Pac-12: Mark Asper

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.

Pac-12's most improved players in 2011

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
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The coaches announced their All-Pac-12 team here, and the Pac-12 blog followed shortly thereafter here.

We even created an All-Underrated Team.

Now we recognize our Most Improved Players on both offense and defense.

[+] EnlargeDion Jordan
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAll-Pac-12 junior defensive end Dion Jordan collected 7.5 sacks in 2011.
Defense (tie): Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

Jordan went from single-game starter in 2010 to first-team All-Pac-12 as a junior in 2011. Jordan had 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2010, when he showed promise after converting from tight end. He lived up to that promise in 2011 with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Jordan figures to be a leading candidate for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, particularly if he gets his skinny butt into the weight room and eats a lot of steak.

Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei started the final three games of the 2010 season and finished with 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. In 2011, he won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman, as voted on by his peers -- the guys who had to block the 325-pounder. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was the lineman of the game in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. He finished with 44 tackles, including nine for loss, but his main job was occupying two blockers so linebackers could make tackles. The Utes ranked third in the Pac-12 -- and 20th in the nation -- in run defense.

Honorable mention: Conroy Black, CB, Utah; Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford; Trevor Guyton, DE, California; D.J. Holt, LB, California; Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon; C.J. Mizell, LB, Washington State; Nick Perry, DE, USC; Eddie Pleasant, S, Oregon; Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State; Nickell Robey, CB, USC; Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona

Offense: Gerell Robinson, WR, Arizona State

Robinson went from bust to bust-out in 2011. In 2010, the once-touted recruit caught just 29 passes for 387 yards. He was best known for inconsistent hands. And at the start of 2011, he also caught an early case -- or two -- of the dropsies. But Robinson caught fire just as the rest of the Sun Devils started to tank, hauling in more than 100 receiving yards in six of the final eight games, including 13 receptions for 241 yards in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State. He finished with 77 receptions for 1,397 yards and seven touchdowns. His 107.5 yards receiving per game ranked ninth in the nation, and his 18.1 yards per catch was tied for first in the Pac-12. His late-season surge earned him a spot in the Senior Bowl.

Honorable mention: Mark Asper, OG, Oregon; Matt Barkley, QB, USC; Matt Kalil, OT, USC; Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State; Isi Sofele, RB, California; Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State; Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State; Robert Woods, WR, USC

The 2011 Pac-12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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Our All-Pac-12 bowl team has two quarterbacks and a position we made up. And it wasn't easy to pick the defense, because many of the conference defenses underwhelmed during a 2-5 bowl run.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireEven Andrew Luck would admire Washington QB Keith Price's seven-touchdown effort in the Alamo Bowl.
Offense
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
: Luck completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
QB II Keith Price, Washington: It's impossible to leave Price or Luck out. Price completed 23 of 37 passes for 438 yards with four TDs and zero interceptions in the Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor. He also rushed for 39 yards and three scores. Those numbers typically would eclipse what Luck did, but Baylor might have the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor rushed for 177 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns in the Fiesta Bowl.
WR Gerell Robinson, Arizona State: Robinson caught 13 passes for 241 yards with a TD in the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State.
WR Lavasier Tuinei, Oregon: Tuinei caught eight passes for 158 yards and two scores in the Rose Bowl victory.
TE Zach Ertz, Stanford: Ertz caught four passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinal's Rose Bowl loss.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: The unanimous All-American dominated Oklahoma State's D-linemen in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cardinal rushed for 243 yards.
OL Mark Asper, Oregon: Asper is the senior cornerstone of a line that led the way for 345 yards rushing in the Ducks' Rose Bowl victory.
OL Tony Bergstrom, Utah: The senior tackle helped RB John White gain 115 tough yards against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: The Ducks freshman center made all the right line calls against Wisconsin.
OL Senio Kelemete, Washington: The Huskies gained 620 yards and didn't allow a sack in the loss to Baylor.
Freak: Our special position for De'Anthony Thomas, who scored TDs on runs of 91 and 64 yards in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Black Mamba also caught four passes for 34 yards and returned five kickoffs for 125 yards.

