Pac-12: Ronald Johnson

Opening mailbag: Where is Tedford's mojo?

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
5:30
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Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

David from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: In your honest opinion, what has happened to Cal? Tedford and his new recruiting guru Tosh Lupoi have brought in some really nice recruits lately. But the Bears always seem to kill themselves in huge games. The offense is never consistent and I think that Tedford's offensive scheme is a little too complex for the college game. Do you see the Bears breaking through under Tedford or is he and his staff just not capable of beating tough Pac-12 teams?

Ted Miller: The simple answer is that Cal needs to find the right quarterback, and then things will start to get better. But that's too simple.

In fact, you could probably write a book about the problems -- and positives -- with the Bears at present.

There are positives? Absolutely. Recruiting has on the uptick the past two seasons and long-delayed facilities upgrades will be shortly completed.

Yet there's this pesky little thing called winning. It's happening a lot less than it did during Tedford's first five years. Not only that, the types of losses are notable: The Bears have gone down by 20 or more points eight times since 2009. That either means they aren't talented enough to keep up with the top teams or they aren't showing up focused, and neither is good for Tedford.

I don't see Tedford, barring an epic collapse, as being on the hotseat. But there is a sense of urgency for him to steer his program back into the top third of the conference instead of wallowing just slightly north of mediocre.

I joked with a writer the other day that Tedford's struggles almost exactly parallel his decision a few years back to close practices. It appears that reporters who cover his team have not been responsible for the down-tick.

But that tweak got me to thinking: It seems Tedford has never been afraid to make changes. He calls plays. He doesn't. He coaches QBs. He doesn't. He makes staff changes seemingly every year.

Perhaps Tedford should think back to 2004 when his team was in the national title hunt. What was he doing then? He should take an inventory of every detail. And perhaps then he should do more of that and less of what he's done the past three years.



Elton from LA writes: Can Rick Neuheisel save his job?

Ted Miller: Yes. He just needs to start winning games.

The problem is there was little to suggest from the Bruins beatdown defeat at Arizona on Thursday that a turnaround is imminent.

It would be of the great coaching Houdini acts if he somehow squeezes out three or four more wins over the final five games and saves his job.



Hank from Chicago writes: Ted, Just read your USC-ND article and I have to say, it really bothers me the way the media has glossed over the details of that game. Everyone points to the two players being out for SC and the dropped TD pass. Why do people never talk about the 4-1 turnover margin in SC's favor. The fact that all 4 of those turnovers were inside ND's 38 yard line and one of them, the only TD drive of the game for SC, started at the ND 2 yard line. Why do people talk about Barkely being out but do not talk about the injuries ND had. ND was playing without its starting QB, RB, NG, TE and 2nd WR. I understand a last minute drop stands more in the minds of most college football fans than all of the actions during the game. However, I would hope the media would be able to point out the obvious. SC isn't unlucky they lost that game, they were REALLY lucky they were even in it to begin with. Not making any predictions on this year, just saying let's not have revisionist history here.

Ted Miller: Easy answer here, Hank.

The team that wins doesn't need to make excuses. The team that loses does.

If Ronald Johnson had caught that TD pass, we'd all be writing how lucky USC was to win the game.



Glenn from Boulder, Colo., writes: I really liked your piece about Ralphie...just one problem...RALPHIE IS A SHE.They use female buffaloes because the males are too aggressive, and would get too riled up by the crowd. Also, the Ralphie Runners do indeed run with Ralphie, but it takes about 12 of them to corral and control her, with 6 running with her, and 6 on the field to "direct the flow of traffic...er buffalo"

Ted Miller: Duly noted.



Jon from Portland writes: Ted, about your Beaver jinx...Did you know since the blog started you've picked OSU to win 23 times and lose 21 times?Did you know since the blog started OSU has won 23 times and lost 21 times?That said, I hope you're wrong this week.Go Beavs!

Ted Miller: Interesting. But how many times was I correct? Twice, maybe.

I remember back in 2008 it seemed that Oregon State won when I picked it to lose and lost when I picked it to win, so it became a bit of a joke that I was helping the Beavers cause when I picked it to lose.



Dan from Escondido,Calif., writes: UCLA wins tonight. Check with me next time you predict the score for my Bruins...

Ted Miller: You had to know that was coming, Dan.

