Pac-12: Storm Woods

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

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

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

We continue the series with running backs.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The combination of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should be as dangerous as ever. De'Anthony Thomas never really grew into the role as an every-down back, but Marshall carried 168 times for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tyner slowly picked up more carries and finished with 115 for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Folks are also excited to see what incoming freshman Royce Freeman brings to the table. This is a scary corps, even before you realize that Marcus Mariota also carried 96 times for 715 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

USC: The emergence of Buck Allen was a pleasant surprise after he spent much time in Lane Kiffin purgatory. He boasted 5.8 yards per carry to go with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll be pushed by Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan, who is back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury. This is a group that could do damage in Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo offense. Think about what Bishop Sankey did last year.

Arizona State: Marion Grice was a touchdown machine. But D.J. Foster is no slouch after rushing for 501 yards and catching 63 passes for 653 yards in a dual-threat role. The local product is explosive and has big-play speed. Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks, back from injury, provide depth since Mike Norvell won't want to pass up the opportunity to use Foster in the slot at times. The depth has ASU teetering on the Great Shape/Good Shape fence, but Foster's experience and explosiveness give ASU a perfect replacement for Grice. So we're confident saying ASU is in great shape with him at the helm.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: No, we're not going to list Myles Jack as a running back. Get over it. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told the Pac-12 blog he's been looking for Jordon James to make strides as a "one-cut" runner. He believes he has. And Paul Perkins and Steven Manfro will press for carries with the intriguing Craig Lee waiting in the wings. Keep in mind it was quarterback Brett Hundley who led the Bruins in carries (160), yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Maybe ... just maybe ... we'll see Jack also pick up a few carries. The Bruins are dedicated to the run (only Oregon has more carries over the last three seasons) and they have the depth to deliver.

Stanford: No Tyler Gaffney. Four of five starters on the line are gone. Surely this is the year Stanford's running game takes a step backward, right? Probably not. The line will feature five members of the heralded 2012 recruiting class and a committee approach with Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young seems likely. Only Oregon and UCLA have attempted more rushes over the last three seasons, so the Cardinal are going to continue to be dedicated to the ground game. There is a lot of untapped potential with this group and they have a coach who loves to run the football. There are a lot of unknowns, but Stanford's recent history of success running the football warrants the benefit of the doubt to put them in the "Good Shape" column.

Utah: For now, it looks like Bubba Poole will be the primary back. But Kyle Whittingham and Co. are excited about the emergence of JC transfer Davontae Booker and the complementary role Troy McCormick might play. They aren't married to the idea of a single back. In fact, Whittingham told the Pac-12 blog he'd like to have situational flexibility. This trio provides that at Utah for the first time in a while. Spreading things out is a priority for new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. But don't be surprised to see a balanced attack if these three see success.

Colorado: The Buffs are surprisingly deep in the running backs department, with seasoned players like Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II, Tony Jones and Donta Abron returning. Powell (562 yards, three touchdowns) provided the power while Adkins emerged as a fine complement with 5.2 yards per carry (103 carries, 535 yards and six touchdowns). Look for the coaching staff to keep using those two in unison as a thunder-and-lightning tandem.

Oregon State: The running game, or lack thereof, has been a sore spot for Mike Riley the last couple of seasons. However, with last year's combination of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks the personnel dictated 603 passing attempts. With Cooks gone, the staff will look to Terron Ward and Storm Woods (who combined for 240 carries, 998 yards and 11 touchdowns) to build off of last year's showing of 94.4 yards per game -- which was 11th in the conference. This tandem has the potential to be very good. It just has to go out and show it.

Washington State: That the Cougars return their top two rushers from last season, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, bodes well -- even in an offense in which the running back serves more to keep the opposition in check than to run the football. However, it might be Theron West and redshirt freshman Jamal Morrow who get the majority of the carries. The coaching staff was high on Morrow in the spring and if the Cougs can do just enough to keep the safeties guessing, it might open things up more for the Air Raid's primary objective.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats have to replace Ka'Deem Carey. No easy task. And it was made worse by the recent news that Pierre Cormier's won't be returning. That leaves carries to be divided among Nick Wilson, Zach Green and Terris Jones-Grigsby. Jonathan Haden is still waiting to get cleared and Jared Baker missed the spring with an injury from last year's ASU game. Look for special packages with DaVonte' Neal as well. The Wildcats are silly with wide receivers, which could help open things up in the running game.

