Pac-12: Rickey Galvin

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
The regular season's grand finale is upon us. Here's a look through Black Friday and Closing Saturday in the Pac-12:

Friday, Nov. 28

12:30 p.m.

Stanford at UCLA, ABC: The Cardinal are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, but they're now in a position to play spoiler to UCLA's title bid. A win locks up the South for the No. 8 Bruins and keeps them in contention for the four-team College Football Playoff. Stanford will be without offensive star Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so UCLA figures to have a good chance to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.

[+] EnlargeNick Wilson
AP Photo/Steve DykesIn Arizona's last three games, RB Nick Wilson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each contest.
ASU at Arizona, Fox: If UCLA slips, the Sun Devils and Wildcats are both ready to pounce on the opportunity to win the Pac-12 South in this Territorial Cup. Let's rephrase that: If UCLA slips, this can turn into the biggest Territorial Cup ever. A division championship and a Levi's Stadium date with Oregon would be on the line. Key matchup here: Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson against ASU's volatile run defense.

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.

Utah at Colorado, Pac-12 Network: The Utes are slipping badly and the Buffs are 0-8 in Pac-12 play. There's certainly hope in Boulder after Arizona drubbed Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City last week. Kyle Whittingham's club is staggering, and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre -- who strongly feels his program is making progress -- would love nothing more than an uplifting win entering a critical offseason.

12:30 p.m.

Notre Dame at USC, Fox: This is another contest pitting two clubs coming off losses. The 2014 season has taken a turn for the worse on both Figueroa St. and in South Bend, but one of college football's most storied rivalries is an intriguing watch regardless. The Irish will be playing this game without Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, their two best defensive linemen. They've given up 30-plus points in six straight games for the first time in their 126-year history. Yes, that's Javorius Allen licking his chops.

1:30 p.m.

BYU at Cal, Pac-12 Network: The Bears have one more crack at securing the bowl eligibility that will earn them vital December practice time. The opponent is BYU. The Cougars have won three straight games in their effort to salvage what once looked like a season of complete misery following Taysom Hill's injury. But those wins came against shaky competition: Jared Goff's unit should move the ball against a BYU defense that surrendered 55 points to Boise State.

5 p.m.

Oregon at Oregon State, ABC: There's plenty on the line in the Civil War: While the Ducks battle for a College Football Playoff spot and a Marcus Mariota Heisman trophy, the Beavers will scrap for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's final season. Remember the upset havoc that Reser Stadium can wreak. Oregon is certainly the better team, but nothing is guaranteed heading into Corvallis.

7:30 p.m.

Washington at Washington State, ESPN: The Cougars played well as they built up a 24-21 lead at ASU last week, but turnovers helped knock the wheels off in the second half. Still, Mike Leach's club smells opportunity here: This Apple Cup is in Pullman, and Washington is a weaker opponent than the Sun Devils. The Huskies' Cyler Miles played efficient football last week; Chris Petersen will ask for more of the same out of his quarterback so that Wazzu's Luke Falk (601 passing yards vs. ASU) stays on the sideline. Falk did turn the ball over last week, though, and the Huskies are known to generate takeaways from time to time (24 this season).
Two weeks from today, Washington State officially opens the Mike Leach era on national television at his alma mater -- BYU.

Rickey Galvin is pretty sure he'll be on the field. He's just not exactly sure where.

"As of now, I really don't know," Galvin said with a laugh. "But I can say that wherever coach Leach needs me, I'm willing to play there at that position. Whatever it is, I'm willing to do it. Whether that means going in the slot and spreading the defense out or working from the backfield, I'll do it. He knows what he's doing. He knows we have a game soon. So we'll just wait and see."

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Rickey Galvin
Steven Bisig/US PRESSWIREWashington State running back Rickey Galvin rushed for 602 yards last season.
After being WSU's primary running back last season, where he totaled 602 yards on 114 carries with five touchdowns, Galvin's role is probably changing.

In an effort to squeeze all of the talent out of his 5-8, 176-pound frame while also bolstering an already solid receiving corps, Galvin has been spending time as a slot receiver. It's a completely different approach and mentality to the game. One that Galvin is still getting the hang of.

"I feel like I'm getting there," he said. "It's a lot to learn going to the slot. I was used to catching balls from backfield, now I'm in the flat. Learning to read the defense is completely different. There is a lot more that goes into it."

But Galvin can catch. So that's a start. Last season he hauled in 28 balls for 242 yards and a touchdown. Whatever success Leach has in his first year in Pullman, there's a good chance Galvin will play a big part in it.

