Pac-12: Jesse Callier

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.

Washington ground game off and running

September, 27, 2013
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The fourth game of the 2012 season is when it all seemed to come together for Washington running back Bishop Sankey.

More than once he’s pointed to one play -- which happened exactly a year ago today, as a matter of fact -- as the moment when it all started to click for him. If you know who Washington played a year ago today, you know exactly which play Sankey is referring to: a 61-yard touchdown on fourth down against Stanford that helped propel the Huskies to a 17-13 shocker over the Cardinal.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsBishop Sankey, who has 446 yards and four TDs this season, leads a Washington rushing attack that is averaging 303.7 yards per game.
That play was Sankey’s “Hello, world” moment and got the Huskies faithful thinking maybe life without Chris Polk wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Sankey proved to be remarkably durable and was one of the nation’s elite, if not underappreciated, running backs in 2012, rushing for 1,438 yards and 16 touchdowns.

A year later, with added depth and a healthy offensive line, Sankey and the Washington running game are cruising. Through the first three weeks, the Huskies are averaging 303.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks ninth nationally. Going back to last season, Sankey has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in Washington’s last seven games, including going for more than 100 yards in six of his last seven and 200-plus in two of the last four. That puts him in a class with names like Corey Dillon and Napoleon Kaufman.

With Washington’s new up-tempo offense taking shape, head coach Steve Sarkisian is pleased with his rushing attack.

“I’ve been impressed with those guys,” Sarkisian said. “We had some question marks at that position coming into the year with Jesse [Callier] and Deontae [Cooper] coming off of ACLs. I think Jesse has really started to improve the last couple of weeks. He played really well against Illinois and again last week against Idaho State. Deontae has come on. He got his first touchdown last week. … I feel like it’s a good position right now with adequate depth.”

Running backs will take center stage when the Huskies host Arizona on Saturday. Sankey enters the game as the country’s No. 2 runner with 148.7 yards per game. Arizona answers with Ka'Deem Carey, last year’s rushing champ.

Through the first three games of last season, things weren’t going so well for Washington on the ground. Part of that had to do with losing Callier in the first game of the year and part of it had to do with their 24 carries for 26 yards at LSU. The Huskies had just 341 yards through the first three games. That’s almost their per-game average this season as they’ve rushed for 911 yards.

The return of Callier and Cooper and the emergence of redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington have taken some of the pressure off of Sankey and allowed him to have more productive carries.

So far Sankey has rushed 64 times for 446 yards and four touchdowns. The backup trio has added 59 carries for 280 yards and four touchdowns.

Also contributing to the run game’s success is consistency on the offensive line. By this time last year, the Huskies had already lost three starters and were trying to get by with a duct-taped front. This year, the same five have the consistency and continuity that last year’s group was lacking.

“It’s huge,” Sarkisian said. “Those same guys have been together since spring practice. We got 15 spring practices, all of training camp and now three games under our belt. I think the continuity is so much better than we’ve been. The communication is there. The guys are working well with one another and they know what to expect from the guy on each side of them. They are doing a good job in the run game being physical and they are protecting well. But the continuity and communication is where it all begins.”
We've been talking a lot about running backs this week. There was the feature on Washington running back Bishop Sankey. Some chatter about Arizona and looking ahead to Ka'Deem Carey in 2013 and the ESPN conference-call video segment featuring a dapper Pac-12 blogger talking about the running back race at UCLA.

But with some of the league's top backs from 2012 moving on, who is going to be the rushing king of 2013?

Ted Miller: Why do I think Washington's Sankey will lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2013? First of all, because I think Huskies quarterback Keith Price will play more like Arizona's Matt Scott in 2012 than Keith Price in 2012.

No, I don't think Price will put up spinning slot machine numbers, as Scott did. But I think the Huskies' improved passing game and more experienced offensive line will mean a more efficient Price. That will mean bigger holes for Sankey, who averaged 154.6 yards per game over the last five games of 2012, a per-game total that would have led the nation if extended over the entire season.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey will be trying to put up big rushing numbers with a new QB under center.
Don't buy it? Well, consider what Sankey did last year with Price in the dumps and the Huskies' offensive line shuffling injured players in and out. He rushed for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns, and his 110.7 yards per game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation.

