Pac-12: Mel Kiper
- California falls to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. A 5-0 turnover deficit made it ugly.
- Oregon offensive lineman Mark Asper ate steak, potentially saved a life. Despite injuries, Anthony Gildon has contributed.
- What does Mel Kiper have to say about Stanford NFL draft prospects? Andrew Luck focuses on the Fiesta Bowl, not the NFL draft.
- UCLA gets ready for the Interim Coach Bowl.
- A look at what four new coaches and new schemes mean for USC.
- This Star was born some time ago, but he's made a name for himself at Utah.
- Washington is still looking for a signature victory this season.
- So what does the Big Ten-Pac-12 alliance mean for Washington State?
What's the Trojans' weakest -- or at least thinnest position -- this season? Linebacker, right? Remember the 2009 recruiting class? You know: The one that was supposed to include Vontaze Burfict and Manti Te'o?
Burfict was committed to USC for a while before switching to ASU. And Te'o was long thought of as a sure thing for USC before a signing day switch to Notre Dame, where he's been able to enjoy cold weather, bad teams and a coaching change.
Why bring this up now? Well, Kiper has just advanced Te'o past Burfict as the No. 1 linebacker on his Big Board, that's why, silly!
Burfict dropped from No. 11 to No. 14, with Te'o holding steady at No. 13.
Writes Kiper on Te'o:
Te'o has risen this year and is challenging Burfict for top interior linebacker. He's making a ton of tackles in the middle of the field but with range to the sideline, and he has added blitzing skills. A rugged player with ideal size
Kiper rightly notes that Burfict has a showcase game at Oregon on Saturday. The Ducks' speedy, high-tempo running game will provide him plenty of opportunities to throw his 250 pounds around. Writes Kiper:
Huge game in Eugene for Burfict. He has great instincts, makes plays sideline to sideline and is far more disciplined than he gets credit for. Has a ton of experience since landing at ASU.
Think those two could have helped Monte Kiffin?
As for the rest of Kiper's board, it held steady: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is No. 1, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is No. 3, Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is No. 6 and USC quarterback Matt Barkley is No. 10.
That leaves five Pac-12 players on the board: Stanford QB Andrew Luck is No. 1, USC OT Matt Kalil is No. 3, Stanford OT Jonathan Martin is No. 6 , USC QB Matt Barkley is 10th and Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict is No. 11.
Harris was 23rd last week on the 25-man list. Otherwise, no conference player moved up or down.
Harris was suspended early in the season and has seen only limited action even after returning, as he appears to be in coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's doghouse for on- and off-field issues. He has four tackles and two pass breakups.
Oregon hosts California on Thursday. You might recall Harris played a key role in last season's meeting in Berkeley, with a 64-yard punt return for a TD in a 15-13 victory.
Perhaps Harris will re-appear this week?
But ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.
Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.
Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"
Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."
I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.
Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.
He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.
On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.
Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.
Here's how Kiper rates Pac-12 players on draft day.
No. 8 Cameron Jordan, DE, California (Dallas)
No. 12 Jake Locker, QB, Washington (Minnesota)
No. 13 Tyron Smith, OT, USC (Detroit)
No. 22 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado (Indianapolis)
No. 23 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (Philadelphia)
No. 26. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA (St. Louis)
We shall see. Round one is today, starting at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.
- Arizona's C.J. Parish might be the answer at defensive end.
- ESPN's Mel Kiper talks about some former California players' NFL prospects.
- Colorado needs to find playmakers on defense.
- A look at Oregon's new inside linebackers. And the defense has stepped up at practice.
- Oregon State is getting a pleasant surprise at receiver.
- A chat with UCLA F-back Damien Thigpen.
- Grizzled veteran USC quarterback Matt Barkley looks back on his youth.
- Washington assistants get contract extensions.
- Comparing the Pac-12 -- what it hopes -- with other conference media deals.
While no conference player is projected to be among the first 10 picks, there's a strong presence over the first round's second half.
