Pac-12: Levine Toilolo

Much of the talk about Stanford's Trent Murphy leading into the NFL scouting combine has centered around his position.

Is he an outside linebacker or a defensive end?

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFormer Stanford DE Trent Murphy is among the Cardinal players at this year's NFL combine.
For Murphy, those questions can really only be answered by whichever team ends up drafting him.

"I'm almost positive I'm doing the linebacker drills [at the combine]," he said. "As far as what teams are looking at me for is probably a little bit of both."

Murphy spent most of his week at the Senior Bowl in January at defensive end before he was switched to outside linebacker, his primary position at Stanford, a day before the game. Despite having played some defensive end at Stanford, he said some of what they had him do was a bit foreign.

Coaches at the Senior Bowl had him line up tighter on the line than he was used to -- sometimes inside the offensive tackles to play against the run. When he lined up as a defensive end at Stanford, it was usually much wider in situations where he was used to rush the passer.

"That was different, but I was getting used to it," Murphy said.

Reviews on his performance were mixed, but Murphy said it was a good overall experience -- especially because he got to meet with NFL teams.

"Teams want to see what kind of character you have and how intelligent you are," said Murphy, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in Science, Technology and Society. "They put that together with your résumé on tape. What they see [at the Senior Bowl and combine] kind of verifies what they see on tape, but what they learn about your character is almost more important."

Murphy, who led the nation with 15 sacks in 2013, is among Stanford's Pac-12-best group of eight players that will be in Indianapolis for the combine. He will participate in every drill, and he said he's hoping to run in the 4.65-second range in the 40-yard dash.

"If I have a good start, which I hope I do, 4.65 should be no problem," he said.

Three days after Stanford's Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State, Murphy departed for Bradenton, Fla., where he has been training feverishly at the IMG Academy with several other highly-touted prospects, including Notre Dame's Zack Martin, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, among others.

Every morning Murphy wakes up at 4 a.m., heads over to a hyperbaric chamber for a few more hours of sleep, then completes a regiment of working out, stretching, football drills, mock interviews and other assorted activities to prepare for what he'll go through at the combine.

Murphy said he's spoken with former Stanford teammates Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo about what their experiences were like and is confident between those conversations and what he's learned at IMG that he's ready.

"I've been waiting for this day for al ing time now," Murphy said. "I could be more excited to tackle it."

He will return Stanford to participate in the school's pro day on March 20.

At the deepest roots of David Shaw’s coaching philosophy is an unwavering belief in run-first football. That's never going to change. Still, that doesn’t mean the Stanford head coach can’t be just a little bit giddy over what his offense -- specifically the passing attack -- has done so far this season.

Fashioned as Tight End U the past couple of years because of the presence of now-NFLers Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, the Cardinal wide receivers have made their presence felt in 2013 after previously yielding the spotlight to the Tree Amigos in 2011 and Twin Towers in 2012.

Through the first four games of 2012, Stanford receivers had just 26 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. As a unit, they had just six receiving touchdowns all year. It’s a different story this season. Through the first four games, Stanford receivers have accounted for 42 catches for 770 yards and nine touchdowns.

“It’s what we started to see in spring last year,” Shaw said. “... We feel like we have these guys ready to impact games. It’s fun to see their hard work pay off and them being viable options for us.”

As a result of the wide receivers taking first chair in the passing game, the tight ends have just three catches for 14 yards and zero touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeDevon Cajuste
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDevon Cajuste broke out last week against Washington State with two long TD receptions.
The Cardinal will need all the firepower they can get when they host No. 15 Washington on Saturday. So far it has been Ty Montgomery as the featured receiver. After a strong freshman campaign, Montgomery was hampered by injuries last season. But he has emerged so far with 20 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Devon Cajuste had a breakout performance last week and has 10 catches for 244 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Michael Rector rounds out the crop of receivers who have reached the end zone, catching three balls for 119 yards and two scores.

But it’s not just the increased targeting of receivers -- it’s also the maturation of quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is delivering the downfield strike with precision and efficiency. In last week’s blowout win over Washington State, he threw three touchdowns of 30-plus yards (33, 45 and 57 yards). That doubled Stanford’s number of 30-plus-yard touchdown passes this season and matched the total of big strikes it had all last year.

“He grows a little bit each week,” Shaw said. “We took more downfield passes this week, and he did a good job of finding guys and hitting them in stride. He understands things better. He sees things better. He’s getting more in the flow of the season, and we go into every game knowing that every defense we play is going to give us something we haven’t seen before, and he’s done a good job recognizing it, coming to the sidelines, talking about it and ready to make adjustments.”

Washington’s secondary should provide an ample test. The Huskies have yet to allow a 200-yard passer and have given up only one touchdown through the air all season. Heading into Saturday’s matchup, the Huskies have the top passing defense and pass efficiency defense in the Pac-12.

“They have a great deal of speed on the perimeter with Montgomery and Rector,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. “Those guys can stretch the field more so than they have in the past. They put a lot of stress on you, because you want to commit yourself to defending the run, which you have to do when playing Stanford, but then the challenge is how do you not give up the big plays? They pose a lot of challenges that way. Hogan is throwing the deep ball really well right now. When guys are open he’s hitting them. That’s the other piece to the puzzle.”

