Pac-12: Jourdon Grandon

Today, we finish our preseason position reviews.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Safety. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT

Arizona: Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis return with a combined 78 starts. On Thursday, Tevis, a former walk-on, was named to the Bronko Nagurski watch list for the nation's best defensive player. Safety is a clear strength for the Wildcats.

Oregon State: Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman both begin Year 3 as starters. Combined, they have 345 career tackles and neither has missed a game the past two years. Murphy was an all-conference honorable mention selection last year.

UCLA: Between Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and Tahaan Goodman, the Bruins are loaded with talent at safety. Both Goforth and Jefferson were named all-conference honorable mention last season, but Goodman has the potential to be the best of the group. Tyler Foreman, a well-regarded recruit, will be coming off his redshirt.

USC: Despite losing Dion Bailey early to the NFL, USC still has the potential to have one of the best safety combinations the conference. Su'a Cravens might have been the best freshman safety in the country last season. Who he'll play next to remains a bit of a question, but if it's Josh Shaw -- who is proven at both safety positions -- or someone else, possibly Leon McQuay III, USC will be in great shape.

GOOD

Arizona State: One of only two returning starters for the Sun Devils on defense is safety Damarious Randall, which, by default, will rise expectations for his performance. The competition for the other starting spot still needs to run its course, but many expect Marcus Ball, who missed last season with an injury, to win the job.

Stanford: Jordan Richards is a potential All-American at strong safety, but the spot opposite him remains the biggest question mark on the Stanford defense. The vacancy, created by Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL, resulted in the coaching staff moving a pair of offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and receiver Kodi Whitfield to safety. Those two will compete with Zach Hoffpauir, who spent the spring playing baseball, and Kyle Olugbode.

WE'LL SEE

California: Much like the case at linebacker, the Bears return several players that have started games, but based on the defense's performance last year, it's hard to generate much optimism. The best thing going for the group is the return of Avery Sebastian, who was a starter before going down with an Achilles tear in the first half of the first game last year (at which point he already had 10 tackles and a pick). He'll likely line up next to Michael Lowe.

Colorado: Jered Bell is back, but the Buffs need to replace Parker Orms, who was a fixture in the starting lineup the last two seasons. Tedric Thompson, Marques Mosley and Terrel Smith have all started games in the past and they'll compete with Ryan Moeller, who is coming off his redshirt.

Oregon: Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson ran out of eligibility which makes safety one of question marks facing Oregon headed into 2014. Pencil in Erick Dargan, a fifth-year senior that has contributed throughout his career, at one spot, but the other isn't as clear. Issac Dixon is probably the favorite, but Tyree Robinson should push him.

Utah: After three years of starting at safety, Eric Rowe split his time between corner and safety in the spring and will likely wind up playing more cornerback. That move leaves the safety spot a little hazy. Tevin Carter, who started his career as a receiver at Cal, went to a junior college and sat out last season due to academic issues, is expected to have one spot. Brian Blechen, who missed last season with an injury, should have the other. Although, Blechen could play linebacker, which would likely result in Charles Henderson at safety.

Washington: The Huskies don't return either starting safety, but have a large group of talented players vying for playing time. It's probably too early to make safe predictions on who will start, but Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker, Kevin King and Thomas Vincent are all in the mix. UW also signed three safeties to its most recent recruiting class.

Washington State: If you were to name the individual player who meant more to his team's defense than any other last season, Deone Bucannon might have been that pick. Without him, the Cougars have a likely pair of starters in Isaac Dotson, a former quarterback, and Taylor Taliulu, who lost his starting job late last year.

