Pac-12: Steven Threet

It's time for ASU to make a statement

September, 9, 2011
Last spring, Arizona State began a marketing campaign that hinted at mysterious change, "It's time," we were told. And again.

Then, in April, the school introduced new uniforms and a new pitchfork logo. Reviews were mostly positive, other than those coming from Arizona fans and some grumps out there who don't like change.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire"As I've said many times, it's not the (uniforms), it's who's in the (uniforms)," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.
But the campaign wasn't over. We were still told, "It's time."

True. The football program has made a cosmetic change. Fine. Now what about making a change from being poor-to-middling and actually winning a conference title?

Enter No. 21 Missouri. Opportunity is knocking. It's time to answer. But will the Sun Devils be up to high expectations?

"This is a game that has been circled on our schedule for a long time," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "Just like our school slogan says, 'It's time.' It's time for us to win a big game at home."

Arizona State hasn't posted a winning season since 2007, when it went 10-3 in coach Dennis Erickson's debut. They've lost their past 10 games against top-25 teams. Over the past two years, the Sun Devils have displayed an uncanny knack for finding ways to lose, inspiring lots of, "What might have been?"

In 2009, they lost four games by five or fewer points. In 2010, they lost four games by four or fewer points, including squandered opportunities versus Wisconsin, Stanford and USC. They somehow managed to stay within 11 points of Oregon -- one of three teams to do so -- despite seven turnovers.

It's time for the costly sloppiness to end and winning to begin.

Of course, one game doesn't make a season. But one game can indicate where a season is going. Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin pointed out an interesting factoid this week: Four times since 1980, the Sun Devils posted victories over ranked nonconference foes. Wrote
In those seasons, ASU finished with a combined record of 37-9-1 and went to three bowl games, including two Rose Bowls. In the six seasons with losses against non-conference ranked teams in September, the combined record was an incredibly mediocre 34-33-2.

So, yeah, it's time, and one game just might make a season.

"We think we have a chance to be pretty good, but we’ll know more about us after that football game," Erickson said.

Further, Missouri has suffered through injury woes that match -- even exceed -- the Sun Devils, which is a good reason the ranked team is more than a touchdown underdog. The Tigers won't have seven projected starters available. The Sun Devils count on that is six, if you include QB Steven Threet but not running back Deantre Lewis.

Arizona State is trying to make this a big evening in Tempe. It will don all-back uniforms for the first time, and fans are being encouraged to wear all-back in order to create a "black out" in the stands.

Yes, there are a lot of cosmetic things going on with the Sun Devils. But the bottom line of "It's time," isn't about a new logo or fancypants uniforms.

Said Erickson, "As I’ve said many times, it’s not the (uniforms), it’s who’s in the (uniforms)."

And it's time for those guys to make a statement.

Injuries epidemic for ASU

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now Magee.

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

Pac-12 'tease' team: Arizona State

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

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

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


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

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

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

Well, lots of reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

And so we have 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Devils, why can't we quit you?

UCLA is only Pac-12 QB battle

August, 9, 2011
Typically, every preseason features a handful of quarterback competitions, even if we sort of feel like we know who will ultimately emerge.

Last fall, there was uncertainty at Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon.

At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like there would be plenty of ongoing quarterback intrigue. Arizona State was expected to feature another showdown with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. California was completely wide open with the departure of Kevin Riley. There was a new coach at Colorado, Jon Embree, who said every job was open. UCLA clearly had no clear No. 1. Washington had to replace Jake Locker.

But most of the mysteries were solved by the end of spring practices.

Threet was forced to retire because of multiple concussions, thereby handing the job to Osweiler. Cal coach Jeff Tedford surprised a few folks when he announced Zach Maynard had eclipsed Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion. It was clear throughout spring drills that Tyler Hansen was the Buffaloes' best option. And Steve Sarkisian tapped Keith Price over Nick Montana before the spring game.

If you're looking for a potential source for making quarterback decisions before preseason camp, consider former USC coach Pete Carroll. He believed in "anointing" a starter after spring practices because he believed it helped them become leaders over the summer -- see Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez. Notably, Sarkisian chatted with Carroll before tapping Price.

While coaches will still talk about competition, and it wouldn't be wise for any of these guys to take their job for granted, the only team with remaining uncertainty behind center is UCLA, and even then most would project a healthy Kevin Prince -- the incumbent starter who suffered a season-ending knee injury that also knocked him out of spring practice -- is the likely choice.

