Pac-12: Will Harris
2009 overall record: 9-4
2009 conference record: 5-4 (tied for fifth)
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)
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.
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.
Most of these guys aren't "new," but they could make the next step up in their careers this spring.
Juron Criner, WR, Jr: Criner (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) is already a familiar name to Wildcats fans. Heck, he led the team with nine touchdown receptions in 2009. The reason he makes this list is this: It would be a surprise if he's not first-team All-Pac-10 at season's end.
Aaron Pflugrad, WR, Jr: Hmm. Name seems familiar? Pflugrad is a transfer from Oregon, who left the Ducks after his father, Robin, was fired as receivers coach. He was expected to start for the Ducks in 2009, and he should be in the same position with the Sun Devils, who need help at receiver.
Ernest Owusu, DE, Jr: Owusu looked like a budding star early last season when he recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss against Maryland, but that was about it for his production in 2009. Still, he combines good intelligence and speed with special power -- he's the Bears' strongest player -- and that could all come together as he fights to break into the starting lineup.
Diante Jackson, WR, RFr: Many thought Jackson would offer immediate help to the Ducks' receiving corps as a true freshman, but, instead, he was a scout team star last year. The Ducks are looking for a dynamic, play-making presence at wideout and Jackson might be the guy.
The Unga brothers: The Beavers lost Keaton Kristick to graduation and Keith Pankey may miss 2010 with an Achilles injury, so there are opportunities at linebacker. These twin brothers -- Kevin "Feti" Unga and Devin "Uani" Unga -- could fight their way into the mix.
Shayne Skov, LB, So: Skov started seven games last year as a true freshman and ended up third on the Cardinal with 62 tackles. The early returns are Skov will be first-team All-Pac-10 before he's done.
Cory Harkey, TE, Jr: With the departure of Logan Paulsen and Ryan Moya, Harkey will finally get his chance to take center stage. He caught eight passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in 2009. His production will be many times that in 2010.
T.J. McDonald, S, So: First off, the son of former USC legend Tim McDonald is listed at 205 pounds. Really? He looks bigger -- in a good way. And he's a hitter. He had seven tackles as a backup to strong safety Will Harris last year, but he could play either free or strong.
Talia Crichton, DE, So: Crichton was forced into action last year as a true freshman -- he started four games -- because the Huskies lacked depth on the defensive line. With the departure of both starting ends -- and the questionable status of Kalani Aldrich's knee -- Crichton is almost certain to ascend to a first-team spot. Here's a guess he's better prepared in 2010.
Travis Long, DE, So: Back in the Cougars' glory days -- folks, it wasn't really that long ago, either -- they always had ends who were disruptive. Long led the Cougars with 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks as a true freshman in 2009. Those numbers will more than double in 2010.
Stanford running back Toby Gerhart and kicker Nate Whitaker and USC safety Will Harris are Pac-10 players of the week.
Gerhart and Whitaker played key roles in Stanford’s 51-42 upset win against No. 8 Oregon. Gerhart rushed 38 times for a school single-game record 223 yards and three touchdowns. With that performance, Gerhart raised his season rushing total to 1,217 yards, surpassing his own school single-season rushing record. He also has been named the National Offensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
Whitaker was good on three-of-four field goal attempts. He connected from 29, 41 and 48 yards, with his only miss coming from 44 yards. He also was perfect on six PAT attempts.
Harris had two interceptions in USC's 14-9 win at Arizona State, returning one of them 55 yards for a touchdown. The other pick came in the end zone on the game’s final play. Harris also posted five tackles, four solo.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Sean Canfield of Oregon State, Kevin Craft of UCLA and Jeremiah Masoli of Oregon and center Colin Baxter of Arizona. Also nominated on defense were linebacker Keaton Kristick of Oregon State, end Ricky Elmore of Arizona and safety Rahim Moore of UCLA and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson of California. Also nominated for special teams play were kick returners Travis Cobb of Arizona and Terrence Austin of UCLA and punter Bryan Anger of California.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images|
|Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.|
Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.