Arizona spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
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Three things we learned this spring about the Arizona Wildcats:
  1. The wide receivers are good: How good? Well, that probably depends on the quarterback situation (see below). But Austin Hill is back from injury after being a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2012 and transfer Cayleb Jones is an awards candidate. Davonte' Neal also adds an intriguing element that could make Arizona’s corps one of the best in the country.
  2. Secondary leadership: Key players, such as Jared Tevis, Jonathan McKnight and Jourdon Grandon impressed the coaching staff this spring. However the Wildcats have lost a few defensive backs here and there. So look for a safety -- or even a wide receiver or two -- to get some work at corner in the fall while that trio holds the group together.
  3. Solid line: Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele bring a lot of experience to a group that will have to make holes for a new running back and protect a new quarterback. The addition of Jim Michalczik as offensive line coach last season was a boost to the unit, which showed steady improvement throughout last season and is blossoming into one of the better lines in the league.
Three questions for fall:
  1. QB of the O: Arizona has one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the country. The winner will likely have strong numbers running Rich Rodriguez’s offense. And with a group of wide receivers that stacks up with just about any other in the country, whoever runs the show will not be lacking in talented targets. As for settling on one guy…
  2. QB of the D: The departure of linebacker Jake Fischer leaves a defensive void as well as one in the locker room. Fisher was quietly one of the top linebackers in the league the last few years. Scooby Wright has the talent and will have to grow into a leadership role despite being a sophomore. Hank Hobson has dealt with injuries, but is capable.
  3. Something special: The Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the league last year in kick and punt returns, though significant progress could be on the way with T.J. Johnson and Neal in the return game. Last year the Wildcats were ninth in kick returns (20.5 average) and seventh in punt returns (7.2 average).
One way-too-early prediction: After back-to-back eight-win seasons in Rodriguez’s first two years, the Wildcats will surpass that win total and get to nine wins – which includes a third consecutive bowl win. The nonconference slate sets up for a 3-0 start. Then it’s a matter of finding five conference wins plus a bowl victory. In the third year of RichRod’s system – and with that WR stable – the Wildcats are capable of doing a lot of damage.
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.



Preseason position reviews: safety

August, 1, 2013
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Safety is a strong position in the conference. Only UCLA has almost no experience returning to man the middle of its back-half, while the battle for the two All-Pac-12 teams should be tight.

So how do things stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

[+] EnlargeStanford's Ed Reynolds
Ed Szczepanski/US PRESSWIREStanford's Ed Reynolds had six interceptions last season, returning three for a touchdown.
Stanford: Just as Oregon might have the best combination of cornerbacks in the nation, so do the Cardinal at safety. Ed Reynolds is a preseason All-American and Jordan Richards is an all-conference sort. Devon Carrington -- recall a certain notable play in the Oregon game -- is a strong No. 3. Stanford yielded just 13 touchdown passes last year.

Oregon: The Ducks welcome back Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson, but Avery Patterson is back from injury, so expect him to break back into the starting lineup. Again, this might be the nation's best secondary, with the Cardinal also in that discussion.

Oregon State: We're already on record noting Ryan Murphy could be poised for a breakout season, but veteran Tyrequek Zimmerman also is back. Depth is a little questionable. The Beavers, who welcome back three of four secondary starters, ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

GOOD SHAPE

USC: Although the Trojans lost mainstay T.J. McDonald, they welcome back Josh Shaw, who mostly played corner last year, and Dion Bailey, who mostly played linebacker. Both were mostly out of position and are highly skilled. Throw in big-time talents such as frosh Leon McQuay and Su'a Cravens, and there aren't many teams that wouldn't trade their safeties for USC's. And no more Tampa 2 confusion also should help.

Arizona State: Team leader Alden Darby was second-team All-Pac-12 last season as the Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Redshirt freshman Viliami Moeakiola topped the post-spring depth chart at free safety, but the competition remains open heading into fall camp. Watch out for Damarious Randall.

Washington: Sean Parker is back, and he was honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago. Redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver is competing with experienced senior Will Shamburger for the other spot.

Arizona: Everyone is back in the Wildcats secondary, and just like the cornerbacks, the safeties will look good if the pass rush is at least adequate. Former walk-on Jared Tevis was a revelation last season, while Jourdon Grandon also returns. Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a hybrid linebacker/safety sort. Patrick Onwuasor was kicked off the team.

