Pac-12: Michael Lowe

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.
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.



Preseason position reviews: safety

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
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Safety is a strong position in the conference. Only UCLA has almost no experience returning to man the middle of its back-half, while the battle for the two All-Pac-12 teams should be tight.

So how do things stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

[+] EnlargeStanford's Ed Reynolds
Ed Szczepanski/US PRESSWIREStanford's Ed Reynolds had six interceptions last season, returning three for a touchdown.
Stanford: Just as Oregon might have the best combination of cornerbacks in the nation, so do the Cardinal at safety. Ed Reynolds is a preseason All-American and Jordan Richards is an all-conference sort. Devon Carrington -- recall a certain notable play in the Oregon game -- is a strong No. 3. Stanford yielded just 13 touchdown passes last year.

Oregon: The Ducks welcome back Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson, but Avery Patterson is back from injury, so expect him to break back into the starting lineup. Again, this might be the nation's best secondary, with the Cardinal also in that discussion.

Oregon State: We're already on record noting Ryan Murphy could be poised for a breakout season, but veteran Tyrequek Zimmerman also is back. Depth is a little questionable. The Beavers, who welcome back three of four secondary starters, ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

GOOD SHAPE

USC: Although the Trojans lost mainstay T.J. McDonald, they welcome back Josh Shaw, who mostly played corner last year, and Dion Bailey, who mostly played linebacker. Both were mostly out of position and are highly skilled. Throw in big-time talents such as frosh Leon McQuay and Su'a Cravens, and there aren't many teams that wouldn't trade their safeties for USC's. And no more Tampa 2 confusion also should help.

Arizona State: Team leader Alden Darby was second-team All-Pac-12 last season as the Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Redshirt freshman Viliami Moeakiola topped the post-spring depth chart at free safety, but the competition remains open heading into fall camp. Watch out for Damarious Randall.

Washington: Sean Parker is back, and he was honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago. Redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver is competing with experienced senior Will Shamburger for the other spot.

Arizona: Everyone is back in the Wildcats secondary, and just like the cornerbacks, the safeties will look good if the pass rush is at least adequate. Former walk-on Jared Tevis was a revelation last season, while Jourdon Grandon also returns. Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a hybrid linebacker/safety sort. Patrick Onwuasor was kicked off the team.

Washington State: Deone Bucannon was second-team All-Pac-12 last season and he packs a punch, while Casey Locker also is a returning starter. Sophomore Taylor Taliulu is in the mix. What holds the Cougars back here, not unlike Arizona, is poor 2012 pass efficiency defense.

Utah: Eric Rowe is back and he's flashed plenty of potential, but Brian Blechen is -- wisely, the Pac-12 blog thinks -- moving back to linebacker. Though Tevin Carter was listed as an "Or" beside Rowe on the post-spring depth chart, expect him to compete with Tyron Morris-Edwards for the spot opposite Rowe. Charles Henderson offers depth.

California: Michael Lowe is a returning starter, but he was listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart. Avery Sebastian is solid at strong safety. Again, this seems like a solid crew, but Cal gave up 32 touchdown passes last season, second most in the conference.

WE'LL SEE

UCLA: It was a big blow when Tevin McDonald, brother of T.J. and the secondary's lone returning starter, got kicked off the team. It also didn't help when the career of the star-crossed Dietrich Riley ended because of injuries. Sophomore Randall Goforth is the likely starter at free safety, while touted incoming freshmen Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman figure to be in the mix opposite him. There are plenty of opportunities here for youngsters and veterans to make a fall camp move.

Colorado: The Buffaloes lose Ray Polk, but there's no lack of returning experience here among Josh Moten, Terrel Smith, Parker Orms, Marques Mosley and Jered Bell. But, as we noted with the corners, when you rank last in the nation in pass efficiency defense, it's difficult not to rank a "we'll see."

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Linebacker

Defensive line

Cornerback
We've looked at offensive three-headed monsters -- elite combinations of quarterback, running back and receiver -- so now let's look at the defensive version.

That would be elite combinations of top tacklers, top sack men and top interceptors, as tackles, sacks and interceptions make defensive coordinators happy.

The combinations here might be stronger even than the offensive troikas. Stanford, for example, welcomes back an elite, All-America sort of player for each category. It seems to us all 12 teams have at least one player to be excited about heading into the fall.

Just two teams -- Arizona State and Utah -- only hit on one category. Arizona, Colorado and Washington join Stanford hitting all three, though Colorado's interception numbers from 2012 are so meager -- 3! -- that it's not terribly relevant. And USC's just missing was a matter of 0.4 tackles per game.

So here's how we see things stacking up.

And, again, you should feel free to be outraged by our lunkheaded bias against your team, which obviously should be ranked much higher.

1. Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

The skinny: Three potential All-Americans. There is no finer troika in the nation. Not sure if anyone else is even close.

2. USC
LB Hayes Pullard, OLB Morgan Breslin, S Dion Bailey

The skinny: Pullard was seventh in the conference with 8.2 tackles per game, just behind safety T.J. McDonald. Breslin is transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker, which actually seems like a better fit. And Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions, is moving back to safety from linebacker.

