Pac-12: John Cullen

Utah spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-5 (T 3rd, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; punter/kicker: 2

Top returners
QB Jordan Wynn, DT Star Lotulelei, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, S Brian Blechen, OL Sam Brenner.

Key losses
OL Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby; LB Chaz Walker, OL John Cullen.

2011 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: John White* (1,519 yards)
Passing: Jon Hays* (1,459 yards)
Receiving: DeVonte Christopher* (663 yards)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (118)
Sacks: Derrick Shelby, Trevor Reilly* (5)
Interceptions: Conroy Black (4)

Spring answers
1. High hopes: Quarterback Jordan Wynn is healthy -- hopefully for more than just a few weeks at a time. After a fantastic true freshman year, Wynn's career has been hijacked by multiple injuries that have limited his time. He's put on more weight (up to about 210) and if he stays healthy, should have great success with Brian Johnson running the offense.

2. LB answers: The Utes had some holes to fill at the linebacker spot with the departures of Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, leaving Trevor Reilly as the only returning starter. But V.J. Fehoko appears to have won the job at the middle linebacker spot and either Jacoby Hale or LT Filiaga will fill the rover spot.

3. RB depth: John White had more carries than any other running back in the conference last season. That's a lot of wear and tear, so developing some guys behind him was crucial. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York established themselves as the guys behind White. Both are bigger -- Langi is 228 and York is 225 -- so they'll be a nice change of pace from the speedier White.

Fall questions
1. Who has Wynn's back? Developing a guy behind Wynn -- giving his history of injury -- is pretty crucial. It looks like Jon Hays would probably be the guy if Wynn goes down again -- which makes sense -- because the Utes probably don't want to burn a redshirt year on Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen. But on his latest depth chart, head coach Kyle Whittingham left an "OR" between Hays and Wilson, leaving the door open that maybe he has a little more faith in Wilson.

2. Who has Wynn's backside? The Utes have to fill two substantial holes left by departed tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom. As of now, Percy Taumoelau is penciled in at left tackle and Daniel Nielson is slotted for the right tackle. But Whittingham has said those aren't set in stone. Cullen and Bergstrom were two of the best in the conference. No easy job stepping in for those guys.

3. DL depth: Up front, Utah is probably as good as anyone in the conference with Lotulelei, Joe and Dave Kruger and Nate Fakahafua. But behind them, there are questions. Converted running back Thretton Palamo, Hunter Dimick and junior-college transfer Niasi Leota figure to be in the mix. But like the offensive-line spots, nothing is written in ink. Junior Salt and Tenny Palepoi could also see time in the rotation.

Biggest shoes to fill: Utah

April, 2, 2012
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Offensive tackles Tony Bergstrom & John Cullen

We have two sets of shoes here for multiple reasons. First, replacing both offensive tackles is always a concern. Those guys protect the edges from attack. Second, both these guys earned All-Pac-12 honors, Bergstrom on the first-team and Cullen on the second. But the third reason is the ugly secret. The Utes' line didn't do that well last season. Sure, it opened holes big enough for running back John White to rank 11th in the nation with 116.85 yards rushing per game. But the Utes only ranked eighth in the Pac-12 and 80th in the nation in rushing with 137.6 ypg. But that's not the worst news. Not only did the Utes struggle to throw the ball after starting quarterback Jordan Wynn got hurt, they did a terrible job preventing sacks. They gave up 33 sacks, and their 2.54 per game ranked 95th in the nation. Yet, even that doesn't tell the whole story. Cover your eyes, Utes fans. Utah yielded 33 sacks on just 302 passing plays. Yeah, that means they surrendered a sack on nearly 11 percent of their passing plays. For comparison, Washington State gave up the most sacks in the conference: 40. But the Cougars only gave up sacks on 8.1 percent of their passing plays.

