Pac-12: Khairi Fortt

Meet me on Thames Street, I'll take you out though I'm hardly worth your time;
In the cold you look so fierce, but I'm warm enough, because the tension's like a fire.

Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.
While a number of big-name players opted to stick around for another year of Pac-12, most notably Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, the conference was hit hard by early defections.

Here's the complete list of Pac-12 players who entered the NFL draft despite remaining eligibility.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE, California
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (was kicked off the team in October)
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington


Early entry talent drain for Pac-12

January, 6, 2014
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While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.

While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.

Here's the early-entry list so far:

Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.

Lunch links: Draft declarations

January, 3, 2014
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Happy Friday.

Thorpe, Butkus semifinalists annouced

October, 28, 2013
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The Pac-12 is well-represeted on the list of semifinalists for the Thorpe and Butkus Awards, given annually to the nation's best defensive back and linebacker.

Three Pac-12 players are among 15 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award: Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Oregon State CB Steven Nelson.

Four Pac-12 linebackers are among the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award: UCLA's Anthony Barr, California's Khairi Fortt, Utah's Trevor Reilly and Stanford's Shayne Skov.

Here are the complete lists:

Thorpe Award semifinalists
Butkus Award semifinalists
Linebacker should a strong position in the Pac-12 this fall. You could argue that six or seven guys are or could become All-American candidates.

So how do the units stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

Stanford: Three starters back for the Pac-12's best run defense, including All-American candidates Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Even the competition to replace Chase Thomas between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders is between two A-list veterans. Depth is good, too. Might be the best unit in the country.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr is a big reason why the Bruins boast one of the Pac-12 best linebacker corps.
UCLA: Well, start with Anthony Barr on the outside. The general reaction to him at media day, "Dang. He's big. I didn't know he was that big." Then there's the underrated Eric Kendricks inside along with the solid Jordan Zumwalt. There doesn't seem to be much concern about the vacancy at the other OLB, where Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orjioke and, perhaps, incoming freshman Myles Jack are competing.

USC: Inside 'backer Hayes Pullard and Morgan Breslin on the outside make for a good start, as the Trojans transition to a 3-4. Fellow inside linebacker Lamar Dawson had a forgettable 2012 season, but he reacted well to being challenged this spring. Then there's the return of Devon Kennard, who should finally feel comfortable playing the OLB position he was made for.

Washington: As previously noted, the Huskies are extremely strong here, though it doesn't seem that many folks realize it. They will. The general feeling among just about everyone is that Shaq Thompson will make a move toward All-American recognition this year, while Travis Feeney and John Timu also are well above average. Rush end Josh Shirley also merits note as a hybrid LB/DE in Justin Wilcox's amorphous scheme.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are both back, giving the Beavers speed and experience on the outside. Joel Skotte is expected to win the job at MLB. Depth is a little iffy, but the Beavers run defense was strong in 2012.

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite Brandon Magee is gone, and for that we are terribly sad. Incredibly productive Devil 'backer Carl Bradford is back, as are Steffon Martin and Chris Young, as well as Anthony Jones. Sun Devils struggled a bit against the run last year.

California: The Bears are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means Chris McCain is now officially a rush end, not an outside linebacker. But this is a better-than-you-think crew, despite the lousy numbers from 2012. Nick Forbes is strong inside, while Jalen Jefferson is back on the strongside. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt is finally healthy and ready to roll. Depth is a little questionable.

Arizona: Everyone is back, led by Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and the Pac-12 blog is of the mind the Wildcats are actually OK at linebacker. The issue is the guys in front of them not being very good at gobbling up blockers. Terrible run defense last year, though.

Washington State: We think one of the big surprises this year might be how solid the Cougars are on defense, and linebacker is one of several reasons why. Most of the 2012 two-deep is back, though losing OLB Travis Long is a big hit. Darryl Monroe is the leader inside.