After seeing a mostly tight-end-heavy Stanford team during his career, Washington safety Sean Parker said he’s excited for the opportunity square off against the Cardinal receivers.

“Every year we play receivers that stretch the field,” Parker said. “We’re used to defending down the field and having to man up their key guys. Knowing them, it is a turnaround because we’re used to seeing them running the ball and they get to different formations when they run the ball and then pass off of that. We have to be better with our eye discipline and what we see.”

Perhaps the most important statistic yet to be mentioned is that Hogan is still perfect as a starter (9-0). The Cardinal have won 12 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the country behind Ohio State, and Hogan is 5-0 against opponents ranked in the top 25. Against ranked opponents, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws with eight touchdown passes and four interceptions, averaging 186 yards per game. He also has added two touchdowns on the ground with an average of 38 rushing yards per game.

Stanford Cardinal season preview

August, 13, 2013
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Stanford Cardinal.

Stanford

Coach: David Shaw (23-4)

2012 record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: RB Stepfan Taylor, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, OLB Chase Thomas

Key returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, OT David Yankey, LB Shayne Skov, LB Trent Murphy, DE Ben Gardner, S Ed Reynolds

Newcomer to watch: Stanford loves to rotate its linebacking corps, and outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi is impressive. He was a five- or four-star recruit, depending on which service you follow, and was one of the highest-rated OLBs in the country. He has a strong chance to play his way into the rotation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Brian Murphy/Icon SMIStanford coach David Shaw has smiled a lot since Kevin Hogan became the starting QB late in the 2012 season.
Biggest games in 2013: The eyes of a college football nation will be tuned in on Thursday, Nov. 7, to see Oregon’s trip to Palo Alto. But there are plenty of big games before and after that -- including Arizona State (Sept. 21), Washington (Oct. 5), UCLA (Oct. 19), USC (Nov. 16) and the finale against Notre Dame (Nov. 30). If the Cardinal repeat as conference champs, they will have earned it.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It might have been the running back situation and the fact they have to replace Taylor. But Tyler Gaffney’s return from professional baseball adds experience and depth and bolsters a committee that should be able to mimic Taylor’s production. Receiving production, however, is still up in the air. Five of the top six receiving options from last year are gone -- including tight end Zach Ertz, Taylor and Drew Terrell. Ty Montgomery was sensational in 2011 and if he returns to form, could be a bona fide stretch-the-field threat. Behind him are a host of talented, but mostly unproven players. Look for Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield and freshman Francis Owusu (yes, that name should ring a bell), to work into the rotation.

Forecast: Expectations have never been higher for the Cardinal as they enter the year a preseason top-5 team. This is a veteran-heavy team that’s built to win tight games and grind opponents down in the fourth quarter.

The offensive focal point will be the progress of quarterback Kevin Hogan, who took over last season and went 5-0 as a starter -- including a 4-0 mark against Top 25 teams. He’s got one of the top offensive lines in the country -- headlined by All-American David Yankey -- protecting him, and a stellar defense has his back. Often forgotten is fullback Ryan Hewitt, who returns as one of the best in the country.

The running back group will be interesting to watch. Coach David Shaw strayed from his preferred by-committee method last season as Taylor carried 322 times -- most of anyone in the Pac-12. But he was that reliable. Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, Barry Sanders et al should all contribute and carve out their niche in the offense.

Aside from the aforementioned receiving position, many are eager to see what tight end Luke Kaumatule can do stepping in as a full-time player. The Cardinal were spoiled the past few years with Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener. Now it’s Kaumatule’s turn to carry the torch for what has been the nation’s most productive tight end-driven offense the past couple of years.

There are no real weak spots on Stanford’s defense. Five of the front seven are back from last year -- including DE Ben Gardner, ILB Shayne Skov and OLB Trent Murphy. The defensive backfield features, arguably, the nation’s top safety tandem in Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and Usua Amanam doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves as an outstanding nickel.

As noted above, the Cardinal play a very difficult schedule -- including four straight rivalry games to close out the season. This may seem daunting, and it is. But the Cardinal could have as many as 18 juniors or seniors in the starting 22, so chances are there isn’t a situation they haven’t seen or played through before. That experience will be invaluable as the Cardinal look to defend their conference title and try to make a run to another Rose Bowl -- or beyond.

Biggest shoes to fill: Stanford

March, 18, 2013
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Starters in, starters out. That’s college football. Players’ eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Biggest shoes: TEs Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo

These guys rate a tandem because Ertz was a unanimous All-American, Toilolo was a towering No. 2 and they represented one of the great innovations during Stanford's rise into the nation's elite: The "Big" formations featuring multiple tight ends who catch the ball like receivers and block like tackles. When you toss Coby Fleener in there from 2011, and you recall how special that troika was. And now all three are gone and no tight end remains on the roster who has caught a pass. This is further notable because both Ertz and Toilolo could have returned this fall. Ertz's decision to leave wasn't a surprise. He's a potential first-round NFL draft pick. Toilolo's was, and more than a few folks think he made a mistake, surrendering an opportunity to be the lead guy, and answer questions about his inconsistent hands. It also doesn't help that the Cardinal lost their Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, running back Stepfan Taylor and receiver Drew Terrell. But the void isn't just about catching the ball. Stanford's tight ends have played a key role in the rise of a dominant power running game. While the offensive line should be strong again this fall, it's questionable if the "Big" formations will be as fearsome, at least the tight end options.