Stepping in: Offensive tackles Daniel Nielson & Percy Taumoelau

While these are the two leading guys, there might be some plot twists ahead, because things don't feel settled. Nielson, a 6-foot-6, 317-pound redshirt freshman, replaces Bergstrom on the right side. Taumoelau, a 6-4, 315-pound junior, steps in for Cullen on the left. Nielson is smart (he was physics Student of the Year at Hurricane (Utah) High). He also is a former state wrestling champion. And he was around for 2011 spring practices, so he's not as green as most redshirt freshmen. A minor knee injury last week, however, had 6-6, 316-pound junior Kapua Sai running with the first team. Taumoelau has seen action the past two seasons, but has yet to log a start. How to look at these guys? Promising but unproven is probably the safest way. The same goes for the reinforcements: Utah signed nine offensive linemen in February, including three from junior colleges. It's possible -- likely? -- that some of those guys could push for playing time, though not necessarily at the tackle spots.

You can check out the rest of the "Big Shoes" series here.

Utah starts spring with new offense

March, 20, 2012
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Utah begins spring practices Tuesday, and most of the focus will be on the offense, with new 25-year-old coordinator Brian Johnson installing his scheme and quarterback Jordan Wynn returning from injury.

Some are theorizing Johnson will bring back many spread elements after a year with Norm Chow's pro-style scheme, so it will be a bit of a challenge for the media to figure out specific and identifiable tweaks that represent Johnson's renovation.

Don't expect anything radical, particularly with Wynn being asked to run the football.

Here are the big issues to be addressed before the spring game on April 21.
  • Who replaces Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen at the offensive tackle spots? Bergstrom was first-team All-Pac-12, and Cullen was second-team. Further, Wynn and his shoulders need to be protected, so this is a top priority. The pre-spring depth chart has Percy Taumoelau No. 1 at left tackle and Daniel Nielson at right tackle, but an influx of four JC transfers this fall could lead to some shuffling on the offensive line, even with three interior starters returning.
  • The defense should be potent, but it has some key guys to replace: End Derrick Shelby, cornerback Conroy Black, and linebackers Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez need to be replaced. Shelby led the team in tackles for a loss, and tied for the lead in sacks. Black led the Utes in interceptions, and Walker and Martinez were the top two tacklers in 2011, so these are significant holes. The pre-spring depth chart has Joe Kruger moving from right end to Shelby's left end spot, with Nate Fakahafua stepping in on the right side. Dave Fagergren and Victor Spikes are competing for Martinez' rover linebacker spot, while V.J. Fehoko steps in at Walker's spot at middle linebacker.
  • Who will back up Wynn? Wynn, if healthy, is the Utes' best option at quarterback, but health has been his main issue, and that makes the backup job even more important. Based on the spring depth chart, which doesn't list Jon Hays, who started nine games last season after Wynn got hurt, it will fall to one of the two true freshmen on hand this spring: Travis Wilson or Chase Hansen.

A couple links: Four keys for Utah this spring. And here's a look at the offense.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
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Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
ARIZONA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
COLORADO

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
USC

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
UTAH

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

Q&A: Utah OC Brian Johnson

February, 8, 2012
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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham put a lot of faith in his former quarterback-turned-quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson by naming the 24-year-old Utah's next offensive coordinator last week. One conversation with Johnson and it's clear he's energized and excited about the opportunity that many assistants wait decades for.

You're now the youngest coordinator in major college football. Is there some pressure that goes with that?

Brian Johnson: I think with any job there is pressure with how competitive everything is. But I think we're just more excited to put together an offense that can help win a conference championship.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIFormer Utah quarterback Brian Johnson now takes over as the Utes' offensive coordinator.
Being so close in age to many of the players, is it tough sometimes to make the distinction between buddy and coach?

BJ: Absolutely not. There are about four or five guys on the team I played with who are still here. I think, for the most part, this is my third year and I haven't had to deal with it my first two years. That distinction is there. We have a great group of kids so that hasn't been an issue.

On the flip side, you're going to be overseeing coaches 10, 15, 20 years your senior who have been at it a lot longer than you. Is that going to be awkward?

BJ: Not at all. In this building, we have consummate professionals. Guys understand the task at hand and we understand what it takes to be successful offensively. We will work together and get this thing going in the right direction.

