Pac-12: Matt Kalil

Don't discount Matt Barkley on deep throws

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
12:29
PM ET

Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesHe doesn't have the strongest arm, but Matt Barkley has similar numbers to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III when it comes downfield throws.
USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was a projected top-five pick if he had entered the 2012 NFL draft. The third-ranked QB in the 2012 draft class behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Barkley decided to return for his senior season.

There are several reasons Barkley’s draft stock has supposedly dropped: arm strength, lack of athleticism, struggles when pressured. However, what do the numbers say about these perceived deficiencies?

Arm Strength
Since the start of the 2011 season, Barkley threw 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions on passes 20 yards or longer (in 120 attempts). When Barkley missed his receivers on those deep passes, he was four times more likely to overthrow his target than underthrow.

In fact, Barkley put up comparable numbers to what Luck and Griffin III did on passes of 20 yards or longer in their final two seasons.

And, Barkley’s completion percentage actually improved on throws of this distance from 2011 (39.7 percent) to 2012 (42.3).

Athleticism
Barkley may not be able to outrun defenders, but he has shown the ability to throw on the move. When outside the pocket, Barkley completed more than 65 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns -- including 16 touchdowns on designed rollouts -- and just three interceptions.

Passing Under Pressure
Scouts have pointed to Barkley’s struggles with pressure in his face. The numbers show that Barkley consistently has been able to read defenses and hit his hot read when opponents send extra pass rushers. Barkley threw 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions when opposing defenses blitzed.

Additionally, Stats & Information’s video tracking data has Barkley completing 41.3 percent of his passes when under duress in 2012, slightly above the average for all quarterbacks tracked (40.5 percent).

Even Barkley admits he tried to do too much in 2012, but USC’s offensive struggles went well beyond its quarterback play.

The Trojans' offensive line struggled after the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL and the injury to center Khalid Holmes early in the season. Barkley was sacked six more times in 2012 (14) than 2011 despite playing one fewer game.

USC’s receivers dropped 27 balls in 2012, including eight on passes of 20 yards or longer. In 2011, USC had just 14 drops, four of which were on deep throws.

Also, USC’s running game struggled to gain first downs in key running situations, converting a first down on 11 of 21 third-down rushes with 2 yards or fewer to go. The Trojans’ 52.4 third-down conversion percentage in those situations ranked 103rd in FBS.

USC averaged 7.6 rushes per touchdown in the red zone -- only six FBS teams had a lower red zone rushing touchdown percentage last season.
There's a saying that there are two things that you never want to see being made: laws and sausage. I think you can add the Pac-12 Blog Postseason Top 25 to that list.

The debate between Ted and I was vigorous -- and mostly civil. One time Ted mocked my alma mater for not having a football team. I called Ted the kind of guy who likes his comments and says "natty." I quickly apologized, knowing I'd gone too far. See, mostly civil.

For those who want to see a sneak peek into how the sausage is made, enjoy this email exchange between your bloggers.

Kevin Gemmell: I think it's important to note that while there are elements of the Top 25 that you and I might disagree with, it's a list that we both signed off on. And I stand by it.

With that said, reading over the comments, it seems like I'm responsible for the most hated pick -- Reggie Dunn at No. 25 -- and you are responsible for the two most hated placements -- Matt Barkley at No. 14 and Matt Scott at No. 4.

It took some prodding from me, but you came around on the Dunn pick. Most folks hate it. And that's fine. We knew it wasn't going to be popular. But it's the right call. I don't care if you're playing in the lingerie league or Pop Warner -- returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown is hard to do. It's even harder to do it twice in a game, four times in a season and five times for your career. That's why it's NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE! (I'm using all caps because I'm yelling). There's a reason he's an All-American. And All-Americans don't get left off the list.

In my original Top 25, Barkley was not on it and Scott was in the teens. I believe your exact words were "I'm not moving Matt Scott. I'll fight for him to be in the Top 5." After some give-and-take, I conceded. But I wish I would have pushed harder on Barkley. I see your argument, but he also was the quarterback of one of the worst downfalls in football history. I think he's of great character and enjoyed every conversation I've ever had with him. He's a quality guy and we should be so lucky to have more players like him in the league. I wish him nothing but success at the next level. But his team's dramatic descent was matched only by his team's dramatic preseason hype.

I regret, most of all, not having Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the list.

Ted Miller: As we said at the beginning, it's incredibly difficult to make a top-25 list of players most seasons. I think this year was the most difficult yet.

Who got left off? So many guys: Seferian-Jenkins, Desmond Trufant, Ben Gardner, Datone Jones, De'Anthony Thomas, Kevin Hogan, Austin Hill, Eric Kendricks, Bishop Sankey, Morgan Breslin, Carl Bradford, Marion Grice, Kiko Alonso, Travis Long, Terrance Mitchell, Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen, Hroniss Grasu, Khaled Holmes, Brian Schwenke, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Brandon Magee, Taylor Hart, Joseph Fauria, Robert Woods, etc.

Just to name another 25.

It's difficult to be entirely consistent. Does playing for a winner matter? Yes. Do we disqualify players who played for bad or disappointing teams? No, but it figures into the calculations. Do NFL prospects matter? To me, yes. It's a measure of pure "good." What about stats? Absolutely. Career achievement? Part of it. Position matters, too. Quarterback is by far the most important position. It's not even close. A good tight end isn't as valuable, to me, as a good defensive tackle or cornerback.