Still, let's look at where the Bruins' competition stands.

The candidates:

[+] EnlargeKevin Prince
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Prince seems the likely choice to enter the season as UCLA's starting quarterback.
Kevin Prince: While Prince's passing numbers were horrid in his five 2010 games before getting hurt, he showed in 2009 that he can be a capable passer. And last fall, he showed he could do a pretty good job running a pistol offense. But Prince had suffered myriad injuries even before he hurt his knee last fall, and while he enters the preseason reportedly at 100 percent, keeping him healthy is the critical element for him to become a reliable starter. Recall that the Bruins' ragged start on offense in 2010 could be attributed to Prince not practicing until the week before the season opener -- an embarrassing loss to a Kansas State team the Bruins pushed around the previous season. So it's fair to expect less running -- or at least more running out of bounds -- for Prince. He will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Richard Brehaut: There's no other way to say it: While Brehaut didn't play terribly well after replacing Prince, his passing numbers were better than what Prince did in 2010. That fact has engendered some not unreasonable sentiments that coach Rick Neuheisel has some sort of issue with Brehaut, a summary of which is provided here by Adam Maya (by the way, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow doggedly believed Prince was a better option than Brehaut). While Neuheisel said it was "nothing personal," it is fairly clear that Neuheisel questions Brehaut's complete commitment, which is reflected in Brehaut's apparently incomplete absorption of the offense. Further, knowing Neuheisel and how he works with quarterbacks, I can tell you that those little tirades he seems to have with his quarterbacks after a bad play mostly amounts to Neuheisel asking the quarterback to explain what he was thinking. And if the player doesn't have an answer, it drives Neuheisel crazy. A bad explanation -- "I didn't see the safety cheating over" -- is way, way better than "I don't know."

Brett Hundley: Hundley is the hotshot incoming freshman -- one of the nation's top dual-threat prep quarterbacks during the 2010-11 recruiting season -- whom many fans have been making googly-eyes at. But it ain't easy going from high school quarterback to college quarterback, and it was clear during spring practices that Hundley had a ways to go (though he also had some "wow" moments, too). Hundley was a bit of a long shot in any event, but after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out most of camp, his chances of redshirting are now higher than of him winning the starting job. Still, if he comes back strong, he could earn playing time. And if the situation gets desperate, Neuheisel, under pressure to win now, might roll the dice with a true freshman.

Nick Crissman and Darius Bell: These are the two long shots. Crissman's career has been riddled by shoulder injuries, but he had a fairly good spring and he's got some skills. Bell, a JC transfer, is a far better runner than passer. Many Bruins fans probably recall his regrettable debut in relief of Brehaut during a loss at Washington: 0-for-3 with an interception and a tongue-lashing from Neuheisel.

Preseason position reviews: Quarterback

June, 21, 2011
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. And quarterback seems like a good place to start. For most Pac-12 teams, at least.

For our new friends in Salt Lake City and Boulder, here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

And I like the vagueness of "We'll see." Because that's exactly what we'll do. Plenty of promising players tank. And previously lousy ones blossom.

For one, we had no idea what to expect from Oregon at the position last year. Who knew that Darron Thomas would lead his team to the national title game and earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors ahead of -- cough-cough -- NFL first-round pick Jake Locker?

And away we go.

