Pac-12: Shelly Lyons
Barkley was brilliant, and Scott was just very good. Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions against Colorado. It was the most efficient performance in the country this season and the most efficient in the history of the Pac-12. He now has 102 career TD passes, a Pac-12 record.
Yet it felt familiar. USC is always big news, even when it's not winning championships. And Barkley is the most famous college quarterback in the country, even if he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy.
Scott? His outstanding numbers and quick adoption of new coach Rich Rodriguez's offense resonates only regionally, if at all.
That might change. These two seniors meet Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., with Barkley, a four-year starter, trying to lead the Trojans back into the national title picture, which means not overlooking Scott and the Wildcats because of their Nov. 3 date with Oregon.
These two did meet once before. Let's hope this one is as fun as the first time: Oct. 4, 2007. That's when Barkley, a junior at top-ranked Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., and already highly celebrated, and Scott, a senior at No. 2 Centennial High of Corona, clashed in front of roughly 10,000 fans in the Santa Ana Bowl.
"The fans definitely got their money's worth," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told reporters after the game. "That was some show."
Scott passed for 176 yards and rushed for 178. Barkley was 21 of 31 for 364 yards and two touchdowns. The Centennial defense featured Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons and Will Sutton, who all signed with Arizona State. In a joint interview in 2011, the Pac-12 blog asked Burfict, Magee and Lyons about this game, and they all became a bit grumpy. It's fairly well-known that Barkley and Burfict are not exactly close.
Barkley was a five-star prospect in 2008, the nation's highest-rated quarterback. He signed with USC, which was on a dynastic run atop the then-Pac-10, with a 6-1 record in BCS bowl games over the previous seven years and two national titles.
So what does Rodriguez think of Barkley?
"He's obviously been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Pac-12," he said. "He's likely to be the first pick in the NFL draft. We're facing one of the all-time greats and also a tremendous leader."
Scott, a year ahead of Barkley, was a three-star prospect who picked Arizona over California, Boise State and Utah. The Wildcats went 5-7 in 2007, their ninth consecutive non-winning season. He beat out Nick Foles for the starting spot in 2009 but lost the job to Foles three games into the season. When Foles was hurt in 2010, Scott came off the bench and played well, but he opted to redshirt in 2011 so he could finally inherit the keys to the offense as a fifth-year senior.
When asked about Scott, USC coach Lane Kiffin's first word is "Wow."
"He's a phenomenal player," Kiffin said. "I didn't realize he is as fast as he is -- accurate, arm strength. He's playing great, doing an unbelievable job with the system."
So there's plenty of admiration for both quarterbacks.
Scott said he and Barkley know each other from football camps and recruiting and get along well, but, yes, it would be meaningful to best Barkley on Saturday.
"They are the No. 9-ranked team, so it's going to mean a lot more," Scott said. "It's a big stage. A great quarterback is coming in here. It would mean a lot to outplay him."
If Take 2 is anything like Take 1, this one figures to be pretty interesting.
10. Colorado wins 17-14 at Utah: If the Utes had won Nov. 25, they would have won the Pac-12 South Division -- instead of UCLA -- and played at Oregon in the first Pac-12 championship game, in their first year of Pac-12 play. As it was, the Buffaloes' surprising victory ended a 24-game losing streak outside of the state of Colorado.
9. Shelly Lyons' pick-six vs. Matt Barkley: Arizona State ended an 11-game losing streak to USC on Sept. 24 in a quaking Sun Devil Stadium. The most memorable play was Lyons returning an interception 41 yards for a touchdown to ice the 43-22 victory. This victory seemed to announce the Sun Devils' arrival as a top-25 team.