And considering the way Galvin's career started, any contribution is a positive. In the first game of the 2010 season, on his first collegiate carry, he gained 2 yards against Oklahoma State. But those yards cost him, because he also broke his arm on the play.

He had been in on some special teams already, and remembers the thrill of hearing his name called on the sidelines to get in.

"It was like a dream," Galvin said. "It all happened so fast, it was crazy. I was nervous because it was going to be my first carry. I got the ball and had to make the decision to cut it up field. I was really off balance. I put my arm down in an awkward position. All of my body weight landed on my arm and it just snapped. I knew something was wrong right away so I just ran to the sideline."

And that's where he'd stay for the remainder of what turned out to be a redshirt season. But he rebounded with solid numbers in 2011. And now he finds himself on the ground floor of a new era for Cougar football.

"Everybody is on the same page in the locker room," he said. We're ready to make a turnaround and not just be a punching bag anymore. It's easy to say these things, but we need to go out and do the work. And I can see the changes in practice. We know what we have to get done and we're working to make those changes."

Change is something he'll have to get used to. But so far, he likes it.

"If I get the ball in space, I feel like I'm gone," he said. "There are a lot of people in the backfield you have to avoid. But when you get the ball [in the flat] and with some space, it's one-on-one because our wide receivers do a great job blocking. When you get that chance, anything can happen."

Lunch links: QB battle updates

August, 7, 2012
The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
The Pac-12 features another strong crop of running backs -- seven return after compiling more than 900 yards rushing in 2011 -- but there are also a few teams facing uncertainty at the position.

Evaluations aren't easy here. A number of teams have an A-list leading rusher back but uncertain depth. Others have plenty of experience returning but no proven A-lister. So stars and depth matter here.

A general impression: Running back is strong position in the conference. No team has a sense of desperation here.

So how does it stack up?

Great shape

Stanford: Stepfan Taylor was second-team All-Pac-12 last year after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns. But the Cardinal also welcomes back its second- and third-leading rushers, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, as well as Ricky Seale, who was impressive this spring. And, of course, there's a guy called BARRY SANDERS arriving in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJohn White
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJohn White is the Pac-12's leading returning rusher -- and could get help in the Utah backfield.
Utah: John White, also second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, is the conference's leading returning rusher with 1,519 yards last year. He was mostly a one-man show -- he led the conference in carries -- but that won't be the case this fall. Harvey Langi and Kelvin York, both over 220 pounds, showed they are ready to contribute quality reps this spring.

California: Isi Sofele ranked fifth in the conference with 1,322 yards rushing in 2011, but he'll have to old off a challenge from C.J. Anderson -- 345 yards and eight TDs in 2011 -- to retain his starting job this fall. The depth is strong with Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco and Darren Ervin.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils have both a star in Cameron Marshall and good depth. Marshall rushed for 1,050 and 18 touchdowns last season. Depth? Kyle Middlebrooks, James Morrison, Deantre Lewis, Marion Grice and incoming freshman D.J. Foster will be battling for touches.

Oregon: The Ducks are difficult to rate. If everything falls into place -- and it's reasonable to believe they will -- Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James' longtime backup, will become a star, spectacular hybrid RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas will make a bunch of big plays in a change-of-pace role and touted incoming freshman Byron Marshall will become the third option. Nonetheless, one injury here would be a major blow.

USC: The Trojans are just like the Ducks: Top-heavy with questionable depth. The underrated Curtis McNeal -- the 1,000-yard rusher averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2011 -- is back, and so is D.J. Morgan, who rushed for 163 yards last year. If redshirt freshman Javorious "Buck" Allen and incoming freshman Nelson Agholor step up, things should be fine. But depth here is one of the Trojans' few question marks.

Good shape

UCLA: Johnathan Franklin is back, and he's been highly productive -- if fumble-prone -- for a while. Malcolm Jones, who rushed for 103 yards in 2011, is back, and Steven Manfro was a spring standout. While the position isn't spectacular for the Bruins, it's certainly not a chief worry heading into the season.

Arizona: Is promising sophomore Ka'Deem Carey ready to become a star? He rushed for 425 yards last year and looked good this spring. There's also good depth behind him: Daniel Jenkins, Taimi Tutogi, Kylan Butler, Greg Nwoko and Jared Baker.