The Pac-12 players Kiper projects ending up in the first round are:
No. 13: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado (Detroit)
No. 17: Cameron Jordan, DE, California (New England)
No. 18: Tyron Smith, OT, USC (San Diego)
No. 19: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado (New York Giants)
No. 21: Akeem Ayers, DE, UCLA (Kansas City)
No. 30: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA (New York Jets)
USC already has lost two: Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and offensive tackle Tyron Smith.
Many of the upcoming decisions -- both to stay or to go -- are going to be surprises. Some certain early draft picks opt to return for whatever reason, including the fact that they will never -- ever -- have as much fun as they did in college. And a handful of obscure players annually decide to enter the draft for whatever reason, including getting bad advice from a know-it-all "acquaintance" who doesn't know a darn thing.
This will not turn out to be a complete list. And our speculation is intentionally vague because it can be nothing else: We don't know what's going on inside these young men's heads.
Note: Though some players have indicated they plan to return, they are included here because, well, you never know -- they might change their minds.
You can review Mel Kiper's "junior" rankings here.
QB Nick Foles, Jr.: Foles would benefit from returning for his senior year and could improve his stock considerably. But his knee injury this year and questions about the Wildcats' offensive line might give him pause.
WR Juron Criner, Jr.: Criner is the best receiver in the country few folks have heard of, but he might want to look at this year's receiver class, which is loaded.
CB Trevin Wade, Jr.: Wade needs to return for his senior season after taking a step back as a junior.
CB Omar Bolden, Jr.: Bolden rejuvenated his career this fall, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors. He also knows what it's like to get hurt and miss a season. The Sun Devils could break through in 2011, and that could greatly benefit his status.
DT Lawrence Guy, Jr.: The general thinking is Guy wants to return for his senior season. He faces a tough choice.
RB Shane Vereen, Jr.: Mel Kiper ranks Vereen No. 5 among junior running backs. The Bears' questionable supporting cast on offense next year might sway him to the pros.
OLB Mychal Kendricks, Jr.: Lots of potential, but he's not ready.
OG Ryan Miller, Jr.: Miller has already said he plans to return next fall, though Kiper ranks him No. 2 among junior guards.
RB LaMichael James, RSo.: Kiper ranks James as the No. 3 "junior" running back. The Ducks' first unanimous All-American must choose between college glory -- Heisman Trophy, (another) national championship -- or getting paid now. Probably won't get picked until the second round because of size and middling skills as a receiver, but his top-end speed is enticing.
TE David Paulson, Jr.: Kiper ranks him No. 4 among junior tight ends. Good bet to return.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Jr.: Rodgers has indicated he plans to return because his brother, James, is likely to get a fifth year via medical hardship because of a knee injury this past season. But Beavers fans are rooting for it to be Jan. 18.
WR James Rodgers, Sr.: It's likely the Rodgers are a package deal: Both stay or both go.
QB Andrew Luck, RSo.: If he enters the draft, he's almost certain to be the No. 1 overall pick. More than a few folks, however, believe he's seriously considering a return for his junior year, particularly if coach Jim Harbaugh remains at Stanford. We'll see.
LB Akeem Ayers, Jr.: Odds are that Ayers will enter the draft. A likely first-round pick.
FS Rahim Moore, Jr.: Odds are that Moore will enter the draft. A likely first-round pick.
DL Armond Armstead, Jr: Armstead has said he plans to return. He should. A healthy season could send his stock skyrocketing.
CB Brandon Burton, Jr.: Burton, second-team All Mountain West, is No. 5 on Kiper's list of junior corners. He's definitely on the NFL radar.
OT Tony Bergstrom, Jr.: It would make sense for the second-team All Mountain West player to return for his senior year.
WR Jermaine Kearse, Jr.: Kearse is highly productive but dropped a few too many balls this year. While he'd benefit from another year, he might be worried about the Huskies breaking in a new quarterback.
