Pac-12: Tevin McDonald
Coach: Jim Mora: (9-5)
2012 record: 9-5 (6-3 Pac-12 South)
Key losses: RB Johnathan Franklin, OL Jeff Baca, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes.
Newcomer to watch: Now that the NCAA has signed off on his Irish exodus, five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes might be able to jump in immediately and help restore some depth to UCLA’s defensive front, which has suffered some attrition through injury and graduation.
Biggest games in 2013: There are plenty of them, as the Bruins' schedule figures to be tougher than last season. At Nebraska (Sept. 14) highlights the nonconference slate and the back-to-back games at Stanford (Oct. 19) and at Oregon (Oct. 26) is a vicious two-week stretch. They close with ASU (Nov. 23) and at USC (Nov. 30) in a span that will likely decide the South Division.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There are more than most fans would prefer to see -- like a youthful secondary that’s without Tevin McDonald (dismissed from team) and Dietrich Riley (medical retirement) and gaps across the defensive front. But replacing Franklin -- or at least replicating most of his production through a committee -- has to be a top priority. The Doak Walker finalist departs as the school’s all-time leading rusher and was a comforting and stabilizing presence for Hundley in his first season as a starter. Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Craig Lee, Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro make up the crowded committee – which will get even more crowded when Damien Thigpen returns from injury sometime in October.
Forecast: Picked by the media to take the Pac-12 South for the third straight year, the Bruins aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this season. Mora had a fantastic first season as a collegiate head coach and Hundley proved to be as advertised -- if not better. But he loses his favorite red zone target in Fauria, the aforementioned Franklin, and there are still holes on the offensive line that need to be sorted out.
The defense, as noted above, also has holes, but there are some exciting young players in the secondary eager to make a name for themselves. And, of course, Anthony Barr returns as one of the nation’s premier defensive players and a probable first-round draft pick -- possibly even top 10.
The schedule ramps up significantly in 2013. The Bruins go to Stanford for a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 title game and also face Oregon for the first time in the Mora era. Almost all of their toughest games are on the road, including Nebraska, Stanford, Oregon and USC. With some of the previously mentioned offensive stars gone, Hundley will be asked to do more with the offense than he did last year -- which includes better decision-making and command of the offense.
Yet despite all of their success in 2012, the blowout loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl lingers. As does the fact that the Bruins were the most-penalized team in the country last year and they gave up an unhealthy amount of sacks. Mora is making sure his players know they haven’t arrived yet.
The Bruins are a fascinating balancing act of proven playmakers and untested youth. If their youth matures quickly, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them in the title game for the third straight year.
So how do things stack up?
Oregon: The Ducks welcome back Erick Dargan and Brian Jackson, but Avery Patterson is back from injury, so expect him to break back into the starting lineup. Again, this might be the nation's best secondary, with the Cardinal also in that discussion.
Oregon State: We're already on record noting Ryan Murphy could be poised for a breakout season, but veteran Tyrequek Zimmerman also is back. Depth is a little questionable. The Beavers, who welcome back three of four secondary starters, ranked third in the conference in pass efficiency defense in 2012.
USC: Although the Trojans lost mainstay T.J. McDonald, they welcome back Josh Shaw, who mostly played corner last year, and Dion Bailey, who mostly played linebacker. Both were mostly out of position and are highly skilled. Throw in big-time talents such as frosh Leon McQuay and Su'a Cravens, and there aren't many teams that wouldn't trade their safeties for USC's. And no more Tampa 2 confusion also should help.
Arizona State: Team leader Alden Darby was second-team All-Pac-12 last season as the Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. Redshirt freshman Viliami Moeakiola topped the post-spring depth chart at free safety, but the competition remains open heading into fall camp. Watch out for Damarious Randall.
Washington: Sean Parker is back, and he was honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago. Redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver is competing with experienced senior Will Shamburger for the other spot.
Arizona: Everyone is back in the Wildcats secondary, and just like the cornerbacks, the safeties will look good if the pass rush is at least adequate. Former walk-on Jared Tevis was a revelation last season, while Jourdon Grandon also returns. Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a hybrid linebacker/safety sort. Patrick Onwuasor was kicked off the team.