He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.
Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.
The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.
But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.
From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?
CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.
Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?
CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.
Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?
Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.
Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'
CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.
Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'
How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?
CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.
Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]
You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.
CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.
Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?
CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.
Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.
CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.
So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?
CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.
That's not very catchy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Matt Barkley is now The Man.
USC quarterbacks win Heismans. They win Rose Bowls and national championships. They get drafted in the top half of the first round of the NFL draft and make a lot of money.
Heck, some even pose for magazines in short shorts.
And Barkley, who turns 19 on Sept. 8, is the first to start the first game of his true freshman season.
|AP Photo/Jae C. Hong|
|Matt Barkley is prepared for all that comes with being the starting quarterback at USC.|
It's hard being a true freshman quarterback for any team, but at USC the spotlight burns brighter than anywhere else.
USC opens its season at home Saturday against San Jose State. That will be a test run.
The next weekend the entire nation will tune in to see what Barkley can do against Ohio State in the decidedly unfriendly confines of the Horseshoe in Columbus.
It seemed like a good time to check in with Barkley to see how things were as he steps into his marquee role.
Life before you were USC's starting quarterback and life after: How have things changed for you?
Matt Barkley: It's not too different -- except that the whole world is now looking at me [laugh]. I'm not really trying to change who I am. I'm just trying to be me and play football like I always have and stay true to my roots. But this is a dream come true. It's pretty crazy how it's all played out over the last couple of months, but I'm loving it. It really is neat.
What do you think you did to win the job?
MB: I think I just did what the coaches asked me to do: manage the game and be a leader that the offense can count on. Not try to do too much. Not try to be Mr. All-America because we've got such a great team this year. I just need to be able to manage that and get the ball to guys who can make plays. I think all the hard work during the offseason, the hours we put in, have really paid off now.
Leadership is such an important part of being a quarterback. How does a guy who's an 18-year-old true freshman take a leadership role when you're running a veteran offense with a bunch of guys who are headed to the NFL?
MB: That's why coming in January really helped me, just to get to know the guys and establish relationships with the older players. That really helped. Just being normal, just showing them that I know how to play the game and that I'm not intimidated by anything or anyone. Just try to slowly earn their respect. It's been a cool process.
So if Old Man Byers [sixth-year senior offensive lineman Matt Byers] misses a block, you feel completely comfortable getting on him and saying, 'Man, you've got to make that block!'
MB: I don't fear getting into anyone's face because that will make them better. They'd do the same to me. [Senior safety] Will Harris has been talking in my ear hole this whole summer, trying to get in my head. He's been trying to motivate me and trying to make me better. So, no, I'm not scared of Old Man Byers.
So have any of the veterans pulled you aside and given you advice?
MB: Nothing too specific, but all of them have been great and encouraging me just to be myself and don't try to mold into anyone or try to fit the stereotypical USC quarterback role. Just be who you are. Also, to really try to control the ball. That's what coach [Pete] Carroll has emphasized over and over again -- protect the ball.
That's what everybody seems to talk about -- that you've got great talent and throw a great ball and you're a smart, savvy guy but that you also try to do too much and throw interceptions. How much is that on your mind? Would consciously avoiding interceptions slow you down?
MB: No, I don't think it has. I've made an emphasis this summer on not throwing picks, on not turning the ball over. Take the easy completions, the easy checkdowns and even throwing the ball away, which I've learned to do better. Whenever we're getting positive yards, it's a good thing. It wasn't easy at first because that's not the way I played growing up. But it has become a lot easier to be comfortable with checking the ball down and getting positive yards.
You come out of the Coliseum tunnel Saturday against San Jose State. You walk onto the field with the first-team offense. What will be going through your mind? It's got to be a lot different than high school.
MB: No doubt I'll have butterflies. It really will be a dream come true. I probably will be a little nervous, but I think after warm-ups and we get our juices flowing, it will be just like any other day out on the practice field. You try to block all the other stuff out. I'll probably get motivated by the crowd, feel their energy. But when it comes game time, you learn to block all that out.
