Pac-12: Michael Doctor

We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Linebacker. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks are in great shape with inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick returning next to outside linebacker Tony Washington. The only departure they’ll have to account for is Boseko Lokombo, and that spot appears destined for Tyson Coleman once he’s completely healthy following a knee injury that sidelined him for the Alamo Bowl. Sophomore Torrodney Prevot is one of several talented young players to keep an eye on when the Ducks empty their bench during blowouts.

Oregon State: The Beavers are deep at linebacker with D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor projected to start in their 4-3 scheme. Rommel Mageo was a starter down the stretch last season and should see plenty of playing time, as will Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy.

USC: Only outside linebacker Devon Kennard is gone from a a solid group that should have a rather seamless transition playing in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 defense. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao figure to start inside, with Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell playing outside opposite J.R. Tavai.

Washington: The Huskies weren’t fully stocked during the spring, but figure to have one of the best groups in the conference with John Timu playing between Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney. Cory Littleton can be listed at defensive end or outside linebacker -- UW calls him a rush end -- and is coming off a productive sophomore season.

GOOD SHAPE

Colorado: Addison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last year (8.9) and will likely start between sophomore Kenneth Olugbode and senior Woodson Greer. The Buffaloes have depth, too, with Brady Daigh, a reliable backup for Gillam, and outside linebacker Deaysean Rippy, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh. Rippy was listed as an alternative starter to Greer on Colorado’s post spring depth chart.

Stanford: There might not be a more difficult task in the conference than replacing outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom drew All-American accolades in multiple season. Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, already a three-year starter, is one of the conference’s unheralded players and outside linebacker James Vaughters is poised for a breakout senior season. Kevin Andersen has seen a lot of playing time over the past two years at outside linebacker, but the other inside spot needs to be ironed out.

UCLA: Like Stanford, the Bruins have a tough task in replacing Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but have two talented returners in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. UCLA could very well end up one of the best groups in the conference pending the development of Kenny Orjioke, Deon Hollins, Isaako Savaiinaea and Zach Whitley.

Utah: Junior Jason Whittingham is a potential first-team all-conference type player and the Utes are high on Jared Norris, who started seven games last year. The group looked even better when Miami-transfer Gionni Paul was projected to contribute, but the start to his season is expected to be delayed by a broken bone in his foot. Uaea Masina, after contributing on special teams last year, will likely see a lot of playing time.

Washington State: Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen return as starters and Tana Pritchard, who saw his role grow as the season went along, will be leaned on heavily. The final spot up for grabs is the ‘buck,’ which looks like it will come down to Kache Palacio, a slight favorite who started at the end of the season, and Ivan McLennan. Chester Su'a could also make some noise after missing last season with an injury.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats need to replace three-year starter Marquis Flowers and two-year starter Jake Fischer. Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman last season and gives the Wildcats a good piece to start with, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach once the other pieces are in place. The good news is that Arizona has recruited well at linebacker.

Arizona State: Salamo Fiso returns, but having to replace three of the four starters from a year ago leaves more questions than answers. Early-enrollee D.J. Calhoun drew rave reviews during spring practice, but will have to beat out redshirt junior Antonio Longino for a starting job. Eriquel Florence (devil), and Laiu Moeakiola/Marcus Washington (spur) were also listed as starters at the end of spring practice.

Cal: Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are all back, but after last season’s defensive woes it’s hard to go in with much optimism. The situation at linebacker is clearly better than it was last year, but that’s not inspiring enough not to erase speculation.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:
Oregon State linebacker Michael Doctor returned to the field this spring after sitting out the 2013 season with a hairline fracture in his ankle. His return makes the linebackers one of the deepest position groups not only for Oregon State, but also for the entire conference. He joins fellow seniors Jabral Johnson and D.J. Alexander as well as an impressive group of youngsters -- sophomores Darrell Songy and Rommel Mageo -- in the Oregon State linebackers room.

We didn’t get a chance to catch up with Doctor this spring, so we made sure to check in with him this summer to discuss his return, the linebackers and being named a team captain.

[+] EnlargeMichael Doctor
John Albright/Icon SMIOregon State linebacker Michael Doctor is looking forward to returning to action in 2014 after missing last season with an ankle injury.
What was it like getting back out on the field for spring ball?

Michael Doctor: It was kind of a surreal feeling. I was very excited to get back out there and everything. It felt good to be back out there with the guys running around. You lose that edge when you [have to sit out] a few months like I did. It makes you miss it that much more. It humbles you to want to get back out there and prove yourself.

After sitting out for that long, do you now appreciate the sprints and conditioning that much more?

MD: I’ve always loved every aspect of the game. But being out for so long and having an injury, it does make you miss that part of the game -- the hard parts, the conditioning, going out there when it’s 100 degrees on the turf. It makes you miss those parts of the game when you’re out for so long.

How does sitting out like that affect your mindset? Do you have to constantly remind yourself to just play like you did play instead of trying to win the spot on every single down?

MD: You try to not think about the injury, just go out there and do what I could do. I knew what type of player I was before and I know what kind of player I can become, and that’s what I’m striving to be. Sitting out made me be able to take a coach’s perspective on the game. That made me a smarter player. So I knew if I wasn’t as fast coming off the ankle injury, I’d be that much smarter to recognize a formation or set to know what play they’d run.

Your time out gave other linebackers a chance to get significant reps. How does that, along with your return, help the Oregon State defense?

MD: The more experience, the better the players are going to be. With more experience comes more chemistry. We can go out there, put my experience with all the other guys who are returning from this past year. The more experience, it’s better for the chemistry and better for the team. We can just use that as fuel to lead this defense.

