Pac-12: Troy Nolan

A look back at 2006 recruiting classes

July, 20, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

The 2006 recruiting class members are either seniors or redshirt juniors this fall, so they should be the backbones of most Pac-10 team's starting lineups.

Therefore, it seems like a reasonable moment to look back and review some recruiting hits and misses.

In the big picture, USC ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to's Scouts Inc., behind No. 1 Florida (sorta makes sense, eh?). UCLA, at No. 19, was the only other Pac-10 team in the Scouts Inc., top-25. ranked USC No. 1 in the nation, Arizona 19th, UCLA 20th and California 23rd. The rest of the Pac-10 went, in order, Arizona State (32nd in nation), Washington (35th), Stanford (38), Oregon State (41), Washington State (45) and Oregon (52).

Oregon last? Hmm.

Anyway... here's an overview


Class: 24

ESPNU top 150 players: 2

How many are expected to start in 2009: Nine (CB Devin Ross, DT Earl Mitchell, FS Cam Nelson, WR Terrell Turner, DE Brooks Reed, DE Ricky Elmore, WR Delashaun Dean, OG Conan Amituanai, C Colin Baxter)

Misses: QB Tyler Lyon, RB Derke Robinson

Verdict: This is an underrated class -- even guys who aren't listed as starters are projected to contribute in 2009. It's also notable that the few who didn't pan out -- or were problems, such as DE Louis Holmes -- were the big names.

Arizona State

Class: 24

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2009: Seven (SS Ryan McFoy, RB Dimitri Nance, OG Jon Hargis, WR Kyle Williams, DT Saia Falahola, QB Danny Sullivan, LB Travis Goethel OR LB Gerald Munns)

Misses: DE Jermaine Williams, RB Rodney Glass

Verdict: A solid class when you consider that nine of the 24 signees were JC players who have already moved on -- a group that included RB Ryan Torain and S Troy Nolan, who were the class's most elite performers.


Class: 20

ESPNU top 150 players: 2

How many are expected to start in 2009: Six (CB Darian Hagan, DT Derrick Hill, QB Kevin Riley, C Chris Guarnero, DE Tyson Alualu, LB Mike Mohamed)

Misses: RB James Montgomery, RB Tracy Slocum, DT Justin Prueitt

Verdict: Ratings, smatings. Montgomery, Slocum and Prueitt were highly rated, Alualu and Mohamed barely registered. Overall, a solid class.


Class: 20

ESPNU top 150 players: 0

How many are expected to start in 2009: Five (C Jordan Holmes, LT Bo Thran, RT C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Spenser Paysinger)

Misses: The class included three quarterbacks: Cody Kempt, Justin Roper and Nate Costa. Kempt and Roper have transferred, Costa has been riddled by injuries.

Verdict: Decidedly mixed. One thing is for sure: This class bolstered the Ducks offensive line. Also interesting, Bair and Paysinger transitioned to their current positions from tight end and receiver, respectively.

(Read full post)

Names to remember (that you might hear in September)

May, 19, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Much of the talk during spring practices is about guys who are raising eyebrows, pushing for starting jobs or are on the cusp of breaking through.

Here are some of those guys.

Conan Amituanai, Arizona, OG: This 335-pound junior played well this spring and is expected to give the Wildcats flexibility up front as they fill some gaps. Most particularly, his emergence allows Mike Diaz to move out to left tackle, where he'd replace Eben Britton.

Clint Floyd, Arizona State, FS: This sophomore saw action in 2008 -- when he wasn't hurt -- and he's the guy who will replace the invaluable Troy Nolan.

Alex Lagemann, California, WR: Fellow receiver Marvin Jones got a lot of attention for his strong spring, but Lagemann also opened eyes. The sophomore could emerge if returning veterans don't rise to the challenge.

Eddie Pleasant, Oregon, LB: New coach Chip Kelly raved about his linebackers this spring, and Pleasant earned kudos for stepping in for the departed Jerome Boyd.

Suaesi Tuimaunei, Oregon State, S: The Beavers are rebuilding their secondary, with all four 2008 starters gone. While there are concerns at cornerback, Tuimaunei and sophomore Lance Mitchell are an upgrade athletically at the two safety spots, and some believe this position will be stronger next fall.

David DeCastro, Stanford, OG: This redshirt freshman earned good reviews and is almost certainly going to start on one of the guard spots.

Aaron Hester, UCLA, CB: Hester will need to show mental toughness because teams are going to target this redshirt freshman opposite Alterraun Verner.

Tyron Smith, USC, OT: The Trojans welcomed back all five 2008 starters on their offensive line. Smith wasn't one of them. The true sophomore is just too talented to sit.

Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington: The Huskies need a receiver to emerge to complement D'Andre Goodwin. Kearse, a sophomore, could be the guy. Or maybe it will be fellow sophomore Devin Aguilar. Or both.

