Pac-12: Pat Maynor
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Stanford nearly took a giant step forward in 2008, almost earning its first bowl berth in seven seasons. But the Cardinal fell short by losing four of its final five games after a 4-3 start.
The good news is second-year coach Jim Harbaugh's emphasis on a blue-collar, hard-nosed approach seems to be taking root. Stanford played physical football, particularly on offense, where 230-pound running back Toby Gerhart led a rushing attack that averaged just under 200 yards a game and ranked 22nd in the country.
The bad news is the Cardinal still lacks the athleticism to play at an elite level, particularly in the secondary, which allowed opponents to complete 63 percent of their passes. The positive addendum to that is Harbaugh is proving to be an outstanding recruiter, so more athletes should be coming in.
The season highlights included a victory over Oregon State in the opener and a comeback win over Arizona. The lowlights was the late-season slide, which included a blowout loss to rival California in the Big Game.
Offensive MVP: Gerhart become Stanford's first 1,000-yard rusher since "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell eclipsed the benchmark number in 1991. Gerhart, a physical runner with surprising speed, finished with 1,136 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per rush.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Pat Maynor finished second on the Cardinal defense with 69 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, four of which were sacks. He also forced a fumble and defended five passes. He also set a tough-guy tone for a defense that was often overmatched athletically with his physical style.
Turning point: While Stanford's season feels like a moderate success, the clear turning point is a negative one: On Oct. 18, needing two wins to become bowl eligible -- with a gimme against Washington State remaining on the schedule -- the Cardinal yielded a winning touchdown pass to UCLA's beleaguered quarterback Kevin Craft with 10 seconds left and lost 23-20. That was the first of four losses in five games -- and by far the most winnable of a difficult stretch -- that prevented the Cardinal from earning a bowl berth.
What's next: With a solid cast returning and a good recruiting class expected to arrive, Stanford should take the next step forward and earn a bowl berth next year. The first big question this spring will be, of course, at quarterback. The passing game needs to improve, and the question will be whether it will improve most with incumbent starter Tavita Pritchard or hotshot freshman Andrew Luck, who redshirted this season. There are a couple of holes on the offensive line, defensive line and linebacker, but the Cardinal should go into 2009 with a nice mix of youth and experience.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There were four big stories in the Pac-10 this year.
- Oregon State's surprising run for the Rose Bowl, which ended in a tough loss at home to rival Oregon.
- USC's struggle and ultimate failure to get back into the national title picture. The Trojans, widely viewed as the nation's most talented team, however, were done in by a schedule that didn't allow them to rise to the top among the other one-loss teams.
- Washington and Washington State's season-long toilet spin toward each other so one or the other could earn the title of Nation's Worst BCS Team. The Huskies triumphed in that battle for ignominy, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory in a comeback loss in the Apple Cup. That's a big reason why Tyrone Willingham was pushed aside and USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is taking over the program.
- And, finally, the general perception of Pac-10 weakness, most often illustrated by the Pac-10's 1-6 record against the Mountain West Conference, which formed the foundation of a lackluster 14-19 nonconference record.
The top-four teams in the Pac-10, however, went 1-1 vs. the MWC, the loss being the Beavers' down-to-the-wire, 31-28 defeat at No. 6 Utah, one of four nonconference foes playing in BCS bowl games.
Four nonconference foes -- Oklahoma, Penn State and Ohio State being the other three -- playing in BCS bowl games? Anyone else do that? Nope.
The Pac-10's 2-8 record in nonconference games against the top-18 doesn't compare favorably to other conferences because no other conference even approaches that level of difficulty.
Of course, if the Pac-10 were to post a successful run through the bowl season, it would make it a lot easier to argue that the perception of Pac-10 weakness is almost entirely a creation of scheduling -- and likewise, perhaps, the perception of strength among other conferences.
Four of five bowl opponents are nationally ranked. It's not inconceivable that when the final polls are released, four Pac-10 teams will be ranked.
Not too shabby.
If the perception of a down year in the Pac-10 was about more than scheduling, however, then the next explanation has to be the decline in quarterback play.
Only one conference quarterback, USC's Mark Sanchez, ranked in the top 20 in the nation in pass efficiency. The most productive passing offense, Oregon State, ranked just 25th in the country (253.7 yards per game).