WE'LL SEE

Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks lost three of four starters. It's that they lost OLB Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay inside. Each is on an NFL roster, Jordan being a first-round pick and Alonso going in the second round. No team in the country lost anything approaching that at linebacker. Boseko Lokombo is back on the outside, but injury issues this spring prevented there from being much depth chart clarity.

Utah: While the 2012 run defense was solid, the Utes didn't play well at linebacker last year, though injury issues were the chief concern, preventing any type of week-to-week continuity. Trevor Reilly, who played "stud" 'backer last year, has returned to his more natural end position. A healthy Brian Blechen will take over at "stud" after bouncing back and forth at safety -- he's 230 pounds, too -- and that should help. Big area of fall competition here.

Colorado: Senior Derrick Webb is a strong presence on the weakside, but Jon Major and Doug Rippy are gone. The Buffaloes likely will be young here, see true freshman Addison Gillam topping the post-spring depth chart.

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
When Khairi Fortt departed Penn State and came to Cal before the start of the 2012 season, he knew he was entering two different worlds. One off the field. One on it.

Berkeley, Calif., is unlike anywhere else in the country. Pac-12 football is unlike any other brand of football in the country.

"Culture shock," Fortt said. "Definitely some culture shock. I'm used to it now."

He has acclimated himself to Berkeley. That took a while.

"Everyone is such a free spirit," he said.

And he has adjusted his game to better fit the Pac-12.

"Fast," he said. "There is so much speed. The Big Ten is not slow or anything. But this is a different type of fast. The pace of the game is faster -- almost more of a finesse game. It's a lot more running than hitting. In the Big Ten, if you're a linebacker, you are smashing into fullbacks. In this league you have to be able to play man-to-man coverage on some of these quick receivers. I like it a lot. I've got some speed too and I get to show it off.

"Even on defense. It's a faster pace. There's not as much time for hitting because everyone is flying around."

[+] EnlargeKhairi Fortt
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesKhairi Fortt is adjusting to life -- and the faster pace of play -- in the Pac-12 after transferring from Penn State to Cal.
Good thing for Fortt -- and the Bears -- he knows what they are looking to do on defense under new coach Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The Bears are transitioning to a 4-3 front, something Fortt is very familiar with having played linebacker at Penn State. After missing all of last season following knee surgery, he's ready to finally make an impact on this football team.

"My teammates were great and they welcomed me with open arms," he said. "Now it's time to get on the field and start helping them win some games. This summer is going to be a grind. But it's going to be essential for us to work hard. We can't wait to get the season started."

Fortt appeared in nine games for Penn State in 2010 -- one of only seven true freshmen to see action. The next year he appeared in every game, but still wasn't contributing as much as he would have liked. So even before the NCAA handed down its harsh punishments on the program, Fortt was looking to make a move.

Now with a surgically repaired knee and a thirst to get back on the field, he's in line for a starting job as one of Cal's outside linebackers.

"He showed some flashes this spring," said Dykes. "He made some impactful plays. He needs to be more consistent. There were times he was either real good or just OK. He needs to be more solid. That's what I took from him coming out of spring. He's got a good football sense and he's very physical at the point of attack. He gets off blocks well."

Fortt, who hails from Stamford, Conn., has been rooming with fellow linebacker Nick Forbes (Frederick, Md.). The two knew each other from high school all-star games, which made it easier for Fortt to settle on Cal -- one of many schools that contacted him.

"That really made it easier already knowing Nick," Fortt said. "He and I have a dry-erase board and we're always drawing up plays and formations.

"... I think [Buh] understands the athleticism he has with this defense. It's almost like a hybrid defense. There's a little bit of zone, but a lot of times I'm playing man-to-man because of the trust he has in us being an athletic group. We can keep teams guessing because we're good enough to play man or zone."

Because of his injury, Fortt never had the chance to play in the odd-front scheme of former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is now directing the defense at USC. And while Dykes acknowledges there is some transition that goes with changing defensive philosophies, it's still football.