Any wholesale changes to the offensive philosophy or approach?

BJ: Not wholesale. I think the baseline of what we've done here the last seven years, that's remained intact. We'll continue to tweak stuff here and there. Dan Finn is on board to coach the offensive line along with Tim Davis. Those guys have coached a lot of ball. I'm excited to be getting their ideas on paper and getting their input on the scheme.

What are the immediate holes, fixes that need to be addressed on the offensive side of the ball?

BJ: I think the biggest concern is losing two all-conference tackles in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. Those guys have played a lot of football and were really good leaders for us. But that's the nature of the business in college football. There is a lot of turnover and you have to be able to replace those guys. Finding two tackles who can come in and provide immediate help for us will be important.

If Jordan Wynn is healthy, is he your quarterback? Or is there an open competition?

BJ: I think the experience that Jordan provides will help us tremendously in our offensive production. Everything we do here, it's always competition. That will never change as long as Coach Whittingham is the coach here.

So ... is Jordan your quarterback?

BJ: I think he goes in taking the reps with the ones and he's started a lot of football games and won a lot of football games. So yeah, he is.

How is his health?

BJ: He's back to throwing. He'll be full-go for spring ball. He's had some bad luck with injuries, but hopefully we won't ever have to go through that again.

A nice breakout season for John White IV. What are you expecting from him next season?

BJ: We expect him to continue what he started this season. He's obviously very explosive and dynamic with the ball in his hands. I think we have to build the offense around him. He's extremely talented. We have to find ways to get him the ball in space and get the ball in his hands as much as possible.

So you're approach is run first?

BJ: I think in football you have to be. You have to establish the run in order to be balanced. From there, you build it all. We have to establish that physical presence at the line of scrimmage and you have to be creative and find ways to get our playmakers the ball and let them give us the best chance to win.

At this pace, you'll probably be up for an NFL head-coaching job in the next two years. Any aspirations of being a coach in the pro game?

BJ: I think that's why you get in this profession. I've learned from some great coaches. I've been fortunate to be in this program for eight years and I've seen some great coaches come through here. Coach Whittingham has been almost a father-like figure to me for the last eight years and I strive to be like him as a coach. That's my ultimate goal. If I can do that, that would be OK with me.

Finish this sentence. If I can accomplish -- blank -- I will be happy with Utah's offense.

BJ: A conference championship. That's why we play this game, to win the Pac-12 South and get a chance to play in the championship game and play for the Rose Bowl. That's the starting point. That's why we're all in this profession. That's why we're all in this business is to be the best at it. That's what we're working towards.

Utah, USC opens the Pac-12 era

September, 8, 2011
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Utah fans will file into their pie slice of the Coliseum on Saturday and they will enjoy the music. At first.

"Boy," one will say. "USC has great fight songs. 'Fight on!' is inspiring."

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Russ Isabella/US PresswireJordan Wynn and coach Kyle Whittingham will lead Utah into its first Pac-12 game, at USC.
"I prefer 'Tribute to Troy'; it's cool how they play it after every defensive stop, even though I don't want our beloved Utes to be stopped," another will reply.

Then the third quarter will arrive. Upon the, oh, 132nd playing of each song, feelings figure to be a wee bit different for those adorned in red.

"I hate the USC band," the first will say.

"Me too," the other will respond.

And Utah will officially become a member of the Pac-12.

It's just another game against a quality foe, the coaches will say. And, sure, playing in the first-ever Pac-12 game doesn't change preparation. Still, it's pretty cool.

"It's awesome," Utah tackle Tony Bergstrom said. "To be a senior playing in the first Pac-12 game, I think it's awesome. It's a neat experience."

The Utes and Trojans will be coming at the game from different angles. Utah will be looking for validation. While the Utes have won two BCS bowl games, have finished ranked in the top-25 five of the past eight years and have an 8-5 record versus the Pac-10 over the past decade, more than a few skeptics are expecting things to be different when Utah enters the grind of a nine-game Pac-12 schedule.

