lee, So., USC
ST David Allen, Sr., UCLA

ALL-PAC-12 HONORABLE MENTION
NOTES
  • By School: OREGON and STANFORD placed the most players on the first team with five selections each, followed by OREGON STATE with four.
  • By Class: Of the 26 first-team selections, 14 are seniors, five are juniors, six are sophomores and one freshman.
  • Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches--WR Marqise Lee of USC.
  • Two-time selections: Two players are repeat first-team selections from last year--DT Star Lotulelei of Utah, LB Chase Thomas of Stanford.
  • All-Academic: Two players were named to the first team on both the All-Pac-12 Team and the Pac-12 All-Academic Football Team--P Jeff Locke of UCLA, OL Khaled Holmes, USC. In addition, OL Kevin Danser of Stanford, DL Ben Gardner of Stanford and Michael Clay of Oregon were named second-team All-Academic and second-team All-Pac-12.
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So, exactly what does a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder look like diving in the sands of Manhattan Beach to dig out a spike?

"Agile," says UCLA offensive lineman Jeff Baca with a laugh. "Very, very agile."

Beach volleyball is among the Southern California native's loves. But it's his agility that makes the fifth-year senior an asset to new Bruins coach Jim Mora. Asked where he'll end up on the offensive line this season, Baca gives an honest answer, preceded by another laugh.

"I don't really know," he said. "I've been told I'll play guard. I've been told I'll play tackle. I'm fine with whatever. I'm blessed just to be here playing."

Two laughs in the first 30 seconds of an interview. As you can guess, Baca is a pretty jovial, easy-going guy. He gets that from his dad, which is why putting on the UCLA uniform probably means more to Baca than most.

Growing up in Mission Viejo, Baca was a regular at UCLA games. He and his father, Jim, would hit up the Rose Bowl a few times a year and also go to UCLA basketball games. But his world changed on April 22, 2003, when Jim Baca died of a stroke. Jeff was 13.

"It was extremely tough," said Baca, the youngest of three boys. "We were extremely tight. My dad was my best friend. It was incredible the kind of bond we shared."

But he and his family stuck it out together, and when Baca was offered a scholarship to UCLA, he accepted the same day.

He entered the school as a pre-med major and made an immediate impact, being named to the Rivals.com Pac-10 freshman team. He started all 13 games the next year, playing virtually every snap. But the toll of studying to be a doctor and playing football was too much, and in 2010 he was forced to redshirt for failing to make grades.

"It turned out to be a blessing in disguise," Baca said.

He switched his major to political science and has made the honor roll five of the past six quarters. After football (whether that means after college is still up in the air), he's considering being a teacher, coach or firefighter.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs in my career," he said. "The one thing I take from my time here is how to handle adversity. I've had great seasons. Bad games, injuries and earned player of the game.

"They never told you it was going to be easy. They just told you it would be worth it."

Now Baca has one year left to keep living the dream that first started when he and his dad would come to games. Mora's presence has brought a new sense of excitement to the program, and Baca and his teammates are getting caught up in it.

"We're as excited as we've ever been," he said. "We had a great spring and have been having some really good training sessions the last few weeks. We're excited for the energy and the intensity this coaching staff is bringing."

For now, his focus is on football and maintaining his grades. So his beach volleyball career will have to wait.

Under the radar: UCLA

May, 2, 2012
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We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

UCLA: OT Xavier Su'a-Filo

2011 production: Su'a-Filo didn't play last year -- or in 2010 -- because he went on a two-year Mormon mission. He was the Bruins starting left tackle as a true freshman in 2009.