You were also named a captain this spring. What was your reaction?

MD: It was a good feeling. It was a huge honor to be named a captain for this team. It’s a bunch of great guys. I was honored that I was chosen by those teammates. I know I wasn’t playing last fall, but it still felt great to go out there and lead the team, make sure everyone knew what they were doing on the defensive side.

Did sitting out a season change your leadership style?

MD: Yes. It gives you a chance to look at the game from a coach’s perspective; that makes you a better leader. You can see what the coaches are seeing out there. And if you can have a coach’s eyes out there, it makes you that much better and smarter of a player. As last season progressed, I started recognizing certain route combinations that teams were running. That helped me to help coach the guys who were actually out there.
It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 16, 2014
May 16
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions. Wednesday we looked at defenses in the South.

Next up: North Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. Stanford

LB A.J. Tarpley, DE Henry Anderson, S Jordan Richards

The skinny: The Cardinal lose their top tackler (Shayne Skov) and top sack guy (Trent Murphy). But there are others ready to take control. Tarpley has long been one of the league’s most underappreciated linebackers (93 tackles last season) and Anderson’s return boosts a front seven that should continue to party in the backfield. Richards is solid at one safety spot, though there are some questions about who will play opposite him. The Cardinal still boast the top defense in the league until proven otherwise.

2. Washington

LB Shaq Thompson, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DB Marcus Peters

The skinny: The Huskies have some losses, like everyone else in the country, but there is plenty of talent coming back for the new coaching staff to work with. That returning production is enough to slot them No. 2. Thompson continues to get better with each season and appears on the verge of a breakout year. Kikaha has not-so-quietly turned into one of the Pac-12’s most feared rushers (13 sacks last season) and Peters is back after making five interceptions last season. They lose some leadership with the departure of Sean Parker and there's some question marks in the secondary. But this should be a salty group in 2014.

3. Oregon

LB Derrick Malone, DE/OLB Tony Washington, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

The skinny: Despite losing Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson and Terrance Mitchell, the secondary still boasts one of the top defensive backs in the country in Ekpre-Olomu. Mitchell led the team with five picks in 2013, but a lot of teams opted not to test Ekpre-Olomu. Malone is back after making 105 tackles, and Rodney Hardrick should be on his heels as top tackler. The linebackers should be a strength. Washington returns after recording 7.5 sacks to go with 12 tackles for a loss. Now, if they could just get off the dang field on third down ...

4. Oregon State

S Tyrequek Zimmerman, DE Dylan Wynn, CB Steven Nelson

The skinny: Zimmerman brings his 104 tackles back from last season and the return of OLB Michael Doctor, the team’s leading tackler in 2012, should be a nice boost. Replacing the production of Scott Crichton and his 7.5 sacks will be difficult. Linebacker D.J. Alexander and Wynn should see their share of time in the backfield. Nelson, a former junior college transfer, had a spectacular first season with the Beavers with a team-high six interceptions (tied with Rashaad Reynolds) and eight breakups.

5. Washington State

LB Darryl Monroe, DT Xavier Cooper, ?

The skinny: Do-all safety Deone Bucannon is gone after leading the team in tackles (114) and interceptions (6). He was an All-American for a reason. Monroe is an obvious choice for tackles, and Cooper is the obvious choice for sacks. But the secondary is wide open. Mike Leach has essentially said all four spots in the secondary are up for grabs. Clouding the issues is the future of cornerback Daquawn Brown, who has legitimate experience but also some legal hurdles to overcome.

6. California

S Michael Lowe, LB Jalen Jefferson, S Avery Sebastian?

The skinny: We all know about the defensive injury issues the Bears had last season, which is why Lowe returns as the leading tackler and tied for the lead in interceptions with one (the Bears only had five all last season). Jefferson returns with the most sacks, and Kyle Kragen appears to be a good fit for the scheme. (Remember when Kameron Jackson had three in one game!) We’ll see how oft-injured but talented Stefan McClure fares at safety. Getting Sebastian back from injury will help in the secondary. The pass rush should be improved with Brennan Scarlett’s return.

Mailbag: Sark vs. Petersen

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
7:00
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Welcome to the mailbag. I'm feeling the madness. And the because the Pac-12 blog readers are so awesome, they've started up another bracket challenge. I'm in.

To the notes!

D.J. in Berkeley writes: Hey Kevin, I grew up in B1G country, so I'm still a little new to the Pac-12. How does inter-divisional conference scheduling work? Is it like the model that the B1G has used the last few years where each team has protected crossover games and rotating crossover games? I love the annual trips down to LA to play UCLA or USC; I'm just not sure why we play two Pac-12 South teams every year.

Kevin Gemmell: With the nine-game conference schedule, the way it shakes out is you play all five teams in your division, four cross-division games and then three nonconference games.

With the exception of the four California schools, it works on a two-year rotating basis. For example, Utah didn’t play Stanford or Oregon its first two years in the conference. Last year, both teams were back on the rotation and they’ll rotate through all the other schools in the North Division every two years.

The California schools have an agreement to play each other every year -- so Stanford and Cal will always play UCLA and USC.

If the league were to go to an eight-game conference schedule, it would drop one of the cross-division games and only play three. Many are in favor of this since the league guts itself on an annual basis (see the final weeks of last season: Stanford beating Oregon, USC beating Stanford, Arizona beating Oregon). When you play nine conference games, wackiness will ensue.