8. Third-and-29: Arizona State's shocking 29-28 loss at UCLA on Nov. 5 was the first of five consecutive losses that derailed the Sun Devils' season and got coach Dennis Erickson fired. While it's most remembered for kicker Alex Garoutte missing three field goals, the biggest play of the game was the Bruins converting on a third-and-29 play on their go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. Kevin Prince connected with Nelson Rosario for 33 yards to the Sun Devils' 6-yard line. After that play, pretty much nothing went right for the Sun Devils the rest of the season. Further, UCLA wouldn't have played in the Pac-12 championship game without that play.
7. Halliday! Celebrate! Freshman Connor Halliday, the third quarterback Washington State used this season, threw for a Pac-12 freshman-record 494 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-27 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 12. It was his first significant playing time.
5. LSU-Oregon, third quarter: The Ducks were statistically superior but trailed LSU 16-13 at halftime on Sept. 3 because Tyrann Mathieu scored a touchdown after stripping the ball from Kenjon Barner on a punt return. Then the third quarter happened. Two fumbles from De'Anthony Thomas in Oregon territory set up a pair of Tigers touchdowns, and the game was pretty much over before it got to the fourth quarter.
4. Stanford wins at USC 56-48 in triple overtime: Start with this: The Oct. 29 meeting was a fantastic game, clearly one of the top five regular-season contests in the nation this year. What was most memorable to me wasn't the fumble that ended it, but Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck regrouping after throwing a 33-yard pick-six to Nickell Robey and coolly leading a 76-yard touchdown drive to tie the count with 38 seconds left.
3. USC wins at Oregon 38-35: When the Ducks missed a late field goal to tie the Nov. 19 game, several things happened, starting with the end of a 21-game home winning streak as well as the end of a 19-game conference winning streak. It eliminated Oregon from the national title hunt. It also announced USC's return to national relevance. This victory -- as well as quarterback Matt Barkley's decision to return for his senior season -- is why many see the Trojans as 2012 national title contenders.
2. Black Mamba strikes in the Rose Bowl: For those in the college football world who only remembered De'Anthony Thomas from his fumbles in the opener against LSU, they got reintroduced in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl. Thomas' touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards were two of the most stunningly athletic plays of the bowl season. Immediately everyone thought: 2012 Heisman?
1. No Fiesta for Williamson: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard field goal wide left as time expired that would have given the Cardinal a victory over No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2. Williamson then missed from 43 yards in overtime, setting up the game-winning kick for the Cowboys. Of course, Stanford wouldn't have been in that situation if it had stopped the Cowboys on one of their two fourth-down conversions. Or if they tackled Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon better. Or if they hadn't fumbled inside their 10-yard line.
"That started before the game, though. He was on the sidelines talking and everything," Katz recalls.
He takes a pass. Said Katz, "It's just competitive juices flowing. I don't take it personally. Things happen. I know he's an emotional player. He was just trying to get in our head."
Just about everyone who has played or coached against Burfict has a story. Many are about his breath-taking skills that rate the 6-foot-3, 252-pound true junior perhaps the nation's best linebacker, one with an NFL All-Pro future. But others are about him being unhinged, his intensity so overwhelming his self-control that he often hurts his team with his antics.
The head-butt to Katz, in fact, convinced Dennis Erickson, a coach not typically thought of as a strict disciplinarian, to take away Burfict's starting job last fall (albeit briefly).
A few weeks later, in a tight game with Stanford, Burfict was called for a critical face-mask penalty. It was a bad call, but Burfict couldn't resist the urge to point that out to officials, which earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top of the face mask, which gave Stanford the ball on the Sun Devils' 7-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Stanford pushed in the game-winning score, foiling a potential major upset that also would have earned the Sun Devils bowl eligibility.
In a highly competitive game with Oregon, Burfict spent a lot of time focusing on the Ducks' sideline, including mocking coach Chip Kelly's well-publicized method of signalling plays with random graphics on a large poster board.
Want more? Go to YouTube. If you search Vontaze Burfict, you'll find a long list of great plays and dubious behavior caught on film -- both noticed and unnoticed by officials.