RB Chris Polk, RSo: Polk eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for a second consecutive season. He's admitted that entering the draft is a possibility.
DT Brandon Rankin, Jr.: It would be wise for Rankin to return for his senior season.
Kiper's analysis: "Solid TD-INT ratio, but his 56.5 completion percentage is 83rd nationally. Arm and intangibles there, but stock slipping."
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a redshirt sophomore, remains in the No. 1 overall spot.
Luck and Locker will go head-to-head on Saturday in Husky Stadium.
It wasn't a good week for other Pac-10 players. UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers fell from 12th to 15th and Bruins safety Rahim Moore was knocked off the board after rating 22nd last week.
The Bruins just lost 60-13 at Oregon.
Of Ayers, he writes, "A long and prosperous NFL career awaits him."
All you needed to watch was the first half of the stunning UCLA visit to Austin to see why I am so high on Bruins LB Akeem Ayers. The first thing that jumps out at you is how physically gifted he is. At 6-foot-3½, 251 pounds, he displays the athletic ability of someone 30 pounds lighter.
He writes this about Marecic, who starts at linebacker and fullback for Stanford:
Just the fact Marecic is getting reps at linebacker in the spring and performed well enough to be named a starter (and on a very good team) tells you all you need to know about his football acumen.
As for Havili, Kiper writes:
Throughout his career, Havili has made the most of his limited opportunities carrying the pigskin (he came into this season with 55 carries for a very impressive 6.2 yards per carry average) and has proven to be a very good safety valve in the passing game (80 catches for a 10.8-yard average over the previous three seasons). As a runner, he has good vision, balance and enough speed once through the hole to do damage. As a receiver, he has soft hands and creates a lot of matchup problems.
The results for the Pac-10 were interesting.
First, the players not only picked Stanford to win the Pac-10 championship -- 44.4 percent -- they also named Jim Harbaugh as the best coach (44.4 percent). Said one player: "They were terrible when I first got here. That's all Harbaugh -- he's brought in a completely different level of player."
Best player was Washington QB Jake Locker (33 percent).
But this question -- and answer -- struck me:
1. Is your school in the right conference? YES: 66.7 percent | NO: 33.3 percent.
Which conference do one third of the Pac-10 players polled want to be in?
It's notable that players from the Big East (100 percent), SEC (100 percent), Big Ten (93.8 percent) and ACC (93.3) were overwhelming happy in their conference. As for the Big 12, 25 percent said they were not in the right conference.
Judging from the offseason news about commissioner Larry Scott raiding the Big 12 in order to build the Pac-16, perhaps the Big 12 players want to join the Pac-10.
Or do the Pac-10 players want to join the Big 12? Confusing? Yes.
Wait. There's more!
Turning to a national perspective, guess whose uniforms rate No. 1.
This was an Oregon landslide (53.7 percent). One Big Ten star was particularly blown away. "I don't even have to think about that one," he says. "I almost wanted to transfer there just for those uniforms." As for worst unis, winner Wyoming's brown-and-yellow jerseys elicited 18.9 percent. Wonders one player: "The worst colors ever? What is that, piss and poop?"
Ah, the generation gap. Traditionalists make fun of Oregon's uniforms. But players love them.
As for best coach, that's Alabama's Nick Saban, which I'd second, though Florida's Urban Meyer has to be 1B. But a Pac-10 coach did get mentioned.
As for the last coach you'd ever want to play for, players aren't rooting for USC's Lane Kiffin (29.6 percent). "He's an awesome football coach," says one O-lineman. "But he took a program for one year, talked a lot, then left them out to dry."
But guess what: The first part of that statement will be what matters going forward -- and by that I mean whether it proves true or not.
And, again, sorry to disappoint the folks who constantly pipe the tired "Jake Locker hasn't done anything" but the reality is the players see the same things that NFL draft experts do. To the question of the nation's best player:
Shocker! Reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram won with 51.1 percent of the vote. But No. 2 was a real surprise. Forget Terrelle Pryor. The dual-threat QB players love is Washington's Jake Locker (14.1 percent). They're in awe of the senior's talent (4.39 40, drafted by MLB) and understand why both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay project him as a possible No. 1 NFL pick in 2011. "Best QB in the country. Best prospect, too," says a fellow top draft prospect.
