Pac-12: Logan Paulsen
Middleton, by the way, was named preseason first-team All-Pac-10 by Phil Steele, even though he only caught 26 passes last year and was being challenged for the starting job by Chris Izbicki.
Only four teams welcome back their starting tight end, and only one -- California's Anthony Miller -- even earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Why is the position down? Attrition after an "up" season. Consider the departed: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Those guys are now stocking NFL rosters.
So where do things stand? Well, you might say we graded the position on a curve, though there is plenty of potential here.
- California: Miller was the Bears' third-leading receiver last year. Six-foot-7 sophomore backup Spencer Ladner saw action in seven games.
- UCLA: While the Bruins lost their top two TEs, they look solid here with Cory Harkey, Notre Dame transfer Joseph Fauria and hybrid TE-WR Morrell Presley.
- Stanford: Even though the Cardinal lost Dray, Coby Fleener was their top pass-catcher at the position, and the depth is good with Konrad Reuland, Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo.
- Oregon State: The Beavers get credit here for H-back Joe Halahuni, who caught 35 passes for 486 yards and three TDs in 2009. Senior Brady Camp is a good blocker with 18 career starts.
- Oregon: The Ducks lose Dickson, but David Paulson saw extensive action in 2009 and JC transfer Brandon Williams was impressive this spring.
- Arizona: Gronkowski's back injury made A.J. Simmons the season-long starter, so the Wildcats are at least experienced. Redshirt freshman Jack Baucus is the backup.
- Washington State: The Cougars' depth chart lists five TEs, with Skylar Stormo and Zach Tatman offering experience at the top.
- USC: Attrition and injuries make this a questionable position for the Trojans. If Blake Ayles and Rhett Ellison stay healthy, things should be OK. The incoming freshman class is strong, starting with Xavier Grimble, who ranked No. 1 at the position, according to ESPN Recruiting.
- Washington: With Middleton, the Huskies would have been in great shape. Izbicki had a good spring, but he only caught three passes for 7 yards in 2009 and the depth is questionable.
- Arizona State: Jovon Williams is gone and Dan Knapp is a tackle, but the Sun Devils could move up here just because the position figures to be more involved in the offense in 2010. Trevor Kohl and Christopher Coyle top the depth chart.
Why is it deep? Start with the fact that nine starting centers are back from 2009, though Washington's Ryan Tolar has moved to guard and former starting tackle Drew Schaefer has moved inside to center. Then consider that of those nine, six earned a spot on the 37-man watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's best center. Even Washington State, which lost Kenny Alfred, probably feels pretty good about Andrew Roxas, who's started nine career games.
The big names: Six players are legitimate all-conference candidates: USC's Kristofer O'Dowd (he could be the top center in the 2011 NFL draft), Arizona's Colin Baxter and Stanford's Chase Beeler (both were second-team All-Pac-10 in 2010), Oregon State's Alex Linnenkohl (who has 26 career starts), Oregon's Jordan Holmes and UCLA's Kai Maiava.
Thin: Tight end
Why is it thin? Only four teams welcome back a starting tight end, none of whom earned all-conference honors. In fact, only one returning tight end, California's Anthony Miller, earned honorable mention. And consider the list of departed players from 2009: Arizona's Rob Gronkowski, Oregon's Ed Dickson, Stanford's Jim Dray, UCLA's Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya and USC's Anthony McCoy. Phil Steele recently named his four All-Pac-10 teams, and he made Washington's Kavario Middleton the first-team tight end. Middleton caught 26 passes last year and he's fighting with Chris Izbicki for the starting job.
Fill the void? Miller and Middleton (Izbicki?) could be breakthrough players. UCLA is excited about the Joseph Fauria-Cory Harkey combination. Joe Halahuni, though a hybrid, H-back sort, is a threat for Oregon State. Stanford's Konrad Reuland, a Notre Dame transfer, is promising. It appears that David Paulson, Dickson's backup last year, and JC transfer Brandon Williams will be solid for Oregon. Perhaps Blake Ayles finally stays healthy for USC.