Personally, I still like the nine-game schedule. It means something when you win the Pac-12. Yes, it’s killed the national perception of the league the last few years. But it makes for some exciting scenarios.


Amanda in Los Angeles writes: Thanks for the live chat with Cody Kessler! What do you think is going to happen at quarterback?

Kevin Gemmell: Very interesting question. And one that has some national significance. Obviously, Kessler’s experience is a huge plus for him. And the fact that Steve Sarkisian has retained Clay Helton is also significant. Kessler, on more than one occasion, went out of his way to talk about how strong his relationship is with Helton and you could see a notable increase in Kessler’s efficiency once Helton started calling the plays.

Then again, Sark was a big Max Browne fan when he was at Samammish, Wash., and recruited him pretty hard to the Huskies. I would guess right now it’s about 60-40 in favor of Kessler. Browne is going to have to show that he can run Sark’s offense with greater efficiency than Kessler. The fact that it’s a newish style, complete with the uptempo element, levels the playing field a bit.

Either way, I wouldn’t expect anything to become official in the spring.


Eric in Terrebonne, Ore., writes: Captain Doctor (it's like having two first names, but with titles …) gets another season for the Beavs, which is great news. With all the depth and talent at LB, will the Beavs have the best corps of linebackers in the conference? Will the LBs be good enough to help improve the run defense?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, it’s hard not to think of the “Spies Like Us” scene. And yes, it’s great news.

The Pac-12 blog has been a Michael Doctor fan for quite some time. The first time he really stood out to me was in the second game of the 2012 season against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. He posted a team-high eight solo tackles (nine total) and I saw him chase down Brett Hundley on a critical third-and-6 in the fourth quarter that forced a UCLA field goal rather than giving the Bruins a first down.

As noted in the story, Oregon State’s defense had a rough go of things last year -- which was disappointing, considering how strong of a unit it was in 2012, so the fact that he’s been granted a fifth year bodes very well for the Beavers this season.

Do they have the best linebackers in the league? That might be a bit much. UCLA’s is pretty good, as is Stanford’s, USC’s and Washington’s. But Oregon State certainly is deep. The only upside to injuries is that they allow younger players to step in and get some experience. When the injured player comes back, it creates depth at the position. Remember in 2011, when Shayne Skov was lost for the year, A.J. Tarpley was one of the players who stepped in. He returns as one of the top linebackers in the league this year and was a major reason why the Cardinal had all of that depth at linebacker the last few years.

No one wants injuries to happen, obviously. But in this scenario, with Doctor returning, it might work out OK for the Beavers, who gave up a whopping 190.3 yards per game on the ground last season. Only Colorado was worse, allowing 208.5 yards per game. Measure that against the 2012 squad, which was third in the league at 129.5 yards per game. Doctor’s presence should significantly help the Beavers improve in that area.


Andy in Seattle writes: I’m pretty shocked with the results of your Sark/Petersen poll. Why aren’t more Washington fans expecting more out of him?

Kevin Gemmell: Honestly, I’m a little surprised also. Then again, I’m not. Does that make sense?

My first thought is that all the pressure is always going to be on Steve Sarkisian, no matter what, because he’s the head coach at USC. And with that comes an elevated level of expectation.

Then again, Chris Petersen is perceived to be a “home run” hire. What happens if Washington goes 7-6? How quickly will the Washington faithful question the hire? What happens if they only win eight games in 2015? Will Petersen be given enough time to do things his way?

My thought is yes. If it were USC, I think the timetable for success is accelerated dramatically. Washington fans are hungry for their team to take the next step. But I also think they are realistic enough to understand the challenges that Petersen faces in his first couple of seasons -- specifically, rebuilding the offense and plugging some holes.

Sarkisian, on the other hand, isn’t going to get much wiggle room. USC has plenty of athletes. It always does. And the expectation is that the Trojans should compete for the Pac-12 South title every season and win it every of couple -- if not every year.

When I was up at USC last week, I had an interesting discussion with someone who will not be named. They told me the worst thing to ever happen to Lane Kiffin was going 10-2 in 2011. If they only win, say, eight games that year, then all of the pressure and expectations that came crumbling down in 2012 wouldn't have been a factor. Fans would have been more understanding, chalked another eight-win season up to the sanctions, and Kiffin would likely still have his job.

But that goes to show how much tougher things are at USC. So, coming full circle, I guess I’m not too surprised with the poll results.


Kevin in Palo Alto writes: Kevin, lots of new names and faces on the blog. What's that all about?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, the Pac-12 blog is undergoing a bit of a face-lift. You have already welcomed Kyle Bonagura with open arms, and soon you’ll be welcoming Chantel Jennings. Kyle will serve as our Stanford reporter in the Bay Area and Chantel, formerly of the B1G blog covering Michigan, will be the point person for Oregon. Ted and I are still the Pac-12 reporters, but both of them will pitch in on the blog.

This will also allow Ted and I time to finish our screenplay: “Good Will Blogging.” It’s about a janitor at a to-be-determined Pac-12 blog school who sneaks into the student newspaper at night and writes all of the articles. We’re hoping to get into Sundance by 2031.

Give the duo the same warm reception you gave me when I joined on in 2011. More voices means a better blog.
The year 2013 wasn’t exactly what you’d call a banner one for the Oregon State Beavers defensively. While the offense accumulated jaw-dropping numbers, the defense had one too many palm-to-forehead moments.