Washington State: Deone Bucannon was second-team All-Pac-12 last season and he packs a punch, while Casey Locker also is a returning starter. Sophomore Taylor Taliulu is in the mix. What holds the Cougars back here, not unlike Arizona, is poor 2012 pass efficiency defense.
Utah: Eric Rowe is back and he's flashed plenty of potential, but Brian Blechen is -- wisely, the Pac-12 blog thinks -- moving back to linebacker. Though Tevin Carter was listed as an "Or" beside Rowe on the post-spring depth chart, expect him to compete with Tyron Morris-Edwards for the spot opposite Rowe. Charles Henderson offers depth.
California: Michael Lowe is a returning starter, but he was listed behind Alex Logan on the post-spring depth chart. Avery Sebastian is solid at strong safety. Again, this seems like a solid crew, but Cal gave up 32 touchdown passes last season, second most in the conference.
UCLA: It was a big blow when Tevin McDonald, brother of T.J. and the secondary's lone returning starter, got kicked off the team. It also didn't help when the career of the star-crossed Dietrich Riley ended because of injuries. Sophomore Randall Goforth is the likely starter at free safety, while touted incoming freshmen Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman figure to be in the mix opposite him. There are plenty of opportunities here for youngsters and veterans to make a fall camp move.
Colorado: The Buffaloes lose Ray Polk, but there's no lack of returning experience here among Josh Moten, Terrel Smith, Parker Orms, Marques Mosley and Jered Bell. But, as we noted with the corners, when you rank last in the nation in pass efficiency defense, it's difficult not to rank a "we'll see."
You can see previous previews here:
Continuing with his look at the best NFL prospects by position in 2014, ESPN's Mel Kiper projects that four of the top 10 running backs hail from the Pac-12.
Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas is No. 1, which is understandable, but also a little bit surprising simply because he doesn't fit into any one category. I could see traditionalists arguing this point. But Kiper strongly supports his claim.
Kiper on Thomas: Is he a running back? He's a little bit of everything, but he's a running back on my board because handing him the ball is the quickest way to get it to him, and getting him the ball is the most important thing. Last year, Thomas turned 92 carries into 701 yards, good for 7.6 yards per carry. This after a freshman year where he averaged an absurd 10.6 yards per carry on his 55 touches. So over his first two years, Thomas averaged 8.8 yards per carry, and the sample size is no longer miniscule.
Yes, he can also catch it, as he has 91 receptions over his first two seasons. And he's terrifying in the return game. Thomas will never be a bulk-carry runner, and he doesn't have the route-running skills of a guy like Tavon Austin, who he might be compared to based on the burst. But he's a 180-pound game-breaker, a sprinter with the shiftiness to make people miss and he has added more muscle to his frame since he broke USC's heart and headed to Eugene.
The next two Pac-12 running backs are Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey at No. 3 and USC's Silas Redd at No. 4. They fit the more traditional role.
Kiper on Carey: Extraordinarily productive in 2012, Carey piled up a whopping 1,929 yards rushing. He does it by exploding upfield when he gets a seam, and running through arm tackles with good pad level and strong leg drive and determination. Carey looks like an early-impact NFL running back because of the way he reads plays, and puts his foot in the ground to get vertical and maximize yards when they're available.
On Redd: He was a little bit forgotten about in what was a disappointing season, but you turn on the tape and see a guy who often made the most of what was just average blocking last season. Redd isn't what I'd call an explosive runner, but he does a very good job of running through contact and grinding out extra yards.
Kiper also offers an "up next" segment of five more players to watch. Included in that mix is Washington's Bishop Sankey.
Stanford fans looking for validation that they have the best safety duo in the country just got a bump from Kiper, who also released his top safety prospects for 2014 . He ranks the Stanford duo of Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards as the Nos. 2 and 3 best safety prospects, respectively.
Kiper on Reynolds: Stanford often had Reynolds playing, essentially, a deep center field, but even from there he was able to make a big impact. He doesn't have elite speed, but he anticipates really well, does a good job of not getting pushed out of position by quarterbacks who can use their eyes well, and gets himself in position to jump passes.