California: The Bears averaged just 122.2 rushing yards per game last year -- ninth in the league. Despite the reputation for being a pass-happy team, the coaches would actually prefer more balance, so they'll need better production out of oft-injured Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad. The departed Brendan Bigelow had the most carries (105) last year, but Muhammad and Lasco combined for 141 totes for 762 yards and six touchdowns. Muhammad is the burner at 175 pounds while Lasco has the bigger frame at 200 and change. Incoming freshman Tre Watson is also an intriguing prospect.

Washington: Like Arizona, the Huskies must replace a phenomenal back in Sankey. But there are options. Dwayne Washington was the No. 2 behind Sankey last year, rushing for 332 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries. Behind him are Jesse Callier, who was the original starter in 2012 before his injury gave rise to Sankey, and Deontae Cooper. Both have a history of knee injuries. Jomon Dotson and Lavon Coleman could see time. We'll see isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means, we'll see.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback
Happy Friday.
 
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.
In typical Mike Riley fashion, when asked to name his biggest concern heading into spring ball, the dean of the conference coaches countered with a quip: “Do I have to just name one?”

[+] EnlargeStorm Woods
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsStorm Woods may be one of the keys to a more balanced attack this season.
Well, at least he doesn’t have to worry about a quarterback competition this spring. But there are several to-do’s on his checklist. Among them: Rework the offensive line, solidify the defensive line, shore up the secondary and pick a backup quarterback.

Oh, yeah: “Find a way to replace 128 catches,” he said, referring to Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks, who left school early for the NFL draft.

It’s actually the success of Cooks and quarterback Sean Mannion that led to one of Riley’s biggest pet peeves last season: the inability to successfully, consistently, run the football.

Several times last year, Riley stated that he wanted the Beavers to be more balanced. Then again, when you have a strong-armed quarterback such as Mannion and a phenomenal receiver such as Cooks, the temptation is there to air it out as much as possible.

But with Cooks gone, Riley said he’s looking to make a return to a more balanced rushing attack. In 2011, the Beavers averaged just 86 yards per game on the ground -- last in the conference. Then, in 2012, they brought that number up to a respectable 124 yards per game. But they slipped again in 2013 with just 94 yards per game on the ground.

“I think ... what caused the most problems for us in the season offensively was when we got to the real good defenses,” Riley said. “We played the top three defenses in the league three weeks in a row -- Stanford, Arizona State and USC -- and not running the ball is really a detriment to winning those games. We didn’t. We’ve got to be more balanced.”

The Beavers rushed for more than 100 yards in five of 13 games last season. In six games, they gained 74 yards or fewer, including a season-low 10 against San Diego State and 17 against Stanford. However, the final two games offered a glimpse of what Riley wants his offense to look like. The Beavers rushed for a season-high 231 yards in a Civil War loss to Oregon and 195 yards in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl victory over Boise State.

“Those were two good-looking football games offensively,” Riley said. “That is a way better picture of our ideal look. Good balance, good play-action passes. I think it really helps the offensive line. It helps the quarterback. It helps in protection if you can run the ball.”

Storm Woods and Terron Ward are already separated by an “or” on the depth chart and the status of the offensive line further complicates things. The Beavers have to replace three starters on the offensive line: left tackle Michael Philipp, left guard Josh Andrews and right guard Grant Enger. Though standout center Isaac Seumalo returns, he’ll miss spring ball with a foot injury and Josh Mitchell will miss the session with a shoulder injury. Both are expected back for fall camp. Returning tackle Sean Harlow is tentatively slated at left guard, but he’s versatile enough to move around the line and will get some snaps at center.

“You’d love to start developing the chemistry with the starting five as soon as you can,” Riley said. “Because of competition reasons and injuries, we’re not even going to be close to that in spring ball. We just have to develop players and then find out who fits into that top five.”

As for the guy who is handing the ball off, there’s no debate this spring. Mannion is back after a record-setting 2013 season. The battle to be the backup, however, is up for grabs between Brent VanderVeen and Kyle Kempt.