"I don't think it's that big of a transition as people make it out to be," Dykes said. "Sometimes the style is a little different. Sometimes an odd front is more attacking and always adjusting. A 4-3 is a little simpler to make adjustments off of. It's a different school of thought, but from a technical standpoint there's really not that big of a difference. You still have to cover the A-gap."
The recent selections of Will Sutton, Shayne Skov, Anthony Barr and Devon Kennard in our "Most Important Player" series has given rise to a very interesting question posed to me in the mailbag. As always, mailbags come out Friday afternoons, but Jerry in San Jose offered this: Kevin, we know Stanford has the best front seven in the league. Which team has the next best?

I won't be answering this question in tomorrow's mailbag for a very simple reason. I don't know. Nor do I immediately agree with his initial premise that Stanford has the best front seven. It might. But so might ASU, or UCLA and I think USC has to be in this conversation, especially if the transition to the 3-4 works the way many think it will.

Stopping the run is the primary role of the front seven, and Stanford certainly was the best in the league at that last year. So is making plays in the backfield, sacks, TFLs etc. Three of the top four and four of the top eight teams nationally in sacks last year hailed from the Pac-12. While it's true this is the conference of quarterbacks, it's also quickly turning into the conference of planting quarterbacks on their keisters.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 team has the best front seven heading into 2013?

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    23%
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    30%
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    9%
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    11%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,275)

Instead of hitting this in the mailbag and opining for 700 words only to come with "I don't know" as the answer, it seemed like a dandy of a poll question.

Which Pac-12 team has the best front seven heading into the 2013 season?

Your options:

Arizona State: The Sun Devils were the best team in the country last year at getting tackles for a loss and they were No. 2 nationally in sacks. But they came up short stopping the run, allowing 182.8 yards per game on the ground. Still, with headliners Will Sutton and Carl Bradford flanked by an outstanding supporting cast, they should again be at the top of the rankings in backfield-havoc created.

Stanford: With three All-American candidates in Skov, Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner, it's awfully easy to make an argument here for the Cardinal. They were No. 1 in the nation in sacks, second in tackles for a loss and fifth nationally against the run. Impressive, considering some of the offenses and running backs they faced. It's a deep and experienced group that has scary potential.

UCLA: They return the league's leading tackler in linebacker Eric Kendricks and the dangerous Anthony Barr, who is projected as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. I'm also of the belief that Cassius Marsh is going to have a monster season this year. But the loss of Owamagbe Odighizuwa for the year hurts.

USC: Any scheme that is going to make Morgan Breslin a better pass-rusher is frightening. Add on a healthy Devon Kennard and the league's freshman defensive player of the year in Leonard Williams, and you have a front seven that matches the talent of any in the league.

Other: Cal has a solid front led by standout defensive end in Deandre Coleman. Nick Forbes is a tested linebacker and a lot of folks are excited to see what a healthy Khairi Fortt can do. Oregon State has to rebuild its tackles, but the ends duo of Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn rival any in the conference and they are strong at LB with Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander.

Cal takes some hits to its defense

August, 8, 2012
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The worst part of preseason practices is watching injuries pile up.

California's defense has taken a couple of hits, though not to projected starters.

Talented sophomore cornerback Stefan McClure, who suffered a major knee injury on Nov. 25 against Arizona State, may redshirt because his knee is still far from 100 percent. According to the Contra Costa Times, "McClure had his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments surgically repaired and also underwent microfracture surgery to repair his meniscus."

McClure, who saw extensive action in 2011 before getting hurt, including starting two games, was listed No. 2 behind Marc Anthony at one corner on the post-spring depth chart.

Further, LB Khairi Fortt, a transfer from Penn State, is at least a couple of weeks away from practicing because he's still recovering from knee surgery. Also at linebacker, redshirt freshman Jason Gibson, who was in the mix to see action, though he wasn't on the post-spring depth chart, broke his right foot Monday and will be out for about three months, according to the Times.