Kiper on Richards: Safe to say the Cardinal will be well-covered at safety in 2013. Richards is themore physical of the Stanford safeties, an in-the-box presence who is capable of making more plays against the run. He has a great sense of angles on the field, perhaps in part due to the fact he excelled in high school as a running back, wide receiver and as a cornerback.
Worth noting that also on the list is former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald, who was dismissed from the team and is now at Eastern Washington. He's No. 4 behind the Stanford tandem.
Finally, ESPN's KC Joyner offered up five prospects who could have breakout seasons in 2013 . Thomas is one of them. The other is Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Writes Joyner: Arizona State coach Todd Graham has a long history of dominant offensive performances -- his Tulsa teams produced three top-five national finishes in yards per game -- so it should come as no surprise that he was able to get this type of showing out of a redshirt sophomore in his first season as a starter. Now that Kelly has a year under his belt to go along with a great 1-2 punch in the backfield and an influx of highly talented pass-catchers, he should be a front-runner for all-conference status this year.
- Arizona has picked up a major transfer from Notre Dame.
- Arizona State OT Jamil Douglas has the makings of an all-conference player.
- New California coach Sonny Dykes wants to heal the Bears' recently flagging academics but still give borderline guys a chance.
- Colorado QB Jordan Webb has a knee injury.
- The good, bad and ugly from Oregon's scrimmage.
- Considering the history of Oregon State spring football.
- Nice story on Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
- Former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald is transferring to Eastern Washington.
- Gruden QB Camp with former USC QB Matt Barkley.
- Utah QB Travis Wilson has an odd throwing motion, but the ball gets out quickly.
- Suspended Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been formally charged with a misdemeanor DUI.
- Washington State goes full go in practice.
- Meet the most important Wildcat you've never heard of.
- No complacency from ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly.
- A new look for Cal?
- Lowell Williams making his case to crack Colorado's starting lineup.
- How do Oregon's linebackers look heading into spring ball?
- A spring preview of Oregon State's defensive line.
- Matt Leinart was better than Andrew Luck, who was better than Aaron Rodgers, who was better than Joey Harrington who was better than Matt Barkley. Flame war begins in 3,2,1... GO!
- Some more on Tevin McDonald's dismissal from the Bruins.
- The Trojans continue to tinker with the offensive line.
- So far, not so good for Utah during live work.
- Washington RB coach Johnny Nansen is "mic'd" up for a practice. (Bounce your head to the D-R-E).
- We may not see any arrests from the WSU-Idaho donnybrook.
- A schedule analysis for each team in the Pac-12.
- A friendly reminder that I'm doing the mailbag tomorrow. Questions posed in iambic pentameter or haiku move to the front of the line.
Record: 5-2, 2-2
The general consensus is that the UCLA Bruins are probably a little ahead of schedule seven games into Jim Mora's collegiate coaching debut.
With a young offensive line, a redshirt freshman quarterback and brand new systems on both sides of the ball, the Bruins have, for the most part, looked pretty good.
When we look at the two losses, they fell at home by a touchdown to Oregon State, which in retrospect isn't exactly a "bad" loss, seeing as the Beavers are a Top-10 team. The loss at Cal was really the first and only time we saw significant breakdowns in communication. Worth noting that UCLA bounced back with victories after each loss and the defense only gave up one offensive touchdown in the win over Utah last week.
Through their first seven games, the Bruins are one of five Pac-12 teams to be averaging at least 30 points per game on offense while ranking sixth in scoring defense, yielding 22.6 points per game. Running back Johnathan Franklin got off to a blistering start and picked up some early Heisman buzz, but that has settled a bit. He still leads the Pac-12 in rushing (125.4 yards per game, 878 total yards) and rookie quarterback Brett Hundley has ranged from good to outstanding. With a 66.5 completion percentage and 14 touchdowns, he ranks fourth in the league in passing efficiency.
