Pac-12: Robert Golden

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

October, 31, 2011
10/31/11
1:00
PM ET
Taking stock of the ninth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Stanford. The Cardinal, winners of 10 in a row by 25 or more points, proved it could win a nailbiter when it outlasted USC 56-48 in triple overtime.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireQuarterback Andrew Luck and the Cardinal take down the Trojans in three OTs to remain unbeaten.
Best game: Stanford-USC featured a little bit of everything, with both teams playing at a high level throughout. The centerpiece, though, was: 1. Stanford QB Andrew Luck tossing a pick-6 interception to Nickell Robey that gave USC a 34-27 lead with 3:08 left; and, 2. Luck leading a 10-play, 76-yard TD drive to tie the game with 38 seconds left. In overtime, both offenses ruled over the exhausted defenses until a Trojans fumble ended the game suddenly. Hard to believe Stanford led 10-6 at halftime.

Biggest play: In order to not make this all about USC-Stanford, this incredible play from Arizona defensive back Robert Golden has to be seen to be believed. Washington QB Keith Price hit receiver James Johnson, who bobbled the ball into Golden's hands. Then Golden rambled his way for a circuitous 91-yard interception return for a TD. Sure, the Wildcats lost, but this was clearly the play of the day.

Offensive standout: Washington running back Chris Polk scored five touchdowns and became the first player in school history with 100 yards rushing and receiving in a single game. Polk had 34 carries for 144 yards and four TDs and he caught four passes for 100 yards with another score in the Huskies 42-31 win over Arizona.

Defensive standout: UCLA's freshman safety Tevin McDonald, who has stepped in for the injured Tony Dye, intercepted three passes in the Bruins' 31-14 win over California. Those picks set up two touchdowns and a field goal. He now has three career interceptions. He also had three tackles. And, yes, I can't believe I missed this while handing out helmet stickers Saturday night.

Special teams standout: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in the Ducks' 43-28 win over Washington State. He scored just after the Cougars had narrowed the gap to 29-20 with 3:52 left in the third quarter. He also rushed four times for 26 yards and caught two passes for 54 yards, including a 45-yard TD.

Smiley face: A week after perhaps UCLA's worst performance of the year -- and perhaps Rick Neuheisel's tenure in Westwood -- at Arizona on ESPN, the Bruins bounced back with one of their best, dominating California 31-14. And if the Bruins upset Arizona State on Saturday, guess who suddenly controls their own South Division destiny? And if the Bruins win the South, how could Neuheisel possibly be fired?

Frowny face: California. Wow. That was really, really bad. A week after stomping Utah, the Bears waved a white flag at UCLA. And after QB Zach Maynard tossed four interceptions, it's hard to believe coach Jeff Tedford isn't reviewing his options at the position. Oregon State is the runner-up here after getting pushed around at Utah. Bad Bears! Bad Beavers!

Thought of the week: Oregon visits Washington on Saturday in the final game before Husky Stadium begins a major renovation. Ducks-Huskies is the most bitter rivalry in the Pac-12. No offense to other rivalries, but it seems as though just about any post on the Pac-12 blog -- Who's the best backup kicker? -- degenerates into a back-and-forth between Ducks and Huskies. That said: it's been a mismatch for a long time in Oregon's favor. The Ducks have won seven in a row, their longest streak in the series, by at least 20 points. The average margin of victory during the run is 26.4 points. If you are 18 years old, you can barely remember when the Huskies were even competitive in the series, which isn't a good thing in recruiting. So what's the thought of the week? It's this: At some point, Washington is going to beat Oregon again.

Questions for the week: California, Utah and UCLA are all 4-4. Each, therefore, needs two wins to earn bowl eligibility. The Pac-12 clearly lacks depth this year, but the conference really could use a few more bowl-eligible teams to fill out its seven bowl contracts. The question is: Which, if any, of these inconsistent teams finds enough gumption to win two more games?

Arizona remembers the Alamo

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
11:00
AM ET

Here are two images from last year's Alamo Bowl, in which Oklahoma State trounced Arizona 36-10.

Image No. 1: Cowboys All-American receiver Justin Blackmon deciding not just to score a 71-yard touchdown against blown coverage but taking a really, really long route to the end zone in order to get some good showboating time.

What it communicates: A bush-league play, not a great moment for a great player.

Image No. 2: Wildcats 220-pound safety Adam Hall blowing up Blackmon away from the ball a few plays later.

What it communicates: A cheap shot, but one taken for an obvious reason.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
AP Photo/Eric GayJustin Blackmon caught nine passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns last season against Arizona.
What does it all mean for Arizona's visit to No. 9 Oklahoma State on Thursday night? Maybe nothing. The Cowboys are a top-10 team, while the Wildcats are rebuilding and injury riddled, the latest being the doubtful status of All-Pac-10 receiver Juron Criner.

But it does hint that both teams might have some extra salt for this one. Don't be surprised if things get a bit chippy out there.

Yes, the Wildcats remember the Alamo.

"He disrespected us," safety Robert Golden said of Blackmon. "[Hall] got payback a little bit. But it's really going to be payback when we step on the field Thursday and compete."

While the final score suggests Cowboys dominance, it was more about Wildcats horribleness. The last of five consecutive defeats to end the season, Arizona lost the turnover battle 4-0 and made major gaffes on offense, defense and special teams. The Wildcats had six possessions in Cowboys territory in the first half but scored only one touchdown. They outgained Oklahoma State 370-312 and had 25 first downs to 17 but couldn't score. Quarterback Nick Foles, who tossed three interceptions, including one returned 62 yards for a touchdown, turned in perhaps the worst performance of his career.

"We made some horrific mistakes against a top-10 team that you can't make and win, no matter how motivated and ready you are," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.

Stoops mentioned top-10 teams, which leads into an unhappy factoid for the Wildcats, courtesy of the Tucson Citizen: In his tenure at Arizona, Stoops is 0-7 on the road against top-10 teams, and none of those defeats came by fewer than 18 points. The Wildcats have been outscored 291-119 in those games. Not good.

Further, the odds don't look great this time. While Oklahoma State lost former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to West Virginia, and free safety Johnny Thomas was declared ineligible this week, the Cowboys welcome back a lot of talent and are among the favorites in a top-heavy Big 12. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are missing a lot of key pieces, and not just due to graduation. Hall, for one, is out with a knee injury, as are two other defensive starters, LB Jake Fischer and CB Jonathan McKnight.