"A lot of people ask about Vontaze -- from Oregon, from other places," said former Ducks and current Sun Devils wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad. "They are like 'What's up with this guy?' He's a shy, quiet guy off the field, but he's just a monster on it. That's the only way to explain it. I've never played with anyone like him before."
While Burfict loves to talk, intimidate and get inside opponents' heads, he's not so chatty or revealing about his own state of mind off it. After a spring and offseason when he worked with the school's sports information office and granted more interviews than he did his first two years, he has turned down interview requests -- including one from the Pac-12 blog -- this summer.
While part of that is because Burfict is reclusive and insecure with public speaking, another part involves things he doesn't want to talk about, including a locker room fight with 200-pound receiver Kevin Ozier, which the school attempted to downplay. Since that incident, reports of other off-field skirmishes, including a practice altercation with receivers coach Steve Broussard -- which Erickson told reporters was "totally ridiculous" -- have surfaced.
All this has clouded a storyline that Erickson and ASU officials had been working on since the spring: Burfict as team leader, a role even more required of him after cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Brandon Magee went down with season-ending injuries.
Said Erickson at Sun Devils media day, which Burfict chose not to attend: "He's matured a whole heck of a lot. I'm really proud of how he's matured." That was just days after the locker room fight.
Fellow linebacker Shelly Lyons, like Magee a former Burfict teammate at Centennial High School (Corona, Calif.), was asked what Burfict needs to work on this season.
"I would say when he gets frustrated," Lyons said. "He really has all the attributes as a player -- size, speed, he can hit. So I'd just say that when he gets frustrated to take it easy. The referees have a target on him. He's got to hold it back this year."
Last season, Burfict led the Sun Devils -- and was ninth in the Pac-10 -- with 90 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss. He also forced two fumbles. While there are some holes in his game -- his frenetic style sometimes gets him out of position -- physically, he's a finished product, one whose ability screams he's a certain top-15 NFL draft pick.
But the lack of self-control, on and off the field, will be an issue with NFL general managers.
If Burfict can fully focus his ability and intensity on what happens between the whistles, he could win the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. And the Sun Devils' defense, despite injuries, could become one of the top units on the West Coast.
If that happens, Burfict and the Sun Devils will have a happy ending: Perhaps a Pac-12 South Division title and a high draft pick.
"Hopefully this year it's controlled insanity and he doesn't go after a player or anything," Pflugrad said.
If it isn't, well, it's still likely to be great theater.
And no team is dragging more with injuries than Arizona State, which lost senior linebacker Brandon Magee for the season Saturday due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Magee is not only a returning starter, there's also this from the Arizona Republic:
Defensive coordinator Craig Bray recently told The Republic that Magee was the team's best defensive player last season.
Over the past week, Magee had seemed to take a greater leadership role on the field, barking at the first-team defense to get to the ball and to work through fatigue.
Magee also is one of the "Centennial Threesome" with fellow LBs Vontaze Burfict and Shelly Lyons. He and Lyons keep pretty busy helping the volatile Burfict maintain an even keel.
Perhaps no team in the county expected to contend for a national ranking has suffered as much roster attrition as the Sun Devils since the end of 2010. QB Steven Threet (retired due to recurrent concussions), QB Samson Szakacsy (left team), DT Lawrence Guy (entered NFL draft), CB Omar Bolden (knee), WR T.J. Simpson (knee), DE James Brooks (left team) and RB Deantre Lewis (gunshot wound). And since the beginning of camp, linebacker Oliver Aaron suffered a high-ankle sprain, backup defensive tackle Joita Te'i suffered a foot injury that will sideline him for seven weeks and cornerback Devan Spann dislocated his left shoulder two times in the first week of practice.
And now Magee.
Despite all this, the Sun Devils still have the makings of a good team. Just not as good of a team as they had when they walked off the field Dec. 2 after beating rival Arizona.