Injuries played a part in that, and none was bigger than losing linebacker Michael Doctor for the year in the second game of the season to an ankle injury. Doctor was the team’s leading tackler in 2012 with 83 stops. And in his two appearances last season he had seven tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and two sacks. He was tied for third on the team in sacks after playing in only two games. Stretch those numbers out over a 13-game season and you have a potential all-conference candidate.

[+] EnlargeMichael Doctor
Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsHaving Michael Doctor return from injury will help an Oregon State defense that struggled in 2013.
Losing his production, coupled with his leadership, was a massive blow to a defense that fell short of expectations. In fact, what made the 2013 defense so disappointing was that the Beavers were outstanding defensively in 2012. Their 20.6 points allowed per game was the second lowest average in school history for a 13-game season and was good for 22nd nationally. It’s one of the reasons they started 2013 ranked No. 25.

Of course, that all came crashing down in the wake of a 49-46 loss to FCS Eastern Washington in the season opener -- the school’s second loss to an FCS team in three years. The 49 points allowed was the second highest total in a year where OSU yielded a disappointing 31.4 points per game.

Last week Doctor was granted a fifth year by way of a medical hardship for the 2013 season by the Pac-12 conference. There are a few criteria he had to meet, per the NCAA, to get a medical hardship. But the big one is the fact that he didn’t play in at least four of the first six games and then missed the remainder of the season. As expected, Doctor was thrilled with the news.

“I’m very excited to have another year,” Doctor said in a statement from the school. “Last year was bittersweet for me. I had a chance to learn from a coaching perspective and ... grow and I think from all of this it will make me a smarter player.”

Doctor will join the team when it starts spring ball. The Beavers are also hoping that linebacker D.J. Alexander will be available for spring after undergoing neck surgery in December. A source close to the program says Alexander is expected to participate, though it’s likely head coach Mike Riley will hold him back some. That makes Doctor’s return that much more significant for a Beavers defense looking to plug some holes on the defensive line and secondary.

A little veteran leadership never hurts, either, in a position group that should be considerably strong.

“From a football standpoint, I’m very excited to have Michael back; he solidifies our outside linebacker depth,” Riley said. “From a personal standpoint, Michael has meant a great deal to this team not only on the field, but off as a captain and a true leader. Having No. 40 back in the lineup is a huge plus for the defense.”

Lunch links: The Doctor is back

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!

Oregon State defense gets off the canvas

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
5:30
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Oregon State's defense has gone from bad to mediocre. With the Beavers offense rolling up 44 points and 516 yards per game, that improvement has been good enough to help get them 6-1 and a No. 25 ranking in the BCS standings.

The question is whether that will be good enough for the Beavers to continue to win as the schedule ramps up considerably, starting with a visit from No. 6 Stanford on Saturday.

Or maybe the defense takes another step, as in from mediocre to pretty good? That could change the complexion of the North division race in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeScott Crichton
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDefensive end Scott Crichton and the Oregon State defense have improved greatly over the last three games.
The start certainly was horrendous. The Beavers yielded 49 points and 625 yards in a shocking opening day loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Fans quickly forgot that the Beavers had one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 a season before and began yelling for coordinator Mark Banker's head.

The criticism wasn't completely unfair. The Beavers weren't just giving up points and yards, they were out of position and tackling poorly. Worst of all: The scheme, at least how it was being executed by a unit that welcomed back seven starters, looked unsound.

Things didn't immediately get better either, particularly if you throw out a 33-14 win over Hawaii, which is winless and might be the nation's worst FBS teams. The Beavers gave up 48 points to Utah in Week 3 and 30 to a middling San Diego State offense in Week 4.

After four games, the Beavers ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in both scoring defense (37 points per game) and total defense (467.7 yards per game).

But the Beavers have yielded just 19.3 points per game over the past three games -- against arguably better offenses -- and 349.7 yards per game. Those numbers would both rank third in the conference. That has boosted their season averages to 28.4 ppg and 396.7 ypg, totals that rank ninth and eight in the conference.

The improvement wasn't lost on California coach Sonny Dykes, whose pass-happy offense stagnated against the Beavers in a 49-17 loss over the weekend. Yet Dykes said he knew the Bears wouldn't face the same defense that Eastern Washington sliced and diced and made look pretty ridiculous.

"You could see it week-to-week," he said of watching Oregon State game film. "It was obvious from Week 1 to what they are doing now, they are playing with much more confidence, triggering faster. It looked to me like they simplified their scheme a little bit. They were doing a lot against Eastern Washington and it looked to me like things got a little more simple. Their players seemed to settle in a little bit better."

Simplifying the scheme surely helped. It probably cleared defenders' heads and allowed them to correct the most glaring and embarrassing issue.

"The biggest thing is their tackling has improved," Dykes said. "They didn't tackle particularly well early in the year. You can see them tackle better every week."

They gave up some big plays early in the year but you just don't see that anymore.

Stanford coach David Shaw, on Oregon State's defense.
Being in position and tackling are critical for a defense, but the Beavers also started being opportunistic. In the first three games, they forced just four turnovers. In the last four, they forced 15, including four against Cal.

Stanford coach David Shaw sees a big difference.

"They gave up some big plays early in the year but you just don't see that anymore," he said. "You see the secondary keeping the ball in front of them. You see [DE Scott Crichton] and the guys up front getting off blocks. They are playing really smart and really sound and really hard."

Of course, Stanford's offense offers a much different challenge than the pass-happy spread offenses the Beavers have faced during their horrible start and then defensive renaissance. The Cardinal wants to own the line of scrimmage and play smash mouth football and then hit you over the top with play-action passing.