I know you only play one game at a time, but you've got to think a little about Ohio State. A hostile environment is a big thing for a quarterback. Has that drifted into your mind a little bit, to play in front of 105,000 fans who don't like you very much?
MB: [Laughs] It has. I'm only taking one game at a time, but I have thought about it. It's going to be an awesome game, an awesome environment. Our whole team is excited to go back East and play them. We'll see what happens. But for now I'm really just focusing on San Jose State.
Have you and backup quarterback Aaron Corp had a chance to talk about how things went down?
MB: Not directly. Not specifically. It happened. We didn't talk much that day. Everything kind of carried on like normal -- normal meetings, normal practice -- besides the title switch. We didn't really get into a deep conversation about it. It wasn't bad though.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The Pac-10 is solid at safety -- it's not all about Taylor Mays either.
In fact, the stockpile in the secondary likely will make choosing an All-Pac-10 team a big challenge.
- USC: It doesn't matter if Josh Pinkard stays at safety or moves to corner: The Trojans are stacked here, starting with Mays, a two-time All-American. Will Harris is hardly a stop-gap if he steps in for Pinkard, and there's good depth.
- California: While the Bears lack the Trojans' star quality, they are experienced, productive and deep with Marcus Ezeff and Brett Johnson leading the charge.
- Arizona: Cam Nelson is an all-conference-type player, while Robert Golden is an all-conference-type talent who is transitioning from cornerback.
- Oregon: T.J. Ward is one of the conference's premier hitters. He figures to become a complete player this fall. Javes Lewis won the competition at rover to replace Patrick Chung.
- Stanford: Bo McNally is a reliable veteran and Delano Howell, albeit green as the former running back switches to defense, will improve the Cardinal's athleticism.
- UCLA: Sophomore Rahim Moore looks like a budding star. Tony Dye leads the battle at strong safety over fellow sophomore Glenn Love.
- Oregon State: Junior Suaesi Tuimaunei will replace Al Afalava at strong safety and Lance Mitchell will set in for Greg Laybourn at free. While they lack experience -- Tuimaunei started twice in 2008 -- they are more athletic than their predecessors.
- Arizona State: Perhaps it's a sign of the Sun Devils' depth that expected starters Clint Floyd and Ryan McFoy are listed second-team on the depth chart behind Jarrell Holman and Keelan Johnson. Coach Dennis Erickson said Monday he hasn't decided who will start. This gives us pause, though there's no lack of athletic ability here.
- Washington State: The Cougars probably feel pretty good about Xavier Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu, a solid pair of returning starters.
- Washington: Nate Williams is a solid strong safety and redshirt freshman Greg Walker has flashed ability at free, but the Huskies have a long way to go in the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Starting USC cornerback Shareece Wright must sit out the 2009 season because he is academically ineligible.
"Shareece didn't get it done," USC coach Pete Carroll said after Monday's practice. "He didn't get the GPA he needed to get."
Wright will be replaced in the lineup by sixth-year senior Josh Pinkard, who started at cornerback last year when Wright was out with a neck injury but was expected to pair with Taylor Mays at safety.
Will Harris now will start in Pinkard's vacated safety spot.
Wright can continue to practice with the team but will not be able to regain his eligibility until 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
You are all notable to me.
To the mail.
Vizzle from Eugene, Ore., writes: Give me your top five games to watch this season in the PAC which ones you are going to attend, and where you will be dining before and after you watch them? Another thought... your Eugene dining experience really needs to be enriched by somebody who actually knows how to eat in Eugene.
Ted Miller: My boss, Keyser Söze, keeps it a secret where he's going to send me until the Sunday before the game, so I don't know where I'm going yet.
But my top-five Pac-10 games?
How about: 1. USC at Cal; 2. USC at Oregon; 3. Cal at Oregon; 4. Oregon State at Oregon; 5. Oregon State at USC.
As for restaurant recommendations, feel free to give me suggestions.
