Pac-12: Justin Washington

My dad left home when I was eight. You know what he said to me? Have fun, stay single.

Pac-12 lunch links: Lobbestael to start

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
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It is very painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind.

Pac-12 lunch links: Bolden coming back?

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
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I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

Good to great: Who makes the jump?

August, 12, 2011
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Who goes from good to great in the Pac-12 in 2011?

By this we mean which player goes from an above-average player to an all-conference sort? Here's some guess, one per team.

(And we don't want to include any players from this list).

DT Justin Washington, Arizona: Washington started fast as a redshirt freshman in 2010 then got banged up. If he stays healthy and takes a step forward, he's got a chance to be all-conference.

WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: The 6-foot-4, 222-pound senior has always looked the part. He just didn't play it. He played it this past spring, and he should put up big numbers in an offense that wants to throw it a lot.

[+] EnlargeKennan Allen
Dave Stephenson/Icon SMICal's Keenan Allen had 46 catches for 490 yards and five touchdowns last season.
WR Keenan Allen, California: Allen is a major talent. With his half-brother, Zach Maynard, playing quarterback, you'd think he's going to get plenty of chances to show it.

WR Paul Richardson, Colorado: Richardson is an A-list receiver on a team without much depth at the position. If he stays healthy, he's got a good shot to approach -- or eclipse -- the 1,000-yard receiving mark.

LB Michael Clay, Oregon: Smart and athletic -- very quick -- Clay saw a lot of action last year, and he did nothing to suggest he won't meet high expectations.

S Lance Mitchell, Oregon State: There are a lot of good safeties in the Pac-12. Mitchell, an NFL prospect, might be the most underrated of them all.

OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford: Very quietly piled up 14.5 sacks over the past two seasons but only earned honorable mention all-conference honors. Expect an upgrade when he gets double-digit sacks this fall.

DE Datone Jones, UCLA: Jones is like a super-secret guy who only folks who've watched UCLA practice the past two years know about. He was a nice player in 2009 who was expected to break out last year. Then he missed the entire season with a broken foot. If he stays healthy, he WILL be an all-conference player. Write it down.

DE Nick Perry, USC: Another talented guy -- the junior is firmly on the NFL radar -- who's been consistently riddled by injuries. If he stays healthy, he and Jones will be opposite each other on the all-conference team.

DT Star Lotulelei, Utah: At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, he looks the part. By the end of the 2010 season, he played the part, too. Coach Kyle Whittingham believes he's a budding star in more than his name, and we concur.

OT Senio Kelemete, Washington: A two-year starter, he's the Huskies' most experienced O-lineman. Coach Steve Sarkisian has been singing his praises for a long time. A breakthrough year?

SS Deone Bucannon, Washington State: He led the Cougars in tackles as a true freshman and made plenty of big plays (see: two interceptions and two forced fumbles). He also made some mistakes. Expect the mistakes to go down and the big plays to go up.
No team in the Pac-12 wows you at defensive tackle. No team is a sure thing. There is a lot of "maybe" at the position. And probably some maybe not.

The uncertainty of quality -- both in terms of returning stars and depth -- made this a difficult position to rank. For example, Washington has a nice foursome at tackle, led by Alameda Ta'amu, who might be the best tackle in the conference.

That's great. Good for the Huskies. But they ranked 97th in the country in run defense last year. You sort of pause over that, you know?

So a lot of this ranking is feel thing, a projection of potential. And "great shape" here is relative to the conference. Nebraska, for example, wouldn't exchange its tackles -- Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler -- for any Pac-12 tandem.

Some of this figures to inspire a bit of debate.

Great shape

USC: This may be in some part based on fumes from the Trojans reputation at the position. It definitely includes a vote of faith that they will get a 100 percent Christian Tupou back from the knee injury that killed his 2010 season. If so, the threesome of Tupou, George Uko and DaJohn Harris is strong. And if you toss in Armond Armstead -- who missed spring with an undisclosed medical condition that threatens his career -- you'd have a clear No. 1.