Making the case for Su'a-Filo: Su'a-Filo could transform a line that has been mediocre-to-lousy since he went on his mission into at least solid. That could make all the difference for a Bruins offense that has been mediocre-to-lousy for, well, a while. A touted, prep-All-American recruit in 2009, he started all 13 games as a true freshman and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as well as numerous freshman All-American accolades. Simply, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound sophomore has NFL potential. Perhaps high-draft choice potential. And he's a hard-working, high-character, mature guy who has grown into a man over the past two years. If he steps back into his left tackle spot and plays well, that means the Bruins quarterback will have security on his blind side. That's big. Further, paired with senior guard Jeff Baca, the Bruins actually would have a formidable left side tandem. See where this is going? With Su'a-Filo playing to his potential, a notorious and longstanding weakness for the Bruins -- offensive line -- suddenly has the potential to be at least solid. Perhaps -- gasp -- even sneaky good, with new position coach Adrian Klemm scaring the pooh out of them on a regular basis. You give offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone solid line play, and he will give the Bruins offensive effectiveness, which they haven't had in, well, a while.
Points, points, points. This is the Pac-12 after all, where offense rules. Last season, five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 30 in scoring average. Others, however, weren't as explosive. Colorado (12th in the conference/109th nationally), Oregon State (11/100), UCLA (10/88) and Utah (9/tied for 74th) all had trouble consistently finding pay dirt. So this week we're looking at which of these four teams has the best chance to show significant offensive improvement.

Ted Miller: Oregon State’s offense was bad last year. That’s the obvious bad news. More obvious bad news: It was bad for a fundamental reason: It couldn’t run the ball, ranking 118th in the nation with just 86.9 yards per game. The end result was an offense that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring (21.8 points per game) and 10th in total offense (373.7 yards per game). And while we’re being party poopers, why not note there are only eight healthy offensive linemen this spring, which makes it impossible to field a full second team?

Ah, but we come not to bury the Beavers, but to praise them! This half of the Pac-12 blog is providing Oregon State fans an iron-clad guarantee: The Beavers' offense will be better in 2012. Perhaps much better. And that’s why we believe they will win enough to earn a bowl berth after consecutive seasons at home during the postseason.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIREOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion should see some improvement in his supporting cast as he enters his sophomore season.
Why? Let’s start in the cockpit with quarterback Sean Mannion, who won the starting job as a freshman over returning starter Ryan Katz, only to discover THE NEW CAR! he’d been given the keys to was a Pinto. With little support from a running game to keep defenses honest, Mannion threw a lot but not always successfully, ranking ninth in the conference in passing efficiency with 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But two numbers are notable: First, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes and was sacked just 27 times in 473 attempts. That suggests two things. Mannion is both accurate and has good pocket presence. Accurate? That completion percentage ranked fifth in the conference, ahead of Oregon’s Darron Thomas and Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler. As for pocket presence, the Beavers ranked fifth in the conference in sacks surrendered despite ranking third in pass attempts. And that was with no running game.

Mannion’s supporting cast at receiver is strong. Three of the top four receivers are back, including Markus Wheaton and speedy flanker Brandin Cooks. And essentially the entire cast at running back is back.

So, really, it comes down to the offensive line, where three starters are back, not including tackle Michael Philipp, a 2010 starter who is trying to get a once-promising career back on track. Don’t expect to hear glowing reports this spring. Tackle Colin Kelly and guard Grant Enger, both returning starters, are out with injuries, so there’s a lack of bodies. But in the fall they should be healthy just as a pair of intriguing reinforcements arrive: touted freshman Isaac Seumalo, rated the No. 19 overall player in the nation in 2012 by ESPN Recruiting, and junior-college transfer Stan Hasiak, who saw plenty of action during his tumultuous time at UCLA. Both are potential – even likely -- starters.

Mannion flashed plenty of potential in 2011. He will be far more seasoned in 2012. The offensive line will be better, too, which means at least a mediocre running game to keep defenses from pinning their ears back and going after the quarterback.

In other words, the Beavers offense will be much improved overall in 2012. Now ... about that defense ...

Kevin Gemmell: I'm glad you brought up Osweiler, because he's somewhat pertinent to the team I'm picking to improve offensively -- UCLA.

All together now: "Ding, dong, the pistol is dead." And not a half-snap too soon. Time to make way for the shotgun.

