Pac-12: Zach Whitley

We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Linebacker. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks are in great shape with inside linebackers Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick returning next to outside linebacker Tony Washington. The only departure they’ll have to account for is Boseko Lokombo, and that spot appears destined for Tyson Coleman once he’s completely healthy following a knee injury that sidelined him for the Alamo Bowl. Sophomore Torrodney Prevot is one of several talented young players to keep an eye on when the Ducks empty their bench during blowouts.

Oregon State: The Beavers are deep at linebacker with D.J. Alexander, Jabral Johnson and Michael Doctor projected to start in their 4-3 scheme. Rommel Mageo was a starter down the stretch last season and should see plenty of playing time, as will Caleb Saulo and Darrell Songy.

USC: Only outside linebacker Devon Kennard is gone from a a solid group that should have a rather seamless transition playing in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's 3-4 defense. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao figure to start inside, with Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell playing outside opposite J.R. Tavai.

Washington: The Huskies weren’t fully stocked during the spring, but figure to have one of the best groups in the conference with John Timu playing between Shaq Thompson and Travis Feeney. Cory Littleton can be listed at defensive end or outside linebacker -- UW calls him a rush end -- and is coming off a productive sophomore season.

GOOD SHAPE

Colorado: Addison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last year (8.9) and will likely start between sophomore Kenneth Olugbode and senior Woodson Greer. The Buffaloes have depth, too, with Brady Daigh, a reliable backup for Gillam, and outside linebacker Deaysean Rippy, who sat out last season after transferring from Pittsburgh. Rippy was listed as an alternative starter to Greer on Colorado’s post spring depth chart.

Stanford: There might not be a more difficult task in the conference than replacing outside linebacker Trent Murphy and inside linebacker Shayne Skov, both of whom drew All-American accolades in multiple season. Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley, already a three-year starter, is one of the conference’s unheralded players and outside linebacker James Vaughters is poised for a breakout senior season. Kevin Andersen has seen a lot of playing time over the past two years at outside linebacker, but the other inside spot needs to be ironed out.

UCLA: Like Stanford, the Bruins have a tough task in replacing Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt, but have two talented returners in Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. UCLA could very well end up one of the best groups in the conference pending the development of Kenny Orjioke, Deon Hollins, Isaako Savaiinaea and Zach Whitley.

Utah: Junior Jason Whittingham is a potential first-team all-conference type player and the Utes are high on Jared Norris, who started seven games last year. The group looked even better when Miami-transfer Gionni Paul was projected to contribute, but the start to his season is expected to be delayed by a broken bone in his foot. Uaea Masina, after contributing on special teams last year, will likely see a lot of playing time.

Washington State: Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen return as starters and Tana Pritchard, who saw his role grow as the season went along, will be leaned on heavily. The final spot up for grabs is the ‘buck,’ which looks like it will come down to Kache Palacio, a slight favorite who started at the end of the season, and Ivan McLennan. Chester Su'a could also make some noise after missing last season with an injury.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats need to replace three-year starter Marquis Flowers and two-year starter Jake Fischer. Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman last season and gives the Wildcats a good piece to start with, but we’ll take a wait-and-see approach once the other pieces are in place. The good news is that Arizona has recruited well at linebacker.

Arizona State: Salamo Fiso returns, but having to replace three of the four starters from a year ago leaves more questions than answers. Early-enrollee D.J. Calhoun drew rave reviews during spring practice, but will have to beat out redshirt junior Antonio Longino for a starting job. Eriquel Florence (devil), and Laiu Moeakiola/Marcus Washington (spur) were also listed as starters at the end of spring practice.

Cal: Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are all back, but after last season’s defensive woes it’s hard to go in with much optimism. The situation at linebacker is clearly better than it was last year, but that’s not inspiring enough not to erase speculation.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:

UCLA enters spring with few holes

April, 2, 2014
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One of the ways a football team transitions from a group of wishful maybes to a sense of near-ontological certainty is when its collection of spring practice questions becomes mostly an array of appealing potential options.