The process is fluid. There's a lot of "feel" to it. It's certainly not objective.

With all due humility, I will throw out to our critics a couple of things: 1. We watch a lot of Pac-12 football; 2. We talk to a lot of people who know how to evaluate the quality of a player. We come at this differently from you guys. You spend your Saturdays rooting for your team and hating on your rival. This is our job. We're not terribly emotional about it.

One of my final measures is a personal Pac-12 draft. Where would guys fall if everyone who played in 2012 was coming back in 2013 and all 12 coaches were drafting players, knowing what happened in 2012?

Matt Scott at No. 4: I am 100 percent certain he'd be a top-five pick. In fact, I'd guess all top-five picks would be quarterbacks. I'm also certain that Matt Barkley wouldn't last outside the top-10.

If you are the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, which Scott was, you are elite almost every year. It's practically automatic to land in the top-10. Then when you produce 50 yards per game more than ANYONE ELSE IN THE CONFERENCE and take a middling team with no defense to eight wins, you land at No. 4.

I knew we'd get hit for ranking Dunn. I think Kevin's case for him -- NEVER DONE BEFORE; All-American -- is sound. He would not be among my top-25 picks, though.

As I sit here today, I'd rank Trufant 25th.

So, Kevin: Who's your No. 26?

Kevin Gemmell: Before I answer that, I'd like to add a little something about my thought process -- I didn't take "career" into consideration -- which is why I wasn't as high on Barkley as you were. I tried to evaluate players on their merit from their performance in 2012. And that goes for the "draft" concept as well -- which I didn't put much stock into. Of course DAT would be a Top 10 pick if we were holding a draft. But he didn't have the numbers to merit being placed on this list. Scott deserves Top 10 -- but top five seemed high to me.

As you said, a lot of it is "feel." My first criteria as All-America status. Then all-conference. Then I number-crunched. Then I go with my gut to sort out the rest. I won't spend this entire email defending the Dunn pick. Minds are already made up and I'm not going to change any. Those who hate it will continue to rage. Those brave few (namely, Utah fans) will go down with me in the ship. I'll just say he met my personal criteria -- All-American, all-conference, numbers (for the position he was chosen for) and gut. His fifth 100-yard touchdown which I referenced above was more of a footnote -- not a nod to a career achievement.

My No. 26 would probably be Barkley. As noted above, he wasn't on my original Top 25 that I sent you (along with a note, by the way, that said "We're going to crushed by the readers.") I would probably have had ASJ around 17-20, bumped a few folks up and had Barkley right at the cut-off. I'm pretty sure I had Anthony Barr in around seven or eight also, but he got bumped back.

We both agree quarterback is the most important position -- by far -- which is why you and I were in lock-step with all the other QBs on the list -- Taylor Kelly, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota. But I think I put more stock into team success than you do -- which is why I was comfortable with Kelly at No. 24. He helped his team either meet or surpass expectations. Barkley, however, did not.

The offensive line was wildly under-represented. I'm OK with that this year. There were plenty good offensive linemen -- and the one we put on the list -- David Yankey -- is outstanding. But there wasn't the depth like we had in 2011 with Matt Kalil, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin.

Any position groups you felt were not properly represented?

Ted Miller: Good point about the offensive line. There just wasn't that "elite" feel to the O-linemen this year. We had USC center Khaled Holmes on the preseason list at No. 18, but he didn't have a great season, even though he made first-team All-Pac-12.

It's difficult to evaluate offensive linemen unless you watch game film. You know the winner of the Morris Trophy -- Stanford's David Yankey this season -- is going to be on the list, but after that it's difficult if you aren't hearing NFL scouts swooning. Cal's Brian Schwenke, who is zooming up NFL draft boards, might have been the second-best lineman in the conference, but the Bears' went 3-9 and got poor line play this fall.

That's so much a part of this: The intangibles. I don't buy the anti-Barkley arguments as anything but intangibles. Did his performance justify a No. 14 ranking? Unquestionably. If any other QB in the conference threw four more TD passes than anyone else -- in 11 games, no less -- then it would have been controversial that he was so low. Those not wanting him on the list want to punish him individually as a symbol for an entire team underachieving. And we did demote him: He dropped from No. 1 to 14. That's pretty considerable.

And, again, his "career achievement" is a special case. Career achievement didn't help, say, Cal's Keenan Allen or USC's T.J. McDonald. But Barkley ended his career with 17 more TD passes THAN ANY PREVIOUS CONFERENCE QB.

(Deep breath) I'm OK.

I hear the ASJ talk. To me, tight end is a difficult position to measure. For one, you don't need one like you, say, need a kicker or left tackle. Just because you're the third best tight end in the nation doesn't mean you're among the top-25 Pac-12 players.

Then again: He's likely going to be a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014. Let's just say if I saw a top-25 list of Pac-12 players with ASJ on it, I wouldn't flinch.

Kevin, the good news -- ha! -- is my review of this list and projecting forward to 2013 only includes about 35 to 40 potential players for our preseason top-25. We will get another opportunity to lose "all credibility" and again prove our idiocy in August!

Fun!