Links: Riley coy about Beavers' play calling

August, 6, 2012
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The freshman coach wanted to know what was up. I told him I knew all the plays; there was no reason to practice them over and over; the endless repetition might be spiritually disastrous; we were becoming a nation devoted to human xerography.
Greetings. Welcome to preseason mailbag camp. The mailbag had great offseason workouts and we're using our low preseason ranking as motivation.

Follow me on Twitter here. All the cool kids are doing it.

To the notes!

Dennis from Washington, D.C., writes: Rather than focus on high level Oregon at USC, what are your thoughts on the matchup between Oregon defense vs. USC offense? The questions for Oregon largely center on QB, but we know that Oregon's defense is stacked and fast, and USC's offense is going to be great on offense.

Ted Miller: The season hasn't even started and we're already zeroing in on Nov. 3!

Oregon is going to be very good on defense. Perhaps as good as the Ducks have been since the Gang Green days. Yet I'd give the USC offense anedge. The Trojans are a little 2005-ish -- as in epically talented.

The Trojans offense has no obvious weakness. Perhaps there's a question how well Aundrey Walker will play at left tackle. And there are some depth concerns on the O-line. But you have nine starters coming back from a unit that averaged 35.8 points and 456.8 yards per game. You have the best quarterback in the nation throwing to the best receiver combo in the nation in front of four returning starters from a line that gave up just eight sacks in 2011. You have two 1,000-yard tailbacks. You have two future NFL tight ends. You have an X-factor guy like George Farmer.

It almost doesn't seem fair.

In last year's 38-35 USC victory in Autzen Stadium, the Trojans jumped ahead 38-14 in the third quarter, as Matt Barkley threw four touchdown passes, before the Ducks mounted a furious comeback to almost force overtime. USC rolled up 462 yards on the road. Oregon fans point out -- reasonably -- that defensive end Dion Jordan and linebacker Dewitt Stuckey were hurt, and losing Jordan in the first quarter can't be discounted. He's the guy who should have made life tough for Barkely. USC fans would counter -- reasonably -- that wide receiver Robert Woods was playing on one leg and the Ducks still couldn't stop Barkley and Marqise Lee.

But to me -- and be prepared to hear this much of the season from me -- the big issue is the game being played in the Coliseum. That means you give a four-year starter at QB -- Barkley -- plus total control at the line of scrimmage with no crowd noise issues. That favors Barkley, though I'm sure more than a few Ducks would point out the same could have been said in advance of the 2011 Stanford-Oregon game with Andrew Luck.

And, oh by the way, the Ducks will be using a first-year starter in the biggest stadium in the conference. I know a lot of Oregon fans feel great about Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett, perhaps even liking them more than Darron Thomas. But this is the sort of game where you'd want a veteran such as Thomas behind center. And I bet Thomas, who's apparently still looking for a pro team to give him a shot, wishes he were there, too.

Now, just because I give the very, very good USC offense an edge over the good Oregon defense doesn't mean the Ducks are doomed. I see the Oregon offensive line having an advantage against a thin and uncertain Trojans defensive front. With Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Chip Kelly's very, very big brain, it's entirely possible Oregon will be able to go point-for-point with the Trojans.

Of course, both teams might want to take heed of the eight games that separate them and this hot date.


Spence from Salt Lake City writes: USC is the obvious front-runner in the South. If they are upset what team is next in line to represent the South division in the PAC-12 championship game?

Ted Miller: My pick for No. 2 in the South is Utah, though I've sort of got a nagging UCLA thing of late, which I'm trying to resist because I've gotten that bug before.

Here's the problem with theorizing about an alternative team winning the South: Can it upset USC AND take care of business for the rest of the conference schedule? To me, that means going no worse than 7-2 in conference play because I don't see the Trojans losing more than two conference games.