There are plenty of good individual players: Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, California's Mike Mohamed and UCLA's Akeem Ayers are getting preseason All-American attention and Washington's Mason Foster looks primed for a breakout. But other than the Ducks, every team gives you reason to pause over the depth chart.
So what's the pecking order?
- Oregon: The Ducks are fast and deep and experienced. Casey Matthews was second-team All-Pac-10, while Spencer Paysinger was his equal in production. Josh Kaddu and Boseko Lokombo are impressive enough that returning starter Eddie Pleasant moved to rover. And sophomore Michael Clay might end up the best of the lot by season's end.
- USC: Everyone read all about the Trojans problems at LB during spring practices, but that was mostly about a lack of depth. The bottom line is there are three returning starters from the Pac-10's No. 1 scoring defense, and sophomore Devon Kennard may be good enough to beat out Chris Galippo in the middle.
- Arizona State: Burfict may be the best middle LB in the conference, and Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons saw plenty of action as backups for a unit that ranked No. 1 in the conference in total defense. Still, there's reason to pause over the loss of Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel, two heady, productive players.
- Stanford: The Cardinal switched to a 3-4 defense, and the lineup of LBs is impressive in terms of potential. Sophomore Shayne Skov is a budding star and Owen Marecic is a beast, though this will be his first season as a full-time LB after playing FB last year. It's possible Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser will be better OLBs than DEs. But we'll have to see.
- California: Mohamed led the Pac-10 in tackles last year and, though two starters must be replaced, there's talent and experience on the depth chart, particularly if Mychal Kendricks breaks through. The Bears ranked second in the conference in run defense in 2009.
- UCLA: The Bruins are breaking in two new starters next to Ayers, though MLB Steve Sloan started nine games in 2008. But Ayers may end up the conference's defensive Player of the Year, so he makes up for a lot of the issues here.
- Washington: Mason Foster is as good a LB as any in the conference, and Cort Dennison is solid in the middle. But who starts on the strong side is one of the Huskies' biggest preseason questions.
- Oregon State: The Beavers are replacing their two best linebackers: Keaton Kristick and David Pa'aluhi. Keith Pankey and Dwight Roberson both have significant experience platooning on the outside, though it remains to be seen how full-speed Pankey is after tearing his Achilles during the offseason. Tony Wilson and Rueben Robinson are competing in the middle.
- Washington State: Though the Cougs are replacing two starters, they have plenty of experience. The problem is the run defense has been terrible the past two years.
- Arizona: The Wildcats, you might have heard, are replacing all three starters. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo are JC transfers who have never played a down in the Pac-10. Sophomore Jake Fischer is hardly a veteran. Things could turn out fine, but as the title says, "We'll see."
Who's back: Three starters on offense, four on defense and both specialists.
Big names: LB Vontaze Burfict, DT Lawrence Guy, K Thomas Weber, P Trevor Hankins
What's new: New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has been charged with fixing an offense that has struggled mightily for three consecutive seasons. Also new are linebackers coach Trent Bray and receivers coach Steve Broussard.
Key competition: Sophomore Brock Osweiler and junior Michigan transfer Steven Threet were in a dead-heat at the end of spring practices. Threet entered spring as a solid favorite, but Osweiler, who struggled in his one 2009 start, surged and made the competition wide-open. It wouldn't be surprising if both saw action in the Sun Devils first two games, which are both against FCS foes.
Breaking out: Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons will flank Burfict at linebacker and give the Sun Devils an athletic threesome. Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad should give the receiving corps a boost. CB Omar Bolden is back after missing most of 2009 and he looked good during spring drills.
Quote: Coach Dennis Erickson on the QB competition: “You’d like to name one before the first game, but you never know. The good thing is that we have two good quarterbacks and that will help us as the season goes on.”