Great shape
  • Stanford: Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the nation. One caveat: Luck's backups, Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo are sophomores with no experience.
  • Oregon: As a sophomore, Darron Thomas was good enough to earn second-team All-Pac-10 honors and throw for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the national title game. What will he do as a junior? Bryan Bennett didn't have a great spring, but the redshirt freshman has a lot of skills.
  • USC: Junior Matt Barkley, an elite passing talent, will be a third-year starter for the Trojans. He improved significantly from his freshman year to his sophomore year, throwing for 26 touchdowns. Most think this will be his final year before he enters the NFL draft. What will he do to impress NFL GMs? Redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins is the backup.
  • Arizona: Senior Nick Foles has the best receivers of all these guys, so he might end up with the best passing numbers. And he's also playing for his NFL draft position. Further, with Matt Scott, who has starting experience, as his backup and senior Bryson Beirne as a solid No. 3, the Wildcats are deeper at the position than any other conference team.
  • Washington State: Jeff Tuel may be ready for his close-up. He put up good numbers a year ago -- 18 touchdown passes -- and he's got a strong group of receivers, led by Marquess Wilson. Senior Marshall Lobbestael gives the Cougars a backup with significant experience.
Good shape
  • Oregon State: Big-armed junior Ryan Katz will be in his second year as a starter. He was solid in 2010, but is fully capable of significant improvement, particularly if his top receivers -- James Rodgers, Jordan Bishop and tight end Joe Halahuni -- are healthy. Sophomore Cody Vaz had an outstanding spring to take hold of the backup job.
  • Utah: Jordan Wynn, now a junior, started as a true freshman, is 11-4 as a starter and four times has passed for over 300 yards. Two issues hold Wynn and Utah back here: 1. Wynn is coming back from shoulder surgery, which is always worrisome for quarterbacks; 2. Neither of Wynn's backups, Tyler Shreve and Griff Robles, looked good this spring with Wynn on the sidelines.
  • Arizona State: Brock Osweiler did enough in the Sun Devils final two games to convince many folks that he was going to beat out starter Steven Threet this spring. When Threet was forced to retire due to recurrent concussions, the job became Osweiler's by default. Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and true freshman Mike Bercovici are promising but have no experience.
  • Colorado: Tyler Hansen has 15 career starts. He has looked good at times -- he was completing 68 percent of his passes before he got hurt last year after seven games -- and he turned in a good spring. Backups Nick Hirschman and Brent Burnette have no experience.
We'll see
  • UCLA: Bruins have two quarterbacks with considerable starting experience in Kevin Prince, who sat out spring but was No. 1 on the depth chart released in May, and Richard Brehaut. In fact, if you could guarantee Prince's health -- a huge "if" -- the Bruins would be in good shape. But you can't. Moreover, neither Prince nor Brehaut have played well consistently, which is why so many UCLA fans were eager to see touted true freshman Brett Hundley this spring.
  • California: Zach Maynard, a starter at Buffalo before transferring to Cal, won the Bears job this spring over Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford. He put up decent numbers at Buffalo in 2009 and he's a pass-run threat. But he hasn't played against Pac-12 competition and he sat out last season. Ergo, the category.
  • Washington: Keith Price turned in a solid performance in his lone start for an injured Jake Locker at Oregon last fall. And he was consistently impressive this spring, so much so he was announced as the starter over Nick Montana after a strong spring game. Still, it's impossible to know how he will react when Steve Sarkisian hands him the keys to the offense.

Head and heart: ASU's comings and goings

May, 31, 2011
Two interesting stories here, particularly for Arizona State fans.

First, former Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet was featured on CBS's "Early Show." The subject? Concussions. Threet's an expert because multiple concussions forced him to retire this offseason. He is serving as a student coach now, but his still suffers symptoms.

I won't whine as much next time I get a headache. Threet's has had one every day since he was knocked out versus UCLA on Nov. 26.

Second, the Sun Devils may be adding a talented defensive lineman with a name that is familiar to all Pac-12 fans -- particularly ASU's arch-rival, Arizona.

That would be Cory Elmore, twin brother to former Wildcats standout -- and Green Bay Packers' draft pick -- Ricky Elmore. And not exactly a twin. Cory Elmore is bigger -- 6-foot-5, 280 pounds -- and perhaps even more athletic than his brother, who piled up 21.5 sacks over the previous two seasons.

Elmore was "forced to quit football after his redshirt freshman season, when doctors found a defect in his heart that required surgery," according to the article. Now he's hoping for a second chance in Tempe instead of Tucson and is petitioning the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility.

The gist of how he ended up at Arizona State:
In April, Cory found out that NCAA rules allow an athlete who has missed at least two seasons because of an “incapacitating” injury to regain eligibility beyond the usual five-year window that starts once he enrolls in school. So rather than play at a junior college or arena football, he wants to play Division I.

He was hoping Arizona would give him another shot, but after coach Mike Stoops showed no interest Cory approached a coach he knew at Arizona State. After his visit there the coaching staff has been enthusiastic about working on his NCAA appeal and told him if he’s reinstated he can earn a scholarship next spring if he plays well this fall.

It will be interesting to see if Elmore can earn playing time and perhaps end up chasing Wildcats QB Nick Foles around.

Hope & concern: Arizona State

May, 16, 2011
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up:

Arizona State

Biggest reason for hope: Lots of folks back from a team that went toe-to-toe with three top-10 teams.

