Pac-12: Jermaine Gresham
Coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't rule him out of the Dec. 31 game in El Paso, Tex.
"He's going to be out of practice at least two to three weeks," Harbaugh told the Pac-10 blog Monday. "He's not ruled out of the game, but based on what we know right now, he won't start. We'll have to see how his finger heals and see what his availability is for the game. It will be a game-week decision."
Luck's backup is senior Tavita Pritchard, who has started 19 games in his career but was eclipsed by Luck during spring practices.
Obviously, a huge blow to Stanford's chances.
The Sooners now likely will gang up on the line of scrimmage to stop Toby Gerhart and dare Pritchard to beat them with the passing game. A defense couldn't do that with the talented Luck running the Cardinal offense.
Of course, it was Pritchard who engineered the stunning victory at USC in 2007.
"This team doesn't make excuses," Harbaugh said. "There's injuries in football."
The Cardinal already lost linebacker Clinton Snyder, defensive end Erik Lorig, offensive tackles Matt Kopa and Allen Smith and defensive tackle Brian Bulcke to injuries this season.
Of course, Oklahoma knows all about losing star players to injuries. It's played without All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham the entire season and quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, most of the year.
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS)
Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma’s 7-5 record. This is an elite team, see its 27-0 whipping of Oklahoma State in the season-finale.
It’s just difficult -- and deflating -- when a team loses its consensus All-American quarterback and tight end for the season, as the Sooners did with Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham.
This should be another interesting strength-on-strength matchup, pitting Stanford’s power running attack with Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma’s outstanding run defense, which ranks seventh in the nation.
Stanford will have to be particularly wary of end Jeremy Beal and tackle Gerald McCoy. Those two have combined for 32.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks.
Balance will be the key for Stanford. Quarterback Andrew Luck can’t let the Sooners gang up on Gerhart.
The Sooners have been inconsistent on offense, but Stanford has been uneven on defense. Quarterback Landry Jones, after a slow start, has flashed potential and the Sooners offensive line features All-American Trent Williams. They average 31 points and 419 yards per game, so Oklahoma probably will expect to move the ball on a defense that gives up 26 points and 397 yards per game.
There’s another sidenote: Desire.
Stanford will be thrilled to play in the Sun Bowl. It hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2001. Oklahoma? Hard to say. The Sooners are accustomed to BCS bowls -- they played Florida for the national title last year -- so they might not be thrilled by a trip to the Sun Bowl. Or maybe they will want to make a statement for next year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There's almost no chance Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski returns this season after back surgery. The bigger question for the Wildcats is whether he plans to take a redshirt and return next fall.
Gronkowski, a third-year junior, met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since his back became an issue early in the preseason, and he said he's eyeballing entering the NFL draft this spring.
|Chris Morrison/US Presswire|
|Rob Gronkowski may take his game to the NFL next season.|
The only thing that might keep Gronkowski in Tucson is his high expectations.
"It would definitely have to be the first round, else I won't go at all," said Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on a herniated disk and nerve damage in his lower back three weeks ago.
It was mostly a foregone conclusion heading into the season that Gronkowski wouldn't stick around for his senior year, and the odds were fairly good that he'd have been selected in the first round -- or at least early in the second. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Gronkowski owns prototypical size, above-average speed and is a good receiver and blocker. Despite missing the first three games of 2008, he finished with 47 receptions for 672 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.
He and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, who, in a horrible coincidence, suffered a season-ending knee injury, were generally projected as the nation's top two tight ends entering the season.
Back injuries are tricky, though. Gronkowski said he expects to be 100 percent within three months, but even if he blows away NFL personnel folks at the combine or in private workouts, they likely will have questions about whether his back might be an on-going issue, which would hurt his value.
Another season hanging up big numbers with impressive quarterback Nick Foles might alleviate those worries.
Speaking of Foles -- and this likely will break Arizona fans hearts after the red zone problems at Washington -- Gronkowski said he's been a fan for a while.
"Me and him always had a connection going [over the summer]," Gronkowski said. "He was throwing me a lot of fades in seven-on-sevens."
Gronkowski said his back started bothering him before preseason practices began, and an MRI revealed the disk and nerve problems. Coach Mike Stoops maintained a policy of silence on the injury, while Gronkowski opted to see if rehab work -- a long shot -- might be enough to get him back on the field.
He tried to return the week of the Iowa game on Sept. 19, but it became immediately clear he wasn't ready.