Washington State: Deone Bucannon was second-team All-Pac-12 last season and he packs a punch, while Casey Locker also is a returning starter. Sophomore Taylor Taliulu is in the mix. What holds the Cougars back here, not unlike Arizona, is poor 2012 pass efficiency defense.

Utah: Eric Rowe is back and he's flashed plenty of potential, but Brian Blechen is -- wisely, the Pac-12 blog thinks -- moving back to linebacker. Though Tevin Carter was listed as an "Or" beside Rowe on the post-spring depth chart, expect him to compete with Tyron Morris-Edwards for the spot opposite Rowe. Charles Henderson offers depth.

California: Michael Lowe is a returning starter, but he was listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart. Avery Sebastian is solid at strong safety. Again, this seems like a solid crew, but Cal gave up 32 touchdown passes last season, second most in the conference.

WE'LL SEE

UCLA: It was a big blow when Tevin McDonald, brother of T.J. and the secondary's lone returning starter, got kicked off the team. It also didn't help when the career of the star-crossed Dietrich Riley ended because of injuries. Sophomore Randall Goforth is the likely starter at free safety, while touted incoming freshmen Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman figure to be in the mix opposite him. There are plenty of opportunities here for youngsters and veterans to make a fall camp move.

Colorado: The Buffaloes lose Ray Polk, but there's no lack of returning experience here among Josh Moten, Terrel Smith, Parker Orms, Marques Mosley and Jered Bell. But, as we noted with the corners, when you rank last in the nation in pass efficiency defense, it's difficult not to rank a "we'll see."

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Linebacker

Defensive line

Cornerback

Charges dropped against Arizona pair

May, 7, 2012
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It appears that two key Arizona players involved in a March brawl will shortly be rejoining the Wildcats after prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal assault and trespassing charges.

Charges against defensive back Jourdon Grandon already have been dismissed, and the lawyer for offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele told the Tucson Star on Friday that he anticipates the same happening for his client soon. From the Star: "City prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss Ebbele's charges on Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear in court again May 17."

Both have been suspended since the March 2 fight at a house party.

Their return would good news for the Wildcats, who don't have enough depth to lose two potential starters.

Ebbele, a 6-foot-8, 310 pounds, was Arizona's starting left tackle last year as a redshirt freshman. Protecting QB Matt Scott is priority No. 1 for the Wildcats in 2012, considering there's zero experience behind him on the depth chart. Grandon can play either safety or cornerback -- he started four games in 2011 at nickel back. He finished with 36 tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles last year. In the Wildcats new 3-3-5 defense, there is obviously a bigger need for quality defensive backs.
A fresh start for a college football coach can turn sour quickly, particularly when a couple of starters decide not only to get into a fight at a party but opt to return for a second go-around, thereby making it an iron-clad certainty they'd get arrested.

Last week, new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez talked about his disappointment with the conditioning of his players. He called them "weak, really weak." Who knew he was also referring to their heads?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/ Arizona Daily Star/Benjie SandersRich Rodriguez already has had to deal with a lack of fitness as well as immaturity from his Arizona players.
Offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele, at 6-foot-8, 310 pounds, has NFL potential after starting as a freshman, and sophomore DB Jourdon Grandon, a four-game starter in 2011, could be key pieces for making Rodriguez's life easier. Instead, they are making it harder by getting charged with first-degree criminal trespassing and assault.

Both are scheduled to appear in Tucson City Court on March 15 -- also involved, safety Jared Tevis and guard Eric Bender-Ramsay were charged with trespassing -- but in the court of public opinion getting into a fight where there are allegations of women being punched tends to inspire a high degree of consternation. While the details of the original report from the Arizona Daily Wildcat are decidedly one-sided -- it's all from accounts from the folks hosting the party where the fights broke out -- this is the sort of thing that shortens a new coach's honeymoon.

And from his experience at Michigan, Rodriguez knows as well as anyone about short coaching honeymoons.