Skyler Stormo, TE, Washington State: The redshirt freshman had the best spring of any Cougar at the position and caught a couple of passes in the spring game. Showed promise blocking, too.

Arizona State spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Arizona State Sun Devils

2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 4-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 6; Punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

OT Shawn Lauvao, K Thomas Weber, DE Dexter Davis, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Mike Nixon, CB Omar Bolden

Key losses

QB Rudy Carpenter, OL Paul Fanaika, WR Michael Jones, FS Troy Nolan

2007 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Dimitri Nance* (410)
Passing: Rudy Carpenter (2,493)
Receiving: Michael Jones (744)
Tackles: Mike Nixon* (90)
Sacks: Dexter Davis* (11)
Interceptions: Mike Nixon* (5)

2009 Schedule

Sep. 5 Idaho State
Sep. 19 Louisiana-Monroe
Sep. 26 at Georgia
Oct. 3 Oregon State
Oct. 10 at Washington State
Oct. 17 Washington
Oct. 24 at Stanford
Oct. 31 California
Nov. 7 USC
Nov. 14 at Oregon
Nov. 21 at UCLA
Nov. 28 Arizona

Spring answers

1. Some line answers: Arizona State's 2009 may swing on the improvement of its offensive line, and two moves appear to be paying off. First, Shawn Lauvao moved from guard to left tackle. He's the Sun Devils' best blocker, and coaches believe he's an all-conference candidate. Also, sophomore Garth Gerhart, brother of Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, eclipsed senior Thomas Altieri at center.

2. Safety in McFoy: The Sun Devils' biggest void on defense was the safety spot vacated by Troy Nolan, but senior Ryan McFoy, who's bounced back and forth from the secondary and linebacker, looks like he's found a home. He's athletic, a big hitter and he could be the final piece on a defense that figures to be fairly stout.

3. Sullivan steps up: While senior Danny Sullivan hasn't won the quarterback job just yet, he's the heavy favorite to do so in the fall, replacing four-year starter Rudy Carpenter. Sullivan had plenty of doubters heading into spring, but he showed improved athleticism, a good and accurate arm, and his knowledge of the offense put him ahead of his competitors. Most importantly: His solid performance probably boosted confidence all around -- his as well as his coaches' and teammates' confidence in him.

Fall questions

1. Line needs to get healthy: Three potential offensive line starters -- Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink and Adam Tello -- need to get healthy. Each sat out the spring, and Hustad, perhaps the best of the lot, in particular, is a concern. If all three are healthy, the Sun Devils' line may improve dramatically. If one or two don't, then things will be pretty thin -- again -- up front.

2. A tangled Weber is weaved: Thomas Weber is one of the nation's best kickers, but he's only an OK punter. He doesn't mind doing both jobs, but the coaches think he'll be better at kicking if he concentrates on that. So there's been an ongoing search to find someone to beat him out at punter. That search continues because no one was able to consistently boot the ball better than Weber.

3. Will the frosh deliver? At least a couple of incoming freshmen are expected to help immediately, particularly touted linebacker Vontaze Burfict and defensive tackle Corey Adams. If they arrive in shape, ready to play and as talented as advertised, they should at least provide some much-needed depth. And then the Sun Devils' defense could really make some noise this fall.

Big East nips Pac-10 for draft lead

April, 27, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].

The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.

The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).

Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).

USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.

Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.

Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.

Here's the complete list


Eben Britton, OT, Jacksonville, second
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville, fourth

Arizona State

Troy Nolan, S, Houston, seventh
Paul Fanaika, OG, Philadelphia, seventh


Alex Mack, C, Cleveland, first
Zach Follett, LB, Detroit, seventh
Cameron Morrah, TE, seventh


Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh

Oregon State

Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh






Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth



Washington State

Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth

More bodies, more competition for Sun Devils

March, 16, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is throwing names around and reporters pens are racing and it's hard to figure out who's first team, who's second team and who's merely intriguing.

The confusion, by the way, is a good thing.

  Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
  Arizona State's Danny Sullivan is one of five guys competing for the starting quarterback spot.
A year after trotting out a handful of young guys who clearly weren't ready to play in the Pac-10 -- particularly on the offensive line -- the Sun Devils' depth chart appears full of potential and full of reasons to believe that a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2008 was merely a blip for Erickson's rebuilding project in the desert.

"We've got bodies for a change," Erickson said. "That also brings in the thing USC has -- competition."

Of course, when spring practices start on March 24, everyone will be asking about the quarterbacks, and Erickson is glad to answer.

And the names start flowing.

He's got five guys competing. Senior Danny Sullivan, who waited patiently while Rudy Carpenter owned the position the previous three-plus seasons, starts at No. 1. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy is No. 2, but he's got to prove his elbow has fully healed.