Jerome from Oakland writes: My question is in regards to the USC defense. How come sports writers say that USC only has 2 returning starters on defense? Correct me if I am wrong, but E. Griffen, C. Tupou, A. Spicer M. Morgan, T. Mays, J. Pinkard, S. Wright, W. Harris and K. Thomas all started 1 game or more or saw significant playing time (That's 9 players). So why the huge concern over losing the talent, when technically the talent is still there on defense just as much as it is on offense
Ted Miller: It's three starters back: Taylor Mays, Christian Tupou and Josh Pinkard. Those three started at least six games, the general definition of a returning starter.
Everson Griffen started three games -- he lost his job after the Oregon State game; as did Averell Spicer. Feel free to connect the dots there. Michael Morgan has one career start. Shareece Wright started the first two games last year before getting hurt. Nick Holt told me last fall he was the Trojans' best cover corner, so feel free to upgrade his status. Safety Will Harris started five games last year, but he'll likely back Pinkard at strong safety. Cornerback Kevin Thomas started two games last year and two games in 2006.
I get your drift, though. USC is not going to send out a bunch of clueless guys on defense. But when you look at the list of guys who are gone, it's hard to imagine a completely seamless transition.
Matt from Missoula, Mont., writes: You've said that you think Oregon would have been 2nd in the SEC last year (a claim that, as an Oregon fan, I find dubious unless you're only looking at the last third of the season), and the Pac-10 went 5-0 in bowl games last year. Yet your colleague ACC blogger Heather Dinich posted that the Pac-10 was the fourth best conference in the nation last year--after the ACC, and presumably the SEC and Big-12. I'm hoping to start a fight a between you and Heather. Can I count on you to avenge this outrageous case of east coast bias?
Ted Miller: Good point about the final third of the season. Did you, however, watch the SEC's official No. 2 team in the Sugar Bowl?
As for Heather: She runs marathons. She doesn't ramble on TV like I do. She has a margarita machine in her home. I will not mess with Heather.
Debating conference rankings is mostly an exercise in PR, selective statistics and trash talk. It's not an exact science. I'd rank the Pac-10 No. 3 in 2008, but I think ACC football also is underrated -- see the NFL draft numbers -- in large part because of this peculiar period when both Miami and Florida State are still working to regain their traction.
But please don't tell Heather I ranked the Pac-10 ahead of the ACC in 2008. She might make me ... go jogging or something.
Michael from Los Angeles writes: After reading the article about USC not winning it all last year, you must admit that this is said year in and year out. Recently history suggests USC will lose 1 game. That is rather a safe assumption - even coming from a USC alum like me. However, there is a rather intriguing factor that I believe USC will be the 8th in a row Pac-10 champions of 2009: Other teams cannot follow through in the Pac-10
Ted Miller: First, I didn't say USC won't win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title this year. In fact, I admitted that I'd picked USC to win the title again.
What I did say -- and believe -- is that USC is more vulnerable than past years, based on a number of factors, including player and coach turnover and scheduling.
Marcus from Eugene, Ore., writes: I was watching SportsNation today, and I was completely blown away when they ranked the conferences according to strength. The Nation put the PAC 10 4th, behind the Big 10, Big 12, and SEC respectively. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the two powerhouses of the Big 10 last year (OSU, Penn State) met up with USC and got destroyed, the PAC 10 went 5-0 in their bowl games and finished with 3 teams in the top 25 (USC, Oregon, Oregon State) and two others received votes (Cal, Arizona). The Big 10 went 1-5 in bowls I believe, and finished with 4 teams in the top 25 (PSU OSU Iowa and MSU) and no one else EVEN CLOSE. What are your thoughts on this topic?
Ted Miller: I'd rank the Pac-10 third behind the SEC and the Big 12, but I think the Pac-10, Big Ten and ACC are comparable and really not that far behind the SEC and Big 12.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
We've discussed positions of concern a lot. But where are teams (almost) worry-free?
Here are some spots.
USC's offensive line: The Trojans welcome back all five starters, including the nation's best center, Kristofer O'Dowd. And, oh by the way, super-sophomore Tyron Smith might displace returning starter Butch Lewis at tackle. The Trojans averaged 195 yards rushing per game last year and surrendered only 18 sacks, fewest in the conference.