The Utes, with no games with Oregon and Stanford, and USC coming to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 for a Thursday-night matchup on ESPN, seem like the best bet to get that done. But they went 4-5 in their first year of Pac-12 play and were handled pretty easily by Washington, Arizona State and California, losing by a combined count of 100-38 in those three games. And two of them were in Rice-Eccles. Utes fans, of course, would note that they played those games without QB Jordan Wynn, who went down for the year in the first half against Washington.

It's possible that USC could implode, perhaps after losing a game it thought it would win or catching a horrible injury bug. But my present feeling is "overwhelming" would be the best way to describe the Trojans frontrunner status in the South Division.


Justin from Dallas writes: What's your opinion on early-season neutral-site games? Like Alabama v Michigan at Cowboys Stadium and LSU v Oregon last year there. Shouldn't these games be preserved for the campus? All about the $$ right?

Ted Miller: Well, yes, everything is about the $$. This is the USA. We like money. A lot. And if you don't, send me yours. I'll put it to good use, like buying a bigger TV.

I love these big intersectional games -- neutral site or not. They might be my favorite thing in college football, other than the Rose Bowl. If it's necessary to use a venue like Cowboy Stadium to lure nationally ranked teams from different conferences to play regular season games, so be it.

We spend a lot of time comparing conferences. To me, these games are most revealing. My respect for LSU as a program -- and its incredible 2011 regular season -- is based more on its beating Oregon and West Virginia than winning the SEC West. It took guts to make that schedule.

I do not doubt that the SEC is the nation's best conference. In our BCS system, it has been able to win six consecutive "national title" games. But I also firmly believe -- as do all SEC coaches and athletic directors -- that if the SEC scheduled more tough nonconference games, the size of its perceived superiority would narrow considerably. Why? Because if Florida or Georgia or Auburn or Arkansas or South Carolina scheduled more home-and-home series with teams like USC, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and the like, they'd lose a lot more often.

My hope with our new four-team playoff format and a selection committee is that it becomes a requirement -- if unwritten -- to schedule ambitiously out of conference.


Eric from Pullman, Wash., writes: Will Washington State be able to hold any Pac-12 opponent to fewer than 27 points this season (which was the fewest they allowed last year)?

Ted Miller: Maybe. But I suspect the Cougs will have to outscore folks, which is what Mike Leach did when he was at Texas Tech, by the way.

The Cougars allowed 34.6 points per game in conference play last year, which ranked 10th in the league. My belief is they will be a bowl team if they can become poor-to-middling on defense this year -- say surrendering 28 to 30 points per game -- rather than egregious.

But here's something that's simpler: 3-1.

The Cougs need to start at least 3-1 -- 4-0 is entirely possible, by the way -- to post a six- or seven-win season, one that will get them to a bowl game for the first time since 2003.


Rob from Redwood City, Calif., writes: As you are well aware, Cal has reinstated linebacker Cecil Whiteside, and added Khairi Fortt from Penn State. What impact if any would this have on your position ranking of the Cal linebackers? And even if neither starts how important is depth at a postion like linebacker when you run a 3-4 scheme? Do most teams really rotate players very often at this postion or are they important just in case of injury?

Ted Miller: Cal likely would boost up from the top of "Good shape" to the bottom of "Great shape." I'd still rate Stanford, USC and Oregon ahead of the Bears, because they have more proven players at the position. Both Whiteside and Fortt have seen action but they aren't sure things.

Cal had a good defense last year, and it's hard not to give conference Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks a lot of credit for that. And folks will tell you that while Kendricks was the engine of the Bears defense, fellow inside 'backer D.J. Holt was the brains. So those are legitimate voids they left behind.

I will say this: Cal has some real questions, such as receiver and offensive line. But its defense isn't going to keep Jeff Tedford up at night.