And Criner's apparent absence is a big blow for the passing game. Last week, he caught six passes for 151 yards.

The Wildcats have five new starters on their offensive line, but the defense will be particularly tested on the road against a skilled, veteran offense led by Blackmon and QB Brandon Weeden. Being down two starters in the secondary isn't a good thing against an offense with nine starters back. Last week, Northern Arizona was fairly successful throwing the ball against the Wildcats, most particularly picking on McKnight's replacement, Shaquille Richardson.

"Shaquille didn't have one of his better days, but I know what he can do," Stoops said.

While the conventional wisdom is stacked against the Wildcats -- a team with a lot of questions on the road against a ranked team -- they should be plenty motivated. An upset victory would get the season off to a good start, particularly important during a brutal early schedule that includes three top-10 teams, and it would help remove the bad aftertaste of last year's terrible finish.

And, of course, there's just a little bit of bad feelings from the Alamo Bowl, which the Wildcats certainly remember.

Said Golden, "We usually say we're going on business trips. But we're taking this trip as a street fight."

Best case-worst case: Arizona

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
8:34
PM ET
Eighth 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 season'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 next: Arizona

It was an epic hit, one that won't be soon forgotten in Tucson. Or by Oklahoma State's receiver Justin Blackmon.

The Cowboys took the opening kickoff and immediately drove to the Arizona 33. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was 4-for-4 on the drive, with three passes going to his All-American receiver. On second and 2, Weeden found Blackmon racing across the middle.

Shhhhhmackkk!

Blackmon not only was decleated by Wildcats 220-pound safety Marquis Flowers, but his helmet flew 15 yards and then rolled to the feet of Oklahoma State coach coach Mike Gundy. Gundy had excused Blackmon's showboating in the Cowboys 36-10 win over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl by saying Blackmon "was having a little fun, and proving his ankle was back to normal."

Gundy doesn't immediately see the helmet because he's watching Trevin Wade sprint 81 yards the other way for a Wildcats touchdown. As Wade arrives in the endzone, Arizona safety Robert Golden hands the helmet to Gundy, "Hey, on the plus-side, his ankle looks great!"

Nick Foles passes for 425 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-28 win, the debut of the "Air-Zona" attack. Six different receivers catch at least five passes, with Juron Criner leading the way with nine receptions for 120 yards.

The best news: Five new starters on the offensive line playing their first road game yield just one sack. And in the fourth quarter, they prove capable run blockers as Keola Antolin finishes with 98 yards on the ground.

"It was a clean hit; it gave me goose bumps," Arizona coach Mike Stoops says. "Hey, are those Ferragamo loafers? Those are sharp!"

The Wildcats lose in overtime to Stanford, but come back to shock No. 1 Oregon 38-37 on a 55-yard field goal from Alex Zendejas with 10 seconds remaining.

"We can't have a classic letdown game at USC," Foles says.

The Wildcats have a classic letdown game at USC, losing 33-28, as the Trojans sack Foles three times.

"I'm never happy with losing, but I thought we played with good effort," says a philosophical Stoops. "We're 3-2 having played four teams ranked in the top 15. We played our tails off in both losses and played competitive games. I like this team. It's got fight. We've emerged from a brutal stretch and I can't help but believe we're a good team."

The Wildcats make a statement the next weekend at Oregon State, ripping the Beavers 45-21. They rise to No. 17 in both polls.

"Fair to say Arizona is the best 4-2 team team in the nation?" asks ESPN's Chris Fowler. "They've beaten two top-10 teams and lost to No. 1 Stanford and No. 12 USC by a combined five points."

"Their schedule ahead softens up substantially," replies Kirk Herbstreit. "We'll get the measure of the Wildcats over the next few weeks. Only a handful of teams could have done better than 4-2 with that early schedule."

The Wildcats rock UCLA 41-28. Air-Zona overcomes the elements in a 33-28 win at Washington. In a critical showdown with Utah, the Wildcats score 30 in the second half to win 48-35. That puts the 10th-ranked Wildcats in the South Division driver's seat. If they win-out, they win the division.

But they fall at Colorado, a shocking result considering the Buffaloes' struggling secondary. Foles is picked off twice and sacked four times.

"Give credit to Colorado; they took it to us," Stoops says. "I'm not going use the 'looking ahead' excuse. But I believe in these guys. We've still got a lot to play for."

Before the Wildcats take the field at Arizona State, they learn that Washington State has upset Utah. The winner in Tempe wins the South and goes to the Pac-12 championship game.

The Wildcats gather.

Stoops begins: "We've been through a lot together this season, men. Not everything has gone our way, but we've taken the measure of ourselves and what I know is that you guys have fought all the way and that is all I can ask. Tonight, all you can ask of yourself it to fully invest all your abilities in a 100 percent effort every play. That's your mind, that's your body, and that's your emotions, your want-to. We don't like these guys. They don't like us. The stakes are big. No need to hide from that. I like that. That's why we work so hard. Look around this room, though. That's what all of this is about, this season, this game, all the work we've put in. The guys in this room. Let's go out there and sell out for each other. Make them feel us. Guys ... there are going to a lot of tears in Tempe tonight."

Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 21-21 and the Wildcats on their 33, Keola Antolin takes a handoff and sees no room on the right side. He reverses course, yields five yards in the Wildcats backfield and tries to sprint to the left sideline, hoping that he can out-run the over-pursuit. Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict recovers quickly and takes a beeline for him.

Shhhhhmackkk!

That is until Foles comes from nowhere to flatten Burfict.

Antolin goes the distance. The Wildcats win the Territorial Cup back. And they win the South. They then blast Lousiana-Lafayette in the season finale while resting their starters.

In the Pac-12 title game, the Wildcats shock No. 1 Stanford and earn the program's first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl, where they beat No. 8 Nebraska, 33-28.

The Wildcats finish 11-3 and ranked sixth.

"How am I going to celebrate?" Stoops says to a reporter. "I've got this Chteau Latour I've been saving -- premier grand cru classé -- that I'm going to open tonight. Then I'm going to tour wine country and grab a bite to eat at the French Laundry. After that, maybe some shopping at Barney's. Oh! And I'll catch up on all the great things on the Pac-12 blog!"

Andrus Peat, Davonte Neal, D.J. Foster and Reggie Daniels commit to Arizona. That convinces quarterback Connor Brewer to decommit from Texas and sign with the Wildcats, whose recruiting class ranks 12th in the country.