"It came back right after practice," he said. "The pain was just shooting down my leg."
He's about three weeks away from beginning rehab work. Mostly, he's been relegated to playing Xbox from the recliner in his apartment.
"My "Halo" skills are up," he said. "No one talks garbage to me anymore."
He described missing the season as "brutal."
"I thought this was going to be my season and the team's season," he said. "I thought we were going to make it to the big house. I wanted to be with the team that made it to the Rose Bowl this year."
Now the question is how badly the NFL wants him.
"I'm going to definitely look into the NFL -- you've always got to look at that option," he said. "If I don't like what I get back, I'm definitely going to come back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg
Holy Rose Bowl! It's another Big Ten-Pac-10 weekend, with No. 8 California visiting Minnesota and Arizona headed to Iowa. All four teams are 2-0. Seems like a good time for another blogger debate.
Ted Miller: You again! Adam, we need to stop meeting like this. Or at least the Big Ten should stop meeting like Ohio State did with USC. Perhaps there will be some redemption on Saturday when California visits Minnesota and Arizona takes a gander at Iowa.
|Icon SMI/US Presswire|
|Golden mascots square off in the Twin Cities on Saturday.|
Let's start with your game Saturday in fancy pants TCF Bank Stadium. (Nice job, Minnesota.)
I look over Minnesota's particulars and I can't get a good vibe about what Cal should expect, particularly after the Gophers struggled to beat Syracuse and Air Force. Who are these guys ... and whose mascot is more golden?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted! Buddy! Good to be with you again. OK, full disclosure here. I grew up in Berkeley, attended pretty much every Cal home game between 1994 to 1999. Witnessed the one Mariucci season in '96 (still have nightmares about the Pat Barnes fumble at Washington State) and the insufferable Tom Holmoe era. But I was never a huge Oski the Bear fan. Too subdued of a mascot. Looked like a glum professor who hadn't had his sweater ironed in 50 years. And he doesn't wear pants, which is perfect for Berkeley (I grew up there, so I can say that!) So Goldy Gopher gets my vote. He's goldier.
As for Minnesota, they did struggle against the Cuse, but the Air Force win is pretty solid in my book. The defense has been the big plus so far, especially the three linebackers (Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence). Triplett has gone from special teams all-star to major playmaker. The offense has struggled quite a bit, as Minnesota incorporates a new pro-style system under Jedd Fisch. It's a pretty dramatic departure from what they did the last two seasons, and it has taken a bit of time to click. Quarterback Adam Weber has loads of experience and can be effective when he limits interceptions, and Eric Decker is a freaking stud. Might be the best wide receiver in America that no one talks about. The problem is Minnesota hasn't found many weapons other than Decker. The Gophers need to spark their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge and hope a No. 2 wide receiver emerges, possibly speedster Troy Stoudermire.
I saw Cal is flying in Thursday for the game. Will the Bears be ready to play this time around for a 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, and can anyone slow down Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen? How has Kevin Riley looked so far?
|Paul Jasienski-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cal QB Kevin Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency.|
As for Best and Vereen, they are a great combination for sure. Best is going to make a play or two, mostly because he always does. The question is whether he can be such a bothersome threat that he forces Minnesota to load up the box. If that happens, a much-improved Kevin Riley and a receiving corps that has grown up could make big plays down field. Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and has yet to throw a pick, so he's started off as a completely different quarterback from the guy who was so inconsistent last last season.
The big issue for Cal is playing on the road: They've lost four in a row on the road. Moreover, they've not been challenged by a team so far that can approach them physically. Minnesota will be a far tougher test, and we just don't know whether Riley and the Bears can maintain their cool efficiency away from Berkley.
As for the other game: Iowa seems to have righted itself with the big win over Iowa State. But Arizona has a fast defense. Can quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Brandon Wegher lead an effective attack against the Wildcats?
AR: As I like to say, Stanzi is the Manzi. Actually, Stanzi has been inconsistent throughout his time as the starter, mixing big plays with too many picks. But he has more targets this year with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tony Moeki, Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt. The running game has been a bit messy this year because of departures (Shonn Greene) and injuries (Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson). Brandon Wegher likely would have redshirted but stepped up big last week. He and another freshman, Adam Robinson, will get most of the carries Saturday. It's rare to see Kirk Ferentz play so many young players, but these guys seem up to the task. The offensive line could be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) again, so those two speedy Arizona pass-rushers will have their ears pinned back for sure.
