Pac-12: Michael Morgan
He also was the coaching staff's designated fiery guy. Fair to say he was a master at whipping a locker room into a frenzy.
Now he's back, working under Lane Kiffin instead of Pete Carroll, and he's trying to rebuild the Trojans into the force they were from 2002-2008, not the indifferent team from last fall.
And, of course, he and Kiffin are trying to do that while yoked with severe NCAA sanctions.
The Trojans are 3-0, but most of the country is unimpressed. AP voters seem to be applying a special standard to USC, punishing the Trojans in the polls despite their playing three FBS teams -- two from AQ conferences -- as well as two road games.
Orgeron and USC are headed to Washington State on Saturday, where they likely will win but still drop a couple of spots in the polls. We caught up with him before he bolted for Pullman.
How long did it take for you to feel like you were back home at USC?
Ed Orgeron: (Laughs) Not long at all. This is a place I always wanted to come back to. And I was fortunate enough to come back here and fit right in and just start working again. So it didn't take long at all.
Before we get into football, what happened to your foot? How did you get hurt?
EO: I was at practice two Thursdays ago, setting up a drill, and I heard a crack. I got an x-ray on it and it was something that probably happened while I was jogging this summer, a little fracture. Just got a little worse.
I ask because I was wondering if you've mellowed. Or are you still as fiery as ever?
EO: (Laughs) I'm not mellow. In fact, there may be a little bit more fire that has come out.
Tell me about the defense: What's your overall feeling after three games?
EO: We started off really shaky. Hawaii was on fire. We made a lot of mistakes and didn't tackle well and got tired in the first game. We made some improvement playing against Virginia. We still have a ways to go. I'm really proud of the way we tackled and fit the run against Minnesota, which was averaging 252 yards per game. We still haven't played up to our potential yet. We're still getting better. We still have some deficits that we will have to get better, recruit better, coach better. But I think the tackling has improved, the conditioning is getting better and they're playing harder.
Who is playing well?
EO: We came in and we were really concerned with our linebackers. But I think they've been very solid. The whole crew: Michael Morgan, Devon Kennard, Malcolm Smith and Chris Galippo -- those guys a group of done a good job. DT Jurrell Casey is playing like an All-American. He's one of the better players I've had since I've been at USC. He's been really consistent.
What isn't going well?
EO: Everything starts up front. You got to have a consistent pass rush. We haven't had a ferocious pass rush since we've been back here. Not tackling, giving up the big plays. We've had busted assignments, letting guys get over the top. Guys have been in position to make plays and haven't. Everything that hasn't gone well has been correctable, though.
When you were at USC before, Washington State was pretty good. Are you a little surprised by their struggles?
EO: You just never can tell in college football. With recruiting, everything. Everything has equaled out. Look at Boise State. A team can lose a couple of good players and fall off, but they can regain their strength with a couple good players in recruiting. They have been off for a while, but I think those guys will fight back eventually.
What do you see from the Cougars offense on tape that you guys need to worry about?
EO: They are explosive. They aren't scoring a lot of points, but they've reeled off some big plays, some big runs. They've had more explosive plays that you'd expect from a team not having much success. We need to go up there and be ready to play. You know they're always going to play the Trojans well.
How far are you guys away from getting back to old USC defense?
EO: Oh, we're a ways away. That's going to be a process. It took us a couple years with coach Carroll to start playing USC defense, a couple of great recruits coming in. We're a ways away. Whether we can attain it this season remains to be seen.
You're known as one of the nation's top recruiters. What do you say about NCAA sanctions when you are out recruiting?
EO: It's galvanized our football team. We had choice to complain about it, give excuses, but we didn't. We're recruiting harder than ever. We're coaching harder than ever. There's a chance for these guys to come in and play. It really affected this year's class the most with two bowls. Next year's class is only one bowl. I really feel with 15 recruits we can play with anybody in the nation. USC is going to get the top players. I don't think it's going to be that detrimental to USC. We're not going to let that happen.
Knowing your numbers are going to be down over the next few years, how have you guys changed strategies to account for that?
EO: Lineman. Linemen. You have to get lineman. You have to have backups on the line to be able to practice the way we want to practice, physically, with physical practices. We have to make sure that the lines are really, really great.
Follow me on Twitter. Last week, the USC offense did. The Trojans defense did not. And we all saw what happened there.
To the notes.
Mitch from Salem, Ore., writes: After seeing USC and their "green" secondary, and overall poor defense against Hawaii, do you still see them as a PAC-10 contender? Their offense was good, but I attribute that to a poor Hawaii defense.