Worst case

Looked at rationally, the 1-4 start shouldn't have been that much of a surprise: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC were nationally-ranked teams. The Wildcats had questions, most particularly a completely rebuilt offensive line that gets exposed during the rugged early slate.

But losing 28-24 at Oregon State quickly put the season on the brink.

"We've got to stick together," says Foles, who'd already been sacked 21 times. "We've still got a lot to play for."

After a bye week, the Wildcats out slug UCLA in a 41-35 win, but they fall at Washington and lose at home in overtime to Utah. Stoops throws a fit during the second overtime and is assessed a critical unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that sets up the Utes winning touchdown.

A column in the Arizona Daily Star questions whether Stoops, despite "making the program respectable again," had plateaued and the Wildcats were headed back to the dregs.

Foles throws three touchdown passes as the Wildcats win at Colorado. Up next: Arizona State.

"We've got plenty of motivation," Stoops said. "They're our rivals and if we beat them they probably don't win the South Division."

But it's all Sun Devils, as Burfict terrorizes Foles, and Brock Osweiler throws four touchdown passes in a 40-24 victory.

Arizona State then upsets No. 1 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and beats Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

Burfict announces he's returning for his senior season, "to complete the growing up process and get my degree. And to terrorize the Wildcats another season."

The Wildcats are sloppy but manage to slip Louisiana-Lafayette in a near-empty Arizona Stadium to finish 4-8.

Stoops is hired by the Houston Texans.

"I put a lot of thought into this; I did a lot of research," says athletic director Greg Byrne. "And what I concluded is that John Mackovic didn't get a fair shot here before and is the right man to lead the Wildcats to our first Rose Bowl."

The Finley twins -- and here -- spontaneously mutate into four people.

Opening the mailbag: USC got what it deserved

May, 31, 2011
5/31/11
8:35
PM ET
Vacation created a backlog in the mailbag, so I'm going to hit it twice this week.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes.

Frank from Dallas writes: U$C is the biggest cheating school in college football and everyone knows that besides you. Your article was ignorant. U$C got what it deserved. It knew Bush was getting money. He was driving around in a souped up car. U$C is a repeat violator, which you should know is why they got such hard penalties. This was one of the worst cases in NCAA history. You're an idiot.

Ted Miller: May I whine for a moment? I am weary of this subject. This might be the last time I reply to a note about USC, Reggie Bush and the NCAA.

Part of my exhaustion is this: USC critics who celebrate the NCAA's harsh penalties almost uniformly don't know what they are talking about. They don't know the facts of the case. They don't know what is and isn't relevant to the case. They haven't read the relevant documents.

Let's just take one of Frank's assertions: Bush was driving around in a "souped up car."

Wrong. Bush was driving around in a 1996 Impala. The car didn't get dudded up until after Bush declared that he would enter the 2006 NFL draft a year early. Here's the often, er, mis-remembered photo. Note the date. Of course, you can't blame Frank and others. The NCAA infractions committee struggled to keep its facts straight, too.

Look, I know many of you hate USC. I know there are USC-hating blogs out there that have blistered me over my belief the NCAA treated USC unfairly, even though that is a widely held perception among sports writers who actually know the details of the Bush case. I don't mind getting blistered. Just get the details right.

My position on USC and the Reggie Bush case has not changed and is entirely based on my perception of fairness, not some sort of pro-USC bias: USC deserved significant sanctions for major violations, and those penalties should have fallen under the penalties Alabama received in 2002.

There is no conceivable way -- and I'd be glad debate anyone at the NCAA over the matter -- to insist that the widespread, booster pay-for-play scheme uncovered at Alabama shouldn't be considered a worse case than USC-Bush. Just read the USA Today article on the Alabama case.

This is when someone throws out "repeat violator" as a rationale for USC getting worse sanctions. Er, so was Alabama.

(Alabama fans: I am not picking on you. It's just the most relevant, recent case to compare to USC).

Some have suggested that the NCAA wanted to make an example out of USC by handing out game-changing penalties that might act as a deterrent for others. Sorry, I didn't get the memo on that one. If that is, indeed, the case -- that the NCAA took unprecedented measures against one program without formally announcing a policy change -- well, that my friends would be the definition of unfair.

And, by the way, more than a few schools should be worried if that's the case.

As for USC being a big "cheating" school, well, let's just put it this way: List the major football violations the NCAA's four-year investigation uncovered other than Bush getting extra benefits.

Yes, you hear crickets.

"One of the worst cases in NCAA history"? Well, you compare.

I believe USC was treated unfairly by the NCAA. I have yet to read a reasoned account -- from the media or from the NCAA -- that makes a convincing argument otherwise.

Spencer from San Francisco writes: I'm hearing a lot of concern about Cal's chemistry on the offensive line. Shouldn't the return Jim Michalzckzyckyikxzixkxik ease some of these doubts?

Ted Miller: You, of course, mean Jim Michalczik, who shortened his name when he moved from the old country of Port Angeles, Wash.

Cal's offensive line has been disappointing since Michalczik left for Washington (briefly) and then the Oakland Raiders. The first place to point, logically, would be talent. The second, Michalczik's absence. I've consistently heard from people that he's one of the best offensive line coaches out there.

So, yes, I think it's fair for you to ease some doubts about the Bears O-line due to his return.

Andrew from Seattle writes: With the resignation of Jim Tressel, do you think that Mike Bellotti would consider taking a job at Ohio State? Would they be a good fit?

Ted Miller: Bellotti was a serious candidate for the Ohio State job in 2001, when Tressel was hired. Ohio State certainly could do worse than Bellotti. It could make for an interesting Rose Bowl if the Ducks and Buckeyes met again.

But Bellotti turns 61 in December, and keep in mind this is a pending hire for the 2012 season. Ohio State probably wouldn't want a coach at that age who'd have to learn the Big Ten and Big Ten recruiting on the fly. And I doubt Bellotti would want a job that came with significant NCAA sanctions.

So, no, it doesn't seem like a good fit.

If Bellotti is going to coach again -- he's done an outstanding job as an ESPN color guy since leaving Oregon -- it almost certainly would be at West Coast school. Don't be surprised if his name comes up as some Pac-12 hot seats get hotter during the fall.

Joey from Chicago writes: What does Arizona's depth chart look like on offense and defense with all the injuries? Can you name the starters if the season started today?

Ted Miller: Arizona has lost two starters and two backups to ACL injuries since the end of last season: safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer are the starters, and running back Greg Nwoko and defensive tackle Willie Mobley are the backups.