“It is an open competition,” Riley said. “Even though Brent is a year ahead, I think we need to let that thing evolve and let those guys compete to see who is going to be the backup.”

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Offseason spotlight: Oregon State

February, 25, 2014
2/25/14
9:00
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: WR Richard Mullaney, R-Jr. (6-3, 194)

2013 summary: Mullaney caught 52 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns.

The skinny: In 2012, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks were Oregon State's top two receivers and combined for 2,395 yards receiving. Last season, Mullaney replaced Wheaton, a 2013 third-round pick, in that equation and combined with Cooks for 2,518 yards. Yes, an overwhelming majority came from Cooks (1,730 yards), but with the Biletnikoff Award winner off to the NFL, that production needs to be replaced. No one is expecting him to be Cooks, but he should be the leading receiver on a team that likes to throw the ball. What remains to be seen is how the Beavers offense will change after Mike Riley hired John Garrett to be the team's new offensive coordinator. Presumably there won't be wholesale changes with Riley still overseeing things, but it's also doubtful returning quarterback Sean Mannion will chase the 603 passing attempts from last year either. With Mullaney taking on a bigger role, the same should be assumed for running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods as the Beavers strive for more offensive balance.

Previous spotlights
With three of the nine Pac-12 bowl games in the books, we’ve already seen some outstanding performances on both sides of the ball one-third of the way through.

And since everyone is still suffering from a post-prime rib Christmas hangover, we thought we’d burn some extra calories by requiring you to click the mouse a couple of times with a poll.

Which Pac-12 player has shined the brightest so far from the bowl games involving Washington State, USC and Oregon State? The conference is off to a 2-1 start, and all three teams have scored at least 38 points, with WSU and USC getting into the 40s.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 player has had the strongest bowl performance so far?

  •  
    18%
  •  
    40%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,233)

Here are your options:

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: In a losing effort, Halliday threw for 410 yards and six touchdowns and was named the Offensive Player of the Game in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. He has the unpleasant honor of being the first quarterback in bowl history to throw for six touchdowns and lose. But his effort shouldn’t be overlooked.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: He saved one of his strongest performances of the year for the finale, completing 22 of 30 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. All four touchdown passes came in the first half.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC: In what was likely his last game as a Trojan, Lee looked every bit like the 2012 Biletnikoff winner, hauling in seven catches for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He finished with 137 all-purpose yards.

Rashaad Reynolds, DB, Oregon State: Reynolds proved 'tis better to receive than give by collecting a pair of fumbles and returning them for touchdowns in the win over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The first was as 3-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Beavers a 17-3 lead. The second was a 70-yard return to put OSU up 24-6 in the second quarter.

Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: What’s that you say? Defense and a running back? Who are these Beavs? But Woods turned in a hard-nosed effort, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on a 6.7-yards-per-carry average.

Pac-12 lunch links: Players on mend

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic, universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall;
After all it's not easy, banging your heart against some mad buggers' wall.
Who is this year’s Johnny Manziel in the Pac-12? In other words, which player could come out of nowhere and win the Heisman from the conference? Well, if we knew, he wouldn't be coming out of nowhere in the preseason, now, would he?

Perhaps it is better that the Pac-12’s elite players are coasting below Mr. Heisman's persnickety radar. After all, front-runner status hasn't been kind to the Pac-12 the past couple of years. Two seasons ago it was Andrew Luck -- a shoo-in from the day he announced his return to take home the Heisman. Last year, it was Matt Barkley who had the unpropitious front-runner title pegged on him.

Luck carried the title much longer in his final season. Barkley, however, quickly gave way to Geno Smith, who in turn gave way to Collin Klein, who in turn fell to Johnny Football.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Marion Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season.
So how about the Pac-12?

Marcusy Football?

Marqy Football?

DATy Football?

Ka’Deemy Football?

Bretty Football?

Not exactly phonetically pleasing.

Within the Pac-12, there aren't many dark-horse candidates. There are some front-runners who immediately come to mind: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, USC’s Marqise Lee, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But none of them are considered national front-runners with Manziel (maybe?) back to defend his title, Braxton Miller coming off a perfect season, AJ McCarron and his ridiculous 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and Teddy Bridgewater soaking up his share of hype.