2009 overall record: 7-6
2009 conference record: 3-6
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, punter/kicker: 2
Top returners: K Kai Forbath, QB Kevin Prince, WR Nelson Rosario, FS Rahim Moore, LB Akeem Ayers, DE Datone Jones, P Jeff Locke
Key losses: TE Logan Paulsen, OT Xaiver Su'a-Filo (LDS mission), DT Brian Price, CB Alterraun Verner, LB Reggie Carter, DE Korey Bosworth, LB Kyle Bosworth
2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin* (566)
Passing: Kevin Prince* (2,050)
Receiving: Nelson Rosario* (723)
Tackles: Reggie Carter (79)
Sacks: Brian Price (7)
Interceptions: Rahim Moore* (10)
1. The revolver will evolve: While the new "revolver" offense -- read: Nevada's pistol -- wasn't a smashing success, coach Rick Neuheisel and coordinator Norm Chow believe adopting some spread-option elements will add productive wrinkles to the offense, which will burden an opposing defense's preparation. Quarterback Kevin Prince ran something similar in high school and is a good athlete. Will it become the base offense? We'll see.
2. There's speed on the rebuilding D: Sure, the Bruins should take a step back on defense. Losing six quality starters, including three first-team All-Pac-10 performers is a blow. But one thing may accelerate the rebuilding: The defense will be faster in 2010. That doesn't mean it will be better, but speed makes for a more favorable margin of error.
3. The transfers will help: While they were both banged up this spring, receiver Josh Smith and tight end Joseph Fauria -- transfers from Colorado and Notre Dame respectively -- both flashed enough potential during the off-season and the spring to make clear they will be major contributors to the offense.
1. Is there enough in the trenches? UCLA's depth is questionable on both lines, most particularly the offensive line. If everybody stays healthy, things should work out fine -- there's enough experience and talent to get the job done. But a couple of injuries could mean trouble.
2. Who wins out at linebacker? Akeem Ayers is a given at strongside linebacker, but the other two spots haven't been decided. In the middle, sophomore Pat Larimore is battling junior Steve Sloan, while Sean Westgate and Glenn Love, a converted safety, are competing on the weakside.
3. Will Prince break through? Prince has talent and he's been productive at times. A run of injuries hampered his progress in 2009. If he takes a step forward this fall and stays healthy, he has enough skill around him for the Bruins to score plenty of points.
The academic honor is for college football players from all divisions who maintained a 3.2 GPA or better. A total of 620 players from 246 schools qualified for membership in the society's fourth year, an 80 percent increase from the inaugural class in 2007.
You can read the complete list of players here.
The Pac-10 players who earned academic honors are:
Mike Nixon, Arizona State
Taylor Kavanaugh, Oregon State
Gregg Peat, Oregon State
Chris Gronkowski, Arizona
Mark Boskovich, California
Logan Paulsen, UCLA
Trevor Theriot, UCLA
Jeff Byers, USC
Jordan Congdon, USC
Kenny Alfred, Washington State
Joe Eppele, Washington State
Here's our take.
Incoming Pac-10 transfers:
QB Steven Threet, Arizona State (from Michigan) -- Threet finally has found a system that works for him with the Sun Devils after his previous schools -- Georgia Tech and Michigan -- changed coaches and adopted option offenses that didn't fit his skill set. He'll compete with Brock Osweiler for the starting job this spring (Samson Szakacsy will be limited because of a continuing elbow problem).
WR Aaron Pflugrad, Arizona State (from Oregon): Go ahead and pencil in Pflugrad as a starter at a position of need for the Sun Devils, who lost their top-two receivers, Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams.
WR Josh Smith, UCLA (from Colorado): The Bruins have a lot of guys back at receiver, but those guys weren't terribly explosive last year. The hope is that Smith will add some big-play capability.
TE Joseph Fauria, UCLA (from Notre Dame): While the Bruins lost Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya, Fauria will combine with junior Cory Harkey -- and perhaps hybrid receiver Morrell Presley -- to give the offense plenty of punch at the position.
Outgoing Pac-10 transfers:
QB L.D. Crow, UCF (from Stanford) -- Crow was stuck behind Andrew Luck. 'Nuff said.
QB Chris Harper, Kansas State (from Oregon) -- Harper never seemed comfortable at Oregon and said upon transferring that he wanted to be closer to home. He's a talented athlete but raw as a QB.
RB Raymond Carter, Colorado State (from UCLA) -- Couldn't break through in Bruins' crowded backfield.
RB Aundre Dean, TCU (from UCLA) -- See Carter.