USC? It's trying to maintain its perch in the top-half of the conference while it's dealing with severe NCAA sanctions, which include the second year of a two-year postseason ban.

A big game for the Trojans? Perhaps not in the locker room, but coach Lane Kiffin said he and the players are certainly aware of the perception.

"We do feel it from the media and people around here," he said.

Kiffin seemed more worried about what he called Utah's "very dominant front seven." The first key for USC is protecting quarterback Matt Barkley. If the Trojans' questionable offensive line can do that, the Utes are inexperienced in the secondary, and Barkley and receiver Robert Woods might be able to take advantage.

On the other side of the ball, Bergstrom and fellow tackle John Cullen, who missed the opener against Montana State with a concussion, will present a good matchup with USC's three defensive ends: Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton.

But for Utah's offense, it's not only about protecting quarterback Jordan Wynn, it's about Wynn gaining confidence in his surgically repaired shoulder and his ability to lead the Utes' new offense under coordinator Norm Chow. Against Montana State, Wynn was out of sorts, particularly in the second half when the Utes failed to score a touchdown.

"We need to dial up more shots downfield more than we did on [against Montana State] and Jordan Wynn has to gain confidence in his arm," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's not a physical thing, but after surgery there is a period time where you have to figure out that you can cut loose and throw the way you want to without worrying about pain. He's battling through that psychologically, so it's a matter of getting over the hump mentally."

Of course, it's likely the Utes didn't show much against an FCS team in the opener. What might Chow have in his bag of tricks to spring on USC? Kiffin and Chow have plenty of history -- some of it not so good -- having coached together at USC and against each other for the previous two seasons (Chow's previous team, UCLA, faced Kiffin in 2009 when he was at Tennessee).

Said Kiffin, "There's a chess match element to it."

Still, when it comes down to it, Utah and USC will be about blocking, tackling , big plays and miscues. Just like any other game.

The Utes have played in -- and been successful in -- plenty of big stadiums against elite programs. There's zero chance they will be intimidated by the opponent or the atmosphere. The history at hand is about before and after -- not between the white lines -- and is mostly a media and fan angle.

The contested issue is simple: Who draws first blood between these new South Division rivals?

"We don't place more importance on any other game than another," Whittingham said. "It's just our first conference game, which happens to be in a great venue against a team with a storied tradition like the program at USC, so that adds to the attention that this game's getting. We're just going to try to take care of business the same way we always do."

Mixed results: Utah, ASU get started

September, 2, 2011
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Two of the Pac-12 South favorites kicked off their seasons Thursday night with wins that were greeted much differently.

Arizona State fans likely are pretty happy with the Sun Devils' physically dominant showing in a 48-14 win over UC Davis.

And Utah fans probably are a little worried after a lackluster offensive showing in a 27-10 win over Montana State.

“We won’t win a game in the Pac-12 if we play like this the rest of the way,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters.

Both up the ante considerably next week: Arizona State faces No. 21 Missouri. Utah visits No. 25 USC in the first-ever Pac-12 Conference game.

As for the Sun Devils, QB Brock Osweiler was on target and in charge -- before getting riddled with heat cramps -- and LB Vontaze Burfict collected three sacks, three more than he had in 2010. Perhaps even better: Burfict had no penalties and the Sun Devils as a whole were flagged only four times for 40 yards.

There were two injury bummers: Right tackle Aderious Simmons sprained his ankle, though he could be back for Missouri. And promising freshman safety Ezekiel Bishop tore his ACL.

Whittingham wasn't thrilled with his team's performance: "Abysmal," was the term he chose for the offense. It was not a great return from shoulder surgery for QB Jordan Wynn, nor a great debut for offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

From the Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah had trouble with its tempo, quarterback Jordan Wynn and the passing game managed just 101 yards, the Utes were penalized seven times for 65 yards and Utah was just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions.

