Pac-12: T.J. Ward

EUGENE, Ore. -- John Boyett is still smiling. Everything seems fine. Up to the halfway point in a 15-minute interview, Oregon's free safety has been insightful and pleasant, even when a certain sportswriter started blathering about this or that.

But that smile hints at something else. It's a happy smile, yes, but happy in the way a lion looks just before he takes a huge chomp out of a gazelle.

Me: I just made a list of the top-25 of players in the Pac-12.

Boyett: [Big laugh] I heard.

Me: You were left off.

Boyett: [More laughing] I heard.

Me: [Nervous laugh] Are you competitive with the other guys?

Boyett: Very competitive.

If you've watched Boyett play, that shouldn't be a surprise. A soon-to-be four-year starter for the Ducks, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior from Napa, Calif., is child of a football family, and he's obsessed with the game, whether that's about conditioning or watching film or playing with an intensity that easily endures the filtering presentation of a TV camera.

[+] EnlargeJohn Boyett
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireJohn Boyett could be the best in a recent line of successful Oregon defensive backs.
"Football is in my blood," he said.

How competitive is he? Competitive enough to be, yes, just a bit irked not only at that ole top-25 list but also that he ended up second-team All-Pac-12.

"I'm not just going to say I feel like I'm the best safety because it's me. I'm a realist," he said. "But I really do feel I'm the best safety in the country. I probably wouldn't believe that if [secondary coach John Neal and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti] hadn't told me the same thing."

But Boyett, who's led the Ducks in tackles two of the past three season and finished second in 2010, didn't come to this discussion unarmed. He's completely aware of whom his rival is for best safety in the Pac-12: USC's T.J. McDonald. McDonald was first-team All-Pac-12, first-team All-American with The Sporting News, ended up ranked 19th on the top-25 list and is widely considered the best senior safety in college football. Insider

"I know T.J. McDonald's stats," Boyett said. "I know all the safeties I am competing with in the draft. I know all their stuff. But I'm not stupid competitive. I don't get into all the politics. I'm here to help my team win. If we get into another BCS championship game, I don't care if you give me first team or 20th team, I just want to help the team win."

But...

Boyett continues, "But it is crazy when you look at it. I look at my stats compared to everyone else. And I'm not a big stats guy, I just want to win games."

But...

"But of course you've got to look at it every once and a while. I've got 276 tackles, nine picks and like 29 pass breakups. And the other guy's [McDonald] got like [163] tackles, six picks and nine pass breakups. I've got him by [113] tackles, three picks and 20 pass breakups! And they are still getting...

But...

"That's why I don't get caught up in all that stuff."

Not completely, at least.

What Boyett really does get caught up in is winning. Oregon has done that during his career like it never has before with a 34-6 record over the past three seasons. He was recruited to a 2007 team that fell out of the national title hunt when quarterback Dennis Dixon blew out his knee. In 2008, his redshirt season, the Ducks went 10-3 and won the Holiday Bowl. Yet those were the down years. He became a starter in 2009 when T.J. Ward got hurt, and since then the Ducks have won three consecutive Pac-12 titles and played in two Rose Bowls -- winning one -- as well as the national title game after the 2010 season.

Boyett believes the Ducks will again be in the hunt in 2012. And he believes this defense might be the best unit with which he's played.

"We lose three or four guys, but all the guys coming in for them are just as good as them," he said. "[Aliotti] asks me how the defense is doing, and I seriously tell him, 'This defense is going to be the best since I've been here.'"

Boyett is part of an impressive recent legacy of Oregon defensive backs. When he arrived, the Ducks' secondary included Ward, Jairus Byrd, Patrick Chung and Walter Thurmond. The first three were second-round NFL draft picks, while Thurmond went in Round 4.

Those are the guys who first taught him how to play, but they aren't exempt from Boyett's competitive streak either. He's got big plans for this year, and part of that plan is leaving no doubt in the eyes of NFL scouts.

Said Boyett, "Coach Neal says if I have another great year I'm going to get drafted as high if not higher than them."

Pac-10 presence on All-NFL team

January, 19, 2011
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Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America have announced their 2010 All-NFL team, and there's plenty of Pac-10 presence.