Only Arizona had no quarterback issues this season. Six teams started more than one quarterback. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Washington State lost their starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. The Ducks, Bruins and Cougars were forced to hand the ball to the No. 3 or deeper guy on their depth chart.
It was a season of tumult filled with undistinguished moments, but a successful bowl season could transform the down vibe heading into 2009.
|Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images|
|True freshman Jacquizz Rodgers racked up 1,253 yards and 11 TDs.|
Offensive MVP: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers was THE difference-maker for Oregon State. He was the central figure in the dramatic upset over USC with 186 yards rushing, and his absence felt critical in the Beavers' Civil War defeat. Sure, Cal's Jahvid Best passed him for the Pac-10 rushing title with 311 yards in the win over Washington, but Rodgers' 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns is a special yield for any player, even more so a 5-foot-7 true freshman.
Defensive MVP: USC linebacker Rey Maualuga won't blow you away with numbers -- he ranked 13th in the conference with 73 tackles. But this is what Maualuga is: The best defensive player on the best defense in the nation. And he'll likely be the first Pac-10 player drafted in this spring's NFL draft. That's good enough for us.
Newcomer of the year: At midseason, this was Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, whose conference-leading 16 touchdowns merit honorable mention here. But Oregon wouldn't have finished second in the Pac-10 and earned a Holiday Bowl berth without the rapid maturation of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli, a sophomore and first-year juco transfer, finished ranked fourth in the conference in passing efficiency -- with a 12:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio -- and ranked 10th in yards rushing per game (55.6) with seven touchdowns. Moreover, Masoli didn't let home-fan frustration get into his head as he did his best work in the two critical wins that concluded the season.
Coach of the year: Most -- who, me? -- during the preseason projected Oregon State would finish in the middle of the conference. So, even though the Beavers' Rose Bowl run fell short due to an offensive blitzkrieg from rival Oregon, no other team exceeded expectations as much as the Beavers. That means more credit needs to be given to coach Mike Riley. Just because a coach is open, genuine and friendly doesn't mean he doesn't know a thing or two about coaching. Moreover, Riley might have assembled the best group of assistant coaches in the Pac-10.
Biggest surprise: It wasn't surprising just that Stanford nearly earned a bowl berth when in the preseason most projected the Cardinal in the bottom third of the conference. It was the way Stanford played under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Cardinal featured the Pac-10's most physical running attack, with a gritty offensive line paving the way for 230-pound tailback Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal's 200 yards rushing per game didn't come from spread misdirection. It came from running right at opposing defenses, led by tough-guy center Alex Fletcher. Moreover, Stanford, the most elite academic institution playing FBS football, built a reputation for playing dirty. Cheap shots shouldn't be amusing, but it's hard not to smile just a little that the conference's biggest rogue hitter, linebacker Pat Maynor, is also an economics major and a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, Academy of Finance and Future Business Leaders of America.
Biggest disappointment: Arizona State went from No. 15 in the nation in the preseason to 5-7 and sitting out the bowl season. That's what happens when a team suffers through a six-game losing streak, the program's worst run since the Great Depression, which began with an embarrassing home loss to UNLV in overtime. A year after looking like a budding annual Pac-10 contender under new coach Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils ended up the state's second-best program when Arizona ended three years of frustration in their rivalry with a 31-10 win in the Territorial Cup. Many thought that quarterback Rudy Carpenter and his solid array of supporting skill players could overcome an obviously deficient offensive line. They couldn't. And, truth be told, Carpenter and said touted supporting cast didn't live up to their advance billing.
Game of the year: No game changed the complexion of the season -- in national terms -- like then-top-ranked USC losing 27-21 at Oregon State. USC, fresh off of demolishing a good Ohio State team 35-3, was generally considered the nation's most talented team, and even at the end of the season, most folks -- including Las Vegas oddsmakers -- would pick the Trojans to win over any other opponent. But with the widespread, if wildly exaggerated, perception of a weak Pac-10, the Trojans were scheduled out of the national title game because of the perceived strength of the SEC and Big 12. In other words, if Oregon State, a 25 1/2-point underdog, hadn't dominated the Trojans for a half and then showed guts fighting off a second-half comeback, odds are that USC would be claiming its third national title of the Pete Carroll era in the BCS title game instead of facing Penn State in the Rose Bowl. And recalling Rodgers slicing through the Trojans defense for 186 yards sounds even more shocking today because none of the Trojans' 11 other opponents approached that level of success.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Linebacker Pat Maynor, who leads Stanford with 6.4 tackles per game, might not play in the Big Game on Saturday at California, though it's hard to get a feel for what his status is from coach Jim Harbaugh.