Kevin Gemmell: Intangibles do count, at least in my mind. If Jeff Tuel had thrown that many touchdowns and Washington State was still 3-9 would he be on this list? My guess is no. Well, 3-9 for Washington State is the same as 7-6 for USC in my mind.

Perhaps if Barkley wasn't the Heisman front-runner at the start of the season; perhaps if his team wasn't a preseason No. 1; perhaps if he hadn't more than doubled his interceptions from last year -- in 11 games, no less (see what I did there to make my point) -- then maybe the majority wouldn't be as hard on him.

But he was, they were and he did.

And it might be incredibly unfair, but he gets graded on a tougher curve than other quarterbacks.

We could go round and round about this (oh wait, we have). If anything, this whole experience was an exercise in partnership. And it was fun. Hopefully the readers enjoyed it too. Look forward to when we can start hammering out the preseason list. Until then, let's really buckle down and work hard to regain our lost credibility.

Poll: Pac-12 and the NFL draft

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
7:00
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ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are both predicting four Pac-12 players will be taken in the first round of the NFL draft. With the NFL scouting combine starting this week, it's possible that number could rise -- or drop -- pending workout performances.

SportsNation

How many Pac-12 players will be taken in the first round of the NFL draft?

  •  
    3%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    31%
  •  
    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,291)

As of right now, the four players mocked in the first round are Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (No. 1 by McShay/No. 3 by Kiper), Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan (5/9), California wide receiver Keenan Allen (27/22) and Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (30/19).

McShay and Kiper agree on the four players -- but Kiper ranks Ertz higher than Allen while McShay gives the nod to the Cal receiver.

Could a fifth or sixth player enter the first round? ESPN's Adam Schefter reports it's possible that USC quarterback Matt Barkley could still end up being the first quarterback taken in the draft and possibly in the first round. Could one of the running backs -- with a strong performance at the NFL combine -- make a push? There's a lot of defense in the two mock drafts, so maybe a linebacker like Chase Thomas, a defensive back like Desmond Trufant or a defensive end like Datone Jones sneaks in. Look again at the Pac-12 players invited to the combine and see if there is a first-round sleeper in the mix.

Four would be consistent with how the Pac-12 did last year. In 2012, it was Andrew Luck (No. 1), Matt Kalil (No. 4), David DeCastro (No. 24) and Nick Perry (No. 28).

Will that number stay the same in 2013? Your Tuesday poll question: How many Pac-12 players will be taken in the first round of the NFL draft?

Breaking down USC's lost season

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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What went wrong for USC this year? The easy answer is "just about everything."

The second is to point to the UCLA game last year -- a 50-0 Trojans win -- and this year -- a 38-28 Trojans loss. Both USC and UCLA welcomed back a lot of returning starters for 2012: The Trojans 19, the Bruins 16. So the teams weren't substantially different from 2011. A significant number of guys played in both games, only to very different conclusions.

What was different was mostly at UCLA: New coach Jim Mora (and his staff) and redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley. And so, do we ascribe this massive swing to them? Maybe. Is there anyone in the Trojan camp that disagrees with the idea that the Bruins should be more happy with what happened at QB and with their coaching staff this season?

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireWhat happened to Lane Kiffin's USC team in 2012 after a stellar 2011?
What about the numbers: How different does this 7-4 team look compared to 2011's 10-2 squad that captured the nation's fancy?

Consider:

2011 (Pac-12 ranking, end of regular season), 2012 (Pac-12 ranking at present)

Scoring offense 35.8 (3), 36.1 (4)
Scoring defense 23.6 (3), 24.8 (7)
Rushing offense 162.6 (5), 160.5 (7)
Rushing defense 111.4 (3), 150.5 (5)
Passing efficiency 161.1 (2), 157.9 (2)
Pass efficiency defense 130.3 (5), 123.1 (6)
Sacks 2.58 (4), 3.82 (3)
Sacks against 8 (1), 15 (3)
3rd down offense 48.3 (2), 37.2 (6)
3rd down defense 40.1 (6), 37.5 (8)
Turnover margin -1 (7), 0 (7)
Turnovers 18 (2T), 29 (10)
Penalty yards 50.0 (1), 71.2 (8)

The bolded numbers seem fairly telling. The Trojans yielded nearly twice as many sacks and turnovers as 2011, and they were much worse on third down. As for the defense, it was much worse against the run. Further the swing in penalty yards suggest a more youthful team in 2011 was more disciplined than this season's experienced unit.

Still, that doesn't seem terribly satisfying. You'd expect a team with four losses to have worst numbers than one with two.

So here are some more possible explanations.

1. Complacency: This is a generic sports excuse, but it's nonetheless a reasonable explanation for USC in 2012: No matter what they said to the reporters, deep down, the Trojans thought it would be easy. They'd simply show up with all that touted talent and just fancypants folks into submission. Complacency is like a virus. Some catch it after others recover. Then some relapse. It often felt like the Trojans uneven performances featured some players on their games, and others not. That speaks to focus and preparation, and that shortcoming falls on team leaders and the coaching staff.

2. Coaching: In 2011, it felt like Lane Kiffin and his staff did a good job shepherding the Trojans through a season in which they couldn't play in a bowl game, due to NCAA sanctions. In 2012, it feels like Kiffin and his staff did a poor job leading the Trojans through a season in which they were expected to compete for a national title. This team didn't appear well coached, and play calling on both sides of the ball was often questionable.