Notes: The Sun Devils lost their top-two guards to knee injury: Jon Hargis and Zach Schlink... Bray is defensive coordinator Craig Bray's son as well as a former two-time All-Pac-10 linebacker for Oregon State... The Sun Devils have the fewest returning starters in the Pac-10... They are coming off their first consecutive losing seasons since 1946-47... Erickson hadn't posted consecutive losing seasons in 19 years as a head coach until last year... The Sun Devils lost four games by five or fewer points, including three on late field goals in 2009... ASU was tapped ninth in the preseason Pac-10 media poll.
No. 6 is junior Shelly Lyons, No. 7 is sophomore Vontaze Burfict and No. 8 is junior Brandon Magee, at least those are their numbers after Lyons and Magee changed jerseys to create the numerical sequence among the starting linebackers.
Burfict, a budding All-American, might have been the best true freshman linebacker in the nation last year. Magee put up impressive numbers as a backup in 2009. And Lyons saw plenty of action and is certainly no slouch. By season's end, they might form the best linebacking trio in the Pac-10.
What's shocking is they used to form the best linebacking trio in California high school football. All three played for Centennial High in Corona, Calif. Toss in tackle William Sutton, and four former Huskies will be seeing lots of action on the ASU defense in 2010.
The number change isn't just a cute, casual gesture. It represents a deep connection. The troika are best friends and roommates.
"We're letting everybody know we are a brotherhood," Magee said. "I thought it would be good for the city of Corona to see how close we are."
Burfict, the man in the middle, is the best known. He was the Pac-10's Defensive Freshman of the Year, earned freshman All-American honors and is on the Lombardi Award watch list. He piled up 69 tackles -- second on the team -- with seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a handful of personal foul penalties, including three vs. Washington.
Burfict, who chose No. 7 because of John Elway but models his play on Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis, said the penalties are due to "my passion for the game and competitiveness." And, no, neither he nor coach Dennis Erickson is not going to send Burfict to charm school to learn to keep his emotions in check.
"Naa. I'm just out there playing football," he said when asked if the penalties were a problem he was working on. "Coach [Erickson] said that if I'm out there playing football aggressively, flags are going to come but to just try to hold them to a minimum."
While his sometimes too aggressive play has earned him a bit of a reputation, Magee and Lyons describe Burfict as "shy" and "humble."
"You'd be surprised how different he is off the field than how he is on the field," Magee said.
Magee, who also plays for the Sun Devils No. 1-ranked baseball team, had 34 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception last year as Mike Nixon's backup on the weakside. Lyons and Burfict both describe him as a "neat freak."
"He doesn't even want wrinkles in his bed," Lyons said.
Lyons? He's the comedian. "He's one of the finniest guys there is," Magee said. "He just has jokes for days. And he's not scared to say what's on his mind."
Lyons has seen significant action the past two seasons behind Travis Goethel. He had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 last year.
Magee was glad to change his number from 48. "That's Terrell Suggs' number. I have a lot of respect for him so I didn't really want to wear the number any more because I know they are going to retire it sooner or later," he explained. This is Lyons' third number. He was 41 as a freshman and 13 last year.
Arizona State ranked No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference last year. Despite losing seven starters, there's plenty of scuttlebutt coming out of Tempe that the 2010 unit will be even better -- faster and deeper on all three levels.
One of the big reasons for optimism? It's as easy as counting 6, 7 and 8.
"We're bringing our own flavor to it," Magee said.
He topped a list of 48 Sun Devils who were honored.
A news release from the school said the "Hard Hat Program was created to reward those individuals who do what's right in the weight room even when no one is looking ... a Hard Hat Player is someone who is self-motivated, a competitor, committed to personal and team excellence, dependable, accountable, disciplined and most importantly, puts the team first."
To become a Hard Hat Player, a player has to achieve a certain point total during winter workouts. He earns points based on his effort for strength training, speed development and conditioning sessions. They are also awarded points for competitive events and performing extra workouts in the "Blitz Package Program." Each athlete is evaluated after every workout by the sports performance staff with input from an athlete's position coach when applicable.