That's certainly not good, but it doesn't exactly send Arizona into disarray. Hall and Fischer are big losses. Hall is a budding star, and Fischer's loss is worrisome because the Wildcats are thin at linebacker. The depth in the secondary is pretty good: Robert Golden moves from cornerback to safety beside Marquis Flowers, which doesn't hurt badly because Trevin Wade, Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson are three quality corners.

Linebacker is a bit more tricky. Two backups from 2010, R.J. Young and Trevor Erno, quit the team before spring practices. Redshirt freshman Kyle Benson is listed as Fischer's backup on the spring depth chart, while walk-on Bilal Muhammed is listed as the backup at the other two spots. It's almost certain that at least one of the touted incoming freshmen -- Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Dominique Petties -- will be immediately in the mix.

Vince from Scottsdale writes: Ted, You forgot to mention that ASU is @22 in Phil Steele's top 30 rankings..... that scorches the butthole Ted.

Ted Miller: Or, just maybe, when I included the link, Phil Steele had only reached No. 17 on his count-up.

You'll note Steele has Stanford at No. 16.

Cody from Okinawa, Japan writes: Just wanted to point out what some Beaver football players and other athletes are up to. Going to Macedonia to build a house for others.

Ted Miller: Good show. Here's the link to a short video on "Beavers Without Borders."

Arizona spring notes

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
6:42
PM ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It was just a short, shells -- shorts and shoulder pads -- practice Thursday at Arizona, but even then there was plenty of "wow" in the downfield passing game.

No team in the Pac-12 can offer up two quarterbacks as good as Nick Foles and Matt Scott. No team in the Pac-12 can match the Wildcats depth and talent at receiver.

That's the good news. Questions, though, remain, starting with five new starters on the offensive line.

"We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that," coach Mike Stoops said.

As for folks questioning the line, Stoops understands and has no problem with it. He hopes it bothers them.

"They'll hear about it," Stoops said. "I think that will serve as motivation."

On defense, the Wildcats must replace defensive ends Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed. And it's not good that talented safety Adam Hall is standing on the sidelines with a surgically repaired ACL.

Some notes from Arizona practice -- two days before Saturday's spring game -- after chats with Stoops, offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Tim Kish.
  • The plan remains to redshirt Scott, if possible. He's certainly not going to enter a game late in the fourth quarter to take a knee. But if Foles gets hurt, Scott would be the guy. He'd probably start for a majority of teams in the Pac-12.
  • At running back, Daniel Jenkins has had "one of the best springs of any of our young players," Stoops said. He looks like Keola Antolin's backup. Both Stoops and Littrell, however, expect incoming freshmen Ka'Deem Cary and Jared Baker to perhaps push into the mix.
  • Receiver? Well, there's Juron Criner -- an All-American candidate -- David Douglas, Texas transfer Dan Buckner, David Roberts, Richard Morrison, Tyler Slavin, Austin Hill, Terrence Miller and speedster Garic Wharton. Suffice it to say, the Wildcats will be able to spread the field in 2011.
  • As it stands now, the starting offensive line goes line this: LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin, RT Fabbians Ebbele. Only Quinn has started a game -- the Alamo Bowl last December -- and both tackles are redshirt freshmen. On the plus side, if you want to look ahead, no lineman on the two-deep is a senior. Four are freshmen, two are sophomores and four are juniors.
  • H-back Taimi Tutogi hinted at great things last preseason but was ultimately disappointing. There's a feeling that he could break through in 2011. While he's not an elite blocker by any stretch, the 260 pounder isn't easy to deal with when he has the ball in space.
  • On defense, the ends are C.J. Parrish and Mohammed Usman. Both are listed at 245 pounds, which means the Wildcats will be much smaller at end compared to a year ago. On the depth chart, redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato and converted tackle Dominique Austin are listed, but JC transfer Lamar De Rego is likely to immediately jump into the mix.
  • Kish called Parrish "a pleasant surprise...We didn't think he'd pick it up as quick as he did and be as effective as he is."
  • Inside at defensive tackle, there's solid depth. Justin Washington, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury, and Sione Tuihalamaka are the starters and Willie Mobley and Kirifi Taula are the backups. Aiulua Fanene is a fifth option.
  • Stoops said the Wildcats "are much better inside," and Kish made an interesting point about last fall. Because Reed and Elmore were so good at pinching down from the outside against the pass, while the tackles were limited and not getting much inside push, the Wildcats often created passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. Passing lanes and running lanes, which some of you Wildcats fans might remember quarterbacks scrambling through, such as Arizona State's Brock Osweiler.
  • The good news is all three starting linebackers are back. The bad news is a lack of depth, particularly after R.J. Young -- the fourth LB -- and Trevor Erno quit. Presently, walkon Bilal Muhammed -- "He's damn good," said Kish -- is the backup at two spots and undersized though athletic Kyle Benson is No. 2 behind Jake Fisher on the outside. Both Kish and Stoops expect help from incoming freshmen Rob Hankins, Dominique Petties and Hank Hobson.
  • The good news in the secondary is the renewed focus of cornerback Trevin Wade, who had a poor junior year after earning accolades as a sophomore. Stoops and Kish don't hold back when talking about Wade's struggles in 2010, but both see a different player this spring: "He took a lot for granted (last year)," Stoops said. "He has a different attitude, a different level of effort (this spring)."
  • Along with Wade at corner, there's Jonathan McKnight, brother of former USC RB Joe McKnight and perhaps the best pure cover corner, and Shaquille Richardson, who's sitting out with a shoulder injury.
  • Robert Golden has moved back to safety from cornerback -- he's started extensively at both spots -- after Hall went down, where he's beside free safety Marquis Flowers. Redshirt freshamn Jourdan Grandon is making a bid to be the nickel, though there's clearly competition for backup roles. Neither Mark Watley nor Josh Robbins has made a decisive push for playing time. And there's some hope that Hall could make a fast recovery and be back by October.
Arizona starts spring practice today, which means it can stop licking the wounds of a five-game losing streak to end 2010 and start looking forward to 2011.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireArizona enters the upcoming season with lofty expectations, thanks in part to returning quarterback Nick Foles.
But if taking a step forward toward 2011 is the carrot, a lingering backwards glance to 2010 is the stick. The Wildcats should be plenty motivated.

"The kids know we are close, but we need to do some things better to take that next step," coach Mike Stoops said. "We've gotten to this point. We need to go further."