California's secondary: All four starters are back, including first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, from a unit that finished third in the nation with 24 interceptions and ranked sixth in pass efficiency defense. And the backups are so good that a couple of returning starters are hearing footsteps.
USC's secondary: Start with Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard, the best safety combination in the nation -- though Pinkard played corner last year. Sure, two starters -- Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris -- are gone. But three players -- safety Will Harris and corners Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas -- have starting experience. And a couple of the youngsters turned in impressive springs.
Oregon State's quarterbacks: The Beavers have two successful starting quarterbacks in Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao, though Moevao is coming back from shoulder surgery. They also have an impressive No. 3 in redshirt freshman Ryan Katz, and Virginia transfer Peter Lalich is a wildcard who had disappeared before coming up big in the spring game. His questionable attitude won't help him climb the depth chart, though.
UCLA's tight ends: Ryan Moya earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors last year, and he was Logan Paulsen's backup until Paulsen's season ended with a foot injury in the opener against Tennessee. The Bruins also like sophomore Cory Harkey, and then there's touted freshman Morrell Presley, who's more a hybrid receiver-tight end. Lots of options here. Just got to get them the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ever wonder what a coach might say about a quarterback competition the day before he announces a pecking order?
You're in luck!
USC coach Pete Carroll stopped by for a chat with the Pac-10 blog on Monday, the day before he announced on his Web site that Aaron Corp would emerge from spring practices No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, ahead of true freshman Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Pete Carroll boasts an 88-15 record since arriving at USC.|
That bit of stolen thunder aside -- and the announcement was mostly a foregone conclusion -- it's never a bad time to talk with a coach who's 88-15 in eight years at USC and has finished ranked in the top four of the AP poll seven consecutive seasons.
After all, he's got a new book deal to benefit his charity, A Better LA, and a new Web site for kids.
And he's got a football team that likely will be favored to win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 championship and again compete for a national title.
Word on the street is you guys have an intense quarterback competition going on over there: Where does that stand?
Pete Carroll: Guys have really battled hard and done well. We're pleased with the play at the quarterback position. The competition is going to continue. We'll name a guy who's going to start the spring game for us and then the competition will just continue. We've got to call something here after a month of playing. We'll find out what happens when we get back to camp in the fall.
You've told me in the past you prefer to anoint a quarterback as early as possible to allow him to develop into a clear leader: How will that be a part of the decision in the fall?
PC: We'd like to do that [name a starter], but you've got to do the right thing and let the competition play itself out. What that means is, in the past when we named Matt Leinart over Matt Cassel, it meant that Leinart was going first and Cassel was battling him. The competition remained on. It will be the same situation. It's a very hard-fought, close competition and in fairness it's going to take longer to know exactly what we are going to do for the long haul.
PC: I don't think there's any question Curtis McNeal has. Marc Tyler has been hurt most of the spring -- he's only had a couple of days when he's full speed. He's done well. But McNeal has taken advantage of the opportunity to be out there every day and he's really been effective.
Posted by ESPN.com'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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Pete Carroll confirmed after practice that versatile fullback Stanley Havili won't play Thursday in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi due to academic ineligibility.
Carroll said the issue is short-term and the sophomore should be eligible to return for spring practices.
The only other USC player who won't play in the Rose Bowl is injured safety Kevin Ellison, who will be replaced by Will Harris.
Harris has started four of the last five games for Ellison.
"Will Harris has played beautifully for us," Carroll said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.
1. California OTs vs. Oregon DEs: The California offensive line is expected to be missing three injured starters and a backup who would have started Saturday against Oregon. While left tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a steady performer all year, the redshirt freshman will have his hands full with Nick Reed, the Ducks' relentless pass rusher. On the other side, Donovan Edwards, a JC transfer who signed in the late summer, will make his first start and will square off against the underrated Will Tukuafu, who has six sacks. Oh, by the way, it also appears that redshirt freshman Justin Cheadle will be stepping in for Noris Malele at right guard.
