Pac-12: Justin Davis

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

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.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
PM ET
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous positions

Quarterback

Tuesday mailbag: Can Mac get it done?

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
9:00
AM ET
Just cause it’s the mailbag doesn’t mean I mail it in.

Trojan Nation in (Downtown LA) writes: For the mailbag ... Kevin! You picked USC to lose against Oregon State. You Picked USC to lose against Utah. When are you going to show us Trojans some love and admit that we're a good football team with great talent who are WINNING despite going through what no other college team in college football has to. Would any other team in college football be doing as well as SC is if it had the same restriction put unfairly upon them??? I think not!

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron's Trojans have managed to overcome plenty of obstacles this season.
Kevin Gemmell: I did, and I did. But I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to the ASU fan who berated my Washington pick a couple of weeks ago: Where were the mailbag notes thanking me for my support when I picked USC over Notre Dame and Washington State or Utah State? Though I will admit, your note was far more polite and playful, which is appreciated.

Color me egg-faced, because you’re right, USC is doing some pretty incredible things considering the roller coaster ride the program has been on with the sanctions and the coaching change and the injuries it has sustained.

When it comes to close games, I tend to lean toward the home team. And given USC’s lack of recent success in Corvallis, I took the best data I had available and made a decision. I was wrong. Ted was right, so a tip of the cap to him.

What impressed me most about USC was the power running game. Getting Silas Redd back has obviously helped, but Justin Davis goes down, Tre Madden exits and Buck Allen steps in and absolutely throttles Oregon State. Say this for USC’s depth, it’s bad in a lot of places, but it’s freaking awesome at tailback.

Now the Trojans are 3-1 since the coaching change, playing inspired defense and pushing people around on the lines. So yes, you are a good football team with great talent who is winning.

I’m not sure what to expect from USC down the stretch. But here’s a spoiler alert, I’m going to go out on a limb and pick you guys this week.


Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Nice article on the new coach at CU. I wish them well this weekend and for the rest of the season. Snarky and spiteful? Ouch. I'll try and get back to my playful self. Let's be clear: I don't love UCLA, but Jim Mora's done a nice job and has handled himself admirably. I just think the media loves to over-hype sometimes, and given the Bruins' most impressive performances have been close losses, I do believe they need to win a meaningful game to earn so much praise. Keep up the good work and give your partner-in-crime a shout out, too.

Kevin Gemmell: This is why Ryan is one of my favorite mailbaggers. He flew off the handle a bit last week. I called him on it and had to reel him back in. And he comes right back with another note. The dedication is appreciated.

First, thanks for the kudos on the Mike MacIntyre story. I know the wins and losses aren’t there. And I don’t think anyone expected a massive swing in the win column in just one season. But he’s a proven rebuilder and recruiter, and I think he’s got the program moving in the right direction.

Regarding UCLA, I still consider the win in Nebraska to be a meaningful game. Not just because of the tragic circumstances that led up to it, but simply for how explosive UCLA looked in that second half when everything was clicking. We got a glimpse of a team with remarkable offensive and defensive potential and saw firsthand that when it’s clicking, it can hang with anybody.

Now, it wasn’t clicking the past couple of weeks, and it clicked off and on against Colorado. A lot of that has to do with youth and injuries.

Right now ASU looks like the team to beat in the South. But I’m not banking on anything in this final month. With USC yet to play UCLA, and the Bruins and Sun Devils yet to play Arizona, a lot can, and probably will, happen.


Mahalo in Honolulu writes: Hey Kevin, most of us Buff fans are happy with the new coach, yet are still skeptical on the outlook for the future -- primarily because of recruiting. High school kids don't have any memory of the glory days, the facilities are bleh, and the product on the field is, well, you know. What would you do to sell CU to the kids that can come here and help Mac build the Buffs to a contender?

Kevin Gemmell: Your skepticism is valid. You’ve been jilted a few times over the past five or six years.

I don’t know Mike MacIntyre as well as I do some of the other coaches. We’ve met a few times and speak on the phone every week during the teleconference. And for the story last week, he was gracious with his time and gave me an extended phone interview.

But there is a sense when talking to the man that he’s going to at least get the program back to respectability or go down with the ship trying. He’s a no-excuses guy. His pedigree is phenomenal, and there is no question about his dedication to the program.

That’s what you sell. You buy into the man, not the facilities or the school’s record 25 years ago. Take, for example, linebacker Addison Gillam. He had committed to MacIntyre at San Jose State. And when Mac changed to Colorado, Gillam followed. Here’s a young man who had a chance to go to an 11-win team, ranked in the Top 25 and moving into the Mountain West, a very respected non-AQ conference. But he followed MacIntyre because he believes in the man and the vision. He wants to be a part of something special -- building up a program from scratch and restoring it.

There is something admirable about that. And I think that’s MacIntyre’s greatest asset in recruiting.

And though the wins aren’t there yet, I think we definitely see a fiery, competitive team on the field. One playing with much more confidence than we’ve seen the past couple of seasons.


Daniel in Pittsburg writes: Hey Kevin, as a diehard Stanford fan and family member, I'm curious to know what your projected BCS standings would be if Stanford beats Oregon? I would also like to know if a Baylor victory would also play a role? Thanks Kevin.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesEven if Stanford and Kevin Hogan beat Oregon, the Cardinal may need help from some other teams.
Kevin Gemmell: Everything plays a role. A butterfly flaps its wings in Uzbekistan and the Colley Matrix blue screens.