"To be honest with you, I'm not really comfortable talking about the status of injuries," Harbaugh said. "Not required to. We'll see how it progresses out with treatment and this week of practice."
Harbaugh did describe the injury as "soft tissue on his knee that he is working to rehab. Some swelling." The San Francisco Chronicle said the injury was a "knee contusion."
The injury was bad enough that Maynor, who's logged 30 career starts, didn't play against USC. He was replaced in the lineup by junior Will Powers.
Stanford has taken another step forward under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
Fact is, at 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-10, the Cardinal control their own destiny and, though it's a wild longshot, could earn a Rose Bowl berth if they win out.
That's probably not going to happen, but Stanford is two wins from bowl eligibility due to a new blue-collar attitude and a physical running game that makes up for a lack of athleticism at the skill positions and in the secondary.
Not that everything has been peachy. A 41-17 loss at then-15th-ranked Arizona State looks worse today after the Sun Devils took a four-game nosedive thereafter. And sloppy play cost the Cardinal at TCU and Notre Dame -- see a combined 7-zip turnover differential in those two nonconference flops.
Offensive MVP: Running back Toby Gerhart burst onto the scene with 147 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win over Oregon State, and hasn't slowed down since (when he's healthy). He ranks fourth in the conference with 91.6 yards per game and has scored seven TDs. He's bidding to become the first Stanford back to eclipse 1,000 yard rushing since Tommy Vardell in 1991.
Defensive MVP: Linebacker Pat Maynor leads Stanford with 54 tackles -- 31 solo -- and has recorded four sacks among his 6.5 tackles for a loss. He also is known as a bit of a dirty player, which shouldn't necessarily be celebrated, but his grittiness sets a tone for a defense that is playing more physically and aggressively than it has in years. So this three-year starter, economics major and former member of the Future Business Leaders of America and Spanish National Honors Society has plenty of nasty to go along with brains.
What's next: While coaches hate it when reporters use terms like "must-win", Stanford faces a must-win game at UCLA this weekend if it wants its season to maintain its present positive trajectory.
Notching a fifth win at UCLA means Stanford will have a week off to get healthy before woeful Washington State comes to town likely bearing a sixth victory and bowl eligibility for the Cardinal, who haven't been bowling since 2001.
It also means the rest of the schedule -- a brutal three-game stretch of at Oregon, USC and at rival California -- is just gravy. Stanford can play like a hungry underdog instead of a desperate team that knows it needs another win for a shot at a bowl game.
And then, in February, Jim Harbaugh will sign a highly rated recruiting class and away the Cardinal go.
Assuming that Harbaugh can resist the suitors from other programs -- or the NFL -- who figure to come calling.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Stanford is the most elite academic institution playing FBS football. It's basically a West Coast Ivy League school. And in recent years the Cardinal played football like they belonged on the field with Yale and Harvard.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Jim Harbaugh's players are more physical than they have been in recent years.|
But that's changing. Both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Stanford of the past brings to mind a team that boasts a future NFL QB and tries to finesse wins by out-thinking its opponents. Its smart players might not smack the opposition in the mouth, but they just might fool or outflank it every once and a while.
And Stanford was always disciplined. It didn't make mistakes or commit stupid penalties (see Pac-10 rankings of No. 1, No. 1 and No. 3 the previous three seasons in penalty yards against).
During the preseason, second-year coach Jim Harbaugh repeatedly spoke of developing a more physical team, one that wasn't trying to outsmart a foe but preferred to put a cleat mark on its figurative forehead.
While Stanford fans might prefer talking about an improved running game -- and we will, in a moment -- one unmistakable measure of the new Stanford is this: The Cardinal rank eighth in the conference in penalty yards per game (68) and are building a reputation as a team not afraid of playing until the echo of the referee's whistle -- or just a bit after.
Stanford (3-2, 2-1 Pac-10) had at least one personal foul penalty against all three Pac-10 opponents, and left coaches from Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington grumbling afterwards.
"They're dirty," said one Pac-10 assistant in the postgame elevator.
So these guys don't play like theoretical physics majors.