WR Vidal Hazelton, Cincinnati (from USC) -- Big things were expected out of him at USC -- he was the Trojans' leading receiver in 2007 -- but he got hurt early in 2008 and decided to transfer over an apparent conflict with coaches over whether he could redshirt or not. Trojans could have used him in 2009.
DT Kaniela Tuipulotu, Hawaii (from Arizona): He started seven games in 2008 but slid down the depth chart -- injuries were an issue -- and opted to transfer to his home state.
Most of these guys aren't "new," but they could make the next step up in their careers this spring.
Juron Criner, WR, Jr: Criner (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is already a familiar name to Wildcats fans. Heck, he led the team with nine touchdown receptions in 2009. The reason he makes this list is this: It would be a surprise if he's not first-team All-Pac-10 at season's end.
Aaron Pflugrad, WR, Jr: Hmm. Name seems familiar? Pflugrad is a transfer from Oregon, who left the Ducks after his father, Robin, was fired as receivers coach. He was expected to start for the Ducks in 2009, and he should be in the same position with the Sun Devils, who need help at receiver.
Ernest Owusu, DE, Jr: Owusu looked like a budding star early last season when he recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss against Maryland, but that was about it for his production in 2009. Still, he combines good intelligence and speed with special power -- he's the Bears' strongest player -- and that could all come together as he fights to break into the starting lineup.
Diante Jackson, WR, RFr: Many thought Jackson would offer immediate help to the Ducks' receiving corps as a true freshman, but, instead, he was a scout team star last year. The Ducks are looking for a dynamic, play-making presence at wideout and Jackson might be the guy.
The Unga brothers: The Beavers lost Keaton Kristick to graduation and Keith Pankey may miss 2010 with an Achilles injury, so there are opportunities at linebacker. These twin brothers -- Kevin "Feti" Unga and Devin "Uani" Unga -- could fight their way into the mix.
Shayne Skov, LB, So: Skov started seven games last year as a true freshman and ended up third on the Cardinal with 62 tackles. The early returns are Skov will be first-team All-Pac-10 before he's done.
Cory Harkey, TE, Jr: With the departure of Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya, Harkey will finally get his chance to take center stage. He caught eight passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2009. His production will be many times that in 2010.
T.J. McDonald, S, So: First off, the son of former USC legend Tim McDonald is listed at 205 pounds. Really? He looks bigger -- in a good way. And he's a hitter. He had seven tackles as a backup to strong safety Will Harris last year, but he could play either free or strong.
Talia Crichton, DE, So: Crichton was forced into action last year as a true freshman -- he started four games -- because the Huskies lacked depth on the defensive line. With the departure of both starting ends -- and the questionable status of Kalani Aldrich's knee -- Crichton is almost certain to ascend to a first-team spot. Here's a guess he's better prepared in 2010.
Travis Long, DE, So: Back in the Cougars' glory days -- folks, it wasn't really that long ago, either -- they always had ends who were disruptive. Long led the Cougars with 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks as a true freshman in 2009. Those numbers will more than double in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five Pac-10 players are among 154 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy (formerly known as the Draddy Trophy), which is commonly known as the "Academic Heisman."
The Pac-10 semifinalists are: Arizona State linebacker Mike Nixon, Oregon State offensive guard Greg Peat, UCLA tight end Logan Paulsen, USC offensive guard Jeff Byers and Washington State center Kenny Alfred.
Conference offensive line coaches would want to note that three of the five are O-linemen.
Nominated by their schools, which are limited to one nominee each, semifinalists must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship. Renamed this fall in honor of Bill Campbell, the chairman of Intuit, former player and head coach at Columbia University and the 2004 recipient of the NFF's Gold Medal, the award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy and a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship.
The NFF Awards Committee will select and announce up to 15 finalists on Oct. 29. Each finalist will be recognized as part of the 2009 NFF National Scholar- Athlete Class, receiving an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship. The winner will be announced live at the NFF's Annual Awards Dinner on December 8 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. A total distribution of $277,000 in scholarships will be awarded that evening
See the complete list here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.
4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.
5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.
6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.
7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.
8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.
9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.
10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Five Pac-10 tight ends were selected for the 30-man John Mackey Award watch list. The Mackey Award is given annually to the nation's top tight end.