The list of the honored includes: Corey Adams, Derrall Anderson, George Bell, Omar Bolden, Jarrid Bryant, Mike Callaghan, Jonathan Clark, Chris Coyle, Dean DeLeone, Eddie Elder, Steven Figueroa, Evan Finkenberg, Clint Floyd, Garth Gerhart, Lawrence Guy, Jon Hargis, J.J. Holliday, Matt Hustad, Osahon Irabor, Patrick Jamison, Keelan Johnson, Brandon Johnson, Anthony Jones, Kyle Johnson, Cameron Kastl, Ronald Kennedy, Dan Knapp, Trevor Kohl, LeQuan Lewis, Shelly Lyons, Cameron Marshall, Shane McCullen, Jamal Miles, Bo Moos, James Morrison, Gerald Munns, Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad, Cole Rarrick, Jamarr Robinson, Andrew Sampson, Zach Schlink, Max Smith, Adam Tello, Steven Threet, Matthew Tucker and Thomas Weber.
Starters or key contributors who didn't make the list (for whatever reason, including injury or excused absence) include: linebacker Vontaze Burfict, receiver Gerell Robinson, receiver Kerry Taylor, defensive end James Brooks, defensive tackle Williams Sutton, defensive tackle Saia Falahola, defensive end Greg Smith and linebacker Brandon Magee.
Everybody is talking about: While the Sun Devils have many holes to fill, the competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Brock Osweiler at quarterback will produce the most headlines.
Bigger shoes than you think: Strong side linebacker Travis Goethel
Goethel was the only Sun Devil who ranked on our post-season list of the Pac-10's top-30 players. He wasn't flashy but, playing on a unit that ranked first in the Pac-10 in total defense (297.8 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (21.1 points per game), he tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss and ranked third in total tackles with 57. He also was particularly effective at neutralizing an opposing tight end.
Who's stepping in? Shelly Lyons, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, had 36 tackles as a true freshman and 17 tackles last year, so he's not completely green. He's not as big as the 6-3, 237-pound Goethel, so he may be challenged by big tight ends. The Sun Devils must replace two of their three starting linebackers: Goethel and veteran Mike Nixon. With talented but mercurial sophomore Vontaze Burfict back in the middle, and junior Brandon Magee expected to step in for Nixon, the crew in 2010 will be more athletic but less experienced. It will be interesting to see where senior -- and former starter -- Gerald Munns fits in.
Strong: Defensive front seven
Why it's a strength: The Sun Devils take some significant hits on defense, losing seven starters, including five of their top six tacklers, but the young talent coming back is impressive, particularly up front. Start with the defensive line. Sure, end Dexter Davis is gone, but he's the only departure on the three-deep. And here's a guess that tackles Lawrence Guy, William Sutton and Corey Adams take a step forward in 2010. Linebackers Mike Nixon and Travis Goethel must be replaced, but rising star Vontaze Burfict returns inside and Gerald Munns, Brandon McGee and Shelly Lyons have experience. Count on this: The Sun Devils, owners of the conference's No. 1 rush defense in 2009, won't be easy to run against again next fall.
Why it's a weakness: It will not be a pattern of this feature to indict an entire side of the ball, but the Sun Devils have huge issues on offense for a third consecutive season. Last year, they ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring and ninth in total offense. And only four starters are back this spring. Ouch. Skill positions? There's uncertainty at quarterback. The top two receivers are gone, as is starting tailback Dimitri Nance. The line? Three starters need to be replaced, including the unit's leader in 2009, tackle Shawn Lauvao. Answers may be found this spring. Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler will battle at quarterback, while Oregon transfer Aaron Pflugrad will immediately bolster the receiving corps. Injuries the past two seasons mean lots of returning guys on the line have experience. And there are plenty of choices at tailback. Still, there's a lot of uncertainty here.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Just about every Pac-10 team feels good about its linebackers.
Not an easy position to rank.