Redshirt freshman Jack Elway -- yes, that guy's son -- is No. 3 after running the scout team a year ago. Sophomore Chasen Stangel is fourth in the pecking order.

Then there's the tall guy.

He's No. 5 for now, but 6-foot-8, 235-pound Brock Osweiler, a true freshman from Kalispell, Mont., has already enrolled and already has tongues wagging.

"He's got a chance," Erickson said.

Coy isn't a term often applied to Erickson, but there's just a hint of that when he fields questions about Osweiler. Time's winged chariot might be hurrying near, as coach Andrew Marvell once told reporters, but Osweiler's candidacy could linger into the fall as the Sun Devils' coaches winnow the field to two or three guys.

"Age has nothing to do with who will be the guy," Erickson said. "None of them have any experience."

That's not completely true. Sullivan has seen spot action. He went 15-of-43 for 151 yards last year with two interceptions and one touchdown. But Erickson isn't counting those uninspiring numbers, or counting out Sullivan, whose lack of mobility is countered by his experience and strong arm.

"We've seen Danny Sullivan every day for two years, and I think he's very underrated," Erickson said.

Of course, quarterback isn't everything. The Sun Devils felt pretty good about Carpenter last year, but their inability to protect him over the past two seasons seemed to catch up to them as the season wore on and the record-setting hurler seemed to lose his rhythm.

Which brings us back to the exact same Big Issue Above All Others ASU had a year ago. Any Sun Devils fans know what's coming?

"Bottom line is you've got to block somebody," Erickson said. "Bottom line is you've got to be able to run the football."

That is where Erickson is most optimistic about improvement. He now sees a for-real two-deep depth chart with more guys who look like they can play.

The only certainty is workout-warrior Shawn Lauvao moving from guard to left tackle. After that, it's wide open.

On the other side of the ball, there's also going to be competition and player-shuffling, but the questions are more pleasant.

"Defensively, we've got a lot of good players coming back," Erickson said. "That's a strength for us."

The biggest position switch is Travis Goethel moving from strongside linebacker to the middle, replacing Morris Wooten, where he'll compete with former starter Gerald Munns, who's returning after leaving the team last season for personal reasons. The arrival of prep All-American Vontaze Burfict in the fall figures to further thicken the plot.

The biggest competition will be to replace All-Pac-10 safety Troy Nolan. The list of candidates for Nolan's spot -- and strong safety for that matter -- includes Clint Floyd, Max Tabach, Ryan McFoy, Keelan Johnson, Jarrell Holman and freshman Matthew Tucker, who's already enrolled.

So, yeah -- whew -- that's a lot of guys.

Which has Erickson expecting his Sun Devils to emerge from spring practices believing 2008 was the program equivalent of eating a bad oyster.

Cover two? Checking in with the Pac-10 safeties

March, 5, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

Safeties are the last resort. They help on run support. A big-hitting safety can make a receiving corps wilt.

The Pac-10 was strong at safety last year: USC's Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison, Oregon's Patrick Chung and T.J. Ward, Arizona State's Troy Nolan, Arizona's Cam Nelson, UCLA's Rahim Moore and Oregon State's Greg Laybourn and Al Afalava.

Of that group, only Mays -- a huge surprise -- Ward, Nelson and Moore are back.

So where does everyone stand?

Great shape

  • USC: Mays is a certain consensus preseason All-American and a certain first-round NFL draft choice. He might be the best all-around athlete in college football. Will Harris started the final six games last year and played well while Ellison was hurt.
  • California: All four safeties on Cal's two-deep depth chart are back. None of them made all-conference honors, but the Bears' pass defense ranked second in the conference and intercepted twice as many passes (24) as TD throws (12) it gave up.

Good shape

  • Arizona: The Wildcats might be in great shape here if sophomore Robert Golden's move to strong safety from cornerback works out. Junior Cam Nelson was third on the team last year with 67 tackles.
  • Stanford: Strong safety Bo McNally, with his 24 consecutive starts, leads an experienced crew -- Sean Wiser and Taylor Skaufel both started games last year at free safety. But the Cardinal pass defense wasn't very good, which is a problem.
  • Oregon: It's hard to replace a guy like rover Patrick Chung, but the big-hitting Ward -- a free safety in 2008 -- is a good start. Stepping in for Ward figures to be sophomore Javes Lewis.
  • UCLA: Strong safety Bret Lockett is the only loss among the six names on the depth chart at the end of the 2008 season. Moore looked like a budding star at free safety at times last year. A name to look out for is redshirt freshman E.J. Woods, who could jump some folks on the depth chart this spring. 
  • Washington State: Free safety Xavier Hicks, tied for fourth in the Pac-10 with 7.8 tackles per game in 2008, is back. Strong safety Alfonso Jackson is gone, but Chima Nwachukwu started seven games last year. Among the issues facing the Cougars, safety is down the line. 