Former USC linebacker Clay Matthews was named Defensive MVP, and he led three Pac-10 defenders on the team:

Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore (Oregon)
Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay (USC)
Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh (USC)

Further, an All-Rookie team was announced, and four from the Pac-10 made the team.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay (Oregon)
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England (Arizona)
Tyson Alualu, DE, Jacksonville (California)
*T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland (Oregon)

*Ward also was honored for special teams.

It's fair to say that Blount's fortunes have taken a positive turn since Sept. 3, 2009.

Preseason position reviews: safety

August, 10, 2010
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Safety in the Pac-10 this year? Solid for the most part.

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

So how do things stack up?

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

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

Don't be surprised if... Oregon

August, 2, 2010
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Sixth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if ... Oregon has the No. 1 defense in the conference.

Maybe you shouldn't be surprised with this one, considering eight starters are returning from a defense you could argue was the best in the conference in 2009.

Yes, Oregon didn't rank atop the final Pac-10 stats. But considering every team plays different nonconference schedules -- with a variety of degrees of difficulty -- it's not unreasonable to discount those games and only review conference games. And in conference play last year, Oregon ranked No. 1 in total defense (316 yards per game) and No. 2 in scoring defense (22.7). Big plays? The Ducks led the conference with 36 sacks and were second in forced turnovers with 25.

(I pointed this out to another Pac-10 coach and he replied, to paraphrase, "Fair enough. But they also didn't have to face the Oregon offense." The Ducks were No. 1 in scoring and No. 2 in total offense in the conference).

As for those three departed starters, tackle Blake Ferras was a fairly pedestrian player. Safety T.J. Ward was an outstanding player, but he missed half the season with an ankle sprain, so John Boyett, who started 10 games, qualifies as a returning starter. The only significant hole is at end with the loss of Will Tukuafu. But the tandem of Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner is an intriguing combination that figures to be more athletic.

The linebacking crop is fast, experienced and deep. Watch out for Michael Clay, whom some observers believe is as good as anybody on the defense. The secondary welcomes back six players with starting experience, though it remains unclear who will start at left cornerback, with true freshmen Terrance Mitchell and Avery Patterson topping the depth chart. End Kenny Rowe led the conference with 11.5 sacks and tackle Brandon Bair might be the conference's most underrated player (just ask coach Chip Kelly).

There's plenty of experience and speed and solid depth. Some youngsters, including true freshman tackle Ricky Heimuli and redshirt freshmen Wade Keliikipi, a tackle, and Anthony Anderson, an end, should bolster depth on a line that should run eight-deep.

Oregon hasn't ranked among the top 40 in total defense since 2004. It hasn't had a "special" defense since 1994, when the "Gang Green" led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. While Oregon fans through the years have had a love-hate relationship with coordinator Nick Aliotti, the Ducks defense in 2010 has a chance to be Oregon's best in years.

USC and Arizona State should both should have good defenses. UCLA and Oregon State also should be solid. If Arizona answers questions at linebacker, it will be among the conference's best.

But the unit with the fewest questions is Oregon.

Oregon spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
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Oregon

2009 overall record: 10-3

2009 conference record: 8-1 (conference champion)

Returning starters

Offense: 9, Defense: 9, punter/kicker: 1

Top returners: RB LaMichael James, WR Jeff Maehl, OT Bo Thran, DT Brandon Bair, DE Kenny Rowe, LB Casey Matthews, LB Spencer Paysinger

Key losses: QB Jeremiah Masoli, TE Ed Dickson, DE Will Tukuafu, FS T.J. Ward

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: LaMichael James* (1,608)
Passing: Jeremiah Masoli (2,147)
Receiving: Jeff Maehl* (696)
Tackles: John Boyett* (90)
Sacks: Kenny Rowe* (11.5)
Interceptions: Talmadge Jackson* (4)

Spring Answers

1. The secondary is deep: Injuries forced the Ducks to use a lot of young players in the secondary in 2009. The payoff this fall should be what amounts to four returning starters and some experienced backups. But, hold your horses. A number of youngsters, including hotshot freshmen such Terrance Mitchell, were impressive this spring and could eclipse those with starting experience.

2. Position changes worked: Eddie Pleasant moved from linebacker to safety and he's in line to start after showing a good learning curve for playing in space. Dion Jordan switched from tight end to defensive end and he looks like a potential breakout player -- particularly as a pass rusher -- in 2010.