3. UCLA
LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Anthony Barr, S Randall Goforth

The skinny: UCLA gets here on the power of the first two, an elite combination, with Barr a likely top-10 NFL draft pick next spring. That balances out the questions in the secondary. Goforth, a promising player, just seemed like as good a choice as any.

4. Oregon State
LB Michael Doctor, DE Scott Cricthon, CB Rashaad Reynolds

The skinny: Doctor took a big step forward last year, even if D.J. Alexander is a flashier player. Crichton, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, is trying to lead the Beavers in sacks for a third consecutive year. Reynolds had three picks last year and now becomes the Beavers' lead cornerback with Jordan Poyer off to the NFL.

5. Oregon
LB Derrick Malone, DE Taylor Hart, S Erick Dargan

The skinny: Malone was just thrown in there because the Ducks' linebacker situation is cloudy. Hart is a budding all-conference guy who should get his due this fall. Dargan led the Ducks with five picks, but there's an acknowledgement here also of cornerback Ekpre-Olomu, a preseason All-American, who had four.

6. Arizona State
LB Chris Young, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby

The skinny: Sutton is the big fish here, obviously. Linebacker is a question for the Sun Devils, who lost their top two tacklers. Young and Darby are returning starters, though, with Young ranking third in tackles and Darby second in interceptions in 2012.

7. Washington
LB John Timu, OLB Josh Shirley, CB Marcus Peters

The skinny: This is a solid but unspectacular trio, as none of the three were all-conference. But the Huskies defense, which was greatly improved in 2012, has a lot of production back. It's worth noting that defensive end Andrew Hudson tied Shirely for the team lead with 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Shaq Thompson also had three picks, like Peters.

8. Arizona
LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, CB Jonathan McKnight

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but they get marked down for the overall defensive numbers in 2012. Flowers, an underrated player, had 5.5 sacks and was tied with McKnight with three interceptions.

9. California
LB Nick Forbes, DE Chris McCain, S Michael Lowe

The skinny: Forbes averaged 7.1 tackles per game last year. McCain tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, but don't be surprised if Todd Barr or Brennan Scarlett lead the pass rush. Lowe had three picks last year to tie for the team lead, but he's listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart.

10. Washington State
S Deone Bucannon, OLB Logan Mayes, LB Cyrus Coen

The skinny: Bucannon is an A-list guy, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. He led the Cougars in tackles and interceptions, so we included Coen, who was second with three picks. The gigantic void is the pass rush, which lost four-year sack leader Travis Long.

11. Utah
LB/S Brian Blechen, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: These are three solid players, but there's a lot of uncertainty on the Utes defense. The Utes lost their top two sack men and their top three cornerbacks. Blechen has bounced back and forth between linebacker and safety, and neither Reilly nor Rowe were able to top the depth chart at his position this spring without an "Or" beside him.

12. Colorado
LB Derrick Webb, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley

The skinny: All three leaders are back, but we're listing the promising Crawley instead of the two guys who had a single pick last year. Uzo-Diribe is legit. He has 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including seven last year. Big issue here, however, is how terrible the Buffs defense was last year.

Maynard shines, Bears stump Bruins

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
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UCLA went to Memorial Stadium looking for its first win in Berkeley since 1998. All the No. 25 Bruins found was a fierce Cal pass rush and an inspired Bears offense that quarterback Zach Maynard ran with relative efficiency to a 43-17 victory over the Bruins.

Maynard accounted for five Cal touchdowns -- four in the air and one on the ground -- and the much-maligned Bears defense kept the Bruins to 378 total yards, sacked quarterback Brett Hundley four times and forced six UCLA turnovers.

For as well as Cal played, UCLA also didn't help their cause with miscommunications and penalties. For example, a mix-up between Hundley and Shaquelle Evans led to an interception at the end of the first half that could have been a huge momentum swing.

And the Bears capitalized on the Bruins' mistakes, turning those five turnovers into 20 points.

UCLA jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Hundley connected with defensive lineman-turned-eligible-receiver Cassius Marsh on a 4-yard score.

But the Bears then scored 23 straight on three Maynard touchdowns -- a 5-yarder to C.J. Anderson, an 8-yarder to Keenan Allen and a 32-yarder to Brendan Bigelow. He was a very crisp 25 of 30 for 295 yards.

"[Maynard] played within himself and we did a nice job as a team," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford told the Pac-12 Network after the game. "It was a total team effort. It was solid. All three phases played well. Now we regroup and get ready for another game next week. This is just one game."

Hundley, who finished 31-of-47 for 253 yards, connected with Joseph Fauria for a 3-yard strike to cut the score to 23-14 early in the third quarter. But Maynard answered by finding Allen again -- this time for 34 yards -- to put Cal ahead 29-14 after the blocked PAT.

Things got ugly in the fourth when Cal fumbled in the UCLA red zone, then Hundley was intercepted for the second time, and then Cal fumbled again on the very next offensive play. And then Hundley was picked again on the next UCLA drive by Michael Lowe. The teams combined for 22 penalties for 199 yards.

Maynard put the game out of reach midway through the fourth when, following the Lowe interception, he marched the Bears to the UCLA 1-yard line and put his head down for the score.

Anderson iced it in the final minutes with a 68-yard touchdown with 1:32 left in the game.

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