We'll see

  • Arizona State: Starters Troy Nolan and Rodney Cox are gone. There's plenty of young talent ready to step up, but it is unproven. 
  • Oregon State: Two highly productive starters are gone, but the Beavers actually might be better at the position in 2009, or at least more athletic, with Suaesi Tuimaunei and Lance Mitchell stepping in.
  • Washington: Nate Williams earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors last year, but it's wide open who will start beside him. Recall that the Huskies gave up 24 touchdown passes and allowed opponents to complete 67 percent of their passes last year.

The Replacements: Biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-10

February, 23, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

One of the charms of college football is the mostly predictable roster rotation. Young guys break through, become stars and then leave after their third, fourth or fifth year. Then a new cast tries to fill the void.

While there are numerous size 36 EEE shoes to fill -- figuratively speaking, of course -- in the Pac-10 this spring, we'll focus on five here.

  Jeff Golden/Getty Images
  It's going to be tough for the Trojans to replace Rey Maualuga.

And because quarterback competitions across the conference are so obvious, we're going to make this a "non-quarterback" category.

Also note that spring is a time for the experimentation. Coaches love to mix-and-match players, so there might be some surprises we didn't anticipate.

Big shoes: USC LB Rey Maualuga

Stepping in: Sophomore Chris Galippo

  • Out goes everybody's All-American Maualuga, in goes everybody's 2006 prep All-American Galippo, a sure tackler who packs a punch at 255 pounds. He had 12 tackles, two coming for a loss, and an interception last season. He saw action as a true freshman before suffering a herniated disk in his back, an injury that also limited him last season. He seemed healthy the second half of the season, but back injuries are tricky. That might be the biggest issue standing between Galippo and future stardom.

Big shoes: California C Alex Mack

Stepping in: Junior Richard Fisher or junior Chris Guarnero

  • Fisher is a former walk-on and a vegetarian. For real. He was listed as the backup behind Mack last season. Guarnero started the first three games at left guard before suffering a season-ending toe injury. He is expected back for spring ball. With a new offensive line coach, Steve Marshall, and lots of returning starting experience -- seven players have started at least one game -- there might be lots of experimenting up front this spring.

Big shoes: Oregon DE Nick Reed

Stepping in: Junior Brandon Bair, junior Kenny Rowe, JC transfer Zac Clark

  • Reed had 20 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last year (29.5 for his career). His potential replacements had no sacks last season. Some Oregon fans took issue with my suggesting in our "What to watch this spring," that Bair was the frontrunner to replace Reed. I wrote that because Rowe was listed at 215 pounds on last year's depth chart and was almost exclusively a pass-rush specialist. Meanwhile, Clark is an unknown quantity as an incoming JC transfer. On the other hand, Bair is more in the mold of returning big end Will Tukuafu, so perhaps Rowe, who's listed at 230 pounds on the updated roster, and Clark will battle it out. Guessing this one is wide open, to be honest.

Big shoes: Arizona State FS Troy Nolan

Stepping in: Sophomore Clint Floyd leads a pack of possibilities

  • Nolan had 64 tackles and four interceptions playing center field for the Sun Devils' defense, and he'll be the toughest guy to replace for a unit that should be fairly salty next fall. Floyd will get first crack, but junior Max Tabach, redshirt freshman Keelan Johnson and senior Jarrell Holman could make a move.

Big shoes: Oregon State WR Sammie Stroughter (and WR Shane Morales)

Stepping in: Junior Darrell Catchings and redshirt freshman Jordan Bishop

  • Stroughter was the Pac-10's only 1,000-yard receiver last year. Morales added 743 yards, while this duo combined for 15 of the Beavers 25 touchdown receptions. Catchings caught only seven passes but was No. 2 on the depth chart. Bishop was impressive while redshirting, particularly during Sun Bowl practices. And slot receiver James Rodgers figures to see more balls downfield this fall after mostly being a fly-sweep specialist the past two seasons.

Arizona State season review

December, 15, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

During Arizona State's 8-0 start in 2007, you could have produced a chorus of angels hailing Dennis Erickson's first season. But when the competition picked up, it became clear that the Sun Devils still had a long way to go. They've gone 7-10 since then, including a bowl-less 5-7 record this season, which started with a No. 15 preseason ranking.

The problem was the offense, specifically the line. It was bad. The Sun Devils couldn't run -- they ranked 113th in the country in rushing -- and couldn't protect quarterback Rudy Carpenter (see 34 sacks surrendered). But the blame should be spread around. Carpenter and his touted receivers didn't live up to expectations this season.

The defense was solid, but not good enough to make up for an offense that only scored 22.8 points per game. Toss in a tougher schedule than 2007, and it's not that hard to see where a six-game losing streak came from.