USC wants to avoid power shift to Irish

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
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Some games you want to win because you want to win every game. Others games feature highly ranked teams and therefore generate national interest. Some are rivalry games. But Notre Dame-USC is something else entirely, even if the 83rd game of the storied intersectional contest on Saturday features two unranked teams for just the 10th -- and second consecutive -- time in the series.

The battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh is a showdown of national programs. Top recruits across the country who don't feel pinned down to a home-state school or region watch it to test their allegiances. Most of the elite players who are recruited by USC are recruited by Notre Dame and vice versa.

And if you're looking for a marker for which direction either program is going, it's this game. Lou Holtz went 9-1-1 against USC. Pete Carroll went 8-1 against Notre Dame. Where do their tenures rank among their program's histories?

So that's why USC's 20-16 defeat last year resonates, particularly considering how it went down. Start with the obvious: Two rookie coaches who'd both been burned by off-field controversies, trying to make their marks during uncertain times for their programs.

[+] EnlargeRonald Johnson
AP Photo/Jae C. HongRonald Johnson missed a touchdown catch that could have made the difference for USC in last season's loss to Notre Dame.
And then Trojans receiver Ronald Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass with 1:17 remaining, and Notre Dame ended an eight-game losing streak in the series. Brian Kelly became 1-0 against USC. And Lane Kiffin fell to 0-1 against Notre Dame.

"It was a horrible feeling because of the streak and how long it was and how much work goes into that," Kiffin said. "And there it is right there, one fluke play and all those years are over with."

"Fluke" plays can lead to sea changes. In Holtz's first game against USC in 1986, Notre Dame overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun USC 38-37. The Fighting Irish went from a losing season in 1985 to a national title in 1988. In 2001, Carroll lost by 11 at Notre Dame. The next season, his Trojans handed the Irish a historically bad 44-13 whipping, outgaining them 610 yards to 109. And away USC went.

And then there's last year's game, which ended a run of 19 consecutive nonconference victories for USC.

"We knew that if a talented receiver like that was going to drop a ball like that in a situation like that, it's definitely our night," Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said after the 2010 game. "Things like that don't happen without a reason. It's a huge night for this program and in our lives."

Te'o, of course, is the player that broke USC's hearts on national signing day in 2009. Long considered the next in a long line of elite Trojans linebackers, the top-rated player switched to Notre Dame seemingly out of nowhere.

When considering last year's game, USC takes heart from knowing that it lost in the waning moments without two key injured players: offensive tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Matt Barkley. While Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and now plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Barkley is back and healthy and playing well. He and receiver Robert Woods are one of the nation's best pass-catch combinations.

And another streak is on the line: USC has won 13 consecutive nonconference road games. That, by the way, is the last of many winning streaks established during the Carroll era.

The Trojans this year have been mostly about Barkley and Woods and a notably mediocre defense. But it was the defense that stepped up in the Trojans' 30-9 win over California on Oct. 13, while Barkley and Woods struggled to find their rhythm.

"We needed a game that our defense won for us," Kiffin said.

That defense will need to step up again because Notre Dame won't be easy to move the ball against. Other than an implosion against Michigan, the Irish have played well on defense, surrendering just 21 points per game.

USC went 8-5 in Kiffin's first season, which was mostly given passing grades because of the circumstances. If Johnson had caught that pass, however, most would have viewed the season as a success.

Going forward, Kiffin's Trojans will be saddled with severe scholarship reductions -- each of their next three recruiting classes can only include 15 signees instead of 25 -- which almost certainly will reduce the number of wins the program produces.

But on Saturday, there won't be any real excuses. This game is a national measuring stick, and the Trojans don't want to fall short again and see power and esteem in the storied intersectional rivalry shift back to the Midwest.

Said Kiffin, "We've got to go back and start a new streak this year."

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
5/01/11
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The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Looking back at 2007 recruiting

January, 31, 2011
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Recruiting is an inexact science -- just ask any coach. Recruiting rankings are the same.

ESPN Recruiting went back and reviewed its 2007 rankings and found it had plenty of hits and plenty of misses.

Right USC?

Recall that the Trojans had the nation's No. 1 class, featuring four top-20 players and eight in the top-50. Some of the names will inspire a "who?" from those who don't follow recruiting closely.