This incident could be forgotten by September, buried under confetti celebrating an early season upset. Or if things start slowly, it could become a centerpiece of an initial round of "We told you so" jabs air-mailed from Ann Arbor.

Here's a not completely fair point: It appears Rodriguez thus far has been unable to persuade his players to buy in 100 percent. He told the Wildcats to keep up their conditioning just after he was hired and they didn't. And he's told them to stay out of trouble, which they didn't. With this incident, even with thinking time -- "Hmm, is driving back to this party a good idea?" -- players opted to seek out a fight, not walk away. Toss in a first recruiting class that didn't make much of an impression, and you can feel a down-tick in the momentum of athletic director Greg Byrne's universally praised hire.

Of course, winning solves problems and makes this sort of stuff go away. The problem is, the Wildcats have plenty of personnel issues on both sides of the ball. Further, the schedule does not set up well for a fast start: a nonconference game with Oklahoma State and visits to Oregon and Stanford before mid-October. And Rodriguez's systems -- a no-huddle, spread-option offense and a 3-3-5 defense -- will require an adjustment period.

If you are looking for a negative comparison -- hey, just call us the party pooper -- consider Tyrone Willingham's ill-fated Washington tenure. Willingham got hired at Notre Dame (a Midwestern power) based on a solid job at Stanford (2000 Rose Bowl) but then was quickly -- and many thought unfairly -- fired after three seasons.

Immediately upon his hiring at Washington, Notre Dame fans, who felt wronged by depictions of Willingham's termination, bombarded Seattle-area media and Huskies message boards with "Just wait! You'll see!" missives.

And guess what? They were right. Willingham was a failure at Washington.

Willingham and Rodriguez are nothing alike, and these notable similarities of career path are purely coincidental. The Pac-12 blog is firmly on board with a high grade for the Rodriguez hire.

But the takeaway here is big-time college football's persistent, sobering reality.

After all the high-fives Rodriguez's hiring inspired, he's not a sure thing. No one is. And be advised, Wildcats fans, that there are likely going to be more stumbles ahead as Rodriguez tries to build the program he wants, with his players and his systems. Recent events are reminders that you might want to stock up on some patience before planning for a long-awaited trip to Pasadena.

Four Arizona players arrested

March, 7, 2012
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Rich Rodriguez has his first crisis at Arizona.

Four Arizona football players, including starting offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele, were arrested early Friday morning after a fight at a house party. Also arrested were sophomore cornerback Jourdon Grandon, sophomore offensive lineman Eric Bender and sophomore safety Jared Tevis.

Ebbele, Grandon and Bender were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing in the first degree and assault. Tevis was arrested on trespassing charges.

The story was first reported by the Arizona Daily Wildcat, and the details it provides are, well, pretty darn horrifying.
According to police records, residents asked Tevis and the other players to leave because they were not invited. One of the men responded by shoving one of the women backwards. The man was later identified as former safety Joshua Robbins. After being shoved, the resident slapped Robbins, who then proceeded to punch her in the face — starting a brawl between the football players and members of the party.

The players left after the brawl, but before leaving said, “We will be back with our homies.” A short time later, the players returned “in a group of between 10 and 30,” and a man later identified as sophomore offensive tackle Fabbians Ebbele forcibly entered the home and “began punching everybody he could reach,” according to the report, including the resident who was initially assaulted and her brother.

People at the party told officers the UA players entered the home and began assaulting male members of the party while several women attempted to stop another fight from happening. One woman was pushed up against the wall by Robbins. Robbins continued to push other female guests and residents.

Members of the party identified Grandon after he “punched a female guest in her face with a closed fist and began punching other females in the face.” Tevis was also present during the altercation but none of the victims observed him assaulting anyone.

Athletic director Greg Byrne released a statement, and a school spokesman said Rodriguez would have no further comment at this time.

"We are taking this matter seriously," Byrne said. "We are cooperating fully with the Tucson Police Department, and disciplinary action will be handled accordingly. Due to federal student-privacy laws, we will have no further comment."