2. Mark Sanchez will have his way with the Washington pass defense: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has been inconsistent this year, particularly on the road -- see his uneven effort at Arizona. But he's not on the road Saturday, and visiting Washington will offer him the most inviting pass defense of any BCS conference team. Moreover, the Huskies probably will be missing injured starting cornerback Mesphin Forrester. Sanchez should put up big numbers and then sit out the second half.
3. Will Washington State open up the offense for quarterback Kevin Lopina?: Lopina completed just 6 of 9 passes for 28 yards against USC in a 69-0 humiliation. It seemed like the Cougars coaches opted for a noticeably conservative game plan because they were worried about getting Lopina hurt and didn't want to risk him re-injuring his back in a game they weren't going to win. With the decision to no longer redshirt J.T. Levenseller -- coach Paul Wulff said Levenseller would play at Stanford -- perhaps the handcuffs will be off Lopina and he will run the entire offense.
4. Does Rudy have any magic left? Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his 39th consecutive start at Oregon State with a bum ankle, no running game and a decimated receiving corps. Last year, he was brilliant in leading the Sun Devils back from a 19-0 deficit against OSU, passing for 361 yards with four touchdowns in a 44-32 victory. It's hard to imagine things will go as well in Corvallis against a high-pressure Beavers defense that probably wants redemption.
5. USC's defense will miss safety Kevin Ellison: Ellison, our midseason defensive MVP, is out two-to-four weeks with a torn MCL, so the nation's best defense is without its headiest player for a few games. That won't matter against the Huskies, but it could in upcoming games with California and Notre Dame. Ellison, who will be replaced by junior Will Harris, is the second starter to go down in the Trojans secondary. Earlier, top cover cornerback Shareece Wright was lost to a season-ending neck injury.
6. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard will regain his form against Washington State: Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard was mostly awful in the loss to UCLA, completed just 5 of 12 passes for 51 yards with an interception. Enter the Washington State defense, which makes everyone look good. While the Cougars are incompetent stopping the run -- 266 yards per game -- their likely attempt to gang up against Stanford's power running game will mean opportunities for Pritchard in the passing game.
7. Moevao and Rodgers: First-team All-Pac-10? Why the heck not? If true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers and quarterback Lyle Moevao, the conference's most improved player, continue to put up big numbers, why wouldn't this pair lead the All-Pac-10 team? Rodgers, in fact, with a conference-leading 116 yards rushing per game, is almost a shoo-in. Moevao leads the conference with 254 yards passing per game, but he likely will need to outplay Arizona's Willie Tuitama and USC's Mark Sanchez down the stretch. But if the Beavers make a run at the Rose Bowl, who's to say he won't?
8. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli may need to throw to beat Cal: It's been a mostly dry fall in Eugene -- as we all know it NEVER RAINS IN AUTZEN STADIUM! -- but it looks like it's going to be a wet one Saturday in Berkeley. While such conditions may not encourage passing, the Ducks' run-heavy, spread-option offense may find the going tough if it is one-dimensional vs. Cal's 3-4 defense. This is a homecoming for Masoli anyway, so know that he'll want to put the ball in the air to impress family and friends.
9. Will Washington play hard for lame-duck coach Tyrone Willingham? It might not matter if the winless Huskies give USC their best shot -- the Trojans are better at every position. Yet it will be fairly obvious in the early-going how much Willingham's players still care. Will they show some pride and fight for themselves and their outgoing coach? A season's best performance might cause some to wonder where the effort was when it could still help Willingham, but if that is indeed what happens know that a team is tipping its helmet to its coach.
10. Quarterback Kevin Riley's mobility will keep Cal in the game with Oregon: It's safe to assume Cal's makeshift offensive line won't be able to consistently handle the Ducks defensive front. If slow-footed Nate Longshore were the Bears quarterback, that would be a huge issue. But Riley can make plays with his feet -- both with rollouts and with scrambles. If the conditions are sloppy, Riley's improvisation skills could become a key element in the game.