Finally, you can read what players think about a potential playoff here.
You can read his thoughts on the Pac-10 here .
I don't really disagree with any of his selections: Maybe I'd tap cornerback Trevin Wade at Arizona, but quarterback Nick Foles is also a good choice. Oregon fans might pick LaMichael James over defensive tackle Brandon Bair, but James is only a third-year sophomore (though he could bolt for the NFL this spring if he chooses to) and Bair is an underrated college player who is on the NFL radar.
It's also interesting to bounce around among the different conferences.
And there it finds receiver Devin Aguilar.
Even a jaded onlooker who's watched plenty football practices finds himself glancing side-to-side to confirm the appropriate reaction: "Golly."
Most quarterbacks would have been sacked. The Locker of 2007 or 2008 probably would have used his 4.4 speed to run for a short -- or perhaps not so short -- gain. But this is Locker 4.0, who bypassed an opportunity to be a top-10 NFL draft pick on April 22 and returned to the Huskies for his senior season. Once seen as just an athlete playing quarterback, now he can play well within a pro-style system while reserving the right to riff a bit of improvisation when the feeling strikes.
"A lot of times when plays break down is when you get your biggest plays," he said. "It's about a good balance of both; of understanding when it's going to be productive to get outside the pocket and try to make a play and when you need to stand in there and make a throw."
This Locker, who accounted for 28 touchdowns in 2009, is expecting to refine his considerable skills in Year 2 under coach Steve Sarkisian and lead the Huskies to their first bowl game since 2002.
"In my opinion, the real strides, the real improvement, occur from Year 1 to Year 2," Sarkisian said. "That's historically what we've seen."
That expectation is shared by more than a few folks. It's why many draft experts are projecting Locker to go No. 1 overall in 2011 -- ESPN's Mel Kiper told reporters it was "etched in stone."
But first things first: Locker has yet to experience a winning season or go to a bowl game in his career. He can't do it alone. What's ignited the buzz in Seattle, however, is that he won't need to. His supporting cast on offense is the match of any in the Pac-10, particularly at the skill positions.
Kory from San Mateo, Calif., writes: What are the chances that Andrew Luck leaves for the NFL after this 2010 season?
Ted Miller: That will be an interesting call for the redshirt sophomore.
Mel Kiper thinks he could be a top-10 or even top-five pick in the 2011 draft. (Kiper already has projected Washington's Jake Locker as the "etched in stone" No. 1 overall pick.)
On the other hand, Luck is an extremely bright guy from a family that is financially secure and he is attending one of the nation's finest institutions. Like Matt Leinart, Sam Bradford and Locker, he might not be in that much of a hurry to start adult life. My guess is it's not such a bad thing being the quarterback at Stanford, particularly with the program being on the rise.
As a junior in 2011, Luck could be in position to be a serious Heisman Trophy candidate and then the top-overall pick in the 2012 draft. As he reviews his decision next winter, he'll also likely take note how a season-ending injury didn't exactly send Bradford spiraling down in the estimation of NFL scouts and draft experts.
In other words, I don't know what Luck will do, and my guess is he is far from certain himself.
Brett from New York writes: What are you hearing out of UCLA regarding Morrell Presley? He came in last year with a lot of hype but didn't seem to make much of impact. Do they plan on using him as a tight end or wr?
Ted Miller: Presley is listed third at tight end behind Cory Harkey and Joseph Fauria and is expected to see significant action this season. Those two guys are 262 and 259 pounds respectively, while Presley only carries 220 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. That suggests that Presley, mostly a receiver last year, will be a hybrid sort of tight end/H-back. For example, not the sort who takes the field on a double-tight, third-and-1 play but, rather, is a guy coaches want to get the ball in space and be a weapon in the red zone.