Stepping in? Sophomore Luke Kaumatule

Kaumatule, a 6-foot-7 Hawaiian, certainly looks the part, and he is the early leader after a strong first spring session, though he's still learning the ins and outs of the position. Coach David Shaw also moved senior Eddie Plantaric and junior Charlie Hopkins, former defensive linemen, to the position, and senior Davis Dudchock brings veteran leadership and knowledge. Sophomore Alex Frkovic is trying to come back from a knee injury and sophomore Chris Harrell is promising but needs to get bigger and stronger. It's important to keep in mind that Stanford isn't looking for just one guy. It would like at least three to step up because it has plenty of designed plays with three on the field at the same time. Another thing to keep in mind: Stanford is deep at fullback, led by former tight end Ryan Hewitt, who at 6-foot-4, might be the tallest fullback in the nation. There's no reason that when Shaw says, "Give me a big, nasty guy who can run and catch," he won't finger a fullback for the role.

Stanford, ASU name assistant coaches

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
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A couple of new assistant coaching hires to fill you in on this morning.

First at Stanford, David Shaw promoted Morgan Turner to tight ends coach. He replaces Ron Crook, who reportedly took the offensive line coaching job at West Virginia.

Turner is in his third season with Stanford. Previously he worked as an offensive assistant and before that was a strength and conditioning intern.

"Morgan Turner has worked extremely hard here and has been invaluable to us with the offense,” Shaw said in a statement. “He worked closely with (offensive coordinator) Mike Bloomgren in the run game the past two years. This is a great opportunity for a bright, young coach who our players know and respect. We're pleased that Morgan was able to pass up other opportunities to stay here with us at Stanford."

Crook coached the tackles and the tight ends -- shaping the likes of Zach Ertz, David Yankey and Levine Toilolo in 2012. This is noteworthy because Yankey -- last year's Morris Trophy winner and an All-American -- will likely move back to guard and the Cardinal have to replace Ertz and Toilolo, who both declared early for the NFL draft.

More than likely, Bloomgren will coach the whole offensive line -- rather than just the interior line while Turner focuses solely on the tight ends.

You can read the complete release here.

At Arizona State, former NFL linebacker and 22-year college coaching veteran Jackie Shipp has joined the Sun Devils as the new defensive line coach.

He fills Ron West's spot on the coaching staff -- though defensive coordinator Paul Randolph will take over coaching the linebackers.

"I could not have found a candidate who was a better fit for what we need at this time," said head coach Todd Graham in a statement. "Jackie is one of the best defensive line coaches in college football and our linemen will benefit from his leadership and mentoring. We just became a better football program with the appointment of Jackie Shipp. He’s a top-flight recruiter with contacts in the states of Oklahoma, Texas and California. He will recruit all areas for us with special emphasis on the state of California."

He inherits a defensive line that is expected to be one of the best in the country -- headlined by the league's returning defensive player of the year, Will Sutton.

The former first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins played five seasons and played in the 1985 Super Bowl. He spent the last 14 years coaching the defensive line at Oklahoma.

You can read the full release here.

Pac-12 scouting combine notebook

February, 25, 2013
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Some tough news coming out of the scouting combine this weekend for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported that Lotulelei -- a projected top-five pick -- would not be allowed to work out today with the rest of the defensive lineman after an echocardiogram revealed a heart condition that requires additional testing.

From Mortensen's story:
Lotulelei was discovered to have an abnormally low Ejection Fraction, detecting that the left ventricle of his heart was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, sources said. The normal range is between 55-70 percent efficiency.

The 6-foot-2, 311-pound Lotulelei will undergo further testing in Salt Lake City in an effort to seek more clarity with the condition, a source said. If it's a confirmed chronic condition, medical experts consider it an indication of possible heart damage.

The All-American posted 42 tackles in 2012, including 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He's expected to visit a specialist this week and plans to participate in Utah's Pro Day on March 20.

Scouts Inc. ranks Lotulelei as the No. 1 overall player in the draft.

Schwenke rising

Former Cal offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, longtime friend of the Pac-12 blog, had a strong combine performance. He was among the top performers in the 3-cone drill and 40-yard dash (see results below). Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com said Schwenke's stock is trending up.

Writes Jeremiah:
I really liked Schwenke on tape and he continued to impress with an excellent week at the Senior Bowl. On Saturday, his draft stock received another boost. Schwenke posted a great 40 time (4.99) and enjoyed a fine field workout. I could see his name being called in the early portion of the third round.
Zach Ertz versus Tyler Eifert

One was a unanimous All-American. The other won the Mackey Award for the nations' best tight end. The battle for the top tight end taken in the draft might be too close to call at this point.