To see where the Bruins are headed on offense, you need only to look back at what Osweiler did the past two seasons with the Sun Devils -- specifically what he was able to do with Noel Mazzone running the show.

Now Mazzone is new coach Jim Mora's offensive coordinator at UCLA. I know there is a multi-quarterback competition in the works. That certainly will have some bearing. But even so, it's almost impossible for the Bruins not improve on last year's 23.1-ppg scoring average with this time-tested offense.

Consider the Sun Devils of 2009, pre-Mazzone: 90th in total offense (334.4 yards per game) and 91st in scoring average (22.3 points per game). Now, look at Mazzone's first season in 2010: 29th in total offense (425.6) and 28th in scoring average (32.2). Last year: 25th in total offense (445.8) and 28th in scoring offense (33.2).

Translation: The guy knows how to move the ball and create points.

I talked earlier this week with Brett Hundley, one of those quarterbacks in the hunt for the starting gig, he says this offense is much simpler and allows the quarterback to play more quickly and think less. Makes sense. And whoever wins the gig will have an experienced running back in Johnathan Franklin beside him. The fifth-year senior was 24 yards short of a 1,000-yard season despite an impressive 5.9 yards per carry average.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireSophomore Brett Hundley could prove to be UCLA's most athletic option at quarterback.
But this offense is about moving the ball in the air. And finding three or four receivers to consistently perform is going to be just as important as finding the right guy standing five to seven yards behind the center. Mazzone has said he's not married to four- or five-receiver sets. So bona-fide talent Joseph Fauria should get plenty of chances to catch the ball from the tight end position. Devin Lucien, Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray are the likely wide receiver trio. But unlike the previous offense, the receivers won't be square pegs in round holes. This offense should accentuate the speed and athleticism that UCLA always seems to have, but never knows quite what to do with it.

The Bruins were in the bottom half of the nation in sacks allowed last year, but the return of tackle Xavier Su'a-Filo, who is back after an LDS mission, should help bolster the line. All indications out of spring are that he looks solid. Jeff Baca and Greg Capella both saw significant playing time last season (Capella started 14 games and Baca 13), so that experience should help cut back on the sacks.

Now, to the quarterback spot. Kevin Prince has the most experience, followed by Richard Brehaut. Both are seniors. But there is a call from fans to completely cleanse themselves of the previous regime and start fresh with Hundley, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback who might be the most athletic of the bunch.

Whoever wins the job is destined for a pretty good season. Because given Mazzone's history of turning slugs into sluggers, UCLA looks like the team to drag itself up from the Pac-12's offensive cellar.

UCLA suspends center Kai Maiava

September, 7, 2011
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UCLA center Kai Maiava has been suspended for the Bruins' home opener against San Jose State.

The LA Times reported that Maiava tested positive for marijuana, citing "people in the program who were not authorized to speak on the matter."

From the Times:
Under UCLA's drug policy, an athlete is suspended for the next athletic contest after testing positive for a third time. The fourth positive test results in "an immediate suspension from participation in athletics" and a loss of scholarship, according to the policy.

Maiava, perhaps the Bruins best lineman, was the team's center in 2009 but sat out last season after breaking his ankle during the fall scrimmage. Greg Capella is expected to replace him in the starting lineup.

It's not certain how the rest of the line will look because of the potential early return of Jeff Baca, who was cleared to practice this week after breaking his ankle during spring practices.

Chris Ward will start at one guard, and Baca could start at either tackle or guard. If Baca plays tackle, Sean Sheller, who started at tackle in the opener at Houston, likely would move inside to guard, though JC transfer Albert Cid also is a possibility.

Houston step one for UCLA, Neuheisel

August, 30, 2011
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UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was asked at Pac-12 media day how he and the Bruins could restore sagging confidence in the program this season and get fans to return to the Rose Bowl. His answer was surprisingly straight-forward.