- UCLA: Senior Reggie Carter was second-team All-Pac-10, up-and-coming sophomore Akeem Ayers and senior Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while sophomore backup Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick was second-team All-Pac-10, and the two-headed monster on the weakside -- Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey -- is back. Sophomore David Pa'aluhi -- a mixed martial arts fighter -- is promising in the middle.
- USC: Yes, USC gets the benefit of the doubt, despite three new starters. By season's end don't be surprised if Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith look like the conference's best unit.
- Oregon: Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews return, and Eddie Pleasant steps in for Jerome Boyd on the outside. There's good depth and good speed here.
- Arizona State: The Sun Devils have a lot of experience as well as young talent, but the starting crew of Travis Goethel, Gerald Munns and Mike Nixon doesn't possess top-end speed. And sophomore Shelly Lyons is hurt and the NCAA Clearinghouse hasn't yet cleared spectacular true freshman Vontaze Burfict.
- California: On the outside, Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young have plenty of experience. Inside, Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt are promising but green. The depth is solid.
- Arizona: The Wildcats are fast with Sterling Lewis, Xavier Kelly and Vuna Tuihalamaka, and Lewis and Kelly have starting experience. There's a pretty fair drop-off to the second unit.
- Stanford: Clinton Snyder will lead a solid crew that includes Will Powers and Chike Amajoyi. The uncertain status of Alex Debniak (knee) hurts.
- Washington: The Huskies have a solid triumvirate. E.J. Savannah returns after missing all of 2008 due to a suspension. He'll play outside opposite Mason Foster with Donald Butler in the middle. Depth is an issue.
- Washington State: Andy Mattingly's return on the strongside from defensive end should help. Jason Stripling is a senior on the weakside, but isn't terribly experienced -- he missed almost all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. JC transfer Alex Hoffman-Ellis will man the middle. He redshirted last year. It would help if undersized but quick Louis Bland was 100 percent because he would add much-needed speed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
And finally there were linebackers. Or a lack thereof.
All three first-team All-Pac-10 linebackers are gone. USC and California both lost three starting linebackers from elite units.
The only team that welcomes back an intact crew is Washington, which is a mixed blessing when a defense is among the worst in the nation the previous season.
That said: No one is completely rebuilding.
Each linebacker unit, other than USC, has at least one starter back, and the Trojans crew has seen significant playing time and is probably as talented as any in the Pac-10.
- UCLA: This is a position of strength for UCLA, with a lot of experience and athletic ability, led by middle linebacker and leading tackler Reggie Carter, who was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago. Akeem Ayers and Kyle Bosworth man the two outside positions, while Steve Sloan started nine games last year.
- Oregon State: Keaton Kristick, second-team All-Pac-10, leads another solid corps of Beavers linebackers from the strongside. Middle linebacker Bryant Cornell is gone, but he only ranked fifth on the team in tackles. Dwight Roberson and Keith Pankey are back on the weakside, while David Pa'aluhi is slated to replace Cornell.
- USC: Sure, all three starters are gone, but we just can't pull the trigger and downgrade the Trojans. The general feeling that Chris Galippo inside with Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan on the flanks will be as physically talented as any crew in the conference. Each saw significant action last year and recorded double-digit tackles, with Morgan leading the way with 24, including five for a loss.
- Arizona State: Lost second-leading tackler Morris Wooten but the Sun Devils get everyone else back, including Gerald Munns, who left the team early last season due to personal issues. Moreover, young players such as Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee will push for playing time.
- Arizona: Lost leading tackler and leader Ronnie Palmer in the middle, but Sterling Lewis (five starts) and Xavier Kelly (eight starts) are back and Vuna Tuihalamaka, who is slated to replace Palmer, saw a lot of action in 2008.
- Stanford: Pat Maynor is gone, but Clinton Snyder leads an experienced crew that includes Chike Amajoyi, Will Powers and Nick Macaluso.