Even after losing two starters to knee injuries during spring practices -- cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson -- the Sun Devils still welcome back 17 position-player starters. "So what," some of you Sun Devils skeptics have said. "ASU went just 6-6 last year and two wins came over FCS teams." True. But three losses came in highly competitive games to top-10 teams. The Sun Devils went down 20-19 at Wisconsin, the Big Ten champions, in a game when just about everything went against them, from a missed extra point, to a near-miss special teams TD to a couple of terrible calls. They lost by 11 points to Oregon, which played for the national title, despite seven turnovers. They lost 17-13 to Stanford, and that included a fumble on the Cardinal goal line. Further, that game was on Nov. 13. The five games surrounding it, Stanford won by an average of 33 points. As Chip Kelly told me, Arizona State was a "really good team" in 2010. It should be better in 2011, and that "better" might be good enough to win the South Division.

Biggest reason for concern: Is quarterback Brock Osweiler good enough to win the South Division?

Ah, but the QB -- Osweiler -- isn't one of those 17 returning starters, and all we know about him was two solid showings when he was forced to replace Steven Threet (we're not counting the poor performance in 2009 at Oregon). He was brilliant off the bench in a 55-34 win over UCLA -- 380 yards passing, five TDs (one rushing) -- and was good enough to beat rival Arizona. But Arizona fans -- and coaches and players -- are quick to note that the Wildcats dropped a handful of easy interceptions in that game, and you won't get much argument out of the Sun Devils camp. Osweiler came on strong as spring practices progressed and had an impressive spring game, but we really don't know if he's going to be an average-to-above average QB or if he will struggle as a first-year starter. It would be reasonable to project that if he rates in the top half of the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, the Sun Devils will have a special season.

ASU will rely on college graduates

May, 10, 2011
Arizona State will feature 10 players next fall who will have already graduated, the school announced Monday.

It would have 11, but quarterback Steven Threet was forced to retire because of concussions. Most of the 10 are either starters or significant contributors, including three starters on the offensive line.

The players are:

Derrall Anderson
Omar Bolden
Jonathan Clark
Garth Gerhart
Dan Knapp
Mike Marcisz
Trent Marsh
Colin Parker
Aaron Pflugrad
Adam Tello

Spring wrap: Arizona State

May, 9, 2011

2010 overall record: 6-6

2010 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 9, Defense: 8, punter/kicker 0

Top returners

WR Gerell Robinson, RB Cameron Marshall, C Garth Gerhart, LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali, LB Brandon McGee

Key losses

WR Kerry Taylor, DT Lawrence Guy, QB Steven Threet

2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Cameron Marshall* (787)

Passing: Steven Threet (2,534)

Receiving: Kerry Taylor (699)

Tackles: Vontaze Burfict* (90)

Sacks: Junior Onyeali* (6.5)

Interceptions: Omar Bolden* (3)

Spring answers

1. Experience on offensive line: The Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 team that welcomes back its entire starting offensive line from 2010. In fact, the only person from last year's depth chart not back is guard Jon Hargis. Garth Gerhart, a 22-game starter, is the anchor at center, and with Evan Finkenberg, Dan Knapp and Aderious Simmons, there are three tackles with starting experience.

2. A couple of Guys at defensive tackle: The Sun Devils lost both starting defensive tackles -- Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola -- but Will Sutton and Corey Adams stepped up this spring and showed they can be more than adequate replacements. Sutton, in particular, was unblockable at times. The key for Adams is staying healthy.

3. Hello Mr. Robinson: With receiver Mike Willie out while recovering from offseason surgery and receiver T.J. Simpson suffering a knee injury this spring, the Sun Devils needed someone to step up as a go-to receiver. That would be Gerell Robinson, who might have had as good a spring as anyone on the team.

Fall questions

1. Is Osweiler ready for prime time: When quarterback Steven Threet, the Sun Devils' 2010 starter, was forced to retire because of recurrent concussions, the offense was handed over to Brock Osweiler. His strong finish coming off the bench for Threet had most believing the transition would be smooth (and that Osweiler might have beaten out Threet in any event). Osweiler seemed to get better as spring went on and was very good in the spring game. Still, how well will he lead a top-25 team with visions of a Pac-12 South championship?