Eric Kendricks and Tevin McDonald are among league leaders in tackles and Anthony Barr is among conference leaders with seven sacks. After a bye this week, a tough back end of the schedule finishes out with No. 10 USC and No. 20 Stanford.
Offensive MVP, Brett Hundley: There's good reason to give this to Franklin for the outstanding season he's put together so far. But Hundley has been just as amazing -- and the fact that he's a first-year guy makes it that much more impressive. To go with his 14 touchdowns, he's also rushed for five touchdowns -- one more than Franklin. He's taken to the offense quickly and is the most exciting young player in the conference.
Defensive MVP, Anthony Barr: An argument could be made for the resurging Datone Jones or the versatile Damien Holmes. But Barr, who switched to the defensive side of the ball, has blown up. He has 37 tackles -- 11 for a loss -- to go with his sacks. He's also broken up a pair of passes, notched three quarterback hits and forced a team-high three fumbles.
- Cody Vaz, QB, Oregon State: There's temptation to give a helmet sticker to Markus Wheaton for his three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) or Jordan Poyer for his “oh look, a football” pick-six. But it's got to be Vaz, who made his first career start and was sharp, completing 20 of 32 balls for 332 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 42-24 victory over BYU, the nation's No. 3 scoring defense. He throws one mean block also.
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Oh yeah, he had a pretty good game also. Wheaton had the touchdowns, but Cooks had a monster game, catching eight balls for 173 yards -- which worked out to an average of 21.6 yards per catch. Plus he played three quarters on a taped-up ankle after hurting it in the first quarter. Snaps to him for gutting it out.
- Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Another game, another outstanding performance from the Sun Devils' quarterback, who tossed five touchdowns with no picks on 20 of 28 passing for 308 yards on the road in a 51-17 victory over Colorado. The Sun Devils are using the screen game as well as any team in the country and Kelly is executing the offense magnificently. Tougher games coming up, but at this point, Kelly’s name needs to be in the conversation for offensive player of the year (and there's a strong chance he might appear in the top five of someone's Heisman ballot this week. Hint: Mine).
- Dion Bailey, LB, USC: While the Trojans were able to put some pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price with five sacks, it was Bailey who had a hand in half of the Trojans’ turnovers. He picked off one ball (which was a pretty sweet play reaching back against his body's momentum) and also forced a fumble by laying a big hit (though probably not the most fundamentally sound) on a scrambling Price. He finished with seven tackles in the 24-14 win.
- Tevin McDonald, S, UCLA: Not a flashy performance from McDonald. No interceptions or forced fumbles. But his 10 tackles -- eight of them solo jobs -- were a game high in the 21-14 win over Utah. Just a good, solid showing in a game that was a little tighter than most people thought it would be.
- Keenan Allen, WR, Cal: Quarterback Zach Maynard had 14 completions and 11 of them went to Allen, who moved up to No. 2 on Cal’s all-time receiver list. His 166 yards included a 69-yard touchdown in the 31-17 road victory over Washington State.
- Mora on coaching the sons of players he coached in the NFL: "Coached Tevin’s dad in San Francisco and (Tevin) was always running around the locker room. I’ve enjoyed the transition from the NFL to UCLA. It’s been a lot of fun. Our responsibility goes beyond football games. Our job is to help develop them into the men their parents envisioned them becoming."
- Franklin on restoring pride: "It’s definitely been tough. I feel we’re taking the right steps into putting UCLA back on the map. We’re working as hard as we can to get better. If we do that, everything will fall into place."
- McDonald on restoring pride: "We need to be accountable to ourselves and our teammates. That’s something that may have been lacking the last couple of years."
- Mora: "We want to be a football team that plays with great discipline and great toughness."
- Mora on his NFL background: "I think you walk in with a little bit of credibility because you spent so much time in the NFL. But you have to earn your credibility every day. We have 98 years of NFL playing and coaching experience. Coached 16 Hall of Famers. Yet we’re grounded in college football. When Lou Spanos asks Tevin to execute an assignment, he can show film of Troy Polamalu doing it and hold up two Super Bowl rings."