That sort of thinking was on full-display against UCLA. Stanford played conservatively on offense, allowing its defense to do the heavy lifting against the Bruins. Then the UCLA defense wore down in the fourth quarter.

The Bruins have a bigger, deeper front seven than the Beavers, who lost top linebacker Michael Doctor the second week of the season to an ankle injury and are questionable on the interior defensive line.

Still, the Beavers held the Cardinal to just 165 yards rushing in last season's 27-23 loss at Stanford and they are statistically strong against the run, ranking fourth in the conference in rushing defense. It does need to be said that Colorado, Cal and Washington State have three of the worst running offenses in the nation (along with Oregon State, by the way). Utah rushed for 260 yards in its overtime loss to the Beavers.

Mediocre defense might not be enough to beat the Cardinal. But pretty good defense probably would give gun-slinging QB Sean Mannion a good shot at the upset on Saturday.
After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

Oregon State season preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
10:30
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season, in reverse alphabetical order, with the Oregon State Beavers.

Oregon State

Coach: Mike Riley (81-67, 13th year)

2012 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: WR Markus Wheaton, CB Jordan Poyer, DT Castro Masaniai, RT Colin Kelly, TE Colby Prince, DT Andrew Seumalo.

Key returnees: WR Brandin Cooks, RB Storm Woods, DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, Michael Doctor, S Ryan Murphy, DE Dylan Wynn.

Newcomer to watch: With the departure of Poyer, the coaching staff will look to replace him with a rotation of Sean Martin -- who saw some time last season -- and newcomer Steven Nelson, rated by one service as the No. 2 junior college cornerback in the country. Nelson, once a Georgia commit, comes from the College of Sequoias and, by all accounts, has had a solid spring and fall camp thus far.

Biggest games in 2013: The Civil War at Oregon (Nov. 29) is always huge. But Stanford (Oct. 26) and Washington (Nov. 23) -- both home games -- will be big for establishing the pecking order in the Pac-12 North.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesReceiver Brandin Cooks will surely be the top target for the winner of Oregon State's QB race.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: On the surface, the outcome of the quarterback competition seems like the biggest question. And it’s an important one. Yet Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have both shown they can win big games. Who they’ll be throwing to, however, might be the more important question. Without a doubt, Cooks is an explosive playmaker. But we’re still waiting to see who steps up opposite him. Much of Cooks’ success last season (67 catches, 1,151 yards, five touchdowns) was because of Wheaton playing on the other side. Double-teaming either one was a nightmare because the other would break out. Kevin Cummings is a solid slot receiver. But the Beavers will need someone like Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney to provide a threat that opens things up for Cooks, or vice versa.

Forecast: The Beavers are a really interesting team this season because of the way their schedule shapes up. You have to think they’ll be favorites in their first seven games (though at Utah, at San Diego State and at California probably won’t be walkovers). Just before Halloween, it starts to get nasty, with five straight against teams that will likely be in or hovering around the Top 25: Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington and Oregon.

It’s not hard to believe the Beavers could replicate last year’s 6-0 start, and possibly even press it to 7-0 before the schedule ramps up. There are a couple of ways to look at it; it’s a good thing because it will give Riley more time to settle on either Mannion or Vaz, and it allows ample time for the receiving corps to come together. There are also some plug-and-play JC defensive linemen who could also use a few warm-up games.

The flip side is that outside of San Diego State, the Beavers won’t be facing an FBS team that had a winning record last year until Stanford comes to town. How much will we really know about this team? Unlike last season -- when the Beavers scored quality wins at home against No. 13 Wisconsin and on the road at No. 19 UCLA and BYU in the first half of the season -- the Beavers will probably achieve a high ranking, though the résumé won’t be there to support it.

But as they say, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and Oregon State should come out of the gates blazing.

Aside from Cooks, the Beavers have an explosive running back, Storm Woods. The ground game took a big step forward in 2012, and Woods is on the verge of becoming a 1,000-yard rusher (940 yards last year, 13 touchdowns). The offensive line continues to improve and returns four of five starters across the front -- headlined by center Isaac Seumalo, who was phenomenal as a freshman and has emerged as one of the top anchors in the country.

The secondary should also be one of the best in the league with the Martin/Nelson duo playing alongside Ryan Murphy, Tyrequek Zimmerman and Reynolds.

No doubt excitement will bubble over if the Beavers start 7-0. But what they do after those first seven will go a long way toward determining the program’s success in 2013.

Best case-worst case: Oregon State

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
7:00
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This is the seventh 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 year'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 State

Best case

Fade from black. A desperate man with a dark mustache and a bald head sits in a shadowy, wood paneled office.

He says, "I believe in the Pac-12 ... I rooted for my team in the Pac-12 fashion."

He tells a tale of woe, his team losing and his family being teased by other Pac-12 fans.

"I said to my wife," he concludes. "For justice, we must go to Don Mike Riley."

"Well, heck," Riley says. "Why didn't you come to me first? We've known each other many years, but this is the first time you came to me for counsel, for help. But, gosh, that's OK. Some day, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this stuffed Beaver as a gift on the first day of preseason camp. Now, I want to tell you about my team. I really like these guys!"

Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion then walk into Riley's office.

"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. This is business not personal. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12. I want you guys to handle this the right way. A hundred other guys will be watching what happens next."

Oregon State stomps Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Mannion throws five TD passes and sits out of the fourth quarter of each game. The Beavers are challenged during road trips to Utah and San Diego State, but they prevail with dominant fourth quarters on both sides of the ball.