3. Overrated: In 2011, the Trojans looked like one of the nation's elite teams from midseason-on, starting with a 30-9 win on Oct. 13 at California. The lone loss was in triple-overtime to Stanford and Andrew Luck. The final two games were wins at Oregon, the eventual Rose Bowl champion, and the aforementioned decimation of the Bruins. Perhaps we just read to much into what happened in 2011? It's fair to say QB Matt Barkley didn't live up to his stratospheric preseason expectations.

4. Player losses were underrated: USC struggled at left offensive tackle all year, so, yes, it took a huge step back with the loss of Matt Kalil, probably the nation's best offensive lineman in 2011. And when DE Devon Kennard was lost for the season to injury, that meant the Trojans were replacing all four starting D-linemen.

5. The Pac-12 was better this year: That can be particularly said for defense. Barkley and his scintillating offensive talent faced much better defenses this fall than last year. Last year, three Pac-12 teams won eight or more regular season games, including USC. This year, with one weekend left, four teams have won eight or more, not including USC. And Washington and Arizona have a chance to win their eighth this weekend.

6. It just didn't come together: If you've played team sports, you know things can inexplicably fall apart. You look for reasons, but it just seems like the chemistry and karma weren't there. That can happen in a single game or a stretch of games or an entire season. Kiffin himself traced the Trojans fall to a single missed pass that would have put a dagger into Arizona on Oct. 27.

Feel free to add your own.

Of course, analysis is mostly an academic exercise. Kiffin surely will make his own review this offseason.

But Trojans fans, like most fans of highly successful programs, aren't really that interested in what went wrong. They are interested it getting it right. And quickly.

The big story for Kiffin and the Trojans heading into 2012 was the potential for another national title. The big story for Kiffin and the Trojans heading into 2013 will be Kiffin's hotseat.
As we turn the corner at the midway point of the season, your Pac-12 bloggers recount what has surprised them the most in the first half of the season. One is a pleasant surprise. The other, not so much.

Kevin Gemmell: I think we're all a bit taken aback by the remarkable success Oregon State has had so far this season. Let's be honest -- even the most devout of Beavers believers didn't think their team was going to have the school's best start since 1939. If you did, you are a real-McCoy psychic and you should immediately send all relevant stock tips here.

What's so impressive -- aside from the 5-0 start and top-10 spot in the BCS standings -- is the way Oregon State has gone about doing it. Great offense. Great defense. And above all, a no-nonsense, physical approach to football. There is an attitude -- a focused swagger, if you will -- that is really fun to watch.

[+] EnlargeMichael Doctor
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireLinebacker Michael Doctor has helped point the way for Oregon State's top-five rush defense.
The Beavers have been solid in the trenches on offense and relentless on defense. The offensive line has come together faster than most anticipated -- which obviously has contributed to a rushing attack that averages 119.6 yards per game (up from a league-worst 86.9 in 2011).

Defensively, you can’t say enough about the play of Scott Crichton, Jordan Poyer and a player I think is flying under the radar: Michael Doctor.

Naturally, the growth of quarterback Sean Mannion has been helpful. He’s done a much better job taking care of the ball (OSU ranks 12th nationally in turnover margin), and we’ve been talking about Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks as a potential breakout duo since we started doing weekly Take 2s in the spring.

Heading into this week’s games, the Beavers owned the second-best pass attack in the Pac-12. Again, with teams such as Washington State, USC and UCLA expected to air it out, did anyone really see that one coming?

And the fact that they can plug in Cody Vaz and not miss a beat is impressive.

But as much credit as Mike Riley deserves for the offense, defensive coordinator Mark Banker deserves equal praise -- if not more. The Beavers have the top rush defense in the conference and the No. 4 rush defense in the country, allowing just 70 yards per game on the ground. That’s elite status, and it takes more than just talented players to attain it. It takes an attitude. It takes an unwavering mentality that our defense is going to dictate to you, not the other way around.

Talking with Poyer and Crichton throughout the season, they said the simplest answer is that they are motivated by being 3-9 in 2011. It was a crummy season, and they didn’t want to feel like that again. That’s pretty good motivation.

The fact that Oregon State is better than last season isn’t a surprise. It’s the fact that the Beavers are so much better that is both surprising and pleasant.

Ted Miller: The mediocrity of USC's offense is shocking. No one saw that coming.

This is where someone claims he or she saw it coming. No you didn't. Stop it. No you didn't. Hush.

USC welcomed back nine starters from an offense that in 2011 averaged 35.8 points, 456.8 yards and 294.2 passing yards per game. Among those starters were quarterback Matt Barkley, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate; 2011 All-American wide receiver Robert Woods; second-team All-Pac-12 wideout Marqise Lee, the co-freshman offensive player of the year; second-team All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes; and 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireCoach Lane Kiffin has reined in his offense and let the defense hold on to USC leads.
Barkley had completed 69 percent of his passes with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2011. He ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency. And he had all his weapons coming back. Oh, and the Trojans added a second 1,000-yard rusher when Silas Redd transferred from Penn State.

There were no weaknesses. While the departure of Matt Kalil left a sizable void at left tackle, the consensus was that Aundrey Walker was the next surefire NFL draft choice at a position where USC always has a surefire NFL draft choice.