On the one hand, the losing streak happened against a brutal schedule: Stanford, USC, Oregon, Arizona State and Oklahoma State combined for a 49-15 record. But the Wildcats aspire to being a team that wins those sorts of games.

"We just need to be stronger in some ways, stronger against stronger teams," Stoops said.

The Wildcats have intriguing talent coming back -- with quarterback Nick Foles and perhaps the Pac-12's best group of receivers leading the way -- but they also have two glaring holes: offensive line and defensive end. All the 2010 starters at those positions are gone.

Here are some notes:

Out of spring: Just two starters will not participate in full-contact work: defensive tackle Justin Washington and cornerback Shaquille Richardson. Both had shoulder surgery. Receiver Bug Wright was given the boot for repeated team rules violations.

Offensive line questions? All five starters are gone on the offensive line. Sophomore Mickey Baucus and redshirt freshman Fabbians Ebbelle are the front-runners at the tackles. Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl for Colin Baxter, is the leader at center, though mid-year transfer Addison Bachman could make a challenge. Sophomores Chris Putton, Trace Biskin and Eric Bender-Ramsay are in the mix at the guards. Redshirt freshmen Trent Spurgeon and Carter Lees and junior Shane Zink also are in the mix. With a new offensive line coach -- Robert Anae -- there could be plenty of mixing and matching.

End of the line? Senior Muhammed Usman and redshirt freshman Dan Pettinato will be with the first unit to start spring, but defensive end might be an even bigger question than offensive line. The Wildcats are deep at tackle -- Washington, Sione Tuihalamaka, Willie Mobley, Chris Merrill, Dominique Austin, Jowyn Ward, Aiulua Fanene, etc. -- so it's possible things might be fluid on the defensive line. One of the more athletic tackles might move outside to become a big, strongside end. And junior college transfer Lamar de Rego arrives in the fall.

Good to receive: The Wildcats welcome back potential preseason All-American receiver Juron Criner, but the big news is the overflow of enthusiasm for Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who will give the Wildcats a second speedy, 6-foot-4 target on the outside. Said Stoops, "I think he gives us the two best outside receivers maybe in the country. Having [Buckner] and Criner on opposite sides is going to create problems for people." When you toss in Dave Roberts, David Douglas and Richard Morrison on the inside, you have a deep crew that Stoops called "the best receiving group we've ever had, without question." Oh, and don't forget: Terrence Miller, Garic Wharton, Austin Hill and Tyler Slavin. Lots of competition for touches here.

Backed by seven: The Wildcats welcome back all three starting linebackers and a talented secondary. Sophomore Marquis Flowers and junior Adam Hall figure to offer an upgrade in the secondary -- both saw plenty of action in 2010. Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight provide talent and experience at cornerback. And Stoops thinks Wade, who suffered through a notable slump last fall, is going to bounce back: "Trevin has had a much better out-of-season already. I think he learned a great deal from some of his mistakes a year ago as well as his preparation. I look for him to come back strong." He added, "This is the most athletic back-seven we've had. Best group of corners we've had."

Not special: The Wildcats didn't get much from their kicker Alex Zendejas and punter Keenyn Crier last season. Zendejas is back, but he needs to step up. Said Stoops: "Zendejas needs to become a much better player... we need more out of him." Junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar arrives in the fall. Junior college transfer punter Kyle Dugandzic was signed to start, so he needs to come through.

Redshirt or backup for Scott: Stoops wants to redshirt backup quarterback Matt Scott, which means he could return for a redshirt senior season in 2012. But that might not be doable. Said Stoops, "In a perfect world, we'd love to redshirt him. But we've got to keep him ready to play if things slide or something happens to Nick." Junior Bryson Beirne would make things easier on his coaches with an inspired effort this spring.

This is Foles' team: Foles has been a good quarterback for two years. If he becomes an All-Conference or even All-American quarterback as a senior, the Wildcats could climb to the top of the Pac-12 South Division. Stoops expects a lot out of Foles. "Nick has to have total control of this team and this offense," he said. "He's a premier starter who will become, hopefully, a first-round NFL draft pick. He needs to assert himself in every way possible as a leader."

Arizona's defense has some questions to answer

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
1:30
PM ET


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Derek Earls is learning. Sometimes the hard way.

For example: Black car, black leather seats are great fun in his home state of Minnesota or in North Dakota where he played junior college football. Down in Tucson, where he now plays linebacker for Arizona, black car and black leather seats are bad come summertime. Sometimes very bad.

"You touch anything and it burns," Earls said.

The heat has turned up on Earls and the Wildcats rebuilding defense. Nick Foles and the offense, a skilled, veteran unit, have been gashing their defensive teammates most of camp. While things have gotten better of late, it remains clear that the difference between a good and great season in Tucson is going to be how quickly the defense finds itself.

"It's about playing fast and violent," coach Mike Stoops said. "When you are apprehensive -- 'Am I seeing things right; am I feeling things right' -- I think you're just cautious. That makes you play slower and less physically. It's just a matter of getting comfortable, trusting your instincts and playing a disciplined brand of football."

The Wildcats, who open at Toledo on Friday, only have four returning starters on defense. Most pressing: Both defensive tackles and all three linebackers have to be replaced.

Yes, a questionable up-the-middle defense is particularly vulnerable to a power running game, and that vulnerability then opens up opportunities over the top when a defense is forced to lean forward anticipating the run. For the returning starters, who are used to playing for one of the best units in the Pac-10, preseason practices haven't always been a joy.

"It's real frustrating," said defensive end Ricky Elmore of losing the practice battles with the offense. "They keep doing the same simple plays, draws or leads, that we usually stop. But it's just experience. Once the guys get gametime experience and start to really understand their position on the field -- their technique -- it's going to change."

Foles and the offense have no interest in making the defense, which also is breaking in new co-coordinators Tim Kish and Greg Brown, feel better about itself.

"You can never feel sorry for the defense," Foles said. "That's not what you do on offense. What you want to do every time you have the ball is you just want to shove it down their throats until they stop you. That makes them better."

So that's the bad news. The good news is this: Elmore and fellow end Brooks Reed may be the best tandem in the conference. And the secondary again looks good with cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Robert Golden leading the charge, as well as an infusion of impressive young talent.

If the Wildcats can stop the run, they might be OK.

Toledo is no gimme. The Rockets ranked 13th in the nation in total offense in 2009 (438 yards per game).