K: Giorgio Tavecchio, California: Tavecchio capped a strong senior season with a 47-yard field goal in the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas.
RET: Rashad Ross, Arizona State: Ross returned the third-quarter kickoff 98 yards for a TD against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Defense
DL Josh Shirley, Washington
: While it's difficult to recognize anyone from the Huskies defense against Baylor, Shirley did sack Robert Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, three times.
DL Trevor Guyton, California: Guyton had five tackles, with two coming for losses, and a sack in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DL Star Lotulelei, Utah: The Utes DT had six tackles and a fumble recovery and generally blew up the middle of the Georgia Tech line in the Utes' Sun Bowl victory. He was named Most Valuable Lineman.
LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Zumwalt had 10 tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in the Bruins' loss to Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
LB Kiko Alonso, Oregon: The Ducks LB had five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, with a sack and a key interception in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win. He was named Defensive MVP.
LB Michael Clay, Oregon: The Ducks LB had 13 tackles, including two for a loss, and a critical fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl victory.
LB Mychal Kendricks, California: Kendricks had 10 tackles, including 1.5 for losses, in the Bears' loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
DB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Mitchell had five tackles in the Rose Bowl, but his most important contribution was forcing a Wisconsin fumble on the Ducks 27-yard line with four minutes left in the game. Perhaps even more important than that, he inspired coach Chip Kelly to jump up and down in a wonderful -- and slightly goofy -- show of spontaneous emotion (search YouTube for "Chip Kelly jumping").
DB Clint Floyd, Arizona State: Floyd had seven tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception in the Sun Devils' loss to Boise State.
DB John Boyett, Oregon: Boyett had a bowl-high 17 tackles and half a sack in the Ducks' win over Wisconsin.
DB Marc Anthony, California: Anthony had four tackles, one coming for a loss, and two pass breakups against Texas.

P Sean Sellwood, Utah: Sellwood averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Video: Oregon's Mark Asper

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
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Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper talks about a crazy week and finally winning the big one.

Video: Oregon's Carson York

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
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Oregon offensive lineman Carson York talks about the heroic acts of offensive tackle Mark Asper and the Ducks running game.

Lunch links: No choking around this Duck

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 31, 2011
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The final entry in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last season's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Oregon

Best case

The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"

"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."

Four hours before, a pre-game brawl between the Ducks and Tigers was barely averted as the teams stood face-mask-to-face-mask at midfield. Later, the exact cause -- and instigators -- would become a subject of intense speculation and rumor. But both teams went back to their locker rooms before kickoff unhappy with the other.

Pregame: Ducks coach Chip Kelly, splatters of blood spider-webbing down his white shirt, stands amid his players.

"We have practiced better than any team in the nation," he begins. "We have come together for this moment. I'm all about judging ourselves only by the perfection of our effort every day, not by anything outside our program. That's win the day. That's what we are about. But if anger motivates you, then feel free to be angry. It's clear that team doesn't respect you. I will guarantee you this, though. That is going to change."

Oregon outgains LSU 476-220 in a 42-10 victory. Running back LaMichael James rushes for 185 yards and two scores, doing most of his damage between the tackles. The Ducks sack LSU QB Jarrett Lee five times.

"Wow, that's a good football team," Miles says. "They are fast and physical. They will get my vote for No. 1 this week."

The Ducks are voted No. 1 in both polls.

After pounding Nevada and Missouri State, the Ducks visit Arizona. The game is tied 17-17 at halftime. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the score is 44-17.

"No team explodes like the Ducks," ESPN's Chris Fowler. "They are sort of like my favorite superhero, another green beast, the Incredible Hulk."

"Oh, good one," replies Kirk Herbstreit. "I can just see Chip Kelly, 'Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.'"

The Ducks roll over California, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State. James is neck-and-neck with Stanford QB Andrew Luck in most Heisman Trophy polls.

"I don't care about individual awards," James says. "I care about my teammates and winning -- in that order."

The Ducks head to overflowing Husky Stadium to take on 10th-ranked Washington, which has only lost at Stanford.

An enterprising Huskies fans sells 50,000 purple T-shirts with a cartoon of Kelly passing money to alleged street agent Willie Lyles, and College GameDay runs a story on the bad feelings over the shirts.

"Did Chip Kelly run up the score?" a reporter asks Washington coach Steve Sarkisian after the Ducks whip the Huskies 60-14, their eighth victory in a row in the rivalry, each by at least 20 points.

Sarkisian pauses, "Well, it's our job to stop them. And I guess he thought getting LaMichael James rushing for 300 yards would help his Heisman Trophy chances."

That sets up the biggest conference game in decades: No. 1 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford.

"One of the biggest regular-season games we've had in a while," Herbstreit says. "Not only will the winner earn poll position in the race for the national title game, you'd have to think either Luck or James wins the Heisman tonight."

Not unlike the 2010 game, Luck and Stanford start quickly and lead at halftime. And not unlike the 2010 game, the Ducks roll in the second half, winning 48-31.

Oregon improves to 11-0 with a 45-17 win over USC. Next up: The Civil War, against 17th-ranked Oregon State.

"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Fowler says from the GameDay set in front of Autzen Stadium. "What do you think?"

"Maybe," Kelly replies.

"What are your feelings on the NCAA clearing you and the program of all wrong-doing in the Willie Lyles investigation?" Fowler asks.

"Who?" Kelly replies. "Oh, you mean, Will. My feelings are ... good."

Oregon whips the Beavers 55-10.

After stomping Arizona State 43-16 in the Pac-12 title game, the Ducks earn a berth in their second-consecutive BCS national championship game. The opponent? Unbeaten and second-ranked Alabama.

