Pac-12: Taylor Mays

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.

Offense

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.

Defense

LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.

Top QB Browne will commit Wednesday

April, 3, 2012
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Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline), one of the nation's top quarterback recruits, will announce his commitment Wednesday at 7 p.m. PT, according to ESPN Recruiting, which reports, "Browne has narrowed his choices to Alabama, Oklahoma, USC and Washington, although with recent visits to see the Sooners and Trojans, most think it will come down to those two programs."

So USC or Oklahoma for the 6-foot-5, 205 pounder?

Browne leaving for the Sooners would be a blow for the hometown Huskies, who are struggling to build the proverbial "wall" around their home state. During the 2011-12 recruiting season, most of the elite, local prospects crossed state lines to play football. The state featured five elite recruits: Offensive linemen Zach Banner and Josh Garnett, running back KeiVarae Russell, receiver Cedric Dozier and QB Jeff Lindquist. Only Lindquist signed with the Huskies.

Of course, the Huskies did much better in 2011 when they signed TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, WR Kasen Williams, DT Danny Shelton -- three players who, by the way, lived up to their recruiting hype as true freshmen.

Still, in order to return to the nation's elite, Washington must win most of the recruiting battles for in-state prospects most years. That's part of the reason coach Steve Sarkisian was willing to pay top dollar to lure ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California.

While some prospects go in search of a warmer, sunnier climate, and there's little coaches can do to charm them out of that thinking, part of getting the Huskies back into the nation's top 25 is making elite recruits want to stay home. For every Jake Locker who decides to play for the Huskies, there are too many guys like Jonathan Stewart (Oregon), Stephen Schilling (Michigan), Taylor Mays (USC), David DeCastro (Stanford), Deandre Coleman (California) and Jake Heaps (BYU).

As for Browne, the situation at Washington would seem ideal for him. Keith Price would be a senior his redshirt freshman year, giving him a year to acclimate himself before fighting for the job in 2014.

From ESPN Recruiting: "Browne completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,034 yards and 45 touchdowns as a junior. He plans to enroll early at his school of choice and has a good shot to be recognized as the top quarterback in the class of 2013."

It will be a big loss for the Huskies if he opts to cross state lines.

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
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It's time for a blogger debate! And it doesn't get much better than when we match the SEC and Pac-10.

Our topic: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn. Who's better and why?

Both are unbeaten, and if the season ended today, they'd play for the national title.

We've got lots of football left, and probably many more plot twists in the hunt for the national title, but there's no reason we can't engage in a hypothetical, is there?

So the Pac-10 blog -- Ted Miller -- and the SEC blog -- Chris Low -- have decided to meet for some civilized debate on Auburn versus Oregon.

Ted Miller: Chris, since things are so quiet in the sleepy SEC, I think we should spice things up with a Pac-10-SEC blogger debate! It seems like a long time since we last had a debate between our two conferences. How’d that one go? Let’s see I championed Taylor Mays and you celebrated Eric Berry. Wait. Why did I bring that up?

Anyway, our topic is Oregon and Auburn: Who’s better and why.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
John Reed/US PresswireGene Chizik has silenced those critical of his hiring last year but getting Auburn off to a 10-0 start this season.
This is a potential national title game between the No. 1 Ducks and No. 2 Tigers, who are both unbeaten and feature Heisman Trophy candidates leading high-powered offenses.

You get first blood. Tell me about Auburn. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jay Jacobs was getting hounded for hiring Gene Chizik. Guessing that’s died down a wee-bit.

Chris Low: No doubt, Ted. I wonder where that obnoxious guy is now, the one yelling at Jacobs as he was leaving the airport after finalizing the deal with Chizik? Maybe Jacobs knew what he was doing after all. The guy with the 5-19 record at Iowa State has done all right by himself on the Plains. He has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and the SEC's leading rusher in Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature who runs like Bo Jackson and also has an NFL arm. Keep your eyes, too, on freshman running back Mike Dyer, who they haven't had to lean on much this season, but is oozing with talent and has fresh legs for this stretch run. The Tigers' defensive numbers are nothing to write home about, but they do have the kind of dominant interior defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, who can take over games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Fairley's the closest thing he's seen to Warren Sapp. Auburn's calling card defensively has been making plays at key times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have been a serviceable defense through three quarters this season, but they've been a championship-caliber defense in the fourth quarter -- which is why they're 10-0.

So tell me about Oregon?