2. Secondary issues: Losing first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden to a knee injury was huge. You can't easily replace a very good player and leader. Further, safety might be the most questionable position on a good defense. There's a feeling sophomore Alden Darby is going to step up somewhere. Devan Spann, Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr are going to need to do the same at cornerback.

3. Special questions: The Sun Devils need to replace punter Trevor Hankins and kicker Thomas Weber. Touted junior college punter Josh Hubner had a solid spring, but it remains to be seem if he can be consistent on Saturdays. At kicker, Alex Garoutte struggled with inconsistency. Is he going to find his rhythm? And, if not, are there other options?

Pac-12 lunch links: Coach Luck?

May, 6, 2011
Happy Friday.

Practice makes Osweiler

April, 26, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler views himself as a "gamer," a guy who flips a switch on game day but may not always be at his best in practice. Sun Devils offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone views himself as a guy who thinks that's a load of, er, crud.

Mazzone wants to talk about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game but practice.

"I said, 'Brock, I'm going to be honest with you. Don't give me this [crud] that you're a game player. That don't fly with me,'" Mazzone said. "To me, a guy who's not a great practice guy is a guy who can't focus."

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrock Osweiler threw five touchdown passes in the spring game.
Osweiler didn't get off to a great start this spring, but he and the offense played better as the practices rolled on. And, of course, Osweiler peaked in the spring game, throwing five touchdown passes, which inspired confidence that he can lead Arizona State to the top of the Pac-12 South Division next fall.

That's critical because Osweiler became the starter by default this offseason. After a tight battle last spring and preseason, Osweiler lost out to Michigan transfer Steven Threet. While Threet threw too many interceptions, he also led the second-best passing offense in the conference. He went down against UCLA in game 11 with his third concussion, and Osweiler was brilliant in relief and then beat arch-rival Arizona.

While many figured Osweiler would beat out Threet in the spring, Mazzone said that was far from certain. What is certain is Threet is standing on the Sun Devils' sidelines now, helping coach instead of competing for the starting job because of recurrent concussions.

That means Osweiler is the man, for better or worse. If he isn't up to the job the alternatives are two players with no experience: redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and true freshman Mike Bercovici. For his part, Osweiler thinks he's a better quarterback today because of the disappointment of last year.

"Not winning the quarterback competition, it bettered me as a person and as a football player," he said. "It's easy to be the guy who goes in from day one and plays and gets what he wants. I think I grew as an athlete to be put in that competition situation and lose it because I learned so much from it."

Part of that was learning to practice well consistently.

"That's what [coach Dennis Erickson] and Coach Mazzone told me after last year: I need to show it in practice more: 'If you want to be the guy, you've got to be the guy in practice too,'" Osweiler said.

Part of this is symbolic: The quarterback needs to set an example for the team in practice. But Osweiler's lack of distinction in practice had another side-effect: His teammates didn't know what to make of him. More than a few thought the offense might be in trouble when Threet went down.

"It amazed me last year when they put him in," cornerback Deveron Carr said. "He was scrambling, throwing. I was amazed. I didn't know that Brock. I hadn't played against that Brock. I didn't remember that Brock coming to Arizona State. Something clicked in his heart or his mind that he could be great."

And now? Said Carr, "He's matured a lot. He makes better decisions. He looks stronger. He's just an all-around better quarterback."

Osweiler was mostly forgotten before he came on in relief for Threet against UCLA and led the Sun Devils back from a 17-0 deficit with a tour de force performance. He passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score as the Sun Devils rolled 55-17. The win over Arizona, however, was a bit deceiving. Osweiler was terrible in the first half and was fortunate to have a number of easy interceptions dropped. Further, if the Wildcats had not flubbed a pair of extra points the Sun Devils' smiles likely wouldn't have been so wide heading into the offseason.

Osweiler believes he's significantly better today than when he came off the bench last November.

"My skill set is almost night and day if you want to compare it to the Arizona game last year to right now," he said. "I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason to better than skill set."

Erickson and Mazzone said that Osweiler understands the offense better and has improved his mechanics, changing his throwing motion to speed up his release. While the 6-foot-8 Osweiler looks like a prototypical pocket passer, he runs a 4.7 40-yard dash. His 56 yards rushing in the win over Arizona were critical.

By the end of spring practices -- practices, not a game -- Erickson saw Osweiler putting it all together. "He just flowed better," Erickson said.

Of course, this fall, our measure of Osweiler and the Sun Devils will be what they do in the games, not practice.