Yet here we are. With the more difficult portion of the schedule ahead, USC is worse in just about every area on offense. Heck, the Trojans are 112th in the nation on third down, behind teams such as Memphis, Colorado and Kansas.

Heading into this week’s games, Barkley ranks 30th in the nation and third in the Pac-12 -- behind a pair of first-year starters -- in passing efficiency. He's thrown six interceptions after throwing seven in 12 games last season. He's completing just 62.7 percent of his throws. He's been sacked nine times after going down just eight times all last season.

Woods is 99th in the nation with 60 yards receiving per game and five touchdowns; he had 15 TDs and averaged 107.67 yards per game last season. McNeal, now a backup, has only 44 carries.

Lee's numbers are better than last season, but he hasn't been consistent catching the ball.

Some of the blame falls on coach Lane Kiffin, the offensive playcaller who's opted for a more conservative approach, particularly when the Trojans have a lead. With an improved defense, Kiffin seems content to run the ball and play to his defense once he gets ahead.

Still, in the preseason, there was a legitimate discussion of whether this offense might end up ranked among the best in college football history. The question now is whether it will be among the top half of the Pac-12.

And that is a huge surprise.
We talk a lot about wide receivers in this conference. And why not? The overall collection of wide receiver talent is the strongest of any conference in college football.

Heck, even Cal's Keenan Allen said he doesn't see the Biletnikoff winner coming out of any other conference this year. Most are inclined to agree.

But what about the runners? The guys on the ground who keep the safeties honest and allow big names like Allen, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to do what they do best. According to ESPN.com Insider KC Joyner, the Pac-12 is home to three of the top 10 running attacks in college football and USC tops the list with the nation's best running game. And this isn't even taking the Silas Redd situation into account.

USC checks in at No. 1, followed by Oregon at No. 3 and Stanford at No. 8. You can see the complete insider article and all of the Top-10 teams here . Joyner also pops some video highlights in the story, which I'm going to include because I like you guys.
    [+] EnlargeCurtis McNeal
    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireWith the return of 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal and four starters on the O-line, USC's running game is in good shape.

  • Though USC lost its top offensive lineman in left tackle Matt Kalil, the Trojans welcome back four starters to the offensive line, including center Khaled Holmes, projected by many to be the top center in the nation. Factor in a 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal, a wide receiver corps that will scare safeties into taking an extra step backward and a Heisman-hopeful quarterback who understands the intricacies of reading defenses and you have one efficient rushing attack. Woods is also an outstanding downfield blocker -- which you can see in this highlight as he takes out a pair of Stanford defenders. McNeal was second in the conference in yards per carry (6.9) and of the seven 1,000-yard rushers in the conference last year, he did it with the fewest carries. Imagine what his numbers would have been like with a 13th or 14th game?
  • Even though LaMichael James is gone at Oregon -- taking his league-leading 1,805 yards, 7.3 average and 18 touchdowns with him -- the Ducks will still be one of the nation's top rushing teams with Kenjon Barner headlining the attack. Barner rushed for 939 yards on 152 carries with 11 touchdowns. And then there is the always potent De'Anthony Thomas -- who can line up anywhere and can turn the most simple play into a long touchdown. The Ducks blew away the rest of the conference in terms of rushing offense last season -- totaling 4,189 yards (299.2 per game) on the ground. Stanford was a distant second with 2,738. Finding a third and fourth option will be key though, which head coach Chip Kelly addressed at Pac-12 media day last week. And Barner said all the things you'd expect from someone replacing an Oregon legend: "I'll be called upon more often now, but it's nothing new. [It's] not too much pressure at all." Here's the shifty Barner in action.
  • Stanford's rushing attack is built upon its balance. Ex-Cardinal Andrew Luck, who was calling a lot of the plays last season, was phenomenal at putting the Cardinal offense in the best play against the defensive front. By the end of the year, head coach David Shaw said Luck got it right "about 99 percent of the time." But Luck is gone, as are offensive linemen David DeCastro and left tackle Jonathan Martin. But Stanford does return a pair of freshmen All-Americans to the line in David Yankey and Cameron Fleming and a solid center in Sam Schwartzstein. And, oh yeah, a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor (1,330 yards, 10 touchdowns last year). And let's not forget about the most versatile fullback in college football -- Ryan Hewitt -- clearing the way for Taylor. Ty Montgomery gives the Cardinal a deep-threat option, tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo will keep safeties guessing and the Cardinal should continue to pound away with Taylor and a deep running back corps.

Poll: Pac-12's biggest loss

June, 8, 2012
6/08/12
7:00
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We closed last week with one of the meatier offseason discussions we've had on the Pac-12 blog -- whether running back LaMichael James or quarterback Darron Thomas was a bigger loss for the Ducks.

SportsNation

Which player is the biggest loss to his team?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    64%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,455)

While the folks at Athlon Sports, who prompted the original question, tend to lean toward the side of Thomas, many readers (and myself) think James will be the bigger loss.

But let's broaden the spectrum as we close another week and look at a few other of the marquee players who left us this past year.

We're going to keep James and Thomas on the list for a couple of reasons. 1) It sparked the original debate. 2) Ducks fans, who have been known to dominate Pac-12 polls regardless of the question, will actually be forced to split their vote based on the options. (And if you actually vote Andrew Luck, Duck fan, more power to you).