- California: Lost three of its four starting linebackers, but both Eddie Young and Mike Mohamed started games last year, with Mohamed ranking third on the team in tackles.
- Oregon: Jerome Boyd is gone but second-leading tackler Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are back. Eddie Pleasant likely steps in for Boyd.
- Washington: Because the Huskies defense was so bad last year, it's hard to rank them in good shape just because all three starters are back. But the addition of 2007 leading tackler E.J. Savannah, who was suspended by former coach Tyrone Willingham, makes this an area of least concern on a team with many concerns.
- Washington State: It might seem like we're picking on the Cougars by leaving them alone down here but here's the situation. WSU lost its best defensive player and leading tackler, middle linebacker Greg Trent, from the nation's worst rushing defense (248 yards per game). Undersized weakside linebacker Louis Bland, who had nine tackles for a loss in 2008, is back, and word is Andy Mattingly might move back to linebacker from end. If that happens, the position upgrades substantially.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona State's defense took a big hit this week with the announcement that linebacker Gerald Munns is done for the year while he deals with undisclosed personal issues.
Coach Dennis Erickson said Tuesday during the Pac-10 conference call that Munns, a junior from Queen Creek, Ariz., wouldn't play at California this weekend. After practice, it came out that Munns wouldn't play again in 2008.
Munns was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after he recorded a team-high seven tackles, five solo, including a tackle for loss and an interception againt Stanford.
Senior Morris Wooten will replace Munns, with junior Mike Nixon and true freshman Shelly Lyons providing depth. Wooten was suspended for the first three games, but played well against Georgia, leading the Sun Devils with eight tackles.
Posted by ESPN.coms' Ted Miller
Just think: 119 sets of fans are optimistic right now. Wonder what that number will be in a week?
- A guide to get ready for Arizona's season, but the news is about TE Rob Gronkowski, who might have mononucleosis as well as strep throat. That could knock him out for a few weeks.
- Good news for Arizona State: Mr. First Down, WR Chris McGaha, returned to practice Sunday after missing 10 practices with a toe injury and should be ready to go against Northern Arizona. The article lists eight true freshmen expected to play: defensive end Lawrence Guy, linebacker Brandon Magee, linebacker Shelly Lyons, cornerback Josh Jordan, tailback Ryan Bass, receiver Gerell Robinson offensive lineman Zach Schlink and safety Clint Floyd.
- What did we learn from California's training camp? Jonathan Okanes breaks it down -- lots of good stuff here.
- We should find out Monday about Nate Costa's knee, but it's clear that Justin Roper will start against Washington. One thing to keep in mind with Costa out: Neither one of the Ducks' backups -- Jeremiah Masoli, a sophomore transfer, who led City College of San Francisco to the JC national title last year, and true freshman Chris Harper -- have played a single down of Division I-A ball. Notes from the official press release.
- Oregon State plays Stanford and coach Jim Harbaugh on Thursday. Know the last name of a Beavers student assistant? Harbaugh. Paul Buker, wedging tongue into cheek, spies on the potential spy. The Beavers aren't exactly sure what they will get out of Stanford. A big concern is new Cardinal defensive coordinator Ron Lynn. An NFL veteran, he may have been scheming up surprises during four years away from the field. A scouting report.
- Low expectations won't keep UCLA's Rick Neuheisel from being optimistic. UCLA's got "The Boz" at DE, but Korey Bosworth is a quiet guy. The future QB at UCLA, Richard Brehaut, has Bruins fans saying Matt Barkley who?
- No. 1 overall? Is USC DT Fili Moala really that good? We shall see. USC's depth chart -- still a lot of "ORs" on it. A first look at Virginia. A Scott Wolf note on RB Joe McKnight's "special status."
- Washington's defense is a huge question mark, but DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is not one of them. Good stuff on his background and upbringing.
- A report from banged-up Washington State... Coug fans might be a little worried about the OL injuries. Stadium renovations mean new stuff on Washington State football Saturdays.