The three backs in front of Sankey -- Arizona's Carey, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- each played for an offense that ranked in the nation's top 25. The Huskies' offense ranked 97th in the nation.

Further, Carey, the only other returning Pac-12 back with more than 1,000 yards in 2012, won't have Scott. We don't know who he will have playing quarterback, but there's been little to suggest this spring that the Wildcats will approach Scott's production at the position in the fall.

So I expect Sankey's numbers to go up and Carey's to go down. When the smoke clears, they both likely will be first-team All-Pac-12. But this go-around, Sankey will be 1A and Carey 1B.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted stole my choice! But only because as the guy going first this week, I just assumed he'd go with Carey and I'd slide right in and make all the same arguments in favor of Sankey that he just made. Sneaky, Ted. Very sneaky.

Oh well, I guess that leaves me talking about the guy who actually led all of FBS football last season -- the aforementioned Carey, who totaled 1,929 yards on the ground and a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

I don't think the offensive drop-off at Arizona is going to be as significant as Ted does. Carey certainly benefited from Scott -- but Scott also benefited from Carey. It works both ways.

Whoever wins the quarterback job at Arizona has a deep and talented wide receiver corps to throw to -- including Biletnikoff semifinalist Austin Hill and returners Johnny Jackson, Terrence Miller and Tyler Slavin, among others. This isn't an offense that is suddenly going to flatline because Scott is gone. In fact, by the very nature of the offense Arizona runs, it's likely that Sankey is going to see far more eight-man boxes than Carey. You don't sell out against the run with Hill running sluggos all day.

It's also worth noting that Sankey has to face Stanford, which had the nation's No. 5 rush defense last season, in Palo Alto. The Wildcats miss the Cardinal this season. Sankey had a big game against Stanford last season -- but when we're talking about rushing titles, one game could be the difference, and that's certainly worth considering.

Plus, Washington is hoping to have Jesse Callier back from the knee injury that initially thrust Sankey into the starting role. I'm not saying they'll be by-committee -- but a healthy Callier will certainly cut into Sankey's carries. Great for Washington. But when you're talking rushing titles, that could have a big impact.

I think the Arizona offense takes a natural step back with a new quarterback at the helm. But it's not going to be a giant leap. Carey will get his 300-plus carries again, and the Wildcats should continue to move up and down the field. And if you've got your calendars handy, the two square off Sept. 28 in Seattle. You might want to tune in for that one.

UW, WSU heading in different directions

November, 23, 2012
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Mike Leach and Steve SarkisianUS PresswireDespite the different records, Mike Leach and Steve Sarkisian know a lot is at stake in the Apple Cup.
When rivals meet, you'd love to say throw out the records. That nothing else matters.

But for Washington State, that's not the case in this year's Apple Cup. Of course, a win over the rival Huskies would be nice. It would be more than nice. It'd be huge. But even that probably wouldn't help wipe the slate clean of what has been a disappointing season for the Cougars.

"We need to try to win the game just for the sake of winning a game and playing good football," said Washington State head coach Mike Leach, whose team hasn't won since Week 3 (Sept. 14).

Since that time, Washington State has lost to sub-.500 teams like Colorado, California and Utah. During the eight-game skid, the Cougars have been outscored, on average, 37-19. They've given up 40-plus points in their last three games.

On the Western half of the state, things are perkier. After braving a very difficult first-half schedule -- from which the Huskies emerged 3-3 -- Steve Sarkisian & Co. have won four in a row (including a win over then-No. 7 Oregon State) and are on the verge of the school's first eight-win season in more than a decade.

Even though the circumstances for both clubs are different, Sarkisian said his guys still recognize the significance of the game. If there's apathy for the rivalry outside the program, it doesn't mirror what's happening inside it.