Oregon and Stanford, which earned the Pac-10's two BCS bowl berths this season, only had one player on the 2007 ESPNU 150: Oregon's Kenny Rowe. Rowe was also the only member of the ESPNU 150 from 2007 to earn first- or second-team All-Pac-10 honors this year, though a couple, such as Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski, are already in the NFL.

You can start your review of the ESPNU 150 from 2007 here.

Here's a re-ranking of the top-10 of the recruiting rankings.

And here's a "best of" from the ESPNU 150.

For quick reference, here are the Pac-12 players who made the list.

Top 25
1. Joe McKnight, RB, USC
2. Chris Galippo, LB, USC
3. Marc Tyler, RB, USC
18. Marshall Jones, S, USC

25-50
31. Everson Griffen, DE, USC
33. Aaron Corp, QB, USC
43. Dominique Herald, S, USC
47. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC

51-75
68. Martin Coleman, OT, USC
70. Apaiata Tuihalamaka, DE, Arizona
71. Ryan Miller, OT, Colorado

76-100
None

101-125
104. Conrad Obi, DE, Colorado
107. DaJohn Harris, DT, USC
111. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
116. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
122. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC

126-150
133. Chris Forcier, QB, UCLA
135. Raymond Carter, RB, UCLA

Final Senior Bowl notes

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
10:22
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The Senior Bowl is over. Who moved up and who moved down NFL draft charts?

Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay provides a thorough review of Senior Bowl week here.

Some Pac-12 highlights.

McShay named Colorado OT Nate Solder the No. 2 player at the Senior Bowl (and No. 11 overall), writing, "Solder still can improve his technique and overall consistency but he proved to be the most dominant offensive lineman in Mobile. He has outstanding natural mobility for a 6-foot-8 left tackle prospect."

He also named California DE Cameron Jordan No. 5 at the Senior Bowl (and No. 22 overall), writing, "Jordan displayed versatility as a college five-technique who is capable of playing left end in a 4-3 scheme. Needs to add more pass-rush moves and will never have the burst of an elite edge rusher, but he has good size, great hands and a non-stop motor."

He rated Washington LB Mason Foster and Arizona DE Brooks Reed as being "on the rise."

On the downside, USC WR Ronald Johnson was No. 2 on a list of players who failed to improve their stock:
Johnson doesn't have a first- or second-round grade, so it's not like he came in here and hurt his draft stock this week. But where Miami's Leonard Hankerson, San Diego State's Vincent Brown, Boise State's Titus Young and TCU's Jeremy Kerley were able to showcase a lot of their positive qualities, Johnson turned in an underwhelming performance this week. No area of his game stands out and whether it's running routes, running after the catch or even the five returns he had in the Senior Bowl, he just lacks big-play ability. In a wide receiver group that continues to get deeper by the day, Johnson is likely to be a Day 3 pick.

Scouts Inc. also redid its top-32 list, and it included seven Pac-12 players: No. 11 Solder, No. 12 Colorado CB Jimmy Smith, No. 13 USC OT Tyron Smith, No. 16 UCLA LB Akeem Ayers, No. 22 Jordan, No. 23 Washington QB Jake Locker and No. 30 UCLA FS Rahim Moore.

You can review the complete game stats here.

Senior Bowl notes: Whose stock is up?

January, 28, 2011
1/28/11
10:20
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Senior Bowl practices are winding down: The players were in shorts on Thursday. Here are a few notes.

Colorado OT Nate Solder may have secured the title of "best offensive lineman available."
Colorado OT Nate Solder was the best lineman here this week. He showed a good combination of size, feet and lateral agility, but the thing that stuck out was his toughness. He was playing with a chip on his shoulder and mixing it up.

UCLA kicker Kai Forbath got this review:
He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's been good inside of 40 yards this week. You can tell, however, that kickoffs are not his strength, as he just doesn't have enough leg. He tries to overcompensate, and it affects his hang time and accuracy. Even Thursday, he did three kickoffs with team drills and unintentionally squibbed two kicks; the one he connected cleanly on reached only the 10.

Washington LB Mason Foster was called a "riser" all week:
Two linebackers who helped themselves this week are LSU ILB Kelvin Sheppard and Washington OLB Mason Foster. Foster showed why he was second in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 163 tackles displaying natural instincts. He finds the ball quickly, reacts quickly and gets into position to make the tackle. He's not the best athlete, but he is a reliable tackler and has enough power, strength and explosiveness in his hips when taking on blockers. He has good coverage awareness and is a big contributor on special teams. At the start of the season, he was a late-round prospect, but after a good campaign and a good week here, he's in the mid-fourth-round range now.