Washington: Ta'amu seemed to find himself during the second half of last year, and the 330-pounder could end up getting some All-American consideration if he consistently plays like he did against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Sione Potoa'e and Semisi Tokolahi are both experienced, and Lawrence Lagafuaina a space-grabbing, 344-pound redshirt freshman.

Colorado: The Buffaloes are sneaky good here, even though they only ranked 48th in the nation in run defense in 2010. Both starters, Will Pericak and Curtis Cunningham, are back, but Conrad Obi was a revelation this spring. He looked like a future NFL draft choice, not a player who'd mostly been a bust. Nate Bonsu, who missed spring with a knee injury, also should help.

Good shape

Utah: The Utes, who ranked 11th in the nation in run defense in 2010, lost Sealver Siliga, but they believe they have a budding star in, er, Star Lotulelei, while James Aiono, LT Tuipulotu and Joape Peta are solid. Also, Dave Kruger, who played end this spring, is 280 pounds and can play inside.

Arizona: The loss of backup Willie Mobley to a knee injury hurts depth, but Justin Washington figures to take a step forward after an impressive true freshman season, Sione Tuihalamaka started four games in 2010. Depth is a question. The Wildcats ranked 33rd in the nation in run defense last fall.

Oregon: On the one hand, Oregon lost both starting defensive tackles in Brandon Bair and Zac Clark from a unit that ranked 27th in the nation in run defense. On the other, they played so many guys last fall, the new starters are experienced players. Further, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert played well enough this spring to suggest the position will be a strength in the fall.

Arizona State: If Lawrence Guy didn't make his ill-fated decision to enter the NFL draft, the Sun Devils, who were 16th in the nation against the run last fall, would be in great shape here. As it was, Will Sutton had a great spring and looks like a potential All-Conference guy. Grinder Bo Moos is listed as the starter at the other tackle, though he could be eclipsed by Corey Adams. Toa Tuitea saw limited action last year.

UCLA: The Bruins defensive line was terrible last year, ranking 108th in the nation against the run, but the talent is there for a significant turnaround. Cassius Marsh, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Donovan Carter and Seali'i Epenesa should do a much better job plugging the middle.

California: Cal is actually fine here, despite the loss of NG Derrick Hill. For one, when you run a 3-4 defense, it's hard to rate your DTs, even if your DEs often operate like them. The Bears have two solid options at NG in Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne, and it's also possible that touted 350-pound incoming freshman Viliami Moala will eclipse both of them.

We'll see

Oregon State: Dominic Glover moves inside from end and Kevin Frahm has experience, but this unit didn't play well last year -- 89th in run defense -- even with one of the best DTs in the nation in Stephen Paea. 340-pound Castro Masaniai could help but he missed spring after shoulder surgery and has off-field issues. There's also Mana Tuivailala and Ben Motter.

Stanford: Like Cal, Stanford runs a 3-4, so it naturally it is going to suffer a bit in DT rankings. More important: The loss of Sione Fua is significant. Terrence Stephens and Henry Anderson had solid springs but neither has much experience.

Washington State: Brandon Rankin, a returning starter, was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Anthony Laurenzi after spring practices, with redshirt freshman Toni Pole No. 1 at the other tackle. Justin Clayton, Steven Hoffart and Xavier Cooper provide depth. It's not unreasonable for Cougars fans to expect improvement, perhaps significant improvement. But a team that ranked 115th in the nation in run defense the previous season is automatically a "We'll see" here.

Indispensable player: Arizona

July, 5, 2011
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See your team in your mind's eye -- 24 starters, including specialists.

If you could put an absolute halo of safety -- perhaps a girdle of indestructibility? -- around just one, who would it be?

We're rating each team's most indispensable player. And when the choice is too obvious -- say, Stanford -- we'll try to offer a second choice.

Up first: Arizona.

