Pac-12: Michael Clay

Chaos could happen. Alabama could lose to Auburn. Florida State could go down in the ACC title game. Ohio State could lose to Michigan. Baylor could falter at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTailback Tyler Gaffney's big day -- 45 carries for 157 yards -- helped Stanford crush Oregon's hopes of playing in the national title game.
Then the Pac-12, in the form of either Stanford or Oregon, could slip into the final -- final! -- BCS national title game. Honestly, it wouldn't even require all of that. Because of the top-to-bottom quality of the conference this year, a one-loss Pac-12 team might end up first among equals in the BCS standings. Unbeaten Alabama and a bunch of one-loss teams? Stanford probably would come first among those with a single blemish, though then the nation would commence a bitter and grotesque "quality loss" debate.

So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Pac-12 wiggles its way back into one of the top two spots.

But our premise here is that doesn't happen, that things don't go all 2007 again. Our premise here is the Pac-12 again is shut out of the national title game.

A CliffsNotes version of what follows: Drat. But justifiable.

The Pac-12's last national championship was USC in 2004, which means the drought will be a full decade when we head into the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.

The conference did play a supporting role in two of the best BCS title games: USC falling to Texas after the 2005 season in one of the greatest college football games in history, and Oregon being nipped by Auburn by a last-second field goal after the 2010 season.

Still, in the preseason this felt like the year of a breakthrough. This felt like the year in which the Pac-12's two top dogs, Stanford and Oregon, had the pieces in place to win a title and dethrone the SEC after seven consecutive championships. They both had experience at quarterback. Both looked strong on the offensive line. Both had A-list talent on defense.

(And both had united to defeat evil!)

Sure, both had questions. But all teams do. Stanford and Oregon had begun to look like programs that answer questions on an annual basis. You know: Like Alabama, which was supposed to be questionable on defense and, well, isn't.

Yet after both the Cardinal and Ducks went down, those questions returned. Stanford's middling passing attack was a major reason the Cardinal lost at Utah. And one suspects that if linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were on hand, Oregon wouldn't have allowed Stanford to convert all seven of its third-and-2 or shorter plays with Tyler Gaffney runs last Thursday.

Might have things been different for either team if, say, Stanford had a healthy Henry Anderson for Utah, or if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent last Thursday? Maybe. But that's speculation trying to subvert the bottom line reflected on the scoreboard.

Judging who should play for the national title, which is always subjective in our present system and will continue to be with the four-team playoff, ultimately involves the totality of the season, so how things look on Nov. 11 is pretty meaningless. But how things look to me today is that Alabama and Florida State should play for the national title and that they both look better than either Stanford or Oregon.

Maybe that changes, because a week ago I was ranking Oregon No. 1. It probably would change if Alabama lost to Auburn, or if Florida State went down in the ACC title game. Stranger things have happened.

But my chief reaction after the Stanford-Oregon game was: Neither of these teams would beat Alabama. My feeling wasn't as strong for Florida State, but the Seminoles have yet to reveal any weaknesses so far this season.

I can feel the rage already exploding out there from Pac-12 fans. Such an assertion surely will make Pac-12 fans angry, but I suspect that 75 percent of those currently enraged actually, perhaps not even that deep down, agree with me. They just don't want to hear it or read it.

But the role of the Pac-12 blog is not to advocate for the conference. It distributes tweaks to other regions when necessary or even just for the amusement of doing so. But there's also a credibility issue. If we're telling folks Oregon/Stanford has the best chance of any team in the nation to beat Alabama and end the SEC's run, it should be a honest assessment, not a stroking of the regional ego or some public-relations move.

So today's assessment, impermanent as it may prove to be, is this: The Pac-12 will not play for the national title this season because it doesn't deserve to.

Again: Drat. But justifiable.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is pleased. It has just been noted to him that his Ducks showcased brilliant coverage in the secondary during their 45-24 win at Washington. It's the same observation that had been made by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, but you get the feeling that Aliotti is not weary of hearing about it.

He admits he even allowed himself some extra time to savor the blanketing of white on black during a postgame film session with his players.

"I said, 'Look at this! There's nobody open for [Washington QB Keith] Price to throw the ball to!'" Aliotti said.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
Just like any other coach, Aliotti will tell you the only statistic that matters is about three letters, not numbers: W-I-N. That said, he takes a lot of pride in his defense and the players he sends onto the field. While Aliotti projects an amusing, avuncular personality, just below the surface is an intense competitor. That pride and competitiveness led to his postgame tirade two-plus weeks ago after Washington State scored two late touchdowns against his reserve players in a 62-38 Ducks win.

"That's total [bleep] that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did," Aliotti said to reporters. "And you can print that and you can send it to [Cougars coach Mike Leach], and he can comment too. I think it's low class, and it's [bleep] to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team."