Washington State: The two leading rushers from 2011, Rickey Galvin and Carl Winston, are back, and they combined for more than 1,000 yards. But sophomore Marcus Mason was with the No. 1 offense during the spring game, and Leon Brooks also is in the mix. Catching the ball well will be almost as important as taking a handoff under new coach Mike Leach.

Washington: Workhorse Chris Polk is gone, but Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey both saw plenty of action in 2011. Might Deontae Cooper get healthy -- finally -- and work his way into the picture? Like a lot of teams, the Huskies have the potential to be fine here. But it's reasonable to expect the running game to take a step back this fall, particularly with issues on the O-line.

We'll see

Oregon State: Everybody is back, but no Beaver rushed for more than 423 yards last year. And, of course, Oregon State was one of the nation's worst rushing teams. The pecking order also didn't seem to completely work itself out, though redshirt freshman Storm Woods had a strong spring.

Colorado: The good news is Tony Jones had a good spring and looks capable of replacing the departed Rodney Stewart. Still, he averaged 3.8 yards per rush in 2011. Josh Ford rushed for 128 yards last season. Depth is a bit uncertain also, with D.D. Goodson and Malcolm Creer, who is coming back from a knee injury.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

June, 6, 2012
Last week we brought you our predictions for the Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers in 2012. And judging from the comments, it seems like at least 10 quarterbacks are going to hit the 3K mark.

Are folks just as optimistic about the running backs reaching 1,000 yards?

First, let's take a look at last year's 1K rushers:
So that's five of the seven coming back. Let's break it down by team.

[+] EnlargeKaDeem Carey
AP Photo/Don RyanArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is likely to get more carries in Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: The Wildcats ran the ball the second fewest of any Pac-12 team last season (331 attempts), but Carey still managed 425 yards on 91 carries. Arizona will run the ball significantly more under Rich Rodriguez -- who usually has one of the top rushing offenses in the nation. His running backs had more success at West Virginia than at Michigan, where QB Denard Robinson sucked up most of the yards. Carey will be close and it might come down to whether Arizona plays a 13th game.

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: He did it in a pass-first system on an injured ankle. Now he's in a run-first system and healthy. Do the math. Marshall should flourish in a downhill system. The Sun Devils have deep group behind him -- maybe the deepest in the conference -- but I can't imagine anyone cutting into his carries too deeply that it hinders his ability to get back to 1K.

Isi Sofele, Cal: There are mumblings that Cal might move to more of a committee approach and Sofele might not get the same number of carries as last year (252). Even so, he'll still probably be chairman of that committee and will have ample opportunity to reach 1,000 yards again. He'll get there.

Tony Jones, Colorado: The Buffs' offensive line might be their strongest offensive asset with standouts like tackle David Bakhtiari and center Gus Handler. That bodes well for Jones, who showed he can be very explosive backing up Rodney Stewart last year. But the Buffs spent a lot of time playing catch-up last season and couldn't commit to the run as much as Jon Embree probably would have liked (401 attempts). If they can't develop a downfield threat, Jones is going to see a lot of eight-in-the-box.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: He was knocking on the door last year with 939 -- and that was behind LaMichael James and his 1,805 yards. Barner will see more carries than his 152 last season, though he'll still have to split carries with De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks' new quarterback. Still, no one in the conference runs the ball more than Oregon so Barner shouldn't have any trouble getting there.

Committee, Oregon State: We know Oregon State wants to run the ball more. The Beavers were dead last in the conference last season in attempts (318) and rushing yards (1,043) and there are still issues on the offensive line that need to be sorted out. Several players are expected to contribute -- but chances are one individual won't get over 1,000 yards.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal have a committee approach, but even so, Taylor has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. The loss of guard David DeCastro hurts a bit, but the Cardinal are dedicated to the run and Taylor is a fantastic back. Shouldn't have any trouble three-peating.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The new system at UCLA will be pass-oriented. But Franklin (976 yards last year) won't be completely ignored. Just look at Marshall's numbers from ASU when Noel Mazzone was running the show and you can see that running backs are still a big part of the attack. And the Bruins might run a little more until the new quarterback finds his way in the system. He'll be close.

Curtis McNeal, USC: He just cracked the club by five yards last season. This year he'll have the benefit of a 13th -- maybe even a 14th -- game to get there. Can't imagine many teams will stack the box and dare Matt Barkley to beat them with his arm. McNeal should clear 1K easily.

John White, Utah: No back carried the ball more in the conference and only three players in FBS football had more rushing attempts. There's no reason to think the Utes won't take that same approach. White is an explosive back who is a proven workhorse. If Utah can get the passing game going, it will open up more for White who could probably match his yards total with fewer carries.