- Mora on the quarterback situation: "We were looking for someone to jump out of the pack. But that didn’t happen because the whole pack elevated. Wait two weeks into summer camp then we’ll make a decision and move forward. Whoever we go with, it will be the right decision. We’re going to put a heck of a team around whoever the quarterback is."
- McDonals on his father (Tim McDonald’s) involvement: "I would say he’s pretty involved. He was my high school coach and Pop Warner coach."
- Mora: "Tim was the smartest football player I ever coached and his son is a lot like him."
- McDonald on his brother, USC safety T.J.: "We don’t really compare stats. I got my first start in the fourth week. He’s a hell of a player, one of the best safeties in college."
- Mora on Ellis McCarthy: "I haven’t seen him play at this level yet. We have to assess the best way to use him. He might be a starter, he might be a role player. He might be on goal line or third down. Too early to be definitive on his role."
2011 conference record: 5-4 (first in South)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter 1
RB Johnathan Franklin, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, LB Damien Holmes, S Tevin McDonald.
WR Nelson Rosario, OT Mike Harris, C Kai Maiava
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Johnathan Franklin* (976 yards)
Passing: Kevin Prince* (1,828 yards)
Receiving: Nelson Rosario (1,161 yards)
Tackles: Patrick Larimore* (81)
Sacks: Datone Jones* (3)
Interceptions: Andrew Abbott* (4)
1. Nice to meet you: Step one for a new coaching staff is to acclimate their players to not only their systems, but how they go about running their program. UCLA's players learned quickly that Jim Mora and Co. don't waste time. Players were introduced to a high-tempo practice session that took some getting used to, but ultimately they figured it out by the end of spring.
2. New look-offense: Players seemed to pick up new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's pass-happy scheme rather quickly -- and by the spring game, the quarterbacks were tossing multiple touchdowns. Each quarterback has said the new offense is less complex, but allows him to make quicker decisions. Because it's so pass-oriented, it caters to the talents of the quarterbacks. Which one starts, however, is still up for grabs (see below).
3. Defensive depth: The move of Holmes from defensive end to outside linebacker has opened up another spot on a fairly deep defensive line. Jones should flourish as a pass-rusher in the 3-4 scheme. Cassius Marsh, Brandon Willis and Owamagbe Odighizuwa bring depth and talent to a position group that should be the strength of UCLA's defense.
1. To be continued ...: Mora said he was hoping to name a quarterback by the end of spring. No dice. He wants a longer look at Brett Hundley, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut before deciding. Each brings his own skill set and talents. Brehaut put up impressive numbers in the spring game and Hundley is oozing potential. This is the most important decision of Mora's young career as a college coach. No need to rush it.
2. Depth needed: The Bruins can fill out most spots, but there are still depth questions on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. Xavier Su'a-Filo returns -- which helps at tackle -- and linebacker Eric Kendricks had a good spring. But there are competitions other than quarterback to keep an eye on as they spill over into the fall. Which leads us to ...
Incoming help? It's possible that some of the players coming in could make an immediate impact. Which ones, however, remains a question. Defensive end Ellis McCarthy is likely to contribute right away; Ishmael Adams could pitch in in the secondary. Offensive linemen Simon Goines and Carl Hulick could also be in the mix.
Up next: Tevin McDonald's pick-three.
Who & against whom? UCLA's redshirt freshman safety helped the Bruins rebound from the 48-12 debacle in the desert at Arizona just one week before by leading a defensive charge against Cal.
The numbers: McDonald did in one day what a lot of college football players accomplish in a career. He picked off Cal quarterback Zach Maynard three times to help the Bruins to a 31-14 win. Three interceptions in one game matches a UCLA school record.
A closer look: Not that UCLA's cup was ever overflowing with confidence this season. But it hit an all-time low following the embarrassing loss to Arizona the week before. Cue McDonald and his secondary hat trick. More importantly, the Bruins didn't let his efforts go to waste. All three interceptions resulted in points -- two touchdowns and a field goal. Cal had five turnovers on the day and 24 of UCLA's 31 points came off of Cal mistakes. Two of McDonald's interceptions came in the fourth quarter. Holding on to a 17-14 lead early in the fourth, McDonald grabbed his second pick of the game, which set up a 20-yard Derrick Coleman run. Later in the fourth, he got his third interception just outside the UCLA red zone, which the Bruins turned around and marched 83 yards to close out the win.