"That feeling isn't the one that's coming out of our locker room or our team meeting room, that's for sure," Sarkisian said. "We're pretty pumped about this opportunity. We always embrace the Apple Cup and the opportunity to play against Washington State. It's a great rivalry. It's one that's over 100 years old now. It divides households. We're excited about the opportunity. It's a nice opportunity for us to potentially finish our season 8-4, something we haven't done in our tenure since we've been here. It hasn't been done here in over a decade. We're excited about it."

Sarkisian is also excited about the way his offense has clicked over the last month. Part of that is a much easier back-end schedule. In fact, after facing seven teams that are headed to the postseason, the Huskies have closed the year against the four Pac-12 teams that aren't bowl eligible -- Cal, Utah, Colorado and now Washington State.

Still, he's pleased that quarterback Keith Price is finally starting to return to form. He's completed at least 70 percent of his throws the past two weeks and has seven touchdowns and zero interceptions over that stretch.

"I feel like it's been coming here for a few weeks now," Sarkisian said of his quarterback. "I thought he played a nice game against Utah. I thought he performed very well last week against Colorado. It's unfortunate he had a couple of turnovers against Cal because he actually played pretty well in that game and played relatively well against Oregon State. I think that he's been really coming along in the last month. I think a lot of that has to do with what's going on around him and the continuity we've developed up front with the offensive line. The consistent running game that we've been getting out of Bishop Sankey that's allowed us to play-action pass a bit more than we were able to earlier in the year."

Sankey has been Washington's most pleasant surprise this season. Once thought to be a by-committee back heading into the season, he became the featured runner when Jesse Callier went down for the year in the opener.

As the season progressed, Sankey became a much stronger runner. He's averaging 163 yards on the ground his last three games with four touchdowns.

"I'm really proud of Bishop," Sarkisian said. "I don't know if there is another player on our roster -- if you watch us play against San Diego State Sept. 1 and then now heading into our 12th ball game of the year -- who has made more strides, who has improved their game, not only physically on the field with his ability to run the football and his ability to break tackles at the second level, but also mentally. His confidence has risen. He's got a real sense of belief in his own ability and what he's capable of doing. I'm very proud of Bishop and the season that he's having. He's had a great one so far."

Regardless of what's happening in Seattle, Leach said it's important for his squad to show improvement -- regardless of the opponent and what kind of success they might be enjoying. It's an opportunity for his group to get a little confidence after a year that's sorely lacked it.

"I think they are already motivated," Leach said. "I think the biggest thing is focus on our effort, our work, our development. They already are motivated. We don't need to add to the motivation level. We just need to worry about what we can do instead of trying to do too much."
Phew, says the Washington fan: "It's a good thing the first half of the season is over. I'll take 3-3. Now we can go into the second half, pick up some wins and get to a nice bowl game. Go Dawgs!"

Uh oh, says the Washington fan after watching another disappointing offensive performance on the road in a 52-17 loss to Arizona: "I thought Arizona wasn't going to be very good this year. OK, so it was a tough seven-game stretch. Let's start picking up some wins. Go Dawgs!"

Yikes, says the Washington fan as No. 7 Oregon State rolls into a town -- a team that is undefeated, off to one of the best starts in program history and has, to everyone's surprise, started to creep into the national championship conversation: "Gulp, go Dawgs."

Back in August, Steve Sarkisian would tell anyone who would listen that his Washington Huskies actually had to play 12 games this year -- not six. But no one wanted to talk about the back half. They wanted to focus on the front-loaded first half, which included four teams ranked in the top 11. As our fictitious Huskies fan noted, 3-3 wasn't terrible. They beat San Diego State and FCS Portland State, then scored an upset at home over then-No. 8 Stanford. Coming out of that stretch at .500 was respectable.

Only problem is that the Huskies haven't won since that Stanford game on Sept. 27 -- riding a three-game losing streak in which they've scored a combined 52 points. The bad news is that the defense gave up 52 points against Oregon and Arizona, with a 24-14 loss to USC sandwiched in between.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian, Keith Price
AP Photo/Wily LowWashington QB Keith Price said he's high on coach Steve Sarkisian's fast-paced system.
Now, one month later to the day, they'll try to pull off another upset at Seattle's CenturyLink field over a top-10 team.