James wins the Heisman Trophy.

"The lead story for the national championship game, obviously, is the Ducks top-ranked offense against the Crimson Tide's top-ranked defense," Fowler says. "But SEC fans might be a little surprised that this Pac-12 team can play some D -- see 15.2 points per game. Oh, and by the way, this SEC team can play some offense -- see 41 points per game."

"And, of course, everybody is asking what would it mean for college football if the SEC wins a sixth consecutive national title and adds Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and North Carolina," Herbstreit replies. "Fair to say much of the college football nation is rooting for the Ducks to bring the SEC back down to earth."

"Other than Washington fans," Fowler quips.

"True that," says Herbstreit.

The Ducks gather inside the Louisiana Superdome.

"Great moments, are born from great opportunity," Kelly says."Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. That is your opportunity: To complete a perfect season and have your name written down on a list of champions where it will never be stricken. Look around this room. Look around! My heart is full of love for you guys. Our bond from this season will never be broken. And that is why we have to live in this moment together. We love this game. Play it with absolute joy tonight. Don't let any play, any moment of this game pass without your absolute focus, your absolute intensity. That is what we owe each other. Forever is about to happen, gentlemen. Lay it on the line. Four quarters for forever."

Oregon trails 24-19 with 12 seconds left. It faces a fourth-and-goal on the Crimson Tide 1-yard line.

"Darron," Kelly says to QB Darron Thomas. "We're going right at them. Tell LaMichael to jump. High."

James is immediately met short of the goal line by Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He lands, twists. Ducks tackle Mark Asper rams Upshaw. Three more Crimson Tide players surge into Upshaw, James and Asper, and three Ducks join the fracas. What develops is a scrum of 22 bodies moving sideways along the line of scrimmage. With no whistle.

Then everything collapses. It takes two minutes to clear the bodies.

It starts slowly. A hum, an inhale of recognition, then an explosion of joy followed by complete, prolonged pandemonium.

Touchdown, Oregon. The Ducks are national champions.

"It was a great football game," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "No shame in losing to a great team."

Kelly signs a lifetime contract. He could leave for another job, but he's agreed that he can only do so if he cuts off all of his limbs and leaves them behind. Most think that condition will keep him in Eugene.

Oregon announces it's expanding Autzen Stadium to 100,000 seats and that Nike has figured out a way to get the work done in advance of the 2012 season.

The Ducks sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

The renovation of Husky Stadium uncovers a massive lake of quicksand, into which the entire stadium sinks in just minutes.

The Pac-12 blog's postseason list of the conference's top-25 players is entirely made up of Ducks. Oregon fans complain that the list should number 30.

Worst case

The moderator walks into the interview room at Cowboys Stadium: "We have LSU coach Les Miles here. Any comments coach before we take questions?"

"Yes," Miles says, letting out a breath. "Wow."

He continues, "Did we beat their butts or what?"

The Ducks offense is again stymied by a big, fast defense with extra time to prepare as the Tigers prevail 28-12.

But the Ducks bounce back with seven consecutive impressive victories, rising again to No. 5 in the polls.

"They are still in the national title hunt," notes ESPN's Chris Fowler.

The Ducks head to Husky Stadium to take on unbeaten, fourth-ranked Washington, which handed Stanford its only loss two weeks before.

Oregon leads 28-24 with nine minutes left. A Jackson Rice punt rolls out of bounds on the Huskies 1-yard line.

On first down, Huskies running back Chris Polk rushes for 3 yards. On second down, Polk rushes for 8 yards. On first down, Polk rushes for 4 yards. After 16 plays, Washington has a first down on Oregon's 8-yard line with 40 seconds left.

Polk rushes for 3 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk rushes for 2 yards. Polk scores the winning touchdown as time expires.

"Wow, Chris Polk just ripped the hearts out of Oregon fans everywhere!" says Oregon play-by-play man Jerry Allen. "You can see why he's neck-and-neck with Andrew Luck in the Heisman Trophy race. The Huskies clearly are in the national title hunt."

Up next: No. 8 Stanford.

"This looked like the Pac-12 game of the year in the preseason, but right now everyone is chasing the Huskies," observes Fowler.

Luck throws four touchdown passes in a 42-28 win.

The Ducks bounce back with a win over USC.

"If we win the Civil War, we can still go to a quality bowl game," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says."I was reading the paper the other day, and it said we can still get to the Alamo Bowl."

Beavers receiver James Rodgers hauls in a game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime. The Beavers rush the Autzen Stadium field, and chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"

The Ducks lose to Clemson in the Sun Bowl to finish 8-5.

Washington beats Oklahoma for the national title.

Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach. The Ducks hire Jim Lambright to replace him. "Now I can be happy about watching Kenny Wheaton return that interception!" Lambright says at his introductory press conference.