Another way the physical attitude shows itself is the run game. The Cardinal ranks third in the Pac-10 with 168.4 yards rushing per game and has eclipsed 200 yards on the ground in three of five games.
The defense is hardly dominant -- 27.6 points per game surrendered -- but it's aggressive (15 sacks) and tough against the run (3.4 yards per carry, 128 yards per game).
Both the passing offense and passing defense are a problem, but those issues are due in large part to an overall lack of speed and athleticism.
That might be changing because Harbaugh is proving to be an excellent recruiter.
Stanford presently has 16 verbal commitments for its 2009 class and most recruiting services rank the class among the nation's 15 best. ESPN.com's Tom Luginbill lists the Cardinal class among his 11 "Chomping at the Bit" outside his top 10.
So the athletes are coming.
And with a new, nasty attitude, Stanford might become a player in the Pac-10 and not just the team with the highest SAT scores.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter knows how to deliver the ball -- he's one of the nation's most accurate passers -- but the reason he's climbing the Pac-10's all-time passing record list is almost as much about his ability to take a hit.
He completed 27 of the 36 passes he threw in the 15th-ranked Sun Devils 41-17 victory over Stanford, rolling up 345 yards with three touchdowns.
And after just about every throw, a Cardinal defender plastered him to the turf.
He was sacked only twice, but two roughing the passer penalties showed that Stanford fully intended to try to bust Carpenter into little pieces by any means necessary.
"He is one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-10 and in the nation," Cardinal linebacker Pat Maynor said. "He's a tough kid."
Added Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh: "Rudy was very impressive. I gained a lot of respect for him tonight. He took some hits. He was under pressure a lot, but he made some good throws and was very accurate."
Carpenter's lone mistake was second-quarter interception that led to a Stanford touchdown, which closed the gap to 13-10. Carpenter, sprinting to his left, uncharacteristically lobbed the ball into coverage and made things easy for Stanford cornerback Kris Evans.
"That was a terrible interception," Carpenter said.
It didn't take long for Carpenter to bounce back, though. With less than a minute before halftime, he parlayed good field position after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and a roughing the passer penalty into a touchdown drive, which he completed with a 45-yard scoring toss to Kerry Taylor.
"That was a huge play, scoring there just before half," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "That was probably the turning point of the game, without question."
Carpenter completed passes to nine different receivers, often flinging the ball just before a defender flattened him.
It's hard on Carpenter, but not so bad for his receivers.
"It seems kind of easy out there right now, knowing where Rudy is going to put the ball," Taylor said. "I know where the ball is going to be every time."
Carpenter said he wasn't unhappy with his protection. In fact, he saluted the entire offense working together to put away the bugaboo of the 55 sacks yielded a year ago.
"I think our offensive line did a great job of picking up pressure today," Carpenter said. "I think our receivers did an even better job recognizing blitz and coming open on their hot routes."
Carpenter, who has made 33 consecutive starts, has thrown for 733 yards in the first two games, which is the most passing yards a Sun Devils quarterback has compiled to start a season.
He now has 69 touchdown passes, ninth most in Pac-10 history. He also has 8,731 career passing yards, which ranks 14th on the conference's all-time list. Another 300-yard effort next week against UNLV and he will pass Sun Devils legend Jake Plummer and former Washington State star Jason Gesser.
He's put up big numbers because he's one of the nation's best passers. But he's also had to survive. It's hard to imagine many QBs across the country who have hit the turf more in their careers.
Particularly one who never stays down.
"He knows how to take a fall," Erickson said. "He's had to take a few. It's amazing how many times he gets hit and gets right back up and makes plays."
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- From the Sun Devil Stadium press box:
It's 101 degrees at the start of the third quarter.
Someone is blowing a whistle in the stands... ref just announced that if the whistle is blown again there will be... "consequences!"
Press box erupted in laughter.
Tavita Pritchard is Stanford's QB.
And, on a first-and-15 from the Stanford 37, he tosses an interception to LB Gerald Munns. It's the Sun Devils' first forced turnover of the year, and they take over on the Cardinal 34.
Four plays later, Dimitri Nance bounces off the pile and takes it outside for a 1-yard TD run. Key play of the drive -- a 22-yard completion to TE Jovon Williams, who makes an athletic catch along the sideline.