Keep in mind this is just one side of the story. There are no reports of injuries, so it's unclear how far this went as a "brawl." Still, it's hard not to cringe. No matter the conflicting details that are sure to come out, this is without question a case of poor judgment. Salient point: The players returned to the house looking to settle a score. They could have walked away but they opted to escalate the situation.

Hard to believe that, at the very least, some suspensions won't soon be coming. Based on the details above , it wouldn't be surprising if one or more players get dismissed.

Losing Ebbele and/or Grandon would be a big blow. Ebbele, a 6-foot-8, 310 pounds, has NFL potential after starting as a freshman. Grandon almost certainly would have been in the mix to win a job in the Wildcats' new 3-3-5 defense.

A bad show all around, and certainly not the headline Rodriguez was hoping for on the week that his first spring practices in Tucson began.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
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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.

Pac-12 suspends 10 from UCLA-Arizona

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
10:01
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More often than not, a bar-room brawl is entertaining to watch -- in a bar room as well as just before halftime in a college football game -- but it almost always has bad repercussions for the participants.

And that's the case for the 10 Arizona and UCLA players who opted to go nuts with 0:04 remaining before halftime Thursday, immediately after a streaker interrupted play.

The Pac-12 announced suspensions for all 10 Friday night, and neither team has the depth to make the personnel hits not matter.

In the immediate aftermath of the fight, UCLA senior receiver Taylor Embree and Arizona sophomore cornerback Shaquille Richardson were penalized by on-field officials for unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected for fighting. The penalty, by NCAA rule, required the individuals to sit out the second half of the game.

In addition to the on-field penalties assessed to Embree and Richardson, and based on further review of available game footage, the Pac-12 extended an additional one-game suspension for both players.

The suspensions will occur during the next scheduled contest. Both teams play on Oct. 29: UCLA plays host to California, and Arizona is at Washington.

The Pac-12 also suspended eight other players who engaged in the on-field incident. Those penalties are as follows:

UCLA

Sophomore guard Alberto Cid - Half-game suspension

Sophomore wide receiver Randall Carroll - One-game suspension

Sophomore wide receiver Shaq Evans - One-game suspension

Sophomore wide receiver Ricky Marvray - One-game suspension

Sophomore defensive tackle Cassius Marsh - Two-game suspension (consecutive games)

Arizona

Senior cornerback Lyle Brown - Half-game suspension

Junior strong safety Mark Watley - Half-game suspension

Freshman nickelback Jourdon Grandon - One-game suspension

“The Conference is extremely disappointed in the actions of the student-athletes involved in this incident. It is unacceptable behavior and violated Conference rules, as well as NCAA fighting rules. I have taken these actions today because it is imperative that we hold our student-athletes and coaches to the highest standards of sportsmanship,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott

For UCLA, the suspensions will hit an already struggling passing game hard -- three receivers will be out next weekend. Arizona's secondary already has seen multiple starters lost to injury, so losing three defensive backs in advance of a visit to Washington, where it will face quarterback Keith Price and a deep crew of receivers, is especially troublesome.

In other words, these suspension hurt two teams that can't afford to be hurt.

LA Times on the suspension. The Orange County Register. And the Tucson Citizen.

Starting CB goes down for Arizona

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
11:53
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The desert hasn't been good to defensive backs of late.

Arizona lost starting cornerback Jonathan McKnight for the season after it was announced he tore his ACL during Wednesday's practice. The true sophomore, brother to former USC tailback Joe McKnight, has a redshirt year available.

That's not a total disaster because McKnight was one of three good cornerbacks, but his injury makes Shaquille Richardson and Trevin Wade the starters with little margin for error, and bumps true freshman Cortez Johnson up the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jourdon Grandon becomes the nickelback.

McKnight is the third member of the Wildcats' defense to suffer a knee injury this offseason: Safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer were hurt in the spring. Hall and Fischer could return to action in October.

Up I-10 in Tempe, Arizona State also has struggled with injuries, most notably cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee.

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