On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.

Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.
No Pac-12 offensive line is going to scare you heading into 2011. Even Arizona State, which welcomes back its entire 2010 depth chart, doesn't look like a dominant unit.

So there is no Washington in 2000, California in 2004, USC in 2005 or Stanford in 2010. Just about every team has at least some concerns up front.

So how to things stack up? Read on.

Great shape

[+] EnlargeArizona State's Garth Gerhart
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREArizona State center Garth Gerhart anchors the top returning line in the Pac-12.
Arizona State: 11 of 12 from the 2010 two-deep are back, including center Garth Gerhart and tackle Evan Finkenberg. The Sun Devils line was not dominating in 2010, so this unit is not a sure-thing. But it's reasonable to project a solid unit becoming a very good one in 2011.

Good shape

Colorado: Sure, tackle Nate Solder is gone, and center Mike Iltis decided to give up football, but three quality starters are back and several others have experience. Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins might be the best guard tandem in the Pac-12.

Stanford: The Cardinal lost three starters, but the two coming back are first-team All-Pac-10 guys from 2010 and All-American candidates this fall: tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. The new guys played well this spring. It's possible this line will again be very good, but three new starters is three new starters.

Utah: The Utes welcome back three starters, including both tackles, from a line that was solid in 2010. Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen will be one of the better tackle combinations in the conference, and Tevita Stevens, who played guard last year, provides experience at center.

California: The Bears were uncharacteristically mediocre last year, but they probably weren't as bad as some think, seeing that they didn't have a passing threat to keep defenses honest after QB Kevin Riley got hurt. Three starters are back -- tackle Mitchell Schwartz was second-team All-Pac-10 last year -- and a number of other players have experience.

Oregon: While the Ducks officially lost three starters, tackle Darrion Weems started enough games in 2010 to count as a returning starter. Tackle Mark Asper and guard Carson York are solid, but there are questions after that. The line struggled this spring -- perhaps the D-line is just good? -- and former walkon Ramsen Golpashin was able to hold onto a starting spot. It's nice when a walk-on does well but it does cast the scholarship players in a questionable light.

Washington: Three starters are back and there's optimism the Huskies struggling line is ready to take a step forward. The run blocking was much better over the second half of the season. Still, none of the three returning starters even earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors in 2010.

Oregon State: Four starters are back but that might not be good news considering how mediocre-to-bad the line play was in 2010. Still, the Beavers have, traditionally, found a way to get it done up front. Perhaps 2010 was just a blip.

We'll see

UCLA: If healthy, the Bruins could be solid on the O-line, but that's a big if. The unit struggled during spring practices due to injuries, which exposed a lack of depth. It's uncertain when tackle Jeff Baca will be back from a broken ankle and he may be the Bruins best lineman. Center Kai Maiava and guard/tackle Sean Sheller are expected to be OK in the fall, but will they stay that way?

Washington State: The Cougars welcome back three starters and should be better in 2011 due to young players getting experience last fall. But you have to wait-and-see with a unit that gave up 51 sacks a year ago.

USC: The Trojans lost three starters from a line that mostly underachieved in 2010. They have two good starters back -- tackle Matt Kalil and guard Khaled Holmes -- but things are wide-open after that. And the struggles this spring, due in large part to injuries, revealed a worrisome lack of depth.

Arizona: There was plenty of optimism in Tucson that the Wildcats will be fine on the O-line, that losing five starters from a unit that underachieved isn't that big of a deal. But replacing five starters means a team has no idea what things will look like when the lights come on for real. So we'll see.

Who's got experienced hogs?

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
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It all starts up front, coaches will tell you.

So perhaps offensive line experience is a better way to evaluate a team than just looking at returning skill players who grab the headlines. The Wall Street Journal said as much before the 2009 season.

Of course, there's no perfect formula, and more than a few folks have noted it's as much about quality as quantity when evaluating a line. It's notable that the the WSJ touted Texas before the 2009 season due to 91 starts coming back on its O-line. The Longhorns went on to play for the national title. Only the team they lost to, Alabama, was supposed to be in trouble due to just 50 career starts.

And Oregon fans might note that a certain Rose Bowl team did OK even though it had just 20 career starts on its line.

Phil Steele has compiled a complete list of the numbers of career starters for every FBS team's offensive line. Here's how the Pac-12 stacks up (number to the left is national ranking).

Number of returning starts on the offensive line

No. 17 Colorado, 97
No. 22 Oregon State, 91
No. 30 California, 85
No. 32 Arizona State, 84
No. 37 UCLA, 80
No. 53 Washington State, 71
No. 62 Washington, 65
No. 65 Utah, 63
No. 83 Oregon, 56
No. 89 Stanford, 50
No. 111 USC, 27
No. 120 Arizona, 1

What to make of these numbers, other than you see why USC and Arizona both have big questions on their lines?