Turning point: The Sun Devils were supposed to be priming for a marquee matchup with preseason No. 1 Georgia when woeful UNLV came to town on Sept. 13, but that's when things started to go very wrong. The Rebels prevailed, 23-20, in overtime, and Arizona State never recovered. That was the first of six consecutive defeats, but by far the most deflating.

Offensive MVP: This is a tough one because the offense struggled mightily and Carpenter deserves his share of the blame for that. But it's hard to imagine where the unit would have been without him, and Carpenter deserves a tip of the cap for starting 43 consecutive games, throwing for more than 10,000 career yards and ranking third on the Pac-10 career list with 80 touchdown passes. He threw for 2,493 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

Defensive MVP: Safety Troy Nolan was the biggest difference-maker on a defense that played well much of the season. He finished with 64 tackles, four interceptions and scored three touchdowns. He also broke up 10 passes.

What's next: With four starters back, the offensive line has to get better, doesn't it? Of course, the primary offseason focus will be replacing Carpenter, with Danny Sullivan first in line on the depth chart, but a couple of youngsters will nip at his heals this spring. The defensive line should be fairly strong with the return of end Dexter Davis and tackle Lawrence Guy, but there will be holes on all three levels, with safety a particular concern. Erickson's recruiting has been strong, with a number of freshmen playing in 2008. They should be better with a year of seasoning.

Sun Devils Nolan is a high-scoring defender

December, 1, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Arizona State safety Troy Nolan has scored three touchdowns this year, two by interception return and one on a fumble recovery. His latest score was a 100-yard interception return against UCLA last Friday that transformed the complexion of that contest.

So how does a safety with three TDs stack up?

Nolan is tied for third on the Sun Devils, equal to running backs Dmitri Nance and Keegan Herring. The team's leading TD makers, receivers Mike Jones and Kyle Williams, each have four.

But Nolan isn't only measuring up on his offensively challenged team.

Nolan has one more touchdown than USC's touted running back Joe McKnight.

Nolan would be tied for second at UCLA with tight end Ryan Moya.

Oregon receiver Jaison Williams also has three touchdowns.

Nolan would be tied for first at Washington with quarterback Jake Locker and running back Brandon Johnson.

He'd also be tied for first at Washington State with running backs Logwone Mitz and Dwight Tardy and quarterback Kevin Lopina. Receive Brandon Gibson was first-team All-Pac-10 last year, but he has fewer touchdowns (2) than Nolan.

Pac-10 players of the week

December, 1, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Oregon tailback Jeremiah Johnson, Arizona State safety Troy Nolan and USC kicker David Buehler are the Pac-10 Players of the Week.

Johnson, a senior from Los Angeles, Calif., rushed 17 times for a career-high 219 yards (12.9-yard average) in the Ducks' 65-38 Civil War victory. Included were an 83-yard touchdown and a 79-yard run to set up another TD. The 219 yards rushing is a Civil War record.

Nolan, a senior from Los Angeles, Calif., had eight tackles -- seven solo -- and intercepted a
pass in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

Buehler, a senior from Anaheim, Calif., connected from 35 yards on his only field-goal attempt, was 5-for-5 on PATs and had four touchbacks on seven kickoffs in USC's 38-3 win against Notre Dame.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week was USC tailback Joe McKnight. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Kaluka Maiava of USC and Spencer Paysinger of Oregon and UCLA cornerback Michael Norris. UCLA kicker Kai Forbath was nominated for special teams.

ASU-UCLA: Are you kidding me?

November, 29, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Help me out here -- was Arizona State's 34-9 victory over UCLA an ugly game or one of the greatest defensive performances ... ever?

Four defensive touchdowns? Again, are you kidding me?

 AP Photo/Paul Connors
 Linebacker Travis Goethe returns an interception for a touchdown against UCLA Friday night.

Said to myself sitting on my sofa: Don't think I've seen this before.

I was right. The Sun Devils four defensive touchdowns tied the major college record set in 1987, when Houston returned four interceptions for touchdowns against Texas.

Watching the ASU offense, on the other hand, made my head hurt. Has a team ever scored 34 points with just 122 total yards?

Boos from the Sun Devil Stadium crowd for senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter, playing his final home game, didn't seem fair. It was poetic injustice. Dude's done a lot in his career and he deserved a better finale.

Would have never guessed, though, that Carpenter, on his 42nd consecutive start, would complete just 13 of 26 for 101 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

At least he's not Kevin Craft. He's thrown 12 picks in his last four games with no touchdowns.

Wow. That's not good.

When Craft went back to pass, well, it was hard to turn away -- just like it's hard to turn away from news of another celebrity's public implosion.

ASU safety Troy Nolan went 100 yards for his pick-six. Linebackers Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon also went yard, while linebacker Paul Unga got a gift when -- while everyone else just stood around assuming the play was over -- he picked up a loose ball and sorta jogged in for a score.