"Our conference is tough, week in and week out, if you don't come ready to play -- especially on the road -- you are going to get beat," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter who you are playing. And so we knew when we saw the flow of our games, they were going to be tough ones, especially once we got into conference play and you have to come ready to play week in and week out."

The 3-4 Huskies (1-3 in conference) are still in good shape to make a bowl game -- albeit probably a lower-tier bowl. Even though three of their final four games are on the road, they are all against teams with sub-.500 records -- Cal, Utah and Colorado before closing out the year with the Apple Cup. Even if they should fall to the Beavers on Saturday, it's hard to imagine them not picking up at least three wins in the final four games.

Then again, we didn't think Washington would have the No. 103 scoring offense in the country, either. No doubt, injuries -- both pre- and in-season -- have been major contributors. The offensive line was rebuilt, broken down and rebuilt again. The Huskies went into the season expecting to use a two-back system with Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey, but lost Callier for the year in the first game of the season. James Johnson was expected to finally be a major contributor at wide receiver, but he's been out since the preseason and will miss the year.

And the list goes on. But injuries aren't solely to blame. Quarterback Keith Price hasn't been nearly as efficient as he was last season. The Huskies rank last in the conference in passing offense and Price is 10th in passing efficiency, completing 60.1 percent of his throws with an even 8-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

"They don't make mistakes," Price said of the Oregon State defense. "Their secondary is solid. Jordan Poyer is one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12. We just have to play fundamentally sound football and I can't turn the ball over. If I don't turn the ball over and we do our job, I think we have a pretty good shot to win this game."

Still, despite the uninspiring statistics and the losing streak, Sarkisian is doing his best not to let the negativity creep into his locker room.

"I think one of the real keys is to make sure that we're all on the same page with what our issues are and how we're going to fix those issues," he said. "I think a lot of times, when locker rooms can get disjointed, there's mixed messages -- and there's not a clear-cut message and focus on what needs to be done to get things fixed. One of the big keys for us is coming together to make sure we're all on the same page with what is needed to get done and make sure that it's a consistent message so that we're all in it together."

Fingers crossed, thinks the Washington fan: "Go Dawgs!"

What's coming up: Part 2

September, 8, 2012
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A look at what's coming up in the second half of the day for the Pac-12. Kevin will be bringing a pregame report from Pasadena and Ted will be reporting from Tucson. ESPN Los Angeles is blanketing USC at Syracuse.

Times are PT.

Fresno State (1-0) at No. 4 Oregon (1-0), 3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Since the Ducks pulled quarterback Marcus Mariota with 7:03 left in the second quarter (they were leading 50-3) many are excited to see if he'll make it through an entire game. Or at least take a snap in the second half. The Ducks scored a touchdown on their first seven possessions last week. This will be the first road game -- and first time against a ranked opponent -- for new Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, who has spent the majority of his career as a defensive coordinator.

Washington (1-0) at No. 3 LSU (1-0), 4 p.m., ESPN: Of all the nonconference games on the docket this weekend, this one might be the most meaningful to Pac-12 fans since it's against the SEC. Washington quarterback Keith Price has explosive potential, but the Huskies lost part of their running back by committee last week when Jesse Callier went down for the year with a knee injury. At question is whether Washington can run the football against LSU's front and whether they can stop the run. Chances are this game is won or lost at the line of scrimmage.

Duke (1-0) at No. 25 Stanford (1-0), 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: The Cardinal weren't spectacular in their debut against San Jose State last week. Part of it might have been rust, part of it could have been the team pressing a bit too hard in its first game without Andrew Luck, or maybe the Cardinal will really take a major step back in 2012. It's too soon to tell, but a lot of their issues at the line of scrimmage need to be sorted out before USC comes to town next week. It'll be interesting to see what the return of linebacker Shayne Skov does for the defense.