From the Pac-12 release:
Polk, a junior from Redlands, Calif., broke or tied a number of school records in the Huskies’ 42-31 win over Arizona. Polk became the first player in Washington history to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game. He finished the night with 144 yards on 34 carries and an additional 100 yards on four receptions. Polk scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) to tie the UW modern school record for touchdowns in a game. Additionally, he notched his 18th career 100-yard rushing game to set a new record. Polk joined Napoleon Kaufman as one of just two players in Washington history to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons as he broke through the mark on Saturday.
McDonald, a redshirt freshman from Fresno, Calif., had three interceptions in UCLA’s 31-14 win over California. The three interceptions tied the school single-game record, and McDonald became the fifth player to accomplish the feat. Rahim Moore had the last three-interception game for the Bruins in 2009 against San Diego State. McDonald also tied the Pac-12 freshman record with three picks in one game. He added three tackles as well.
Whitaker, a junior from San Diego, Calif., made both of his field goal attempts (33 and 29 yards) and all six of his PATs in Stanford’s 56-48 triple-overtime win over USC. Whitaker was filling in for the injured Jordan Williamson, who entered the week leading the Pac-12 in scoring at 10.6 points per game.
Also Nominated (Offense): Cameron Marshall, ASU; Tony Clemons, COLO; Andrew Luck, STAN; Kevin Prince, UCLA; Curtis McNeal, USC; John White, UTAH.
Also Nominated (Defense): Clint Floyd, ASU; A.J. Tarpley, STAN; Nickell Robey, USC; Tevita Finau, UTAH; Princeton Fuimaono, WASH.
Also Nominated (Special Teams): Alex Garoutte, ASU; Bryan Anger, P, CAL; Jeff Locke, UCLA; Andre Heidari, USC; Coleman Petersen, UTAH
Team of the week: Stanford. The Cardinal, winners of 10 in a row by 25 or more points, proved it could win a nailbiter when it outlasted USC 56-48 in triple overtime.
Biggest play: In order to not make this all about USC-Stanford, this incredible play from Arizona defensive back Robert Golden has to be seen to be believed. Washington QB Keith Price hit receiver James Johnson, who bobbled the ball into Golden's hands. Then Golden rambled his way for a circuitous 91-yard interception return for a TD. Sure, the Wildcats lost, but this was clearly the play of the day.
Offensive standout: Washington running back Chris Polk scored five touchdowns and became the first player in school history with 100 yards rushing and receiving in a single game. Polk had 34 carries for 144 yards and four TDs and he caught four passes for 100 yards with another score in the Huskies 42-31 win over Arizona.
Defensive standout: UCLA's freshman safety Tevin McDonald, who has stepped in for the injured Tony Dye, intercepted three passes in the Bruins' 31-14 win over California. Those picks set up two touchdowns and a field goal. He now has three career interceptions. He also had three tackles. And, yes, I can't believe I missed this while handing out helmet stickers Saturday night.
Special teams standout: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in the Ducks' 43-28 win over Washington State. He scored just after the Cougars had narrowed the gap to 29-20 with 3:52 left in the third quarter. He also rushed four times for 26 yards and caught two passes for 54 yards, including a 45-yard TD.
Smiley face: A week after perhaps UCLA's worst performance of the year -- and perhaps Rick Neuheisel's tenure in Westwood -- at Arizona on ESPN, the Bruins bounced back with one of their best, dominating California 31-14. And if the Bruins upset Arizona State on Saturday, guess who suddenly controls their own South Division destiny? And if the Bruins win the South, how could Neuheisel possibly be fired?
Frowny face: California. Wow. That was really, really bad. A week after stomping Utah, the Bears waved a white flag at UCLA. And after QB Zach Maynard tossed four interceptions, it's hard to believe coach Jeff Tedford isn't reviewing his options at the position. Oregon State is the runner-up here after getting pushed around at Utah. Bad Bears! Bad Beavers!