"This first game will be a good test," Stoops said. "They do a good job on offense. They move the ball and move you around. We will know where we stand pretty quickly."

A date with Iowa lies ahead on Sept. 18. A win versus the Hawkeyes would certainly announce the Wildcats as Pac-10 contenders.

The offense is going to score. The question is will it spend the whole season having to pick up the D? That's certainly not the way Stoops, who cut his coaching teeth building top-flight defenses, likes to look at things.

"No matter how good your offense is it always comes down to getting stops," he said.

Preseason position reviews: safety

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
1:41
PM ET
Safety in the Pac-10 this year? Solid for the most part.

Only UCLA, Oregon State and Washington "officially" welcome back both of their starting safeties, with the Bruins boasting perhaps the best in free safety in the nation: Rahim Moore. Only Arizona State and USC must find two new safeties.

So how do things stack up?

Great shape
  • UCLA: Moore, a true junior and 25-game starter, led the nation with 10 interceptions in 2009 and is a consensus All-American. Tony Dye ranked fourth on the Bruins with 73 tackles.
  • Oregon: Sure, the Ducks lost hard-hitting T.J. Ward to the NFL, but Ward was hurt much of last season, so John Boyett, the first freshman to lead the Ducks in tackles, and Javes Lewis, who played both free safety and rover, are returning starters, as is Eddie Pleasant, a linebacker starter in 2009 who's moved to rover.
  • Oregon State: Lance Mitchell and Cameron Collins give the Beavers a solid, experienced combination and Suaesi Tuimaunei also has starting experience.
Good shape

  • Washington: Nathan Felner and Nate Williams are both returning starters, but the competition is ongoing among players with experience, not to mention touted incoming freshman Sean Parker.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats lost Cam Nelson, and Robert Golden might move back to cornerback after playing strong safety last year. Still, there's talent here. Adam Hall, a touted, 6-foot-4, 212-pound 2009 recruit, might make a move.
  • Arizona State: Both starters, Jarrell Holman and Ryan McFoy, are gone, but Clint Floyd and Keelan Johnson have started games and junior Eddie Elder has been surging since the spring.
  • California: While the Cal secondary didn't play well in 2009, Sean Cattouse is solid. Senior Chris Conte has converted to safety from cornerback, but he could be challenged in camp for the starting job.
  • Stanford: Strong safety Delano Howell should blossom as a junior, and Michael Thomas has potential at free safety. Still, the Cardinal secondary got burned in 2009 and is probably the team's biggest question mark.
We'll see
  • USC: The Trojans are replacing all four starters in their secondary, and the days of giving them a free pass based on recruiting rankings are over. Still, Jawanza Starling, T.J. McDonald and Drew McAllister (if he's healthy) are a talented trio.
  • Washington State: WSU lost free safety Xavier Hicks, but LeAndre Daniels, Chima Nwachukwu, Tyree Toomer, Casey Locker and Jamal Atofau give the Cougars hope at the position.

Pac-10 lunch links: What's on the Pac-10 lines?

April, 6, 2010
4/06/10
2:39
PM ET
Standing in the rain, with his head hung low
Couldn't get a ticket, it was a sold out show
Heard the roar of the crowd, he could picture the scene
Put his ear to the wall, then like a distant scream
He heard one guitar, just blew him away
He saw stars in his eyes, and the very next day...

Owusu is good but he's not Golden

October, 17, 2009
10/17/09
7:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Stanford's Chris Owusu, who's already returned three kickoffs -- two opening kickoffs -- for touchdowns this year, nearly went yard on the opening kickoff against Arizona.

But he only managed to get 52 yards before he was tackled.

Owusu is third in the nation with an average of 39.7 yards per return.

Owusu's thunder, however, was stolen when Andrew Luck was picked off by Robert Golden, who went 79 yards for a score.

Two big plays, but the Wildcats emerge ahead.

Ranking the Pac-10 safeties

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 is solid at safety -- it's not all about Taylor Mays either.

In fact, the stockpile in the secondary likely will make choosing an All-Pac-10 team a big challenge.
  1. USC: It doesn't matter if Josh Pinkard stays at safety or moves to corner: The Trojans are stacked here, starting with Mays, a two-time All-American. Will Harris is hardly a stop-gap if he steps in for Pinkard, and there's good depth.
  2. California: While the Bears lack the Trojans' star quality, they are experienced, productive and deep with Marcus Ezeff and Brett Johnson leading the charge.
  3. Arizona: Cam Nelson is an all-conference-type player, while Robert Golden is an all-conference-type talent who is transitioning from cornerback.
  4. Oregon: T.J. Ward is one of the conference's premier hitters. He figures to become a complete player this fall. Javes Lewis won the competition at rover to replace Patrick Chung.
  5. Stanford: Bo McNally is a reliable veteran and Delano Howell, albeit green as the former running back switches to defense, will improve the Cardinal's athleticism.
  6. UCLA: Sophomore Rahim Moore looks like a budding star. Tony Dye leads the battle at strong safety over fellow sophomore Glenn Love.
  7. Oregon State: Junior Suaesi Tuimaunei will replace Al Afalava at strong safety and Lance Mitchell will set in for Greg Laybourn at free. While they lack experience -- Tuimaunei started twice in 2008 -- they are more athletic than their predecessors.
  8. Arizona State: Perhaps it's a sign of the Sun Devils' depth that expected starters Clint Floyd and Ryan McFoy are listed second-team on the depth chart behind Jarrell Holman and Keelan Johnson. Coach Dennis Erickson said Monday he hasn't decided who will start. This gives us pause, though there's no lack of athletic ability here.
  9. Washington State: The Cougars probably feel pretty good about Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, a solid pair of returning starters.
  10. Washington: Nate Williams is a solid strong safety and redshirt freshman Greg Walker has flashed ability at free, but the Huskies have a long way to go in the secondary.

LeFevour will challenge Arizona's no-name defense

August, 31, 2009
8/31/09
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


While Arizona's opener against Central Michigan isn't the marquee game of the week, it might be called the sneaky-interesting game of the week.

That's because it matches Chippewas star Dan LeFevour, one of the nation's top quarterbacks, against the Wildcats' no-name defense.
Dale Zanine
Dan LeFevour has already passed for over 9,400 yards in his career.

LeFevour, a senior leading a spread-option offense for a third consecutive season, piled up 3,376 yards of total offense last year and accounted for 27 touchdowns. He's a potent threat both running (592 yards) and passing (2,784 yards). Think Jake Locker but as a more refined passer.