Well, I'd probably take what Stanford has coming back on its line -- first-team All-Pac-10 linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro -- over what Oregon State, California, UCLA, Washington State and Washington welcome back. Pretty sure their coaches would, too.

Still, this is firm grounds upon which to project better line play this fall from Oregon State, California and Arizona State.

You also may see a repeat of 2009 for the Ducks. Sure, they lack experience up front. But Mark Asper, Carson York and Darrion Weems are a pretty solid returning core, not to mention that Steve Greatwood is one of the best line coaches on the West Coast.

And Colorado's experience up front -- though losing tackle Nate Solder can't be just written off -- combined with a very good running back in Rodney Stewart, might give some pause before relegating the Buffaloes to also-ran status this fall.

Exiting the spring: Oregon

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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Oregon concludes spring practices with its spring game on Saturday. Here's a brief primer.

Spring game: 4 p.m. ET at Autzen Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN2. Here’s the link to the Oregon spring game on ESPN3.com.

Questions answered: The Ducks lost five starters from the defensive front seven, but this one may be more a reload rather than rebuild. This is due in large part to the experience of the so-called new guys, most of whom saw significant action last fall. Ends Dion Jordan and Brandon Hanna -- returning starter Terrell Turner sat out with a leg injury -- and tackles Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi all played well. At linebacker, Kiko Alonso takes over in the middle for Casey Matthews, while Michael Clay, Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokomobo capably man the outside spots. More depth is provided by Dewitt Stuckey and Derrick Malone.

Questions unanswered: The defense was mostly in control this spring, and a lot of that was due to three new starters on the offensive line. Things aren't settled there other than tackles Mark Asper and Darion Weems and guard Carson York. Further, the Ducks are replacing their top two receivers, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis, and that may be a spot the requires help from a touted crew of incoming freshmen.

Spring stars: Jordan was an intriguing prospect when he switched to defensive end last season. Now he's starting to look like a player. Alonso missed last season due to suspension -- he also was injured -- but he's brought a physical presence to the middle of the defense. Running back Lache Seastrunk has played well enough to earn touches at a deep position. Spring always provides good walk-on stories, and the Ducks have theirs in Ramsen Golpashin, a fifth-year senior who's in the mix at offensive guard. Now some of you less sentimental sorts might not be thrilled with what a senior walk-on winning the job says, but let's see the glass as half-full.

Video: Oregon's Mark Asper

January, 8, 2011
1/08/11
11:30
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Ted Miller talks to Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper.

Ducks Barner puts horrible hit behind him

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
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CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon's perfect season has been filled with so many thrills, so much euphoria. Perfect regular seasons do that. And celebrating a berth in the national title game after whipping your rival 37-20, as the Ducks did at Oregon State on Saturday, surely is the greatest moment. Probably in the history of the program.

But there also is little question of the lowest moment during this charmed season. It was a moment of despair, which drove more than a couple of Ducks to tears.

That would be when running back Kenjon Barner was knocked senseless by a head shot on a kickoff return at Washington State on Oct. 9. As Barner lay motionless on the field, and the TV broadcast replayed the hit over and over, it was impossible not to fear the worse.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barber
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireKenjon Barber had a 133 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns in Oregon's win over Oregon State.
"He was down for a while," linebacker Casey Matthews said. "When you go out and play football, you don't think of that stuff. You think you are invincible. The tears were falling. It was definitely emotional."

The distance between the moment running back LaMichael James covered his head with a towel to keep his emotions private as he prayed for his best friend and the pair sitting on a podium celebrating their Civil War victory after evenly splitting 267 yards rushing is vast.

"Just getting back on the field with these guys, it's a blessing," said Barner, who rushed for 133 yards on just 15 carries -- 8.9 yards per rush -- with a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that iced the game.

The Ducks season is overflowing with good stories, but Barner's may be the best. His season started with a bang of a different sort. With James suspended for one game due to offseason legal issues, Barner tied the Oregon record with five touchdowns -- in just the first half! -- in the opener versus New Mexico. He needed just 17 carries to pile up 147 yards. He also caught a 60-yard touchdown pass.

But between that bang and the bang at Washington State, there was mostly silence.

Barner, who had a breakout performance in the Rose Bowl last January, was expected to be a Robin to James' Batman this season. But in the two games before heading to Pullman, he rushed just six times for 14 yards. He mostly disappeared and was not happy with himself or his role.

"There were times I was really frustrated," he said.

Then he woke up in a hospital room, where James showed him video of the hit. It was not something he could just shrug off.

"I watched the hit a couple of times," he said. "It made my stomach cringe. It wasn't a good feeling. It's still not a good feeling. It was never me thinking I never wanted to play again. It was just like, 'Man is that going to happen again? Am I going to go through the same thing again?'"

He wasn't the only one who took deep measure of the moment.