Per ESPN's Todd McShay, Insider Ertz had a good day, but Eifert may have closed the gap.
Depending on who you ask, there are varying opinions on which of the two is the best tight end. If you took a poll, it would probably come out even at this point. So, of the two who are jockeying for position as the top TE in this class, Eifert won the day. It doesn't mean he'll be the first TE drafted, and if he is, it doesn't mean he's going to be the better NFL player. But for what it's worth, he had the better Saturday. At 6-foot-5˝, 250 pounds, he's slightly bigger and longer. He ran an unofficial 4.6 in the 40 and had an impressive 35-inch vertical leap.
Here's John Clayton's take:
Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz were considered the top two tight ends in the draft, and it's starting to look like it will be a good battle for the top spot. Eifert may have challenged for the lead after running a 4.68 compared to Ertz's 4.76.
40 times/bench

For complete workout results, you can check out the NFL.com combine page. Here's some of the top results for the fleet-footed and pectorally gifted (per NFL.com).

Running backs
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 4.49/18 reps
Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 4.52/20 reps
C.J. Anderson, Cal: 4.60/17 reps
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: 4.76/17 reps

Wide receivers
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State: 4.45/20 reps
Marquess Wilson, formerly of Washington State: 4.51/7 reps
Robert Woods, USC: 4.51/14 reps

Quarterbacks
Matt Scott, Arizona: 4.69/Did not lift

Offensive line
Kyle Long, Oregon: 4.94/Did not lift
Brian Schwenke, Cal: 4.99/31 reps
Jeff Baca, UCLA: 5.03/ Did not lift
David Bakhtiari, Coloraod: 5.09/28 reps
Khaled Holmes, USC: Did not run/13 reps

Tight end
Nick Kasa, Colorado: 4.71/22 reps
Zach Ertz, Stanford: 4.76/24 reps
Levine Toilolo, Stanford: 4.86/17 reps

Pac-12 sees 38 invited to NFL combine

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
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The official list of college players invited to the NFL combine is out and 38 from the Pac-12 made the cut. At least one player from every team in the conference was invited. A total of 333 players were invited and workouts begin Feb. 23. You can see the complete list here.

Pac-12 chat wrap

January, 31, 2013
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Apparently I offended Stanford fans yesterday by saying I don't think the Cardinal can go undefeated -- which was promptly followed by the fact that I don't think any team in the Pac-12 can go undefeated. Sounds like a good poll question for later today -- can anyone go undefeated in 2013? For now, enjoy the chat highlights or click here to see the entire chat.

Trojan1981 (Edinburgh): With 38 conference championships under their belt, nobody can reasonably dispute that USC is a "traditional powerhouse"; but do any of the other teams in the PAC 12 meet the definition?

Kevin Gemmell (2:02 PM): Hey, Trojan 1981 to start us off. How about that. USC certainly has a nice advantage in overall titles. But UCLA has 17, Washington 15, Stanford and Cal at 13 apiece. I guess it depends on your definition of "traditional" power, but I think you could make an argument for UCLA and certainly Stanford and Oregon are on the rise.

John (Mountain View, CA): Kevin, after covering the program for a year, you probably know this -- what was the demand for Mike Bloomgren among college and pro teams? There was a report that USC was attempting to hire him as well as contact from other schools and the NFL. How hot a commodity is he now? What are the chances he follows in the footsteps of other Stanford OCs and get an NFL OC gig or college head-coaching job after next year?

Kevin Gemmell (2:07 PM): I don't know how much of a demand there was from the NFL. I can tell you he's extremely well-respected among his peers in the league and he was the natural choice for the job. [Head coach David] Shaw clearly recognized that. I know he spent four seasons with the Jets and he and [UCLA offensive coordinator] Noel Mazzone became good friends during that time and Noel can't stop raving about him. Give him a couple of seasons before we start talking about him moving up. But he certainly is one of the brighter pro-style minds in the country.

The Intern (Andrew) (Office, Couch): Can we expect [Taylor] Kelly to start for ASU next year? any chance for the other guys? Or maybe back to 2 QB system?

Kevin Gemmell (2:12 PM): [Todd] Graham strikes me as a smart coach. And a smart coach doesn't sit guys as efficient as Kelly was this year. I see no reason why he wouldn't be the starter. That's not to say they won't keep working in [Michael] Eubank or if Kelly falters, we could see a switch. But based on his performance last year, he's earned the right to be the starter through good times and bad.

Haggmark (San Francisco): Lame excuses aside, how many wins does [Lane] Kiffin have to get to keep his job in 2014. Does one embarrassing loss seal the deal?

Kevin Gemmell (2:19 PM): I think if he can get to 8-9 wins without any of the off-field issues, that would probably be enough considering the sanctions he has to deal with. But seven wins coupled with another off-field incident probably would be the end.

Mario (Tah): OSU: Blip in 2012 or sign of things to come?

