Pac-12: John Bacon
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five looks inside this week's games.
USC: Trojans QB Mark Sanchez has been cleared to play at Virginia, but it's not unreasonable to wonder about how his formerly dislocated knee will hold up amid the rigors of game conditions. That's why news that Aaron Corp had eclipsed Mitch Mustain for the backup job is so important. Sanchez may play every meaningful snap this season -- or he might be knocked out the first time his knee takes a hit. It seemed like the USC coaches wanted Mustain, who saw significant action at Arkansas before transferring, to win the job, but he mixed too many mistakes into his repetitions while Corp seemed to get more and more confident.
Washington: The first quarter should be very telling at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies will start four freshmen, including true freshmen at TB and DT, and only six seniors. Many others will be seeing their first significant college action inside the most hostile venue in the Pac-10 -- and the nation, for that matter. Will the youngsters hold up, or will they make critical mistakes that irrevocably turn the momentum early? Of course, last year's game was tied at 24 after three quarters before the Ducks exploded in the fourth to finish off a 55-34 win, so how the Huskies young defensive front holds up late against a rugged, seasoned Ducks O-line will be just as critical.
Oregon: While the Oregon defense is being celebrated for its secondary, the Ducks scheme priority is stopping the run (which is why the Ducks gave up a misleading amount of passing yards last season -- see opponent's completion percentage (53) and INTs (20) for a better measure of the secondary). But the up-the-middle defense is suspect, with two new DTs and a MLB, John Bacon, coming off knee surgery. The Huskies OL is strong inside, so a good way to quiet the Autzen Stadium crowd -- and play keep-away from the Ducks potent spread offense -- might be to run right at the Ducks.
Oregon State: The Oregon State defensive front seven features entirely new starters, and the Beavers are notorious for their uneven early-season performances, but Stanford might offer a perfect test. For one, the Cardinal offense was the worst in the Pac-10 a year ago and was missing two starters before preseason camp began: TE Jim Dray and OT Allen Smith. Second, the injury bug hit late in camp, with starting guard Gustav Rystedt knocked out with a concussion and a pair of WRs, Chris Owusu and Marcus Rance, sidelined with knee injuries. Moreover, RB Toby Gerhart and WR Richard Sherman, the offense's two biggest playmakers, are banged up, though they should play. Since Stanford wasn't the deepest of teams in the first place, this patched-up offense figures to offer a less-than-imposing test for the rebuilt Beavers to find their game rhythm.
UCLA: It's almost impossible to imagine UCLA scoring many points against Tennessee on Monday night. So, the real issue is can the Bruins defense and special teams keep the game close? It bodes well that Tennessee is breaking in a new QB, junior Jonathan Crompton. The good news mostly ends there, though. First, problem: The Vols welcome back four OL starters -- a combined 62 starts -- from a crew that surrendered only four sacks last year (an NCAA record), and TB Arian Foster eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The WRs also are experienced. As for special teams, the Vols appeared severely hurt when All-SEC punter Britton Colquitt was suspended for five games, but his replacement, Chad Cunningham, has been a revelation in preseason camp. So big-footed Aaron Perez probably won't give the Bruins as much advantage as originally thought.
The fourth of 10 quick updates of offseason Pac-10 goings on.
In a sentence:
- While most schools would fret losing a star quarterback and tailback to the NFL draft, the Ducks appear quietly confident that there will be little drop-off on offense with duel-threat QB Nate Costa and a defense that features one of the nation's best secondaries.
- Will inexperience at the skill positions and a questionable defensive interior keep the Ducks from remaining among the elite in the top-third of the conference?
- Word is three Ducks starters recovering from knee surgery should be good to go by the start of preseason practices -- quarterback Nate Costa, tailback Jeremiah Johnson and linebacker John Bacon. Linebacker Jerome Boyd (foot surgery) told the Register-Guard that he's "90 percent."
- Three transfers are already on campus: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and receiver Ellis Krout, both JC transfers, and tight end Na'Derris Ward, who's redirected from Georgia.
- Oregon took an embarrassing national hit when it yanked a scholarship offer from defensive back Xavier Ramos of St. Bonaventure High in Ventura, Calif. -- after Ramos had accepted the offer. The St. Bonaventure coach subsequently told reporters that Oregon was no longer welcome on campus.
- The Ducks also lost three players over the summer for various reasons: Receiver Derrick Jones (off-field issues) and quarterbacks Cody Kempt and Cade Cooper (who transferred to Montana State and Southern Utah, respectively). The QB depth chart now includes Costa, Justin Roper, Chris Harper, Darron Thomas and Masoli.