They then blow out Colorado, win on a last-second field goal at Washington State and take down California 27-17. At 7-0, Oregon State is ranked 11th, but the toughest part of the schedule lies ahead as each of the final five foes are ranked, including No. 3 Stanford, which heads to Corvallis next.

Reporter: Mike, you're the don, er, dean of Pac-12 coaches, having led Oregon State for 12 years, 10 consecutively since you dabbled in the NFL. What's the secret to your longevity, considering just two other Pac-12 coaches have been at their schools for four or more seasons?

Riley: There are many things my father taught me growing up in Corvallis. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your good friends closer.

Riley gathers his team before they take the field opposite the unbeaten Cardinal.

"I was watching ESPN GameDay this morning and those guys were saying no one really knows what to make of the Beavers, no one knows who we are," Riley says. "Well, I think I know who we are. And I think you know who we are. Tonight we've got a great opportunity to show everyone else who we are. This sounds like a great opportunity to me. Let's show Stanford and everyone else who the Beavers are."

With 17 seconds left, the score is tied 20-20. Stanford has a first and 10 on the Beavers 40.

Announcer: Stanford probably needs about 10 yards to get into field goal range or we go to overtime.

Color analyst: This might be a good time for Kevin Hogan to look for his big tight end Luke Kaumatule.

Kaumatule lines up in the slot opposite linebacker Michael Doctor, who steps up in press coverage.

Kaumatule: What are you up to, Michael?

Doctor: Don't ask me about my business, K.

On the snap, Doctor cuts inside on a blitz. Kaumatule takes three steps, and Hogan turns with Doctor in his face. He throws toward his big tight end.

Announcer: Ryan Murphy! Murphy, the Beavers safety, cuts in front of Kaumatule and he's going back the other way for the touchdown! It looks like the unbeaten Beavers have announced themselves to the nation as Pac-12 and national title contenders!

But the Beavers go down to USC on a Friday night in Corvallis and, after an off week, lose in overtime at Arizona State.

The post game locker room in Tempe is silent. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker huddles with Riley.

"It's like, with good fortune and national attention, they didn't know what to do," he says.

Riley erupts, "They could act like men! What's the matter with you guys? Is this what you've become, wide-eyed when you get ranked in the top-10? What ... you think it gets easier? If you want to win a championship, you have to embrace the fact that every step forward is infinitely more difficult that the one that preceded it. You must think like that and you must prepare like that."

The Beavers clobber No. 15 Washington 40-17. That sets up a Civil War showdown with 10-1 Oregon, which lost only to Stanford. The winner goes to the Pac-12 title game because the Cardinal followed up their win over the Ducks with a defeat at USC.

The Beavers walk into their locker room before Tuesday's practice and there's a large stuffed Duck wearing an Oregon jersey laying on the floor. It's got a Copper River salmon sticking out of its mouth.

Storm Woods: Wait... I know this one.

Brandin Cooks: It's a Sicilian message. It means Oregon sleeps with the fishes.

Woods: Or will.

Center Isaac Seumalo pulls the fish out.

Seumalo: That's all great but Copper River king salmon is like $40 a pound, and this baby is pretty large. Let's grill this bad boy up!

Autzen Stadium is throbbing as the Beavers gather around Riley. After a long pause, he begins.

"Their time is done," he says. "It's over. This is our time. So go out there and take it."

Oregon takes a 28-24 lead on a 30-yard touchdown run from De'Anthony Thomas. The Beavers take over on their 20-yard line with 1:35 remaining. They drive to the Ducks 14-yard line, but face a fourth-and-3 with 14 seconds left.

After a timeout, Mannion eyeballs Cooks in the huddle.

"You'll be one-one-one with Ifo [Ekpre-Olomu] on the outside," Mannion says. "Go hard inside and sell a fake, then break to the flag. I'll be coming over your left shoulder. This is all or nothing. So sell that inside move hard!"

Says Cooks, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."

Ekpre-Olomu bites on the fake; Mannion lobs to the flag; Cooks leaps. Touchdown. Autzen Stadium goes quiet, other than a pie slice of fans in orange and black, who go bonkers.

Oregon State beats USC 30-24 in the Pac-12 title game and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1964 season.

The Beavers whip No. 7 Michigan in Pasadena and finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

Headline in the Portland Oregonian: "Oregon football facility found to cause hallucinations." The story then recounts that when you combine ostentation, Brazilian Ipe wood and extreme hubris, it forms a rare, airborne, psychotropic gas.

"Yes, it all must be torn down," says a smiling man with dark mustache and a bald head. "And a new building can't be constructed on the site for five years. But Ducks like to be outside in the rain, yes?"

Worst case

Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion then walk into Riley's office.

"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12."

The Beavers whip Eastern Washington and Hawaii, but a late Mannion interception keys an upset loss at Utah.

"We're going to go with Cody Vaz against San Diego State," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.

The Beavers beat the Aztecs and Colorado and then slip Washington State in overtime. However, they are flat at California, perhaps looking ahead to Stanford, and lose 20-17.

Kevin Gemmell: As we noted in the preseason, the Beavers schedule ramps up from here. Their next five foes are all ranked.

Ted Miller: Is that what you said when they asked you to do SportsCenter!

Gemmell: Yes.

Ted Miller: I'm your older blogger, Kevin, and I was stepped over!

Stanford whips the Beavers 30-10 as Vaz throws two picks and is sacked five times.

"We're going to go with Sean Mannion against USC," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.

USC rolls over Oregon State 40-10.