Kevin Gemmell (2:35 PM): I think a sign of things to come. That offensive line should get better, good skill players in the pipeline and the coaching staff has been one of the best in the country in terms of continuity.

cougarbrian's little brother (PDX): Who will win the Apple Cup next year?

Kevin Gemmell (2:39 PM): I would say Washington based on the talent coming back. But I would have said Washington this year based on the talent they had (wait, I did say say Washington in my predictions. Thanks a lot Dawgs).

SEC fan (The dirty south): What are the chances the Pac-12 catches up to us for best conference in the country and steals the NC from us?

Kevin Gemmell (2:40 PM): I think Oregon is the only team that could legitimately make a run at the national championship next year. I think Stanford is going to be outstanding, but I just don't know where the points are going to come from. I see them being in a lot of close games again next year. As far as "best conference," teams like Oregon State and UCLA need to step up when the spotlight is on them for the conference to be respected in terms of its depth.

Bill (Denver): Time for a token CU question..... Can you say something nice about the Buffs?

Kevin Gemmell (2:48 PM): Best mascot entrance in college football -- hands down. But in all seriousness, I like the young QBs, I like the move to the pistol and I like that the coaching staff -- though they are new -- has worked together for a few years. The Embree crew was still learning to work together. I think four wins next year is realistic and a bowl game in three years makes sense.

Drake (San Jose): Stanford has to replace very little compared to what they did when Andrew and Co. left. This is why I think you shouldn't be saying they can't run the table. BTW, their offense this year was mediocre and they still should have won all 12 games. Yes I'm still mad about notre dame.

Kevin Gemmell (2:51 PM): I don't think any Pac-12 teams can run the table. Not just Stanford. Going undefeated in this day and age is so hard to do. Has nothing to do with Stanford being Stanford. It's just plain hard. With that said, [Kevin] Hogan (and [Josh] Nunes) at least had [Zach] Ertz, [Levine] Toilolo and a 1,000-yard rusher in [Stepfan] Taylor to work with. Now you're taking all of that out of the equation? That's a ton of offense to replace.

Carson (Seattle WA): Where do you see UW in your preseason polls next season?

Kevin Gemmell (2:58 PM): Hovering around 25 ... not sure if I'm going to include them (though I did last year, again, thanks Dawgs). I know Ted is very high on them and will probably have them in his preseason top 25.
Ten Pac-12 players opted to enter the NFL draft a year early. Several others opted to come back.

Here are the guys who left: Keenan Allen, WR, California; Robert Woods, WR, USC; Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State; Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford; Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford; David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado; Joe Kruger, DE, Utah; Nickell Robey, CB, USC; Terrence Brown, CB, Stanford; and Steve Williams, CB, California

And here are the notable guys who stayed: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State; Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA; Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford; Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford; Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford; and Deandre Coleman, DE, California

So how do things stand?

Biggest winners: Sutton was the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American, yet he opted to return for his senior year, perhaps the most surprising call by a conference prospect. Barr has perhaps more NFL upside than any other player in the conference, but he opted to return to UCLA. The Sun Devils and Bruins' defenses just got a whole lot better in 2013. And these two figure to battle for 2013 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Biggest loser: Stanford was a winner and a loser. The good news was Skov, Murphy and Gardner opting to return to what should be an outstanding defense. Still, no other team lost three quality starters: Ertz, Toilolo and Brown. Ertz and Toilolo were cornerstones of the Cardinal's tight end-heavy attack, combing for 95 catches and 10 touchdowns last season. Ertz is a likely early draft pick, so his departure is understandable. Toilolo's is a bit more surprising, seeing that he could put up huge numbers as a feature guy in 2013 for a high-profile team, which would boost his prospects. Brown also was a bit of a surprise, as he was a solid but unremarkable player.

Headscratchers: Brown, California cornerback Steve Williams and Utah defensive end Joe Kruger all entered the draft with uncertain prospects. Each was only honorable mention All-Conference this season. Each might have been able to boost his stock by coming back in 2013, but a verdict on this won't be delivered until draft day.

The replacements: Here are some ideas on who steps in for the departed guys:
  • With Ertz and Toilolo, the most obvious replacement is moving Ryan Hewitt back to the position he played before switching to fullback this past season. As for Brown, the expectation is that junior Wayne Lyons should be ready for his star turn.
  • Cal now has only one returning starter in its secondary in safety Michael Lowe. Junior Kameron Jackson was the No. 3 cornerback this past fall, and the hope is the once-touted Stefan McClure will come back 100 percent after missing last season with a knee injury. As for Allen, Cal restocked its receiving corps last recruiting class, so rising true sophomores Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Darius Powe will be expected to take a step forward in 2013.
  • USC also has some obvious youngsters to step in for Woods, though the first question is whether junior George Farmer will ever stay healthy enough to live up to his recruiting hype. Next in line would be sophomores Nelson Agholor and Victor Blackwell. As for replacing Robey, USC has across-the-board questions in its secondary after losing three of four starters from a unit that was underwhelming this fall. Converted safety Josh Shaw could man one corner, while Torin Harris and Anthony Brown offer experience, though it's notable that Harris was academically ineligible for the Sun Bowl. Don't be surprised if a youngster works his way into the mix.
  • With a new coach at Colorado, don't be surprised to see some shuffling along the offensive line, which makes it difficult to project who steps in for Bakhtiari at left tackle. Sophomore Marc Mustoe was his backup last season, but 2012 right tackle Stephane Nembot, an impressive athlete, could move over to the critical blindside protector spot.
  • The loss of Kruger means Utah has three spots on its defensive line to fill, including of course All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Senior Niasi Leota is the most likely replacement, and at 6-foot-4, 278 pounds he best fills Kruger's dimensions. Trevor Reilly, more of an outside linebacker type at 245 pounds, was listed as an "Or" for much of the year with Kruger for when the Utes used a more 3-4 look.