"It was pretty sobering," offensive tackle Mark Asper said. "You kind of realize the fragility of the situation. There's been a lot of attention about concussions in football this year and to have it brought home like that with Kenjon -- it was a scary moment. This is the closest team I've been on. To see someone get hurt like that -- he's one of your friends."

Barner didn't play in the Ducks' next two games. He saw his first action since the hit nearly a month later against Washington, rushing for 60 yards on nine carries with a touchdown. Pretty good numbers.

At first Barner said he felt fully restored -- confident and in sync. But that really wasn't the case.

"Against Washington, I wasn't as aggressive as I was today," he said. "With time, it came."

Said Asper, "It did take a couple of weeks. It took a while for everybody to stop handling him with kid gloves. Then you realize, he's a football player, a top athlete."

Barner turned in some of his best work late against California. Then he rushed for 71 yards in the win over Arizona. But the player in Reser Stadium on Saturday was the Barner of old -- speedy, shifty and elusive on the edge, a dangerous runner in space. He also delivered some blows and ran aggressively, driving for extra yards.

Barner (5-11, 180) and James (5-9, 185) are about the same size. Both are fast, though James is faster. Yet their teammates say they are very different backs. Matthews said Barner is more physical and a better receiver, and James is faster. Asper went the other way saying Barner is better on the edge and James is better between tackles. Coach Chip Kelly talked about James' speed and Barner's "shiftiness."

Whatever. Kelly provided a bottom line on the two sophomores: "I think maybe defenses have a sigh of relief when you take LaMichael out, but when you thrown Kenjon in there, it's very difficult."

James, who scored two touchdowns against the Beavers, is the unquestioned leader. He's the nation's leading rusher and a Heisman Trophy candidate. His 1,682 yards this year -- a new Pac-10 record for a sophomore -- is the second most ever gained by an Oregon back. He's also set a school record with 22 total touchdowns this year. Barner converted from defensive back just last year. He's still learning the position.

But Barner again looks like the quality backup folks expected him to be in the preseason, one who can stress a defense, who can be a dangerous counter punch to the lightning of James.

"It's unbeknownst to me sometimes who we have in," Asper said. "We'll be pulling the pile apart and it's like, 'Hey, it's Kenjon.'"

It was Kenjon -- big -- against the Beavers. And the Ducks are thankful for that in ways that go beyond yards and touchdowns.

Oregon linemen not just beefcake

November, 11, 2010
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Oregon's offensive linemen are sick of it. They won't be objectified anymore. They want the world to know they are more than just a bunch of big, nameless, sexy guys.

Sure, they made a calendar. And, yes, the photos are hot. Women everywhere swoon at the thought of Ducks offensive linemen.

But they want to be taken seriously as football players. So there was no beefcake calendar this year.

"Believe it or not, we have a pretty big following," center Jordan Holmes said. "They were very disappointed."

Oh, Jordan, we believe it.

[+] EnlargeOregon offensive line
Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesThe Oregon offensive line has helped pave the way for the top-ranked Ducks.
But there is a larger issue here: When folks talk about the high-powered Oregon offense, they start with coach Chip Kelly and tempo and the spread-option, then move on to LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. Someone chirps in about underrated receivers, such as Jeff Maehl. "Underrated!" someone invariably counters. "That's tight end David Paulson's middle name!" Then someone says that's an unusual middle name. And another pipes in that they thought his middle name was "Joshua."

You get the point. They rarely talk about the offensive line. Heck, only dedicated Ducks fans know any of their names: Holmes, tackles Bo Thran and Mark Asper and guards Carson York and C.E. Kaiser. Ask Kelly to name his line's standouts and he doesn't -- and not because Kelly gets a kick out of not telling reporters what they want to hear.

"I don't know if there is [a standout]. I think they're all really good," said Kelly, whose top-ranked Ducks visit California on Saturday. "It's not like we have one dominant offensive lineman and then four other guys. I think we've got five pretty good guys -- actually six, actually seven or eight pretty good guys. ... I don't know if there's a standout. And to be honest, maybe that's a good thing."

Seven different guys have started games. And you can't argue with the results. The Ducks rank fifth in the nation in rushing (305.4 yards per game) and have given up just five sacks, which is tied for ninth in the nation.

So why doesn't Oregon get mentioned when folks talk about dominant offensive lines?

"They do a phenomenal job there of turning players into system-fit guys," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "I don't think you have first-round picks on their line, guys the NFL is jumping all over. They played really, really fast in the system."

Then Kiffin adds a bit of a zinger: "Obviously, it doesn't help very much for the next level, because there's no carryover in what they do."

Hmm. That's debatable. The Ducks are masters of zone blocking, which is popular in the NFL. And three Ducks linemen -- Geoff Schwartz (seventh round), Max Unger (second round) and Fenuki Tupou (fifth round) -- were picked in the 2007 and 2008 drafts. And all five 2009 starters returned this year, so none were eligible this past spring.

