Pac-12: Jonathan Stewart
So USC or Oklahoma for the 6-foot-5, 205 pounder?
Browne leaving for the Sooners would be a blow for the hometown Huskies, who are struggling to build the proverbial "wall" around their home state. During the 2011-12 recruiting season, most of the elite, local prospects crossed state lines to play football. The state featured five elite recruits: Offensive linemen Zach Banner and Josh Garnett, running back KeiVarae Russell, receiver Cedric Dozier and QB Jeff Lindquist. Only Lindquist signed with the Huskies.
Of course, the Huskies did much better in 2011 when they signed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Kasen Williams, DT Danny Shelton -- three players who, by the way, lived up to their recruiting hype as true freshmen.
Still, in order to return to the nation's elite, Washington must win most of the recruiting battles for in-state prospects most years. That's part of the reason coach Steve Sarkisian was willing to pay top dollar to lure ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California.
While some prospects go in search of a warmer, sunnier climate, and there's little coaches can do to charm them out of that thinking, part of getting the Huskies back into the nation's top 25 is making elite recruits want to stay home. For every Jake Locker who decides to play for the Huskies, there are too many guys like Jonathan Stewart (Oregon), Stephen Schilling (Michigan), Taylor Mays (USC), David DeCastro (Stanford), Deandre Coleman (California) and Jake Heaps (BYU).
As for Browne, the situation at Washington would seem ideal for him. Keith Price would be a senior his redshirt freshman year, giving him a year to acclimate himself before fighting for the job in 2014.
From ESPN Recruiting: "Browne completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,034 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior. He plans to enroll early at his school of choice and has a good shot to be recognized as the top quarterback in the class of 2013."
It will be a big loss for the Huskies if he opts to cross state lines.
USC's defense had a horrible game against Oregon, and this quote from Trojans linebacker Chris Galippo to the Los Angeles Times sums it up beautifully.
"Every once in a while you get your butt kicked, you get your face shoved in the dirt," Galippo said Monday after watching tape of the game. "That's what happened.
"They out-executed us. We came out slow. We just really couldn't find the ball and they were doing everything right."
Carroll told reporters Monday after watching tape of the 47-20 defeat, the worst loss of his nine-year Trojans tenure, that the defensive plan was too complicated, but the part of Galippo's quote that is bolded sums it up better for me.
I recall a number of times seeing Galippo -- and others -- chasing a guy who didn't have the ball. It reminded me of a few years back hearing a Husky Stadium crowd roar with approval as the Washington defense stacked Jonathan Stewart at the line of scrimmage. Only Dennis Dixon was skipping down the sideline for a long touchdown run without anyone even looking at him -- not the defense, not the TV cameras, not the crowd, not the reporters in the press box, who were convinced it must have been a trick play, not just a basic read-option keeper.
When Oregon's spread-option offense is at its best, it thwarts sound defensive schemes that account for the various options on running plays. In other words, ball fakes by Dixon then and Jeremiah Masoli now make it extremely hard to find the ball, and defenders often let go of their responsibilities -- "I've got the QB! I've got the QB! But the running back has the ball! Er, no he doesn't!"
In the old triple option, the defense had straight-forward keys: fullback, quarterback, pitchman. A defense could get faked out, but it immediately -- within a split second -- knew what had happened.
Not with the Ducks. Chip Kelly schools his quarterbacks on ball fakes and misdirection maybe better than any coach in the nation. You often see defenders, their heads swiveling, spend one or two clicks scraping the wrong way.
In all the offenses I've watched in person, I don't know if I've seen one that consistently hides the true location of the ball as well as Oregon's. The gaps of nonrecognition from a defense -- and audience -- are palpable when the Ducks are clicking.
And not knowing where the ball is can be a problem when you're playing defense, particularly against an offense infused with great speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter likes being in the middle of the action. Not only because it allows him to make more plays. It also gives him an opportunity to provide his own special brand of play-by-play narration.
Yes, Carter likes to chat with opponents, and he appreciates guys who enjoy going back and forth with the ripostes unique to a football game.
|Cary Edmondson/US PRESSWIRE|
|UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter backs up his talk on the field.|
Sometimes the opponent doesn't cooperate. Carter said former Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart was a bit too quiet for his tastes. But he's big fans of Oregon State's Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz and James.