Illinois (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0) , 7:30 p.m., ESPN: This should be a more substantial test for the new-look Sun Devils under Todd Graham, who were clean and dominant on both sides of the ball while whipping Northern Arizona. Arizona State leads the series 2-1, but Illinois won 17-14 last year at home. In that game, Illinois recorded six sacks, two interceptions and recovered a fumble. The big question is whether Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be healthy enough to play. Scheelhaase left the Illini's victory over Western Michigan last week with an ankle injury. After he left, the offense managed no points and just 15 yards on the five drives with Reilly O'Toole at the helm. The defense scored Illinois’ only points after Scheelhaase left.

Keith Price promises 'A-game' for LSU

September, 6, 2012
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After Washington's 21-12 win over San Diego State -- a mediocre but hardly dreadful performance -- quarterback Keith Price looked like a guy who'd lost a football game. And his wallet. And his best friend. And his dog.

"I haven't played that bad a ball game in a long time," he said.

Said coach Steve Sarkisian, "That's what makes 17 special. He's got a standard he holds himself to."

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireKeith Price and Washington will likely have to be nearly flawless to win at LSU on Saturday.
Price will need to meet his high standard for Washington to have a chance Saturday at LSU, which is 28-0 in nonconference, regular-season games under coach Les Miles. If he does, an upset over the third-ranked, SEC power would announce the Huskies' return to national relevance and would elevate Price from long shot Heisman Trophy candidate to a legitimate contender.

Of course, the challenge in Baton Rouge is about as tough as it gets. The Huskies defense will be challenged by a physical Tigers running game. The Huskies offense will be challenged by one of the nation's best defenses, one that has speed at every position, including a pair of A-list ends in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.

Another challenging element: The elements. It's going to be hot and humid and thundershowers are possible, which would typically benefit the team that prefers running the ball.

Oh, and there's 93,000 nutty, well-lubricated LSU fans in Tiger Stadium, perhaps the nation's loudest venue.

Further, the Huskies have taken a number of injury hits. They lost two starters from their offense against San Diego State, RB Jesse Callier, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and RT Ben Riva, who's out indefinitely with an arm injury. On defense, it was announced that end Hau'oli Jamora's fall camp knee injury was a season-ender.

LSU will be without LT Chris Faulk, but the Tigers are deep and experienced on their O-line.

So, yes, the Huskies are up against a lot.

Yet recall 11th-ranked LSU came a-calling to Husky Stadium in 2009, Sarkisian's first year in Seattle. That Washington team was coming off a winless season. It was widely considered QB Jake Locker and a bunch of stiffs. What transpired was a highly competitive game, with the Tigers prevailing 31-23.

What does Sarkisian remember from that matchup?

"Hopefully, we look a little better in pregame warmups," he said. "I was a little kind of looking at their side and looking at our side and it didn't feel like this was a great matchup in pregame warmups."

LSU is notorious for looking good getting off the bus, not unlike USC. But that game surely registers among the Huskies veterans, and probably some of the Tigers who were around then. It wasn't the physical mismatch it had been drummed up to be. Afterwards, the LSU players were highly complimentary of the Huskies.

"We have a lot better team than we did three years ago," Price said. "I'm sure they're not overlooking us. They know we're going to bring it to them. And they are going to bring it to us."

Price is where it will all start. He can't afford to make mistakes, but he's going to have to be aggressive and take his shots. The Huskies won't be able to grind the ball down the field. Price needs to get rid of the ball quickly, but he also can't obsess about LSU pressure and cut short his progressions and dash from the pocket.

"I'll be in the pocket a lot more regardless of if they bring heat or not," Price said. "I'll just be under duress."
Price isn't the only Husky who can make a name for himself. Budding stars such as receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could join Price for a "Hello World" moment.


As for the defense, one word: tackle. The Huskies looked improved on defense against San Diego State, but Sarkisian noted the Aztecs had 90 yards after initial contact. The 225-pound Spencer Ware leads a crew of physical, athletic Tigers running backs could double that number if the Huskies don't tackle well.

If the Huskies defense can contain the LSU running game -- a big if -- it's uncertain just how well the Tigers will be able to throw. New QB Zach Mettenberger has a live arm, but he was kicked off the team at Georgia after a number of off-field incidents, and, after a single game against North Texas, already has seemed rattled by the scrutiny at LSU. It's reasonable to question how he will react to adversity if the screws tighten in the fourth quarter.