Arizona State: 'It's our time now'

April, 26, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- One hundred and twenty FBS football teams will head into the summer claiming they're going to be good next year. Most will be wrong, despite their insistence on unparalleled locker room chemistry.

Arizona State is no exception to the universal spring optimism, but there's some momentum behind the good feeling after a strong finish in 2010. Expectations are high in Tempe. How high? Buckle up.

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireArizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler has his sights set on the BCS title game.
"A lot of people are talking about the Rose Bowl," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "But we're talking about the Sugar Bowl. That's how much confidence we have as a team."

Osweiler isn't talking about the Allstate Sugar Bowl, though. He's talking about the BCS title game. Really.

Arizona State hasn't posted a winning season since 2007, when it went 10-3 in Dennis Erickson's debut and inspired false hope that things would be easy under a pedigreed coach. Not so. Over the past few seasons, the Sun Devils have found ways to lose, and they were typically creative in doing so. Missed field goals and extra points, turnovers on the goal line, turnovers in extraordinary bunches, missed tackles, missed throws, missed opportunities. It was sometimes great theater, though redundant tragedy from the Sun Devils' perspective.

In 2009, they lost four games by five or fewer points. In 2010, they lost four games by four or fewer points, including squandered opportunities versus Wisconsin and Stanford. They somehow managed to stay within 11 points of Oregon -- one of three teams to do so -- despite seven (seven!) turnovers.

But from that manure pile sprouts the flower of hope. The Sun Devils welcome back 17 starters that includes depth on the offensive line and loads of speed and skill on both sides of the ball. They look like a slight favorite in the first year of the Pac-12 South Division, even though two returning starters, cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson, went down with knee injuries this spring.

"Everybody has to be optimistic before the season starts, but this year it's like everybody just knows," receiver Gerell Robinson said. "It's not like a hope or a feeling. Everybody just knows that if we do what we're supposed to do, we'll get to where we want to be."

That high expectations are the top story is good news for Erickson, who would be the subject of hot seat talk otherwise. His fast start hid some roster shortcomings -- most notably a dearth of offensive linemen -- and fans had started to turn away as the mediocrity piled up. In 2007, the average attendance in Sun Devil Stadium was 62,875. Last fall, it was 47,943.

The players are aware there's pressure to win in 2011.

"It's like some negative energy that we're turning into a positive on the field because nobody wants to see a coaching staff change," cornerback Deveron Carr said.

Beyond returning a majority of starters from 2010, the Sun Devils are a veteran team: They will feature a 30-man "senior" class (players in their final year of eligibility). The offensive line welcomes back all five starters and many of the backups even have starting experience. The top-six rushers from last fall are back, as are four of the top-six receivers. On defense, the top-three tacklers are back as are the three leaders in sacks and tackles for a loss.

And these aren't just hacks. The Sun Devils averaged 32.2 points per game in 2010, which ranked third in the Pac-10, and ranked fifth in total and scoring defense.

"We have some experience coming back and we have a lot of confidence in what we are doing," Erickson said. "Our players have been through a lot the last three years, lost some close games. Now it's their chance to step up and make some plays."

The biggest question: Is Osweiler up to the job? After starter Steven Threet went down with his third concussion against UCLA, Osweiler was brilliant coming off the bench and then overcame a bad first half to beat archrival Arizona. It was expected to be a tight quarterback competition this spring, but Osweiler won the job by default when the recurrent concussions forced Threet to retire.

The offense struggled early in spring practices, but Osweiler inspired confidence with five touchdown passes in the spring game as the offense dominated.

"He made some great throws that make you go, 'Wow, that was amazing,'" left tackle Evan Finkenberg said.

While losing Bolden and Simpson was a big blow -- both could return by midseason -- the pieces still appear to be in place for a run at the first Pac-12 title game. And one of those pieces is confidence.

"I think this team knows it's our time now," Finkenberg said. "We have the pieces in place to have a big season and do the things we want to do."
The first thing you look at when evaluating a college football team is experience at quarterback. Here's an interesting factoid about the Pac-12: All 12 teams welcome back at least one quarterback with starting experience.

Of course, not all starting experience is equal. Washington's Keith Price has one start on the road at Oregon, which doesn't match the 20-plus starts of passers such as Arizona's Nick Foles, Stanford's Andrew Luck or USC's Matt Barkley. Nor do Cal and UCLA fans likely take much comfort from the starting experience of their returning quarterbacks.