3. Tight end looks good: One of the questions entering spring was replacing All-Pac-10 tight end Ed Dickson. It appears that David Paulson, Dickson's backup last year, and JC transfer Brandon Williams are ready for their close-ups. In the fall, touted freshman Curtis White arrives and could play his way into the mix.

Fall questions

1. Who's the starting QB? Think this is a big one? It seems as though senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas are about even at the end of spring, which means this will be one of the more closely watched competitions in the nation. Sure would have been easier if Jeremiah Masoli had... oh, never mind.

2. How good is the defense? While many see Oregon as an offensive power, the Ducks were underrated on defense last year and expect to be better this fall. How much better could determine whether they win the Pac-10 title and finish in the nation's top-10.

3. Who's the kicker? While it's not a spotlight position like quarterback, the competition at kicker is just as undecided. Will it be between Rob Beard, the 2009 kickoff specialist, and incoming freshman Alejandro Maldonado?

Q&A: Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti

April, 30, 2010
4/30/10
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Part II of a Q&A with Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

Read Part I here.

Let's take it through the three levels: How does the defensive line stack up? Obviously, we know about end Kenny Rowe and tackle Brandon Bair. Who steps in for end Will Tukuafu and tackle Blake Ferras?

NA: It's a little bit too early to tell but I think that Zac Clark, in my mind, cemented himself as one of the top tackles, probably a starter at this point. And the combination of Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner will take Tukuafu's place. Who will end up starting there? It may be series by series. We'll just have to see what happens when we get back here in the fall. The D-line I feel very good about. I have no worries about where our D-line is, even though we lost some very good football players. I like what we've done. I like how we've progressed. We're on track to be as good as we were last year.

Heard a lot about Dion Jordan as just a pure physical specimen. Tell me what he's done transitioning from a tight end to a defensive end.

NA: The guy is just relentless. He chases the ball. For a smaller guy -- in that he doesn't weigh a whole lot [listed at 223 though he's likely closer to 240] -- he knows how to use leverage and his body very well and can run like the wind. He can really, really move. He's going to be a surprise. A lot of people are going to say, 'Wow, where did this guy come from?' I think he's the surprise of spring camp. I'm very pleased with him. He's an excellent pass rusher. He's really doing more than I thought he'd do, physically, at the line of scrimmage. So that's exciting.

You guys seem wealthy at linebacker -- a lot of speed -- what's going on there? Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews are established guys, what about at strongside linebacker?

NA: We're still going to have to figure that thing out, but it's not something I don't feel comfortable with. I like where we are there, too. What will happen is, when we get Josh Kaddu back, he and Boseko Lokombo and Bryson Littlejohn will fight that one out. But I feel good about those guys. You're catching me off of spring and not mid-way through the season, but I really like the way our defense played and practiced and I think we've got a chance to be pretty darn good.

I've read a couple of things about linebacker Michael Clay, too. Sounds like he'll see a lot of actions.

NA: No question. Michael Clay will get a lot of action. He played a lot for us last year, too. That's no surprise really. He came in here not acting like a freshman. He came in acting like he's been doing this all along. He'll help us with a lot of valuable downs next year.

The secondary: You guys had a whole bunch of injuries last year, but it seems like that's going to pay off now because a lot of young guys got playing time.

NA: Right. You know when I look at our defense, cutting to the chase, I think we are going to be just as talented on the D-line, if not more talented. We'll be faster. You never like to compare one team to the other, but I think we can be just as good and probably faster and obviously more experienced than what we were. The linebacker crew, with Kaddu and Bo at SAM, that gave us an opportunity to move Eddie Pleasant back into the secondary [from starting linebacker]. We'll be just as strong at linebacker, though [backup middle linebacker] Kiko Alonso will be out for the year after tearing his knee. That hurts the two-deep on the inside a little bit. That's a bad injury for us. But we should be just as good there. And with [safety] John Boyett playing a lot of downs last year and [safeties] Javes Lewis and Marvin Johnson all playing because of T.J. Ward going down early that should help. With Pleasant back there, I feel real good about the safeties. When we get a healthy [cornerback] Talmadge Jackson back, he's a guy who's played a lot of football for us, and then we're looking at Cliff Harris, Anthony Gildon, Scott Grady and Terrance Mitchell who are going to be the other corner. We have a chance to be as good if not better than we were last year.