DT Justin Washington

You felt certain this would be Nick Foles, didn't you? And the uncertain status of receiver Juron Criner easily volunteers him as a possibility, too. But Arizona may have the best backup quarterback in the conference in Matt Scott, and it also is very deep at receiver. Instead, we think losing Washington would leave a huge void in the Wildcats' defensive line and entire defense. Start with this: Without Washington, the Wildcats would be without any returning starters on their D-line. Second, backup tackle Willie Mobley blew out his knee playing basketball, so the position already has taken a hit. The other first-team DT, Sione Tuihalamaka, is a solid player, but he had just 23 tackles last year. Washington was a force as a true freshman early in the season until he got banged up. He finished with 11.5 tackles for a loss, which was second on the team. Finally, the Wildcats already have lost two returning defensive starters to knee injuries -- two of their best players, in fact -- in linebacker Jake Fischer and safety Adam Hall. Losing Washington would be a hit not only in terms of production, it also would be demoralizing for the unit.

Spring wrap: Arizona

May, 9, 2011
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ARIZONA

2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 5, Defense: 5, punter/kicker: kicker

Top returners

QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner, LB Paul Vassallo, DT Justin Washington, CB Trevin Wade

Key losses

C Colin Baxter, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore

2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Keola Antolin* (668)

Passing: Nick Foles* (3,191)

Receiving: Juron Criner* (1,233)

Tackles: Paul Vassallo* (102)

Sacks: Ricky Elmore (11)

Interceptions: Joseph Perkins, Adam Hall*, Shaquille Richardson* (2)

Spring answers

1. Set at QB: With starter Nick Foles and backups Matt Scott and Bryson Beirne, no team in the conference will be as comfortable at quarterback. Foles is a three-year starter and All-American candidate who likely will be a high NFL draft pick. The hope is to redshirt Scott so he can return in 2012 and compete for the starting job with Rutgers transfer Tom Savage, but if Scott is needed he can seamlessly step in. Toss in the veteran Beirne, and you have a troika that combined for 31 completions, 380 yards and four scores in a 60-play scrimmage.

2. Deep at receiver: This is without question the deepest corps of receivers in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation, starting with All-American candidate Juron Criner. Texas transfer Dan Buckner provides another big target, and David Douglas, David Roberts, Richard Morrison, Terrence Miller, Austin Hill, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton provide plenty of options for Foles. Yes, the Wildcats should be able to pass this fall.

3. Secondary not really an issue: Free safety Adam Hall is a budding star, so you can't write off his knee injury this spring, but the Wildcats are fairly stacked in the secondary. Robert Golden can move back to strong safety from cornerback, while Trevin Wade, Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson give the defense three strong options at cornerback. Marquis Flowers is a rising star at safety. Of course, it would be nice to get Hall back at some point this season.

Fall questions

1. Young on the offensive line: There was optimism about the five new offensive line starters this spring, but, heck, it's five new offensive line starters. That's not an easy thing in the Pac-12. It typically takes a young line time to develop chemistry, so it will be interesting to see how the process goes for the Cats. Redshirt freshman tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele looked solid, as did junior Trace Biskin and sophomore Chris Putton at the guards. Junior center Kyle Quinn is the only guy with a start to his credit (one, in the Alamo Bowl).

2. Help wanted at linebacker: The Wildcats welcomed back all three starting linebackers from 2010 until Jake Fisher went down late in the spring game with a knee injury. That brought up an issue: Sure, the starters were back but there was little to no depth behind them, particularly after two backups who were expected to return in 2011 quit the team. That means incoming freshmen will be thrown immediately into the mix: Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Domonique Petties.

3. Edge rush? The Wildcats are replacing three defensive ends who were selected in the NFL draft, including Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, multi-year starters who combined for 17.5 sacks last fall. Converted linebacker C.J. Parish was a breakout player this spring, and Mohammed Usman is solid. Still, just how good will the edge pressure be with this much inexperience?

Returning sackmen in the Pac-12

May, 5, 2011
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The Pac-12 will be loaded with outstanding passers in 2011, but those guys are less effective when they don't have any time to throw.

After previously looking at top returning passers, rushers, tacklers, receivers and ball hawks -- interceptions -- we move on to the returning players with the most sacks.