I think Stanford would still need help, even if it beat Oregon, for the obvious reason that there are still undefeated teams in front of the Cardinal. If Florida State and Ohio State were to lose, then we could see the Cardinal jump into that No. 2 spot if they were to beat Oregon. And if Alabama loses, obviously the rest of the field moves up. So Stanford’s best chance is to beat Oregon and hope for an assist from a Syracuse or Florida, an Indiana or a Michigan, or an LSU or Auburn.

Assuming everyone else wins, Stanford beating Oregon would further supplant Florida State as the No. 2 team and strengthen Ohio State even more as one of the few undefeated teams. Perhaps Stanford gets a couple of No. 2 or No. 3 votes in either of the human polls, but I’m not sure voters would spring them over an Ohio State team that hasn’t lost in almost two seasons.

As for Baylor, I think it would enjoy a nice bump if it beat No. 10 Oklahoma. But I don’t think it would be enough to vault the Bears over Stanford if the Cardinal beat Oregon. If Stanford loses, it’s moot, because it will drop. If Baylor loses, it’s moot, because the Bears will drop. Both teams need to win to keep pace, and I think Stanford’s win would be viewed as more significant, so I don’t see Baylor jumping the Cardinal.


Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: Hey Kev ... Joe Bruin here. As a fan (and a mascot), I seem to be a little too worried about my team, especially after the games against Stanford and Oregon. I concur with Coach Mora when he said the team seemed to have a "hangover" from those games. Is it just me, or did the win against Colorado not look too impressive? Should I be worried about this team? Or will the Bruins get back in the swing of things?

Kevin Gemmell: I’d be concerned about this game coming up. The Bruins haven’t won in Tucson since 2003, Karl Dorrell’s first season, and Ka’Deem Carey is obviously one of the nation’s most elite playmakers. I know a lot of focus is on the Nov. 23 date with Arizona State -- and rightfully so -- but the Bruins still have a couple of tough tests in Arizona and Washington before that showdown.

However, Brett Hundley actually turned in the best quarterback performance of the week, per ESPN’s Adjusted QBR rating (note, adjusted reflects opponent’s strength).

Here’s the other side of it. As I said earlier, Colorado is a better team than it was last fall so give those guys a little credit for coming in and not being intimidated.

I think Colorado provided a nice little test (when was the last time we typed that?) for UCLA to knock off some of the rust from the back-to-back losses. The Bruins figured a few things out, and the offensive line got some more experience.

And Mora has shown that he can rally the troops when they are down. And I wouldn’t call the Bruins down right now. I’d just say they have a tough November ahead of them.

Pac-12 players of the week

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
6:00
PM ET
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with ASU safety Alden Darby as defensive player and Oregon WR/KR Bralon Addison as special teams player.

Some more on the trio per the league’s release:
Mannion, a junior from Pleasanton, Calif., set a school record with six touchdown passes in a single game in the Beavers’ 44-17 victory over Colorado at Reser Stadium. Mannion completed 27 of 52 passes for 414 yards and one interception as the Beavers move to 2-0 in Conference play and 3-1 overall. He now has 21 touchdowns on the year and 52 in his career, good for third-most in program history. Mannion leads the nation in passing yards per game (403.6 ypg) and total offense (390.2 ypg). He is also on pace to throw 50 touchdown passes this season, which would rank fourth in the NCAA record book. The honor is the second for Mannion in three weeks and marks the first Pac-12 multi-award winner in 2013.

Darby, a senior from Long Beach, Calif., racked up two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devil’s 62-41 win at home against USC on Saturday night. His fumble recovery led to an ASU field goal that put the Sun Devils ahead 20-14 before the half, while his 46-yard interception return extended the lead to 34-21 and was the second of four straight ASU touchdowns in the quarter. Darby was also third among tacklers in the game with seven, including five solo tackles.

Addison, a sophomore from Missouri City, Texas., returned two punts for 142 yards and a Conference-record tying two touchdown returns in the Duck’s 55-16 win over California on Saturday. He returned punts of 75 and 67 yards for scores in heavy rains in Eugene and is first in the country in punt return average (36.50 ypg). Thanks to Addison, Oregon is third-best in the nation in punt return average (24.78 ypg).

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running backs/tailbacks Marion Grice of Arizona State, Byron Marshall of Oregon, Justin Davis of USC and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receiver Devon Cajuste of Stanford. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Trent Murphy of Stanford and Princeton Fuimaono of Washington; defensive end Scott Crichton of Oregon State; and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were kickers Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State, Travis Coons of Washington and Oregon State safety Zack Robinson.

Freshmen impact in the Pac-12

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
AM ET


Pretty much every team plays true freshmen. But how much of an impact are those freshmen having on the game? Through four weeks, some have made immediate impacts. Others have seen some mop-up time. Across the ESPN blogosphere this morning, we’re looking at the five teams in each conference who have had freshmen make the greatest impacts on their team.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCal signal-caller Jared Goff is off to a big start in his career.
1. California: The quarterback is the most important position, and anytime you have a true freshman playing quarterback, it’s going to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. So far, quarterback Jared Goff has risen to the occasion, even if it hasn’t translated into wins for the Bears. He leads the country in total offense. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes (103-of-168) and has seven touchdowns to four interceptions. Goff is one of seven true freshmen who have seen time for the Bears. Running back Khalfani Muhammad is tied for second on the team with 21 carries (97 yards, one touchdown).