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSophomore Darron Thomas was thrust into the starting quarterback job and has performed admirably.
Ted Miller: Speaking of coaches: How about Oregon’s Chip Kelly? How could he possibly expect to top winning the Pac-10 and playing in the Rose Bowl his first season? How about contending for a national title in his second? The Ducks, however, expected to be here when the 2009 season ended because just about everybody was coming back from the Pac-10 champions. That is until a guy you are now familiar with -- quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- got caught up in some off-field issues and eventual got himself booted from the team. That seemingly left a void behind center, but sophomore Darron Thomas has not only filled Masoli’s shoes, he’s gone up a few sizes: He’s 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and 21st in the nation in total yardage. Meanwhile, speedy running back LaMichael James is the top Heisman alternative to your guy, Newton. As for the defense, it’s like the offense: Extremely fast. It ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense and it has forced 28 turnovers, second-most in the nation. Folks often underestimate the Ducks' defense because it gives up some yards -- it ranks 29th in the nation in total defense -- but that’s because the offense scores so quickly: The nation’s No. 1 offense ranks 115th in the nation in time of possession. But the Ducks only give up 4.45 yards per play. Our factoid of the day is that number would rank No. 1 in ... wait for it ... the SEC!

Obviously, we're talking about two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn.

Chris Low: Ted, I think what separates Auburn is Newton. Nobody has been able to stop him. If you commit to taking away the run, he's proved he can beat people throwing the ball. And if you come after him and/or don't have enough people in the box, he's been magic running the ball. Keep in mind, too, that we're not talking about a 220-pound guy running the ball. We're talking about a 250-pound guy who's physical, tough and doesn't run out of bounds. In the red zone, he's the great equalizer, because he gains 3 yards when he falls forward and has the size and the strength to push the pile. On top of it all, he's always a threat to throw the ball. Similar to Oregon, Auburn doesn't flinch if somebody puts 30-plus points on the board, because the Tigers' mentality is that they're going to score 50. Their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will make you defend everything -- reverses, throwback passes, passes to the backs, even passes to Newton. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Ole Miss. The Tigers also play at a tempo on offense that has opposing defenses gasping for air in the fourth quarter. But when they have to, they can put teams away and finish games by running the ball. They're fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Oregon) this week in rushing offense with an average of 307.2 yards per game. Auburn's top four rushers -- Newton, Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin -- are all averaging at least 6.4 yards per carry. Do the Ducks have any answers for that running game?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn's Cam Newton is just as dangerous with his arm as he is on his feet.
Ted Miller: That’s what’s so interesting about this as a potential national title game match -- there’s an odd familiarity that both teams will have with each other despite never crossing paths. My guess is Malzahn and Kelly already have studied each other, just in terms of mutual admiration. And both defenses will be familiar with up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option offenses that can power you and finesse you and throw downfield. Further, the Ducks have played against a number of big, fast, capable quarterbacks with NFL futures: Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The results have been mixed. Last year, Luck and Pryor got them. Luck beat the Ducks with uncanny downfield accuracy, which is why he’ll go No. 1 in this spring’s NFL draft. Pryor shocked them with the best passing game of his career in the Rose Bowl. Locker missed this year’s game, but he’s never had much luck against Oregon. In general, Oregon has a good run defense: Opponents are averaging 3.38 yards per rush. But the Ducks are undersized. A physical Stanford team had some success, rushing for 177 yards. But one thing about Oregon on both sides of the ball: It is masterful with halftime adjustments. They shutout Stanford, owners of the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense, in the second half, and have given up just 48 points in the second half this year -- just seven in the fourth quarter!

Obviously, two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn if it played Oregon in the national title game. How do you see it going?

Chris Low: Well, if that happens, the first thing we all better make sure we have is a calculator. That and make sure there's no danger of a power surge to the scoreboard. You're right about Oregon. Nobody in the country has been better in the second half. The Ducks' ability to score points in bunches is amazing, but the Tigers are equally adept at going on head-spinning scoring sprees. Just ask Arkansas, which saw Auburn roll up 28 points in the fourth quarter in Xbox-like fashion. I have no doubt that an Auburn-Oregon matchup would be played in the 40s. I think the difference, though, would be Auburn's ability to put the breaks on the track meet and run the football in the fourth quarter, especially with Newton being so good at converting on third down. So I'm going Auburn 45, Oregon 41 in a game that rates up there with the Texas-USC classic to decide the 2005 national title.