It might have been the most controversial moment of his 38-year career, and it cost him $5,000 after he was fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12. Aliotti apologized to Leach and called himself "embarrassed" in a release from the school two days later.

"It was probably an old guy who didn't understand the Internet, how the media can get going so fast," Aliotti said. "Just making an honest, simple statement about what I thought at the time. Obviously, I made a huge mistake by overstepping my bounds. I shouldn't have said those things. These days, you've got to be politically correct. Not one of my strong suits."

While, no, those comments weren't terribly smart coming from a veteran coach, it's not difficult to ascertain the source of Aliotti's frustration. While there typically have been hat tips to his defense during Oregon's rise to elite national power, most of the nation sees Oregon as being all about offense. That high-tempo, flashy offense is the big story when it rolls up eye-popping numbers, and it's the big story when it gets slowed down.

Recall the gloating from SEC fans about Auburn, with a middling SEC defense, shutting down the Ducks in their 22-19 victory in the 2010 national title game? Why was it not almost as notable that Oregon held Auburn to 18 fewer points than the Tigers averaged against SEC defenses?

Or when Stanford ruined Oregon's national title hopes last fall in a 17-14 overtime win, it was all about the Cardinal shutting down the Ducks with nary a mention of Aliotti's defense holding Stanford to 10 points below its season scoring average.

There's, of course, an obvious answer: The winning team sets the postgame agenda and analysis. Amid all the Ducks winning since 2009 -- 54-7 record -- the offense almost always leads.

That's apparently the big story again as No. 3 Oregon visits No. 5 Stanford on Thursday: Will the Stanford defense be able to thwart QB Marcus Mariota, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Ducks again?

Yet here's a bet that the game won't turn on that. Here's a bet that Stanford's defense doesn't even approach its success from last year and that the bigger issue will be whether Stanford's struggling offense can score enough to keep it close.

Because, by the way, it's Oregon that enters the game with the Pac-12's best defense, not Stanford.

Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in both scoring defense (16.9 PPG) and yards per play (4.41). It leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in the nation in both pass efficiency defense and turnovers forced (23).

And this is happening after losing three All-Pac-12 linebackers, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Stanford coach David Shaw has noticed.

"They are missing three dynamic football players," Shaw said. "The crazy part is, without those outstanding players, the defense as a whole looks better. They are fast. They are big."

Shaw is one of more than a few Pac-12 coaches who frequently gush about Aliotti's defense, about how he maximizes his players' talents and puts them in position to be successful and how his perplexing, flexible scheme is both sound and sometimes baffling.

"It's a different scheme than most 3-4 teams," Shaw said. "It takes some getting used to, to prepare for it."

The enduring ideas about Oregon's defense, even when it is given credit, are quasi-dismissive compliments: scrappy, aggressive, quick, blitz-heavy. Those words are no longer accurate. The Ducks have comparable future NFL talent with many of the nation's top defenses, starting a secondary chock-full of future NFL starters.

Things have changed in part because winning has bolstered recruiting. The Ducks are no longer undersized. They are fast and big -- see eight defensive linemen in the regular rotation who are 6-foot-4 or taller, including three over 6-6. The secondary has become -- and will continue to be -- an NFL pipeline. And at linebacker, things are going fairly well for Alonso these days.

The improved talent has meshed with a good scheme, but Aliotti and his staff also are good at teaching and making sure each player understands what his assignments are. And trusts them.

"Our players believing in what they are doing," first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "I think Nick and the defensive staff have done a great job of taking advantage of our overall strengths and maybe hiding our potential weaknesses a little bit. I think, collectively, it's a ton of guys playing hard."

Aliotti tweaks things every year. This season, the Ducks are blitzing less, due in large part to the myriad mobile quarterbacks in the Pac-12, a group that includes Stanford's Kevin Hogan, though their respectable 2.88 sacks per game suggest they are still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

We won't know if this turns out to be Aliotti's best unit until season's end, but it's certainly good enough to merit a spot on the marquee next to the Ducks' ludicrous speed offense.

And, yes, Aliotti wouldn't mind if he and his players received some credit.

"It's about winning games, but we do all take pride in our job," he said.

What are Oregon's weaknesses?

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Oregon is terrible on fourth down. The Ducks have converted on just seven of 18 fourth-down plays this year. Their 38.9 conversion rate ranks 10th in the Pac-12, behind struggling teams like Colorado and California.

We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon appears to have no glaring weaknesses, yet first-year coach Mark Helfrich says the Ducks can get better in every phase.
The Pac-12 keeps track of 33 statistical categories, covering offense, defense, special teams, penalties, turnovers, etc. The Ducks rank first in the conference in 11 categories, including the two most important: scoring offense and scoring defense. They rank in the top three in 18 categories. Most of the categories they are not doing well in -- time of possession, onside kicks, opponent penalties -- evoke a "neh."

Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.

This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?

"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."

In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?

Check, check and check.

The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.

Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.

Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.

"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."

Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.

"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."

The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.

Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.

"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."

Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.

"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."

Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).

Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.

Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.

"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."

That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.

Lokombo leads Oregon LBs

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Just because a position is questionable in the preseason doesn't mean it's not answerable.

Questionable: Oregon is replacing three A-list linebackers. Dion Jordan was first-team All-Pac-12 and the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both second-team All-Pac-12, with Alonso getting picked in the second round of the draft. Clay was cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.

The lone returning starter is Boseko Lokombo, who only ranked 10th on the team in tackles last year.

Answerable: Lokombo, a fantastic all-around athlete, has been a dominant playmaker during preseason practices, and the Ducks have five other linebackers with significant playing experience.

With the first official depth chart out, Tony Washington, as expected, will step in for Jordan at the position listed as defensive end opposite Taylor Hart, though everyone and their grandmother knows the Ducks defense is a base 3-4 and Washington will be an outside linebacker opposite Lokombo.

Juniors Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who were injured during spring practices, are the starters inside.

The three new guys are hardly green. Washington started twice for Jordan last year and finished with 20 tackles. Malone had one start and finished with 41 tackles, which ranked eighth on the team. Hardick had 11 tackles.

Depth? Backup Tyson Coleman, who can play inside and outside, had 34 tackles last year, and Rahim Cassell had 19. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks played nine linebackers against woeful Nicholls State on Saturday.

Still, Lokombo is the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound senior could play his way into the early rounds of the NFL draft next spring if his production equals his potential this fall.

"He's a guy who is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," Oregon's first-year coach Mark Helfrich said. "We expect huge things from him. But he needs to be more consistent."

Lokombo had 39 tackles last year, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Look for the sack numbers, in particular, to go up. Lokombo is powerful -- 500 pound squat -- and fast, though he's more quick than a 40-yard dash guy. He started all 13 games last year and the native of Congo has seen action in 40 since arriving at Oregon from Abbotsford, British Columbia four years ago.

He doesn't seem too worried about the new starters surrounding him.

"Some of them already played a lot last year," he said. "They are ready to take on their roles. It's next man up and that's that."

It also helps that Oregon's defensive line and secondary are both among the best units in the Pac-12, with the secondary widely considered as good as any in the nation.

The Ducks 2012 defense was very good. This one might still be able to match it, even with a question at linebacker.

Said Helfrich, "We have a lot of unproven guys, but a bunch of guys who have played to this point in camp really hard and really well."

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
Linebacker should a strong position in the Pac-12 this fall. You could argue that six or seven guys are or could become All-American candidates.

So how do the units stack up?

GREAT SHAPE

Stanford: Three starters back for the Pac-12's best run defense, including All-American candidates Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Even the competition to replace Chase Thomas between James Vaughters and Blake Lueders is between two A-list veterans. Depth is good, too. Might be the best unit in the country.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Barr is a big reason why the Bruins boast one of the Pac-12 best linebacker corps.
UCLA: Well, start with Anthony Barr on the outside. The general reaction to him at media day, "Dang. He's big. I didn't know he was that big." Then there's the underrated Eric Kendricks inside along with the solid Jordan Zumwalt. There doesn't seem to be much concern about the vacancy at the other OLB, where Aaron Wallace, Kenny Orjioke and, perhaps, incoming freshman Myles Jack are competing.

USC: Inside 'backer Hayes Pullard and Morgan Breslin on the outside make for a good start, as the Trojans transition to a 3-4. Fellow inside linebacker Lamar Dawson had a forgettable 2012 season, but he reacted well to being challenged this spring. Then there's the return of Devon Kennard, who should finally feel comfortable playing the OLB position he was made for.

Washington: As previously noted, the Huskies are extremely strong here, though it doesn't seem that many folks realize it. They will. The general feeling among just about everyone is that Shaq Thompson will make a move toward All-American recognition this year, while Travis Feeney and John Timu also are well above average. Rush end Josh Shirley also merits note as a hybrid LB/DE in Justin Wilcox's amorphous scheme.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are both back, giving the Beavers speed and experience on the outside. Joel Skotte is expected to win the job at MLB. Depth is a little iffy, but the Beavers run defense was strong in 2012.

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite Brandon Magee is gone, and for that we are terribly sad. Incredibly productive Devil 'backer Carl Bradford is back, as are Steffon Martin and Chris Young, as well as Anthony Jones. Sun Devils struggled a bit against the run last year.

