Pac-12: Mike Nixon

Pac-10 lunch links: UCLA QB Brehaut gets first-team reps

August, 13, 2010
You see, Jason was my son, and today is his birthday.

Preseason position reviews: linebacker

August, 4, 2010
Linebacker is not an easy position to rate in the Pac-10. It's fair to say that only Oregon is worry-free at the position.

There are plenty of good individual players: Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, California's Mike Mohamed and UCLA's Akeem Ayers are getting preseason All-American attention and Washington's Mason Foster looks primed for a breakout. But other than the Ducks, every team gives you reason to pause over the depth chart.

So what's the pecking order?

Great shape

  • Oregon: The Ducks are fast and deep and experienced. Casey Matthews was second-team All-Pac-10, while Spencer Paysinger was his equal in production. Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokombo are impressive enough that returning starter Eddie Pleasant moved to rover. And sophomore Michael Clay might end up the best of the lot by season's end.
  • USC: Everyone read all about the Trojans problems at LB during spring practices, but that was mostly about a lack of depth. The bottom line is there are three returning starters from the Pac-10's No. 1 scoring defense, and sophomore Devon Kennard may be good enough to beat out Chris Galippo in the middle.
Good shape
    [+] EnlargeVontaze Burfict
    Matt Kartozian/US PresswireVontaze Burfict had 61 tackles and two sacks last season.

  • Arizona State: Burfict may be the best middle LB in the conference, and Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons saw plenty of action as backups for a unit that ranked No. 1 in the conference in total defense. Still, there's reason to pause over the loss of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, two heady, productive players.
  • Stanford: The Cardinal switched to a 3-4 defense, and the lineup of LBs is impressive in terms of potential. Sophomore Shayne Skov is a budding star and Owen Marecic is a beast, though this will be his first season as a full-time LB after playing FB last year. It's possible Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser will be better OLBs than DEs. But we'll have to see.
  • California: Mohamed led the Pac-10 in tackles last year and, though two starters must be replaced, there's talent and experience on the depth chart, particularly if Mychal Kendricks breaks through. The Bears ranked second in the conference in run defense in 2009.
  • UCLA: The Bruins are breaking in two new starters next to Ayers, though MLB Steve Sloan started nine games in 2008. But Ayers may end up the conference's defensive Player of the Year, so he makes up for a lot of the issues here.
  • Washington: Mason Foster is as good a LB as any in the conference, and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who starts on the strong side is one of the Huskies' biggest preseason questions.
  • Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing their two best linebackers: Keaton Kristick and David Pa'aluhi. Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson both have significant experience platooning on the outside, though it remains to be seen how full-speed Pankey is after tearing his Achilles during the offseason. Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson are competing in the middle.
We'll see

  • Washington State: Though the Cougs are replacing two starters, they have plenty of experience. The problem is the run defense has been terrible the past two years.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats, you might have heard, are replacing all three starters. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are JC transfers who have never played a down in the Pac-10. Sophomore Jake Fischer is hardly a veteran. Things could turn out fine, but as the title says, "We'll see."

Mailbag: Anyone care about USC or Masoli?

July, 30, 2010
Just back from Los Angeles. Sorry this comes a bit late. Some of you might already be at happy hour.

Remember: You can follow me on Twitter. And why the heck wouldn't you want to do that?

Erik from State College, Pa., writes: Maybe since I'm not a PAC-10 fan, I'm missing something here, but what's up with everyone's obsession about the conference being more up-for-grabs than usual because USC is out of the picture. Sure, I'll be the first to admit that USC had an outstanding run over the past decade, but after loosing 4 conference games last year as well as a head coach, did the rest of the conference still view the Trojans as a serious threat to the conference title? I thought last year proved that it wasn't the PAC-1+9 conference where everybody else fought for 2nd place.

Ted Miller: State College, Pa? What are you trying to give the Oregon State fans nightmares?

To answer your question about USC being a threat: Yes and no.

Let's remember first of all that Oregon being tabbed No. 1 breaks a seven-year run for the Trojans atop the media poll. That's a sea change of preseason expectation.

But, further, while USC lost four Pac-10 games, it did go to the house of Big Ten champion Ohio State and take home a victory (and that Buckeyes team went on to beat an Oregon team in the Rose Bowl that blew out the Trojans). My point is that USC was odd last season. While not as talented as most of the USC teams that won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, it was more talented than its final record indicated. The 2009 Trojans were not mentally tough. They didn't play like a well-coached team. And they didn't seem to be completely bought in. In other words, they underachieved because they lacked that intangible ingredient all good teams have: competitive unity.

The 2010 Trojans, despite all the doom-and-gloom, still own top-10 talent. If they are motivated and focused all season, they will win 10 games and end up a top-10 team.

But there also are eight other Pac-10 teams with legitimate bowl shots. You see a lot of different media doing rankings of all 120 FBS teams. If I were doing that, I'd rank every Pac-10 team -- other than Washington State -- in the top 50. You can make a strong argument for five or so teams winning the conference.

That quality depth is the biggest part of the "wide-open" talk.

The other is this: USC, no matter what it does, isn't going to the Rose Bowl. So one elite team is already out of it, thereby making things more wide open.

Rance from Camus, Wash., writes: Can you clarify for my dad and I: USC is at 71 scholarship players currently, which is 14 under the 85 number. Does this mean they will not fill 16 more spots over the next 3 years to meet the loss of 30 scholarships total or how will this play out?

Ted Miller: USC is appealing the NCAA sanctions. If its appeal is rejected before national signing day on Feb. 2, then the Trojans will only have 15 scholarships available. If USC doesn't get a ruling before signing day, which is more likely, it has self-imposed a five-scholarship reduction for this recruiting class because it's asked the appeals commit to reduce the scholarship penalties from 10 to five over each of the next three years. So the 2011 Trojans class likely will be 20.

That said, as Scott Wolf noted, USC could bolster its numbers by signing as many as 10 mid-year enrollees in January (they'd be counted against last year's class). Of course, it won't be easy to find 10 quality players who are willing and able to enroll. And, if the appeal is rejected, USC will only be able to sign 15 over the next three classes.

Aaron from Phoenix writes: Ted, UA grad living in Phoenix forced to listen to ebullient optimism about ASU football. Taking off my blue and red-tinted glasses, I just can't see more than six wins for the Sun Devils (and that's being generous). Am I wrong?

Ted Miller: I live here too but I haven't noticed much "ebullient optimism" from Sun Devils fans. I see more hand-wringing.

Most media sorts agree with you. The Sun Devils were tabbed ninth in the Pac-10 media poll, and that is where I rated them, too. If you look at the schedule, you can pencil in victories over the two FCS foes and, probably, Washington State. After that, it's hard to be confident in many other wins.

That said: The Sun Devils should be good on defense (I get the feeling, though, some are underestimating the loss of seven starters from last year, including end Dexter Davis and linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel). If they are merely adequate on offense -- say scoring 25 points per game -- they have a chance to surprise some folks and perhaps win seven or even eight games.

There is a problem, though: the schedule. After the two FCS games, four of the next five are on the road versus good teams (Wisconsin, Oregon State, Washington and California) and the lone home game is Oregon. It's critical that the Sun Devils don't lose their confidence during that rugged stretch when they will be breaking in a new quarterback.

Paul from Tucson wrote: I was curious if you knew who gave Arizona, Oregon, and Stanford their 9th place votes in yesterday's media poll. Is this a secret ballot vote or made public for all? Seems to me the fans of those schools might like to know this in case they wish to question someone in the media with a hidden agenda.

Ted Miller: While many voters reveal their ballot, I haven't seen the ones to which you refer (if any one has, feel free to send the link). And, yes, it is a secret ballot, so the Pac-10 office won't release names.

I would be surprised if any of those three teams finished ninth, but voting Oregon ninth is absurd. I will right now guarantee you 100 percent that Oregon doesn't finish ninth or 10th in the conference. Iron clad.

The person who voted Oregon ninth doesn't really believe the Ducks will finish ninth. It's not a defensible position. It's like a food critic calling the Des Moines Applebees the best restaurant in the U.S.

While the Pac-10 blog is all for that whole free speech thing, if I were in the Pac-10 office tabulating the votes, I would have called said voter and asked him or her to explain. And then I would have revoked their voting privileges. Or posted the nutty voter's e-mail, home address and cell phone number anonymously on Addicted to Quack.

Kidding. Probably.

"Pac-10 nation" from West Coast of America writes: STOP TALKING ABOUT MASOLI!!!!!! NO ONE CARES we know ruined his career at oregon. we get the point. and we dont care about ole miss either. camps start lets move on.

Ted Miller: I'm not talking about Jeremiah Masoli. He's making news and I'm linking news stories.

As for no one caring, if that were true, thousands of people wouldn't be reading the stories or clicking the links. And Sports Illustrated wouldn't do a big story on him if no one cared.

You might not want people to care. Or you may be sick of seeing him referenced as "former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli." But there are lots of people who are following what he'll do next.

Josh from Puyallup, Wash., writes: If me and a buddy go to Pullman this year in our USC gear for the USC vs. Cougs game, think we will get mugged, shanked or killed? I've never been to Pullman....

Ted Miller: If you go to the right places, you will be challenged to a beer chugging contest. And you will lose.

I like Pullman. Is Pullman a vacation destination? No. Does it have a bunch of great restaurants? No. Does it get pretty dang cold during the winter months? Oh, yeah. But I've had a good time every time I've covered a game there (and, by the way, Martin Stadium might have the best press box meal spread in the Pac-10).

I recommend Rico's and, if you've got your game face on, The Coug.

And, by the way, a Sept. 25 game in Pullman means you'll get a beautiful fall day.

Zen from Portland writes: Ted, I'm gonna rant, you are an idiot. You do no research, you are biased, you're just dumb. Best case for Oregon is 1 loss and worst case is 5 losses? USC best case is undefeated? No Ted, you're stupid. I thought these weren't predictions but extreme scenarios, I would then say you're not giving Oregon State enough credit, first off there the favorite to win the Pac-10, with USC sanctions, and ducks losing well every significant player on there Rose Bowl roster. Oregon State has depth and is strong in the secondary, will reload at linebacker, and you rant and rave about there D-Line(the only thing with the exception of Quizz you give them credit for), Katz is great, and as for breaking him in, no meaningful snaps, uh been there done that, Lyle, and Canfield? same situation. Quizz, one year older, one year stronger, one year better. The Beavers, especially the Rodgers brothers, are so excited about TCU, that we will win that game, Boise State is the only game I'm nervous about, USC and Oregon at home, the rest of the Pac-10 is nothing fret over. Oregon State best case is Undefeated you sorry excuse for a college football journalist. I've never enjoyed reading your blog, and ever since I read that I've avoided it. Does none of this even scan your brain when you write?

Ted Miller: No.

Sun Devils 6, 7 and 8 will pack a punch

June, 9, 2010
When Arizona State dials up 6-7-8 this fall, it won't be calling relatives in the Atlanta area. It will be summoning a Sun Devils linebacking frenzy.

No. 6 is junior Shelly Lyons, No. 7 is sophomore Vontaze Burfict and No. 8 is junior Brandon Magee, at least those are their numbers after Lyons and Magee changed jerseys to create the numerical sequence among the starting linebackers.

Burfict, a budding All-American, might have been the best true freshman linebacker in the nation last year. Magee put up impressive numbers as a backup in 2009. And Lyons saw plenty of action and is certainly no slouch. By season's end, they might form the best linebacking trio in the Pac-10.

What's shocking is they used to form the best linebacking trio in California high school football. All three played for Centennial High in Corona, Calif. Toss in tackle William Sutton, and four former Huskies will be seeing lots of action on the ASU defense in 2010.

The number change isn't just a cute, casual gesture. It represents a deep connection. The troika are best friends and roommates.

"We're letting everybody know we are a brotherhood," Magee said. "I thought it would be good for the city of Corona to see how close we are."

Burfict, the man in the middle, is the best known. He was the Pac-10's Defensive Freshman of the Year, earned freshman All-American honors and is on the Lombardi Award watch list. He piled up 69 tackles -- second on the team -- with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a handful of personal foul penalties, including three vs. Washington.

Burfict, who chose No. 7 because of John Elway but models his play on Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis, said the penalties are due to "my passion for the game and competitiveness." And, no, neither he nor coach Dennis Erickson is not going to send Burfict to charm school to learn to keep his emotions in check.

"Naa. I'm just out there playing football," he said when asked if the penalties were a problem he was working on. "Coach [Erickson] said that if I'm out there playing football aggressively, flags are going to come but to just try to hold them to a minimum."

While his sometimes too aggressive play has earned him a bit of a reputation, Magee and Lyons describe Burfict as "shy" and "humble."

"You'd be surprised how different he is off the field than how he is on the field," Magee said.

Magee, who also plays for the Sun Devils No. 1-ranked baseball team, had 34 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception last year as Mike Nixon's backup on the weakside. Lyons and Burfict both describe him as a "neat freak."

"He doesn't even want wrinkles in his bed," Lyons said.

Lyons? He's the comedian. "He's one of the finniest guys there is," Magee said. "He just has jokes for days. And he's not scared to say what's on his mind."

Lyons has seen significant action the past two seasons behind Travis Goethel. He had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 last year.

Magee was glad to change his number from 48. "That's Terrell Suggs' number. I have a lot of respect for him so I didn't really want to wear the number any more because I know they are going to retire it sooner or later," he explained. This is Lyons' third number. He was 41 as a freshman and 13 last year.

Arizona State ranked No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference last year. Despite losing seven starters, there's plenty of scuttlebutt coming out of Tempe that the 2010 unit will be even better -- faster and deeper on all three levels.

One of the big reasons for optimism? It's as easy as counting 6, 7 and 8.

"We're bringing our own flavor to it," Magee said.

Pac-10 lunch links: Reggie Bush's magical lawyer

May, 13, 2010
Go, go, go, go, go, go, go,
Go shorty, it's ya birthday
We gon' party like it's ya birthday.

Arizona State spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
Arizona State

2009 overall record: 4-8

2009 conference record: 2-7 (ninth)

Returning starters

Offense: 3, Defense: 4, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners: K Thomas Weber, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE James Brooks

Key losses: WR Kyle Williams, WR Chris McGaha, RB Dimitri Nance, OT Shawn Lauvao, DE Dexter Davis, LB Travis Goethel, LB Mike Nixon

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Dimitri Nance (795)
Passing: Danny Sullivan (1,939)
Receiving: Kyle Williams (815)
Tackles: Mike Nixon (73)
Sacks: Lawrence Guy* (4.5)
Interceptions: Mike Nixon, Jarrell Holman, Ryan McFoy (3)

Spring Answers

1. Help at receiver: Even though the Sun Devils lost their top two receivers, Kyle Williams and Chris McGaha, the position appears fairly solid, particularly with Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad, who would have started for the Ducks in 2009, and JC transfer George Bell performing well this spring.

2. Em-Bolden: Cornerback Omar Bolden looked like the budding star he was supposed to be as a true freshman, but he struggled mightily as a sophomore and then missed 2009 with a knee injury. Entering spring, there were questions about whether he could regain a starting spot. No longer. Bolden may have turned in his best work yet this spring and should be a leader in the secondary.

3. For the defense: The Sun Devils lost seven starters from their outstanding 2009 defense, but they may be even better this fall. There's lots of speed and young players who excelled in 2009, most particularly linebacker Vontaze Burfict, had a year of seasoning in which to mature and refine their game.

Fall questions

1. Who's the QB? Before spring, many expected Michigan transfer Steven Threet to win the job. At the end of spring, sophomore Brock Osweiler instead emerged as the leader. In the fall, Samson Szakacsy rejoins the competition after sitting out spring drills, hopefully with a healthy arm. All three are capable, so there may be a few more plot twists before this one is resolved.

2. What about the O-line (again!)? The Sun Devils were already replacing two starters on the O-line when veteran guard Jon Hargis injured his knee, ending his 2010 season before it began, so there are lots of questions. For instance, will Zach Schlink and Matt Hustad be available? Both are talented but have been riddled with knee problems. And: Are JC transfer Brice Schwab and redshirt freshman Evan Finkenberg ready for Pac-10 play? Both are slated to start at tackle. It doesn't matter who plays QB if the O-line can't get the job done.

3. What about maturity? Sure, there's loads of talent on defense, but look at the sorts of guys who graduated: end Dexter Davis and linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel. Each were smart, savvy players and strong locker room guys. In other words, leaders. It's unclear who will fill their shoes. Even with those guys, the Sun Devils had over 1,000 yards in penalties last year -- 200 more than any other conference team. Smarter, more disciplined play might make a difference in close games.

Pac-10 lunch links: Spring football awards

May, 5, 2010
Surveys show that the No. 1 fear of Americans is public speaking. No. 2 is death. Death is No. 2. That means that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Academic honors for 11 Pac-10 players

May, 5, 2010
Eleven Pac-10 players have been awarded by the National Football Foundation 2010 Hampshire Honor Society Membership.

The academic honor is for college football players from all divisions who maintained a 3.2 GPA or better. A total of 620 players from 246 schools qualified for membership in the society's fourth year, an 80 percent increase from the inaugural class in 2007.

You can read the complete list of players here.

The Pac-10 players who earned academic honors are:

Mike Nixon, Arizona State
Taylor Kavanaugh, Oregon State
Gregg Peat, Oregon State
Chris Gronkowski, Arizona
Mark Boskovich, California
Logan Paulsen, UCLA
Trevor Theriot, UCLA
Jeff Byers, USC
Jordan Congdon, USC
Kenny Alfred, Washington State
Joe Eppele, Washington State

Bigger shoes than you think: Arizona State

March, 26, 2010
Second of a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.

Arizona State

Everybody is talking about: While the Sun Devils have many holes to fill, the competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Brock Osweiler at quarterback will produce the most headlines.

Bigger shoes than you think: Strong side linebacker Travis Goethel

Goethel was the only Sun Devil who ranked on our post-season list of the Pac-10's top-30 players. He wasn't flashy but, playing on a unit that ranked first in the Pac-10 in total defense (297.8 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (21.1 points per game), he tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss and ranked third in total tackles with 57. He also was particularly effective at neutralizing an opposing tight end.

Who's stepping in? Shelly Lyons, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 tackles last year, so he's not completely green. He's not as big as the 6-3, 237-pound Goethel, so he may be challenged by big tight ends. The Sun Devils must replace two of their three starting linebackers: Goethel and veteran Mike Nixon. With talented but mercurial sophomore Vontaze Burfict back in the middle, and junior Brandon Magee expected to step in for Nixon, the crew in 2010 will be more athletic but less experienced. It will be interesting to see where senior -- and former starter -- Gerald Munns fits in.

Pac-10 lunch links: Moves on UCLA's depth chart

March, 25, 2010
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us.

Pac-10 lunch links: Ex-Ducks QB Akili Smith now Cal GA

March, 12, 2010
Happy Friday.

Strong & weak: Arizona State

March, 3, 2010
The third of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

Arizona State

Strong: Defensive front seven

Why it's a strength: The Sun Devils take some significant hits on defense, losing seven starters, including five of their top six tacklers, but the young talent coming back is impressive, particularly up front. Start with the defensive line. Sure, end Dexter Davis is gone, but he's the only departure on the three-deep. And here's a guess that tackles Lawrence Guy, William Sutton and Corey Adams take a step forward in 2010. Linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel must be replaced, but rising star Vontaze Burfict returns inside and Gerald Munns, Brandon McGee and Shelly Lyons have experience. Count on this: The Sun Devils, owners of the conference's No. 1 rush defense in 2009, won't be easy to run against again next fall.

Weak: Offense

Why it's a weakness: It will not be a pattern of this feature to indict an entire side of the ball, but the Sun Devils have huge issues on offense for a third consecutive season. Last year, they ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring and ninth in total offense. And only four starters are back this spring. Ouch. Skill positions? There's uncertainty at quarterback. The top two receivers are gone, as is starting tailback Dimitri Nance. The line? Three starters need to be replaced, including the unit's leader in 2009, tackle Shawn Lauvao. Answers may be found this spring. Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler will battle at quarterback, while Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad will immediately bolster the receiving corps. Injuries the past two seasons mean lots of returning guys on the line have experience. And there are plenty of choices at tailback. Still, there's a lot of uncertainty here.

Pac-10 lunch links: Cal's stadium plans move forward

January, 20, 2010
McLovin? What kind of a stupid name is that, Fogell? What, are you trying to be an Irish R&B singer?

Sporting News All-Pac-10 team

December, 17, 2009
Here's The Sporting News' All-Pac-10 team. It's got enough different guys that it's worth taking a look at.

For comparison, here's the Pac-10 blog's All-Pac-10 team. And here's the Pac-10 coaches All-Pac-10 team.

Offensive MVP: Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford

Defensive MVP: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA

Coach of the year: Chip Kelly, Oregon


QB Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon

RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford

RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

WR James Rodgers, Oregon State

WR Damian Williams, USC

TE Ed Dickson, Oregon

OL Chris Marinelli, Stanford

OL Jeff Byers, USC

OL Kenny Alfred, Washington State

OL David DeCastro, Stanford

OL Charles Brown, USC

K Kai Forbath, UCLA

KR Chris Owusu, Stanford


DE Ricky Elmore, Arizona

DT Brian Price, UCLA

DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona

DE Everson Griffen, USC

LB Mike Mohamed, California

LB Mason Foster, Washington

LB Mike Nixon, Arizona State

CB Syd'Quan Thompson, California

CB Trevin Wade, Arizona

S Taylor Mays, USC

S Rahim Moore, UCLA

P Trevor Hankins, Arizona State

PR Kyle Williams, Arizona State

Preseason vs. postseason All-Pac-10 teams

December, 10, 2009
Before listing my preseason All-Pac-10 team in August, I wrote this: "Perhaps this list will be much different by mid-December."

So take a look.

Some changes are obvious. Gronkowski, Best, Thurmond and O'Dowd were switched out because of injuries. That also applies in large part to Carter, who played with a sprained knee much of the season.

Some nagged at me a bit.

Safety: Nelson had a great season at safety, but Moore led the nation with nine picks. I know lots of you folks aren't impressed with the way Mays played this year, but most coaches and scouts don't share your opinion. He's still going to be a first-round pick.

Offensive line: Baxter and Lauvao did nothing wrong. Peat just had a very good season, while Alfred in some ways gets a tip of the cap for a great career playing in obscurity for a lousy team.

Defensive end: Davis and Tukuafu have had great careers, and it was hard to leave off Arizona's Ricky Elmore, who led the conference in sacks. Just how things go.

Quarterback: Masoli is preseason All-Pac-10, puts up great numbers, leads his team to the Rose Bowl and drops off the first team? Yeah, I winced at that, too. But Canfield had a great year and put up great numbers. And, yes, it matters that he is a senior and Masoli will be back next fall.