2. UCLA: The Bruins have played 16 true freshmen so far, which, as of last week, was second in the country only to Texas A&M. Linebacker Myles Jack has had the biggest impact with 14 tackles, including two for a loss and a team-high four pass breakups. They are also getting good production from Eddie Vanderdoes, who had two tackles for a loss against New Mexico State, and offensive lineman Alex Redmond has started all three games at guard.

3. USC: The Trojans have gotten impact performances on both sides of the ball from their freshmen. Seven have seen the field for the Trojans. Safety Su’a Cravens has been as advertised so far with 18 tackles, half a tackle for a loss, and an interception. With Silas Redd out, running back Justin Davis has supplemented Tre Madden nicely. In four games, Davis has rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 47.2 yards per game and a team-high 5.9 yards per carry.

4. Washington State: The Cougars have gotten quality -- not necessary quantity -- out of their true freshmen. They have only played four. But two of them are getting quality playing time and making significant contributions. Cornerback Daquawn Brown made his first career start against USC and posted a team high 11 tackles while breaking up two passes. He also had an interception against Southern Utah. Wide receiver River Cracraft is fourth on the team with 10 catches for 111 yards.

5. Colorado: The Buffs aren’t going as young as they did last year, but they are still getting production from their rookies. And they have found something special in linebacker Addison Gillam. Through two games he’s the Buffs leading tackler with 20 stops -- including a sack, two tackles for a loss and five stops on third down. He also blocked a punt. Defensive end Jimmie Gilbert should also continue to see time. In 64 snaps he has three tackles and a sack.

Honorable mentions

These guys have been impactful, but chances are their teams would still have had success if they weren’t on the field based on quality of competition and/or depth at a position. But their contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • Oregon TE John Mundt: Five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Oregon RB Thomas Tyner: 12 carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Arizona LB Scooby Wright: 13 tackles, three for a loss.
  • Oregon State KR Victor Bolden: 19 returns, 365 yards, 19.2 average.
  • Utah LS Chase Dominguez: Haven’t heard his name before? Good. You shouldn’t. He’s a long snapper.
  • Arizona State K Zane Gonzalez: Has converted 4 of 7 field goals with a long of 40 and is 3-4 inside 40 yards. 13 of 13 on PATs.
  • Washington KR John Ross: Six kick returns for 112 yards (18.7 average). Three punt returns for 16 yards (5.3 average).

Tuesday mailbag: Mannion for Heisman?

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
9:00
AM ET
This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Eric in Redmond, Ore. writes: The Oregon State defense seems to spend large portions of games with their silly hats on. What is going on with them? It seems there is talent at every position, but they play like day-old pancakes with too much syrup on them. On the other hand, how good is Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks!? Can they keep this up all season? If they do, will there be Heisman considerations for either one? I have to say that right now, I think they are both #1 at their respective positions (in the conference).

Evan in New York writes: Sean Mannion has carried the OSU team on his shoulders. Mannion leads the nation in passing and leads the nation in TDs. Not saying he is in contention, but does he at least get a nod from the Heisman pundits? Without him the team could easily be 1-3 now. Or is it really about just propping up the best players on the best teams?

Shane in Corvallis, Ore. writes: Apparently of all Pac-12 teams the Beavers feel the need to give their fans the most heart attacks. What team would you say is the most stress inducing for their fan base?

James in Corvallis writes: Hey Kevin, even though there were question marks at a couple of positions for the Beavers’ defense, there were enough starters back on that side of the ball to expect much better play than they are showing. The entire defense has been missing tackles, missing assignments, and generally overplaying everything. What are your thoughts on why the Beavers’ defense has been sooooooo bad this year and is there any hope that it could turn around?

Kevin Gemmell: Lots of Oregon State fans eager to chat up their Beavers this week, so I’ll lump them all together in one efficient answer.

Oregon State has been hit hard with the injury bug on defense. And I know coaches like to say that’s not an excuse, but it kind of is. When you’re expecting to have your best talent out there -- and don’t -- it’s a valid excuse. Behind closed doors, I’m sure the coaching staff is frustrated that they are thin. There has been a notable drop off at some positions, and it’s especially noticeable in the tackling.

Take the Utah game, for example. In the first half, the defense played great holding the Utes to just a touchdown. Utah had just six rushing yards through the first quarter and didn’t get a first down until the second quarter. The schemes appear to be right. They just need better execution and they have to finish plays.

As for Cooks, in general, wide receivers are seen as a product of their quarterback. So while Cooks has put himself in great shape to be a Biletnikoff finalist, I don’t see any Heisman buzz in his future.

Mannion would have the better chance of the two if he continues his current pace. He’s leading the nation in touchdown passes, passing yards and completions and he’s 12th in QBR rating. Anytime you have a completion percentage in the 70s, you’re doing it right.

But Sir Heisman is a fickle fellow. Remember, it’s as much about perception as it is numbers. And right now the perception of Oregon State isn’t particularly strong. It’s not fair that defensive woes get placed on Mannion’s potential candidacy, but that’s how it goes. If the Beavers can pull off some wins over a couple of the ranked north teams, and he performs well, maybe he generates a little buzz on the West Coast. But he’s going to have to prove that he’s just as capable as Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley before he gets in the conversation.