What do Oregon linemen do that's so different? Kelly insists that blocking is blocking, and his line coach, Steve Greatwood, is considered one of the top teachers in the nation.

Still, there is some "new school" at work here (though zone blocking isn't terribly new). The Ducks' line doesn't try to knock you back so much as stretch you out and create spaces for playmakers, such as James. It's not about driving; it's about sticking. There isn't a designated "hole," which sometimes takes some getting used to for young linemen.

"There are so many options -- I don't know what else goes on behind my back," Holmes said. "Sometimes it's frustrating not knowing where the ball's going. But as long as we're moving the ball downfield, we're OK with it."

But the real difference is tempo. The Ducks want to play as fast as possible, and plays can't start until Holmes has a spotted ball and can set the line. Suffice it to say, he gets to know the referee better than any other player on the field.

"There are a lot of officials who like to stand over the ball and wait for their buddy officials to get set up before they'll actually spot the ball," Holmes said. "They'll say, 'Don't snap the ball until I'm out of the box.' But we really never listen to them. As soon as he puts it down, we're trying to snap it."

While zone blocking isn't as aggressive as drive blocking, it's hardly patty-cake. When you watch the Ducks' line work, you see plenty of defenders on the ground. There's plenty of mauling going on, particularly at the second level. And physical play at a fast pace wears a defensive front seven down. Even a layman can sense a defense's will getting broken. Just pay close attention late in the third quarter.

"It's usually in the middle of a drive," Holmes said. "You can read body language. They're having a tough time getting their calls in. They kind of start to snap at each other. When that happens, you know they are not feeling too good. Then it's time to attack."

Yes, Holmes admits he and his linemates get tired. They are big dudes running around, after all. But he also noted they usually score a touchdown before exhaustion sets in, so they can go to the bench and relax with a cup of juice and an orange slice.

Their work has earned notice. While James and Thomas are like Brad Pitt and George Clooney starring in the blockbuster that is the Ducks' offense, the line is like William H. Macy, Forest Whitaker and Harry Dean Stanton, playing supporting roles that earn acclaim from educated eyes.

"I think that line is under-appreciated because of the numbers being run up by the individuals involved -- the quarterback's numbers, LaMichael James' numbers -- everybody's got a place to point their attention," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "But I think that line does a pretty remarkable job in handling everything at the tempo. And as well with as many schemes as they run."

But who should earn, say, All-Pac-10 honors?

"They all stand out," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "They are technicians who are able to move in space."

So, please, don't only see the Ducks' linemen as mere zone-blockers playing in a system. Or even as eye candy in alluring poses. See them as technicians. Men who move in space.

But, just FYI: Word is there will be a new Ducks linemen calendar this spring.

A look back at 2007 recruiting

July, 21, 2010
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The 2007 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.

Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses. (And, yes, we did this last summer with the 2006 class, which you can review here -- Ducks fans should get a kick out of it).

As for the 2007 rankings, USC ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. Oregon, at No. 23, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.

Scout.com ranked USC No. 2 in the nation, Oregon ninth, and California 12th. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Washington (29th in nation), UCLA (36th), Arizona State (38), Oregon State (40), Stanford (43), Arizona (49) and Washington State (54).

Here's an overview.

Arizona

Class: 17

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (DE Apaiata Tuihalamaka, TE Rob Gronkowski)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (RB Nic Grigsby, CB Trevin Wade, WR William Wright, K Alex Zendejas)

Misses: Tuihalamaka, QB Bryson Beirne,

Verdict: Obviously, the biggest catch of this class, Gronkowski, is gone. Otherwise, a lot of these guys qualify for the "where are they now?" file.

Arizona State

Class: 24

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (C Garth Gerhart, WR Kerry Taylor, CB Omar Bolden, DE James Brooks, OG Matt Hustad)

Misses: OL Po'u Palelei, LB Oliver Aaron

Verdict: This is a decent class, particularly when you factor in the contribution of the since-departed JC signees, such as LB Morris Wooten and DE Luis Vasquez. And there are several non-starters who will contribute this year.

California

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (OT Matt Summers-Gavin, P Bryan Anger, LB D.J. Holt, WR Alex Lagemann, OT Mitchell Schwartz, S Sean Cattouse, S Chris Conte, OG Justin Cheadle, DE Cameron Jordan, RB Shane Vereen).

Misses: QB Brock Mansion, CB D.J. Campbell

Verdict: Obviously, ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., missed with its evaluation of this solid recruiting class, particularly when you consider RB Jahvid Best, WR Nyan Boateng and LB Devin Bishop were significant contributors before their tenures were done. Jordan and Vereen obviously were well underrated. And there were 21 running backs better than Best?