Those players are:
For the complete list, go here. The winner will be announced on Dec. 10.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The seventh of 10 quick updates on offseason Pac-10 goings on.
UCLA in a sentence
- Year Two of the Rick Neuheisel Era comes on the heels of an outstanding recruiting haul in February and features 17 returning starters and legitimate hope for a push into the top-half of Pac-10 standings and a bowl berth.
The big issue
- The Bruins, even with guru Norm Chow calling the shots, were terrible on offense in 2008, and struggles at quarterback and along the offensive front will be nagging concerns until youthful players break through.
Quick hit news
- Six players will not return for various reasons -- safety E.J. Woods, quarterback Chris Forcier, offensive lineman Sonny Tevaga, receiver Dominique Johnson and running backs Raymond Carter and Aundre Dean.
- Besides returning starters, the Bruins have five players again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and offensive tackle Sean Sheller.
- Joseph Fauria, 6-7, 260-pound tight end, transfer from Notre Dame to UCLA. He will be eligible to play in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Results of the annual Pac-10 media poll will be announced on July 30, but here's a guess at how most ballots will look:
1. USC; 2. California; 3. Oregon; 4. Oregon State... 9. Washington; 10. Washington State
And from five to eight all heck breaks loose.
Now, some -- such as Phil Steele -- think Oregon will tumble. Some have issues with Oregon State. And some think Washington will be a surprise team.
But a plurality figures to vote these six teams as they appear above and then throw the other four into the air and leave it to the college football spirits to decide.
So where do you rank Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford and UCLA?
I wouldn't be completely shocked if any of those four actually broke into the top four. I also wouldn't be astonished if any finished ninth.
I think I've written at various times that all four should end up bowl-eligible, even though eight conference teams with a .500 record or better is difficult to pencil out. (It did, however, happen in 2006 -- and Washington even finished 5-7).
I changed my own 5-8 a number of times. I won't tell you how I voted yet. My boss threatened to tear off my arm and beat me with it if I did. He's done it before so I believed him.
Why the difficulty?
For one, each of the Unfixed Four will break in a new quarterback, though Stanford and UCLA both have their starters back from 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ninth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
Don't be surprised if ... UCLA's offense is much better in 2009.
OK, this one doesn't exactly come out of left field.
There is one obvious and overwhelming reason that this one is a near-certainty: UCLA's offense will be hard-pressed to be any worse than it was in 2008.
The Bruins ranked 109th or worse in the nation in five major statistical categories. The prime problems were turnovers (29) and poor offensive line play (83 yards per game rushing; 35 sacks surrendered).
The reason to project at least a modest turnaround are plentiful, though:
- No way a Norm Chow offense lays another egg like this one. In the quarter-century-plus he's been coaching offenses, he's never had one as bad as 2008.
- The offense welcomes back nine starters, though redshirt freshman Kevin Prince has unseated Kevin Craft at quarterback.
- Five players who would have started last year but were unavailable for various reasons -- injuries, suspension, transfer rules, etc. -- will be good to go in 2009: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and offensive tackle Sean Sheller.
- That beleaguered offensive line not only welcomes back Sheller, it also gets six guys back who started at least five games last fall. What's more, incoming freshmen Stan Hasiak and Xavier Su'a-filo, as well as JC transfer Eddie Williams, represent one of the nation's best recruiting hauls of O-linemen.
A modestly improved offense -- paired with an above-average defense -- should be good enough to get to 6-6 and bowl eligible. And if things fall into place ... well, at least one highly respected college football pundit projects a top-25 finish, which requires eight or nine wins.
The key for pushing into the top-half of the Pac-10 likely hinges on the Bruins producing a respectable running game. Chow would probably say "Deal!" on 150 yards per game.
That rushing threat not only would take the pressure off Prince, it would burn some clock and allow the Bruins' defense to rest (Chow did a commendable job of burning the clock and trying to shorten games last year, as the Bruins' average time of possession was 30:07 per game).
While it would be premature to project Chow's offense making a dramatic transformation, the entirely realistic goal of becoming merely mediocre probably will be enough to get the Bruins' win-loss ledger back into the black.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
If you just want to cut to the chase, he's the best offensive coordinator in the history of college football.
In 33 seasons at the collegiate level, Norm Chow has been part of three national championships, guided three Heisman Trophy winners, coached eight of the NCAA's top 30 in career passing efficiency and produced six first-round NFL draft picks at quarterback.