As for heart attacks, if this is how the Beavers are going to play all year, I’d lay off the Smoked Pork Chili Cheese Burger at Block 15 and go with the Sun Burger.

Tonya in Gresham, Ore. writes: As an old fat woman who loves college football I am wondering why folks aren't talking more about Marcus Mariota as a Heisman candidate. He seems always to be mentioned but as an afterthought. Do the folks on the East Coast realize that his numbers come from just a little over half a game each week? Since he began starting as a QB for Oregon he has only completed 25 percent of his games! Most often sitting out after the first or second series in the third quarter (and we all know that takes only about 5 min off the clock at best). This young man is for real and I as a fan would like to hear more about him!

Kevin Gemmell: First off, you’re gorgeous, Tonya. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

As for Mariota, I think you need to look a little harder. Heading into last week he was atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll and even on a bye week, he distanced himself even further.

I’m not saying the ESPN.com Heisman poll is scripture. But it’s a pretty good sample of writers from across the country who see every conference.

The Ducks open conference play with Cal this week, and then back-to-back road games at Colorado and Washington. They’ll see three ranked teams in the next six weeks, including No. 5 Stanford. That’s the game that will likely make or break his Heisman hopes because the country will be tuning in to see what he’s all about.

Anton in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, love the work you and Ted do with all the PAC-12 teams! I was wondering how much you are excited for the top pass rushing D-linemen potentially in the nation going at it when Will Sutton and Morgan Breslin go at it in Tempe. Who do you think will have the bigger game/impact??? Both teams' O-lines have looked suspect at times this past week.

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks Anton, I’m a huge fan of your work as well.

I think this is going to be one of the great sidebars to this game. How does ASU, which allowed three sacks and 10 tackles for a loss against Stanford, protect Taylor Kelly?
USC did a heck of a job corralling Chuckie Keeton last week, sacking him four times and holding him to minus-15 yards rushing. ASU does a really good job of moving Kelly around. He rarely throws from the same spot in the pocket on consecutive plays. They sprint him out and get him involved in the run game, so that will be a fun cat-and-mouse game between Breslin, Leonard Williams, George Uko and Co.

On the flip side, the Sun Devils blitz like crazy. They love to bring guys. Kessler has already been sacked six times this year, so I guarantee the ASU staff is looking for weaknesses.

Both guys have had success because of others around them, so look for complementary players to have an impact as well.

Both are dominant players, and both should impact the game in their own way.

0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Kevin, I agree with everything you've been writing about Lane Kiffin. But putting USC at #10 in the Power Rankings, below teams that have lost to FCS schools, just seems wrong. I take great pride in the fact that my Trojans have NEVER played, and NEVER lost to, an FCS school. Please consider taking this into account next week when you make the new rankings list.

Kevin Gemmell: While Ted and I consult every Sunday about the Power Rankings, he’s the one who does the final version. And as you can see from this week’s Power Rankings regarding Oregon State, he doesn’t always value my counsel. That's something he'll have to live with.

I feel like Utah’s win -- and USC’s for that matter -- was more impressive than Oregon State’s gift win from the Aztecs. The Beavers had no right trailing that team by as much as they did. And really had no right winning that game. But hey, good for them, and good for the conference going 10-0 against the Mountain West. And the Beavers beat Utah -- and they earned it -- so I can see where Ted is coming from there.

That said, I agree, USC should probably be ahead of Oregon State right now. As noted above, the Beavers have done nothing but give their fan base heart attacks against teams that shouldn’t be competitive against the Pac-12. The Trojans haven’t exactly been stellar offensively, but that defense has really been impressive. And to lock down Keeton the way they did last week, in my mind, should have earned them a bump.

I’ll press Ted harder next week if they beat the Sun Devils. If they don’t, I would only expect southward movement.

Nick in LaLaLand (I’m assuming that’s LA) writes: Hey Kevin, I was at the USC game and paying a little closer attention, wondering if Kiffin would open up the p-book a little. Alas, maybe not so, and the play calling got very conservative in the second half. Here's my questions: 1) when can we start adding PI yardage to Marqise Lee's stat line 2) a win is a win, but it wasn't pretty and was more like Utah State was prevented from winning rather than USC taking the victory. Was last weekend indicative of the mediocrity of BC and does our offense have more troubles ahead? 3) also when was the last time we scored in the thirrd quarter? Yikes. Thanks KG!

Kevin Gemmell: It hasn’t been that long of a drought. Tre Madden ran for a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Boston College. (Wasn’t sure if you were being facetious, but we aim to please on the Pac-12 blog). I’ll check with Larry Scott to see if we can put the “Lee Exemption” into effect for this season. No promises, but he and I are tight, so we’ll try to make it happen.

So we’re clear, Boston College isn’t a great team. It’s better than it was last season, but that's not saying much, so USC did what it’s supposed to do against a team like that.

But you’re right, the play calling continues to be a mystery. The running game is chugging along nicely and you get first-and-goal on the Utah State 1-yard line and it’s play-action pass? I get that Kiffin probably wants his guy to get some confidence with a touchdown pass, but I’d wager Cody Kessler gets more confidence connecting on a 30-yard post than a 1-yard dunk off. There’s something to be said for trying to be overly creative. It’s 1-yard. You’re USC. Run the freaking ball straight ahead and blow that lower-tier Mountain West team off the line.