Opponents are exploiting the weakness of the Beavers interior defensive line -- see 175 yards rushing surrendered per game -- and both quarterbacks are inconsistent. Defenses are blanketing receiver Brandin Cooks with bracket coverages, and no No. 2 option is stepping forward. The offensive line, thought a strength in the preseason, has been underwhelming.

The Beavers go down at Arizona State with Vaz and lose at home to Washington with Mannion. They head to Autzen Stadium to take on No. 2 and unbeaten Oregon at 5-6, needing a win to earn bowl eligibility, not to mention to prevent the Ducks from playing Alabama for the national title.

Both QBs play. Oregon rolls 45-17.

Ducks first-year coach Mark Helfrich is carried off the field by his team, but he tells consigliere, er, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti to relay a message to Riley: "Tell Mike it was only business. I've always liked him."

The Ducks win the national title with a blowout win over the Crimson Tide. As a reward, Nike founder Phil Knight gives each Oregon player a brass bottle.

With a genie in it. And no limit on wishes. The NCAA deems the gift, "Really cool and fine with us."

Riley retires to his vacation him in Gruene, Texas along the Guadalupe River.

The Beavers hire Charlie Weis away from Kansas.

"Folks around here sometimes complained the Mike was too nice," athletic director Bob De Carolis says. "So we went another direction."

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC
Linebacker should a strong position in the Pac-12 this fall. You could argue that six or seven guys are or could become All-American candidates.

So how do the units stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

Stanford: Three starters back for the Pac-12's best run defense, including All-American candidates Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Even the competition to replace Chase Thomas between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders is between two A-list veterans. Depth is good, too. Might be the best unit in the country.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr is a big reason why the Bruins boast one of the Pac-12 best linebacker corps.
UCLA: Well, start with Anthony Barr on the outside. The general reaction to him at media day, "Dang. He's big. I didn't know he was that big." Then there's the underrated Eric Kendricks inside along with the solid Jordan Zumwalt. There doesn't seem to be much concern about the vacancy at the other OLB, where Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orjioke and, perhaps, incoming freshman Myles Jack are competing.

USC: Inside 'backer Hayes Pullard and Morgan Breslin on the outside make for a good start, as the Trojans transition to a 3-4. Fellow inside linebacker Lamar Dawson had a forgettable 2012 season, but he reacted well to being challenged this spring. Then there's the return of Devon Kennard, who should finally feel comfortable playing the OLB position he was made for.

Washington: As previously noted, the Huskies are extremely strong here, though it doesn't seem that many folks realize it. They will. The general feeling among just about everyone is that Shaq Thompson will make a move toward All-American recognition this year, while Travis Feeney and John Timu also are well above average. Rush end Josh Shirley also merits note as a hybrid LB/DE in Justin Wilcox's amorphous scheme.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are both back, giving the Beavers speed and experience on the outside. Joel Skotte is expected to win the job at MLB. Depth is a little iffy, but the Beavers run defense was strong in 2012.

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite Brandon Magee is gone, and for that we are terribly sad. Incredibly productive Devil 'backer Carl Bradford is back, as are Steffon Martin and Chris Young, as well as Anthony Jones. Sun Devils struggled a bit against the run last year.

California: The Bears are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means Chris McCain is now officially a rush end, not an outside linebacker. But this is a better-than-you-think crew, despite the lousy numbers from 2012. Nick Forbes is strong inside, while Jalen Jefferson is back on the strongside. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt is finally healthy and ready to roll. Depth is a little questionable.

Arizona: Everyone is back, led by Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and the Pac-12 blog is of the mind the Wildcats are actually OK at linebacker. The issue is the guys in front of them not being very good at gobbling up blockers. Terrible run defense last year, though.

Washington State: We think one of the big surprises this year might be how solid the Cougars are on defense, and linebacker is one of several reasons why. Most of the 2012 two-deep is back, though losing OLB Travis Long is a big hit. Darryl Monroe is the leader inside.

WE'LL SEE

Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks lost three of four starters. It's that they lost OLB Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay inside. Each is on an NFL roster, Jordan being a first-round pick and Alonso going in the second round. No team in the country lost anything approaching that at linebacker. Boseko Lokombo is back on the outside, but injury issues this spring prevented there from being much depth chart clarity.

Utah: While the 2012 run defense was solid, the Utes didn't play well at linebacker last year, though injury issues were the chief concern, preventing any type of week-to-week continuity. Trevor Reilly, who played "stud" 'backer last year, has returned to his more natural end position. A healthy Brian Blechen will take over at "stud" after bouncing back and forth at safety -- he's 230 pounds, too -- and that should help. Big area of fall competition here.

Colorado: Senior Derrick Webb is a strong presence on the weakside, but Jon Major and Doug Rippy are gone. The Buffaloes likely will be young here, see true freshman Addison Gillam topping the post-spring depth chart.

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker
If the Dictionary of Phrases needs a demonstration of what "cautiously optimistic" sounds like, they might want to chat with Mark Banker about his Oregon State defense.

He makes a good case for optimism. And he's got reasons to be cautious.

It must be first said that Banker probably feels a lot better than he did a year ago when Beavers fans were doubting him, despite a distinguished track record of consistent success, both on the field and in terms of transforming under-the-radar recruits into NFL draft choices.

[+] EnlargeMark Banker
Jesse Beals/ Icon SMIDefensive coordinator Mark Banker is optimistic the Beavers can continue the growth they showed last season, when they ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up 20.6 points per game.
Yet after consecutive losing seasons in Corvallis, Banker and head coach Mike Riley were on the spot. The 2011 Beavers ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, surrendering 30.8 points per game, and they often were pushed around, yielding a conference-worst 196.8 yards rushing per game.