So which departed Pac-12 player is the biggest loss for his team?

You have James, an 1,800-yard rusher who is in the conversation for most explosive back to play in the conference in the last decade.

Thomas was a very dynamic athlete who was plugged in and was an instant winner. And traditionally quarterbacks are bigger losses than running backs.

Luck was Luck. One of the best college quarterbacks the conference has seen and a major catalyst for Stanford's tremendous rise over the last three seasons.

What about Washington running back Chris Polk? A true workhorse runner who had speed and power.

And if you're looking at importance, you certainly have to consider losing an immovable left tackle like Matt Kalil at USC.

Vote your conscious and have a great weekend.

USC spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
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2011 overall record: 10-2
2011 conference record: 7-2 (1st, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Matt Barkley, S T.J. McDonald, OL Khaled Holmes, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, RB Curtis McNeal, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, K Andre Heidari

Key losses
OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, FB Rhett Ellison, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, WR Brandon Carswell, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)
Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)
Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)
Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)
Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Spring answers

1. Marqise Lee is ready for prime time: It’s no secret that Lee is a talented player who put together a terrific freshman season, but he took that performance to an even higher level this spring when he was the best player on the field for the Trojans. We’re seeing a rare athlete in Lee, one whose acrobatic style is being compared to Lynn Swann.

2. The USC defense is worthy of mention: There is so much attention paid to Matt Barkley and his offensive weapons -- and deservedly so -- but this spring was a reminder that the Trojans defense is going to be pretty good too. The back seven will be a strength, as the starters return intact plus there is a nice supply of talented depth.

3. The future of the USC quarterback spot is in good hands: Spring was an extended audition for Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, as Barkley was limited in his reps. Both players had their moments as they look to settle into the No. 2 role and the inside track to be Barkley’s heir apparent. The Trojans also got a verbal commitment from Max Browne (No. 2 rated pocket passer in ESPN 150), who will enroll next spring.

Fall questions

1. Interior of the D-line: One of the keys of spring was replacing two senior starters from the middle of the line. George Uko stepped in at defensive tackle and had flashes of real solid play. After Uko, however, things are not so clear. There is no established backup for him and no set starter at nose tackle, as J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods continue to battle for the job.

2. Lack of depth at tailback: The Trojans have a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal but not a lot of experience behind him. D.J. Morgan had 42 carries in 2011, Buck Allen redshirted last season and Nelson Agholor has yet to join the team. That’s the extent of the playing time for the 2012 USC reserve tailbacks.

3. Protecting the blind side: There wasn’t a ton of worry last year about left tackle with Matt Kalil but replacing him has not been easy. Kevin Graf got the first look, but then the coaches moved Aundrey Walker into the spot. Lane Kiffin said Walker was not consistent but he showed enough with the potential of the size benefits he brings that he will stay as the starter heading into fall camp.
Some quotes from the Pac-12 coaches conference call earlier today.
  • Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on how his players grasped his philosophy: "I think they grasped it pretty well from the progress from the first practice to the last. We tried to coach them up and educate them on how practice is going to run and the tempo we were going to go out and the things we wanted to achieve in each and every practice. For the first practice, which was tough on guys, about halfway through they were gassed and done and struggling to the end, to the last practice of spring they were moving around a little better ... I think they saw a whole other level of continuing we have to be in just to get through practice, let alone to play at the pace we want to play at."
  • ASU coach Todd Graham on the quarterback situation: "Obviously, we're a lot closer than what it appears probably from the outside. It was a great evaluation for us. And to be honest it's very difficult to rep three guys and I was very impressed that we were able to install the amount of the offense that we did install and we did it with three different guys."
  • Cal coach Jeff Tedford on the progress of quarterback Zach Maynard: "I thought he did a nice job. We were so far ahead of last year when he was new into the system. We were able to do much more on offense this spring and move along and much more efficient. You could really tell his experience from the season had really paid off with the speed of the game and the management of the game. He really improved obviously through a year. Spring was very effective for him."
  • Colorado coach Jon Embree on splitting quarterback reps this fall: "With two to three going after it you have to be creative. We'll do some different things to make sure they get quality reps. It may be by day, it may be by drill ... if it's a clear cut deal, I'm not going to waste time. I think it's important that the team knows and that quarterback know that they're going to be leading the team."
  • Oregon coach Chip Kelly on quarterback Bryan Bennett after the spring game: "He was fine. I saw him Monday and he was good. There's not much we can do about the games of the past. He's getting in and watching film on his own because we're in that part of the season. I saw him in there watching tape and getting ready for camp coming up. Everything is a learning experience for everybody in our program. It was a good learning experience for Bryan to go through."
  • Oregon State coach Mike Riley on Sean Mannion's progress: "To summarize it, I think he had a very valuable freshman year. He's a tremendously hard worker. Conscientious. So what we're looking for is just continued growth. Quarterbacking is a never-ending story of decision making, getting the ball out of your hands. Getting it to the right guy. I thought he had an excellent spring that way. He'll take all of that work into the summertime and be prepared for fall camp so we're just looking for bigger and better things."
  • Stanford head coach David Shaw on The Big Game in October: "I think the biggest change is all of the activities around the game, it's going to be hard to do all of those because they're not at the end of the season. The last couple of years it's been the second to last game of the regular season. But now, so early in the season, we've got too much work to do. We can't afford to have too many distractions. I've talked to coach Tedford and we're going to try to organize that week to where we can still do some of the traditional things, maybe just earlier in the week. We're just mid-season. We can't have too many other things going on."
  • UCLA coach Jim Mora on the need to cut scholarships (he said they need to cut three): "Probably a combination of both [grayshirting and current players]. I've talked to all our recruits and all our current players about their futures at UCLA."
  • USC coach Lane Kiffin said he wants to see improvements in the running game: "I think we did improve in the second half of the season comparable to the first half ... obviously we lost our left tackle Matt Kalil, so that will be tough to replace. But Curtis coming back after a 1,000-yard season. He's coming into his senior year. I'm looking for him to improve with D.J. Morgan going into his second year of playing with us. We aren't very deep, but we would like to definitely improve our rushing stats."
  • Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on what he learned in the first year in the Pac-12: "I don't know if we learned anything new. We had an idea going in that it was going to be very competitive ... it was very apparent on tape that there was a lot of good athletes in this conference and some great coaching and that was the case. I can't say that anything surprised us."
  • Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on finding a third wide receiver: "We know who Kasen Williams is. We know who James Johnson is. Who's going to be the third guy that's a consistent contributor. Can Cody Bruns get healthy and do it? Can a young guy? Can a Jamaal Jones, DiAndre Campbell, a Marvin Hall, one of those types of guys, step up. That will be big."
  • Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske on the new system: "Speaking for my first go-around with coach Leach going through spring ball, it was a little bit unusual in terms of 70-75 percent of the balls in the air from a defensive perspective. Growing process, [it was] coaches learning kids, kids learning about their coaches and how to practice, that type of thing. Once we got to practice 15 we accomplished a lot of the things we were looking for going into the spring."