Price, as cool as a pint of Häagen-Dazs, isn't going to be rattled.

"They're good," Price said. "But we will be on our A game. Trust me."

Alright then. But will that A game be enough to pull the upset?

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
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Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

1. Who can rebound? Washington State, Cal and Colorado will all look to get in the win column this week after disappointing debuts. Each has something specific it needs to work on in Week 2. The Bears need to find a way to get off the field on third down, Colorado needs to find a running game, and Washington State needs to find a little confidence (positive rushing yards wouldn't be bad, either). And even though Stanford won last week, there was a vibe around the team that a 20-17 against San Jose State isn't going to cut it. And they are right. After this week's game against Duke, USC comes to town and then a big road trip to Washington. Cal has its big matchup with Ohio State looming as well. A lot needs to be sorted out for these four teams in Week

2. Super schedule: Some huge measuring-stick games this week against out-of-conference, BCS-conference foes (seven total). UCLA will see what they really have in Brett Hundleywhen he sees a Nebraska defense that won't be as generous as Rice. And we'll see if Arizona State and Arizona are the real deal when they take on Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively. While it was nice to see all three win in Week 1, the big question now is whether they can all sustain it with the competition level being increased dramatically. And there are a couple more nonconference games we should mention ...

3. What about the Beavers? Mike Riley joked that so far this season feels like the training camp that would never end. As last week's game against Nicholls State was re-routed because of Hurricane Isaac, we're still not sure what we're getting with Oregon State. We know they want to run the football, and Storm Woods is the guy to do it. At question is whether they'll have success against Wisconsin. It's tough to open the year against a ranked opponent, and Riley called this one of the biggest nonconference games in school history. Also eager to see how much progress Sean Mannion has made and how OSU's passing attack led by Markus Wheaton stacks up against the Badgers. By the way, big ups to OSU, which will have volunteers from the American Red Cross at Reser Stadium to take donations that go to victims of Hurricane Isaac. Classy gesture.

4. What about the Huskies? Grrr ... the SEC. They win national championships. They dominate the rankings. Their fans come to our blog and troll with impunity. Grrr. How well will the Huskies represent the conference when they travel to Baton Rouge? Washington showed a lot of inconsistency against San Diego State, particularly on offense. And losing running back Jesse Callier for the season certainly doesn't help the situation. But when the Huskies were clicking, it was Keith Price connecting with Austin Seferian-Jenkins (nine catches, 82 yards) and Kasen Williams (six catches, 75 yards, 1 touchdown). That trio will have to have a monster game to pull off a shocker against the No. 3 team in the land.

5. Desert defense: Some interesting matchups when you look at Arizona and Arizona State's competition -- particularly at the quarterback spot. How will the Wildcats fare against Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, who actually saw less field time last week than Marcus Mariota? The Sun Devils might or might not face Illinois starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has been out with an ankle injury. Head coach Todd Graham said they are prepping to face Scheelhasse, though there's a good chance (depending on which update you read at any particular hour) the Sun Devils could be seeing Reilly O'Toole.

 
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Instant Analysis: UW 21, SDSU 12

September, 2, 2012
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SEATTLE -- Washington’s defense forced three turnovers that led to two touchdowns, helping the Huskies hold off San Diego State 21-12 Saturday at CenturyLink Field.

It was over when: With 4:50 left in the game, San Diego State went for it on fourth-and-6 from the 8-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Katz’s pass fell incomplete, giving the ball back to the Huskies.

Game ball goes to: Will Shamburger. The junior safety returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown -- Washington’s only second-half score -- in the third quarter that gave the Huskies a 21-6 lead.

Stat of the game: Zero. After scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, Washington’s offense was held scoreless the final three, putting pressure on its defense, which turned in a touchdown and helped the Huskies hang on.

What it means: Despite a strong start in the first quarter, the Huskies still have a lot of work to do if they plan on competing with LSU next week. While it is clear Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams have taken the next step as sophomores -- they combined for 15 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown -- the offense struggled for the better part of three quarters.