Four of the top-five sackmen are returning in 2011, and three of them were sophomores or younger last fall. So there should be some pretty good pressure this fall.

Here's the list:

1. Mychal Kendricks, Sr., LB, California (8.5 sacks): Kendricks ranked second in the conference in sacks last fall, but he may get fewer in 2011 because he's moving from outside to inside linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 scheme.

2. Shayne Skov, Jr., LB, Stanford (7.5): Of course, maybe playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme doesn't kill sack numbers -- see Skov, who piled up this total in just 11 games. Skov and Kendricks are in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 as well as All-American honors.

3. Chase Thomas, Jr., OLB, Stanford (7.5): Thomas is an underrated player who figures to get more attention this year. He and Skov are big reasons the Cardinal led the conference with 36 sacks in 2010.

4. Josh Hartigan, Sr., DE, Colorado (7.0): As a former inside linebacker, he's undersized -- 6-foot-1, 215 pounds -- but he's an agile pass-rush specialist. Of his 24 tackles in 2010, seven were sacks. Note: Colorado would have had a second player on this list -- junior Forrest West, who had 5.5 sacks last year -- but he left the team.

5. Junior Onyeali, So, DE, Arizona State (6.5): At 5-11, 233, he's not the most intimidating presence on the edge, but if the QB ends up on his rear end, it doesn't matter how tall you are. The conference's defensive freshman of the year looks to build on a huge debut season.

6. Justin Washington, So., DT, Arizona (6.0): Likely the player who finished second to Onyeali in the defensive freshman of the year voting. Washington started fast and then got banged-up. When healthy, he looked like a budding star inside.

7. Travis Long, Jr., DE, Washington State (5.0): The Cougars finished tied for last in the conference in sacks with just 23 (tied with, surprisingly, Arizona State). Long's numbers will go up if the other members of the Cougs' front four garner more respect in 2011.

Onyeali, Washington and Long each sat out spring with injuries but are expected to be good-to-go this fall.

Whom to watch for in 2011: Arizona DE C.J. Parish, ASU DE James Brooks, Cal DE Trevor Guyton, Oregon DE Dion Jordan, Oregon State DE Taylor Henry, UCLA DE Datone Jones, USC DE Nick Perry, Utah DE Joe Kruger, Washington DE/OLB Josh Shirley and Washington State DE Ian Knight.

Arizona spring notes

April, 14, 2011
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- It was just a short, shells -- shorts and shoulder pads -- practice Thursday at Arizona, but even then there was plenty of "wow" in the downfield passing game.

No team in the Pac-12 can offer up two quarterbacks as good as Nick Foles and Matt Scott. No team in the Pac-12 can match the Wildcats depth and talent at receiver.

That's the good news. Questions, though, remain, starting with five new starters on the offensive line.

"We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that," coach Mike Stoops said.

As for folks questioning the line, Stoops understands and has no problem with it. He hopes it bothers them.

"They'll hear about it," Stoops said. "I think that will serve as motivation."

On defense, the Wildcats must replace defensive ends Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed. And it's not good that talented safety Adam Hall is standing on the sidelines with a surgically repaired ACL.