It feels like Kiffin is pressing so hard to show the world he can be a great play caller that the simplest plays are getting overlooked.

I like what’s happening with Madden and Justin Davis. Through four games the Trojans are averaging 20 more rushing yards per game than they were last year. And they already have six rushing touchdowns after only getting 12 all last season which was second worst in the league ahead of Washington State’s six rushing touchdowns.

But they need to do a better job sustaining drives. They are last in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions (27.5 percent) and bottom third in red zone touchdowns.

At this point, all I can say is be thankful for that defense.

Trojans shed ills, shred Eagles

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
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video LOS ANGELES -- That was exactly what the cardinal and gold doctor ordered.

After a week filled with questions about the passing game and the definition of players-only meetings, the Trojans let their play do all the talking on Saturday with a 35-7 victory over Boston College at the Coliseum.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTre Madden had a touchdown reception to go with this 30-yard TD run.
The Trojans didn’t waste any time in letting the home crowd know that this game would be different from last week as new full-time starter Cody Kessler let fly on the opening play with a deep pass intended for Marqise Lee. The pass was overthrown, but the Coliseum crowd erupted in cheers, an obvious nod to the lack of downfield throws in the loss to Washington State.

“That was [USC president] Max Nikias’ play,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “He said just throw it deep and they will cheer no matter what.”

That was about all that went wrong for Kessler as he hit his next 14 passes. His first six went to six different receivers. By the time the game was over Kessler was 15 of 17 for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Lee against one-on-one coverage from the Eagles defense, which was forced into that coverage since the Trojans were spreading the ball around.

“Coach Kiffin called a great game,” Kessler said. “He put me in position to have some multiple reads, and it was great to have options like that. I’m excited about our overall play. There was whole new confidence this week and I think it showed in our play.”

In addition to the success with the passing game, the Trojans also had a strong showing on the ground as Tre Madden went over 100 yards for the third game in a row and freshman Justin Davis also flashed his potential. That helped lead to 521 yards of total offense and more than 36 minutes time of possession.

Madden was the dominant performer in the first half with a short touchdown catch from Kessler to go along with 13 carries for 65 yards as the Trojans built a 14-0 lead. There were counter running plays, something that had not been a big part of the USC offense to this point, and Madden was taking advantage behind a nice performance from the offensive line.

Madden added a 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 16 carries for 102 yards. The majority of damage on the ground for the Trojans in the second half came courtesy of Davis, the electrifying newcomer who had 96 yards on 10 carries, including a pretty 17-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The most impressive run for Davis came on a 39-yard play where he switched the ball from his inside arm to the outside arm like a seasoned veteran.

“We finished the game on the ground and I’m proud of that,” Kiffin said. “We had 43 rushing attempts and that really helped to open up the play-action passing game.”

The Trojans have rushed the ball 40 times or more in each of the first three games for a total of 130 attempts compared to 79 for their opponents.

As has also been the case so far this season, the USC defense once again played well and put tremendous pressure on the Eagles offense. Boston College featured a four-year starting quarterback in Chase Rettig and a productive running back in Andre Williams, but the Trojans ended the game with eight tackles for loss and didn’t allow an Eagles score until the USC reserves were in the game in the fourth quarter.

“I thought our first defense was lights out,” Kiffin said. “We were worried about their running back because we hadn’t played a Power I offense yet. It was all about tackling for the defense and I thought they did a great job. To give up only 184 total yards shows we did that well.”

Williams finished with 38 yards on 17 carries after rushing for 318 yards in the first two games of the year.

The Trojans improve to 2-1 on the season and return home next Saturday to take on Utah State. The victory over an outmanned Boston College team doesn’t mean that all of the early-season issues are gone for Kiffin and his team, but it was certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.

Kiffin: QB questions part of the job

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
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Lane Kiffin has come to terms with the fact that no one wants to talk about the high points of Thursday's win over Hawaii.

They don't want to discuss that his Trojans traveled to an awkward time zone and won by 17 points; or that his remodeled, remolded defense played its first game in the new scheme and tallied four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, eight tackles for a loss and seven sacks.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireDespite the constant questions, Lane Kiffin is not going to rush his decision on the USC QBs.
After all, it's USC -- where good enough is hardly ever good enough, and criticisms come easier than kudos. Whatever criticisms the media has of Kiffin, and it’s usually not shy about sharing them, Kiffin and USC are 1-0. Three other Pac-12 teams would love to be in that position -- one of which was previously ranked. In Kiffin’s mind, the win is all that matters.

And he’s right. Agree or disagree with the way Kiffin captains his ship, calls his plays or manages his personnel, he’s right. It wasn’t always pretty against Hawaii, especially offensively. But it was a win.

“I’ve gotten over that frustration over the years of being here,” Kiffin said. “It is what it is. You sense that immediately in the postgame news conference when you come out to the media. There’s not a lot of questions about the brand new freshmen making plays. Significant plays. Justin Davis almost going for 100 yards. Su’a Cravens getting an interception on the fourth play of his career. The questions are always about something negative. It is what it is.”

At the root of those questions is the fact that USC’s quarterback soap opera has played out very publicly since the Sun Bowl loss last season. It’s certainly been a sore point with fans. That Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will likely go through the same first-half/second-half routine against Washington State after months of evaluation speaks to the divide between loyal followers and their head coach. No longer is there a Wittek camp vs. a Kessler camp. There is simply a pick-a-starter-already-camp vs. Kiffin.