WeAreSC links: Recruiting Friday

April, 27, 2012
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Greg Katz writes Insider: While 10 Trojans were selected in the 2008 draft, walk-on receiver Brad Walker saw his career, which was highlighted by being the intended receiver on Reggie Bush's ill-fated lateral against Texas, end.

WeAreSC recruiting mailbag Insider: Erik McKinney fields questions from readers about recruiting in the Southeast, defensive back recruiting, and possible near-future commitments.

Garry Paskwietz writes: With the selections of Matt Kalil by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 4 pick, and Nick Perry by the Green Bay Packers at No. 28, USC adds to its NCAA-best number of all-time first-round draft picks.

Erik McKinney writes Insider: Tempe, Ariz., defensive back Priest Willis is the inspiration for a feeding frenzy, as schools from all over the country lobby for his services.

McKinney writes Insider: Pinetop, Ariz., fullback Chans Cox is being looked at as both an offensive and defensive player in recruiting.

More McKinney Insider: Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., offensive lineman Dane Crane has seen his recruiting increase in recent weeks.
The inevitable is now official. Former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is an Indianapolis Colt.

Commissioner Roger Goodell had announced the 2012 NFL draft was open and Luck was on the phone with the Colts no more than 15 seconds later.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Jerry Lai/US PresswireAndrew Luck is the fourth Stanford quarterback to be selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
He got big hugs from head coach David Shaw and teammate Coby Fleener as he made his way to center stage.

"It was everything I thought it would be," Luck told ESPN's Suzy Kolber about the experience of being picked No. 1 overall. "I feel so blessed, so fortunate to be in this situation. I can't wait to start with the Colts."

And what can Indianapolis fans expect from Luck following a 2-14 season?

"Hope for the best," Luck said. "We'll come in and work hard. I know there are a lot of great guys in the locker room already. I feel so honored and so grateful to be able to represent this city now and be part of a team."

Luck becomes the fourth Stanford quarterback selected No. 1 overall, joining Bobby Garrett (1954), Jim Plunkett (1971) and John Elway (1983). Stanford is the only school that has produced four quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall.

Other Pac-12 players:

  • Despite a trade, the Minnesota Vikings still got the man they were targeting all along, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Cleveland traded up to the No. 3 spot where the Browns took Alabama running back Trent Richardson. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Kalil went to the Vikings with the No. 4 pick. He becomes the 76th first round draft pick in USC history and the 22nd USC Trojan offensive lineman drafted in the first round. He's the highest drafted USC lineman since Tony Boselli (1995, second overall).
  • Then, there was a long, somewhat surprising lull for the conference. Stanford guard David DeCastro, whom most mock drafts had going in the teens, slipped down to No. 24 where the Pittsburgh Steelers got some pretty good value with the No. 1 guard in the draft. DeCastro was the third offensive lineman taken after Kalil and Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who went one pick earlier at No. 23 to the Detroit Lions.
  • Between the picks of Kalil and DeCastro, there were 13 defensive players taken to just six offensive. That run on defense benefited USC defensive end Nick Perry, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers at No. 28. He'll join former Trojan Clay Matthews in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. Perry was considered a first/second-round tweener but lands in a pretty good spot.
  • With just those four being taken, Fleener and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin are still on the board. Both were considered potential first round picks -- but Martin's stock had been sliding over the last few weeks while Fleener's star was on the rise. Once thought to be a pipe dream a couple of weeks ago, might we see the Luck-to-Fleener connection in Indianapolis after all?