So who welcomes back a "quality" starter? Well, we were going to rate that at passing for 2,500 yards* in 2010, but then saw Oregon State's Ryan Katz threw for 2,401 in 12 games. Had the Beavers earned a bowl berth instead of finishing 5-7, Katz would have hit the benchmark. And then we noticed that Utah's Jordan Wynn passed for 2,334 yards in just 10 starts.

The Pac-12 blog, perhaps even more than the Pac-10 blog, values flexibility.

The general gist to be taken from this list is this: In 2002, six Pac-10 quarterbacks eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark. Don't be shocked if that many do it again in 2011.

Here's the list. And then we look at a few expected starters who almost certainly will reach the 2,500, er, 2,300 mark in 2011.

[+] EnlargeLuck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStanford's Andrew Luck is the leading returning passer in the Pac-12.
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford (3,338 yards): Luck likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, so the Heisman Trophy runner-up is pretty darn good. Does he throw for more yards in 2011? Maybe. His receiving corps took a hit, as did his O-line. Still, the over-under for Luck has to be around 3,500 yards.

2. Nick Foles, Arizona (3,191): Foles is the Pac-12 quarterback most likely to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for three reasons: 1. He's good; 2. His receivers are good; 3. There's little indication with five new starting O-linemen the Wildcats will be consistent in the running game.

3. Darron Thomas, Oregon (2,881): Would you bet against Thomas putting up better numbers in his second year as the starter under coach Chip Kelly? Neither would I, even though the Ducks' offensive line has been shaky enough this spring to raise some eyebrows. Thomas is going to need, however, some young receivers to step up.

4. Matt Barkley, USC (2,791): The guess here is Barkley dusts the 3,000-yard mark this fall. His offensive line struggled this spring, but the young receivers are talented and Barkley seems due for a breakthrough.

5. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (2,780): Tuel also seems like a sure-thing to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark. He's a third-year starter with a strong crew of receivers. If his protection is just a little better this fall than last -- and it should be -- he and the Cougs will scare folks with their passing attack.

6. Ryan Katz, Oregon State (2,401): Katz might have the strongest arm in the conference, and with a year of experience under his belt he figures to take a step forward in 2011. But his corps of receivers has health issues, starting with James Rodgers' knee injury. But if Rodgers, Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop are 100 percent, Katz should thrive.

7. Jordan Wynn, Utah (2,334): Considering Wynn averaged 230 yards passing per game in his 10 games, he was on his way to 3,000 yards passing. Further, if you recall his MVP effort in the Poinsettia Bowl versus California in 2009 -- 26 of 36 for 338 yards and three TDs -- you know he can toss the rock around. But he sat out spring practices due to a shoulder injury and we don't yet know how he will adjust to Norm Chow's pro-style offense.

As for the other five teams, three have not yet decided on a starter: California, UCLA and Washington, though the (slight) favorites at this point this spring are Zach Maynard for Cal, Kevin Prince for UCLA and Keith Price for Washington.

1. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: Osweiler had 797 of the 3,437 yards the Sun Devils passed for in 2010. He looked good in relief of Steven Threet over the last two games of the season. Considering the strong, experienced supporting cast working in year two of Noel Mazzone's spread offense, you'd expect Osweiler to reach the 3,000-yard mark.

2. Tyler Hansen, Colorado: Hansen, a senior, has played in a lot of games but he's yet to put a full season together for whatever reason. The expectation shouldn't be for huge numbers in Eric Bieniemy's offense -- you'd expect the Buffaloes to be run-first with running back Rodney Stewart. Still, if Hansen plays 13 games, the guess here is he'll throw for at least 2,500 yards.
A year ago, Arizona State headed into spring practices with lots of questions, and most projected the Sun Devils were bound for the bottom third of the Pac-10. This week, the Sun Devils begin spring practices with few questions and expectations that they should win the first Pac-12 South title.

Expectations do not win football games, but 18 returning starters from a team that went 6-6 and pushed three top-10 teams to the brink -- Wisconsin, Oregon and Stanford -- is a reasonable foundation for optimism.

Of course, there are still issues, starting with quarterback Brock Osweiler asserting himself as the leader of the offense after Steven Threet was forced to retire due to recurrent concussions. Threet is serving as a student assistant this spring.

"I'd love to have Steven, but without having him, I think it kind of identified who our leader is," coach Dennis Erickson said.