Some notes from Arizona practice -- two days before Saturday's spring game -- after chats with Stoops, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Tim Kish.
  • The plan remains to redshirt Scott, if possible. He's certainly not going to enter a game late in the fourth quarter to take a knee. But if Foles gets hurt, Scott would be the guy. He'd probably start for a majority of teams in the Pac-12.
  • At running back, Daniel Jenkins has had "one of the best springs of any of our young players," Stoops said. He looks like Keola Antolin's backup. Both Stoops and Littrell, however, expect incoming freshmen Ka'Deem Cary and Jared Baker to perhaps push into the mix.
  • Receiver? Well, there's Juron Criner -- an All-American candidate -- David Douglas, Texas transfer Dan Buckner, David Roberts, Richard Morrison, Tyler Slavin, Austin Hill, Terrence Miller and speedster Garic Wharton. Suffice it to say, the Wildcats will be able to spread the field in 2011.
  • As it stands now, the starting offensive line goes line this: LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin, RT Fabbians Ebbele. Only Quinn has started a game -- the Alamo Bowl last December -- and both tackles are redshirt freshmen. On the plus side, if you want to look ahead, no lineman on the two-deep is a senior. Four are freshmen, two are sophomores and four are juniors.
  • H-back Taimi Tutogi hinted at great things last preseason but was ultimately disappointing. There's a feeling that he could break through in 2011. While he's not an elite blocker by any stretch, the 260 pounder isn't easy to deal with when he has the ball in space.
  • On defense, the ends are C.J. Parrish and Mohammed Usman. Both are listed at 245 pounds, which means the Wildcats will be much smaller at end compared to a year ago. On the depth chart, redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato and converted tackle Dominique Austin are listed, but JC transfer Lamar De Rego is likely to immediately jump into the mix.
  • Kish called Parrish "a pleasant surprise...We didn't think he'd pick it up as quick as he did and be as effective as he is."
  • Inside at defensive tackle, there's solid depth. Justin Washington, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury, and Sione Tuihalamaka are the starters and Willie Mobley and Kirifi Taula are the backups. Aiulua Fanene is a fifth option.
  • Stoops said the Wildcats "are much better inside," and Kish made an interesting point about last fall. Because Reed and Elmore were so good at pinching down from the outside against the pass, while the tackles were limited and not getting much inside push, the Wildcats often created passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. Passing lanes and running lanes, which some of you Wildcats fans might remember quarterbacks scrambling through, such as Arizona State's Brock Osweiler.
  • The good news is all three starting linebackers are back. The bad news is a lack of depth, particularly after R.J. Young -- the fourth LB -- and Trevor Erno quit. Presently, walkon Bilal Muhammed -- "He's damn good," said Kish -- is the backup at two spots and undersized though athletic Kyle Benson is No. 2 behind Jake Fisher on the outside. Both Kish and Stoops expect help from incoming freshmen Rob Hankins, Dominique Petties and Hank Hobson.
  • The good news in the secondary is the renewed focus of cornerback Trevin Wade, who had a poor junior year after earning accolades as a sophomore. Stoops and Kish don't hold back when talking about Wade's struggles in 2010, but both see a different player this spring: "He took a lot for granted (last year)," Stoops said. "He has a different attitude, a different level of effort (this spring)."
  • Along with Wade at corner, there's Jonathan McKnight, brother of former USC RB Joe McKnight and perhaps the best pure cover corner, and Shaquille Richardson, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury.
  • Robert Golden has moved back to safety from cornerback -- he's started extensively at both spots -- after Hall went down, where he's beside free safety Marquis Flowers. Redshirt freshamn Jourdan Grandon is making a bid to be the nickel, though there's clearly competition for backup roles. Neither Mark Watley nor Josh Robbins has made a decisive push for playing time. And there's some hope that Hall could make a fast recovery and be back by October.
On Friday, we looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver troikas -- so it also makes sense to also look at their defensive counterparts, the best threesomes from each of the three levels of defense: defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

Here's the tally from last season, if you are interested.

1. Arizona State

DE Junior Onyeali, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Omar Bolden

The Skinny: No question on No. 1 here. Onyeali was the Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Burfict is the nation's best inside linebacker. Bolden was unanimous first-team All-Pac-10.

2. Stanford

DE Matt Masifilo, LB Shayne Skov, SS Delano Howell

The Skinny: Masifilo, the lone returning starter on the Cardinal defensive line, was honorable mention All-Pac-10, as was Skov, who was playing as well as any linebacker in the conference over the final third of the season. Howell was second-team All-Pac-10.

3. California

DE Trevor Guyton, LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse

The Skinny: Guyton had 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks despite being a part-time starter. Kendricks was second-team All-Pac-10. Cattouse earned honorable mention.