California: The Bears are switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which means Chris McCain is now officially a rush end, not an outside linebacker. But this is a better-than-you-think crew, despite the lousy numbers from 2012. Nick Forbes is strong inside, while Jalen Jefferson is back on the strongside. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt is finally healthy and ready to roll. Depth is a little questionable.

Arizona: Everyone is back, led by Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, and the Pac-12 blog is of the mind the Wildcats are actually OK at linebacker. The issue is the guys in front of them not being very good at gobbling up blockers. Terrible run defense last year, though.

Washington State: We think one of the big surprises this year might be how solid the Cougars are on defense, and linebacker is one of several reasons why. Most of the 2012 two-deep is back, though losing OLB Travis Long is a big hit. Darryl Monroe is the leader inside.

WE'LL SEE

Oregon: It's not just that the Ducks lost three of four starters. It's that they lost OLB Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay inside. Each is on an NFL roster, Jordan being a first-round pick and Alonso going in the second round. No team in the country lost anything approaching that at linebacker. Boseko Lokombo is back on the outside, but injury issues this spring prevented there from being much depth chart clarity.

Utah: While the 2012 run defense was solid, the Utes didn't play well at linebacker last year, though injury issues were the chief concern, preventing any type of week-to-week continuity. Trevor Reilly, who played "stud" 'backer last year, has returned to his more natural end position. A healthy Brian Blechen will take over at "stud" after bouncing back and forth at safety -- he's 230 pounds, too -- and that should help. Big area of fall competition here.

Colorado: Senior Derrick Webb is a strong presence on the weakside, but Jon Major and Doug Rippy are gone. The Buffaloes likely will be young here, see true freshman Addison Gillam topping the post-spring depth chart.

You can see previous previews here:

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Kicker

Pac-12's leading tacklers

May, 31, 2013
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After looking at the big offensive numbers in the Pac-12 -- who's coming back; who might step up -- we move on to defense.

Tackling numbers are a little more difficult to measure in terms of value. A player might have a lot of tackles because he plays for a bad defense that sees a lot of plays. So while five of the eight guys who had 100 tackles last year are back, let's just start with which teams welcome back their top tackler.

Here are the returning leading tacklers -- calculated as per game average, not total tackles -- for each team.
So eight teams welcome back their top tacklers, which is a good number. All eight are a good bet to again lead their team, or at least to be near the top.

So what about the other four teams?

Arizona State: Pac-12 blog favorite, linebacker Brandon Magee, had 25 more tackles than any other Sun Devil last year, and the No. 2 tackler was safety Keelan Johnson. The Arizona State defense tends to provide plenty tackling opportunities for its weakside linebacker -- Magee's position -- so the guy who emerges there figures to lead the tackling charge. The big question is whether senior Chris Young, the No. 3 tackler last year, stays at "spur" or moves to the weakside, or whether Grandville Taylor or Carlos Mendoza emerges and keeps Young at spur. Young was shared top billing at both positions on the post-spring depth chart.

California: The Bears are breaking in a new 4-3 defense, and that tends to make the starting middle linebacker the leading tackler. That's going to be Nick Forbes, who ranked 11th in the Pac-12 last year with 7.1 tackles per game, just behind teammate Josh Hill, a safety who averaged 7.2 tackles per game.

Oregon: This one is completely up in the air. Michael Clay led the Ducks with 101 tackles last year. Kiko Alonso was second with 81. Both of them are gone. No. 3 was safety Brian Jackson with 69. Strongside linebacker Boseko Lokombo is back, but he was 10th on the team last fall. Injuries this spring clouded things. Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who was eighth on the team in tackles last year, were both out, and Tyson Coleman got hurt after moving from outside to inside. Junior college transfer Joe Walker played well when the other guys were out. Rahim Cassell is another possibilty.

USC: The Trojans are doing the opposite of Cal: Moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (or 5-2, as USC folks are calling it). But even with that, it's a good bet that "mike" linebacker Hayes Pullard will lead the Trojans in tackles next fall. He averaged 8.2 per game in 2012. That ranked seventh in the conference, two spots behind safety T.J. McDonald (8.6 tackles per game).
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti knows transition. He's coached at Oregon in five different decades and under four head coaches. He's seen tough times and BCS bowl games. So Chip Kelly's departure to the Philadelphia Eagles isn't going shake the earth beneath his feet.

Kelly's exit and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich's ascension to head coach? Just part of the business, which for him is business as usual running the Duck defense.

"At this point in the game, it's been a very smooth, easy transition, to the point I don't feel or see any difference," Aliotti said. "I guess until we start playing games and things start happening that are meaningful I might have a better answer. But my gut feeling tells me that there will be very little difference in the way Chip did things and the way Mark will do things."