"Beat Houston," he said of the Bruins opening game.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesRick Neuheisel's Bruins are looking for a fast start against Houston in Week 1.
"Because we play the next week against San Jose State. So if we can go on the road and beat Houston and do so in an impressive way, look like we're a well-coached, sound, fundamental football team, I think they'll come out the next week and be excited. If we can find a way to win that one, the next one's against Texas. It can happen that fast. It doesn't take long to win back your constituency. They just want to know there is reason for your optimism. So, we just got to come out of the gate ready to play."

The solution: A fast start, starting with a road trip to Houston.

Of course, the Bruins blew Houston out 31-13 last season. Sure, the Cougars lost quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter, but UCLA led 21-3 at that point and was dominating the action. So the Bruins have, and probably should, beat Houston on Saturday, though playing on the road is never easy.

Further, one of the oddities during Neuheisel's three years back in Westwood, where he won a Rose Bowl as the Bruins quarterback, is the program's infuriating fits and starts. Just when one is ready to write them off and throw a handful of dirt on the Neuheisel tenure, a run of success appears. And just when folks want to theorize about a turned corner, Neuheisel and the Bruins go rear-end-over-tea-kettle.

Recall Neuheisel's debut: A thrilling home victory over Tennessee. What happened next? A 59-zip humiliation at BYU became the first of three consecutive losses.

In 2009, UCLA started 3-0. Then it lost five in a row. Then it won three of four to become bowl eligible and won a bowl game, albeit over Temple in the EagleBank Bowl.

And last fall, after an 0-2 start that included a humiliating 35-0 home loss to Stanford, the Bruins not only beat Houston, they then won at Texas and extended their winning streak to three games with a comeback victory against Washington State. A turnaround, perhaps? Nope. They lost six of seven to finish 4-8 for a second time under Neuheisel.

So what's the larger meaning of the opener at Houston when Neuheisel sits atop many lists of coaches on the hot seat?

"It's an important game for us," Neuheisel said. "Will it make or break our season? Absolutely not. But it will help get us on the right track believing things are going our way."

What UCLA needs to rekindle fan support is consistency -- a feeling that the Bruins are playing up to their potential on a regular basis. While this doesn't look like a 10-win team, it certainly has the talent to earn bowl eligibility, maybe even work its way into the South Division race.

If you look over the depth chart, there is a decided sense of "maybe."

Start with the Bruins leaving preseason camp a mostly healthy team for the first time under Neuheisel. Then there's a defense that looks sneaky good on all three levels (a healthy Datone Jones at end and Patrick Larimore at MLB could prove transformative for a unit that couldn't stop the run last fall). On offense, the Bruins have a solid offensive line, particularly when Jeff Baca returns this month, and plenty of speed and depth at the skill positions.

Quarterback? That's the big question, and not just because Neuheisel has opted not to name his starter until late Tuesday (it's likely to be Kevin Prince over Richard Brehaut).

As for the hot seat talk, Neuheisel said it hasn't been a distraction.

"If you are asking if I am feeling it from outside, the answer is 'no,'" he said.

While Houston won't provide a definitive answer on Saturday, it is fair to say this. Neuheisel will take a step toward saving his job with a victory. And he'll go the opposite way with a defeat.
No Pac-12 offensive line is going to scare you heading into 2011. Even Arizona State, which welcomes back its entire 2010 depth chart, doesn't look like a dominant unit.

So there is no Washington in 2000, California in 2004, USC in 2005 or Stanford in 2010. Just about every team has at least some concerns up front.

So how to things stack up? Read on.

Great shape

[+] EnlargeArizona State's Garth Gerhart
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREArizona State center Garth Gerhart anchors the top returning line in the Pac-12.
Arizona State: 11 of 12 from the 2010 two-deep are back, including center Garth Gerhart and tackle Evan Finkenberg. The Sun Devils line was not dominating in 2010, so this unit is not a sure-thing. But it's reasonable to project a solid unit becoming a very good one in 2011.

Good shape

Colorado: Sure, tackle Nate Solder is gone, and center Mike Iltis decided to give up football, but three quality starters are back and several others have experience. Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins might be the best guard tandem in the Pac-12.