But he’s not going to rush it. So expect both to play.

“I don’t think anything is ever certain,” Kiffin said when asked if both will see the field. “We’ll go in the game and see what happens and see how the game plays out. ... Our job is to win the game. Do the best that we can with the amount of players that we have and answer all of the questions and get to the next game.”

USC athletic director Pat Haden has shown unwavering support for his coach, though it’s widely believed that Kiffin has the hottest seat in the country and this is a make-or-break season. Finding the guy to replace Matt Barkley is a big decision -- one that could determine his future at USC. If he needs a couple extra weeks to make it, so be it. With the caveat that they are winning.

Neither Kessler nor Wittek looked particularly crisp in Week 1. Kessler was 10 of 19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wittek was 5 of 10 for 77 yards. The gameplan was a conservative one, to say the least. And neither got great play from an offensive line that looked more suspect than solid. As is usually the case, there is more at play than simply the quarterbacks.

So this week Kiffin will be looking for improved consistency across the board. For example, a more efficient performance in the pass attack (they combined for 51 percent); better production on third down (USC was 3 of 14) and better production in the red zone. USC was 4 of 4 inside the 20, but twice settled for field goals.

Kiffin offered this earlier in the week when asked to compare his quarterbacks: “I think they’ve become more similar over time because they’ve worked on the weaknesses in their game. There’s not much different when the guys are in there.”

And therein lies the problem. Kiffin doesn’t need two guys who are the same. He needs one who can be good enough to consistently get the job done. Until that happens, the current line of questioning will likely continue -- even if they keep winning.
While the USC passing offense sputtered throughout a good portion of the team’s 30-13 victory over Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans showcased a ground game that was effective from the get-go -- even without the services of veteran ball carriers Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan. This success was in large part due to a couple of tailbacks who were making their collegiate debuts in the backfield -- redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and true freshman Justin Davis.

Keying a rushing attack that generated 192 yards against the Rainbow Warriors -- over 40 yards more than USC averaged a season ago -- both players ran with confidence and physicality, reflecting the mindset that the Trojans coaching staff worked hard to instill during the offseason. Not surprisingly, Madden and Davis drew praise from USC head coach Lane Kiffin on his Sunday night media call.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSophomore Tre Madden ran for 109 yards in his first in-game running back action since high school.
“I thought that the run game was very efficient, especially for two running backs that had never played running back in a college game ever before,” Kiffin said.

It was Madden -- who played sparingly at linebacker and on special teams as a freshman before sitting out the 2012 season after tearing ligaments in his knee -- who led the way, getting the nod as the starter and rushing 18 times for a game-high 109 yards. And despite the fact that he hadn’t seen action in a live game since Nov. 26, 2011, the former Mission Viejo (Calif.) standout quickly settled into his role.

“After the first play I was back in the swing of things,” said Madden following the Trojans’ practice on Tuesday. “The nerves were building up before the game, and it was a long day leading up to it, but once I got on the field everything felt good. I felt comfortable with the game plan, the offensive line did well and [fullback] Jahleel [Pinner] did well in front of me. It definitely felt good to get that game out of the way and under my belt. Now I can look forward and just concentrate on getting better every week.”

Davis, who enrolled at USC this past January after starring at Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, had the pregame jitters as well. But like his older counterpart, they were overcome once he took his first carry late in the first quarter.

“I was definitely nervous beforehand, but that’s just a normal part of the game,” Davis said. “Once you get into it and get a couple of snaps, it’s just like it is in high school.”

Amassing 74 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Davis’ rushing total would have possibly exceeded the century mark if not for a 15-yard loss that he took on a play where he recovered his own fumble. Still, as a whole, there’s more than a few positives that the young freshman can take away from his outing.

“I can definitely build off of my performance,” Davis said. “Experience is one of the best things you can have. The more experience that I get, the better I’m going to be.”

In Davis and Madden, as well as Javorius Allen -- who chipped in with 18 yards on four carries -- Kiffin and Co. found a rotation at tailback that could wind up being the ultimate formula for success ... at least as far as the USC run game is concerned.

“As a running back corps we all jelled together, and you could see that in the game,” Davis said.

Added Madden, “As a whole, I think the tailback unit did some good things. It was awesome having that three-running back rotation.”

Up next for the Trojans is a Washington State defense that, while fast and aggressive, did give up 297 yards on the ground last Saturday to Auburn.

Focused on taking the next step in their progression as a group, however, you can be certain that the USC tailbacks won’t be taking any opponent for granted.

“They fly around on defense,” said Madden on what he’s seen of the Cougars on film. “We just need to have physical practices -- like we did today -- to get ready. We need to get the game plan down and just get better every day.”

Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Aug. 15 

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
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The Pac-12 has a chance to gain two big commitments over the coming days, but those won’t be the only eventual newcomers who will make an impact. And one of the conference’s heavyweights could have plenty to sell this fall.