So we have UCLA as it transitions from an underachieving program (1999-2011) to a good one (2012-2013) to one that has the makings of a national contender in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesWith few questions to answer this spring, Jim Mora has the makings of a special 2014 season with UCLA.
While the Bruins have questions on their depth chart, there isn't any particular area of vexing concern. The five positions where starters need to be replaced seem likely to be filled by promising athletes with playing experience. If those more veteran players don't rise to the fore during spring practices, that mostly speaks to the program's strong recruiting under Jim Mora.

Further, it's reasonable to project that those 20 or so freshmen and sophomores who saw significant playing time last year will physically and mentally mature into their primes.

There simply aren't any worrisome voids on this team.

As in:
There are, of course, important questions.

Is defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa fully healthy? He told reporters Tuesday that he is. So then is the former A-list recruit ready to break through as a senior?

What does LB/RB Myles Jack do for an encore after one of the best true freshman seasons in recent memory?

And speaking of what's next, is it reasonable to project Hundley taking a strong step forward as a third-year starter? Of course, that's why the program has already launched a Heisman Trophy campaign.

A lot of variables beyond personnel go into a special season -- a Rose Bowl-, College Football Playoff-type season. A team needs a great offseason. It needs positive chemistry and leadership. It needs to avoid injuries. It needs to stay hungry. It needs laser-like focus every week.

Returning starters do not guarantee anything. National champion Florida State only had 11 of them last year.

But on paper, UCLA appears to be the most likely candidate to break the five-year Stanford-Oregon Pac-12 hegemony atop the Pac-12. The Bruins might even be a team that catches the notice of the CFP selection committee in December.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 6, 2014
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It was a very busy weekend in the Pac-12, as several programs picked up recruits during the various All-American games across the country.

Biggest commitment: Five conference teams added commitments since last Thursday, and all will likely play a big role in shaping classes on signing day.

Arizona got an early start on the weekend, as the Wildcats grabbed two huge commitments this past Thursday with ESPN 300 cornerback Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) -- the No. 15 overall prospect in the nation -- and former USC commit and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./La Jolla Country Day).

Arizona State landed a commitment from two-way lineman Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch) during the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Sunday. Delp will still visit other programs, but if he sticks with Arizona State, he'll provide a boost at defensive tackle.

Pac-12 signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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With 50 days until national signing day, there is still plenty left undecided in the Pac-12. Five of the top six West region prospects -- as well as seven more ESPN 300 prospects -- remain uncommitted and have significant Pac-12 interest. There also figures to be a battle for the top class in the conference, as at least six schools will jostle for position.

Here are 10 Pac-12 storylines that could help shape signing day for the conference.

1. Who are USC's assistant coaches?

At this point, very few questions about USC's coaching staff are answered. Steve Sarkisian is in place as the head coach and has retained wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Tee Martin. Making the trip down from Washington with Sarkisian are linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon, defensive backs coach Keith Heyward and assistant coach Johnny Nansen, whose position hasn't been determined. USC assistants Clancy Pendergast, Clay Helton, Mike Summers and John Baxter are among the candidates to stay at the school, but nothing is likely to be announced until after USC's bowl game. Who winds up filling out that staff will be on the minds of a number of top prospects, especially if the coaches come from other Pac-12 programs.


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Pac-12 recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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Last week saw a coaching shakeup in the Pac-12, as USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from Washington and the Huskies countered by luring Chris Petersen away from Boise State after making a run at UCLA's Jim Mora. This week, nearly every Pac-12 staff has been busy hitting the recruiting trail and setting up important visit weekends as a number of ESPN 300 prospects will be on conference campuses.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Thomas
Tom Hauck for Student SportsSolomon Thomas is still considering UCLA and Stanford, among others.
UCLA's big visitor

For the second weekend in a row, UCLA will have an ESPN 300 prospect on campus. Last week, the Bruins hosted Alabama linebacker commit Zach Whitley Jr (Houston/North Shore). This weekend, ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) will make the trip. Thomas, the No. 31 overall prospect and No. 5 defensive end, would be a huge addition for UCLA, which has done very well in Texas recently, led by assistant coach Adrian Klemm. Thomas still has a number of suitors, but UCLA has maintained a consistent presence in his recruitment -- along with Pac-12 rival Stanford -- and has a chance to make a statement this weekend.

USC's weekend intrigue


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