Ted Miller: That's clearly something we can all agree on: This likely would be a highly entertaining, offensively driven national title game if these two teams manage to get themselves there. Further, I think, after never getting a USC-SEC title game, folks on both coasts would enjoy an SEC-Pac-10 matchup. No trash-talking there, right? And I do see a clear advantage for Auburn: It has been tested. It's played five games decided by eight points or fewer, and three decided by a field goal. The Ducks closest game? An 11-point win at Arizona State. But that's also why I'd pick Oregon in this one. Oregon beat the No. 6 team in the nation, Stanford, by 21 points. It shut Andrew Luck out in the second half. And I look at all of Auburn's close games: Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU, and think: None of them would be within 10 points of the Ducks. Maybe LSU, because any game Les Miles touches is surprising. And I think Vegas would agree with me. So if we ended up with an Oregon-Auburn national title game, my guess is the Tigers would go TD for TD with the Ducks in the first half, then the Ducks would pour it on late for a 50-35 win. But I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly because I think the Tigers' toughest test -- Alabama -- is ahead.

Moreover, both teams should be advised: You probably should get to the Jan. 10 date in Glendale before you start trash-talking each other. At least before you use your best stuff.

Paea: It wasn't about the money

August, 19, 2010
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Nice story here from Cliff Kirkpatrick on how agents tried to lure Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea into the 2010 draft.

From the article:
Agents convinced his parents he could make millions of dollars by leaving school early.

"It didn't bother my parents, it bothered me a lot," Paea said of the constant calls. "I wanted to come back from the beginning. My mom and dad were about money. If I left, it was for that reason only. But there was no reason to leave now."

This is a complicated issue. Just ask former USC safety Taylor Mays. My typical position is simple: Leave when the leaving is good. That infuriates fans, but fans only see the jersey of their favorite team. They're not focused on a young man's future.

NFL careers don't last long. Most guys don't cash in on a second contract. That means the most important thing an underclass prospect can look at is his potential draft position: If he's a likely first-rounder, returning for another season doesn't make sense because the guaranteed up-front money is too lucrative to risk with all the variables that come into play with another college season.

Paea's situation, however, is different. His best football is clearly in front of him. Six years ago, he didn't know how to play football. It's not an exaggeration to say his improvement as a player is on a 45 degree ramp since then. The guy who could play himself into the first round of the 2011 NFL draft this season isn't going to be nearly the player he will be in 2013, when he's an NFL All Pro.

Paea's plan for returning this season is sound, starting with the simple fact he wanted to play another year for Oregon State because he's enjoying himself. In terms of a business decision, that's up to him. If he plays hungry, he'll push his way into the first round, which means his decision to return earned him millions more up front than if he were a second-round pick last spring.

USC spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
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USC

2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-4 (tied for fifth)

Returning starters

Offense: 6, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 1

Top returners: QB Matt Barkley, FB Stanley Havili, OT Tyron Smith, DT Jurrell Casey, DE Nick Perry

Key losses: OT Charles Brown, WR Damian Williams, RB Joe McKnight, OG Jeff Byers, DE Everson Griffen, FS Taylor Mays

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Joe McKnight (1,014)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (2,735)
Receiving: Damian Williams (1,010)
Tackles: Taylor Mays (96)
Sacks: Everson Griffen, Nick Perry* (8)
Interceptions: Will Harris (4)

Spring Answers

1. The defensive line is legit: New coach Lane Kiffin seemed to be unhappy with just about everything during spring -- that may be his way of challenging the complacent Trojans -- but he did praise his defensive line, which is deep and talented. Jurrell Casey is expected to break out and become one of the nation's premier defensive tackles, while ends Nick Perry and Armond Armstead appear dominant at times. It was a significant blow, however, when returning starter Christian Tupou blew out his knee in the spring game, which will force the Trojans to tap into their depth.

2. Barkley is better at QB: A lighter, more experienced Matt Barkley played well throughout spring. His decision-making was particularly improved -- he threw 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions in four scrimmages.

3. After all the hullabaloo, the Kiffin transition has been smooth: There's always upheaval when a new coach arrives, particularly when the predecessor was as successful as Pete Carroll. But the fact is Kiffin knows USC: He was an assistant there from 2001-2006. And the offensive and defensive schemes are similar to what the players know: Kiffin was the offensive coordinator his final two seasons at USC, and his father and defensive coordinator, Monte, was Pete Carroll's defensive mentor.

