Pac-12: Kris Evans
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If we are to believe the Pac-10 will continue to be a high-flying passing conference -- last year's downturn was clearly just an anomaly, right? -- teams will continue to need outstanding cornerbacks to slow down the track meet.
So where do things stand as we enter spring practices?
- California: The Bears are the only Pac-10 team that has two accomplished, full-time starting cornerbacks from 2008 -- senior Syd'Quan Thompson (first-team All-Pac-10) and junior Darian Hagan -- returning from a statistically impressive pass defense (24 Ints vs. 12 TD passes).
- USC: While the Trojans defense lost starting cornerback Cary Harris, three players with starting experience at the position return, including, Shareece Wright, who was the best of the lot before he got hurt and sat out the season. Oh, and the Trojans had the best pass defense in the nation in 2008, see just six TD passes surrendered. [Ed. note: As folks pointed out below, I screwed up and forgot that Josh Pinkard was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. My bad.]
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils just make the cut here. They not only welcome back three corners with starting experience, they get all six players back from their season-ending three-deep depth chart. And ASU ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense. That said, Omar Bolden didn't play up to expectations last year, and this figures to be a competitive spot during spring.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are nearly in "great shape." They lose starter Marquis Hundley -- recall his endzone INT that iced the Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU -- but sophomore Robert Golden is a star talent who should start opposite Devin Ross, who was second-team All-Pac-10. The Wildcats ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2008.
- UCLA: Second-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Alterraun Verner is back, but Michael Norris is gone. Redshirt freshman Aaron Hester is the favorite to start, but the competition for the vacancy figures to endure into the fall when a number of touted athletes arrive.
- Oregon: Jairus Byrd, first-team All-Pac-10, opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, but Walter Thurmond III is back and backups Willie Glasper, a senior, and junior Talmadge Jackson III saw significant action in 2008. A curiosity: The Ducks had a lot of talent in the secondary last year but gave up 270 yards passing per game and 25 total TD passes, both numbers being worst in the conference.
- Washington State: This may seem charitable because the Cougars ranked ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year, but both starters -- junior Romeo Pellum and sophomore Tyrone Justin -- are back, and California transfer Brandon Jones should challenge one or the other for a starting spot.
- Oregon State: The Beavers lose both starters, Brandon Hughes (second-team All-Pac-10) and Keenan Lewis (honorable mention), but they aren't desperate. Senior Tim Clark has started six games in his career, and junior James Dockery, who missed last season with a knee injury, figure to step in, though some young players, such as redshirt freshman Keynan Parker, might make a move.
- Stanford: Wopamo Osaisai is gone, while Kris Evans returns, but competition is wide open, with Michael Thomas, Mark Mueller, Corey Gatewood and Quinn Evans each trying to earn a starting spot. The Cardinal needs to get more athletic in the back-half after intercepting just seven passes a year ago.
- Washington: Both starters are back, but Washington ranked 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2008. Opponents completed 67 percent of their passes and threw 24 touchdown passes. The Huskies only grabbed seven interceptions. Of course, with little pass rush up front, corners Matt Mosely and Quinton Richardson often found themselves in coverage a long, long time.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Most every fan knows if his team's starting quarterback -- or leading rusher -- is coming back next season.
Some, of course, know the name of every returning starter. And some have even memorized the two-deep depth chart. Or three.
For most fans, however, defense often becomes a nameless blob of "10 starters back ... yippee!" Or "just three guys back? Yikes!"
(Oregon State fans upon finding out they only have three defensive starters back merely write 15,000-word essays about why this doesn't matter, based on a complicated series of mathematical equations and coordinator Mark Banker's ability to teach his players to breathe through their eyelids).
So I went through each team to figure out how many of the top-four tacklers from last season are coming back in 2009.
Some of these surprised me (my suspicion that UCLA will improve significantly next season got another boost).
Arizona: Lost three of top four
- Top returner: S Cam Nelson (third)
Arizona State: Lost two of top four
- Top returners: LB Mike Nixon (first); LB Travis Goethel (third)
California: Lost two of top four
- Top returners: LB Mike Mohamed (third); CB Syd'Quan Thompson (fourth)
Oregon: Lost two of top four
- Top returners: S T.J. Ward (first); LB Spencer Paysinger (second)
Oregon State: Lost three of top five (tie for fourth-leading tackler)
- Top returners: LB Keaton Kristick (second); LB Dwight Roberson (tie fourth)
Stanford: Lost two of top four
- Top returners: S Bo McNally (first); CB Kris Evans (tied for third)
UCLA: Lost one of top four
- Top returners: LB Reggie Carter (first); CB Alterraun Verner (second); S Rahim Moore (fourth)
USC: Lost four of top four
- Top returner: FS Taylor Mays (fifth)
Washington: Lost zero of top four
- Top returners: LB Mason Foster (first); S Nate Williams (second); LB Trenton Tuiasosopo (third); LB Donald Butler (fourth)
Washington State: Lost one of top four
- Top returners: FS Xavier Hicks (second); CB Romeo Pellum (third); SS Chima Nwachukwu (fourth)
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd and USC defensive tackle Fili Moala were named Pac-10 Players of the Week on Monday.
Gerhart, a junior from Norco, Calif., rushed 24 times for 116 yards in the Cardinal's 24-23 win over Arizona, scoring the game winning touchdown with 25 seconds remaining in the game. Considering Stanford piled up 286 yards rushing against the Wildcats, Gerhart's backfield mate Anthony Kimble, who contributed 110 yards, also deserves note.
Byrd, a junior from Clayton, Mo., recorded nine tackles, an interception and three pass breakups in the Ducks 31-24 win over UCLA. The Oregon defense limited UCLA to 53 yards rushing and 351 total yards and posted six sacks.
Moala, a senior from Buena Park, Calif., blocked two field goal attempts in the third quarter of USC's 28-0 win against Arizona State. The two blocks ties the NCAA record for most blocked field goal attempts in a quarter.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week were Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs Joe McKnight of USC and Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State, UCLA tight end Ryan Moya and Arizona wide receiver Terrell Turner. Also nominated on defense were defensive backs Kevin Thomas of USC, Kris Evans of Stanford and Nate Ness of Arizona, Oregon State end Slade Norris and Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon. Arizona Kicker Jason Bondzio was nominated for special teams play.
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State