Which bodes well for the program, because Aliotti, 58, isn't going to change either.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti brings back much of his defense but also has some major holes at linebacker.
Oregon's defense, as has been typical during its national rise, was again outstanding in 2012. Some folks still don't understand how the Ducks' ludicrous-speed offense skews certain numbers, which enables a scattering of lunkheads to perceive mediocrity.

Such as this: Oregon ranked sixth in the conference and 44th in the nation in total defense (374.2 yards per game).

Solid, but not above a chortle from our SEC friends.

Ah, but Oregon ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnovers forced -- 40, two more than anyone else -- 15th in in pass efficiency defense, 14th in third down efficiency, 10th in redzone efficiency and 26th in yards per play. Oh, and 25th in the nation in scoring (21.62 points per game).

So, yeah, the Ducks had one of the nation's 15-to-20 best defenses in 2012. Looking ahead, eight starters are back from that unit in 2013, and that doesn't include talented and experienced depth, particularly on the line and in the secondary.

Said Aliotti, "Eight of 11 spots should be as good or better. Three we have to shore up."

Shoring up is right. Those three losses are huge in terms of talent, production and leadership. They are concentrated at linebacker in the Ducks' hybrid 3-4: outside linebacker Dion Jordan and inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Clay and Jordan were the Ducks most vocal leaders in 2012. Jordan is going to be a top-10 NFL draft pick, and Alonso figures to get selected around the third round. Clay, despite lacking ideal size, has a good chance to get drafted.

"They're irreplaceable initially," Aliotti siad. "Whoever steps in there obviously is not going to be that caliber when they first step in there. Those guys meant so much to us."

Tony Washington, who has plenty of experience, will step in for Jordan. Aliotti also said Boseko Lokombo, a returning starter at the opposite outside linebacker spot, Tyson Coleman and Christian French will help fill Jordan's void. All four have seen plenty of action.

"None of them are Dion but those four will man that position," Aliotti said.

As for replacing Clay and Alonso, Aliotti is less sanguine.

"I don't feel as comfortable in there as I do at the outside position to be honest with you," he said.

Part of that is injuries. Top candidates Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have been hurt this spring. That's brought Coleman inside -- he played well backing up Lokombo last year -- along with Rahim Cassell. Aliotti also mentioned Joe Walker.

When the discussion turns to the defensive line and secondary, Aliotti brightens considerably.

The D-line is big, athletic and, due to injury issues last fall, experienced. Expect senior end Taylor Hart to transition from underrated to properly appreciated. Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli provide 300-pound bodies inside, while DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci figure to improve dramatically after seeing significant action as true freshmen.

The secondary is potentially the best in the Pac-12 in both talent and depth. Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are the conference's best cornerback tandem. They both could end up first-team All-Pac-12, as Ekpre-Olomu did in 2012 after hauling in four interceptions and forcing six fumbles.

"I think they're pretty equal. I like them both the same," Aliotti said when asked which corner was better.

And backups Troy Hill and Dior Mathis likely would start for many conference teams, as would backup safeties Reggie Daniels and Erick Dargan.

The Ducks have three big voids, no doubt. But there's a lot coming back. Including Aliotti, who will be coaching his 22nd season in Eugene after he turned down an overture from Lane Kiffin to talk about USC's defensive coordinator vacancy.

A new, offensive minded head coach? No worries. Aliotti's seen it before and things have worked out just fine.

"It's been the same as before, so it's kind of cool," he said.

Mailbag: I ku, you ku, we haiku

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
6:00
PM ET
Well, the call for iambic pentameter and haiku was very, very well received. As promised, those jump to the front of the line and since you took the time to write in Haiku or verse, I'll take the time to answer in Haiku or verse. It's a good ol' fashioned Pac-12 blog poetry slam.

As always, follow us on Twitter. (And a birthday shout-out to Fvstokes this weekend).

To the poetry!

Darius in "Wish I were at Stanford" writes:

Stanford's wide receivers:
Will they be any good, I wonder?
Hope, good news; otherwise, panic.

Kevin Gemmell:

Experience thin;
Need go-to threat on outside;
Paging Montgomery.




Uh Oh Chongo in Danger Island writes:

Pac-12 road trip time.
What is your destination?
Best away game this year?

Kevin Gemmell:

It's too soon to tell;
Though Pullman in winter rocks;
Says Cougarbrian.




Nathan in Seattle writes:

When will the Cougs rise?
When will our time come again?
How far are 10 wins?

Kevin Gemmell:

10 wins are a lot;
For now, enjoy Apple Cup;
New season brings hope.




Yellow in the Pac-12 blog writes (and I'm assuming he's a Washington fan):

Stadium rebuilt,
But can only see one game,
First game or rival?

Kevin Gemmell:

Truly, a tough choice;
Broncos or Cougars, hard call;
DirectTV? Doh!