Committee, Washington: Chris Polk was a special running back -- the kind of guy who could run for speed and run for power. He's gone and there are questions on the offensive line where there weren't last year. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will probably headline the committee and Washington's balanced approach (52-48 run-pass ratio last year) will allow for plenty of opportunities for both. They should easily combine, but unless one steps up as an 18-20 carry-per-game back, it's unlikely an individual will reach 1K.

Committee, Washington State: The pie for carries is already small considering the offense. Then you have Rickey Galvin (1A), Carl Winston (1B) and Marcus Mason (1C) cutting into the pie even more to nibble on whatever slices are left. Running backs in Mike Leach's world are better used in the passing game on swings and screens in this offense. So don't expect a 1K rusher.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
2011 overall record: 4-8
2011 conference record: 2-7 (6th in North)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz.

Key losses
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rickey Galvin* (602 yards)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael (2,584 yards)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,388 yards)
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Damante Horton* (4)

Spring answers
1. Tuel steps up: Remember that whole quarterback-competition thing? While Mike Leach hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel his starter, given the quickness with which he picked up the offense and the numbers he put up during the spring, it's likely that a proclamation that Tuel is the guy will come early in the fall. He's looked very good to date.

2. Plenty of weapons: Lots of them. Marquess Wilson returns as one of the top wide receivers in the conference -- and he showed in the spring game what he's capable of. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz had an outstanding spring at wide receiver and showed real chemistry with Tuel throughout the 15 practices. Gino Simone, Dominique Williams and Blair Bomber add depth to a very deep group.

3. New role for running backs: Can you catch? That's what Leach is looking for out of his guys. With the ball in the air 70 to 75 percent of the time, guys like Marcus Mason and Rickey Galvin will need to shift their focus from downhill to soft hands. There will be chances to run the football, but most of those will be after the catch.

Fall questions
1. Lineup: What's the offensive line going to look like? With players like Wade Jacobson (missed the final eight games last year with a back injury) and Matt Goetz (started nine games at center last season) missing time this spring, the starting five is likely to change. Which five and at what positions remains a question.

2. New-look D: With the Cougars switching to a 3-4 front, there is more focus on the linebacking corps. Travis Long should flourish in this system (12 tackles for a loss last season), but there are depth and position questions. Eric Oertel was a pleasant surprise this spring, as were Chester Su'a and Darryl Monroe -- though both saw their springs end early with injuries. Expect some growing pains as the group comes together in the odd front.

3. D-line depth: Xavier Cooper had a very good spring, but outside of him, Lenard Williams and Anthony Laurenzi (6.5 tackles for a loss last year), there are a lot of untested players. Matthew Bock saw some reps during the spring, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have to develop some more guys for the unit to be sound. A pair of Samoans in the recruiting class -- Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao -- could be forced into action early.

Pac-12 running back rankings

April, 25, 2012
Despite the Pac-12 conference being home to some of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the country, some teams do occasionally run the football. Some better than others. Some really better than others.

Our friends at Athlon Sports continue their series of assorted Pac-12 rankings. They've given us the Pac-12 coaches and quarterbacks, and now they are up with their running back rankings.

Here's how the top 20 shakes out, which includes last year's production, expectations for 2012 and surrounding personnel:
    [+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner
    Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireOregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner (24) look to be the Pac-12's top RB duo.

  1. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
  2. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
  3. John White, Utah
  4. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
  5. Isi Sofele, Cal
  6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State
  7. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
  8. Curtis McNeal, USC
  9. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
  10. Jesse Callier, Washington
  11. Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State
  12. Rickey Galvin, Washington State
  13. Tony Jones, Colorado
  14. Bishop Sankey, Washington
  15. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford
  16. C.J. Anderson, Cal
  17. Nelson Agholor, USC
  18. Deantre Lewis, Arizona State
  19. Carl Winston, Washington State
  20. D.J. Morgan, USC

Initial thoughts:

  • Unlike the quarterback rankings last week, where Ted and I both had some ideas on how we'd move things around, this top 10 seems pretty solid, give or take one or two spots. There will be some games when Barner takes the lead and others where Thomas does. And in the games when they both do, look out. So those two are interchangeable, but certainly worthy of the top two spots based on the scheme they are in and the numbers they are likely to produce.
  • White will probably have better overall numbers than Taylor, because he's likely to have more carries. Taylor is Stanford's primary guy, but the Cardinal rotate liberally -- and with the aforementioned Gaffney, the emergence of Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders coming in, that could cut into some of his carries. But you can still ink Taylor in for 1,000 yards and close to double-digit touchdowns. Stanford and Utah have big holes to fill on the offensive line, but both backs are talented enough to absorb the change.
  • Sofele is a good running back, but Anderson has come on strong and Daniel Lasco and Brendan Bigelow are expected to play bigger roles this season. Five might be a bit high -- depending on his job status.
  • Interested to see what Marshall does without Noel Mazzone as his offensive coordinator. Interested to see what Franklin does with Mazzone as his offensive coordinator. Arizona State is pretty deep at the position, but Marshall is the guy.
  • Without depth, McNeal is going to have to carry a lot of the load. And he's not exactly known for his durability. If the Trojans can get a couple of guys behind him to take a few snaps, he could be top five by season's end.
  • Depending on how quickly the Wildcats pick up the offense, Carey is another guy who could potentially crack the top five. He has enough snaps under his belt and was productive enough in a different kind of spread that he should have very good numbers -- if he gets enough per-game carries.
  • It looks more and more like Washington is moving more toward a by-committee approach with Callier and Sankey at the top of the list. Their overall ranking will depend on how many carries per game they get. By Week 3, we might be flip-flopping them.
  • The final three years at Texas Tech, Mike Leach's rushing attack ranked 115th ('09), 94th ('08) and 119th ('07) nationally. Running backs come second in his offense. Just the way it is.
  • Jones is a good playmaker on a team starving for them. But until we know who is going to throw the ball and catch the ball in Colorado, this ranking seems about right. He does have a couple of pretty good linemen blocking for him though, which could help him crack the top 10 by season's end.

Pac-12 recruiting needs: North Division

January, 25, 2012
Every team needs to hit every position group each recruiting season, but there are always priorities. It's not just positions where starters are lost or going to be seniors, it's about addressing weaknesses where a true freshman might be a better answer than a returning player.

Up next is the North Division.

: Zach Maynard will be a senior, and it says something about the depth behind him that he never lost his job during his midseason swoon.
WR: Keenan Allen is back, but that's it in terms of returning production and experience.
S: Three of the top four safeties from 2011 are gone.

In Chip Kelly's offense, you can never have enough fast guys. Sure, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff are back, but there's a lot of youth and uncertainty after that at running back and wide receiver.
TE: His name is David Paulson, but he's gone. Colt Lyerla was a productive backup -- at least in terms of finding the end zone -- but after him things are uncertain. Tight end is one of the most underrated positions in the Ducks offense, so having more than one Kelly trusts is significant.
S: Eddie Pleasant is gone and John Boyett is a senior. Avery Patterson, Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson are next in line, but the young talent isn't as certain as it is at corner.

Oregon State
Oregon State lost three starters from a line that led the worst rushing attack in the conference and surrendered 27 sacks. Quarterback Sean Mannion has potential, but he needs time. And a running game.
DT: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. 'Nuff said.
LB: The Beavers had the worst rushing defense in the Pac-12 in 2011. Almost enough said. Cameron Collins is gone, and all the contributors on the two-deep will be seniors, other than junior Michael Doctor.

: Perhaps the weakest position for the Cardinal in 2011, this need is augmented by the loss of Griff Whalen and Chris Owusu and the lack of up-and-comers other than sophomore Ty Montgomery.
DB: Three of four starters are gone, including both safeties. In the Cardinal's two losses -- to Oregon and Oklahoma State -- an absence of top-end athleticism in the back half was exploited.
OL: Three starters are back, but the losses are huge: Tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro. And backup tackle Tyler Mabry and backup guard Matt Bentler also are gone. If coach David Shaw intends to remain a physical, downhill running team -- and he does -- he'll need to continuously stock up on linemen who can get the job done.

Lots of guys are back in the secondary, but the Huskies gave up 284.6 yards passing per game, which ranked 11th in the Pac-12. They couldn't cover anybody and often seemed out of position. So new blood might help.
DL: (See if you can notice a theme here that ignores questions at wide receiver and running back). Two starters are gone from a line that consistently underperformed based on preseason expectations.
LB: Second-team All-Pac-12 middle linebacker Cort Dennison is the only one of the eight men on the depth chart who won't be back, but he was the team's only consistent linebacker.