Scott from the U.S. Virgin Islands: Please please please help me settle a dispute that has been going on for months. Who is better at this point, Oregon or FSU? Every ranking on ESPN, Athlon, and the coaches' poll have Oregon ranked higher than FSU. The exception is Phil Steele's preseason ranking. I try to have this conversation with my FSU buddy but he will not admit anything. He agrees with Phil Steele on the rankings but then when it comes to strength of schedule by Phil Steele, Oregon 55th and FSU 70th, then Phil Steele doesn't know ACC football. I told my friend no one knows ACC football with the exception of VA Tech taking their usual thumping in the Orange Bowl. Please please please talk some sense into this guy.

Ted Miller: Tough one. Just like a lot of folks, I'm high on Florida State this year. But a significant part of FSU getting a high preseason ranking is its playing in the ACC. You need look no further than the past two Orange Bowls to make a definitive statement about the ACC.

If I were talking to your friend, I'd say something like this: "Did you say something? I'm sorry. I was distracted by this shiny Rose Bowl trophy, three consecutive BCS bowl games and 34 victories over the past three years. Where do you guys keep your trophy from the Champs Sports Bowl? I bet it's really cute, you little champ! Nice nail-biting, four-point win over Notre Dame. The Irish only lost by 14 points to a Stanford team we beat by 23. You lost four games last year. We've lost six over the past three years. Look I like your spunk. I like your enthusiasm. It makes me want to pinch your little garnet cheeks. But we're Oregon. We're there. You're a nice little team down below eyeballing our behinds. I'm not even sure I'm allowed to talk to a guy who's a fan of a team that lost to Wake Forest, Virginia and Clemson last year. Ergo, you've got the next round to compensate me for my noblesse oblige."


Darren from Monterey, Calif., writes: I'm getting a little nervous about the PAC-12 Network not coming to DISH. Should I be worried? Or should I wait until August 24th-ish?

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 Network is pretty confident in its position. It's already happy with its distribution deals on cable. And DirecTV has its own issues.

I think the deal will get done, though the Pac-12 Networks launch date of Aug. 15 is getting pretty close.

The satellite carriers have less leverage than the Pac-12 Network does. And you, as a customer with options, shouldn't be shy about telling your satellite carriers about how great cable looks with the Pac-12 Networks. If the satellite carriers don't make a deal with the Pac-12 Networks, they essentially are saying they don't care about major West Coast markets. They are throwing sand in the eyes of their Pac-12 footprint customers.

Here is a handy FAQ page for the Pac-12 Network.


Gary from Eugene, Ore., writes: Guess what a new Duck song is out by Xile, you can check it out here and the news story that talks about the former Ducks in the video.

Ted Miller: Every time I get one of these, I think, "OK, enough is enough. No more Oregon videos." But my policy is to post it if it's good, and that's pretty darn fresh.

Are they still saying "fresh"? Or did I just look really 40-something?

Excuse me while I pull up my black socks up from my sandals.


Yeah, there's a storm on the loose, sirens in my head;
Wrapped up in silence, all circuits are dead;
Cannot decode, my whole life spins into a frenzy.
Khairi Fortt started just one game -- Illinois his true freshman year -- in his two seasons at Penn State and he’s listed as middle linebacker Glen Carson’s backup in the school’s media guide depth chart. That doesn’t mean his arrival at Cal won’t help the Golden Bears or hurt the Nittany Lions. Fortt's 2011 Iowa film proves as much. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 238 pounds, Fortt is quick enough to slip blocks between the tackles and closes well when chasing the run. He enters a wide-open competition for a starting job with the Golden Bears looking to replace both inside linebackers from last year and he has the natural ability to come out on top.

The question is whether Fortt can pick up Bears defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s base 3-4 scheme in time to make an early impact after playing in Penn State’s base four-man front. Fortt is expected to report to camp on Friday and start practicing on Saturday. That doesn’t give Pendergast and his staff much time. In addition, Fortt, who missed time with a knee injury in the spring, has to stay healthy. There is reason to be optimistic about his ability to make a smooth transtion. Fortt showed average to slightly above-average instincts in that Iowa game and his ability to line up on the outside in addition to the inside at Penn State is a testament to his football intelligence.

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