Fall questions

1. Secondary issues: The Trojans must replace all four starters in the secondary. That's not completely true, though, because Shareece Wright would have started last year if not for being ruled academically ineligible. Wright might be the best cornerback in the conference, but after him things are uncertain, particularly at the cornerback spot opposite him.

2. Little O-line depth: Much of the spring, the Trojans only had six healthy offensive linemen. Kiffin spent plenty of time grousing about the production up front, too. The starting unit has the potential to be very good, but a couple of injuries could be a problem.

3. Who's in the middle? Devon Kennard was moved to middle linebacker to challenge 2009 starter Chris Galippo and he did, often looking like a budding star at the position. Yet Galippo responded with a strong spring himself. The post-spring depth chart listed an "OR" between the two, which means the competition will continue in the fall. Kiffin said that the loser, won't be relegated to the bench. In fact, he might displace Michael Morgan at strongside linebacker.

Taylor Mays hurting after draft tumble

April, 24, 2010
4/24/10
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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
4/23/10
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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.

Pac-10 lunch links: USC's Johnson likely out the rest of spring

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Cal's Alualu surprise 10th pick in NFL draft

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
9:58
AM ET
Here's a prediction: California defensive end Tyson Alualu is going to surprise some folks and end up a top-10 NFL draft pick.

Little late on that one, eh?

Alualu was the first Pac-10 player drafted Thursday night -- which was projected by no one -- going 10th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Bears teammate Jahvid Best was the only other conference player selected on Day 1. Best went to the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick.

Round 2 begins today at 6 p.m. ET. Expect the second round to include a number of Pac-10 players, including those who slipped during recent weeks, such as USC safety Taylor Mays and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Alualu is the highest Cal selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001. He is the Bears’ ninth top-10 pick in the draft’s history. And his selection was rated the "biggest reach" of the first day by Todd McShay.

Wrote McShay, "Jacksonville used the 10th overall pick to take California DT Tyson Alualu, who we feel is a good player but is only the No. 35 overall on our board. Top-10 money is pretty rich for a player like Alualu, especially when pass-rushers like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul would have offered much more value at that point."

Another notable pick is the Seattle Seahawks' selection of safety Earl Thomas at No. 14. That means former USC coach Pete Carroll wanted a safety but didn't want Mays.

Ouch.

Got to admit: I thought at least one team would jump on Mays just because of his athleticism, much like it took only one team to make Tim Tebow a No. 1 pick (Denver).

Another observation: Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford going No. 1 overall is a good thing for college football. It shows players who want to come back for their senior season that even a major injury won't automatically ruin your draft prospects.

Of course, Mays right now is probably questioning his decision to return, considering he likely would have been a top-15 pick in 2009.

Former Pac-10 players on top-100 list

April, 16, 2010
4/16/10
10:00
AM ET
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

Bigger shoes than you think: USC

April, 5, 2010
4/05/10
9:00
AM ET
Eighth in a series looking at lineup holes that are important even if they don't make headlines.

USCUSC

Everybody is talking about: Rebuilding the entire secondary, which loses all four starters, including free safety Taylor Mays.

Bigger shoes than you think: Receiver Damian Williams

Receiver is like any other position at USC after years of elite recruiting: On paper, it looks like there's a surfeit of talent ready for its close-up. But ask yourself this: When was the last time USC actually scared people with a downfield passing game (other than the 2009 Rose Bowl pummeling of Penn State)? Probably back when a guy named Leinart was the quarterback. We're completely aware that Williams was first-team All-Pac-10 and is hardly an unknown. What often doesn't seen to come across, though, is to what extent he WAS the Trojans receiving corps last year. Williams caught 70 passes for 1,010 yards with six touchdowns last year. That's twice as many receptions and TDs as any other receiver. In fact, the combined receiving yards for every other wideout -- not tight ends or running backs -- was a meager 822 yards. Fact is, no matter how fast and big the receivers look running around in practice, there's no mistaking the fact the actual on-field production for the returning crew has been unimpressive. Sure, Ronald Johnson got hurt and missed four games, but for all his talent, the rising senior has only caught 12 career touchdown passes.

Who's stepping in: Johnson is eager to prove he's more than just a fast guy, and he's got high expectations for himself. With quarterback Matt Barkley owning a year of seasoning, there's no reason Johnson can't be a 1,000-yard receiver. Sophomore Brice Butler also may be poised for a breakthrough. He ranked third behind Williams and Johnson with 20 receptions in 2009. There's considerable buzz surrounding true freshman Kyle Prater, whose 6-foot-5 frame suggests Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams. What the Trojans really need, of course, is multiple threats on the perimeter, not just a single go-to guy as Williams was.