UCLA outgained ASU 306 yards to 122 and had eight more first downs but lost by 25.

So strange.

And Arizona State, despite a six-game losing streak this season, can earn bowl eligibility if it manages to win at Arizona next weekend.

Guessing the Wildcats' defense won't be terribly afraid of the Sun Devils' O.

And quarterback Willie Tuitama isn't likely to gift 28 points -- the fumble-return touchdown began with a Craft fumble -- to the Sun Devils' D.

Of course, stranger things have happened, right?

Craft and UCLA? They get to face the USC defense next.

Oh, my.

Pac-10 internal affairs: It's Soap Opera Saturday!

November, 12, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Welcome to Soap Opera Saturday: Down year in the Pac-10? Whatever! This is the Conference of Intrigue on Soap Opera Saturday! (Cue dramatic music). We've got a coach with a history, a tale of woe and redemption. A man facing his demons. Likely in the rain. Rick Neuheisel and his band of UCLA Bruins, the football family that brought him into the football world, return to Seattle to face the bitter and woebegone Washington Huskies, the team he left in an acrimonious split that has been wounded and lost ever since. But there's more in the Northwest! California visits Oregon State, and the last time these two teams tangled, the Bears were poised to ascend to No. 1 in the nation. But then quarterback Kevin Riley, a freshman filling in for injured starter Nate Longshore, while leading a potential game-tying drive, made a fateful decision to scramble with no timeouts and the clock ran out on the Bears. And their glorious season promptly fell apart, as that became the first of six losses in seven games amid locker room recriminations. Meanwhile, downstate in Eugene, Oregon faces the Arizona team that ended its 2007 national championship hopes when quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon crumpled to the ground with a knee injury. Wait! There's more! Remember the Greatest Upset of All-Time! USC, a 41-point favorite, going down at home vs. Stanford. Guess who's coming to dinner, Stanford!

Oregon State Canfield a Rose Bowl team. Or it Can'tField one: Sean Canfield has been solid for Oregon State since taking over for quarterback Lyle Moevao, who's still nursing a shoulder injury this week and is questionable for the Cal game. Canfield has completed 70 percent of his passes for 440 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in roughly seven quarters of action. But California is a much better team than Arizona State and UCLA, and the Bears defense has been outstanding of late. It has limited opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in five of nine games and in the last six games it has recorded 19 quarterback sacks among 41 tackles for a loss and forced 19 turnovers (12 interceptions and seven fumbles). The Bears' 17 interceptions this season lead the Pac-10 and rank third in the nation. Canfield has been surprisingly poised thus far, but Beavers fans surely remember that a year ago, as a nine-game starter, he tossed 15 interceptions. The Bears will come after him. And they'll drop eight into coverage and try to tempt him to force balls into tight spaces. How will he respond? And will Moevao be ready and available, if needed?

Arizona's success this year is defined by run defense; Oregon's by running the ball: Oregon leads the Pac-10 and ranks fifth in the nation with 274 yards rushing per game. Only USC shut down the Ducks' running game, holding them to 60 yards on the ground. Arizona has been decent against the run this year with its no-name but productive defense, ranking sixth in the conference (131 yards per game). Yet, at least during the first half of the season, the Wildcats faltered against power running teams. New Mexico rushed for 211 yards with rugged Rodney Ferguson leading the charge, while Stanford piled up 286 yards behind twin 100-yard efforts from Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble. That convinced coach Mike Stoops that the Wildcats needed to get fancier up front, mixing up looks and using more stunts to keep opposing linemen -- and offensive coordinators -- guessing. It worked great against California, which only rushed for 110 yards at Arizona, and pretty well against USC (151). But these new looks have been on film for a couple of weeks now. They won't surprise the Ducks. Or will the Wildcats have a few new wrinkles for the run-happy, spread-option?

Does Stanford have enough offensive balance to challenge the USC defense? Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 186 yards against USC. Since then against the Trojans D: Nothing. Seven of nine opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing. The Trojans have allowed only one touchdown in their last five games and that came on a 15-yard drive by Arizona following a turnover. They have held their last four opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense. So the odds of Stanford just lining up and playing smash mouth in the run game, particularly with running back Toby Gerhart hobbled with a hamstring injury, fall somewhere between zero and none-at-all. The image of last year's upset victory, in fact, were well-thrown, clutch passes from Tavita Pritchard. Last week at Oregon -- in a persistent rain -- Pritchard completed 15 of 22 for 138 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not spectacular numbers, but they suggest the Cardinal might have a larger offensive inventory now than they showed during the first half of the season.