You can make a case for all five in the preseason. Mariota and Thomas will be playing for a top-five team, which always helps garner the necessary attention from the national media, and they should continue to put up video game numbers. Hundley is one of the most exciting players in the league, and with a year of maturity, many are anxious to see just how far he can lead the Bruins. Lee was last year’s Biletnikoff winner and is arguably the top skill player in the country. Carey was last year’s national leader in rushing. Solid credentials for all.

But this is about the sleepers. The guys who are so under the radar they're practically stealth. So who are they?

You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system. (Probably not a bad idea to keep an eye on Kelly, either).

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan could also be a sleeper. Like the Oregon duo, he’ll be on a high-profile team that is going to get plenty of national exposure with showdowns against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the 2013 docket. He’s not as flashy as the other players and his numbers might not be as lofty, but he’s asked to do a lot more behind the scenes than a lot of other quarterbacks. That was Luck’s brilliance, as well as his Heisman curse.

The appearance of Manti Te’o in New York last year proved defensive players aren't immune to getting some attention in the spread era. So UCLA’s Anthony Barr and ASU’s Will Sutton certainly deserve to be in the conversation if we’re talking defensive players. Both should be atop the national defensive rankings in sacks and tackles for a loss. But both will have to play well enough to surpass the well-deserved hype of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and overcome the public perception of the Pac-12 when it comes to defense. As I’ve written previously, the Heisman is all about subjectivity and perception. (Full disclosure, I have Clowney No. 1 on my preseason Heisman ballot).

Finally, a guy who I think is really a long shot -- but should be getting more love than he is -- is Oregon State running back Storm Woods. In the Beavers’ first six games against FBS opponents in 2013, they face only one defense that ranked in the top 20 last year in total rushing yards allowed (Utah), and only one other in the top 50 (San Diego State). The opportunity will be there early in the season for Woods to make a name for himself. He’s got four of five offensive linemen coming back (including an outstanding center), an offense that wants to be more balanced, and a quarterback-to-be-named who is a veteran and knows the offense. He’s also really, really good.

It’s probably best not to put all your hopes into one of these guys winning the Heisman. For now, it’s safer to track the conference front-runners. But don’t sleep on these guys, either.

The next Stormy Football is just waiting to breakout.

Oregon State season preview

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season, in reverse alphabetical order, with the Oregon State Beavers.

Oregon State

Coach: Mike Riley (81-67, 13th year)

2012 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: WR Markus Wheaton, CB Jordan Poyer, DT Castro Masaniai, RT Colin Kelly, TE Colby Prince, DT Andrew Seumalo.

Key returnees: WR Brandin Cooks, RB Storm Woods, DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, Michael Doctor, S Ryan Murphy, DE Dylan Wynn.

Newcomer to watch: With the departure of Poyer, the coaching staff will look to replace him with a rotation of Sean Martin -- who saw some time last season -- and newcomer Steven Nelson, rated by one service as the No. 2 junior college cornerback in the country. Nelson, once a Georgia commit, comes from the College of Sequoias and, by all accounts, has had a solid spring and fall camp thus far.

Biggest games in 2013: The Civil War at Oregon (Nov. 29) is always huge. But Stanford (Oct. 26) and Washington (Nov. 23) -- both home games -- will be big for establishing the pecking order in the Pac-12 North.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesReceiver Brandin Cooks will surely be the top target for the winner of Oregon State's QB race.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: On the surface, the outcome of the quarterback competition seems like the biggest question. And it’s an important one. Yet Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz have both shown they can win big games. Who they’ll be throwing to, however, might be the more important question. Without a doubt, Cooks is an explosive playmaker. But we’re still waiting to see who steps up opposite him. Much of Cooks’ success last season (67 catches, 1,151 yards, five touchdowns) was because of Wheaton playing on the other side. Double-teaming either one was a nightmare because the other would break out. Kevin Cummings is a solid slot receiver. But the Beavers will need someone like Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney to provide a threat that opens things up for Cooks, or vice versa.