Ryan in Portland writes:

Do Ducks win Pac-12?
And what about the natty?
I love roses man!

Kevin Gemmell:

Saying 'Natty bad;
Even in form of Haiku;
No roses for you!




Richard in Winters, Calif. writes: Will David Shaw, his conservative ways relent, And more aggressive nature, can invent?

Kevin Gemmell: A coach of the year twice he's been named. Conservatism seems not to dull his fame.




Basho in San Francisco writes: As I once famously said, "Furu ike ya (An old pond) Kawazu tobikomu (A frog jumps in) Mizu no oto (Sound of water)." In other words, do you think that Helfrich will be able to successfully make a splash jumping in as the new HC for the Ducks?

Kevin Gemmell: It's not often that deceased 17th century Japanese poets write in. So this is a treat. And who knew he was an Oregon fan?

I think Mark Helfrich has a higher burden of expectation than any other coach in the country because if he doesn't win at least 10 or 11 games, there are going to be rumblings. With that said, he obviously knows the system and he was the school's top choice all along, so they seem to think he can keep the momentum going. I tend to agree based on the talent they have coming back -- and coming in.

Chip Kelly went to four straight BCS games -- including the national championship. That is a tough act for any coach to follow -- veteran or otherwise. And Helfrich's ascension comes at a time when Stanford is now a player on the national stage and Washington and Oregon State are trending up. That could create a bit of a paradox. Because if Oregon loses to those teams, will it be because Chip Kelly left? Or is it because the other teams are simply better?

If you're looking for a splash, a spot in the BCS championship game would certainly be nice -- or at least a win in a BCS bowl game. That would reassure the faithful and be considered a splash in his first season. I think that's possible. Anything less than 10 wins, though, will be seen as a disappointment.




Card fan in Rocklin, Calif., writes: "Complacency" seems to be the new buzzword around Stanford Football, as in "Don't get complacent." How realistic a concern do you think this is?

Kevin Gemmell: Not much. David Shaw continues to instill that "us vs. them" mentality. And from the players and coaches I've talked to, they continue to buy into it. Even Stanford's biggest critics say they beat a Wisconsin team that didn't deserve to be in the Rose Bowl and they only beat them by six points.

But those who follow the conference closely knew going in that the Rose Bowl wasn't going to be a blowout either way and that Stanford wins its games by close margins and with white knuckles. For those who understand Stanford football, they realize the Cardinal dominated that game.

They might be getting the respect they deserve as a program -- and three straight trips to BCS bowl games certainly warrants a high level of respect -- but the impression I get from speaking with Shaw is that no one thinks they've "arrived." They didn't buy the negative hype when everyone said they'd take a tumble post-Andrew Luck. And they aren't buying the positive hype now. The team's demeanor matches that of its coach. Which is a good thing.




Papa John in Santa Barbara writes: I love all these interviews that you and Ted are posting. Which made me wonder: What's your Pac-12 all-interview team for 2012?

Kevin Gemmell: I can only work off the guys I interviewed last year. But since I also did the weekly Q&A, I talked to a lot. My team.

Offense

QB: Matt Barkley, USC/Jeff Tuel, Washington State -- Both are great, candid speakers. Tuel's Q&A might have been my favorite of last season. Very honest. Brett Hundley and Keith Price get honorable mention.
RB: Kenjon Barner, Oregon. Loves to talk, and we love to listen.
OL: Jeff Baca, UCLA. Get him talking about beach volleyball and you'll run out of batteries on your recorder.
OL: David Bakhtiari, Colorado: Forthright, very well-spoken.
OL: David Yankey, Stanford. Clear, concise, on message.
TE: Joseph Fauria: My go-to guy at UCLA always had something colorful to say, win or lose.
WR: Marqise Lee, USC. Always seems to have a big smile when he talks.
P: Josh Hubner, ASU: Punters are typically pretty funny guys to talk to. Hubner was no exception.

Defense

DL: Terrence Stephens, Stanford: Possible MVP. One of my all-time favorites.
DL: Ben Gardner, Stanford: With our without the mullet, he's a great talker.
DL: Will Sutton, ASU: Good sense of humor.
LB: Brandon Magee, ASU. Right up there with Stephens for MVP.
LB: Michael Clay, Oregon: Another guy with a big smile every time he talks.
LB: Travis Long, Washington State: Exudes class and leadership when he speaks.
CB: Jordan Poyer, Oregon State: Speaks with a quiet confidence.
S: T.J. McDonald, USC: Knows how to handle the limelight and does so with poise and maturity.

Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That’s college football. Players’ eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Biggest shoes: ILBs Kiko Alonso & Michael Clay

Look, we're doing it again: Citing two guys having "Big Shoes." We could include OLB Dion Jordan and make it a troika of All-Pac-12 players. The point is this: Oregon has very few worrisome areas, but if you were to cite one chief area of concern, there's no doubt it's linebacker, where three of four starters must be replaced. While Jordan is the most elite in terms of NFL prospects, Alonso and Clay, manning the two inside spots, were one of the nation's most dynamic combos in 2012. And the departure of Clay, a member of the Pac-12 blog's All-Interview team, means we have to find a new go-to postgame interview guy on the Ducks' defense. So there are big shoes here in more ways than one. Clay led the Ducks with 101 tackles -- 20 more than the closest player behind him -- while posting 10 tackles for a loss, three sacks with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Alonso, despite battling a broken wrist much of the season, finished second to Clay with 81 tackles, including 14 for a loss. He added four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Alonso was the playmaker. Clay was the leader. Both wore big shoes.

Stepping In: Sophomores Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick

These two will get first shot, and Malone is close to a sure thing. He was a primary reserve last year, replacing Clay and Alonso when they were hurt, and he finished with 41 tackles. Hardrick saw less action in 2012 than he did as a true freshman the season before, so there's a feeling he might have been hurt more than he regressed (this take courtesy of Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard more so than a vague hint from coordinator Nick Aliotti). Sophomore Tyson Coleman can play inside or outside, but he seems more likely to backup Boseko Lokombo because he's got pass-rushing skills. There's also sophomore Rahim Cassell and redshirt freshman Brett Bafaro, and you'd think JC transfer Joe Walker wasn't brought in to sit on the bench. There are options here, but it's hard to imagine the Ducks won't take a step back on the position in 2013.

Lunch links: ASU's scary RB duo

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
2:30
PM ET
You're not a columnist. You're a reporter who writes long.
We did a top-25 Pac-12 players list, and then asked you to provide your own.

The response was strong. Both in numbers of entries and the overall quality. A few of you listed mostly guys from your favorite team. One guy took the time to type out Matt Barkley 25 times.

I couldn't publish them all, of course. Further, I didn't consider ones that listed 25 guys with no explanation -- YOU DIDN'T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! -- and I didn't include ones that just said "switch these two players, drop Reggie Dunn and your list would be perfect."

I also have a celebrity contribution, the last one, that I found pretty interesting.

Couple of general thoughts:
Once again, here's our list.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Here are some of your thoughts.

Braxton from Fargo, N.D.:

1. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
4. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
5. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
6. Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
7. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
9. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
10. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
11. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
12. Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
13. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
14. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
15. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
16. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
17. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
18. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
19. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
20. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
21. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
22. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
23. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
24. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
25. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

First off I do not think a sole kick returner (Reggie Dunn) belongs in a top 25 player list. I would make an exception with De'Anthony Thomas, though he plays a much more vital role in Oregon's offense, than Dunn in Utah's offense. Leaving off Austin Seferian-Jenkins is absurd. If you would take off Seferian-Jenkins off Washington's offense, they would be incredibly one-demensional. Taylor Kelly almost made my list, but I just didn't see enough fire-power in him through the season.

My take: Reasonable list. Added Seferian-Jenkins, Sankey and Trufant -- three Huskies -- and dropped Dunn, Kelly and Crichton. Could be argued.

(Read full post)

Poll: Grading the top 25

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
7:00
PM ET
As Ted announced earlier today, you'll have your chance to submit your own top 25s and we'll publish a few of them on the blog. But in the meantime, it's time for your Tuesday poll question. And since we're close to putting a bow on this year's postseason top 25, we thought we'd give you guys a chance to weigh in on what you think.

So, for your Tuesday question: How would you grade the Pac-12 postseason top 25? (Please keep in mind that Ted is very, very sensitive).

SportsNation

How would you grade the Pac-12 postseason Top 25?

  •  
    20%
  •  
    52%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,412)

Your options:

A: You guys nailed it. All 25 players deserve to be on there and they are all ranked in the proper place -- give or take one or two spots. Your logic for each pick was sound and you should be applauded for your effort. We collectively bow to your knowledge of the Pac-12 and its personnel.

B: Not bad. Most of the players deserve to be on there and the rankings are generally in order. There are one or two players that I disagree with, but for the most part, it's a solid list and good representation of the top 25 players in the league.

C: Meh. Some good, some bad. Too many players that I would have liked to see on there you guys didn't include. Your rankings were pretty far off also on some of the players. It's not the worst list ever, but it's not great.

D: Too many marquee players were left off this list in place for guys who didn't deserve it. The rankings were way off and you missed the boat on too many good guys. (By the way, this is code for "Why do you both hate Washington?")

F: How current are your résumés?

Here's the list again so you don't have to scroll back all the way through.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Your turn: Make a top-25 and defend it

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
11:00
AM ET
And the Pac-12 Bloggers saw the top-25 list that they had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Or so they think.