Jason Forcier is back at QB for Stanford. It seems like Pritchard doesn't have much room for error with coach Jim Harbaugh.
Stanford seemed like it was doing some nice things on offense in the first half, when Pritchard was 8 for 11 for 89 yards. Seems like things have been flat since they started rotating QBs.
Stanford may be taking the "blue collar" thing too far -- or least trying to act like street fighters or something.
The D just got rung up for its second roughing the passer penalty. Remember LB Pat Maynor's cheap shot on Oregon State QB Lyle Moevao? And, the play before that cheap shot, Maynor had unnecessarily decked Beavers receiver Sammie Stroughter with a blow to the back well behind the play.
Of course, sometimes tough-guy stuff works. A Clinton Snyder sack forced a Carpenter fumble, killing a drive that might have put the game away for the Sun Devils.
Pritchard back in at QB for Stanford.
Three pass interference calls against the Sun Devils -- all fairly obvious -- and a sneaky 21-yard bootleg from Pritchard key the Cardinal's ensuing TD drive (6 plays, 63 yards, Toby Gerhart 1-yard burst).
27-17. Still a game with 3:07 left in the third. How will Carpenter and company answer?
Man... if this O-line gives Carpenter any time, he can just pick a defense apart -- a second-and-19 due to a holding penalty on Adam Tello?
Two Carpenter completions later, and it's first-and-10 on the Stanford 49.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Nine of the 66 names on the preseason Butkus Award watch list are from the Pac-10. USC, California and Stanford each put two names on the board.
The Nasty Nine are:
Reggie Carter, UCLA
Brian Cushing, USC
Zack Follett, California
Rey Maualuga, USC
Pat Maynor, Stanford
Gerald Munns, Arizona State
Ronnie Palmer, Arizona
Clinton Snyder, Stanford
Worrell Williams, CaliforniaThe complete list can be found on the official Butkus Award site.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It's not easy being a linebacker in the Pac-10 if you don't play at USC. From Lofa Tatupu, to Keith Rivers to, now, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, the Trojans lead the charge at the position and receive the national plaudits.
But there are some pretty good linebackers in the conference this season who don't wander the passages of Heritage Hall. In fact, California's threesome of Zach Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder is a close second to the Trojans and may even deserve a 1B classification.
And, get this, plenty of teams across the country would trade for Stanford's troika of Clinton Snyder, Pat Maynor and young talent Chike Amajoyi.
The final cuts on this list -- let's call them honorable mentions -- were Washington State's Gary Trent, Arizona State's Travis Goethel and Oregon's Jerome Boyd. And, yes, Oregon State fans, one of your new starting linebackers surely will make a post-season list.
- Rey Maualuga, Sr., USC: Huge hitter who would have been a first-round NFL draft pick last spring. He could play his way into the top 10 in 2008, and it's a dead-heat between him and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis to be the first ILB selected.
- Brian Cushing, Sr., USC: Also a likely first-round pick, though he needs to avoid injuries. The Playboy Preseason All-American was MVP of the 2006 Rose Bowl.
- Zach Follett, Sr., California: Leader of an outstanding trio, he ranked among the conference leaders in 2007 with 12.5 tackles for a loss
- Clinton Snyder, Sr., Stanford: Word is he's had a very productive off-season after ranking fifth in the conference with 14.5 tackles for a loss.
- Worrell Williams, Sr., California: The 250-pounder could play himself into the first-day of the NFL draft with a big season. Had 105 tackles and forced three fumbles in 2007.
- Reggie Carter, Jr., UCLA: He's not big at 225 pounds, but he's quick, tough and instinctive and folks in Westwood believe he's going to break out in 2008 after recording 12 tackles for a loss last year.
- E.J. Savannah, Jr., Washington: He broke his arm in June and likely will miss at least a couple of games early in the season, but he led the Huskies with 111 tackles, including 14 for a loss in 2007.
- Anthony Felder, Sr., California: He has the talent and measurables to play himself into the first day of the NFL draft. Had 101 tackles, two sacks and an INT last year.
- Ronnie Palmer, Sr., Arizona: Three-year starter with good size should fill the shoes of tackle-machine Spencer Larsen nicely. Good in run and pass defense.
- Pat Maynor, Sr., Stanford: He's not very big at 220 pounds but he's started 20 games and recorded six sacks and averaged eight tackles per game in 2007.