Pac-12: Oliver Aaron

Injuries epidemic for ASU

August, 15, 2011
Injuries are part of the game, coaches will tell you. That doesn't make them any less of a drag.

And no team is dragging more with injuries than Arizona State, which lost senior linebacker Brandon Magee for the season Saturday due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Magee is not only a returning starter, there's also this from the Arizona Republic:
Defensive coordinator Craig Bray recently told The Republic that Magee was the team's best defensive player last season.

Over the past week, Magee had seemed to take a greater leadership role on the field, barking at the first-team defense to get to the ball and to work through fatigue.

Magee also is one of the "Centennial Threesome" with fellow LBs Vontaze Burfict and Shelly Lyons. He and Lyons keep pretty busy helping the volatile Burfict maintain an even keel.

Perhaps no team in the county expected to contend for a national ranking has suffered as much roster attrition as the Sun Devils since the end of 2010. QB Steven Threet (retired due to recurrent concussions), QB Samson Szakacsy (left team), DT Lawrence Guy (entered NFL draft), CB Omar Bolden (knee), WR T.J. Simpson (knee), DE James Brooks (left team) and RB Deantre Lewis (gunshot wound). And since the beginning of camp, linebacker Oliver Aaron suffered a high-ankle sprain, backup defensive tackle Joita Te'i suffered a foot injury that will sideline him for seven weeks and cornerback Devan Spann dislocated his left shoulder two times in the first week of practice.

And now Magee.

Despite all this, the Sun Devils still have the makings of a good team. Just not as good of a team as they had when they walked off the field Dec. 2 after beating rival Arizona.

Pac-12 'tease' team: Arizona State

August, 12, 2011
In 2008, the then-Pac-10 blog noted that "If you Google 'Arizona State' and 'sleeping giant,' 3,400 articles come up."

If you did it this week, you get 85,900 results (in 0.23 seconds! Technology rocks! Though it doesn't seem as if all the matches are relevant, Google).

In 2008, we wrote, "If a Pac-10 team has a chance to break USC's choke-hold on the conference title -- or at least to regularly challenge the Trojans for the top spot -- it's the Sun Devils."


We were wrong. Somehow I want to blame Chip Kelly.

We are considering programs that are "teases" in the Pac-12, which my new boss, Ruthless Reynolds, described as "teams that always look great in the preseason only to underwhelm when play starts."

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

Well, lots of reasons.

You have the only coach in the conference who's won a national title in Dennis Erickson. As a resident of north Scottsdale living in the shadow of Black Mountain, I can confirm that the weather -- though a bit toasty in the summer -- is just about perfect eight months of the year. Tempe is just a short flight from the recruiting hotbed of Southern California. The, er, scene at Arizona State strikes this codger as something that might appeal to an average 18- or 19-year-old male. Academic standards don't typically limit recruiting options.

And the program has been there before, becoming a national power in the 1970s under Frank Kush and then again in the 1996 season, when it lost a national title in a thrilling Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State.

Still, it's one of the great questions in college football: Why doesn't Arizona State win more consistently?

Of late, the Sun Devils have typically underperform compared to expectations. In four of the past six years, they've finished below where they were picked in the Pac-10 preseason media poll, most notably in 2008 -- that year! -- when they were picked second in the conference but finished sixth with a 5-7 record.

To be fair, though, they've eclipsed their preseason prediction in two of the four years -- 2007 and 2010 -- under Erickson.

And so we have 2011.

The Pac-12 blog started touting Arizona State as a 2011 contender before last season was done. Why? It wasn't just that the Sun Devils went nose-to-nose with some of the best teams in the country -- Oregon, Wisconsin, Stanford -- it was coaches from other teams specifically noting how talented the Sun Devils were.

Then you looked at the 2010 depth chart: Everyone was coming back. Seriously: The only senior starters last year were receiver Kerry Taylor and defensive tackle Saia Falahola.

Wow. To be honest, my thought process immediately saw 6-6 in 2010 and thought Rose Bowl shot in 2011.

But after a nice finish to the 2010 season, little has gone right for the Sun Devils. Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy made a poor decision and entered the NFL draft. Quarterback Steven Threet was forced to retire due to concussions. Fellow quarterback Samson Szakacsy left the team. Unanimous All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden blew out his knee at the beginning of spring practices, followed shortly thereafter by top returning receiver T.J. Simpson. Starting defensive end James Brooks quit, and the status of talented running back Deantre Lewis (gunshot wound) remains up in the air as he might redshirt this season.

That's five starters, a co-starter (Lewis) and an experienced backup quarterback. So, Sun Devils fans, you have a ready-made excuse if the season falls short of expectations and you end up only wondering what might have been.

That said, Arizona State, despite these major personnel losses, is still good enough to win the South Division. It also helps, by the way, that USC's ineligibility means it's only a five-team race among squads that each have significant holes.

But every time you start to think they'll be OK, something else happens, such as All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict fighting a receiver he outweighs by 50 pounds in the locker room last week, or linebacker Oliver Aaron suffering a high ankle sprain, or backup defensive tackle Joita Te'i suffering a foot injury that will sideline him for seven weeks, or cornerback Devan Spann dislocated his left shoulder two times in the first week of practice.

Still, 28 seniors back in the locker room, five starters back on the offensive line, Burfict leading impressive talent in the front seven, an underrated running back in Cameron Marshall and a quarterback in Brock Osweiler who looks ready to lead.

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

Pac-12 lunch links: Wynn ready to step up

August, 5, 2011
Happy Friday.

Pac-12 recruiting needs: South Division

January, 27, 2011
National signing day is now less than a week away. Time to take a final look at recruiting needs for the Pac-12, starting with the South Division.