Washington State
Three of four starters are back, but all three will be seniors.
OL: Three starters are back, but to make the next step on offense, the Cougars need to run the ball better. They ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. And that might reduce a conference-high 3.3 sacks per game. Mike Leach's quick-hit offense also might help.
RB: 170-pound sophomore Rickey Galvin is back, as is senior Carl Winston, but the backs need to share responsibility for a 3.1-yards-per-carry average, worst in the conference (of course, losing 237 yards to sacks doesn't help).

Best case-worst case: Washington State

August, 15, 2011
First in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up first: Washington State

Best case

Idaho State isn't good; no one would say the Bengals should have been competitive with Washington State. But there was something about the way the Cougars marched over the Bengals like an army of steamrollers in a 62-3 victory that raised a few eyebrows in Pac-12 towns.

A 42-10 manhandling the following weekend over UNLV raised a few more. But it was a 38-17 victory at San Diego State that confirmed it: The Cougs will not be patsies in 2011.

"Making a statement? I don't know about that," said Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying touted Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley. "We're 3-0. That's good. We've got a bye coming up. That's good. Then we start the Pac-12 season at Colorado. That's probably where we try to make a meaningful statement."

For three quarters, the only statement from the Cougs is "almost." Colorado leads 24-10 with eight minutes left in the final frame and is driving. But on a third and 4 from the Cougs 18, Travis Long catches Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen from behind and slaps the ball loose. Washington State recovers. Three completions from Tuel gets the Cougars to the Buffs 25. A draw play for Rickey Galvin gets the rest of it.

The defense stops the Buffs again, but the ensuing punt is downed on the Cougs 8-yard line with 2:15 left.

Tuel to Marquess Wilson converts a third and 8. Tuel to Kristoff Williams for 33 yards gets the Cougs into Colorado territory. A screen to Logwone Mitz reaches the 14. Tuel scrambles to the four, but takes a sack on second and goal. On fourth down, Tuel loops a throw to Wilson in the corner of the endzone with seven seconds left.

"I started thinking about our 2-point play when we got the ball on the eight," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said after his Cougars improved to 4-0 with a 25-24 win. "I thought, 'What kind of name is Gino Simone anyway?' Sounds like some sort of pretentious fashionista doesn't it? Like, 'The spring collection from Gino Simone features silk and ruffles and bright colors that will make you feel fabulous!' Thought the kid needed a football moment. And I thought he would be open. I was right, eh?"

The Cougs get votes in both the AP and Coaches polls.

But then the rebirth hits a wall. An overtime loss at UCLA, is followed by a blowout home defeat to Stanford. Oregon State gets revenge for a 2010 loss to the Cougs, and Oregon rolls at home. A four-game losing streak has fans once again questioning Wulff. Athletic director Bill Moos says he won't comment until after the season, which is read as a refusal to give a vote of confidence.

Washington State picks up win No. 5 at California, but falls back to .500 on a late field goal by No. 19 Arizona State. Utah comes to town with hopes of a South Division championships, but the Utes trudge out 27-24 losers. Tuel scrambles for the winning score with no time left, which rocks Martin Stadium like it's 2002, as though Drew Dunning is again sliding on his knees after USC is vanquished in overtime.

Washington State, after winning just five games the previous three years under Wulff, is bowl eligible.

"Bowl eligible? That's great," Wulff said. "But I hate purple and that's all I can see right now."

The Cougars rolls 35-24 over the faltering Huskies -- last place in the Pac-12 North -- at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Headline in the Sunday Seattle Times, "Sarkisian on the hot seat?"

Washington State whips Army in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to finish 8-5, winning four of its final five games.

Wulff signs a contract extension exactly one month before signing a recruiting class's Tom Luginbill calls, "Shockingly good."

Worst case

It was a 2-0 start, but the 24-21 victory against Mountain West bottom-feeder UNLV didn't inspire many folks in Pullman.

The 35-30 loss at San Diego State felt revealing. Sure, quarterback Jeff Tuel can throw the football -- see three TD passes -- but giving up four sacks and rushing for just 96 yards isn't going to get it done. Nor is the defense yielding 487 yards.

The Cougars lose at Colorado but come back to surprise UCLA. That inspires hope: They are just three wins from bowl eligibility.

But no more wins come. Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State deliver beatdowns. Competitive games with Oregon State, California and Utah still include unhappy endings.

Wulff announces his resignation before the Apple Cup.

"While the program is better off today than when I took it over in 2008, my chief regret is that we just didn't get it done," he says. "I am and will forever be a Cougar. I only wish great things for this program in the future."