"We're were going at it a lot last year," Carter said. "We were talking back and forth. It was fun. Both of them. They're not big but they've got big hearts."
Carter's in-game libretto, however, didn't help get the word out on one of the West Coast's most underrated players.
Despite nagging injuries, Carter has started 32 games over the past three seasons at both inside and outside linebacker. He was a freshman All-American in 2006 and second-team All-Pac-10 last season, but he's busted noggins and ranted and raved mostly in anonymity.
Two reasons for that: 1. UCLA has mostly wallowed in mediocrity during his career; 2. That other LA program has sorta cornered the market on All-American linebackers.
Yet with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava shipping out from USC to the NFL, and California's Zack Follett joining them, it's wide open this spring as to who is the Pac-10's best linebacker.
And just because Carter likes to trash talk on the field doesn't mean he's boastful off it.
"I know I'm not the greatest player in the world but I respect the game, I study it and I think I play it fairly well," he said.
When asked about his favorite player, Ray Lewis, he twice emphasized he's not comparing himself to the future pro football Hall of Famer.
"He's my guy -- I love his intensity," Carter said. "He has a great passion and love for the game. He shows it when he plays. He's very emotional. I'm not comparing myself to him -- I'm not as good as him -- but when I play football I get pretty emotional. Sometimes before a game I'm almost crying because I love the game and enjoy doing it so much."
Carter hit the weight room hard after dropping to as low as 215 pounds after the 2008 season. He's at 235 pounds now and ready to take the lead on what may be one of the Pac-10's better defenses.
That leadership started this spring when Carter and other seniors explained that "Over the Wall," the Bruins tradition of bailing out of one spring practice a year, has been suspended.
Some griped when told of the new order.
"They said it was tradition," Carter said. "And I said it was a tradition that started when UCLA was winning. We were 4-8 last year. We don't deserve to do anything that they did in the past because in the past they were winning. We need to take advantage of all 15 [practices] to get better."
And if some folks rebel and jump the wall at Spaulding Field?
"We'll squash that real fast," Carter said. "If anybody tries to leave, we'll go in the locker room and get them and they'll finish practice with us."
It's just a hunch, but here's a guess Carter can be fairly convincing.
Carter and the rest of the seven returning starters on defense know their unit is in transition. Respected coordinator DeWayne Walker was hired as New Mexico State's head coach in the offseason, and Chuck Bullough was promoted from linebackers coach to fill the void.
Not too much will change in terms of scheme -- some reads and calls might be simplified -- but it was a significant loss for other reasons.
"It hurt me personally because [Walker] and I had a close relationship, almost father-son. We talked all the time, even if it wasn't about football," Carter said. "As a football player, I'm hurt, but as a family member, I'm also kind of happy. He's living his dream. I wish him the best."
It's particularly poignant when Carter speaks of a "father-son" relationship. His father, Reginald Carter, Sr., was shot and killed by his sister's boyfriend. Reggie Carter was only 2-years-old.
"I think about it a little bit from time to time, wondering what it would be like to have a father, for him to see me graduate from high school and play football in college and all those different things," Carter said. "But I have a lot of uncles who got me involved in sports. I also think, if my father was here, would I have been involved in sports and would have my uncles been so involved in my life that they got me to playing football in college?
Carter has another source of inspiration. Before games, he listens to Tupac Shakur's song, "Dear Momma." It reminds him of his mother, Selena Adway.
"My mother is pretty much my motivation before every game," he said. "She gets joy from watching me play and I like to do that for her."
If things fall into place this year, Carter will continue to chatter and makes plays and give his mother joy well into the future. Only he'll be suiting up on Sundays.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
In 2005, Tyrone Willingham took over a Washington program that was headed downhill. He resigned Monday because he did little to reverse the course.
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|The Huskies have lost 13 of their last 15 home games under Tyrone Willingham.|
The 2004 Huskies that got Keith Gilbertson fired after just two seasons went 1-11. That is an optimistic projection of where the currently winless team will end up this season.