Taylor Mays hurting after draft tumble

April, 24, 2010
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The NFL draft teaches hard lessons. Two USC players are learning that now: Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen.

Mays would have been a first-round pick last year. I know folks believe his perceived weaknesses would have revealed themselves on film Insider then just as they did this season. But the 2008 USC pass defense was simply extraordinary in large part because of Mays playing an intimidating and impenetrable center field.

So Mays blew it by coming back for his senior season. And he now knows this.

As for you, San Francisco 49ers fans: Didn't you guys do fairly well a few years back with another hard-hitting former USC safety? I got a $5 bill right here that says Mays is going to become an outstanding NFL safety.

Griffen is another story: First-round talent with questions about his attitude and work ethic. (Keep this in mind about Mays: his work ethic couldn't be any better).

Who would have thought that Washington's Daniel Te'o-Nesheim would go before Griffen? Te'o-Nesheim is superior to Griffen in only one way but its a critical one: motor. Griffen's is questionable, Te'o-Nesheim's is not.

The lesson here is that being good isn't enough. The NFL cares about the entire package. And NFL teams don't want players who aren't self-starters, who don't motivate themselves.

Take note incoming five-star recruits.

Here are the Pac-10 picks to this point (11:15 a.m. ET ).

First round
DE Tyson Alualu, California, Jacksonville (10)
RB Jahvid Best, California, Detroit (30)

Second round
DT Brian Price, UCLA, Tampa (35)
S T.J. Ward, Oregon, Cleveland (38)
TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona, New England (42)
S Taylor Mays, USC, San Francisco (49)
RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford, Minnesota (51)
OT Charles Brown, USC, New Orleans (64)

Third round
TE Ed Dickson, Oregon, Baltimore (70)
WR Damian Williams, USC, Tennessee (77)
LB Donald Butler, Washington, San Diego (79)
DT Earl Mitchell, Arizona, Houston (81)
DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, Washington, Philadelphia (86)
OG Shawn Lauvao, Arizona State, Cleveland (92)
CB Kevin Thomas, USC, Indianapolis (94)

Fourth round
DE Everson Griffin, USC, Minnesota (100)
CB Alterraun Verner, UCLA, Tennessee (104)
CB Walter Thurmond, Oregon, Seattle (111)
RB Joe McKnight, USC, New York Jets (112)

Opening the mailbag: How does the Pac-10 survive (thrive)?

April, 23, 2010
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To the notes.

Robert from Seattle writes: Who does the Pac-10 ultimately answer to? The fans or to the presidents? A follow-up not-so-quick question. If the Pac-10 wants to survive as a conference, what do they do?

Ted Miller: Who does the Pac-10 answer to? Easy: $.

Commissioner Larry Scott's charge going forward is to maximize sports revenue, which means football and men's basketball (but mostly football). Of course, he doesn't want to completely compromise the culture and values of the conference -- academic or otherwise -- but my guess is his first interest is revenue.

He has two basic issues ahead of him that he'd like to have a handle on before he goes off to negotiate new media/TV deals after the first of the year (the Pac-10's contracts with Fox and ESPN-ABC expire after the 2011-2012 academic year).

The first is expansion: Would adding teams increase revenue per team? The 10 existing members want their pie slices to grow, not get smaller, with expansion. So he's looking for teams that: 1. are interested in joining the Pac-10; 2. would increase revenue. Much of that, of course, is tied to the idea of creating more value -- real and perceived -- when negotiating new TV contracts.

The second issue -- if he cannot bring the presidents an expansion plan that works -- is defending the Pac-10's interest if expansion becomes the rage back east.

If, suddenly, a 16-team Big Ten and 16-team SEC are nose-to-nose for domination, Scott has to figure out what that means for the Pac-10. At the BCS meetings, Scott said he doesn't necessarily believe that would force the Pac-10 to follow the leaders. Maybe. But maybe not.

It's possible that the new, powerful super-conferences would make demands, such as second automatic berth in BCS bowl games (and perhaps an option for a third) as well as other special accommodations. That could create a significant revenue imbalance.

Moreover, Scott has to be aware of what might happen if there is a long-term and significant revenue imbalance between the Pac-10 and the super conferences.