No. 15 Washington trounces Washington State 41-17. The Huskies head to the Alamo Bowl, where they bludgeon Texas A&M 35-10. shortly dubs them "darkhorse national title contenders in 2012."

The Cougars hire Tyrone Willingham to replace Wulff.
Every season true freshman make an impact and underclassmen become stars. Who might those guys be in the Pac-12 in 2011?

(Note: With "underclassmen to watch," we mostly stayed away from guys who made a significant impact in 2010, such as Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali, Colorado receiver Paul Richardson or California receiver Keenan Allen).

Underclassmen to watch

[+] EnlargeJonathan McKnight
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireArizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight has a bright future.
Jonathan McKnight, CB, So, Arizona: McKnight, younger brother of former USC running back Joe McKnight, might already be the best cover guy in an already good secondary.

Davon Coleman, DE, So, Arizona State: The junior college transfer -- a late signing for the 2011 recruiting class -- might already be the Sun Devils' No. 3 defensive end, and ASU needs him to step up after returning starter James Brooks quit the team.

David Wilkerson, OLB, RFr., California: While fellow outside linebacker Cecil Whiteside might be more heralded, Wilkerson was listed as a starter on on the post-spring depth chart.

Parker Orms, CB, So., Colorado: Orms was the starting nickel back in 2010 before he blew out his knee on the third play of the season-opener against Colorado State. He's now No. 1 at cornerback -- the Buffs more worrisome position -- despite sitting out spring practices.

Scott Crichton, DE, RFr., Oregon State: The Beavers have major questions at defensive end -- a traditionally strong position for their defense. While he didn't come from nowhere, it was a bit of a surprise to see Crichton atop the depth chart after spring practices.

Dietrich Riley, So, SS, UCLA: By the end of the season Riley and Tony Dye might be widely viewed as the best safety combo in the conference. Heck, they might already be.

Dres Anderson, RFr, WR, Utah: Anderson already looks like the Utes' No. 2 option after junior DeVonte Christopher.

Josh Shirley, RFr., LB, Washington: Shirley was such a force as a pass-rusher this past spring, they created a position for him: "Rush" linebacker.

Rickey Galvin, RFr, RB, Washington State: Galvin broke his arm at Oklahoma State on the first play of his college career, which ended his debut season. He's speedy and shifty and the Cougars really need him to provide a running threat to help out quarterback Jeff Tuel.

Impact freshmen

Hank Hobson, LB, Arizona: The Wildcats have major depth issues at linebacker. Hobson looks like the most ready-made guy in the incoming class. He might not start, but he's a good bet to be the No. 4 guy behind the starting three.

Stefan McClure, CB, California: While many Cal fans are more eager to see 325-pound nose tackle Viliami Moala, the Bears have depth issues at cornerback, and McClure is almost certain to be in the mix.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon: While Oregon needs help at receiver, and at least one one of the incoming guys is almost certain to climb into a prime spot in the rotation, we don't know who that will be. We feel pretty good projecting Lyerla as the Ducks' No. 2 tight end behind David Paulson.

James Vaughters, ILB, Stanford: The word most often used to describe Vaughters? "Beast." Stanford is solid at linebacker, but this guy is going to play, and and might well end up suggesting a second-coming of Vontaze Burfict by season's end.

George Farmer, WR, USC: There might be somebody who doesn't believe Farmer is a budding star but I have yet to speak with him. Even USC super-soph Robert Woods talks about Farmer's freakish skills.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington: Seferian-Jenkins showed this past spring that he's ready for prime time. He's likely to be the Huskies' starting tight end. A runner-up for the Huskies, by the way, is receiver Kasen Williams, but he will join a deep, veteran crew of receivers.

Spring concludes: Washington State

April, 15, 2011
Spring game: Saturday at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT in Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, Wash. Admission is free

What happened this spring: The offense dominated the first scrimmage, the defense the second. The general feeling coming out of Pullman was improvement on both sides of the ball. While defensive tackle Toni Pole hurt his knee -- severity unclear -- during the final practice, the Cougars mostly stayed healthy, and that's critical for a team that appears ready to rise out of the conference cellar in 2011. QB Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson lead a high-quality passing game, while Rickey Galvin offers some explosiveness at running back. Backup QB Marshall Lobbestael turned in a solid spring -- having an experienced, quality backup is a nice luxury to have.