Nine Pac-10 players rank on Kiper's top-five list by position

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
9:21
PM ET
A bevy of Pac-10 players may not be selected in the first round of the NFL draft on April 22, but the second and third rounds will feature plenty of West Coast flavor, at least according to Mel Kiper.

Kiper ranks nine conference players among the top-five at their respective positions.
Notice that seven different schools have players ranked. While no Oregon State or Stanford players were ranked, both schools are certain to produce draft picks: quarterback Sean Canfield and linebacker Keaton Kristick for the Beavers and running back Toby Gerhart and offensive lineman Chris Marinelli for the Cardinal.

That leaves out only Washington State, and center Kenny Alfred might just get picked late in the draft -- he's not off the radar.

Not since 2007 have all 10 conference teams had at least one player drafted -- see some lean years for Stanford, Washington and Arizona.

Strong & weak: USC

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
9:35
AM ET
The eighth of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.

USC

Strong: Front seven

Why it's a strength: USC listed 24 front-seven players on its 2009 defensive depth chart, and just four are not returning: end Everson Griffen, tackle Averell Spicer and linebackers Nick Garratt and Uona Kaveinga. Only Griffen was a starter. That sort of experience is certainly a strength, one that in past years might have struck fear into future opponents. The Trojans, however, were not dominant up front last year, ranking fifth in the Pac-10 against the run. Still, despite a sub-par year by USC's standards, the defense still ranked first in the conference in scoring (19.8 points per game). Moreover, 16 of these returning front-seven players were freshmen or sophomores last fall. There should be significant improvement with new coordinator Monte Kiffin and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Players like junior tackle Jurrell Casey, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard, sophomore end Nick Perry and junior tackle/end Armond Armstead could take a step toward stardom.

Weak: The secondary

Why it's a weakness: The Trojans are replacing all four starters -- multi-year starters at that -- including free safety Taylor Mays. That's four of the top seven tacklers. Moreover, the leader to replace Mays, Drew McAllister, will miss the spring due to hip surgery. Of course, the Trojans are hardly devoid of talent, particularly with the return of cornerback Shareece Wright. Wright, widely regarded as the team's best cover corner, would have started last year but he was academically ineligible. And there are plenty of promising youngsters on the depth chart who have already seen action, including corners T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham and safety T.J.McDonald. Still, this is a unit in transition that will face an outstanding crew of experienced Pac-10 quarterbacks.

Pac-10 lunch links: Whose NFL stock is up, down?

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
2:30
PM ET
What dire offense from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things!

Some Pac-10 combine notes and numbers

March, 2, 2010
3/02/10
7:51
PM ET
Lots of goings on at the NFL combine with Pac-10 guys. Here are some updates.

From Scouts Inc. reports on ESPN.com:

  • Everyone expected USC S Taylor Mays to shine in this setting and Mays did not disappoint. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Mays posted an official time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While we are still concerned about his inconsistencies on film, Mays clearly has early-first-round natural ability, and teams are sure to fall in love with his upside if they haven't already.
  • Arizona State's Dexter Davis, TCU's Jerry Hughes, Michigan's Brandon Graham and Utah's Koa Misi all played defensive end in college but are expected to move to 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Base 3-4 teams looking for help at outside linebacker were interested to see how they ran in the 40-yard dash, and none of them disappointed. Davis (4.56 seconds), Hughes (4.59), Graham (4.69) and Misi (4.69) all are fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL. Those times are unofficial, of course, but it's worth pointing out that the average 40 time for outside linebackers at the 2009 combine was 4.78.
  • It should come as no surprise that Campbell, USC's Charles Brown and West Virginia's Selvish Capers stood out during one-on-one mirror drills. All three looked fluid and quick, but Iowa's Bryan Bulaga showed the best poise of the group. Bulaga didn't overreact to head fakes or quick changes in direction and stayed with his man throughout.
  • USC G/C Jeff Byers had a hard time sinking his hips and keeping his shoulders back before starting his one-on-one mirror drill, and Byers' technique deteriorated once Idaho OT/G Mike Iupati forced him to change directions. Byers had a particularly difficult time staying low and that's a real concern because hip and back injuries forced Byers to miss two seasons early in his collegiate career and he looks stiff.

From other sources:

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