What we learned: The Huskies aren’t afraid to play their freshmen. Safety Shaq Thompson tallied his first tackle on the first play from scrimmage, and finished with two. Receivers Jaydon Mickens (two catches, 16 yards and three kick returns for 47 yards) and Kendyl Taylor (one catch, 6 yards) also contributed, while running back Erich Wilson II had two carries for 22 yards.

Who we should see more of: Running back Bishop Sankey. Not only did the sophomore play well, rushing for 66 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but junior Jesse Callier suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return.

Pac-12 practice reports

August, 13, 2012
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Some news and notes from around the conference:

Cal

Cal started double-day workouts over the weekend. And while head coach Jeff Tedford was pleased with the morning session Saturday, he said he felt like the late session lacked some pop.

“I was not pleased with the afternoon practice,” he said. “We started out very slow. The defense played well, but offensively we didn’t execute very well in the first half of the second practice. We picked it up towards the end.”

Offensive lineman Tyler Rigsbee said even though the two-a-days are tough, it's a good chance for the younger guys to get acclimated to the college game.

“This is kind of a big day for us,” Rigsbee said. “We’ve been in camp but we’ve had school so this is really the first day we’ve been able to come together and crank out a two-a-day, and teach the young guys what it’s about to compete. You’re going to be uncomfortable and it’s going to be a grind, but that’s what football is about. We’re going to be a tough team.”

USC

Matt Barkley completed 7 of 16 passes for 109 yards -- including a 40-yard touchdown strike to tight end Randall Telfer at the Trojans' first intrasquad scrimmage Friday afternoon.

“It was our first time out in the Coliseum and it was good to see the guys in action, although the young players made some mistakes,” said third-year USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “The defense was ahead of the offense a lot of the time. But we got in some good work.”

Robert Woods led all receivers with four catches for 55 yards.

Running back Silas Redd carried the ball twice for 45 yards, including a 43-yard run. D.J. Morgan had the team high in carries and rushing yards, with 10 totes for 69 yards.

Washington

After a "physical" afternoon practice in full pads on Saturday, the Huskies took a field trip to see former Washington players Jake Locker and Devin Aguilar of the Tennessee Titans play against the Seahawks.

But before that, running back Jesse Callier shined in a goal-line drill and freshman Cyler Miles connected with Kasen Williams on a touchdown pass. That was enough to earn the team a trip to CenturyLink Field.

"It's a great team bonding activity that we like to do every year," said head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "... It's a little bit of reward. These guys are working their tails off. This has been a physical week of work and guys have been grinding away -- the meetings, the studying of stuff. ... It's hopefully a way I can reward them. It's something fun to do so that they continue to enjoy the experience of being here. For a bunch of these guys this [was their] first time going to an NFL football game."

Washington State

As you'd expect, the reports out of Pullman are about touchdowns. Passing touchdowns. Lots of them. In a scrimmage over the weekend, projected starting quarterback Jeff Tuel tossed four touchdowns, Connor Halliday threw three touchdowns and David Gilbertson tossed another.

Tuel finished the session 14-of-19 for 183 yards and an interception. Halliday was 12-of-20 for 223 yards and Gilbertson was 5-of-11 for 59 yards.

Marquess Wilson caught for balls four 65 yards that included a 34-yard touchdown from Tuel and a 3-yard touchdown from Halliday.

Ten Pac-12 players on Hornung watch list

August, 2, 2012
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Ten of the 49 players on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award are from the Pac-12.

The Paul Hornung Award, now in its third season, is given annually to the most versatile player in major college football by the Louisville Sports Commission and football legend Paul Hornung.

The 2012 watch list was compiled by a panel of college football experts based on a combination of 2011 statistics, career performance and expectations heading into the 2012 season. Profiles of each player and information about the award can be found on paulhornungaward.com.

Here are the Pac-12 players on the list:

Eight Pac-12 RBs on Doak Walker list

July, 19, 2012
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Eight Pac-12 running backs are on the 52-man watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation's best running back.

You can review the entire list here.

And here are the Pac-12 RBs on the list:

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