What's ahead: While every team has optimism coming out of spring practice, Washington State's positive feelings have a firmer foundation than at any time during the Paul Wulff era (in 2008 and 2009, the talent void was even something a layman could see while watching practice). Still, both lines will be questions until they prove themselves. The Cougs must be able to run and stop the run in 2011 if they hope to climb in the highly competitive Pac-12 North. Special teams also are a work in progress. Further, the youngsters who will be asked to contribute next fall need big offseasons in the weight room. Finally, there's a lot of talk about better leadership. The proof of that will be a productive offseason that includes no off-field issues.

Spring stars: The defensive line showed up despite the absences of three key players due to injury: Travis Long, Jordan Pu’u-Robinson and Brandon Rankin. Tackle Anthony Laurenzi stepped up, and JC transfers Steven Hoffart and Ian Knight look like they could contribute at tackle and end, respectively. Linebackers Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Mike Ledgerwood had good springs, while the talented but mercurial C.J. Mizell languished a bit. Galvin and redshirt freshman receiver Kristoff Williams sparked the offense.

Pac-12 1,000-yard backs in 2011

April, 14, 2011
The Pac-10 produced six 1,000-yard rushers in 2010 -- seven if you include Colorado's Rodney Stewart -- and all seven could have returned in 2011 if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen had not opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Still, the returning collection of rushers is impressive.

Here's the list. Each is good enough to earn All-American and/or All-Conference consideration.

1. LaMichael James, Oregon: James was a Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous All-American and was the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back. He also has a fine singing voice and cooks a mean batch of oatmeal cookies. Rushed for 1,731 yards and 21 TDs in 2010. Only thing that might cramp his numbers is a backfield that is crowded with talent. Two 1,000-yards rushers in 2011?

2. Chris Polk, Washington: Polk may be the favorite to lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2011. Why? For one, the Huskies are breaking in a new quarterback, so it's unlikely they will pass 30 times per game. Second, Polk is a workhorse -- see 1,415 rushing yards in 2010. Third, the offensive line figures to be improved after surging late last year. Still, there is good depth behind Polk, so he might not get 260 carries again.

3. Rodney Stewart, Colorado: Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards last year, his 109.8 yards per game ranking 12th in the nation. "Speedy" -- that's what Stewart is called in Boulder -- at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is built a bit like Jacquizz Rodgers. Coach Jon Embree wasn't thrilled with the depth behind Stewart this spring, which could mean plenty of touches. But can Stewart stay healthy with another 290 carries, particularly in a 13-game season with no off weekends?

4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards last year and would have had a lot more if not for continuing fumbling issues. And if Franklin holds onto the ball this fall, it's a good bet that he'll be in the All-Conference mix.

5. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor quietly rushed for 1,137 yards last year and has shined this spring -- coach David Shaw calls him a "stud." The Cardinal, however, is deep in the backfield. Taylor likely will share touches, particularly with talented sophomore Anthony Wilkerson.

And who are the top candidates to crash the 1,000-yard party? Consider:

Keola Antolin, Arizona: He no longer has to share the backfield with Nic Grigsby. But can he stay healthy?

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: Marshall likely will split carries with Deantre Lewis, but Lewis has missed spring practices after being the victim of a random shooting in his hometown.

Isi Sofele, California: Cal always has a 1,000-yard rusher, but this year there's plenty of uncertainty in the backfield. Sofele is a clear No. 1, according to coach Jeff Tedford, but a strong incoming recruiting class might produce a challenge.

Terron Ward, Oregon State: Ward is a 5-foot-7, 190-pound grayshirt from powerhouse program De La Salle, and I know little about him. But Jacquizz Rodgers is high on him and that's good enough for me.

D.J. Morgan, USC: Marc Tyler rushed for 913 yards last year, but he struggles to stay healthy. Coach Lane Kiffin -- and reporters -- are gushing about Morgan. Of course, last preseason, everybody was gushing about Dillon Baxter.

Thretton Palamo, Utah: The former rugby star has been turning heads in Salt Lake City and may be the surprise winner of the RB competition.

Rickey Galvin, Washington State: Galvin, who broke his arm in the Cougars season-opener last year at Oklahoma State, is the Cougars most dynamic back. The Cougs passing game should be strong, which might create opportunities in the running game when defenses over-commit.

Pac-12 links: Tedford not thrilled with QBs

April, 4, 2011
Party Crasher,
Penny Snatcher,
Call me up if you want gangsta
Don't be fancy, just get dancey
Why so serious?

Pac-12 links: What became of Cody Pickett?

March, 25, 2011
Happy Friday.