The good news was that the running game and defense were sold. In his first start, RB John White rushed 19 times for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Utes fans probably shouldn't get too worked up, though. Chow kept things pretty vanilla in advance of USC, and Montana State is good enough to keep within range of a FBS team that isn't trying too hard.

Also, the Utes were without starting left tackle John Cullen (concussion). He should be ready for USC.
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.

Pac-12 NFL prospects in 2012?

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
5:35
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The 2011 NFL draft is over, which means it's time to look at who the Pac-12's top senior prospects in 2012 likely will be.

First of all, plenty of top non-seniors from the conference might -- or are likely to -- enter the draft, including Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Oregon RB LaMichael James, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and USC QB Matt Barkley. Those four range from sure to likely first-round draft picks.

But this list includes only players in their final year of eligibility. And some might rate a bit of a reach as NFL prospects.

Arizona: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, CB Trevin Wade

Arizona State: CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, C Garth Gerhart

California: S Sean Cattouse, TE Anthony Miller, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, OT Mitchell Schwartz, P Bryan Anger

Colorado: OG Ryan Miller, RB Rodney Stewart, DT Conrad Obi, TE Ryan Deehan

Oregon: TE David Paulson, SS Eddie Pleasant, OT Mark Asper, LB Josh Kaddu

Oregon State: S Lance Mitchell, WR James Rodgers, FB-TE Joe Halahuni

Stanford: WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleenor, S Delano Howell

UCLA: S Tony Dye, FB Derrick Coleman, TE Cory Harkey

USC: LB Chris Galippo, DE Armond Armstead, TE Rhett Ellison, RB Marc Tyler

Utah: OT Tony Bergstrom, LB Chaz Walker, OT John Cullen

Washington: DT Alameda Ta'amu, WR Jermaine Kearse, OT Senio Kelemete, K Erik Folk

Washington State: DT Brandon Rankin, OG B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter

Spring concludes: Utah

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
1:30
PM ET
Spring game: The Red-White game will be played in Rice-Eccles Stadium at 3 p.m. ET or 1 p.m. MST. Admission is free.

What happened: The Utes had a handful of goals this spring, including installing a new offense with coordinator Norm Chow, finding a backup QB behind Jordan Wynn, figuring out a pecking order at running back and completely rebuilding the secondary. Based on the scrimmages, the defense is ahead of the offense in achieving those goals. With Wynn sitting out after shoulder surgery, neither Tyler Shreve nor Griff Robles was able to consistently assert himself, so it's possible that new JC transfer Jon Hays could get into the picture this fall. It didn't help that a couple of key players were banged up on the offensive line. Things were encouraging on defense, where a number of youngsters stepped up to fill voids on the line and in the secondary.

What's ahead: The big question in preseason camp will be getting Wynn up to speed with Chow's offense, then figuring out who the backup will be. Former rugby star Thretton Palamo was the surprise star of the running back competition, but that competition is on-going with John White and Harvey Langi. All three figure to get plenty of touches. A number of players who missed much or all of the spring with injuries will re-entering competitions in August. Pecking orders don't seem firm at defensive end and in the secondary just yet.

Spring stars: Palamo, at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, is intriguing because of his raw mix of size and speed. Sophomore DE Joe Kruger was a consistent presence on the edge. Redshirt freshman receiver Dres Anderson moved past junior Reggie Dunn on the two-deep. Terrell Reese, Michael Walker, Tyrone Morris-Edwards and Damian Payne have eased concerns at safety. Junior cornerback Ryan Lacy had a nice spring. When healthy, John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom give the Utes a strong combo at OT.

Notes: Players who won't play in the spring game for precautionary reasons or injuries include Jordan Wynn, Star Lotulelei, Joape Pela, Matt Martinez, Vyncent Jones, J.J. Williams, Sam Brenner, Greg Bird, Tony Bergstrom, James Aiono, DeVonte Christopher, Lei Talamaivao, Chaz Walker, Kendrick Moeai, Ryan Lacy, Dallin Rogers and John Cullen, among others. Others such as Brian Blechen, Conroy Black, Joe Kruger and Derrick Shelby will play only in the first half.

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