Some notes:

Who's out: Arizona Republic writer Doug Haller was at the first practice Tuesday and provided this list of players who were out or limited: "... defensive end Junior Onyeali, receiver Mike Willie, safety Keelan Johnson, safety Eddie Elder, cornerback Deveron Carr, receiver Aaron Pflugrad and running back Deantre Lewis. Linebacker Brandon Magee was with the baseball team and didn't practice."

Haller also provided a depth chart from the first day.

Osweiler then who? With Threet, Osweiler and Samson Szakacsy, the Sun Devils had three quarterbacks with starting experience. Without Threet and Szakacsy, who left the team to pursue other interests, the Sun Devils have a first-team quarterback with two career starts and no experience behind him. Redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and big-armed true freshman Mike Bercovici are competing for the backup role, which is often a key spot seeing how often starters get hurt and miss action.

O-line competition: If you're looking for a major reason the Sun Devils have high hopes, look no further than the line, which welcomes back, well, just about everybody from the two-deep. This will be a veteran unit led by senior center Garth Gerhart, younger brother of Toby. More than five guys have starting experience, so there may be some mixing and matching and shuffling as players fight for first-unit spots.

DT is the question: Both starting defensive tackles, Lawrence Guy and Saia Falahola, are gone. The ideal rotation would be Corey Adams and Will Sutton starting, with Bo Moos and Toa Tuitea providing depth. But can Adams stay healthy? Sutton was academically ineligible last year, so he's high on talent and low on experience. Developing depth this spring will be critical. And might the Sun Devils use more three-man fronts? Said Erickson, "We're a 4-3 team," while still leaving the option open.

Can Burfict be perfect? Of course, no one can be perfect, but Burfict, a junior linebacker likely spending his final season in Tempe, will play himself into becoming a first-round NFL draft pick in 2012 if he saves all his nutty behavior for between the whistles, not after. He needs to lead in word and deed, which means growing up and acting and playing like a man. The way-early returns this offseason are positive. "I'm trying to get us to a national championship," Burfict told the Republic, "and to do that, I feel like I need to become more of a leader."

Just for kicks? The Sun Devils must replace kicker Thomas Weber and punter Trevor Hankins. Alex Garoutte and Parker Flynn are competing at kicker, with Garoutte the front-runner. JC transfer Josh Hubner is expected to win the punting job. Will the Sun Devils get quality or merely warm bodies here?

What's your quarterback's 'score'?

February, 25, 2011
An interesting post here from the California Golden Blogs on a different way to calculate quarterback efficiency.

It's worth it to read the whole story because it breaks down every FBS conference and has a bunch of cool graphics, but I'm just going to steal borrow the part that focuses on the Pac-12.

The writer, Berkelium97 (is he a Klingon?), feeds numbers into Utah State sports economist David Berri's "more intuitive formula that addresses some of the common criticisms lobbed at the passer efficiency rating." Berri calls his formula the "QB Score" and it looks like this: QB Score = Total Yards - (3 x Plays) - (50 x Turnovers).

The difference in QB Score and college efficiency rating is this:
The traditional passer efficiency rating tends to take on a "more is better" approach: if players throw a bunch of TDs and hundreds of yards, they can get away with a fairly high turnover rate. Berri's measure has a different philosophy: if you generate yards and avoid turnovers, you will be rewarded.

So here's the list of Pac-12 quarterbacks, ranked by their "QB score," which you can compare to their efficiency rating.

You can see one reason folks at Arizona State believed that Osweiler would have beaten Threet out this spring, even before Threet opted to retire due to recurrent concussions.

No surprises with Mansion and Prince ranking toward the bottom -- they also did for efficiency rating. No surprise at the very top either, with Luck and Thomas. And the Locker critics probably will enjoy his mediocre tally.

It's surprising that Scott is ahead of Foles and that Cain is ahead of Wynn, though both the Arizona and Utah backups put their numbers up with a far smaller sample size. Further, guess here is that Colorado fans probably didn't expect Hawkins to rate so highly -- ahead of Locker and Barkley!

Barkley's number is surprising, particularly considering he ranked third in the conference in passing efficiency and threw 26 TD passes, but the Golden Blogs' analysis says this: "he finished in the bottom half because he does not generate that much yardage and he throws a fair number of interceptions. He's much improved over last year, but he still has work to do."