For example, what happens if the SEC-16 starts to pay assistant coaches an average salary of $750,000, while Pac-10 assistants average just $250,000? Or think about this: What if Florida offered Mike Stoops $2.5 million to leave Arizona to become the Gators defensive coordinator? Or what if the existing imbalances in facilities become so pronounced that a significant percentage of recruits from southern California start heading east?

The Pac-10 could suddenly learn what it feels like to be a non-AQ conference. Heck, it could become a non-AQ conference.

Still, as I wrote on Thursday, we are wallowing in speculation and hypotheticals.

Ultimately, Scott's job is simple: He's going to try to improve the Pac-10's position in the marketplace, but, failing that, he needs to at least maintain it.

Matt from Athens, Ga., writes: When is the last time a USC player was not drafted in the 1st round? Does that point to any talent drop-off at USC or is it more particular players not fitting teams' needs in a given year?

Ted Miller: Last time? All the way back to ... 2007.

This is a good note from the Orange County Register though: "In the 75-year history of the National Football League draft, USC (63), Miami (56) and Ohio State (53) have produced the most first-round selections. On Thursday night in the 2010 first round, they combined for zero."

As for USC's talent, I don't think this is a moment to say the sky is falling. USC figures to have perhaps six players go in the next two rounds: Everson Griffen, Taylor Mays, Charles Brown, Damian Williams, Joe McKnight and Anthony McCoy. That ain't too shabby.

Michael from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Your Pac-10 predictions discount an Arizona team the returns almost the entire talent-ridden offense that, despite new coordinators, will run the same offense. As for the defense, it's still a Stoops team that always ranks high defensively, star talent or not. What's keeping the Cat's out of Pac-10 favorites?

Ted Miller: First, those aren't "predictions" -- they are "power rankings." They are based at the present moment. Things can change (and probably will).

A few points.

First, Arizona not only lost two coordinators, it lost two very good coordinators in new Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes and new Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. That can't be written off. The new foursome of co-coordinators are all smart, respected coaches, but it's prudent to take a wait-and-see attitude to how this unusual arrangement will work out going forward.

Second, Mike Stoops knows defense, without a doubt. But just like everyone else he needs players. As for "always" ranking highly: The 2007 unit ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and fifth in total defense.

Third, the 2010 defense must replace seven starters, including both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and half its secondary. That seven includes three second-team All-Pac-10 players from each level (tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Xavier Kelly and free safety Cam Nelson). Moreover, they are counting on a pair of JC transfers to start at linebacker. I'm skeptical of JC transfers until proven otherwise.

Now, despite all this, the Wildcats still look like a bowl team -- in large part because, as you note, the offense should be able to score on anybody. Therefore, they are a member of what I see as the Pac-10's extremely competitive and deep middle. I rank USC, Oregon and Oregon State as a clear top three. But from Nos. 4 to No. 8, you could arrange and re-arrange teams and not get much of an argument from me.

Luke from Philadelphia writes: I am a fan/follower of PSU and the Big Ten. But I am really excited about what looks like a lot of changes out there in Pac-10 country. Naturally I hate USC, so seeing them humbled last year was awesome. It's great to see the rest of your conference rise up and bring more drama to the season and the Rose Bowl. What's the feeling out there in the west? Did Pac-10 fans traditionally feel proud of USC for being the football flagship and thus feel sad about their becoming mortal in 2009? Or are they as happy as I am to see some drama in the conference, even if it means the Pac-10 could actually lose a Rose Bowl or two?

Ted Miller: Not getting a sense of any sadness from the other nine teams of USC slipping back -- potentially slipping back, I should type -- particularly when I was in Westwood last week.

A wide-open Pac-10 is more fun. For a while there, it felt like everyone was playing for second place behind the Trojans, though it's important to note that three times during the Pete Carroll Era, USC only shared the title with another conference team (2002, 2006, 2007).

As for pride in USC, it was more a case of a desire for more sympathy and less "Pac-1" ridiculousness. The Trojans would have dominated any other conference just as they did the Pac-10 from 2002-2008.

Would they have won seven consecutive SEC titles? Probably not. But I also think that if USC had played in the SEC, it would have won more national titles during that span.