Washington QB Jake Locker got mixed reviews, and that link includes many of them.

Stanford CB Richard Sherman had a good day Thursday:
Stanford CB Richard Sherman had a great day. He’s very big but also real fast. Showed great instincts in the red zone drill, understood where the receiver was going and had enough skill to redirect and/or impede without committing a penalty. Made a couple of good adjustments on the fly, has the balance to change direction quickly and charge under control. He is visibly better than Chris Cook, a CB with similar size who went at the top of the 2nd round last year. The coaches still in attendance gushed over him.

Some more thoughts on California DE Cameron Jordan, including a nice review from an opposing offensive tackle.
Cal’s Cameron Jordan (6 feet 4 inches, 287 pounds) is nearly unblockable.

“He really impressed me,’’ said Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo. “He’s real strong to go with some good moves and speed. A really good player.’’

Several scouts compared Jordan to former Patriot Adalius Thomas because of his versatility and skill set. Thomas didn’t work out long-term in New England, but Bill Belichick obviously likes that type of player. Jordan is a young, moldable player who will stay within the scheme.

That Boston Globe article also noted Arizona DE Brooks Reed.
While the other top 3-4 outside linebackers will be underclassmen, Brooks Reed (Arizona) and K.J. Wright (Mississippi State) are promising.

Reed is very strong at 6-2 1/2, 257, and has good explosion off the ball. Wright is long-limbed at 6-3 and 246, and played in a passive read-and-react system. He needs to be coached up but has a high ceiling if someone can get him to turn it loose.

More on Reed here:
Arizona LB Brooks Reed has looked very good as an edge rusher in drills. He has been playing with his hand on the ground, as well as on the outside in the Bills' 3-4, this week and has been very impressive getting past tackles.

From the same article, some praise for USC WR Ronald Johnson:
USC WR Ronald Johnson looks like he has some legit run-after-the-catch ability. He's had a good week.

From what I can gather, Jordan, Foster, Reed and Johnson were generally considered the top "risers" among Pac-10 players, and if you go Pac-12, Solder also had a strong week.

Locker, Sherman, Oregon LB Casey Matthews and USC center Kristofer O'Dowd seemed to get mixed reviews, though none of them laid an egg or saw his stock drop drastically.

Senior Bowl: Locker, Foster, Jordan buzz

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
11:54
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Former Washington quarterback Jake Locker was the center of attention at the Senior Bowl this week, for good and bad reasons. Just about every NFL scout loves his talent. And just as many are worried about his consistency.

Todd McShay provides his take after three days of Senior Bowl practices. His conclusion?

At this point, I'd be comfortable drafting Locker in Round 1 only if I had a veteran starting quarterback whom I could rely on for at least one more year, an owner I know would not push for Locker to play until he was ready and a quarterback coach who knows what he's doing.


And this portion provides a general view of the positives and negatives of the week.

I think it also has been helpful for Locker to go through the process. He's showing NFL personnel and coaches that he's committed to get better and has good football character. He understands he's flawed and has areas he needs to improve on.

Locker knows he's thinking about his footwork too much and he's robotic with his mechanics. It's not second nature and he's not comfortable like most quarterbacks who are able to just go out and play the game. The bottom line is if you're inconsistent with footwork, you're going to be inconsistent with your accuracy.


Another Washington player is generating buzz: linebacker Mason Foster, who is noted by Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl's as a Day 3 top performer.

Foster's instincts are the thing that stick out. He does a great job finding the ball and always being around the ball. He's good at recognizing plays and showed that by diagnosing a screen pass twice and getting in position to make the stop. Of all the linebackers, he has the most quick-twitch power and can strike at the point of attack. In one-on-one pass drills, he has a little pop that shocked blockers and knocked them back. He could be a little better using his hands, but he had a very good overall day.


McShay on former California defensive end Cameron Jordan, a big climber this week.

The thing I took from today is the more I see Cal's Cameron Jordan, who was a 3-4 DE in college, the more I think he's a better fit as a 4-3 left defensive end. He's a lot like Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. People look at them physically and see a great five-technique guy, but I think because they both have great hands, are active on the move and can make things happen that they are better fits at left DE. After studying both on film and seeing Watt in the Rose Bowl and Jordan here at the Senior Bowl, there's not a huge difference between them, but it's obvious Jordan is the better all-around prospect. Jordan is fighting to get in the top 20, while Watt is slightly behind him.