The stars are rising for Arizona State: The Sun Devils will take one more step in the milquetoast portion of their schedule Saturday by trouncing Washington State. Expect to see more from some of the familiar names who created high -- and misguided -- expectations during the preseason. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his nation-leading 41st consecutive start, and he's finally getting some help on offense as his skill position cohorts get healthy. Receiver Michael Jones, muted much of the season with a variety of injuries, hauled in 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's trouncing of Washington. Running back Keegan Herring, who's been limited much of the season with a hamstring injury, had 22 carries for 144 yards, giving the offense a one-two, lightning and thunder punch at tailback with burly Shaun DeWitty. Meanwhile, on the defen
se, underrated safety Troy Nolan has helped the offense by scoring two touchdowns over the previous two games -- a 41-yard interception return against Oregon State and a 44-yard fumble return against the Huskies.

Pac-10 players of the week

November, 3, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, California linebacker Zack Follett and USC kicker David Buehler are the Pac-10 players of the week.

Rodgers, a freshman from Richmond, Texas, rushed 30 times for 133 yards and added five receptions for 55 yards in the Beavers' win over Arizona State. This is his second player of the week honor this season.

Follett, a senior from Clovis, Calif., posted 11 tackles -- eight solo -- including three tackles for loss and one quarterback sack in the Bears' 26-16 win over Oregon. The Ducks entered the game averaging 41.5 points and 475 yards per game, but the Cal limited them to 290 yards and just 4 of 18 on third-down conversions.

In USC's 56-0 win against Washington, Buehler, a senior from Anaheim, Calif., was a perfect 8-8 on PATs and seven of his nine kickoffs forced the Huskies to take touchbacks.

Also nominated for offensive honors were Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and USC wide receiver Patrick Turner. Also nominated on defense were Oregon State end Victor Butler, USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and safeties T.J. Ward of Oregon and Troy Nolan of Arizona State.

What we learned in the Pac-10: Week 10

November, 2, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

Sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong: California's offensive line was decimated by injuries and Oregon leads the Pac-10 with 3.5 sacks per game. Didn't matter. Oregon lives and plays in the sodden Pacific Northwest, so a deluge game would only make the Ducks more comfortable while limiting the home-field advantage as many Cal fans stayed home. Didn't matter. Oregon, having won three of four on the road -- the lone defeat coming at USC -- would be perfectly comfortable playing at Memorial Stadium. Didn't seem that way. Oregon's offense was coming into its own as quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's confidence grew. Didn't matter. It's clear that California can't win a big game with backup quarterback Nate Longshore because Longshore wilts when the pressure is on. Not this time. Cal's defense was exposed in the second half at Arizona. So what? Cal wins 26-16 and a week's worth of analysis goes poof.

We didn't think it could get any worse in the state of Washington. Then it did: The state of Washington was outscored 114 to zip this weekend by teams from Northern (Stanford) and Southern (USC) California. The state of Washington was outgained 941 yards to 409 this weekend. One word: Yuck. With North Texas' victory over Western Kentucky, the Huskies, who lost 56-0 to USC, became the only winless FBS team. And with Washington State losing 58-0 to Stanford, it appears that the Cougars might be even worse. Neither team showed fight or gave their fans reason for hope. It was particularly disappointing that the Huskies failed to make any positive statement on their feelings for outgoing coach Tyrone Willingham. Or is the talent he recruited just that, er, untalented? It appears that the Apple Cup on Nov. 22 will be the most pathetic rivalry game in the history of rivalry games.

Oregon State proved it's starting its annual late-season surge: Arizona State came to Corvallis looking like the desperate team it is, and the Sun Devils fought hard and didn't make things easy for Oregon State, which seemed primed for a let-up performance. The Beavers didn't play particularly well, and they lost starting quarterback Lyle Moevao to a shoulder injury of presently undisclosed severity in the middle of the second quarter. What's more, Sean Canfield gave the Sun Devils a 13-7 lead when safety Troy Nolan returned a third-quarter interception 41 yards for a touchdown. The lead changed hands five times. Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter had an opportunity to tie the game on a 2-point play. But the defense held and the Beavers survived a thriller. While other teams have imploded with QB issues, Canfield showed he can handle the offense, if needed. The Beavers now have won three in a row and five of six since an 0-2 start. Again: If they win out, they go to the Rose Bowl.

Up and running again, there's still hope for Arizona State: Sure, the Sun Devils lost their sixth game in a row, which the program hasn't done since 1929. But they fought hard at Oregon State, which supports optimism for a far more manageable schedule ahead. Even the running game showed signs of life in Corvallis, with Shaun DeWitty rushing for 110 yards on 16 carries, the highlight being a 54-yard run, the team's longest running play this season. ASU entered the game ranked 114th in the nation with just 87 yards rushing per game. DeWitty, at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, gives the Sun Devils a power back who might be able to make his own yardage behind an often overmatched offensive line. And don't completely count the 2-6 Sun Devils out of the bowl picture. It's not inconceivable they could win each of their four remaining games: at Washington, Washington State, UCLA and at Arizona.