Another Saturday commitment

USC Trojans spring wrap

May, 8, 2013
5/08/13
7:30
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USC TROJANS

2012 record: 7-6

2012 conference record: 5-4

Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; special teams: 1

Top returners: WR Marqise Lee, TB Silas Redd, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Randall Telfer, OL Kevin Graf, DL Leonard Williams, OLB/DE Morgan Breslin, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Dion Bailey

Key losses: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, OL Khaled Holmes, DL Wes Horton, DB T.J. McDonald, DB Nickell Robey, RB Curtis McNeal, P Kyle Negrete

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Silas Redd* (905 yards, 9 touchdowns)

Passing: Matt Barkley (3,273 yards, 36 touchdowns)

Receiving: Marqise Lee* (1,721 yards, 14 touchdowns)

Tackles: T.J. McDonald (112)

Sacks: Morgan Breslin* (13)

Interceptions: Dion Bailey* (4)

Spring Answers

1. Agholor is ready to go: USC has been fortunate to have a pair of dynamic receivers recently in Woods and Lee. With Woods taking his talents to Buffalo, the question of who will fill that second receiver spot was answered resoundingly in the spring with a terrific performance by Agholor. It’s not a complete surprise to see this happen, as Agholor had shown flashes as a true freshman, but it was a bit of a shock to see him at such a high level. With Lee sidelined for much of spring with a minor knee injury, Agholor stepped up and was the most consistent offensive performer of spring.

2. New defense gets positive reviews: The offseason arrival of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast also brought a new 5-2 scheme for the Trojans, and there was a lot of anticipation to see how things would fit. After 15 practices, the results were fairly solid, especially in the front seven. The defensive line looks strong in the middle -- led by Williams and George Uko -- while Breslin picked up where he left off last fall with 3.5 sacks in the spring game. Pullard looks set at one inside linebacker spot with much-improved Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao still fighting it out for the other open spot.

3. Early enrollees as good as advertised: The Trojans took advantage of the early enrollee signing period by bringing in seven freshmen to take part in the spring session. It was a star-studded group led by QB Max Browne and S Su'a Cravens. All seven had moments showing why they were so highly touted with the most impressive all-around performance coming from tailback Justin Davis, who had Lane Kiffin saying he could push for the starting job in the fall.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback battle: The most high-profile position battle didn’t get settled in spring, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes when there is no decision, it’s because nobody is playing well -- that’s not the case here. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek have both shown enough to take over the starting spot after being in the program for two full years. Kessler was steady and came away with the unofficial nod as the projected starter from most practice observers. Wittek missed some time with a knee injury but still showcased the strong arm that will keep this battle going into fall camp. Browne will likely redshirt this year behind those two, but his talent is obvious.

2. Filling the cornerback spots: The need to get things settled at cornerback is the biggest concern coming out of spring. There were simply too many big plays from the USC receivers against a defensive scheme that needs the corners to be effective in coverage. It’s such a glaring problem that Kiffin said he will likely move Josh Shaw from safety to corner in the fall. Shaw had played corner last fall, but he moved to safety in the spring and was the best player in the secondary. The good news is that the Trojans should have plenty of bodies at safety to absorb the loss.

3. Impact of injuries and physical practices: There was a lot made of the fact that the Trojans were going to increase hitting in practice as part of the plan to be more physical in 2013. Kiffin had elected not to hit last fall in part to keep the team healthy with reduced roster numbers, but he ultimately decided that tackling in practice was simply too necessary. Then the injuries started to hit and by the time the end of spring rolled around, the Trojans had 20 players on the sidelines with various ailments, and they couldn’t tackle in the spring game. It’s unclear what the practice policy will be in the fall on this important issue.
The offseason is the season of lists. And here's another.

Athlon Sports ranked the Pac-12 running backs, 1-20, and offered a breakdown of each player for your reading pleasure.

It's a pretty solid list, with maybe one or two position flips. But overall, it's a good assessment of the running back talent in the league and an example of just how deep the conference is at the position. As a reminder, the league produced six 1,000-yard rushers last season, the national rushing leader and two of the three Doak Walker finalists. Only two of those six are back -- and, yes, they are highly ranked.

Here's Athlon's take:
  1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
  2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
  3. Bishop Sankey, Washington
  4. Silas Redd, USC
  5. Marion Grice, ASU
  6. Storm Woods, Oregon State
  7. Brendan Bigelow, California
  8. Byron Marshall, Oregon
  9. D.J. Foster, ASU
  10. Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford
  11. Christian Powell, Colorado
  12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
  13. Thomas Tyner, Oregon
  14. Barry Sanders, Stanford
  15. Kelvin York, Utah
  16. Paul Perkins, UCLA
  17. Jordon James, UCLA
  18. Justin Davis, USC
  19. Terron Ward, Oregon State
  20. Teondray Caldwell, Washington State