Let's talk about the Wildcats offense. How good is Nic Grigsby and does Arizona have a passing game to complement the nation's second leading rusher?
TM: Grigsby is off to a fast start, but the Iowa defense will offer a far tougher test than Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. Also, Grigsby had some fumbling problems a year ago -- he got benched a couple of times and capable back Keola Antolin took over -- but that has yet to be an issue in 2009. My guess is the Hawkeyes load the box, gang up on Grigsby and will dare Arizona's new quarterback, sophomore Matt Scott, to pass, which is never easy on the road.
And therein lies a huge issue for this game. Arizona's best player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is out with a back injury. Gronkowski is a beast. More than a few folks in the Pac-10 believe he's every bit the player that Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham is. Think having a 6-foot-6, 265-pound safety valve would help a young QB? It also doesn't help that No. 1 receiver Delashaun Dean has been slowed by a hamstring injury, though he will play.
So, the Wildcats passing game, with Scott making his first road start, is a huge question.
Speaking of road games, seems like all the Big Ten owns home field advantage in all these matchups with the Pac-10 ... no fair. But, seriously, which place will be more difficult for a visitor from the West Coast? I love Minnesota's new digs but I've heard a lot about pink bathrooms and the nutty horde at Kinnick Stadium.
AR: Well, you guys do have this game called the Rose Bowl. If memory serves, it's in Pac-10 country. Like in USC's backyard. That reminds me, Ted, can you find a way to make sure the Trojans don't go to Pasadena this year? The Big Ten would like a break from the Trojans after all these years of punishment. I stayed on the same floor as Pete Carroll last week in Columbus but forgot to ask him myself. Let me know what they say over at Heritage Hall. Thanks, dude.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Ricky Stanzi has passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.|
TCF Bank Stadium is pretty freaking awesome, and I'm excited to see the finished product in person. But I'd have to go with Kinnick Stadium as a tougher place right now. Iowa always sells it out and the fans are right on top of the field. It's a tremendous atmosphere, one of my favorites in the league. The early start time at Minnesota could be tougher for a Pac-10 team, but Kinnick definitely is less hospitable.
OK, prediction time. Who you got in Minnesota-Cal? Arizona-Iowa?
TM: Rose Bowl in Detroit, which is beautiful in midwinter!
I don't think anyone wants to see USC in the Rose Bowl again -- even USC's fans and players. The Trojans, however, wouldn't mind being in Pasadena again this January, if you catch my drift (nudge, nudge).
As for the predictions: For folks who read the Pac-10 blog, they know I've been advocating Cal as the team that might challenge USC's seven-year run atop the conference. They also know that for weeks I've been ranting about how underrated Arizona is.
So I've got pick a road warrior weekend for the Pac-10.
Let's say: Cal 35-21
And: Arizona 24-21.
Now, for the pick you should take to Vegas ...
AR: Call me a homer, but I've got to go with Cal. Minnesota has really struggled to make plays on offense, and while the Gophers' defense looks much improved, it'll be hard to contain Best and Vereen for 60 minutes and keep Cal off the scoreboard. Minnesota will have its crowd going and should keep things relatively, close, but I have Cal winning by 11, 34-23.
We'll probably see a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa's defense is always solid under Norm Parker, and the front seven should prevent Grigsby from going nuts. I think Iowa got its mojo back last week and pulls this one out, 21-17 Hawkeyes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
You guys are in midseason form.
Release the hounds!
Chris from Los Angeles writes: I watched the live feed of the media day press conference and I must say I was REALLY impressed with what the new Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott had to say. He seems like an intelligent and savvy guy that has big "Yes We Can" plans for the conference. It was a refreshing change from the "Change Is Bad" attitude of the last commissioner we've had for too long. Being there in person, did you come away with the same feeling?
Ted Miller: My initial reaction is positive. He is clearly very bright. And that can-do attitude you noticed is going to be critical because his job is not going to be easy.
I also thought jazzing up media day and immediately looking at minor changes that might make a major difference -- hey, let's have this thing last two days so reporters aren't left scrambling to talk to coaches and players -- show the conference isn't just going to sit back while Scott figures out what's going on.
But understand that Scott's learning curve is steep. He really doesn't know anything anything about major college sports. And the Pac-10's next TV deal is going to be CRITICAL.