Stanford: The Cardinal lost three starters, but the two coming back are first-team All-Pac-10 guys from 2010 and All-American candidates this fall: tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. The new guys played well this spring. It's possible this line will again be very good, but three new starters is three new starters.

Utah: The Utes welcome back three starters, including both tackles, from a line that was solid in 2010. Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen will be one of the better tackle combinations in the conference, and Tevita Stevens, who played guard last year, provides experience at center.

California: The Bears were uncharacteristically mediocre last year, but they probably weren't as bad as some think, seeing that they didn't have a passing threat to keep defenses honest after QB Kevin Riley got hurt. Three starters are back -- tackle Mitchell Schwartz was second-team All-Pac-10 last year -- and a number of other players have experience.

Oregon: While the Ducks officially lost three starters, tackle Darrion Weems started enough games in 2010 to count as a returning starter. Tackle Mark Asper and guard Carson York are solid, but there are questions after that. The line struggled this spring -- perhaps the D-line is just good? -- and former walkon Ramsen Golpashin was able to hold onto a starting spot. It's nice when a walk-on does well but it does cast the scholarship players in a questionable light.

Washington: Three starters are back and there's optimism the Huskies struggling line is ready to take a step forward. The run blocking was much better over the second half of the season. Still, none of the three returning starters even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.

Oregon State: Four starters are back but that might not be good news considering how mediocre-to-bad the line play was in 2010. Still, the Beavers have, traditionally, found a way to get it done up front. Perhaps 2010 was just a blip.

We'll see

UCLA: If healthy, the Bruins could be solid on the O-line, but that's a big if. The unit struggled during spring practices due to injuries, which exposed a lack of depth. It's uncertain when tackle Jeff Baca will be back from a broken ankle and he may be the Bruins best lineman. Center Kai Maiava and guard/tackle Sean Sheller are expected to be OK in the fall, but will they stay that way?

Washington State: The Cougars welcome back three starters and should be better in 2011 due to young players getting experience last fall. But you have to wait-and-see with a unit that gave up 51 sacks a year ago.

USC: The Trojans lost three starters from a line that mostly underachieved in 2010. They have two good starters back -- tackle Matt Kalil and guard Khaled Holmes -- but things are wide-open after that. And the struggles this spring, due in large part to injuries, revealed a worrisome lack of depth.

Arizona: There was plenty of optimism in Tucson that the Wildcats will be fine on the O-line, that losing five starters from a unit that underachieved isn't that big of a deal. But replacing five starters means a team has no idea what things will look like when the lights come on for real. So we'll see.

Injury updates: Arizona, ASU, UCLA and Oregon

April, 5, 2011
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Injuries are a drag, but they are one of the key elements of spring football. Avoiding them is not unlike adding a couple of five-star recruits.
  • At Arizona, Ryan Finley reports safety Adam Hall and running back Greg Nwoko will undergo knee surgery next Tuesday. Just last week, former Wildcats co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown -- now running Colorado's defense -- was raving to me about Hall's potential. The prognosis is both players will be out seven months. The Wildcats are deep in the secondary, but Nwoko's loss puts pressure on the backfield, where injury-prone Keola Antolin is the starter.
  • At Arizona State, there's no official word on the severity of knee injuries to cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson, but the general feeling isn't terribly positive. Reports Doug Haller, both injuries "are considered serious, and possibly season ending." The Sun Devils probably can find some answers at receiver, and there's experience at cornerback, but replacing a first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback is not easy to do.
  • At UCLA, the news is better. Offensive lineman Jeff Baca, who broke his ankle last week, could return "sometime in August," according to the Orange County Register, which could mean a full-speed return in September. Baca, a fourth-year junior, was a projected starter at tackle.
  • At Oregon, defensive end Terrell Turner, the lone returning starter on the Ducks' D-line, was on crutches with his lower left leg immobilized in a cast. Coach Chip Kelly previously told the Pac-12 blog that Turner would miss spring practice with a "leg" injury, so this is consistent with the pre-spring prognosis. Dion Jordan has stepped in for Turner with the first-team defense.

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