Gerald from Norcross, Ga., writes: How's the Eric Berry versus Taylor Mays comparison looking?

Ted Miller: Fair to say that Berry is the decisive winner after going No. 5 overall. Heck, Pete Carroll even rated Mays below Texas' Earl Thomas by taking Thomas over Mays with the No. 14 pick.

And how about this: Who would have thought that Mays wouldn't even be the first Pac-10 safety selected (Cleveland just picked Oregon's T.J. Ward with the sixth pick of the second round)?

Tough day for Mays no doubt. But he'll eventually get drafted and have plenty of opportunities to prove his doubters wrong.

Craig from Corvallis, Ore., writes: Do you think that a super conference for the Pac-10 would be considered if it partially revived the old Southwest Conference? The conference could have two divisions, the pacific and southwest. The Pacific would be composed of the original Pac-8 members. The Southwest would include the Arizona schools and six Texas schools. Unfortunately, some of the old Southwest members would have to be left out (I know Arkansas would not mind, they are probably very happy in the SEC). I think the best fit would include: Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, SMU, TCU and Texas Tech (or Rice). It would be a bold move by Larry Scott but very interesting for the world of college football. I think it would be interesting to see SMU brought back to the forefront of college football after their long dark-age.

Ted Miller: The Country-Western Conference!

It would be even better if you dropped Baylor and added Oklahoma, though that breaks from your old Southwest Conference theme.

This is an interesting idea, and not a bad one. I think the chances of something like this happen are decidedly remote, but I've read ideas that were far worse.

Former Pac-10 players on top-100 list

April, 16, 2010
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Twelve former Pac-10 players -- topped by USC defensive end Everson Griffen at No. 20 overall -- made the Scouts Inc. top-100 list of NFL draft prospects, which was published in the latest ESPN Magazine.

Those players are (number is top-100 rank):

20. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
21. Taylor Mays, S, USC
24. Brian Price, DT, UCLA
37. Tyson Alualu, DT, California
41. Jahvid Best, RB, California
43. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
46. Charles Brown, OT, USC
52. Damian Williams, WR, USC
62. Anthony McCoy, TE, USC
74. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
88. T.J. Ward, S, Oregon
94. Ed Dickson, TE, Oregon

Oregon defense expects to be better this fall

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
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EUGENE, Ore. -- Quick: Who had the best defense in the Pac-10 last year?

Wrong. It was Oregon.

At least the Ducks had the best defense if you compare only Pac-10 games, which seems reasonable because of the broad range of relative difficulty with the nonconference schedules.

Oregon ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 vs. conference foes in rushing defense (118.6 yards per game), No. 1 in total defense (316 yards per game), No. 1 in sacks (3.1 per game) and No. 2 in scoring defense (22.7 points per game).

(Some snarky sorts might point out that these numbers are skewed for a significant reason: Oregon's defense didn't have to play its offense, which was No. 1 vs. conference foes with 41.7 ppg).

Therefore, it's understandable that some Ducks might be affronted when pundits wonder whether Oregon, once viewed as the consensus conference favorite and a potential national title contender, will go south in 2010 because of the season-long suspension of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

"We took it as an insult because we're not just the quarterback position," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said.

Coach Chip Kelly has this to say about his defense: "We're going to be better than last year."

In one sense, the Ducks must replace four starters: end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Walter Thurmond. But Ward and Thurmond missed significant action due to injury, so their backups actually qualify as returning starters.

Kelly believes he's two-deep at every spot on the depth chart. The loss of a pair of defensive linemen? He ticks off 10 guys he believes can contribute in 2010 and is particularly high on a guy who was a reserve tight end last year: sophomore Dion Jordan, who's moved to defensive end.

Jordan is 6-foot-7, 240 pounds and runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, according to Kelly.

"I think he's going to be a special, special player," Kelly said. "He's going to be the next really good football player here. He's shown it in just five practices. There are times he's unblockable."

Unblockable is good.

Moving speedy Eddie Pleasant from strongside linebacker to rover gives the Ducks secondary another physical presence -- as the hard-hitting Ward was -- while also opening up opportunities for Bryson Littlejohn, Bo Lokombo, Josh Kaddu and Michael Clay to get on the field at linebacker.

So how does Paysinger anticipate the Ducks defense will be different in 2010?

"We have a lot more speed," he said. "And hunger."