Season review: Stanford

January, 22, 2013
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Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.

We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.

STANFORD (12-2, 8-1)

Grade: A

MVP: Can we just go ahead and name the entire defense as a singular MVP? Judges? No? Oh well, I guess we have to pick one. And since determining the MVP from that defense is unbelievably impossible, because they truly are the sum of their parts, we'll look to the offensive side of the ball, where running back Stepfan Taylor broke 1,000 yards for third straight season and leaves the school as one of its greatest backs ever. He hit career highs in rushing yards (1,530), carries (322), and receptions (41). When an inconsistent offense stalled, he was one of the few gears that didn't shut down. He rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games, and scored at least one touchdown in nine. He's a complete back -- running, vision, catching, toughness, blocking -- and some NFL team is going to be very happy to have him.

What went right: They won the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl, giving the Cardinal their second BCS Bowl victory in the past three years. The goal of every team should be -- first and foremost -- to win your league. Only one team can actually do it -- and it was Stanford, hence the 'A' grade. While the offense lacked for explosiveness -- it averaged just 27.9 points per game -- the defense was one of the best in the country. Led by a front seven that often enjoyed its "parties in the backfield" and a secondary that was perceived as a possible weak point in the preseason but turned out to be a valuable asset, the Cardinal finished 11th nationally in points against (17.2). In a league where half of the teams average at least 30 points per game, that might be the most impressive number of all.

What went wrong: When head coach David Shaw says Stanford would not have beaten USC or Arizona with Kevin Hogan as the quarterback, you have to believe him. Why? Now this might come as a shock, so I hope you're sitting down ... because he knows more about quarterbacks, offense and football than you do; more than I do and more than Ted Miller does. Debate all you want about whether he was too late pulling the trigger in replacing Josh Nunes. He is the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. I'll stick by his story. So the quarterback controversy left a few ink stains on the season -- most notably at Washington, where Nunes was making his first road start and the team ran into a highly motivated Washington defense that shut down Taylor and kept the Cardinal without an offensive touchdown. The Cardinal were bad in that game -- but let's also make sure we give Washington some credit, because the Huskies played inspired football. As for the Notre Dame game in South Bend -- Stanford's only other defeat -- there's no evidence the Cardinal would have won the game had Taylor not been stopped on that controversial goal-line ending. But it would have been nice to let it play out.

2013 outlook: The defense should once again be nasty. The news that defensive end Ben Gardner, and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy will be returning, makes the Cardinal the league's best defense until proven otherwise (we'll learn a little more when ASU's equally nasty defensive front comes to Palo Alto on Sept. 21). Chase Thomas' absence will be noticeable. But there are some young outside linebacker's in the pipeline who can fill in adequately. The issue for the Cardinal is going to be finding a way to score. With Taylor gone -- as well as five of the top six receivers from last season -- the offense has some question marks. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were huge security blankets in the red zone and on third down. Also, the development of Hogan will need to take a big step forwar,d because he'll be asked to do a lot more. They also need to replace center Sam Schwartzstein -- a very underappreciated asset for what he did the past two seasons. Still -- with the defense headlining their efforts -- there's no reason to think the Cardinal won't be one of the top two teams in the conference again.

Pac-12 players entering NFL draft

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
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The Pac-12 will lose 10 players early to the NFL draft, but some big names are staying.

And the conference shouldn't feel too bad. Consider LSU, which is losing 10 guys alone.

You can review the latest list here.

Here's the Pac-12 list (Note: There may be some stragglers who surprise us -- as in lesser-known players who decided to go ahead and turn pro).

Entering NFL draft
Keenan Allen, WR, California

Robert Woods, WR, USC

Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State

Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford

David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado

Joe Kruger, DE, Utah

Nickell Robey, CB, USC

Terrence Brown, CB, Stanford

Steve Williams, CB, California
Coming back
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford

Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford

De'Andre Coleman, DE, California
More staying-and-going news from Palo Alto, Calif..

A day after Stanford tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo declared for the NFL draft, defensive back Terrence Brown has done the same.

Brown started all 14 games for the Cardinal this past season and finished with 65 tackles, including three tackles for a loss. He had one interception and was second on the team with nine pass breakups and third on the team with 10 passes deflected.