USC receiver Ronald Johnson was up and down on Day 3.

USC WR Ronald Johnson dropped one pass early but bounced back. He tracked the ball well during individual drills and opened up and made a nice adjustment on a pass thrown slightly behind him.


There are pluses and minuses with Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman.

There's a lot to like about Stanford CB Richard Sherman's size and how physical he can be. He made a great read on a five-yard out by Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher, but he couldn't get to the ball. He just doesn't have the closing speed.


Former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic needs to catch the ball better.

Love Stanford RB Owen Marecic's fight, strength and competitiveness in one-on-one blitz pickups. On the downside, he really fought the ball in pass-catching drills.


More on Locker, Jordan and Foster here.

A big picture story on Locker here. It just takes one team for Locker to still end up an early first-round pick.

ESPN.com's 2010 All-Senior Pac-10 team

January, 25, 2011
1/25/11
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The SEC and Big Ten Bloggers -- Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg -- had an excellent idea: An All-Conference team of only seniors (fourth or fifth-year guys with no more eligibility).

And being the radical sort of guy I am, we're going to do an "All-Underclass" Pac-10 team Wednesday morning, which will feature players who will have at least two years of eligibility left next year. So stay tuned!

And here's my All-Pac-10 team without regard to year, just for reference.

So here's my take for the seniors of 2010.

[Edit note: We subbed in USC TE Jordan Cameron after realizing that Stanford TE Coby Fleener has another year of eligibility.]

Offense
QB Jake Locker, Washington
RB Owen Marecic, Stanford
RB Allen Bradford, USC
TE Jordan Cameron, USC
WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon
WR Ronald Johnson, USC
OL Chase Beeler, Stanford
OL Jordan Holmes, Oregon
OL Adam Grant, Arizona
OL Colin Baxter, Arizona
OL Bo Thran, Oregon

Defense
LB Casey Matthews, Oregon
LB Mason Foster, Washington
LB Mike Mohamed, California
DE Cameron Jordan, California
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State
DT Brandon Bair, Oregon
DE Brooks Reed, Arizona
CB Talmadge Jackson, Oregon
CB Shareece Wright, USC
S Chris Conte, California
S Nate Williams, Washington

Specialists
K Nate Whitaker, Stanford
P Reid Forrest, Washington State
PR/KR Ronald Johnson, USC

Pac-10 places 13 in Senior Bowl

January, 19, 2011
1/19/11
5:35
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Thirteen Pac-10 players representing eight different teams will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl, the premier postseason college football all-star game.

The 62nd game is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 29 in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The game and all practices will be televised live by NFL Network.

The Pac-10 players picked for the game are:

Arizona: Brooks Reed, DL
California: Cameron Jordan, DL
Oregon: Casey Matthews, LB
Oregon State: Stephen Paea, DL
Stanford: Sione Fua, DL; Owen Marecic, RB
UCLA: Kai Forbath, K; Christian Yount, DS
USC: Ronald Johnson, WR; Kristofer O’Dowd, OL; Shareece Wright, DB
Washington: Mason Foster, LB; Jake Locker, QB

Senior Bowl invitations (so far)

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
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The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., is the premier postseason college all-star game. Everyone invited to the game has significant NFL prospects.

And just about every NFL coach and personnel guy will be on hand. Watching. Closely.

So the eight Pac-10 players invited should feel honored. And a bit nervous.

Here's an early list of invitations so far (it's likely at least couple of players will be added later).

Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC
Shareece Wright, CB, USC
Stanley Havili, FB, USC
Ronald Johnson, WR, USC
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Mason Foster, LB, Washington

USC-UCLA: It isn't pretty

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
12:16
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We have just gutted the 2010 USC-UCLA game. Its entrails lay before us on a sacred stone where teams have revealed their greatness in days of yore, as well as in recent years. We -- you and the Pac-10 blog, of course -- are haruspices attempting to divine meaning from the state of the two programs and what their rivalry game on Saturday means.

In truth, it's just a wet, sticky, yucky pile. But things were pretty gross even before we made a bloody mess that reveals little.

"Steak tartare?" I say. "Sushi?" you say.