Few units in the Pac-12 improved as much as the Beavers' defense from 2011 to 2012. Last fall, the Beavers ranked second in the Pac-12 and 22nd in the nation, giving up just 20.6 points per game, a 10.2-point per game improvement. They also ranked third in run defense, holding foes to 129.5 yards per game in a conference with a lot of good running backs.

The difference? Better players, experience, staying healthy and a rejiggered defensive staff, says Banker.

As to what he sees for 2013, he said, "This group is more than capable."

He likes his defensive ends, Dylan Wynn and All-American candidate Scott Crichton. He's got two speedy, experienced outside linebackers in Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander. Three of four starters are back from a secondary that yielded just 14 touchdown passes last fall.

And yet.

He's replacing his middle linebacker Feti Taumoepeau, as well as do-everything backup Rueben Robinson. All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer is now playing for Chip Kelly in Philly. And he's got 644 pounds missing in the middle of his defensive line with the departure of tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo.

Let's start with the optimism. Banker loves underrated free safety Ryan Murphy.

"He can really play -- he's got the greatest chance of being drafted in a high position," Banker said. "He'll be one of the, if not the best, safety we've ever had here as this thing plays out. I hope I don't jinx him."

Further, he feels like he's got a pretty good competition for replacing Poyer, with experienced senior Sean Martin and talented junior college transfer Steve Nelson in a tight battle for the starting job, with the No. 2 guy likely filling a nickel role.

Banker likes true sophomore Joel Skotte stepping into the middle linebacker spot. While Skotte, who saw significant special teams action last season, isn't yet there physically, he's a smart player, the kind of guy who won't make mental mistakes in the middle of the Beavers' defense.

Further, the position isn't as critical to the Beavers' defense as it was in the past, because eight conference teams run no-huddle spread offenses.

"The basis of what we have to have at that position, [Skotte] has," Banker said. "But at the same time, with so many different spread types of offenses, we're in our sub packages quite a bit."

Which means Doctor, who made great strides in 2012, moves into the middle.

Banker admits some frustration trying to get Alexander in the right place to maximize his athletic potential. There were plenty of feast or famine moments with the speedy rising junior in 2012. Great plays followed by mental errors.

"There were quite a few times last year we'd take him out to let him know, No. 1, it's not acceptable and, No. 2, so we could get him squared away in the mental aspect of the game," Banker said.

Then there are the voids at defensive tackle. You can almost feel Banker rubbing a rabbits foot through the phone line.

"We're not so much uncertain, but we're not satisfied with our defensive tackle play," Banker said.

The Beavers welcome back reserves Mana Rosa and John Braun, but four junior college signees are expected to compete for the starting spots.

Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau both participated in spring practices. Hautau, however, broke his hand and missed most of the action, and Delva has a ways to go.

Kyle Peko, Charlie Tuaau and Lyndon Tulimasealii are scheduled to arrive for fall camp, but Banker sounded a cautionary note about all three being squared away academically.

"All three have significant work that they are doing in the classroom that they need to become eligible," he said.

The hope is that, of the tackles who do make it to camp, at least two will be Pac-12 ready. And maybe one or two others can adequately take up space.

"That's the biggest thing that I'm curious about: Where do they start? Where's the bottom? I hope they don't start down too low," Banker said.

Banker likes what he knows about his defense. And has his fingers crossed hopefully over what he's yet to find out.
We've been reviewing Pac-12 statistical leaders from 2012 who are returning in 2013. Now it's your turn.

We've already polled you on passing, rushing and receiving with 45 percent saying "Other" for rushing, 42 percent saying Oregon's Marcus Mariota for passing and 41 percent favoring USC's Marqise Lee for receiving.

Now we move on to defense.

SportsNation

Who will lead the Pac-12 in tackles?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    49%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,617)

The contest for top tackler could be a tight one. Eight teams welcome back their leading tackler from 2012. But the Pac-12 blog is limited to five choices in our polls. So we'll consider the top-four returning tacklers and give you "other" to volunteer your dissension.

Of course, having a lot of tackles isn't always a good thing. If you play for a defense that forces a lot of three-and-outs, you won't get as many chances as a guy who plays MLB for a defense that yields a lot of 11-play touchdown drives.

So that might factor into your pick here. We, for example, do not believe the Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, one of the nation's best tacklers, is going to lead the Pac-12 in this category this season. The Cardinal defense is too good.

UCLA LB Eric Kendricks is an obvious favorite. He led the Pac-12 with 10.6 tackles per game last year. If the Bruins' defense improves, however, his numbers might go down. That said, this guy can track down the ball.

Undersized but wily Arizona LB Jake Fischer was third in the conference with 9.2 tackles per game in 2012. With every starter back on defense, the hope in Tucson is a defense that struggled mightily last year will take a big step forward. If that happens, Fischer's numbers could go down while his actual performance is better.

No. 4 in the Pac-12 in tackles was Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, who averaged 8.8 stops per game. It's typically not good when a safety lead a defense in tackles, but Bucannon unquestionably has some LB in him. He's a contact seeker.

Washington's defense was greatly improved last year, which is reason why Huskies leading tackler John Timu had 7.0 tackles per game compared to 2011 leader Cort Dennison's 9.85 per game.

A vote for "Other" could include several good candidates, including Utah LB Brian Blechen, Oregon State LB Michael Doctor and Colorado LB Derrick Webb.

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