Thought of the week: Oregon visits Washington on Saturday in the final game before Husky Stadium begins a major renovation. Ducks-Huskies is the most bitter rivalry in the Pac-12. No offense to other rivalries, but it seems as though just about any post on the Pac-12 blog -- Who's the best backup kicker? -- degenerates into a back-and-forth between Ducks and Huskies. That said: it's been a mismatch for a long time in Oregon's favor. The Ducks have won seven in a row, their longest streak in the series, by at least 20 points. The average margin of victory during the run is 26.4 points. If you are 18 years old, you can barely remember when the Huskies were even competitive in the series, which isn't a good thing in recruiting. So what's the thought of the week? It's this: At some point, Washington is going to beat Oregon again.
Questions for the week: California, Utah and UCLA are all 4-4. Each, therefore, needs two wins to earn bowl eligibility. The Pac-12 clearly lacks depth this year, but the conference really could use a few more bowl-eligible teams to fill out its seven bowl contracts. The question is: Which, if any, of these inconsistent teams finds enough gumption to win two more games?
That is a cause for concern.
On the other hand, safety Rahim Moore, linebacker Akeem Ayers and end Datone Jones are future high NFL draft picks who provide a cause of optimism.
Although the Bruins walked away from spring practices with some questions -- particularly at two linebacker spots -- and an obvious need for some youngsters to immediately contribute, there's enough talent for them to again rank as one of the Pac-10's top defenses.
You lost a lot of guys who saw a lot of action: Who's going to be hardest to replace?
Chuck Bullough: All of them were good. The hardest to replace? It's really different aspects. Obviously, Brian Price being such a disruptive force up front -- that's a guy you're going to miss. Then we have our two linebackers. Reggie Carter was a four-year starter, so obviously his experience, him knowing everything. He was a team leader of the defense. And obviously Alterraun Verner, who was one of the best corners to ever play here. But we have young guys who played well in spring who we hope can step up. Now, I don't know if they will be at the same level as those guys were because those guys were obviously seniors and these guys are younger. But these guys have the ability to get to that level.
How might the 2010 defense be different than the 2009 unit?
CB: We'll be a little younger. We lost those five seniors. But the guys who played this spring -- [middle linebackers] Steve Sloan and Patrick Larimore -- played really well. Replacing Kyle Bosworth at "will" linebacker we've got [Sean Westgate] and we moved a safety down there, Glenn Love, who played real well and was a real surprise of spring. They have a chance to be comparable to the guys from last year. We moved Nate Chandler over from tight end to defensive tackle. He's a big 6-foot-5, fast with great feet. Between him and David Carter and a couple of the young puppies coming in, we'll replace Brian Price. Well, a Brian Price only comes along every once in a while with his explosiveness. But these guys are good football players. The guy stepping in for Verner would be Sheldon Price. He was a freshman last year but he started as a true freshman just like Verner did. It all depends on them taking that next step and being leaders. We lost all our leadership. So I think, with the defense, it will have to be seen as to who takes over the leadership role with these guys gone, when it comes to the fall and it's time to play games, who are the leaders of the defense.
Let's go through the three levels: What are you happy with concerning your defensive line and what concerns you?