"Dan's a great player," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "He deserves all those accolades. He's one of the best we'll see all year at the position."

Speaking of accolades, at what point does Arizona's defense start to get some?

Arizona welcomes back seven starters from a unit that ranked third in the Pac-10 in both scoring (21.3 points per game) and total defense (313 yards per game), and when you talk to different coaches across the conference, there is widespread admiration for the soundness of the Wildcats' scheme.

"They have had a really disciplined scheme for years," USC coach Pete Carroll said before playing Arizona last year. "They are basically a zone team and they mix their pressures nicely. A lot of zone pressure, not too much man to man pressure, but they just have a real good sense of playing zones and they fill up the field and make it look like the field is too small. There's not a lot of spaces and they break up the ball well and they position and anticipate beautifully. They are going to keep you in front of them. They are not going to give you any big plays which is a good idea in this conference. They are real disciplined at it. So they show real consistency and when their playmakers start to grow up in their system like they have had in the past, they are able to make a lot of things happen."

Carroll can BS with the best of them, but that is clearly a thoughtful, respectful answer.

And guess what? Those playmakers are growing into their system, which means it might not be a no-name defense for long. Defensive end Brooks Reed, safety Cam Nelson, cornerback Devin Ross, strong safety Robert Golden, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka each could become all-conference-type players.

But coordinator Mark Stoops isn't eager to celebrate individuals.

"We're not overwhelming at any one position, but we have good players across the board. We're pretty solid," he said. "But if you don't play within the system, for each other, with your hair on fire, you're very average. I don't care if you're Miami, Oklahoma or USC."

Mark Stoops made the point that the only time the defense got blown up in 2008 was the first half against Oregon when the Ducks scored 45 points.

"It was embarrassing," he said. "That was the only time last year that was pure frustration."

Number of Arizona adjustments at halftime? Zero. It was merely a case of reminding players to take care of their technique and responsibilities within the scheme.

After the break, Oregon scored only 10 points, and the Wildcats nearly came back from a 28-point halftime deficit before falling 55-45.

Central Michigan, which is breaking in three new starting offensive lineman, won't likely be able to run the ball consistently. LeFevour has two good receivers in Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, so this likely will be a strength-on-strength matchup with the secondary, with LeFevour's scrambles also challenging the Wildcats.

The Chippewas are favored to win their third MAC title over the past four seasons, and LeFevour is looking to make a national statement.

This is far from a gimme for the Wildcats, who have blown nonconference games against inferior foes the past two seasons.

"They're not going to be awestruck by the environment," Mike Stoops said.

Pac-10 best of spring

May, 14, 2009
5/14/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Optimism is a powerful thing. And spring is a time for renewal. So this is a "Best of" list, without any of the "Negative Nellie" stuff.

Best spring game performance by a quarterback: Stanford redshirt freshman Andrew Luck all but won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Tavita Pritchard after completing 18 of 25 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns to lead the White team to a 42-17 victory over the Cardinal.

Best spring game performance by a quarterback II: Washington quarterback Jake Locker seemed fine working in a pro-style offense after completing 16 of 18 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. The two incompletions, by the way, were drops.

Best spring game performance by two quarterbacks: Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Justin Roper combined to complete 37 of 56 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns and neither threw an interception in the Ducks' spring game. Perhaps it was the rainy weather only fit for a Duck?

Best spring, overall, by a quarterback: Under intense, national scrutiny ,USC's Aaron Corp threw only one interception throughout spring practices and was consistently solid throughout the session, which earned him the nod as the Trojans No. 1 quarterback over spectacular freshman Matt Barkley entering the offseason. Under coach Pete Carroll, every previous Trojan quarterback who had been tapped No. 1 out of spring started the season opener.

Best performance by a true freshman: Barkley made the recruiting gurus who ranked him No. 1 look smart.

Best spring game on defense: Talk about a penetrating performance. USC's backup defensive end Nick Perry had six tackles for loss, including four sacks, among his seven tackles. Yeah, USC's defense is going to be hurting in 2009.

Best spring on defense: Six guys stood out: Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond III, UCLA's tackle Brian Price, Oregon State tackle Stephen Paea, Arizona State defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, Arizona linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka and USC linebacker Malcolm Smith.

Best surprise: USC transfer and notorious underachiever Jamere Holland suddenly decided to become Oregon's best deep threat and turned in an outstanding spring. Golly, sometimes listening to your coaches helps.

Best breakout: While California has questions at receiver, the general feeling is sophomore Marvin Jones is almost certainly one of the answers.

Best 'it's about time' breakout: USC's Everson Griffen might be the nation's most talented pass-rusher, but his high-performance engine has also been a high-maintenance engine. Yet his effort and intensity were consistent this spring, which meant no one could block him.

Best comeback: California offensive tackle Mike Tepper has been through a lot, but he's hoping his sixth year will just be about anchoring a line with a lot of upside. Read Tepper's story here.

Best comeback II: Got a funny -- mean, but funny -- note during the 2008 season that instructed the Pac-10 blog to refer to Oregon State receiver Darrell Catchings as Darrell Droppings. Can't do that now because Catchings lived up to his name -- the real one -- this spring.

Best position change: Arizona sophomore Robert Golden, a marquee 2008 recruit, switched from cornerback to strong safety this spring, and early word is he could become an All-Conference player at his new position. The move further allowed the Wildcats to switch Cam Nelson to free safety from strong and get Trevin Wade on the field to complement Devin Ross at corner.

Best coaching decision: Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh wants his best 11 on the field at any given time, and he's willing to get creative to do it. That's why he's got a handful of guys playing both ways, including Owen Marecic (fullback and middle linebacker), Michael Thomas (cornerback and receiver), Richard Sherman (cornerback and receiver) and Alex Debniak (linebacker and running back). Will it work? We'll see. But it's undoubtedly interesting.

Best candidate for a karmic change: No team had worse injury issues this spring than Washington State, which is clearly in the midst of a major rebuilding project. Then promising defensive end Cory Mackay, who'd impressed this spring, suffered a serious back injury after he fell asleep at the wheel of his car. The Cougars are overdue for some luck. Perhaps it arrives this fall?

Best catch of the spring: You may have already watched this grab. Watch Arizona State receiver Kerry Taylor one more time. It's worth it.