The battle for LA bragging rights ain't much to look at. USC is 7-5 and has lost two in a row. UCLA is 4-7 and has lost five of six. It's the most combined defeats for the two teams entering the game since 1999.

What is fair to say: The loser will be really, really miserable this offseason. The winner? It gets to not be the loser.

That said, the most accurate grade for both this season might be an incomplete, for it is difficult to get an accurate, big-picture measure of the state of either program.

For one, both programs had some impressive highs this season.

USC has been in and out of the rankings throughout the year, but it appeared to be there to stay after an impressive win at Arizona on Nov. 13. At that point, it was fair to predict a 10-3 finish, a strong first season for new coach Lane Kiffin by any measure, considering the circumstances.

At that point, some prematurely pinned a rose on Kiffin's nose. But then USC got blown out at Oregon State 36-7 and lost to Notre Dame 20-16 at home, thereby ending a record eight-game winning streak in the storied series.

The Trojans will lose a number of quality seniors heading into 2011 (WR Ronald Johnson, C Kristofer O'Dowd, FB Stanley Havili, CB Shareece Wright), and a couple more could enter the NFL draft a year early (OT Tyron Smith, DT Jurrell Casey).

Considering how young and thin the Trojans were this season, it's hard not to see them trending down after Kiffin's first season.

As for UCLA, the Bruins looked awful in their first two games -- a loss at Kansas State and a 35-0 drubbing at home against Stanford. But a three-game winning streak followed, topped by wins over Houston and Texas, a pair of nationally ranked teams. The defense stepped up and the pistol offense appeared to be breaking through with quarterback Kevin Prince.

Then: Splat. Prince, who was struggling in the passing game, was lost for the season to a knee injury, and the Bruins lost three in a row. They briefly seemed to recover with a win over Oregon State, which reignited bowl hopes, but they then lost by 17 at Washington and 21 at Arizona State.

The defense has been bad, but the offense has been awful. The Bruins rank 116th in the nation in passing and 103rd in scoring, and that has created a offensive coordinator controversy with Norm Chow, who is highly respected -- and highly paid -- but hasn't lived up to his reputation in Westwood.

It's hard not to see the Bruins trending down after Rick Neuheisel's third season.

So there is the suggestion of a downward trend for both, but there are variables beyond wins and losses in 2010.

USC still awaits a ruling from the NCAA Appeals Committee on severe sanctions, which included a two-year bowl ban and a docking of 30 scholarships over three years. In light of recent reports and ensuing investigations launched across the Eastern Seaboard for far worse offenses involving agents and pay-for-play schemes than what the NCAA turned up after investigating the Trojans football program for four years, it seems reasonable for the Committee to give USC a break.

Don't hold your breath, Trojans fans. But if penalties were reduced, that would provide a significant jolt of positive momentum, particularly if scholarships are restored.

With USC getting trampled by the NCAA, UCLA was supposed to take advantage, particularly in recruiting. At present, however, the Trojans rank 13th in the nation in recruiting, while the Bruins are not ranked in the top-25. USC has 16 commitments with four from the ESPNU 150. UCLA nine commitments with just one from the ESPNU 150.

But it's premature to measure recruiting classes before national signing day on Feb. 2. Recall that Neuheisel has made impressive late runs the past two years.

So, again, rain clouds hang over both programs in sunny Southern California. Neither is happy with this season. And both really, really would like to walk away from 2010 by putting a footprint on the other's forehead.

As for the big-picture trends in the rivalry? Who the heck knows?

Final: Notre Dame 20, USC 16

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
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USC's eight-game winning streak against rival Notre Dame is over after the Fighting Irish triumphed 20-16 in the Coliseum.

It wasn't Mitch Mustain's fault. The game plan was conservative and his receivers were awful.

Sure, it was raining. Hard. But the Trojans receivers put on one of the worst shows you'll ever see, particularly on USC's final possession. Ronald Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass a few plays after Brandon Carswell dropped a pass that would have been a big gain.

Another difference: Notre Dame could run the ball (147 yards) and USC could not (80).

The Trojans (7-5) lose their second consecutive game, and suddenly a solid season is taking a dramatic downturn. They are at rival UCLA on Saturday.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

November, 1, 2010
11/01/10
2:34
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A look back on the week that was.