4. Oregon

DE Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, CB Cliff Harris

The Skinny: Two solid returning starters and a second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback who figures to be a preseason All-American after earning second-team honors from the Associated Press and Walter Camp Football Foundation in 2010.

5. Washington:

DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner

The Skinny: Ta'amu earned honorable mention All-Conference honors and seemed to find himself over the latter half of the season. Dennison had 93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Fellner tied for second in the conference with five interceptions.

6. Arizona

DT Justin Washington, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade

The Skinny: Washington's numbers fell off when he got banged up, but he still had 11.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks as a redshirt freshman. Vassallo was honorable mention All-Conference. Wade had an off year last fall, but was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2009.

7. USC

DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, FS T.J. McDonald

The Skinny: This actually could be one of the best threesomes in the conference, but Armstead and Galippo have injury issues and only put up middling numbers last fall. McDonald was second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010.

8. Washington State

DE Travis Long, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, SS Deone Bucannon

The Skinny: Long was honorable mention All-Conference, Bucannon, who started as a true freshman, and Hoffman-Ellis were the Cougars' top two tackles in 2010.

9. UCLA

DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, SS Tony Dye

The Skinny: A solid threesome that is down here more because it gets an "incomplete." Jones missed all of last season with a foot injury, but, if healthy, he's an All-Conference sort. Larimore was solid in seven games before suffering a shoulder injury. Dye led the Bruins in tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10.

10. Colorado

NG Will Pericak, LB Jon Major, FS Ray Polk

The Skinny: Pericak earned honorable mention All-Big 12. Major was the Buffaloes leading tackler before he blew out his knee in Game 7 (a knee injury also killed the junior's true freshman season). Polk was the second-leading tackler.

11. Utah

DE Derrick Shelby, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

The Skinny: Honestly don't know how to rank the Utes here. Shelby and Walker are returning starters -- Walker earned second-team All-Mountain West honors. Black was the top backup cornerback last season. But Star Lotulelei might be the Utes' best defensive lineman, and Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety, where he was very good, to linebacker. How highly do the Utes think of him? They list him as an All-American candidate.

12. Oregon State

DE Dominic Glover, LB Rueben Robinson, S Lance Mitchell

The Skinny: Three returning starters, but none of them even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Mitchell was the Beavers' third-leading tackler, Glover had 2.5 sacks, and Robinson split time with Tony Wilson.
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

2010 All-Underclass Pac-10 team

January, 26, 2011
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After doing an Senior All-Pac-10 team Tuesday, it seemed reasonable to follow that up with an Underclass All-Pac-10 team.

All of the players here are redshirt sophomores or younger. They will have at least two years of eligibility left next year, though many are likely headed to the NFL draft after next season.

Lots of tough choices here -- particularly on defense -- and this feels like a high-quality group.

Here we go.

Offense


QB Andrew Luck, RSo., Stanford
RB LaMichael James, RSo., Oregon
RB Chris Polk, RSo., Washington
WR Marquess Wilson, TFr., Washington State
WR Robert Woods, TFr., USC
TE Zach Ertz, RFr., Stanford
OL Jonathan Martin, RSo., Stanford
OL David DeCastro, RSo., Stanford
OL Khaled Holmes, RSo., USC
OL Matt Kalil, RSo., USC
OL Carson York, RSo., Oregon

Defense


DL Junior Onyeali, TFr., Arizona State
DL Justin Washington, TFr., Arizona
DL Hau'oli Jamora, TFr., Washington
DL Travis Long, TSo, Washington State
LB Vontaze Burfict, TSo., Arizona State
LB Chase Thomas, RSo., Stanford
LB Shane Skov, TSo., Stanford
CB Cliff Harris, TSo., Oregon
CB Desmond Trufant, TSo., Washington
S T.J. McDonald, TSo., USC
S John Boyett, RSo., Oregon

Specialists


P Jeff Locke, RSo., UCLA
K Rob Beard, RSo., Oregon
PR/KR Cliff Harris, TSo., Oregon

Q&A: Arizona D-coordinator Tim Kish

December, 23, 2010
12/23/10
9:00
AM ET
Arizona started 7-1 and its defense ranked among the nation's best. Then the Wildcats lost their final four games, and the defense struggled mightily, particularly against the run.