How did a program that won the 1991 national championship and finished No. 3 in the nation as recently as 2000 win only 12 games over the past five seasons?
The easy answer is the program failed to recruit and then develop players who could compete in the Pac-10.
But Willingham, beyond his failure on the field and on the recruiting trail, was never a good fit.
His hiring split the fan base from the beginning and set up a nasty schism between fans focused on football and others who believed Willingham restored class and integrity to a program that had appeared out of control during the previous administrations.
Willingham was supposed to be a stabilizing presence after the tumultuous Rick Neuheisel tenure and the failed stop-gap that was Gilbertson's brief term.
When Gilbertson and then-athletic director Todd Turner agreed on a separation, Turner immediately fired up Huskies fans by announcing he wanted his new coach to have "pizazz."
Turner later would regret the word choice.
When he hired Willingham over then-Boston College coach Tom O'Brien -- after being spurned by California's Jeff Tedford -- the fan base was decidedly under whelmed.
Many Husky fans didn't believe a discard from Notre Dame was worthy of the UW post. They also didn't think Willingham was a very good coach. And they weren't shy about saying so on the high-traffic message boards.
"Anybody with half a brain can get on the Internet and say whatever they want -- pay no attention to that," Turner said at the time when asked about the vocal critics.
Of course, that comment immediately spawned a movement and a group of anti-Willingham UW fans that gained momentum and unofficial members with each dispiriting defeat.
While it might seem like 20-20 hindsight, Willingham immediately created consternation even among the more reasonable fans. He filled out his coaching staff with an inexplicable deliberateness, which crushed his initial recruiting effort.
His big name failed to generate any recruiting momentum. Elite in-state players like running back Jonathan Stewart and offensive lineman Stephen Schilling bolted for Oregon and Michigan, and Willingham's 13-member class finished ranked 10th in the Pac-10, according to most recruiting services.
He then imposed some of the nation's most restrictive policies on media and fan contact with the team. All practices were closed to reporters, which is unusual in the mostly open Pac-10. Big-time boosters didn't fare much better. The team hotel, long the social headquarters for fans who followed the Huskies the on road, was made off-limits.
Willingham never made much effort to connect with boosters, which isn't good for a program desperately in need of a massive and expensive stadium renovation.
Of course, all would have been forgiven if Willingham had won and recruited well. He did neither, though his 2007 recruiting class pushed into the top half of the conference rankings.
Sure, there are some "what if" moments.
Surging to a 4-1 start in 2006 and sniffing the national rankings, the Huskies nearly won at No. 3 USC before falling 26-20, as an official indefensibly stood over the ball as the final seconds ticked away and wouldn't let them run a final play from the Trojans 15-yard line.
But then dual-threat quarterback Isaiah Stanback broke his foot the following weekend against Oregon State. The season imploded amid a six-game losing streak.
The promise of a 2-0 start and a halftime lead over Ohio State in 2007 evaporated with another six-game losing streak.
And this year's only moment of any hope -- a controversial 28-27 loss to BYU -- quickly yielded, as losses piled up, to desperation and frustration. And then resignation.
Willingham is 11-32 in Seattle and is 2-16 since the 2-0 start in 2007. The Huskies are terrible on both sides of the ball, ranking 117th in scoring offense (16.1 points-per-game) and 115th in scoring defense (39.6 ppg).
Sure, the Huskies have been wracked by injuries. Sure, they are relying on way too many freshmen and sophomores. Sure, the brutal schedule has been unforgiving.
But Willingham has failed to do the job he was hired to do by every measure. He even admitted that when the announcement was made today.
"We didn't win enough games -- that's it," he said.
That is it.
And he leaves the program not well-positioned to win much anytime soon.
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson says he and the Ducks aren't playing for second place in 2008.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson said he owns a "massive stiff-arm," and he didn't hesitate to use it when a reporter asked for some gossip on the condition of quarterback Nate Costa's newly -- and vaguely -- injured knee.
"I'm not really sure what's going on with that," he said. "I don't know anything about that yet."
Johnson, who's coming back from his own knee injury, isn't so resistant to talking about what he views as a changing of the guard at the top of the Pac-10.
The Los Angeles native said he and the Ducks aren't playing for second place behind USC in 2008.