Since the beginning of times, people have been creating things. Beautiful things. And then there have been critics.
Adam: Yeah, it's cool, this Paradise and everything -- Eve is a righteous babe! -- but it's pretty lame I can't eat an apple from this tree!

Renaissance critic: While Mr. da Vinci has had a fine career, I simply can't get over that smug smile from the Mona Lisa. Oh, so you think you know me, do you Ms. Mona Lisa, you uppity thing? Oh, so you think you can follow me with your eyes, do you? What if I run over here... Hmm. Well, I don't think you're pretty. At all.

Elizabethian critic: Oh, Mr. Shakespeare can turn a phrase or two in his plays, but, really, where are the car chases and explosions? No great art exists without those.

Joan Rivers (1864): Mr. Lincoln was a fine president and leader, he freed the slaves and saved the country and all that, but who walks the red carpet in a long top hat and black vested suit? He looks like a funeral director! And don't get me started on that beard. Does he think he plays for the San Francisco Giants? Or that he's in a grunge band? Hey, Mr. Lincoln, Seattle isn't even part of the Union yet!

Pac-12 blog critic: Reggie Dunn! Matt Scott! Matt Barkley! Where's the Black Mamba? Where's Desmond Trufant? Where's Austin Seferian-Jenkins? This list has no credibility! Blaaaaaaaaaeeeeechhhhhh! Fursbitarduty!

Sigh. Oh, the burdens We Great Creators must bear.

Well, Kevin and I think it's your turn. We want you to submit your top-25 list and write 50 to 100 words defending it.

Send your entries here.

We will publish (and perhaps comment on ourselves!) the most notable ones.

You, of course, have the advantage of seeing our list, and knowing its most controversial picks and omissions. But don't let that distract you. It will be more fun if you go by your own feelings.

There are no wrong answers.

Other than the fact that all will be wrong that don't look exactly like this.

A review of the Pac-12's top-25 list

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
7:00
PM ET
The Pac-12 blog's top-25 list is complete with the naming of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota No. 1.

It's wonderful that everyone came to the same conclusion: The list is perfect. You wouldn't change a thing.

Let's break down the list.

By team:
Arizona: 2
Arizona State: 2
California: 0
Colorado: 0
Oregon: 5
Oregon State: 3
Stanford: 6
UCLA: 3
USC: 2
Utah: 2
Washington: 0
Washington State: 0
Notes: The shutting out of California, Colorado and Washington State probably surprises no one. A goose egg for Washington? Well, that hasn't been terribly popular, particularly with two clear candidates in cornerback Desmond Trufant and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The rest of the numbers make pretty good sense based on the standings, with Oregon and Stanford combining for 11 players. In fact, the Ducks and Stanford had a couple of elite guys who were left off. So, basically, no one is happy.

By unit:
Offense: 13
Defense: 11
Special teams: 1
Notes: We didn't spend a lot of time worrying about balance between units. It just worked out that way. The preseason list was 16 to 9 in favor of offense.

By position:
Quarterback: 5
Offensive line: 1
Running back: 4
Receiver: 2
Tight end: 1
Inside linebacker: 1
Outside linebacker: 4
Defensive tackle: 2
Defensive end: 1
Safety: 1
Cornerback: 2
Kick returner: 1
Notes: Pretty good balance here. Obviously, the Pac-12 had a lot of good backfields in 2012. After quarterback, running back overtook receiver as the marquee position. The preseason list featured four top-10 receivers. The postseason list featured four top-10 running backs. You could say it wasn't a great year for linemen. Some of that is more teams using a 3-4 look on defense, which has defensive ends becoming outside linebackers.

Who's coming back?
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
Notes: That's 12-of-25 and four of the top-five. Not too bad. A good mixture of offense and defense, too.
Also coming back (in no particularly order -- honest): Seferian-Jenkins, Stanford DT Ben Gardner, Oregon WR/RB De'Anthony Thomas, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan, Arizona WR Austin Hill, UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, Oregon TE Colt Lyerla, Washington RB Bishop Sankey, USC DE Morgan Breslin, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford, Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo, Stanford LB Shayne Skov, Oregon S Avery Patterson, USC DT Leonard Williams, Arizona State RB Marion Grice, Oregon CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon State QR Brandin Cooks, Oregon C Hronis Grasu, UCLA OG Xavier Sua-Filo, Washington State S Deone Bucannon, California RB Brendan Bigelow, Colorado WR Paul Richardson, Arizona State H-back Chris Coyle, Oregon State LB D.J. Alexander and Oregon DE Taylor Hart.

Just to name a few (I had to stop adding guys. I'd never finish this post).

So the preseason top-25 list will be easy to make and be just as uncontroversial as this one.

Sweet.

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