Forecast: The Beavers are a really interesting team this season because of the way their schedule shapes up. You have to think they’ll be favorites in their first seven games (though at Utah, at San Diego State and at California probably won’t be walkovers). Just before Halloween, it starts to get nasty, with five straight against teams that will likely be in or hovering around the Top 25: Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington and Oregon.

It’s not hard to believe the Beavers could replicate last year’s 6-0 start, and possibly even press it to 7-0 before the schedule ramps up. There are a couple of ways to look at it; it’s a good thing because it will give Riley more time to settle on either Mannion or Vaz, and it allows ample time for the receiving corps to come together. There are also some plug-and-play JC defensive linemen who could also use a few warm-up games.

The flip side is that outside of San Diego State, the Beavers won’t be facing an FBS team that had a winning record last year until Stanford comes to town. How much will we really know about this team? Unlike last season -- when the Beavers scored quality wins at home against No. 13 Wisconsin and on the road at No. 19 UCLA and BYU in the first half of the season -- the Beavers will probably achieve a high ranking, though the résumé won’t be there to support it.

But as they say, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and Oregon State should come out of the gates blazing.

Aside from Cooks, the Beavers have an explosive running back, Storm Woods. The ground game took a big step forward in 2012, and Woods is on the verge of becoming a 1,000-yard rusher (940 yards last year, 13 touchdowns). The offensive line continues to improve and returns four of five starters across the front -- headlined by center Isaac Seumalo, who was phenomenal as a freshman and has emerged as one of the top anchors in the country.

The secondary should also be one of the best in the league with the Martin/Nelson duo playing alongside Ryan Murphy, Tyrequek Zimmerman and Reynolds.

No doubt excitement will bubble over if the Beavers start 7-0. But what they do after those first seven will go a long way toward determining the program’s success in 2013.

The top 25 list is coming!

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
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Today we begin the Pac-12's preseason countdown of the league's top 25 players. As always, this is a brutally difficult list to make.

The preseason list is more about what a player has already accomplished with a dusting of speculation, not a straight forward projection of who we think the top 25 players are. For example, a player like Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson will likely end up on the postseason top 25, but might not start off on the preseason list. The Pac-12 blog is confident he'll end up being one of the top 25 players in the league in 2013, but there are others with stronger credentials as of today. Same for someone like USC's Dion Bailey, who might end up being one of the best safeties in the country. But since he's spent the past couple of seasons at linebacker, we give the nod to a few of the league's more established safeties. Oregon State's Isaac Seumalo and Storm Woods also fall into this category.

It's a fairly similar approach with what we took last season. For example, we had Isi Sofele and Curtis McNeal on the list because they were coming off 1,000-yard seasons the year before. Then someone like Ka'Deem Carey comes along and blows away the country in rushing. Chase Thomas was highly rated in the preseason, but Trent Murphy got the postseason nod. And, unfortunately, someone like John Boyett (No. 16) was rated in the preseason, but injury kept him off the postseason list. Anthony Barr and Will Sutton overshadowed preseason players like T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey.

We had a feeling Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley would be special, but wanted to wait until they proved it. And they did, which is why they ended up on the postseason list.

So expect the list in January of 2014 to look a lot different.

As a reminder, there 12 players coming back from last season's postseason top 25.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

Here's some breakdowns from the postseason list:

By Team
  • Arizona: 2
  • Arizona State: 2
  • California: 0
  • Colorado: 0
  • Oregon: 5
  • Oregon State: 3
  • Stanford: 6
  • UCLA: 3
  • USC: 2
  • Utah: 2
  • Washington: 0
  • Washington State: 0
By Unit
  • Offense: 13
  • Defense: 11
  • Special teams: 1
By Position
  • Quarterback: 5
  • Offensive line: 1
  • Running back: 4
  • Receiver: 2
  • Tight end: 1
  • Inside linebacker: 1
  • Outside linebacker: 4
  • Defensive tackle: 2
  • Defensive end: 1
  • Safety: 1
  • Cornerback: 2
  • Kick returner: 1

No. 25 will post later today. Ted is eager to hear all of your thoughts here.

Doak Walker watch list announced

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
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The watch list for the 2013 Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation's top running back, was announced Thursday, and it included nine backs from the Pac-12.