List of NFL combine invitees

January, 12, 2010
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Here's a list of the Pac-10 players invited to the NFL combine, courtesy of The Sporting News.

First of all, it's incomplete. Underclassmen will be added later, such as USC receiver Damian Williams and UCLA DT Brian Price. And a number of seniors also will get invitations.

My immediate guess is that Washington linebacker Donald Butler and Oregon defensive end Will Tukuafu will end up receiving invitations, among others.

Arizona: DT Earl Mitchell, CB Devin Ross

Arizona State: DE Dexter Davis, LB Travis Goethel, OT Shawn Lauvao, WR Chris McGaha, WR Kyle Williams

California: DE Tyson Alualu, WR Nyan Boateng, CB Syd'Quan Thompson, WR Verran Tucker.

Oregon: RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Ed Dickson, CB Walter Thurmond, S T.J. Ward.

Oregon State: QB Sean Canfield, OLB Keaton Kristick.

Stanford: TE Jim Dray, RB Toby Gerhart, OT Matt Kopa, DE Erik Lorig.

UCLA: OLB Kyle Bosworth, CB Alterraun Verner.

USC: OT Charles Brown, C Jeff Byers, RB Stafon Johnson, S Taylor Mays, TE Anthony McCoy, G Alex Parsons, CB Josh Pinkard, CB Kevin Thomas.

Washington: DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

All-Star game invitees

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
9:36
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Unless a guy plays for Central Michigan, Troy, Alabama or Texas, the 2009 football season is over. For a handful of players, their sights now turn to the NFL, and the next step for many of them is postseason All-Star games.

While there are a number of all-star games, the Senior Bowl is the premier game -- its roster is almost entirely directed by the NFL -- and the East-West Shrine Game is a clear No. 2.

Here's a list -- count on there being some additions in the coming days -- of the invitees.

Arizona

East-West Shrine Game
DT Earl Mitchell
CB Devin Ross

Arizona State

East-West Shrine Game
OL Shawn Lauvao
WR Chris McGaha
DE Dexter Davis

California

Senior Bowl
DE Tyson Alualu
CB Syd'Quan Thompson

East-West Shrine Game
OL Mike Tepper
CB Syd'Quan Thompson
WR Verran Tucker

Oregon

Senior Bowl
TE Ed Dickson

East-West Shrine Game
S T.J. Ward

Oregon State

Senior Bowl
QB Sean Canfield

East-West Shrine Game
LB Keaton Kristick

Stanford

Senior Bowl
RB Toby Gerhart

East-West Shrine Game
DE Erik Lorig
DL Ekom Udofia
OL Chris Marinelli

UCLA

East-West Shrine Game
LB Reggie Carter
TE Ryan Moya
CB Alterraun Verner

USC

Senior Bowl
TE Anthony McCoy
RB Stafon Johnson
S Taylor Mays
OL Charles Brown

East-West Shrine Game
DB Josh Pinkard

Washington

Senior Bowl
LB Donald Butler

East-West Shrine Game
DL Daniel Te'o-Nesheim

Washington State

East-West Shrine Game
C Kenny Alfred

Pac-10 lunch links: Bill Cosby trash-talks UCLA

December, 18, 2009
12/18/09
2:30
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There are only three jobs available to an elf. The first is making shoes at night while, you know, while the old cobbler sleeps. You can bake cookies in a tree. As you can imagine, it's, uh, dangerous having an oven in an oak tree during the dry season. But the third job, some call it, uh, "the show" or "the big dance," it's the profession that every elf aspires to. And that is to build toys in Santa's workshop.

Pac-10 lunch links: Is Locker headed to the NFL draft?

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
2:30
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Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town.

Six Pac-10 players accept invitations to East-West Shrine Game

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
11:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Post-season all-star game invitations will be rolling out over the coming weeks, and six Pac-10 players already have accepted invitations to the East-West Shrine Game.

The 85th East-West Shrine Game is scheduled for Jan. 23 in Orlando.

Those players are (note USC DB Josh Pinkard has been added to this list:

Chris McGaha, WR, Arizona State
Dexter Davis, DE/OLB, Arizona State
Erik Lorig, DE, Stanford
Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona
T.J. Ward, FS, Oregon
Josh Pinkard, DB, USC

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