Ted Miller: That's a fair point, but I can't think much about it because I'm still stuck on how terrible Oregon looked at Boise State last year. Or how the Ducks nearly lost at home to Purdue the following week. That team has no hope and Chip Kelly is clearly above his head as a head coach.
Oregon won the Pac-10 and Kelly won conference Coach of the Year in 2009? Oh.
Here's an oldie but a goodie: Florida State lost its 1988 opener 31-0 to Miami.
And then went 11-1.
My point: Openers are strange things. They sometimes reveal weaknesses that will be season-long issues. And they sometimes provide powerful teachable moments for teams trying to find themselves. And they sometimes don't mean jack, one way or the other.
And let's keep in mind the Trojans won by 13 points.
Was the Trojans defense shockingly bad? Without a doubt. But we may need to get a few games into the season before we start throwing dirt on the Trojans season.
But, yeah, USC won't be No. 2 in my power rankings next week. That tackling made me want to scratch my eyes out. I was worried that Ed Orgeron's head was going burst like a watermelon tossed from a 10-story tower.
Tim from Decatur, Ga., writes: Sometime next week can you post a link to your previously posted recommendations for where us duck fans need to visit while we're in Knoxville next weekend! obviously calhouns is a must, but since everyone will be heading there, we may need some alternatives beat the crowd.
Ted Miller: Here's what I wrote last time I fielded this question:
The place I always recommend is Ye Ole Steak House. It's an institution.
I fired an email to SEC blogger Chris Low, who lives in Knoxville. He added Calhoun's on the River and the Butcher Shop. Sure you can get some good bar recommendations at any of those places (I haven't been there in more than a decade).
Just make sure you get there soon enough to enjoy the tailgate. It's one of the best places in the country to see a game.
You also could throw a comment up on the SEC blog. Guarantee you'll get some good suggestions.
Tony from Queen Creek, Ariz., writes: What do you think of the Sun Devils playing a lot of 3-4 defense this year? They will run a base 4-3 but with the recent lack of depth at DT isn't it a blessing in disguise that they are very good a linebacker...especially up the middle with Burfict and Munns. With Guy and Brooks as the ends and an aggressive blitzing strategy with the linebackers I can really see the Devils causing a ton of turnovers this year.
Ted Miller: I think it makes sense: When you are strong at linebacker and lack depth at DT, then using some 3-4 looks makes sense, even if your base is a 4-3 (and the Sun Devils hope to get healthy at tackle, where they are pretty salty when all are accounted for). And getting Munns and Burfict both on the field means one of the unit's best defenders isn't sitting on the bench.
I think the best coaches adapt to their personnel and don't get too caught up in trying to force their players into systems. Craig Bray does a great job in Tempe; he's this close to building a program that immediately pops into mind when folks think about good defenses nationally (which means some of those touted West Coast prep DTs and DEs that only looked at USC in the past might give the Sun Devils a shot).
Tony, your friends over at Arizona are doing the same thing by using more nickel and dime packages due to better depth and talent in the secondary than at LB.
Evan from Fresno, Calif., writes: Are you on USC's payroll? Are you a Trojans? Your bias on them is ridiculous. You defend a dirty program. You defend a dirty hit against Hawaii. Where's you're shame.
Ted Miller: Happy Friday to you Evan!
I don't believe I have a bias towards any team. I was born in Atlanta. I went to the University of Richmond. I own no school-specific gear -- T-shirts, hats, boxers, etc. I covered Auburn for a while (not because I chose Auburn but because that was the job I was offered). I then covered Washington for a while (not because I chose Washington but because that was the job I was offered). I am now ESPN.com's Pac-10 blogger (not because I chose the Pac-10 but because that was the job I was offered).
If I woke up tomorrow in Opposite World, and Adam Rittenberg was the Pac-10 blogger and I was the Big Ten blogger, I would cover the Big Ten with the same wide-eyed, slightly deranged zeal that I have for my coverage of the Pac-10. I would not favor Indiana over Michigan, though it would be inevitable that someone at some point would believe so.
It seems to me the starting point of folks who accuse me of having a bias toward Team A is their overwhelming hatred of Team A. Fairness to Team A -- or any positive stories about Team A -- then become "bias." Often the claim of bias is shortly followed about complaints about things I've written, the problem often being with these claims is I haven't actually written what the critic claims I have.
Many have a problem with my position that the NCAA's sanctions against USC were too severe (though that's a widely held position among national college football writers). I've written that because I believe it and the evidence supports that position. While the football program is far from blameless, it didn't deserve the worst penalties in decades. What I chiefly discovered from fans who have taken issue with my coverage of USC and the NCAA is two things: 1. Said fan hates USC; 2. Said fan doesn't know the issues, rules, what the actual record is or the content of the ultimate NCAA ruling.
As for last night's USC-Hawaii game, I made sure the record was clear with Michael Morgan's hit on QB Bryant Moniz because it was not a dirty play, didn't deserve a penalty and it's not right for there to be any momentum behind the assertion Morgan took a head-hunting cheap shot. There seemed to be some confusion on that. Here's a great picture of the hit in question. I watched the play in slow motion about 10 times before reaching my conclusion: 1. There was no helmet-to-helmet contact; 2. There appeared to be no intention to deliver a head shot; 3. Morgan hit Monis with his chest; 4. There was no forearm-to-head contact, which would have broken Morgan's arm before causing a concussion.
Now, if anyone can produce, in context, excerpts from my stories that reveal a bias, I'd be glad to see them. Actually, I'd be chagrined, but you're never too old to learn, even if the lessons are hard.
And, see, I didn't even mention it should have been "your" shame.
Lane Kiffin and his offense get an "A." Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron and their defense get an "F."
How the game was won: The Warriors couldn't stop the Trojans offense.
Turning point: It never really seemed like USC was in real danger, but the Trojans' effortless four-play, 79-yard drive to go up 42-23 late in the third quarter made it clear that no matter how many points the Warriors scored, the Trojans would end up with more.
Turning point II: When Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz was knocked out of the game near the USC goal line in the third quarter, the Warriors' chances seemed as if they were severely damaged. But the Warriors kept rolling up yards and points even with their backups.
Second-guessing: Let's make something clear: USC linebacker Michael Morgan's hit that knocked out Moniz in the third was clean. It wasn't a head shot, and that was clear from replays. It shouldn't have been a penalty. Morgan delivered a blow with his chest and INSIDE of his arms. Just want to make sure everyone understands what happened.
Stat of the game: The Warriors outgained USC 588 to 525.
In case that wasn't clear: 588!
Notable number: USC made a bunch of stupid penalties, mostly on defense. The final tally -- 11 for 100 -- included three offsides penalties, as well as a fourth that was declined, in large part because the Warriors converted on a third-and-26 from their 7-yard line.
Player of the game: Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was brilliant. He threw five touchdown passes, completing 18 of 23 throws for 257 yards.
Player of the game II: USC receiver Ronald Johnson caught three of Barkley's TD passes. He also returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown.
Player who deserves note: Moniz is a heck of a player. Sort of reminded me of a guy we used to see in the Pac-10 last year who's moved to Mississippi. He had the Trojans D completely out of sync, both running and throwing.
What it means: Some -- who, me? -- thought USC would come out and stomp the Warriors. You know: Send a message. The foundation of that predicted stomping -- and it feels absurd now -- was expected to be the Trojans defense, particularly the defensive line. But the defensive line was terrible. They, however, looked good compared to the secondary, which couldn't cover or tackle worth a lick. There are some positives to take away for USC, but they are entirely on offense. Other Pac-10 offensive coordinators who stayed up late to watch this one -- it ended around 3 a.m. EST -- are probably grinning.
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.
USC's defense ranks 16th in the nation in scoring and total defense. That's pretty good. But two weeks ago, it ranked fourth in scoring and sixth in total defense and hadn't surrendered a touchdown pass.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE|
|Defensive coordinator Rocky Seto said mental lapses were to blame for the big plays the Trojans have given up recently.|
That's not so good.
The No. 5 Trojans visit No. 10 Oregon on Saturday in the Pac-10 game of the year. The Ducks' offense ranks 16th in the nation with 34 points a game, despite scoring just eight in their season-opening loss at Boise State.
So it seemed like a good time to check in with Trojans first-year defensive coordinator Rocky Seto.
So give me your general impression of how the defense has played so far?
Rocky Seto: Pretty well, considering all the new faces we've got in there. But we need to continue to get better. But I've been pleased and I just thank God for the type of coaches and players we have. The coaches have done an awesome job of teaching and the players have done an awesome job of learning. There have been a lot of new experiences for a lot of players, so it's been really neat to see.
You guys have given up some yards the past two weeks, particularly in the passing game. Is that a concern and what's going wrong?
RS: Certainly, we'd like to improve in that way. We've really examined it. We've played two really good quarterbacks in [Jimmy] Clausen, a really experienced guy, and [Sean] Canfield, with two excellent coaching staffs. The big thing about it is usually when the breakdowns have happened, we've made a few mental errors. We've talked to them about focusing on not giving those things up. It's been a big emphasis for us.
Who's playing particularly well right now?
RS: You know who's doing a really good job is the defensive line. It's putting pressure on the quarterback. In the linebacking corps, Mike Morgan is doing a really good job. It's been neat to see. Taylor [Mays] has done a really nice job of staying on top and taking care of the deep ball. Kevin Thomas, our left cornerback, has really come around the last couple of weeks.
Has anything surprised you about the defense, or your personnel this season?
RS: I don't know if it's a surprise or shock because we base our performance on how we practice, how we play in practice. Our offense is really talented, so we feel if we can practice really well against them we should expect to play well. In spring practice and fall camp, these guys really performed well. So I don't know if it's a surprise or not, but it's been neat to see the young guys, the new starters, perform and fit into their new roles.
How does it work between you and Pete Carroll on game days? What role do you play in terms of calling the defense?
RS: Coach [Carroll] calls the defenses and basically I add as much input as I can when he asks me. We have a conversation that keeps going on. Really, it's been pretty neat. Ever since I've been a graduate assistant with him, eight or nine years ago, he's been a mentor for me and has taken time to have conversations with me. It hasn't changed much really since we've gotten together. It's been such a blessing to me. It's a constant conversation throughout the game and throughout the week.
What's he like during a game: Is he all business or does he joke around and act like the Pete Carroll most of us see on a day-to-day basis?
RS: He's pretty much on business. However, he'll slip in his personality. He's very poised. He doesn't change too much. But he is very serious on game day, but not to the point he doesn't do much. His personality certainly shows up.
He seems to be enjoying himself during games -- a lot of coaches adopt the stone face.
RS: No doubt. He gets fired up when the offense or defense makes a nice play. It's something he demands from our players -- that they have a good time. If you watch our sidelines, our guys are pretty in tune to what's going on and get pretty fired up. It's just how we conduct ourselves -- our meetings, our practices. It's based on coach's personality.
Give me a scouting report on Oregon.
RS: These guys are an excellent running team, a spread-option team. [Quarterback Jeremiah] Masoli has done a really nice job of running the offense. He looks really poised and composed in there. And he's a fiery guy. He's really impressive. He does some really nice play-action passes where he's been able to hit his targets well, particularly the tight end and [receiver Jeff] Maehl. They do a nice job of running the ball really well and throwing the ball, all of it. A bunch of screens. They get you spread out and try the wide-receiver screen, the tight end screen to Ed Dickson. They've mixed all those concepts really well together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.
No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
|Ric Tapia/Icon SMI|
|Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.|
Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.
Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.
Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.
"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."
Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.
And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.
It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.
It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.
"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.
Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.
The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.
"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.
Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."
Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.
Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.
"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."
Poor ole USC?
Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Lining up this week's action.
No. 7 USC (3-1, 1-1) at No. 24 California (3-1, 0-1)
USC beat Cal 17-3 last year... The Trojans lead the all-time series, 61-30-5... Cal has won nine consecutive home games. It last lost in Memorial Stadium to USC in 2007... USC leads the Pac-10 in total offense (424 yards per game), rushing and scoring defense (59.5 ypg and 10 ppg)... Bears QB Kevin Riley hasn't thrown an interception this season and has a streak of 115 passes without a pick dating back to last year... USC leads the Pac-10 with 18 sacks... Cal had three fumbles at Oregon, its first three turnovers of the season... USC ranks last in the Pac-10 in third-down conversion percentage (25 percent)... Bears RB Jahvid Best ranks ninth in the nation with 116.75 yards rushing per game... Trojans DE Nick Perry leads the conference in sacks with six, while linebacker Michael Morgan leads the conference in tackles for a loss with 8.5... Despite scoring just three points at Oregon, the Bears still rank No. 1 in the conference in scoring with 37.25 points per game.
UCLA (3-0, 0-0) at Stanford (3-1, 2-0)
UCLA beat Stanford 23-20 last year... The Bruins lead the all-time series 23-20... UCLA will play nine consecutive conference games without a bye... Stanford has won six of its past seven home games... The Bruins have eight interceptions, tied for first in the conference... Stanford running back Toby Gerhart is No. 3 in the nation with 129 yards rushing per game... UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has connected on 22 of his past 23 field goal attempts dating back to last year. His lone miss came from 51 yards... The Bruins have held each of their opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense. They rank 15th in the nation in total defense (251 ypg) and 12th in scoring (12.67 ppg)... Stanford is No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency... UCLA is No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency defense... Stanford is No. 1 in the conference in rushing... UCLA is No. 3 in the conference in run defense...Stanford has yielded only two sacks this year, fewest in the conference... UCLA ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in total offense (301.3 ypg) and eighth in scoring (25 ppg)... Stanford ranks last in the conference in turnover margin (negative-3).
Washington (2-2) at Notre Dame (3-1)
Notre Dame beat Washington 33-7 last year... The Fighting Irish lead the all-time series 7-0... Washington QB Jake Locker leads the Pac-10 and ranks 21st in the nation in total offense (269 yards per game)... Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen ranks fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. He's thrown 10 TD passes with just one interception... Washington ranks 106th in the nation in run defense... Notre Dame ranks 106th in the nation in pass defense... The Huskies have just four sacks this season... The Fighting Irish's last three games have been decided by a total of 10 points.... Washington ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring and rushing offense... Washington is converting 58 percent of its third downs, which ranks fifth in the nation.
Oregon State (2-2, 0-1) at Arizona State (2-1, 0-0)
Oregon State beat Arizona State 27-25 last year... The Sun Devils lead the all-time series 24-10-1... The Beavers have won four in a row on the road, the longest road winning streak in the conference, but they haven't won at ASU since 1969... Arizona State ranks third in the nation in total defense (211 yards per game) and 11th in scoring defense (12.33 ppg)... Running back Jacquizz Rodgers leads the Pac-10 in receptions per game (8.0) while his brother James leads the conference in receiving yards per game (88 ypg)... The Sun Devils have turned the ball over just once this season and lead the Pac-10 with a plus-10 turnover margin... The Beavers have only three turnovers this year -- no fumbles -- but they have only forced four turnovers, fewest in the conference... The Sun Devils will play nine consecutive conference games without a bye... Oregon State leads the conference in passing with 255.8 yards per game... ASU leads the Pac-10 in passing defense with 136.7 yards allowed per game.
Washington State (1-3, 0-2) at No. 16 Oregon (3-1, 1-0)
Oregon beat Washington State 63-14 last year... Oregon leads the all-time series 41-38-7... The Ducks have won seven in a row at home... Cougars punter Reid Forrest leads the Pac-10 with a 45.3 yards per punt average... Oregon TE Ed Dickson caught a career-high 11 passes for 148 yards and three TDs in the win over California. The 11 catches tied a school tight end record... Washington State will start true freshman Jeff Tuel at quarterback. He's just the second true freshman quarterback to start for the Cougars. Drew Bledsoe was the first... Oregon's redshirt freshman tailback LaMichael James, who replaced the suspended LeGarrette Blount, has recorded back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts... The Cougars have forced 11 turnovers, which is tied for first in the conference. They forced 13 turnovers in 2008... The Ducks' defense has held its past two opponents, nationally ranked Utah and Cal, to less than 300 yards of total offense... Washington State ranks 10th in the conference in passing, total and scoring defense. It ranks ninth in run defense.
Arizona is off this week. It next plays at Washington on Oct. 10.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon senior tight end Ed Dickson, Arizona senior cornerback Devin Ross and Stanford sophomore kick returner Chris Owusu are the Pac-10 Players of the Week.
Dickson caught a career-high 11 receptions for 148 yards and three touchdowns, which covered 26, 9 and 36 yards in Oregon’s 42-3 win over sixth-ranked California. He also was named National Offensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
Ross had a game-high 12 tackles -- seven solo -- and picked off a pass in the waning moments to seal the Wildcats’ 37-32 win at Oregon State.
Owusu returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown in Stanford’s 34-14 win against Washington. It marked the second week in a row Owusu returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. In just four games, Owusu has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, which ties the Pac-10 single season record (Anthony Davis, USC, 1974, and Matthew Slater, UCLA, 2007). Owusu leads the nation in kickoff returns with a flashy 59.2-yard average.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterback Nick Foles of Arizona, wide receiver Damian Williams of USC and running backs Toby Gerhart of Stanford and Dimitri Nance of Arizona State. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Clinton Snyder of Stanford and Michael Morgan of USC, safety Jarrell Holman of Arizona State and end Kenny Rowe of Oregon. Also nominated for special teams play were punters Keenyn Crier of Arizona and Jacob Harfman of USC and kicker Morgan Flint of Oregon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.|
Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.
He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.
Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.
The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.
But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.
From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?
CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.
Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?
CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.
Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?
Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.
Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'
CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.
Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'
How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?
CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.
Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]
You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.
CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.
Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?
CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.
Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.
CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.
So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?
CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.
That's not very catchy.
|Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller
All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?
Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.
As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?
AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.
Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Just about every Pac-10 team feels good about its linebackers.
Not an easy position to rank.
- UCLA: Senior Reggie Carter was second-team All-Pac-10, up-and-coming sophomore Akeem Ayers and senior Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while sophomore backup Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick was second-team All-Pac-10, and the two-headed monster on the weakside -- Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey -- is back. Sophomore David Pa'aluhi -- a mixed martial arts fighter -- is promising in the middle.
- USC: Yes, USC gets the benefit of the doubt, despite three new starters. By season's end don't be surprised if Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith look like the conference's best unit.
- Oregon: Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews return, and Eddie Pleasant steps in for Jerome Boyd on the outside. There's good depth and good speed here.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils have a lot of experience as well as young talent, but the starting crew of Travis Goethel, Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon doesn't possess top-end speed. And sophomore Shelly Lyons is hurt and the NCAA Clearinghouse hasn't yet cleared spectacular true freshman Vontaze Burfict.
- California: On the outside, Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young have plenty of experience. Inside, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt are promising but green. The depth is solid.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are fast with Sterling Lewis, Xavier Kelly and Vuna Tuihalamaka, and Lewis and Kelly have starting experience. There's a pretty fair drop-off to the second unit.
- Stanford: Clinton Snyder will lead a solid crew that includes Will Powers and Chike Amajoyi. The uncertain status of Alex Debniak (knee) hurts.
- Washington: The Huskies have a solid triumvirate. E.J. Savannah returns after missing all of 2008 due to a suspension. He'll play outside opposite Mason Foster with Donald Butler in the middle. Depth is an issue.
- Washington State: Andy Mattingly's return on the strongside from defensive end should help. Jason Stripling is a senior on the weakside, but isn't terribly experienced -- he missed almost all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. JC transfer Alex Hoffman-Ellis will man the middle. He redshirted last year. It would help if undersized but quick Louis Bland was 100 percent because he would add much-needed speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The 2006 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.
Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses.
In the big picture, USC ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., behind No. 1 Florida (sorta makes sense, eh?). UCLA, at No. 19, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25.
Scout.com ranked USC No. 1 in the nation, Arizona 19th, UCLA 20th and California 23rd. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Arizona State (32nd in nation), Washington (35th), Stanford (38), Oregon State (41), Washington State (45) and Oregon (52).
Oregon last? Hmm.
Anyway... here's an overview
How many are expected to start in 2009: Nine (CB Devin Ross, DT Earl Mitchell, FS Cam Nelson, WR Terrell Turner, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore, WR Delashaun Dean, OG Conan Amituanai, C Colin Baxter)
Misses: QB Tyler Lyon, RB Derke Robinson
Verdict: This is an underrated class -- even guys who aren't listed as starters are projected to contribute in 2009. It's also notable that the few who didn't pan out -- or were problems, such as DE Louis Holmes -- were the big names.
Misses: DE Jermaine Williams, RB Rodney Glass
Verdict: A solid class when you consider that nine of the 24 signees were JC players who have already moved on -- a group that included RB Ryan Torain and S Troy Nolan, who were the class's most elite performers.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Six (CB Darian Hagan, DT Derrick Hill, QB Kevin Riley, C Chris Guarnero, DE Tyson Alualu, LB Mike Mohamed)
Verdict: Ratings, smatings. Montgomery, Slocum and Prueitt were highly rated, Alualu and Mohamed barely registered. Overall, a solid class.
How many are expected to start in 2009: Five (C Jordan Holmes, LT Bo Thran, RT C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Spenser Paysinger)
Verdict: Decidedly mixed. One thing is for sure: This class bolstered the Ducks offensive line. Also interesting, Bair and Paysinger transitioned to their current positions from tight end and receiver, respectively.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
You are all notable to me.
To the mail.
Vizzle from Eugene, Ore., writes: Give me your top five games to watch this season in the PAC which ones you are going to attend, and where you will be dining before and after you watch them? Another thought... your Eugene dining experience really needs to be enriched by somebody who actually knows how to eat in Eugene.
Ted Miller: My boss, Keyser Söze, keeps it a secret where he's going to send me until the Sunday before the game, so I don't know where I'm going yet.
But my top-five Pac-10 games?
How about: 1. USC at Cal; 2. USC at Oregon; 3. Cal at Oregon; 4. Oregon State at Oregon; 5. Oregon State at USC.
As for restaurant recommendations, feel free to give me suggestions.
Jerome from Oakland writes: My question is in regards to the USC defense. How come sports writers say that USC only has 2 returning starters on defense? Correct me if I am wrong, but E. Griffen, C. Tupou, A. Spicer M. Morgan, T. Mays, J. Pinkard, S. Wright, W. Harris and K. Thomas all started 1 game or more or saw significant playing time (That's 9 players). So why the huge concern over losing the talent, when technically the talent is still there on defense just as much as it is on offense
Ted Miller: It's three starters back: Taylor Mays, Christian Tupou and Josh Pinkard. Those three started at least six games, the general definition of a returning starter.
Everson Griffen started three games -- he lost his job after the Oregon State game; as did Averell Spicer. Feel free to connect the dots there. Michael Morgan has one career start. Shareece Wright started the first two games last year before getting hurt. Nick Holt told me last fall he was the Trojans' best cover corner, so feel free to upgrade his status. Safety Will Harris started five games last year, but he'll likely back Pinkard at strong safety. Cornerback Kevin Thomas started two games last year and two games in 2006.
I get your drift, though. USC is not going to send out a bunch of clueless guys on defense. But when you look at the list of guys who are gone, it's hard to imagine a completely seamless transition.
Matt from Missoula, Mont., writes: You've said that you think Oregon would have been 2nd in the SEC last year (a claim that, as an Oregon fan, I find dubious unless you're only looking at the last third of the season), and the Pac-10 went 5-0 in bowl games last year. Yet your colleague ACC blogger Heather Dinich posted that the Pac-10 was the fourth best conference in the nation last year--after the ACC, and presumably the SEC and Big-12. I'm hoping to start a fight a between you and Heather. Can I count on you to avenge this outrageous case of east coast bias?
Ted Miller: Good point about the final third of the season. Did you, however, watch the SEC's official No. 2 team in the Sugar Bowl?
As for Heather: She runs marathons. She doesn't ramble on TV like I do. She has a margarita machine in her home. I will not mess with Heather.
Debating conference rankings is mostly an exercise in PR, selective statistics and trash talk. It's not an exact science. I'd rank the Pac-10 No. 3 in 2008, but I think ACC football also is underrated -- see the NFL draft numbers -- in large part because of this peculiar period when both Miami and Florida State are still working to regain their traction.
But please don't tell Heather I ranked the Pac-10 ahead of the ACC in 2008. She might make me ... go jogging or something.
Michael from Los Angeles writes: After reading the article about USC not winning it all last year, you must admit that this is said year in and year out. Recently history suggests USC will lose 1 game. That is rather a safe assumption - even coming from a USC alum like me. However, there is a rather intriguing factor that I believe USC will be the 8th in a row Pac-10 champions of 2009: Other teams cannot follow through in the Pac-10
Ted Miller: First, I didn't say USC won't win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title this year. In fact, I admitted that I'd picked USC to win the title again.
What I did say -- and believe -- is that USC is more vulnerable than past years, based on a number of factors, including player and coach turnover and scheduling.
Marcus from Eugene, Ore., writes: I was watching SportsNation today, and I was completely blown away when they ranked the conferences according to strength. The Nation put the PAC 10 4th, behind the Big 10, Big 12, and SEC respectively. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the two powerhouses of the Big 10 last year (OSU, Penn State) met up with USC and got destroyed, the PAC 10 went 5-0 in their bowl games and finished with 3 teams in the top 25 (USC, Oregon, Oregon State) and two others received votes (Cal, Arizona). The Big 10 went 1-5 in bowls I believe, and finished with 4 teams in the top 25 (PSU OSU Iowa and MSU) and no one else EVEN CLOSE. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Ted Miller: I'd rank the Pac-10 third behind the SEC and the Big 12, but I think the Pac-10, Big Ten and ACC are comparable and really not that far behind the SEC and Big 12.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Every team enters spring practices with at least a couple of personnel questions, even those with their starting lineup returning nearly intact.
Sometimes those questions don't get answered. Other times they do.
Such as ...
Arizona: The Wildcats lost two of their three starting linebackers, but coach Mike Stoops said he believes they will be better at the position in 2009, with junior Vuna Tuihalamaka making a special impression in the middle this spring.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost middle linebacker Morris Wooten, but the LB position looks like it could run six-deep in 2009, particularly with the expected arrival of super-recruit Vontaze Burfict in the fall. The return of former starter Gerald Munns, who left the team for personal reasons, helps as does the emergence of young players whose speed upgrades are intriguing.
California: Not to get stuck on a linebacker theme, but most previews of the Bears will raise questions about them losing three longtime starters at linebacker. Hanging around this spring, however, you get the feeling this position will be fine. In fact, a couple of touted incoming JC transfers will make the fall competition intense. Look for Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks to make a play for All-Conference honors.
Oregon: The Ducks lost three of four starting defensive linemen, including end Nick Reed, so this seemed like as big a question mark as the offensive line entering spring. Apparently not, at least according to coach Chip Kelly. Will Tukuafu should emerge from Reed's shadow as one of the conference's best ends, and tackle Brandon Bair and end Kenny Rowe stepped up. There's still competition at one tackle, but the Ducks' recruiting class included six defensive linemen, at least a couple of whom figure to see action.
Oregon State: The Beavers lost receivers Sammie Stroughter and Shane Morales, but by the end of spring that didn't seem like a problem, even with James Rodgers sitting out with a shoulder injury. Junior Darrell Catchings broke through and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop lived up to high expectations and others flashed potential.
Stanford: The passing game -- on offense and defense -- has been a problem for Stanford. For the offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck was just short of spectacular this spring. For the defense, the insertion of Delano Howell at strong safety and Michael Thomas at cornerback upgrades the secondary's athleticism.
UCLA: The secondary began spring needing two new starters, but a handful of guys stepped up to complement cornerback Alterraun Verner and free safety Rahim Moore. While Aaron Hester and Glenn Love are the favorites to start at corner and strong safety, respectively, sophomores Courtney Viney and Tony Dye and redshirt freshman E.J. Woods will get extended looks in the fall.
USC: Lose three elite linebackers? Find three more. Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan might not have the experience or pedigree of their predecessors, but they are faster and may end up being nearly as good.
Washington: A lot was made of how well quarterback Jake Locker adjusted to a pro-style offense this spring -- and rightfully so -- but that pro-style passing attack needs targets, so perhaps that part of the pass-catch equation is being undersold. D'Andre Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar give the Huskies three respectable receivers, and tight ends Kavario Middleton and Chris Izbicki are solid.
Washington State: One area where the Cougars have quality starters and quality depth is running back, with Dwight Tardy stepping up to the challenge of California transfer James Montgomery this spring, and Logwone Mitz and 220-pound Marcus Richmond adding depth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks this spring in the Pac-10, most particularly USC's quarterback competition -- did ya hear, Aaron Corp's No. 1 but this freshman Matt Barkley looks like the bees' knees!
The other general theme isn't new: After reviewing the tea leaves on the table, does any team have the karmic -- and talent -- potential to unseat USC from the top of the Pac-10?
The answer? Maybe.
What we learned. Or developed a hunch about.
1. Oregon State's quarterback situation is ... interesting: You have two starting quarterbacks who are seniors. One is going to sit. No other way to describe it. Lyle Moevao threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last year but he sat out spring practices with a shoulder injury, which is exactly what happened to Sean Canfield last year before he lost his starting job. By the way, Canfield went 3-0 -- two starts -- subbing for Moevao in 2008. Though he struggled in the spring game with three interceptions, Canfield played well enough throughout that he probably owns a slight lead heading into the offseason.
2. USC's defense may not be as good as 2008, but it's probably as good as anyone else: The 2008 USC defense had more future NFL players on it than any other unit in the nation. And the 2009 version might not be any different, though there's clearly youth and inexperience to fret about from the Trojans' perspective. Still, start with perhaps the best secondary in the nation, led by safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard. Then consider the breakout spring of end Everson Griffen, who could win the Pac-10 sack title if he remains focused. Further, word is the three new linebackers might not match the NFL-ready standard of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, but Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan are faster. Toss in some impressive youngsters up front, and it's hard to imagine this crew not ranking among the nation's top 10 in just about every category.
3. The conference of ... running backs: The Pac-10 might feature the best collection of running backs in the nation. Five 1,000-yard rushers are schedule to return, including California's Jahvid Best, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman. Toss in Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, a potential first-day NFL draft pick in 2010, and Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, not to mention the six-deep stable of runners at USC, and the battle for first-team Pac-10 might be more arduous than All-American.
4. But can anyone block? Three teams that ran the ball well last year -- Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State -- lost three starting offensive linemen, including early-round NFL draft picks. Four others -- Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- were just lousy up front last fall. Even Stanford and California, which should be fairly stout, lost their best blockers from 2008. The conference's only sure thing up front is USC, which welcomes back its entire starting five, including All-American center Kristopher O'Dowd. Moreover, the teams that entered spring with questions on the line didn't get many answers three weeks later. O-line play might be the most critical issue facing the conference in 2009, even more so than at quarterback.
5. Sarkisian and Kelly bring new energy: Steve Sarkisian and Chip Kelly inherited completely different situations, but both made a mark by upping the intensity of practices. Sarkisian, of course, took over a lifeless program that Tyrone Willingham ran into the ground (uncharitable, but inarguable). He opened up practices and practically begged boosters and old Huskies greats to come visit. He also increased the tempo and energy level of practices -- heck, everything around the team -- which might do more than anything to get the Huskies a handful of wins next fall. Meanwhile, Kelly took over for one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Bellotti, and brought a little East Coast volume to Ducks practices. He's not completely renovating the Ducks, who finished in the nation's top 10 last year, but he's going to add his own coat of paint -- which at Oregon, as you known, probably will be a fairly loud shade.