Joe from Chandler, Ariz., writes: I know I am biased being a U of A Alumnus so I would like your opinion on where you think the 'Cats will finish in the Pac-10 this year? The defense will be a strong point returning 8 players and adding depth along the line. There are three big holes to fill offensively but with 3 500 yard receivers and 1 1,000 yard rusher (Antolin had over 500 rushing yards too), the quarterback just has to get the ball into the playmakers hands and manage the game. Thoughts?
Ted Miller: Only 13 votes separated No. 8 Arizona and No. 5 Arizona State in the Pac-10 media poll, meaning there's little consensus after the top four -- and bottom two -- teams.
Many seem to be predicting a fall for Arizona this year, which likely would mean renewed grumbling about coach Mike Stoops.
I don't see it. Stoops has grown as a coach and he has recruited well. He also has a good staff, topped by one of the nation's top offensive coordinators in Sonny Dykes.
I feel confident the Wildcats will qualify for another bowl game. And I wouldn't be shocked if they even end up breaking into the conference's top-tier.
One thing that folks seem to be missing with the Wildcats is their overall quality on both lines.
Masoli8Blount9 from Eugene, Ore., writes: With all the hype I'm hearing in Eugene and how much time the players are putting in during the offseason (even in the 102 degree heat we're having), this season seems to be turning into Pac10 crown or bust for a lot of people. If Fall practices/conditioning goes well at all for both our lines then Eugene will have a hornet's nest amount of buzz for the 2009 season. As a Pac10 guru, Oregon's best chance this season is 2nd right? Or can we actually win it?
Ted Miller: Can't believe how hot it is in the Northwest this summer. But you think things are going to heat up this fall, eh?
If Oregon figures things out on both lines -- and it might -- this could be a special season, particularly with Cal, USC and Oregon State all coming to Autzen.
Special at this point would not mean second place.
But as for "Pac-10 crown or bust," think about this: In 2010 nine starters (plus or minus), including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, will return, as well as seven on defense. And coach first-time head coach Chip Kelly will have a year under his belt.
The Ducks look like a top-25, even top-15 team to me this year.
And they may be a year away from something far more interesting than even that.
Jon from Tumalo, Ore., writes: Oregon State had 7 players drafted by the League. How many teams ranked aboue OSU in the final top 25, excluding USC, had 7 or more players drafted? How many PX teams have 7 or more home games? This seems to be the rule and not exception in the B12 and the SEC.Thanks.
Ted Miller: Jon snuck two questions in. Bad Jon!
1. None, other than USC, which had 11 guys drafted. Ohio State also had seven players drafted to tie the Beavers for second-most drafted players.
2. Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Washington each have seven home games. No team has more than that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona: Who's the nation's best tight end? Some might say Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham. Others might say this freak of nature. The Pac-10 Blog is prepared to go on the record believing Gronkowski will opt out of his senior year and will be the first tight end selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Gronkowski is a finely tuned 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, and he is the toughest matchup in the conference. Mike Stoops this week called him "unguardable," and he's right. As a true sophomore in 2008, he caught 47 passes for 672 yards with 10 touchdowns -- yeah, a TD every 4.7 receptions is good -- despite missing three games with mono. As a true freshman, he caught 28 passes for 525 yards -- 18.8 per reception -- with six touchdowns and earned consensus freshman All-American honors. While it's always entertaining to see Gronkowski loose in the secondary -- poor, poor 190-pound defensive backs -- he also is worth following on a running play. His proficiency in blocking will be a huge selling point to the NFL. Arizona is breaking in a new quarterback. Whoever wins the job should be well-advised: Throw the ball to Gronk.
4. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
5. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC
6. Brian Price, DT, UCLA
7. Damian Williams, WR, USC
8. Syd'Quan Thompson, CB, California
9. Jeremiah Masoli, QB, Oregon
10. Walter Thurmond, CB, Oregon
11. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
12. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
13. Dexter Davis, DE, Arizona State
14. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon
15. Alterraun Verner, CB, UCLA
16. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon
17. Charles Brown, OT, USC
18. Will Tukuafu, DE, Oregon
19. Josh Pinkard, DB, USC
20. Reggie Carter, LB, UCLA
21. Stafon Johnson, RB, USC
22. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
23. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE, Washington
24. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State; Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
25. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
26. Tyson Alualu, DE, California
27. Devin Ross, CB, Arizona
28. Keaton Kristick, LB, Oregon State
29. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
30. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
By the way, thanks for all the valentines. Oh, wait. I didn't get any. Sniff.