Here are the Pac-12 players on the list:
That's everybody, though you'd guess a running back at Stanford might gain enough yards behind that beastly O-line to get picked up as the season goes on.
While the Pac-12 lost a lot of star power at running back from 2012 -- Kenjon Barner, Johnathan Franklin, Stepfan Taylor and John White -- it also welcomes back a strong core of ball carriers.

Four RBs are back who gained at least 900 yards, and that includes the nation's leading rusher in Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

Still, there is uncertainty at the position for a number of schools.

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

So how does it stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

Arizona: Carey rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last year and could eclipse that mark this fall. He also scored 23 TDs and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. The depth behind him is solid.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireArizona's Ka'Deem Carey led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards last season.
Arizona State: Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, as noted by the Arizona State sports information office, produced 2,130 combined yards in 2012 (1,172 rushing, 958 receiving) and 25 touchdowns. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry, Foster 4.8. Both are good receivers. They are one of the best combos in the nation, if not the best.

Washington: Bishop Sankey ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in 2012 with 110.7 yards rushing per game. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 16 TDs. There's good depth behind him, particularly if Jesse Callier is back to form after a knee injury.

Oregon: While running back is one of the Ducks questions, that question is more about how they will do things rather than whether or not they will be good. If De'Anthony Thomas is the No. 1 running back and gets 15 to 20 carries a game (and, knock on wood, stays healthy), he'll be a money guy. Byron Marshall is capable and incoming freshman Thomas Tyner is highly touted.

USC: Silas Redd is back after rushing for 905 yards, but he'll have to fight off some youngsters who want the ball, namely freshman Justin Davis, who was impressive in spring practices. There's also D.J. Morgan, and don't forget about Tre Madden, who offers a power option after sitting out last year with a knee injury.

Oregon State: Storm Woods and Terron Ward combined for 1,747 yards (1,355 rushing, 392 receiving) and 19 touchdowns in 2012. Woods rushed for 940 yards and 13 TDs, despite being banged up much of the year. Ward averaged 6.1 yards per carry. These guys won't wow you but they are a strong pair.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: The Cardinal is replacing Taylor's conference-high 322 carries, so even if the prospects are strong, there's some question of if it will be one or two guys or a committee. The return of Tyler Gaffney from pro baseball is big. He had 449 yards and seven TDs in 2011 before taking a year off. There's also Anthony Wilkerson, the most likely starter, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders. The Cardinal does get a boost from the return of fullback Ryan Hewitt.

California: The Bears might have an outstanding combination here with Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco. Both have flashed potential, particularly Bigelow, who rushed for 431 yards and averaged 9.8 yards per carry -- yeah, 9.8 yards -- in 2012. But they are not a sure-thing. Bigelow has trouble staying healthy, and Lasco had just six carries last year, though one went for 77 yards.

Colorado: Everybody of note is back, led by 235-pound sophomore Christian Powell, who rushed for 691 yards and seven TDs, averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry. There's also Tony Jones and Donta Abron to compliment Powell's power with some breakaway ability. Of the Buffs worries, running back is way down the list.

WE'LL SEE

UCLA: Replacing Franklin won't be easy, and it's likely this one will be by-committee, because no single player looks like a go-to guy. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen, who is coming back from a knee injury, are in the mix. James was the top backup last year, while Perkins is the intriguing redshirt freshman. Thigpen, if healthy, is a slash type guy who isn't a pure running back.

Utah: White, the first Ute to rush for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, is gone. Kelvin York, White's backup, now gets his shot after rushing for 273 yards last year. He, however, has some injury worries. Behind him, there's Lucky Radley, James Poole and 243-pound Karl Williams. It's also possible JC transfer Devontae Booker will get into the mix. The Utes should be OK here but the pecking order isn't yet clear.

Washington State: Does this position even apply for the Cougars? Last year, they ranked last in the nation in rushing with 29 yards per game and 1.38 yards per carry. Teondray Caldwell is the leading returning rusher with 269 yards. There's also Leon Brooks and Marcus Mason. The issue here isn't the running backs. It's the run blocking, which was pitiful last year.

Video: Hope and concern -- Oregon State

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
11:00
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Taking a look at the biggest reason for Oregon State fans to have hope the Beavers will contend in 2013 and the biggest reason they should be concerned.

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