Best position in conference: The Pac-10 might have the nation's best collection of talent in the secondary, with USC and California boasting units that should rank among the nation's best. Consider: FS Taylor Mays (USC), SS T.J. Ward (Oregon), SS Josh Pinkard (USC), CB Walter Thurmond III (Oregon), CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA), CB Syd'Quan Thompson (California), CB Devin Ross (Arizona), CB Omar Bolden (Arizona State), FS Rahim Moore (UCLA), CB Shareece Wright (USC), among others.

Best position in conference II: Five running backs who eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2008 are back, led by California's Jahvid Best and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers.

Best potentially surprising position: If you talked about good Pac-10 defensive linemen in recent years, you were basically talking about USC. Not in 2009. Nine of the Pac-10's top 30 players, at least by, er, one person's accounting, are defensive linemen, and that list included only one player from USC (Griffen, at No. 30) and didn't include Cal's Cameron Jordan.

Best quote: "How do we go from nine to one?" said Chip Kelly on what he believes are his marching orders as Oregon's new coach. "Nine" is where the Ducks finished last
year in the final coaches' poll.

Spring football Q&A: Arizona coach Mike Stoops

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
1:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona finishes spring practices Wednesday, and coach Mike Stoops doesn't see many holes heading into the summer.

Sure, the Wildcats are replacing some good players, such as quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas, linebacker Ronnie Palmer and left tackle Eben Britton. But Stoops seems confident he's got guys who can step up and get to another bowl game.

Or maybe more than just any bowl game.

 
  Tom Hauck/Getty Images
  Arizona coach Mike Stoops says he feels good about his overall depth heading into the 2009 season.

The Wildcats started early and now will be the first to finish spring practices. It seemed like a good time to check in with Stoops and see how things looked in Tucson.

First question has to be about the quarterbacks: How do Matt Scott and Nick Foles stack up with one practice left this spring?

Mike Stoops: They both have done some really good things. I think we can win at this level with both players. We don't feel like we're in any need to name a starter at this point. I can probably see both guys playing. Whether we did that in a constant way, I don't think that would be it. But I could see, early on, us playing both to see how they perform in games. It's not something we would like to do, but they are a little bit different styles of quarterback. Matt gives you that ability to run and create plays with his feet. Nick is a more prototypical, drop-back quarterback. They're different but I think both of them could give us a chance to win. We're very pleased with their growth. They still have a lot of work to do. We probably won't name a starter until seven to 10 days before our first game against Central Michigan. And it's possible both could play in that game.

Biggest position change before practices began was Robert Golden from cornerback to strong safety: How did that play out?

MS: That's been probably one of the best moves we've made. We now can get our best four or five DBs on the field at the same time. And it's really been an easy transition for him. He seems very comfortable. He's been easy to coach. We've been very pleased with that move. It puts Trevin Wade, who led our team in interceptions last year -- and he only played 100 and something snaps -- on the field. Robert had corner ability, corner speed, but he gives us great versatility to cover the field now, which you have to do vs. these spread offenses.

Any other guys change positions during the spring?

MS: Nope. That was the biggest move for us.

Tell us about some guys who really improved their stock this spring, guys when went from backups to potential starters.

MS: We feel like our offensive guards played really well, Conan Amituanai and Mike Diaz. Diaz -- you asked about a personnel change -- Diaz could move from left guard to left tackle. He has the range to play tackle. And that gives Conan, who has really stood out with his development and his attitude and confidence, a chance. He's a 320-pound guy who can really play physically. [Guard] Vaughn Dotsy is another guy I'm pleased with, played last year as a true freshman. Our line has a chance to be very athletic and physical. Other guys: Greg Nwoko, our third running back, has had a great spring -- he's a freshman from outside of Austin, Texas. I feel good about our overall depth, but our biggest concern might be depth at linebacker.

(Read full post)

Cover two? Checking in with the Pac-10 safeties

March, 5, 2009
3/05/09
6:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Safeties are the last resort. They help on run support. A big-hitting safety can make a receiving corps wilt.

The Pac-10 was strong at safety last year: USC's Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison, Oregon's Patrick Chung and T.J. Ward, Arizona State's Troy Nolan, Arizona's Cam Nelson, UCLA's Rahim Moore and Oregon State's Greg Laybourn and Al Afalava.

Of that group, only Mays -- a huge surprise -- Ward, Nelson and Moore are back.

So where does everyone stand?

Great shape

  • USC: Mays is a certain consensus preseason All-American and a certain first-round NFL draft choice. He might be the best all-around athlete in college football. Will Harris started the final six games last year and played well while Ellison was hurt.
  • California: All four safeties on Cal's two-deep depth chart are back. None of them made all-conference honors, but the Bears' pass defense ranked second in the conference and intercepted twice as many passes (24) as TD throws (12) it gave up.

Good shape

  • Arizona: The Wildcats might be in great shape here if sophomore Robert Golden's move to strong safety from cornerback works out. Junior Cam Nelson was third on the team last year with 67 tackles.
  • Stanford: Strong safety Bo McNally, with his 24 consecutive starts, leads an experienced crew -- Sean Wiser and Taylor Skaufel both started games last year at free safety. But the Cardinal pass defense wasn't very good, which is a problem.
  • Oregon: It's hard to replace a guy like rover Patrick Chung, but the big-hitting Ward -- a free safety in 2008 -- is a good start. Stepping in for Ward figures to be sophomore Javes Lewis.
  • UCLA: Strong safety Bret Lockett is the only loss among the six names on the depth chart at the end of the 2008 season. Moore looked like a budding star at free safety at times last year. A name to look out for is redshirt freshman E.J. Woods, who could jump some folks on the depth chart this spring. 
  • Washington State: Free safety Xavier Hicks, tied for fourth in the Pac-10 with 7.8 tackles per game in 2008, is back. Strong safety Alfonso Jackson is gone, but Chima Nwachukwu started seven games last year. Among the issues facing the Cougars, safety is down the line. 

We'll see

  • Arizona State: Starters Troy Nolan and Rodney Cox are gone. There's plenty of young talent ready to step up, but it is unproven. 
  • Oregon State: Two highly productive starters are gone, but the Beavers actually might be better at the position in 2009, or at least more athletic, with Suaesi Tuimaunei and Lance Mitchell stepping in.
  • Washington: Nate Williams earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last year, but it's wide open who will start beside him. Recall that the Huskies gave up 24 touchdown passes and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of their passes last year.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Monday, 12/22
Saturday, 12/20
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12