Arizona Insider

Defensive end: The Wildcats lost two All-Conference starters, Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, as well as No. 3 defensive end D'Aundre Reed. They have commitments from four players listed as DEs, but are any ready to play in 2011?

Linebacker: Last year, the Wildcats were replacing all three starters, so this was a dire need. And JC transfers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls did a solid job stepping in. The issues here is depth and the future: Coach Mike Stoops doesn't want to be in the same position as 2010 when he had no experience at the position.

Running back: This position is mostly set for 2011, though an explosive newcomer could earn playing time because this has not proven to be a durable position for the Wildcats. Two of the top-four commitments so far are running backs.

Arizona State Insider

Linebacker: The Sun Devils might have the best group of linebackers in the Pac-12 next fall, but Brandon Magee, Shelley Lyons, Oliver Aaron and Colin Parker are seniors and likely preseason All-American Vontaze Burfict is probably headed for the first round of the NFL draft in 2012. So the Sun Devils need young linebackers who can pick up some seasoning before getting thrown into action. They've gotten commitments from two so far and would like to add a third.

Quarterback: Steven Threet is a senior, Brock Osweiler a junior and Samson Szakacsy left the program. The Sun Devils want to sign two and have commitments from two, but Michael Eubank is exploring his options, with Utah, particularly, making a push.

Punter: It appears this need -- Trevor Hankins is gone -- will be filled by JC All-American Josh Hubner.

Colorado Insider

Speed: When new coach Jon Embree watched film of the Buffaloes, he found this lacking, regardless of position. And overall team speed will be more important in the Pac-10 than the Big 12. The Buffaloes were an elite team in terms of team speed during the glory years of 1988-96.

Cornerbacks: The Buffaloes not only lost two starting cornerbacks, they lost two guys -- Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown -- who are expected to be early NFL draft picks. And six of the other seven CBs listed on the 2010 depth chart, which includes a nickelback, will be seniors next fall. Two of 13 commitments so far are corners.

Wide Receivers: The Buffaloes lose all-time receptions and touchdowns leader Scotty McKnight and at present have only three receivers on scholarship, one of whom is a senior. Only one commitment is from a receiver thus far.

UCLA Insider

Offensive line: Four starters from 2010 graduated as well as top backup Micah Kia (left tackle Sean Sheller is appealing to NCAA for sixth year of eligibility; center Kai Maiava miss 2010 with a fractured ankle). The Bruins would like to sign five and have commitments from three so far.

Quarterback: The Bruins have their man here: Brett Hundley is already enrolled in school, attending classes and participating in off-season workouts.

Defensive line: The Bruins want to sign three D-linemen. End Sam Tai is already enrolled in school, attending classes and participating in offseason workouts.

USC Insider

Linemen: The Trojans need to stock up on linemen on both sides of the ball; as we all know they are playing an interesting numbers games with NCAA sanctions. So far, so good, but not done. The Trojans have commitments (or have already signed) six defensive linemen (including five ends) and four offensive linemen.

Linebackers: It's odd that USC is weak at linebacker but it is, particularly in terms of depth. Four commitments are LBs and a few others could end up there.

Numbers: USC is stocking up for whatever the NCAA ultimately rules on the Trojans appeal of NCAA sanctions. That's why it used scholarships for a kicker, punter and long-snapper: Secure those positions for the longterm so limited scholarships going forward can be used for bigger needs. That also means athletes -- defensive backs, receivers and running backs -- who have options in terms of where they end up.

Utah Insider

Running back: With two seniors who split the rushing load -- Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata -- gone, the Utes need running backs, and four of their 19 commitments are listed as such.

Pass catchers: The Utes must replace four of their top five receivers from 2010, which included Wide and Asiata. They've got commitments from three and are in the hunt for at least one more. Also, the class has no tight end as of yet.

Quarterback: The Utes had a commitment from quarterback Derrick Brown Insider out of Murrieta, Calif., but he switched to Washington, so there are presently no QBs in the class. Jordan Wynn will be a junior next fall, but there is no experience behind him.

Pac-10 players of the week

November, 15, 2010
Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel, California linebacker Mike Mohamed and Oregon punt returner Cliff Harris have been named Pac-10 Players of the Week.

Tuel, a sophomore from Fresno, Calif., threw for 157 yards and rushed 18 times for a career-high 79 yards to lead the Cougars to a 31-14 upset at Oregon State. Tuel helped WSU snap a 16-game conference winless streak dating back to the end of the 2008 season and also earned WSU’s first road win since the end of the 2007 season. Tuel completed 10 of 15 passes for 157 yards and no interceptions, including a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson that put the Cougars ahead 21-0 early in the third quarter. WSU converted 10 of 17 opportunities on third down, with Tuel accounting for seven of those, four on the ground and three through the air. He also engineered an offense that controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes of the game.

Mohamed, a senior from Brawley, Calif., established a career-high with 16 tackles, while also adding a sack in the 15-13 loss to Oregon. He guided a Bears defense that limited the nation’s top offense to 15 points and 307 total yards, well below their nationa-leading averages of 54.7 points and 567.2 yards entering the game.

Harris, a sophomore from Fresno, Calif., returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to provide the Ducks a lead it would never relinquish in a 15-13 win at California. It was his fourth punt return for a score on the season, which ties a Pac-10 record set by California’s DeSean Jackson in 2006.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running back Shane Vereen of California, quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford and running back Marc Tyler of USC. Also nominated on defense were linebacker Oliver Aaron of Arizona State, linebacker Talmadge Jackson III of Oregon, linebacker Shayne Skov of Stanford and cornerback Shareece Wright of USC. Also nominated on special teams was quarterback Mitch Mustain of USC.