CB: We feel very good about our D-line. Obviously, we lost both our tackles, but like I said, Nate Chandler came over and played really well. David Carter has improved. Both of those guys are big bodies -- 6-5 and 6-4, 290 and both of them can run. A tackle we have coming in, Cassius Marsh, who we've been keeping in touch with, is really strong for a freshman, which is usually the problem they have coming in and trying to play Pac-10 football from high school. They aren't strong enough. But he's really strong and he's got a nasty streak. So we're expecting him to have to be in the rotation. We've got a guy, Sealii Epenesa, from Hawaii, who's a big, huge body guy. We'll have to see if he can hold up strength-wise but he'll definitely have the ability down the road. Then we have a guy named [Wesley] Flowers who's coming in. We're not sure if he's a D-end or D-tackle yet. But defensive tackle-wise, I feel pretty confident with the switch-over with Nate and having those other guys step up and grow up and the young puppies coming in and being able to help -- they probably won't be able to start -- but they will be able to help. We'll play about four tackles a game. Defensive end, we lost Korey Bosworth, but we have Iuta Tepa and Keenan Graham who made big improvements during spring. Obviously, Datone Jones should become a dominant defensive line player at tackle and end. He's taken a step up. I project for him down the road that he will be a first-round draft pick. He's that good, that big, that fast and he's really hungry. The other two guys obviously didn't play much, so when the live action starts we'll have to find out about those two. And obviously we have [Owamagbe Odighizuwa] coming in -- one of the top defensive ends in the nation. Then again, can he learn the defense? He's got the ability. But you never know until they get here and try to learn the defense. Obviously there's a lot more scheme in college. So we came out of spring feeling pretty good defensive line-wise, compared to going in. Going in we didn't know what Nate Chandler had, we didn't know what Keenan Graham had, we didn't know that Datone had made such a big jump, which he did.
At linebacker, what does Akeem Ayers need to do to become an All-American sort of player?
CB: He's a guy who should be another high-round draft pick for the NFL. He's grown with the defense and he's probably the most athletic linebacker you're going to find. He's a guy who, the more he's in the system, every year, he's gotten better. His second year, we had to play him as a nickel linebacker because he couldn't mentally handle both base and be a nickel. Those were just two different spots. Last year, he could. This year, we feel he should be even more comfortable with the defense. He should not even have to think at all. He still had to think a little bit last year, I believe, but he should just react now because he knows the defense inside and out
How do the competitions at middle and weakside linebacker stand?
CB: I've mentioned Sloan and Larimore need to battle it out next fall and Westgate and Love got to battle it out in the fall. Both are open. Both will be competitions in training camp. They have three months here to improve and we'll see in training camp. But we've got four guys who we believe can play. They did a good job in spring and showed it. Now it's just going to be a training camp battle.
Rahim Moore is already an All-American: Where can he improve?
CB: He's started for two years. He's into the system for a third year. Now his role has become that he has to be the leader in the secondary. Verner was kind of the leader last year. Now Moore has got to be the leader.
Besides Moore, tell me about what's good and what concerns you in the secondary?
CB: We feel pretty good with our two safeties. Obviously, both Tony Dye and [Moore] have both played. They've started for two years now. That's where our veterans are in the secondary and the safety position. And obviously we have Dietrich Riley coming in who's a big-time recruit who is very bright. We expect him to be able to come in and contribute and play. And we've got some guys who've got another fall to improve. We feel good about the safety position. The corners, obviously I mentioned Price before. He's a second-year starter. He's a tall guy who's gaining weight. Last year, he didn't have enough weight. He was probably 160 pounds. He was too small. But he's gained 15 or 20 pounds, I think, without losing his 10.5 speed in the 100 [meters]. He could be a special player and it's his turn to take over at corner. Then we have Aaron Hester who was a starter before he broke his leg. He's another big, tall, long-armed guy who can run like the wind. We feel comfortable with him. We have Andrew Abbott and Courtney Viney behind those two who are two savvy veterans that we feel can play. And obviously we've got a couple of freshmen coming in. We've got Anthony Jefferson and Tevin McDonald. With Tevin McDonald, we don't know if he's a safety or a corner. We also have Shaq Richardson coming in. So we have some guys there. But it's hard to know with those rookies until they actually play. If those guys can play, they will just be bonuses.
When you lose six guys like you lost, most folks think you'll take a step back. Do you think the 2010 unit can be as good as your 2009 crew?
CB: I think it will be interesting who steps up and becomes a leader. The "mike" [middle] linebacker in my defense has always been that guy. He makes all the checks. So Sloan and Larimore, one of them -- whoever it is -- has got to step up. Reggie Carter grew up into that leadership role as he got older. In spring, we saw Datone and Ayers and Rahim take up that leadership role which last year was with the older guys. Those three guys should be the leaders because they've played so much and gotten a lot of accolades.