Here is a statement from Brown released through the university:
"I have decided to forgo my final season at Stanford and make myself eligible for the 2013 NFL draft. I would like to thank the entire Stanford football program, especially Coach [David] Shaw and Coach [Derek] Mason, for helping to put me in this position. My admission to Stanford University in 2009 was a life-changing event for me, and all of the faculty, students and staff I have met since have truly blessed and enriched me. I will forever and always be a Cardinal. The past four years have been a great experience for me at Stanford, and I feel well prepared to move on to the next level.

"I am on track to graduate from Stanford University in June with my degree in Science, Technology & Society and feel excited to move on to the next chapter of my life. I would like to thank my family for supporting me throughout my college career, and to thank God for blessing me with my talent and opportunity."

Brown leaves behind a defense that should be loaded again next season. With the recent announcements that defensive end Ben Gardner and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy are coming back, the Cardinal should again be one of the top defensive units in the conference and country.

Brown was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick in 2012.

Stanford TE Zach Ertz going pro

January, 7, 2013
1/07/13
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Stanford's offense will be without one of its premier playmakers after tight end Zach Ertz announced Monday he'll enter the 2013 NFL draft.

Ertz, a finalist for the Mackey Award given to the nation's top tight end, led the Cardinal with 69 receptions for 898 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 64.1 receiving yards per game.

Ertz, the top tight end and No. 29 overall player as rated by ESPN's Scouts Inc., was pivotal in helping Stanford to a 12-2 record, a Pac-12 championship and a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Stanford's No. 2 tight end, junior Levine Toilolo, also announced Monday he will enter the draft. Toilolo finished with 24 receptions for 393 yards and four touchdowns this season.

For the full story, click here.

Pac-12 2012 awards announced

November, 26, 2012
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The Pac-12 conference has announced its 2012 individual honors and all-conference first and second teams as voted on by the coaches.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State.
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Fr., Oregon
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
RB Ka’Deem Carey, So., Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Sr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL Brian Schwenke, Sr., California
OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Matt Scott, Sr., Arizona
RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr., UCLA
RB Stepfan Taylor, Sr., Stanford
WR Austin Hill, So., Arizona
WR Robert Woods, Jr., USC
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
OL David Bakhtiari, Jr., Colorado
OL Sam Brenner, Sr., Utah
OL Kevin Danser, Sr., Stanford
OL Sam Schwartzstein, Sr., Stanford

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
DL Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DL Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah (2)
DL Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
LB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford (2)
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
DB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
DB Ed Reynolds, Jr., Stanford
DB Desmond Trufant, Sr., Washington

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Henry Anderson, Jr., Stanford
DL Morgan Breslin, Jr., USC
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Datone Jones, Sr., UCLA
LB Kiko Alonso, Sr., Oregon
LB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
LB Brandon Magee, Sr., Arizona State
DB Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Jr., Arizona State
DB T.J. McDonald, Sr., USC
DB Nickell Robey, Jr., USC

FIRST-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Vince D'Amato, Jr., California
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA
RS Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah
ST Jordan Jenkins, Sr., Oregon State

SECOND-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
P Josh Hubner, Sr., Arizona State
RS Marqise Lee, So., USC
ST David Allen, Sr., UCLA

ALL-PAC-12 HONORABLE MENTION
NOTES
  • By School: OREGON and STANFORD placed the most players on the first team with five selections each, followed by OREGON STATE with four.
  • By Class: Of the 26 first-team selections, 14 are seniors, five are juniors, six are sophomores and one freshman.
  • Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches--WR Marqise Lee of USC.
  • Two-time selections: Two players are repeat first-team selections from last year--DT Star Lotulelei of Utah, LB Chase Thomas of Stanford.
  • All-Academic: Two players were named to the first team on both the All-Pac-12 Team and the Pac-12 All-Academic Football Team--P Jeff Locke of UCLA, OL Khaled Holmes, USC. In addition, OL Kevin Danser of Stanford, DL Ben Gardner of Stanford and Michael Clay of Oregon were named second-team All-Academic and second-team All-Pac-12.
Tags:

Datone Jones, USC Trojans, Washington State Cougars, Oregon State Beavers, Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins, Alex Debniak, Johnathan Franklin, Jeff Locke, Arizona State Sun Devils, Joseph Fauria, Matt Barkley, California Bears, Jeff baca, Kenjon Barner, Usua Amanam, Markus Wheaton, Keelan Johnson, Stanford Cardinal, Jordan Poyer, Damien Thigpen, Utah Utes, Will Sutton, Stepfan Taylor, Colorado Buffaloes, Wes Horton, Dion Jordan, Matt Scott, Arizona Wildcats, Brandon Magee, Oregon Ducks, Xavier Su\'a-Filo, Travis Long, Josh Hill, Justin Glenn, Desmond Trufant, Vince D'Amato, Daniel Simmons, Chase Thomas, Deveron Carr, Shayne Skov, Evan Finkenberg, Isaac Remington, Dan Buckner, Sean Parker, Cassius Marsh, Robert Woods, Xavier Grimble, George Uko, Nickell Robey, Hayes Pullard, Keenan Allen, Taylor Kelly, Chris McCain, Hroniss Grasu, Josh Huff, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Cooper, T.J. McDonald, Jake Fischer, Anthony Barr, Taylor Hart, Kiko Alonso, Osahon Irabor, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Terrance Mitchell, Drew Schaefer, Michael Clay, Ryan Hewitt, Jordan Jenkins, Levine Toilolo, Chris Coyle, DeAnthony Thomas, Andrew Abbott, Kyle Quinn, Brett Hundley, Jake Fisher, Zach Ertz, Terrence Stephens, Terrence Brown, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kasen Williams, Jordan Richards, Shaq Evans, Deone Bucannon, Tony Burnett, David Shaw, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, Marqise Lee, Kevin Danser, Rashad Ross, Sam Schwartzstein, David Yankey, Drew Terrell, John White IV, Dion Bailey, Austin Hill, Star Lotulelei, Brian Blechen, Jake Murphy, Alex Carter, Alden Darby, Joe Kruger, Reggie Dunn, Trevor Romaine, Colt Lyerla, Isaac Seumalo, Tevita Stevens, Andrew Furney, Andre Heidari, Sean Sellwood, Josh Hubner, Kyle Negrete, Henry Anderson, Scott Crichton, Rashaad Reynolds, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaq Thompson, D.J. Foster, Brendan Bigelow, Ben Gardner, Trevor Reilly, Darragh O'Neill, Andrew Hudson, Ty Montgomery, Max Tuerk, Cameron Fleming, Trent Murphy, Sam Brenner, Kevin Hogan, Eric Rowe, David Bakhtiari, Marcus Mariota, Yuri Wright, Kenneth Crawley, Leonard Williams, Grant Enger, Brandin Cooks, Jared Tevis, Travis Feeney, Avery Sebastian, John Martinez, Ed Reynolds, Daniel Munyer, Elliott Bosch, Morgan Breslin, Darryl Monroe, Marion Grice, John Timu, Carl Bradford, Nate Fakahafua, Silas Redd, Jeremiah Poutasi, Nick Kasa, Jake Brendel, Christian Powell, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Brett Bartolone, Teondray Caldwell, Andrew Seumalo, Daniel Zychlinski, David Allen, Jaxon Hood, Alex Lewis, Marques Moseley, Will Perciak, Wade Keliikippi, Cyrus Coen

Stanford head coach David Shaw wants to be very clear on this point: Kevin Hogan is not a quarterback playing a Wildcat package. He's a quarterback playing quarterback.

"We stay away from the word Wildcat," Shaw said. "I think that's so specific to a running back and so specific to what we did [last year] with [Tyler] Gaffney and what we've done a couple of times this year with Stepfan [Taylor] and Anthony Wilkerson. This is completely different. He's in there to play quarterback."

You might have noticed the last few weeks Hogan stepping in for Josh Nunes a couple of plays at a time. This doesn't mark a specific change in philosophy. Shaw was adamant in the preseason about not wanting a two-quarterback system. Rather, this is a chance for the Cardinal to explore more options on offense.

And why not? The Cardinal rank fourth in the conference in total offense, averaging 381.7 yards per game. They are sixth in rushing offense and ninth in passing offense. Three of Stanford's top four receivers aren't receivers. Seven of Stanford's 10 passing touchdowns have come from tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo and running back Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal have a very traditional offense, but they go about running it in an non-traditional way. So they are experimenting with ways to open things up a little more.

Enter Hogan, who has carried the ball three times for 18 yards and has thrown one pass, a 9-yard touchdown to Toilolo last week. His specific package is option-read, and Shaw to expect more of it.

"We really could see more of it," Shaw said. "I was a little tongue in cheek [in the preseason]. What I didn't want to do was have two quarterbacks rotating in to run the same offense. That's what I didn't want. But as far as having packages -- a Kevin Hogan package for a specific group of plays; and trying to make that as versatile as possible so there is enough running and passing, he's not just going in and doing one thing.

"There are some things that he can do and help us with. I think that's great. To me, that's not playing two quarterbacks. Rotating quarterbacks, I think that's hard on everybody. But when a guy has a specific package to get ready for -- particularly being a young quarterback -- I think that helps him get a foothold and a good start to his career."

This also raises the question of whether Hogan is next in line behind Nunes. Shaw was non-committal when asked if Hogan or Brett Nottingham was his backup. The question posed to Shaw was "knock on wood" if something happened to Nunes, who would start?

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireKevin Hogan
"Let's just keep knocking on wood," Shaw said. "Brett's ready to go if we need him. If that did happen, we'll see. But hopefully we won't see."

Hogan said he was thrilled that his first career touchdown pass came against Cal.

"It was exciting, especially in The Big Game, first time getting the opportunity to throw the ball," Hogan said. "... it was an exciting feeling."

Shaw first concocted the idea to use Hogan in this capacity last year. Whenever the Cardinal were prepping for a team with a running quarterback, it was Hogan who got the nod to run the scout offense.

"On our team, you have to earn the right to get on the field by practicing well in practice," Shaw said. "We've known Kevin can run and throw, but we weren't going to put him out there until he was efficient in that role, so we've been working it."

 

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