Dan from Bend Oregon writes: In your latest preseason projection you have Oregon ranked third in conference, knowing that their defensive and offensive lines have been gutted and their receivers and secondary are not as experienced as last years corp.So my question is what makes you believe that after losing all those starters ,in addition to firing some assistant coaches and putting everyone in limbo on the issue of next year's head coach how will the Ducks be able to hold a top three spot in the conference?
Ted Miller: There seems to be a significant amount of backlash to the national love Oregon is getting, notably from Oregon State fans -- for obvious reasons -- and California fans, who believe the Bears are the best threat to end USC's seven-season run atop the Pac-10.
The biggest reason for the love is the Holiday Bowl beatdown of Oklahoma State, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who's coming back in 2009, which capped a 10-win season.
At the Rose Bowl, I got a lot of: "Is Oregon really that good?" To which I replied, "Either that or Oklahoma State was way overrated."
A lot of it is Masoli: Good quarterbacks get attention, particularly good quarterbacks who run over defenders.
Sure, the Ducks lose a lot of good players, particularly on defense. But, Dan, you overstate the offensive losses. The line is hardly gutted: It welcomes back four players with starting experience.
As far as the coaching situation with the vague transition from Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and the staff changes that includes, I'm reserving judgment until after spring practices.
Might I -- and others -- revise our take on Oregon before the season begins? Possibly. But right now I like the Ducks at No. 3 in the conference and among the top-15 in the nation.
E Well from Parts Unknown writes: I know you probably looked at the Stanford roster and saw Ekom Udofia listed as a 3 year player going into 2008, but that is an error. He redshirted in 2005 due to the leg fracture and rehab. He played in '06, '07, and '08. One year to go at DT. He'll start alongside Fua, barring a major surprise.
Ted Miller: Thanks E -- how's Vince?
You are correct. That was an oversight on my part, which I corrected after reading your note.
Part of the challenge of covering Stanford is the athletic department -- pointlessly -- refuses to acknowledge redshirt years. So a fourth-year player who sat out his freshman season is listed as a senior, even though he has remaining eligibility.
What that means is the official roster is useless when trying to figure out remaining eligibility.
Still, just because an athletic department adopts of obtuse policy doesn't mean I shouldn't get something like that correct. My bad.
Derek from Scottsdale wrote: Ted, Wasn't Oregon St. going to play Penn St. in a Home/Home series? Am I mistaken, or did one of the schools back out?
Ted Miller: Unfortunately, teams like Penn State, with stadiums that seat more than 100,000, don't often play nonconference road games, particularly with teams with 46,000-seat stadiums. It's a one-way series.
The Beavers, meanwhile, were willing to take on the challenging road game because they earned about $1.1 million for their trouble -- $800,000 of which came directly from Penn State.
Tom from San Luis Obispo writes: Come on, you really think there is a tight end better than Jermaine Gresham at Oklahoma? Gronkowski is, at best, a distant second.
Ted Miller: I'd rate them neck-and-neck, and remember Gronkowski is a year younger.
Rick from Piedmont, Calif., writes: Do you think Cal has what it takes to dethrone USC next year. They have the returning talent to do it plus they get SC early so whoever the new QB is will still be adjusting to his new responsibilities. But I think it will eventually come down to consistent play from Riley and overall team poise.
Ted Miller: First, I'm still picking USC, now and into the preseason, to win the conference.
Why? USC has the best players.
Now, if you are asking me if Cal is capable of taking down the Trojans, I'd say yes. And I'd also say that USC appears more vulnerable heading into 2009 than it has been in years.
Further, I agree with you on Riley: If he breaks through and plays consistently -- and his receiving corps grows up after an indifferent season -- the Bears should be a top-10 team.
And, yes, that would include a legitimate shot at dethroning USC and going to the program's first Rose Bowl since 1959.
Sam from Los Angeles writes: What makes you think UCLA "will improve significantly" next season?
Ted Miller: The quarterback and offensive line play can't get any worse, so the Bruins will surely improve.
The Bruins have a good collection of players coming back next year and you'd think the odds would favor them having fewer injury problems than they did in 2008.
Rick Neuheisel has now collected two consecutive top-rated recruiting classes, and he and offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have a better understanding of their team and the rest of the Pac-10.
The Bruins should win six or seven games while playing a lot better than they did in 2008.