"We're playing for first place and nothing less," the 5-foot-9, 205-pound senior said. "It's time for a new face to be the Pac-10 champions. I'm tired of seeing the Trojans be that champion."
That might sound like a dubious boast -- unseat the Trojans, please -- but recall that Oregon was on its way to doing just that last fall before quarterback Dennis Dixon crumbled to the ground against Arizona.
Dixon's injury received all the publicity -- and for good reason; he was a leading Heisman Trophy candidate -- but Johnson's going down after six games significantly damaged the depth and versatility of the Ducks' backfield, even with Jonathan Stewart as the dominant first option.
Johnson is an elusive runner who also is an outstanding receiver. He's scored 18 touchdowns over the past three seasons -- paydirt every 11.6 touches -- and his running instincts are superior to Stewart's.
He also doesn't lack confidence. He said his goals are to break records and score touchdowns, and his team aspirations aren't modest either.
"My main worry is to just win games, be undefeated in the Pac-10 and hopefully win a national championship," he said.
Some folks might wonder how the Ducks could do that without Dixon and Stewart, but Johnson believes the Ducks spread offense and talent depth means it's just plug-and-play.
"We're all-around good," he said. "People may say that we're not going to be the same but we are. It's just different names in the backfield."
He's not going to name a favorite quarterback between Costa and Justin Roper, who's made a late challenge for the job, even before Costa hurt his surgically repaired knee Wednesday.
What's the difference between the two? "One [Roper] is taller," he said, laughing.
"Nate is a go-getter. He reads well. Roper, he is a tall, lanky guy who is smart," he said. "I can't really tell them apart because both are great quarterbacks. And like I've told every other reporter: If one goes down, I'd be comfortable with the next. Our offense can put any quarterback on the map. All the quarterback has to do is read the right coverages and make the right throws."
Hmm... some quarterbacks might wonder if that's a bit harder than Johnson makes it sound.
There are multiple options at running back, too. If Johnson is lightning, then many expect 229-pound JC transfer LeGarrette Blount -- the star of spring practices -- to provide the thunder. And Andre Crenshaw isn't exactly chopped liver.
Johnson said he has no problem sharing the ball.
"I'm not a selfish guy," he said. "I've been in two-back situations since high school."
He also thinks the Ducks defense is going to be formidable this season. He calls the touted troika in the secondary -- cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III and rover Patrick Chung -- the "Three-Headed Duck" and lauded the hitting ability of speedy linebacker Jerome Boyd ("He's the one guy I try to avoid," Johnson said).
"A lot of offenses are going to have a lot of trouble with our defense," he said.
As for opposing defenses, Johnson's stiff-arm is more than a rhetorical device. Johnson's notorious shake-and-bake should prove he's 100 percent back from his knee injury, and his stiff-arm figures to drive the point home.
"That keeps them on their toes because they don't know when I'm going to throw it," he said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
An afternoon snack, though I'm sure we'd all rather have a plate of bacon.
- Gary Klein at the LA Times points out that USC players who stayed in school got paid.
- The defense is dominating the early going at Washington State, and remember this name: defensive end Kevin Kooyman. Every time you talk Coug football, his name comes up.
- UCLA's touted freshman safety Rahim Moore talks about playing with the first-team defense. And Bruins tailback Kahlil Bell talks about coming back from a knee injury.
- Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano talks about the Jake Locker-Tim Tebow comparisons.
- Academic issues among Washington's incoming freshmen are resolving themselves in positive ways. Another touted former recruit, however, needed to find a new home. J.R. Hasty was the "other" highly rated running back to come out of Washington in 2005 -- the primary guy being Jonathan Stewart, who had a slightly more distinguished career at Oregon.
- Paul Buker gets some reaction from Oregon State receiving a No. 18 preseason ranking from Sports Illustrated.
- Speaking of rankings, the New York Times, which hasn't been kind to the Pac-10, ranked California No. 22. Only Arizona State and USC remain. The others: No. 34 Oregon, No. 41 Oregon State, No. 53 UCLA, NO. 63 Washington, No. 76 Arizona, No. 81 Washington State and No. 90 Stanford.