But UCLA's offense stunk last year.
|AP Photo/Ric Francis|
|UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is hoping to see improvement in his offense in 2009.|
It ranked 116th in the nation in rushing, 111th in total offense, 109th in scoring, 109th in passing efficiency and 110th in sacks allowed.
Bad. Very bad.
The good news for Bruins fans, however, is that it seems almost impossible to imagine things not getting better. A lot better, in fact.
It's hard to bet against Chow, 63. His head coach, Rick Neuheisel, also owns a highly respected offensive mind -- though it often appeared that mind was about to explode as TV cameras zeroed in on his reactions to the offensive foibles last fall.
The question is: What are realistic expectations in 2009?
Improving from bad to merely below average might get the Bruins enough juice to win six games, particularly with a defense that should be very good.
But going from bad to average might boost UCLA back into the top half of the Pac-10.
So we thought nothing of calling Chow during his annual Hawaiian get-away to see what he's thinking this off-season.
Taking a quick look backwards: Is there anything you'd change about how you guys ran the offense last year?
Norm Chow: No. I think we were obviously all disappointed. I'm not so sure there was much else we could have done as far as personnel went. We were down to our third quarterback. We started 10 different combinations on the offensive line. Obviously, we were disappointed we didn't do better with just what we were doing. I don't think we could have made dramatic changes. That wasn't our style. We just didn't play well enough and coach well enough.
Considering how successful you've been running offenses, how tough was it for you watching your players struggle to get much of anything going?
NC: It was hard. But it's not about me. It's about our players and their willingness to work, which they did. They played as hard as they could and they did everything we asked them to do. It just didn't work out. It's not their fault. We as coaches have to take the major part of the blame because we didn't get it done. The guys are working hard now and we're looking forward to everything. We've been together for a year now. Prior to us getting there, the quarterbacks told me that we were their fourth different offensive style of ball in four years. What we called 12, [former coach] Karl Dorrell called 92. You go through that four times and it's hard on young guys. Perhaps we should have gone a little slower. We just didn't do what we should have done.
Obviously Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback, is an offensive guy. And he's a hands-on head coach. Did you guys ever butt heads during the season?
NC: Not at all. We have respect for each other. We're both trying to get the same things done. We have very similar ideas about offense. No, it was a joy. This past year, of all the years I've ever coached, was the first time I worked with an offensive coach, an offensive-minded head coach. I've always worked with defensive-minded head coaches, both in college and the NFL. They kind of have a tendency to leave you alone. But Rick was very good about suggestions and thoughts. All you're trying to do is get better. We got along very well. In fact, it was fun. He was a joy to work with. He's a nice guy. He's a fun guy. He's an intense guy. He's perfect for the head coaching position at UCLA.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We've discussed positions of concern a lot. But where are teams (almost) worry-free?
Here are some spots.
USC's offensive line: The Trojans welcome back all five starters, including the nation's best center, Kristofer O'Dowd. And, oh by the way, super-sophomore Tyron Smith might displace returning starter Butch Lewis at tackle. The Trojans averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year and surrendered only 18 sacks, fewest in the conference.
California's secondary: All four starters are back, including first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, from a unit that finished third in the nation with 24 interceptions and ranked sixth in pass efficiency defense. And the backups are so good that a couple of returning starters are hearing footsteps.
USC's secondary: Start with Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard, the best safety combination in the nation -- though Pinkard played corner last year. Sure, two starters -- Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris -- are gone. But three players -- safety Will Harris and corners Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas -- have starting experience. And a couple of the youngsters turned in impressive springs.
Oregon State's quarterbacks: The Beavers have two successful starting quarterbacks in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao, though Moevao is coming back from shoulder surgery. They also have an impressive No. 3 in redshirt freshman Ryan Katz, and Virginia transfer Peter Lalich is a wildcard who had disappeared before coming up big in the spring game. His questionable attitude won't help him climb the depth chart, though.
UCLA's tight ends: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he was Logan Paulsen's backup until Paulsen's season ended with a foot injury in the opener against Tennessee. The Bruins also like sophomore Cory Harkey, and then there's touted freshman Morrell Presley, who's more a hybrid receiver-tight end. Lots of options here. Just got to get them the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller