Pac-12: Obum Gwacham

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

Arizona: Coach Rich Rodriguez is confident in both Reggie Gilbert and Dan Pettinato and anxious to get junior-college transfers Jeff Worthy, who also spent a year at Boise State, and Jerod Cody acclimated to the system. Calvin Allen, Jack Banda and Luca Bruno are coming off redshirt seasons and represent a group Rodriguez said the team needs production from.

Arizona State: With the departure of Gannon Conway and Davon Coleman, there is a question about the team's depth at end. Without Will Sutton clogging things up next year, the Sun Devils' lack of experience is even more of a concern. Sean O'Grady backed up Conway and Coleman last year, but ASU has several well-regarded junior-college transfers in Edmond Boateng, Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry.

California: The Bears list seven defensive ends, but former junior-college transfer Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa gained the most experience last season listed at the rush position. Antione Davis was outgoing starter Dan Camporeale's primary backup, but Brennan Scarlett's return is more important. He started nine games in 2012 and has been cleared to play following a hand issue that cost him the 2013 season. Todd Barr, Sione Sina and recent-transfer Jonathan Johnson are also in the mix.

Colorado: Colorado must replace Chidera Uzo-Diribe, but Juda Parker is back for his senior season, and several others have game experience. Samson Kafovalu is the likely candidate to start opposite him after making 18 tackles in seven games last year. Jimmie Gilbert was Uzo-Diribe's backup, Kirk Poston and De'Jon Wilson also played.

Oregon: The Ducks took a hit with the departure of Taylor Hart, who was named second-team All-Pac-12, but have a talented player in Arik Armstead lined up to take his spot. Armstead started five times in 2013 and left the basketball team midseason to shift his focus back to football. T.J. Daniel, Jason Sloan are projected to be in the mix for playing time.

Oregon State: Scott Crichton is gone, but Dylan Wynn remains and will likely be the Beavers' best defensive player a year after finishing fourth on the team in tackles. Lavonte Barnett, Crichton's primary backup in 2013, and Jaswha James figure to compete for the starting job, but there are two others to keep an eye on. Obum Gwacham recently switched from receiver and Mike Riley has been complimentary of Titus Failauga, who is coming off his redshirt.

Stanford: Henry Anderson has a chance to be one of the best defensive players in the conference and Blake Lueders, who switched from OLB, began the spring atop the depth chart. The intriguing prospect is Luke Kaumatule, who was recruited to play defense but began 2013 as the team's starting tight end. Spring will be important for his development, but his raw ability is impressive.

UCLA: Both Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes were all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season and highlight a talented UCLA defensive line. Their return will help account for the loss of Cassius Marsh, who started 12 games last year. Both McCarthy and Vanderdoes can play inside or outside, but the Bruins listed them both at end. Highly recruited DE Kylie Fitts saw playing time as a true freshman last season.

USC: Leonard Williams, the only sophomore named first-team all-Pac-12 on defense last season, is the best in the conference. Delvon Simmons, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, has a lot of game experience. He started 12 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and had regular playing time as a freshman there in 2011. Both Simmons and J.R. Tavai, who was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection, can play inside or outside.

Utah: There's no replacing Trevor Reilly, who made 100 tackles despite lingering effects from a torn ACL, but Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick both saw extensive playing time last season. The Utes have five other defensive ends on the roster, but of that group only LT Filiaga made a tackle last season.

Washington: The Huskies are in great shape with the return of Hau'oli Kikaha, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, Cory Littleton and Evan Hudson. Josh Shirley has 10 career starts, while Joe Mathis and Psalm Wooching provide depth.

Washington State: With Toni Pole expected to move back inside, the depth chart will look similar to how it did going into last season, minus Matt Bock. After making 50 tackles last year, Xavier Cooper will start on one side, with Destiny Vaeao and Lyman Faoliu strong candidates for more playing time. Emmitt Su'a-Kalio is coming off a redshirt, and the Cougars also signed a pair of defensive ends from Hawaii in Kingston Fernandez and Hercules Mata'afa.

Previous positions

Tight end
Quarterback
Running back
Receiver
Offensive line
Defensive tackle
Spring football practice is right around the corner, but several Pac-12 players don't just have football on their minds.

For some, it's baseball season. For others, it's time for track and field.

Interestingly, Oregon State has the most football players participating in track despite not fielding an official men's team.

And a fun fact: Stanford coach David Shaw, who played football at Stanford, also played in one basketball game in the 1993-94 season and participated in a 400-meter race at one track meet.

Here's a list of Pac-12 football players who have or will participate in another sport this year:

[+] EnlargeWark
John Rivera/Icon SMICal outfielder Jacob Wark is also a wide receiver for the Bears.
Jacob Wark, Cal, baseball: After catching two passes for eight yards and a touchdown for the football team, Wark has transitioned to baseball, where he plays outfield. He's 3-for-4 on the season with an RBI.

Robbie McInerney, Cal, baseball: True freshman kicker redshirted during the football season and is a middle infielder on the baseball team. He has not appeared in four games.

Khalfani Muhammad, Cal, track and field: The Bears' leading rusher is currently participating on the indoor track team in sprints. He's recorded the team's third-fastest time in both the 60- and 200-meter dashes.

Dior Mathis, Oregon, track and field: Fifth-year senior cornerback appeared in all 13 games for the football team and has participated in both football and track (sprints) since his freshman year.

Devon Allen, Oregon, track and field: True freshman receiver redshirted during the football season. A sprinter and hurdler in track, Allen set personal bests in both the 60-meter hurdles and 60-meter dash at the Don Kirby Elite meet in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday. His time of 7.83 in the hurdles ranks fourth in school history.

Arik Armstead, Oregon, basketball: Armstead, a defensive lineman in football, began the year on the basketball team, but only appeared in one game before leaving the team to focus on football.

Victor Bolden, Oregon State, track and field: Freshman receiver had six catches for 62 yards and ran for 95 yards on 12 carries in football. He's running sprints in track.

Stevie Coury, Oregon State, track and field: Freshman receiver did not appear in a game during the football season, but is showing well in track. He finished sixth in the 60-meter dash at the Husky Classic on Saturday.

Walter Jones, Oregon State, track and field: Freshman receiver finished third in the long jump at the Husky Classic. He did not appear in a game during the football season.

Malcolm Marable, Oregon State, track and field: Cornerback set a personal record in the 60-meter dash (7.07) at the Husky Classic.

Obum Gwacham, Oregon State, track and field: Participated in the high jump at the first indoor meet of the season but has since stop competing in order to focus on his transition to defensive end from receiver.

Ryan Cope, Oregon State, track and field: Cope is expected to run hurdles during the outdoor track season.

Hunter Jarmon, Oregon State, baseball: True freshman receiver redshirted during the football season. He's listed as an outfielder for the baseball team and has made two appearances without a hit.

Zach Hoffpauir, Stanford, baseball: A safety in football, Hoffpauir has started all four games for the Stanford baseball team in right field. He's 4-for-18 with a pair of homers.

John Fullington, Washington State, track and field: Fullington started 43 consecutive games on the offensive line for the WSU football team. He will throw the shot put during the spring.

The list has a chance to grow as several football players have yet to decide whether they will run track during the outdoor season.

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 

Oregon State season preview

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

Oregon State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Player series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.

Oregon State: WR Brandin Cooks

2012 production: Caught 67 balls for 1,151 yards (one of only four Pac-12 receivers to break 1,000 yards) with five touchdowns.

Why Cooks is so important: My initial thought here was Michael Doctor -- an extremely underrated linebacker who always seems to be near the ball and is highly productive. One of the best plays from 2012 that sticks out in my mind is him chasing down Brett Hundley from behind. Very impressive.

Then I thought about Storm Woods -- an up-and-coming running back with just the right balance of humility and swagger. No doubt, both of these players will be key in 2013.

But speaking with someone close to the program, they convinced me to go with Cooks. Not only because he's one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country -- but simply because there isn't a ton of game experience behind him.

For Oregon State to continue building on the momentum of 2012, the Beavers need him to be great.

Here's the caveat with Cooks, however. He was one of the nation's greatest benefactors of being a No. 2 receiver. Defenses were split last season because of Markus Wheaton lining up on the opposite side. Double Wheaton? Cooks will burn you. Double Cooks? It's Wheaton for miles.

That's not going to be the case in 2013. Behind Cooks is talent, but also inexperience. Obum Gwacham (two catches, 12 yards, one touchdown) and Richard Mullaney (13-156-1) missed the spring with injuries, and Malik Gilmore (RS) and Kevin Cummings (18-208-1) round out the top of the corps behind Cooks. Each has their own talents -- Gwacham is a big target. Mullaney catches everything and is a move-the-chains kind of receiver. Cummings is a veteran and a good slot receiver, but only has four starts in his career. Gilmore is also a big target, but inexperienced.

Worth noting too that the Beavers will probably lean more on tight end Connor Hamlett (32, 403-3), who had a nice breakout year last season.

It's possible the Beavers might look at some freshmen coming in to immediately contribute. So while Cooks is one of the top receivers in the league, those behind him are mostly untested. Meaning Cooks is going to have to be better than he was last season and show that he can be a true No. 1 receiver.

I have little doubt he can. He's blazes and has Velcro fingers. Plus, if the offensive line is improved as advertised, that will also mean the quarterback-to-be will have more time to allow deeper routes to Cooks to develop.

Naturally, the outcome of the quarterback competition is of great interest. Cooks had success with both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. With Mannion, he caught 40 balls for 716 yards and four touchdowns. With Vaz, 27 balls for 435 yards and one touchdown. He had four 100-yard receiving games in 2012 -- two from Mannion and two from Vaz. So it bodes well that he can be productive with either guy throwing him the ball.

Coach Mike Riley has also stressed the greater need for balance. The running game showed solid progress in 2012, and with the improved line play and the continued maturation of Woods -- that should take some of the pressure off the receivers and allow the Beavers to get bang for their buck when they go down field. It will allow Cooks to show he's capable of being a bona fide No. 1.

Beavers roll past Nicholls State

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
6:05
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If you were looking for drama, best to re-watch last night’s Pac-12 championship game on DVR, because the Oregon State Beavers made sure their long-delayed showdown with FCS Nicholls State was anything but dramatic.

The No. 15 Beavers (9-3) scored touchdowns on their first 11 offensive drives and held the Colonels (1-10) to just a second-half field goal. On the 12th offensive drive (following an interception), the Beavers ran out the clock to close out the 77-3 victory. Not entirely unexpected against an FCS program that had just one win this season.

It was a day for a pair of Oregon State’s favorite sons to shine in their final games at Reser Stadium. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton became the school’s career receptions leader. He hauled in 12 balls for 123 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a 10-yard touchdown on a fly sweep. Jordan Poyer picked up his seventh interception of the season.

Originally scheduled for Sept. 1, this game was rescheduled because of Hurricane Isaac -- giving the Beavers one of the more unusual starts to the season. They practiced 35 times before finally opening the season with a win against Wisconsin.

Both quarterbacks -- Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz -- got a lot of work. Mannion completed 20 of 23 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Vaz was 14 of 17 with 190 yards and three scores. That leaves Oregon State head coach Mike Riley with a decision to make regarding who his starter will be heading into the bowl game. The Beavers will either be in the Valero Alamo Bowl or the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

“I’m not thinking about it right now,” Riley told the Pac-12 Network after the game. “I knew that would come up. I really like both of these guys. I think they can both play, and I wanted to play them both into the game regardless of circumstances today. We’ll just start practicing and we’ll figure it out as we go.”

There was plenty of scoring to go around for the Beavers. Storm Woods rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Malcolm Agnew, Terron Ward and Michael Balfour all scored on the ground. Kevin Cummings, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Jenkins and Obum Gwacham all had receiving touchdowns.
Every team has a strength -- that one position group that can make a play on offense or make a big stop on defense when needed.

Based on what happened this spring, we're going to look at the strongest position group for each school. It could be on either side of the ball -- and it could be subject to change after fall camp goes into full swing.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Oregon State

Strongest position group: Receivers

Headliner: Markus Wheaton (73 receptions for 986 yards with one touchdown)

Supporting cast: Brandin Cooks (31-391, 3 TDs), Jordan Bishop (31-384, 1 TD), Obum Gwacham (8-147)

The skinny: First, there's good experience here. The returning cast of receivers combined for 156 receptions and 2,046 yards in 2011. Further, this is a really athletic crew. Wheaton and Cooks might be the fastest receiving duo on the conference. Wheaton, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2011, actually beat Oregon's do-everything speedster De'Anthony Thomas in a 100-meter track race this spring. Bishop has plenty of athletic ability -- he just needs to stay healthy. Gwacham is the wild card. He's 6-foot-5, 224 pounds and is an elite jumper in track. He started to show signs of actually becoming a football player this past spring. Further, juniors Kevin Cummings and Micah Hatfield and senior Geno Munoz are in the mix for touches. And things are fairly solid at tight end/H-back, too.

So you have experience, athleticism, size -- Bishop is 6-3 and Wheaton, Cummings and Hatfield are each at least 6-foot -- and raw speed. You also have a second-year quarterback with plenty of potential as a passer in Sean Mannion. If the offensive line can provide some time to let these guys run their routes, the Beavers should be able to spread secondaries out and make big plays.
Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention.

Oregon State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
9:00
AM ET
2011 overall record: 3-9

2011 conference record: 3-6 (fifth in North)

Returning starters: offense: 8; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Sean Mannion, DB Jordan Poyer, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Brandin Cooks, DE Scott Crichton, DB Rashaad Reynolds, OL Josh Andrews, S Anthony Watkins.

Key losses
WR James Rodgers, S Lance Mitchell, C Grant Johnson, DT Fred Thompson (passed away last December, could have been in contention for starting spot).

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Malcolm Agnew* (423 yards)
Passing: Sean Mannion* (3,328 yards)
Receiving: Markus Wheaton* (986 yards)
Tackles: Anthony Watkins* (85)
Sacks: Scott Crichton* (6)
Interceptions: Jordan Poyer* (4)

Spring answers

1. Running game revival: Head coach Mike Riley has been adamant that his team will be better at running the ball in 2012. The Beavers rotated through four backs last season -- mostly because of injuries -- but redshirt freshman Storm Woods has come on strong in the spring. Though a pecking order hasn't been established, it's safe to say that the Beavers will have a deep rotation.

2. Secondary depth is solid: With Watkins sidelined during the spring with a shoulder injury, it opened up opportunities for Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman to replace the graduated Lance Mitchell. Murphy, last year's nickelback, looks like he's won the job to start along Watkins. Pair that with Poyer and Reynolds and the Beavers should be solid in the defensive backfield.

3. LB corps filling out: D.J. Welch looks like the heir apparent to Cam Collins on the strong side. Feti Unga, who was among the conference leaders in tackles last year prior to a knee injury, appears to be back and ready to go for the fall. Michael Doctor also appears more comfortable as he readies for his second year as a starter. Rueben Robinson and Cade Cowdin should provide the Beavers with some good depth across the board.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line issues: With only eight healthy linemen this spring, there wasn't much of an opportunity to fill out a starting five. Riley said he doesn't like leaving spring without knowing who his starters are, but it's just something they have to deal with. Andrews helps solidify the line and Grant Enger and Colin Kelly will be in the mix when they return from injury. But with a big influx of freshmen, Riley has essentially said all positions are up for grabs.

2. Has Mannion taken the next step? If you ask Riley, he has. If you ask Mannion, he has. But it won't be known until he steps on to the field. He showed last season that he has the potential to be an A-list quarterback in this conference. Better decisions should improve his 16-to-18 touchdown to interception ratio and an improved running game will almost certainly be a plus.

3. Who is No. 3 at WR? We know about Wheaton. We know that Cooks is up and coming. But who is going to be that No. 3 option for Mannion? Jordan Bishop is penciled in as the slot guy, but he missed his second straight spring. That opened the door for Obum Gwacham to emerge as the potential No. 3. He's Wheaton's immediate backup on the outside, but Riley couldn't help but gush about Gwacham's performance this spring.
We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name, but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Oregon State: WR Obum Gwacham

2011 production: Appeared in 12 games and caught eight balls for 147 yards and no touchdowns.

Making the case for Gwacham: It's the kind of name that gets broadcasters tongue-tied. But they better practice, because they might be saying it a lot more. Head coach Mike Riley moved Gwacham into the slot during spring to better utilize his 6-5, 225-pound frame. With a ton of speed on the outside with Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, cornerbacks and safeties are going to have their hands full. That means there should be plenty of looks for Gwacham to exploit linebackers and backed-off safeties on slants and dig routes. He has the speed to play outside -- and is Wheaton's primary backup at split end. The early knock on Gwacham was that he was still too raw. Riley said he thinks the move to the slot has made him a stronger route runner and helped him develop as a wide receiver.

Jordan Bishop is slated as the No. 3 receiver and the starter in the slot. But indications are that Gwacham could challenge Bishop -- or at least see an increase in reps -- as the season progresses. He had an outstanding spring game, catching four balls for 96 yards that included a 44-yard touchdown. Whether or not he actually does crack the starting lineup, Riley has made it clear that Gwacham will see an increased role in OSU's passing attack.

Spring notebook: Oregon State

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
4:30
PM ET
As Oregon State wraps up its spring session Saturday with its Fan Fest activities at Reser Stadium, head coach Mike Riley said he's feeling pretty good about what the Beavers accomplished this spring.

Last year's growing pains, which led to a 3-9 season, also produced a lot of first-time starters who now have some game experience. In fact, there will be 27 players on the 2012 roster who have started at least one game. That depth allowed Riley to really focus on the details this spring.

"I'm not sure we got the whole volume of what we wanted to get in, but we got to repeat a lot of stuff," Riley said. "We took this spring as a fundamentals look. We tried not to be too exotic. We worked on the timing of certain routes with the receivers and quarterbacks, worked on the details of fundamentals and blocking schemes. It was a good mixture of coverages, but not too much that we can't get good reps. Volume hasn't been great, but our work on the details has vastly improved."

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIREOregon State QB Sean Mannion said he improved his confidence and throwing accuracy this spring.
Riley said he's liked the growth of the quarterbacks, citing an improvement in efficiency and overall production. Starter Sean Mannion said he's a much more confident quarterback as well.

"The Sean Mannion now is more comfortable," Mannion said, when asked to describe himself from last year to this year. "I think he's more experienced. I think he's improved his accuracy, improved his decision making. But that being said, I know there is a long way to go."

The biggest frustration for Riley this spring was the lack of depth on the offensive line. With players like Colin Kelly and Grant Enger out, Riley said it was a good chance for other players to compete. Plus, with an influx of offensive linemen coming in this fall, there is more uncertainty across the line than any other position group on the Beavers' roster.

"You always want to come out of spring set on starters," Riley said. "But we're not going to be able to do that on the offensive line. We'll still be scratching and clawing to find the right group of guys."

Riley said he's been very pleased with the development of safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman. With Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds returning at both cornerback spots, Riley thinks he's got a pretty good secondary.

"I like the look of that group a lot," he said. "They are all really instinctual players as well as talented. That goes a long way to being successful. Reynolds has grown a lot and Poyer is a proven commodity and it's been fun watching the two safeties grow."

Oregon State also was one of its deepest wide receiving corps in years. And Riley has previously said he wants to take more shots down the field this season. He's moved Obum Gwacham into the slot as a third receiver (though he'll continue to back up Markus Wheaton) in an effort to get more playmakers on the field.

"It's a good step for the growth of this offense and we really like [Gwacham] in that spot," Riley said. "We've gotten a good look at him inside and we've been really pleased how he's adapted to the role."

Exiting the spring: Oregon State

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
10:30
AM ET
Oregon State concludes spring practices with its spring game on Saturday. Here's a brief primer.

Spring game: The Beavers play their spring game at 3:15 p.m. -- 12:15 PDT -- at Reser Stadium.

Questions answered: With starting quarterback Ryan Katz out, backups Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion were solid to impressive. There are few worries at quarterback -- Katz is throwing after a wrist injury -- which is always good. The outside linebackers are set with Cameron Collins and Michael Doctor. The secondary, led by safety Lance Mitchell, looks solid and there's good depth behind the starting four. Kicker Trevor Romaine has been consistent and may be an immediate upgrade on Justin Kahut.

Questions unanswered: A lot of questions heading into the offseason, starting with the health of wide receiver James Rodgers, whose return is uncertain after a serious knee injury, and continuing with the uncertain seriousness of tight end Joe Halahuni's shoulder problem. Those are two big presences in the passing game. The pecking order on the offensive line, at running back and middle linebacker are far from set. Ryan McCants, Jovan Stevenson, Jordan Jenkins and the freshmen Terron Ward and Malcolm Marable are in the mix at running back. While the left side of the O-line is set, the right is not: Burke Ellis and Michael Lamb are competing at guard, and Colin Kelly and Michael Philipp at tackle. Rueben Robinson, Kevin Unga and Tony Wilson are still splitting time at middle linebacker. Further, there are questions about who will provide consistent pressure on the quarterback from the D-line.

Spring stars: Doctor is going to be a player at weak-side linebacker. The move of Dominic Glover from defensive end to defensive tackle has yielded positive results. Jordan Poyer has been solid after replacing James Dockery at cornerback opposite Brandon Hardin. Markus Wheaton was a standout at receiver, and Obum Gwacham flashed some potential at the same spot. Spring started with writers celebrating Mannion over Vaz, but things reversed by the end -- mostly because of strong play by Vaz and not anything Mannion did or didn't do.

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