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez regained his rhythm: Washington's pass defense is the perfect antidote for quarterback inconsistency, and Sanchez took a full dose in the Trojans' 56-0 win. After struggling at Arizona a week ago, he completed 15 of 19 passes (79 percent) for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. It seems like Sanchez plays better at home -- see big numbers vs. Ohio State, Oregon and Washington -- than on the road -- see poor numbers at Oregon State and Arizona. USC's toughest two remaining games -- California on Saturday and Notre Dame on Nov. 29 -- are at home. That bodes well for Sanchez and the Trojans as the nation's most-feared team tries to battle its way back into the national title hunt.

Pac-10 internal affairs: Ducks upset alert is no play action

October, 8, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Mustain must trust the surrounding USC talent more than his arm: If Mark Sanchez is forced to sit out Saturday's visit from Arizona State, backup quarterback Mitch Mustain needs to realize one basic fact: His walking orders are not to win the game; his role is to avoid losing it. He's a caretaker who needs to carefully and conservatively distribute the ball to his highly skilled supporting cast. This needs to be noted because Mustain too often during practices sees a small space in which he believes a big play lives and he tries to force the ball. Sometimes he produces a "wow" moment. Too often he doesn't. That's why he was beaten out in the preseason for the backup job by Aaron Corp and had coach Pete Carroll reacting with exasperation after some practices. Even when he came off the bench for the injured Sanchez against Oregon with the game well in hand, he tried to force a play in the end zone on a third-and-2 from the Ducks 32-yard line and tossed an interception. That stands out almost as much as his strong overall numbers (5 of 8, 111 yards, TD).

Even with QB Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State's only chance is winning the turnover battle: It would be nice to write an inspirational story -- either Carpenter pulls a Willis Reed and limps onto the field to pilot the Sun Devils to an improbable victory. Or backup Danny Sullivan comes off the bench and throws for a bunch of yards and touchdowns and leads a shocking upset. But Arizona State is going to need gifts from USC -- such as a few forced throws from Mustain. The problem for the Sun Devils is they aren't doing a good job of forcing turnovers. Last year, they ranked third in the Pac-10 with a plus-3 turnover margin. This year, they are tied for seventh at minus-4, and that number is largely due to only four total takeaways. Heck, they are the only conference team without a recovered fumble. Considering there's an element of randomness in turnovers, perhaps the Sun Devils are due for some luck. Or perhaps a guy like safety Troy Nolan or cornerback Omar Bolden or defensive end Dexter Davis will take matters into his own hands.

Arizona should take a pass at Stanford: Of course, all offenses strive for balance. Blah, blah, blah. One ironclad certainty that has revealed itself this season is Stanford can't defend the pass. The Cardinal ranks last in the conference in pass defense, surrendering 274 yards per game and a 66.2 completion percentage. Enter Arizona, owners of perhaps the most refined passing scheme in the Pac-10. Quarterback Willie Tuitama has thrown just two interceptions in 158 pass attempts and is 16th in the nation in pass efficiency. There is no way Stanford can adequately cover the Wildcats receivers, led by "Money" Mike Thomas, and also sufficiently account for touchdown-making tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Wildcats have run the ball well this year with Nic Grigsby, but they can best secure a critical win Saturday by relentlessly attacking the Cardinal secondary.

There's nothing fun about play action for Oregon's defense: Oregon's first priority on defense is stopping the run. That's long been defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's prime directive. And with the talent in the Ducks secondary, it seemed like forcing teams to pass this season would reap dividends. But following the 44-10 loss at USC, the Ducks, to a man, talked about how their failing the prime directive made the defense particularly vulnerable to basic play-action passes. Once the Trojans established they could run against the Ducks best run defense, things got dicey in the secondary. The good news with UCLA coming to town is the Bruins offensive talent isn't in the same league as USC's, and Autzen Stadium crowd noise figures to limit how much adjusting quarterback Kevin Craft can do at the line of scrimmage. Play-action fakes probably won't be as distracting this weekend.

Oh, but Ducks, be on upset alert: Coaches often say after an emotional loss, "Don't let them beat you twice," but it's a message that sometimes doesn't get through. On paper, UCLA has no business going into Autzen Stadium and beating a far more talented Oregon squad that should be focused on getting back on track after getting bullied at USC. For one, UCLA is typically terrible on the road (see a 59-zip loss at BYU). But for anyone who's watched Rick Neuheisel function through the years, this is exactly the sort of game he wins. For all the criticism he's faced -- fair and unfair -- no one with a lick of sense would claim Neuheisel isn't an elite game-day coach. And it helps to have coordinators Norm Chow and DeWayne Walker in his corner, too. Oh, by the way, Neuheisel is 4-1 vs. the Ducks. So, Ducks fans, consider this your "Danger, Will Robinson!" moment because our little robot arms are madly flapping.



Thursday, 9/25
Saturday, 9/27