Some thoughts:
  • The top three make sense -- and the order of those three could really fall into personal preference because all three could be No. 1. If you're looking for a "traditional" running back, then you could probably put Sankey over Thomas. But DAT does so much more than just run the football and is so explosive that I could see him at Nos. 1, 2, or 3. Carey's credentials certainly warrant the top spot and the Pac-12 blog is very high on Sankey, as you can see from here and here. Expect to see more from him in the receiving game as well in 2013.
  • Personally, I'd put Grice ahead of Redd. As Ted pointed out earlier in the week, the Pac-12 is home to the hybrid back and Grice is a super dynamic. And the way ASU uses its backs in the passing game, it will equate to huge total yardage numbers for Grice and Foster. I do think we'll see more ground game from the Trojans this year, which could also mean bigger numbers from Redd. A few guys behind him though who could steal some carries.
  • The Pac-12 blog is a big fan of Woods and we're expecting an even bigger year in 2013. The Beavers were 53-47 in the pass to run ratio, which is good balance. But the passing game was more productive than the ground attack, which ranked 10th in the league last year. As Woods develops (and Ward is a solid change-of-pace back), we're expecting to see those numbers even out.
  • Between Bigelow, Marshall and Foster, Foster was more productive last year (1,026 total yards, six combined touchdowns) compared to Marshall (461, 4) and Bigelow (523, 4) -- but Bigelow and Marshall certainly have explosive potential. Foster should also see increased productivity with Byron's brother, Cameron, gone at ASU. You could easily interchange all three at all three spots and make a solid case for their placement.
  • Stanford and Oregon are the only schools with three backs on the list. Gaffney's return certainly bolsters the Cardinal running back corps -- but neither he nor Wilkerson have had to carry the load the way Stepfan Taylor, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, did the previous seasons. That continues to be one of the most intriguing position battles of the offseason.
  • Very excited to see what 6-0, 240-pound bruiser Christian Powell can do in the pistol.
  • As I've mentioned on previous Athlon lists, I'm not a huge fan of ranking players who haven't taken snaps yet -- but in the case of Sanders and Tyner, I can buy that. Sanders has arguably the best offensive line in the country ahead of him and Tyner fits an offense that makes great running backs better.
  • York showed some potential last year when he started sharing some carries with two-time 1,000-yard rusher John White, but he missed three games with an ankle injury late in the season. It will be interesting to see what he does over the course of the season and how the running game plays into Utah's new offensive philosophy in the Dennis Erickson-Brian Johnson brain trust.
  • Big hole at UCLA. Anyone have a five-sided coin?
  • Washington State averaged 29.1 rushing yards per game last year. And unless Mike Leach is secretly switching to the triple option, any mention of a WSU running back doesn't feel particularly applicable.
Lane Kiffin and Co. have released their official post-spring two-deep depth chart. And not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of surprises.

One of the most watched quarterback competitions in the country lists Max Wittek OR Cody Kessler OR Max Browne. Leaving us with what we knew a month ago. It's going to be Wittek OR Kessler OR Browne.

Steve Bisheff of WeAreSC makes his case -- and a compelling one at that -- for Kessler, who clearly had the strongest spring of all three quarterbacks.
Despite Kessler's clear advantage coming into the (spring) game, Kiffin had Max Wittek starting with the first unit at the Coliseum on Saturday. And even after Kessler outplayed his main competitor, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions compared to Wittek's 145 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, Kiffin insisted that no quarterback had emerged as a front-runner for the position and that he won't name a starter until the fall.

Sticking with the offense, there was already an assumed pecking order at wide receiver, but it's more solidified now. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are behind Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor will start opposite Lee with De'Von Flournoy and George Katrib backing him up.

Some intrigue at running back with Silas Redd at the top, but the starting gig is listed as Redd or Justin Davis or Tre Madden. Same for the fullback, which lists Soma Vainuku or Jahleel Pinner as the starter.

So while the entire offensive backfield is a grab bag of "ors," there is at least some solidarity on the offensive line, where four of the five starters appear to be in place. Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk make up the left side with Marcus Martin at center and John Martinez at right guard. The only spot still in doubt is at right tackle between Kevin Graf or Chad Wheeler.

The new-look 52 defensive front has Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin at the outside linebacker spots (that's going to be a scary combination, by the way) with Leonard Williams and George Uko (also a darn good tandem) at the ends. Nose tackle is still up for grabs between Antwaun Woods or Cody Temple.

In the secondary, where there are almost as many holes as there are questions -- little has been determined. Three of the four starting spots have an "or" attached to them. Only Anthony Brown looks like the inked-in starter. Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour are battling for the other corner spot and Demetrius Wright or Leon McQuay III are battling for free safety. Josh Shaw and touted freshman Su'a Cravens -- who missed a significant portion of spring drills -- will head into fall battling for strong safety.

RecruitingNation links: Pac-12 edition

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
5:00
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DuckNation
From Brandon P. Oliver Insider: Four Oregon targets, led by 2014 DB prospect Arrion Springs (San Antonio/Roosevelt), put up strong efforts at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp over the weekend.

WeAreSC
From Johnny Curren: Justin Davis just arrived on USC's campus a couple of months ago, but he's already made a big-time impression and is pushing for immediate playing time.

From Blair Angulo Insider: Michael Hutchings didn't enroll with the Trojans early, but he's already itching to get on campus. Meanwhile, 2014 Watch List RB Nathan Starks (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) earned a scholarship offer from Lane Kiffin & Co.

RecruitingNation links: Pac-12 edition

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
6:30
PM ET
DuckNation
From Brandon P. Oliver Insider: 2014 QB Manny Wilkins, who has not been shy in expressing his interest in the Ducks, put up another strong performance at the Elite 11 regionals in Texas on Saturday.

WeAreSC
From Greg Katz Insider: The No. 37 player in the ESPN 150, Leon McQuay III has been as good as advertised for the Trojans. He picked USC in part because of the school's music program, and he's turned into the team's hitmaker from his safety position.

From Steve Bisheff Insider: As the Trojans gear up for Saturday's spring game, lots of questions remain unanswered: Who will be the quarterback? Is the defense really improved? And just how good is freshman RB Justin Davis?

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