The Wildcats, nonetheless, ended up in the Valero Alamo Bowl, where they will take on No. 14 Oklahoma State, which only ranks No. 1 in the nation in total offense, with 537.6 yards per game.

The Cowboys will be the third top-10 offense the Wildcats have faced this year.

Moreover, Arizona just lost a pair of defensive coaches to Colorado: co-coordinator Greg Brown and defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo. Joe Salave'a is already on board taking over the defensive line, but the secondary will be mostly supervised by head coach Mike Stoops heading into the bowl game.

Further, Stoops has announced that Tim Kish, who shared the coordinator duties with Brown this year, will be the solo defensive coordinator in 2011.

So it seemed like a good time to check in with Kish as he gets ready for the Cowboys potent attack and prepares for the future in Tucson.

So co-coordinator Greg Brown is gone: How does that change your job heading into the Alamo Bowl?

Tim Kish: It just requires me to do a little bit more prep work than I would do normally. But everybody is pitching in. Coach Stoops is pitching in, Ryan Walters, our graduate assistant who helped Greg with the back end is doing an awesome job right now. We are just all rallying around each other and making sure we dot our 'Is' and cross our 'Ts' in our game preparation.

There won't be any "co" with the defense next year. Coach Stoops has said you'll be the coordinator alone. How do you feel about running the defense next year?

TK: It really isn't going to change a whole lot from what we've done here in the past. We'll continue to use our base package, which we've had our previous six years with Mike's brother Mark. The thing we did this year is experiment a little bit with more man coverage and some man-pressures and things we hadn't done previously. We're going to continue to grow but we aren't going to ask our guys to do things that they are not capable of. The key to any good defense is adapting to your personnel. As that progresses, we'll progress.

Were there any challenges specific to being a co-coordinator that you won't face now?

TK: To be honest, I couldn't have had a better co-coordinator to work with. There were no egos. Greg and I kind of plotted out how we were going to handle game preparation each week. Obviously, we overlapped each other in a lot of things we did, so it was an ideal situation for both of us, I felt. It's just unfortunate it only lasted one year. Now you've got to go back and kind of reorganize your thought process. But it's not going to change dramatically. It just puts a little more onus on me being more involved in the full picture, especially in the passing game. I look forward to that challenge.

Let's talk about this season: What's your overall feeling on how the defense played?

TK: I felt like we started strong out of the gate. We were playing with some good momentum. We had some teams there at the latter part of the season that we probably didn't match up as well with as we did earlier in the season. There's no excuses, though. We just didn't play as well. We didn't have that energy and enthusiasm that I thought we played with in the first two-thirds of the season. Part of that was the types of offenses we were facing. But there are no excuses on this end. We knew what we were getting ourselves into. We didn't respond the way I expected us to respond at the end of the season.

What went wrong with the run defense late in the season?

TK: I don't know if I can point the finger at any one thing. For whatever reason, we weren't playing as physically as we were early in the season. Everybody wears down; everybody gets bumps and bruises. Those are no excuses for anything that went wrong with the run defense. We just weren't getting downhill as well at the second level, fitting our gaps. We weren't holding onto the double-teams and the scoop blocks as well as we did early in the season. It was a combination of a lot of things. We didn't tackle very well. We missed a lot of tackles at the end of the season. There were a lot of things we have to take a good, hard look at in the offseason and see what we need to do to shore up. We know we want to get bigger and more physical up front. We're not a huge team up front, and yet we have got to be in position where we can control those gaps with our front-seven. It's just something we are going to have to take a good hard look at and evaluate and critique and see what we can do to help that situation next year.

Who exceeded your expectations this season?