WeAreSC links: Draft day

April, 26, 2012
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Garry Paskwietz writes: High school teammates Matt Kalil, Chris Galippo and D.J. Shoemate dreamed of playing together at USC. Once they accomplished that, their careers went in drastically different directions.

WeAreSC Roundtable Insider: WeAreSC's panel discusses which off-the-radar Trojans NFL prospects are best suited for a long professional career.

WeAreSC chat wrap: A recap of Garry Paskwietz's weekly Wednesday chat session.

Pac-12 lunch links: Price takes step back?

April, 23, 2012
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Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me?

Projecting Pac-12 NFL draft destinations

April, 18, 2012
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Hot new bracelet for NFL GMs: WWMKD?

What Would Mel Kiper Do?

Glad you asked. Kiper has projected how he would pick in the first three rounds if he were the GM of every NFL team.

Here are his picks for the NFC Insider and here are the AFC picks. Insider

You can also see Kiper's Big Board here. Insider And Todd McShay's top-32 prospects here. Insider

Before we give you his Pac-12 picks, here's what he says about the exercise:

For this, I was asked, "What would you do if you were picking?" So I gave it a shot. I've listed what I see as the top needs for each team, and I've gone ahead and made the picks that fill needs based on where I have players ranked. A few ground rules:
1. At each spot, I'm making the pick best for that team at that spot. I won't pass on an ideal pick for the Bills at No. 10 just because that player would be a great fit at No. 11.

2. There are no duplicates anywhere.

3. I will suggest good spots to trade down, but I won't rearrange the board.

4. This is for fun! One pick can derail a whole draft, so in no way do I think this is how it might look.

So here's what he thinks about Pac-12 players.

New York Giants: Rd 1 (32) TE Coby Fleener, Stanford

Comments: I've liked Fleener to the Giants for a while. I think he just provides something that passing game doesn't have. Remember, Fleener won't just line up off tackle; you can split him out and utilize his size and speed to work matchups with smaller corners or slower linebackers. Teams will spend a lot of time looking at how to slow the momentum the Giants should carry over with their passing attack, and Fleener adds something new to account for.

Minnesota Vikings: Rd 1 (3) OT Matt Kalil, USC (attempt to move down)

Comment: Corner is a big need for me if I'm Minnesota, which is why I can see them very tempted on Morris Claiborne, but left tackle is equally important. If they don't protect Christian Ponder, they really won't be able to effectively audit his progress. I put trading down as an option because I do it if it's clear a team will give up a ton of value to get into that No. 3 slot, so the Vikings should be entertaining offers all the way. But if that can't happen, they should be plenty happy to add Kalil, a rare tackle ready to come in and start right away on the left side.

Carolina Panthers: Rd 2 (40) DE Nick Perry, USC

Comment: Perry is just major value in Round 2. It honestly wouldn't shock me if some team took him in the mid-first round, so getting a pass-rusher like him here is a huge get.

Buffalo Bills: Rd 2 (41) OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford; Rd 3 (71) LB Mychal Kendricks, California

Comment: Martin is a guy who once carried a solid first-round grade and could be a total steal at No. 41. ... Kendricks has immense physical talent and could be plugged in immediately, something the team did with Kelvin Sheppard last year.

Cincinnati Bengals: Rd 1 (21) G David DeCastro, Stanford; Rd 3 (83) G Tony Bergstrom, Utah

Comment: DeCastro is a big-time prospect at guard, and the Bengals can draft him and assume improvement in the run game, where they really struggled in 2011. He may be the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson, and guard is a big need for them. ... Bergstrom can play early if needed, but is good insurance.

Indianapolis Colts: Rd 1 (1) QB Andrew Luck, Stanford

Comment: I'm a pretty savvy GM, taking this Luck kid, huh? Really out in front of the pack! Needless to say, I think Luck is a lock on my board and Indy's as well. That's your Week 1 starter.

Denver Broncos: Rd 2 (57) RB LaMichael James, Oregon

Comment: I love the idea of James keeping linebackers' eyes in the backfield on play-action fakes or swinging out into the flat for Peyton Manning. He's not quite Darren Sproles in terms of elusiveness, but he's in that category. He'll provide a change of pace the offense needs.

Kansas City Chiefs: Rd 3 (74) NT Alameda Ta'amu, Washington

Comment: Ta'amu is a wide body and good insurance piece for the Chiefs at NT. In fact, I can see Dontari Poe and him on the field at the same time.
The general consensus is that Matt Kalil is going to be the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft behind Stanford's Andrew Luck (presumptive No. 1) and Baylor's Robert Griffin III.

That means he's earmarked for Minnesota, where the Vikings, who surrendered 49 sacks last year, are trying to find help for second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Steve Muench and Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. breakdown Kalil and what he presumably brings to the Vikings .
Writes Muench:

There's no such thing as a sure thing, but Kalil projects as a starter from day one and is one of the safer picks in this draft, thanks in part to his bloodlines. His father, Frank, played offensive line in the USFL, and his brother Ryan Kalil plays for the Carolina Panthers and is one of the best centers in the NFL.

In the accompanying video, McShay charts the pros and cons (not many) in Kalil's game.

Says McShay:
"His game's not perfect. He's got to improve his core strength and you see that every once in a while when he's working against bull rushers ... this isn't an everyday occurrence, but it's something that happens every once in a while. If he gets stronger, he'll improve that weakness. The rest of his game, you have to love."

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