Oregon

Class: 29

ESPNU top 150 players: 1 (DE Kenny Rowe)

How many are expected to start in 2010: 10 (Rowe, WR D.J. Davis, LB Casey Matthews, CB Talmadge Jackson, OG Carson York, TE David Paulson, OG Mark Asper, WR Jeff Maehl, S Eddie Pleasant, DE Terrell Turner).

Misses: DT Myles Wade, S Malachi Lewis

Verdict: When you toss in DE Will Tukuafu, WR Aaron Pflugrad (a starter who transferred to Arizona State) and WR Terence Scott, this is a good, if not great, class. Three or four of these guys should be All-Conference players.

Oregon State

Class: 35

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (HB Joe Halahuni, S Cameron Collins, WR Darrell Catchings, CB Brandon Hardin, FB Will Darkins, DE Taylor Henry, LB Keith Pankey, WR James Rodgers)

Misses: CB David Ross, RB Reggie Dunn

Verdict: We don't have the time to go back and retrace the maneuvers that are part of managing a 35-man recruiting class (each class can only include a maximum of 25 members, but there are lots of ways to fudge numbers). Obviously, there are the Beavers typical crew of so-called diamonds in the rough -- hello, James Rodgers -- but here's a guess that coach Mike Riley winces over some of these names. Certainly not a lot of production from the six JC guys.

Stanford

Class: 19

ESPNU top 150 players: 0.

How many are expected to start in 2010: Six (P David Green, CB Corey Gatewood, LB/FB Owen Marecic, TE Coby Fleenor, DE Thomas Keiser, DE Matt Masifilo)

Misses: QB L. D. Crow, S Sean Wiser

Verdict: An interesting class considering that six of the eight lowest rated players are on the Cardinal's preseason two-deep depth chart, including three starters. In terms of skill positions -- see the two QBs -- this class doesn't measure up.

UCLA

Class: 11

ESPNU top 150 players: 2 (QB Chris Forcier, RB Raymond Carter)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (LB Akeem Ayers, LB Glenn Love, LB Steve Sloan, DT Nate Chandler, OT Mike Harris)

Misses: Forcier, Carter

Verdict: This is a very small but highly productive class collected by former coach Karl Dorrell -- note that it includes DT Brian Price, who bolted early for the NFL. The only busts were the two highest rated players, Forcier and Carter, and JC LB Mike Schmitt. The other eight members are either on the two-deep or, in Price's case, already in the NFL.

USC

Class: 20

ESPNU top 150 players: 10 (RB Joe McKnight, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, S Marshall Jones, DE Everson Griffen, QB Aaron Corp, WR Ronald Johnson, OT Martin Coleman, DT DaJohn Harris, C Kris O'Dowd)

How many are expected to start in 2010: Four (LB Chris Galippo, WR Ronald Johnson, C Kristofer O'Dowd, LB Malcolm Smith)

Misses: S Marshall Jones, OT Martin Coleman

Verdict: Obviously, this class, ranked No. 1 in the nation, was overrated, even when you factor in that McKnight, Griffen and Damian Williams already are in the NFL, and NT Christian Tupou would be a second-year starter if he didn't blow out his knee this spring. Lots of guys who never contributed or left the program.

Washington

Class: 27

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Eight (WR Devin Aguilar, LB Alvin Logan, LB Cort Dennison, SS Nate Williams, LB Mason Foster, CB Quinton Richardson, DE Kalani Aldrich, K Erik Folk)

Misses: DE Emeka Iweka, DT Nick Wood

Verdict: You read the names of the seven highest-rated players in this class and you have one reaction: Terrible. But then you see six defensive starters among the lower rated guys. Still, the Huskies defense is a huge question mark. How it performs this year will tell you how this class should be rated.

Washington State

Class: 26

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2010: Five (CB Aire Justin, WR Daniel Blackledge, C Andrew Roxas, OG B.J. Guerra, SS Chima Nwachukwu)

Misses: WR Deon Ford

Verdict: Not much should be expected from Bill Doba's final recruiting class, and this one doesn't deliver much sizzle. A couple of solid hits, though, including a couple of departed JC transfers.

Injury questions for both Oregon and USC

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Some key actors might not play in the big Halloween show Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

For USC: Both running back Joe McKnight and tight end Anthony McCoy suffered injuries against Oregon State. McKnight suffered a severe cut on his hand, while McCoy sprained his ankle. McKnight played with his injury, but McCoy had to be helped off the field. Coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Sunday that McCoy's injury is not the dreaded "high ankle" sprain, which can take weeks to recover from.

For Oregon: The Ducks' defense might take a couple more hits. Cornerback Talmadge Jackson hurt his back against Washington, while linebacker Josh Kaddu suffered a "foot/ankle" injury in the third quarter. On offense, guard Mark Asper conducted postgame interviews with his left foot in a boot.

Of the group, McCoy and Kaddu might be the most questionable to play Saturday, but obviously there will be more reports throughout the week.

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