TK: I expected the ends [Brooks Reed & Ricky Elmore] to play well and they did. D'Aundre Reed was the biggest surprise of the three [ends] up front. At the end of the season, we were actually starting him as one of the top two guys [ahead of Elmore]. All three of those guys were as advertised. We knew what we were getting out of them over the course of the year. I think [DT] Justin Washington had his moments in there as a freshman D-lineman in there. He played well at times but he wore down a little bit there and got nicked up at the end of the season and didn't play as well. Mana Mikaele up front at nose guard had a pretty consistent year. I was pleased with his effort all year long. Obviously, with the three linebackers, the unknown was across the board. But I think Paul Vassallo exceeded my expectations, all of our expectations, because he was as much a defensive end as he was a linebacker in junior college. He was the most consistent at linebacker. Jake Fischer adds a good dose of athletic ability and flexibility in there. Derek Earls was fairly steady as well. From that standpoint, I was fairly pleased with that group. In the back end, to be honest it was the young guys who garnered the attention. [CB] Shaquille Richardson had some really good moments in there, but he's still learning. Jonathan McKnight is going to be a hell of a corner. He's just coming into his own. And so is [SS] Marquis Flowers. The future bodes pretty well for that back end right now.

Tell me about Oklahoma State's offense.

TK: The All-American wide receiver doesn't drop a ball [Justin Blackmon]. He catches anything within 10 feet of him. He's just smooth. He looks so natural out there running routes. He has a great knack for finding grass and sitting down in the zone and beating man coverage. And the quarterback [Brandon Weeden] has played consistently all year long for them. They are real solid up front -- three juniors, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman starting for them up front. They know how to zone block. They know how to pass protect. It's hard to get to [the QB] because they are not doing a lot of five-step drop. They're getting the ball quickly out of the quarterback's hands. Those two other receivers complement Blackmon because they're steady. I don't know if people call them possession receivers but I know they run good routes and catch the ball as well. Then once you look at all that, they've got a bevy of running backs -- they can throw any one of three at you -- and they can pound the ball on you. We're expecting them to try to run the ball early and then play-action pass us like they do everybody else. We can't give up a lot of after-contact yardage, whether it's in the passing game or run game. So we've concentrated on trying to shore up our tackling.

You guys lost your final four games. What do you think the guys mindset is after the disappointing finish?

TK: We've put that behind us. No question about it, we laid an egg last year at the Holiday Bowl last year. These kids have a lot of pride. You can say, 'What if, what if, what if,' but that's not what we do. We have to learn from our mistakes. We certainly didn't finish the season the way we wanted to. Could we have won a couple of those games? Absolutely. But that didn't happen. Our mindset is totally on Oklahoma State and getting prepared as well as we can for this bowl game, playing hard for 60 minutes.

TSN taps six Pac-10 first-team All-Americans

December, 15, 2010
12/15/10
3:18
PM ET
Oregon running back LaMichael James has become the Ducks first unanimous All-American as he led six Pac-10 players on The Sporting News' All-American team.

In addition to James, Stanford center Chase Beeler, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, UCLA safety Rahim Moore and Oregon punt returner Cliff Harris were honored.

The Pac-10 had the most first-team players of any conference.

The Sporting News also named Ducks coach Chip Kelly national Coach of the Year.

Further, TSN honored four Pac-10 players as freshmen All-Americans: Washington State WR Marquess Wilson, USC WR Robert Woods, Arizona DT Justin Washington and Arizona State DE Junior Onyeali.

Foles 'questionable' for UCLA visit

October, 25, 2010
10/25/10
3:11
PM ET
Arizona coach Mike Stoops told reporters that starting quarterback Nick Foles is questionable for the Wildcats visit to UCLA on Saturday.

"Questionable" rates as good news. While the odds probably are against Foles starting against the Bruins -- especially with the way backup Matt Scott played versus Washington -- those odds would seem to improve significantly when it comes to the critical visit to Stanford on Nov. 6.

Foles dressed for the Washington game, did some light jogging and threw some passes. His injury has been reported as a dislocated knee cap.

Stoops told reporters he probably won't announce a starter before the game. He also said that DT Justin Washington (sprained knee) is questionable.

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