Presley is clearly a bust because he didn't do amazing things as a true freshman.
Kidding, of course. Give him time. There's little to suggest that Presley won't become a dynamic player as he matures.
Carlos from Burbank, Calif., writes: Regarding USC's competition at MLB between Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo, do you think USC's defense would be better (and tougher) if USC kept Galippo in the middle and lined up Kennard on the strong-side?
Ted Miller: This is one of the most interesting competitions in the Pac-10 this spring. I'm going to visit USC on Thursday, so I'll get a better idea then where this one stands.
I have two feelings here: 1. USC coaches want to push Galippo to get better; 2. Kennard will see plenty of action -- somewhere -- this fall. He's too good to sit.
Are you asking me if it would be better to have both Galippo and Kennard in the lineup and drop strong-side backer Michael Morgan? Don't know. It appears that Galippo must fend off Kennard before Morgan has to face a similar challenge.
Kevin from San Jose writes: Do you mind putting more stuff up about Stanford... It seems like half the time the lunch links don't have any Stanford stuff.
Ted Miller: I try hard to find Stanford links. The problem is it doesn't appear that any newspaper, including the Stanford student paper, consistently covers the team.
The only consistent source is Dave Fowkes' Examiner sight, and I'd rather use him a secondary guy because he's -- obviously -- a Stanford fan.
Please, understand the nature of the lunch links post. It's entirely dependent on what stories are posted that day by reputable Web sites. I spend way more time on a daily basis searching for stuff from the teams that don't get much coverage than the ones that do -- such as USC, Washington and the Oregon schools.
Stanford fans, if you want more coverage, call your local papers and ask for it. Tell them the Pac-10 blog sent ya!
And, oh by the way, Cal fans: Your team is the only one in the conference with closed practices. That's my guess why there's been such a dearth of stories this spring.
Will from Eugene, Ore., writes: Recently a we had a bracket pool for the NCAA tournament, and one of the prizes was an Oregon visor, similar to the one Chip Kelly is known for wearing. The guy who won it requested that Chip Kelly sign it and then sell the visor and donate 100% of the proceeds to the Children's Brittle Bone Foundation (cbbf.org). This came about because one of the guys on our blog (addictedtoquack.com) recently had a child with the disease who was given a very small chance of survival, but he not only is surviving, he's thriving and went home a couple weeks ago. Here is the link to the story about that child. Chip Kelly was nice enough to not only sign it, but he also included a football (which he signed too) for us to include in the auction for the charity.
Ted Miller: Good show by Kelly. Doesn't surprise me a bit, though.
Will from Eugene also included a link for a charity auction that I couldn't make work. Perhaps our friends at ATQ can post it so it's accessible through the above link?
Ryan from Atherton, Calif., writes: How are you liking your new computer? Is it true that once you go Mac, you never go back?
Ted Miller: I loved the Mac when I bought it. But the nature of my job -- including a fast-paced trip to the Northwest three days after buying a new laptop -- didn't allow me to show the necessary patience to learn how to use it.
I've been using PCs my entire adult life and, at 40, it's hard to teach an old dog to close a web page from the left side.
So, with a degree of regret, I traded in the Mac for a Toshiba.
By the way, the Geek Squad was great. Some of you took shots at them in the comments section. I'd give them high marks for customer service and helpfulness.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Eleven sacks? Come on!
Corp completed 14 of 23 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and, again, no interceptions, though he had a couple of dubious tosses. Corp threw one pick over the entirety of spring practices.
Freshman Mat Barkley, who draft guru Mel Kiper already is touting as a future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, completed 12 of 20 for 124 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
A third interesting sidebar emerging from USC's spring: The tailback position is no more clear and perhaps even more crowded than last year. While injuries limited the lead names on the depth chart from a year ago, Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler turned in impressive springs.
Which means Pete Carroll will roll his eyes at me and every other reporter this summer when we write this story again.