Team of the week: Oregon overcame the ESPN "College GameDay" curse, which had killed previous No. 1 teams (in some form or fashion), and whipped USC 53-32. It was a big win on a big stage and now the Ducks also are No. 1 in the BCS standings.

Best game: Only one conference game this past weekend was decided by single digits, so we'll go with Arizona's 29-21 win at UCLA. It certainly wasn't beautiful, but winning without your A-game on the road is what good teams do.

[+] EnlargeJeff Maehl
Harry How/Getty ImagesThis acrobatic touchdown reception was one of three Jeff Maehl made against USC.
Biggest play: Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl's diving, tip-it-to-himself, 45-yard TD grab was one of the more impressive receptions this season.

Offensive standout: LaMichael James rushed for 239 yards on 36 carries with three TDs in the Ducks' win over USC.

Defensive standout: Arizona State freshman defensive end Junior Onyeali had three sacks and forced two fumbles in the blowout win over Washington State.

Special teams standout: USC's Ronald Johnson returned four Oregon punts for 94 yards (23.5 yards per return), with a long of 55 yards.

Smiley face: Oregon State's and Stanford's defenses have faced questions this year, particularly the Beavers, who ranked 119th in the nation in total yards last week. But both made big statements over the weekend. The Cardinal handed Washington its first home shutout loss since 1976 and held the Huskies to just 107 total yards. The Beavers held California to just 206 yards -- they had been giving up 459 yards per game -- in a 35-7 blitzing.

Frowny face: The state of Washington got whipped 83-0 this weekend. When Steve Sarkisian described the Huskies as hitting "rock bottom," he was also speaking for the Cougars. Hey, on the bright side, things are better than they were in 2008.

Thought of the week: Arizona ranks seventh in the nation in scoring defense (14.3 ppg). Stanford ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense (42.38 ppg). Something has to give this weekend in Palo Alto.

Questions for the week: Can Washington's defense slow down Oregon or will it get run over in a humiliating way? The Ducks rank No. 1 in the nation in scoring and total offense and No. 3 in rushing. The Huskies rank 114th in run defense, 100th in total defense and 106th in scoring defense. This matchup would appear to favor the homestanding Ducks.

USC charges out in third quarter

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
10:28
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Talk about a momentum shift.

USC quickly overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to jump ahead of Oregon 32-29 with a pair of TDs scored on short fields.

USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey intercepted a pass at the line of scrimmage on the Ducks' opening possession of the third. The Trojans scored two plays later.

Then, after an Oregon three-and-out -- and a 55-yard punt return from Ronald Johnson -- the Trojans scored another TD, and the 2-point conversion gave USC a 32-29 lead.

Who's got the quick strike offense now?

Can USC find a second wind?

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
6:42
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LOS ANGELES -- This one might be about big chunks of yards.

Oregon's offense -- and most particularly running back LaMichael James -- thrive on fast-paced drives fueled by big plays. And USC's defense has given up yards in large chunks this year.

James leads the nation with 32 runs of more than 20 yards over the past two seasons. That's a big reason that Oregon has 10 TD drives of 70-plus yards this year that took less than two minutes.

Meanwhile, USC’s defense has given up 114 plays of 10 yards or more this season. USC opponents are averaging a 10-yard gain on almost a quarter of all plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information, a percentage that ranks it beside bottom-feeders like Colorado, Washington State and Minnesota.

So the first order of business for USC's defense is to stop the James and the Duck from piling up big plays.

The second order is to find a second wind in the second half.

The Trojans aren't deep. So far this season, they haven't rotated in many guys -- unlike Oregon, they rely heavily on their starters. And there have been times when the Trojans have seemed tired.

Oregon might be the best second-half team in the country. It's outscoring foes 156-23 after the break. It's reasonable to believe opponents wear down late due to the Ducks' pace of play.

Will USC?

Or might USC counter by holding onto the ball, grinding down on a fast, but undersized Ducks defense with a power running game, and then having Matt Barkley go over the top to Robert Woods and and Ronald Johnson?

Sure, these are not the dominant Trojans of 2002-2008. They are 4-4 in their past eight Pac-10 games -- after winning 55 of 63.

But if the defense can maintain a high level of play for four quarters, the Trojans' potent, balanced offense has the fire-power to win a shootout.

At this point, "Road Block Saturday" hasn't been good to unbeatens. Can the Ducks manage to thrive on the road and continue their pursuit of the school's first national championship?

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