Pac-12: Shane Vereen

Over on the Big 12 blog, David Ubben decided to go through all the teams in the conference and see how they've done against the Top 25 since 2008.

That sounded like a ton of fun, so here's a look at the Pac-12 results. For seasoning, I added a best/worst category against Top 25 teams, which is very subjective and, as always, open to debate.

Since 2008 the Pac-12 is 52-105 against Top 25 teams. Utah and Colorado records prior to 2011 are not factored in, but we'll still look at them in the team-by-team breakdown.

Oregon carries the flag for the conference with a robust .705 winning percentage while Washington State has a Blutarsky.

Here's how the entire conference shapes up:

Oregon

Record vs. Top 25: 12-5 (.705)

Best win: The Stanford victories in consecutive years put the Cardinal back in their place (and last year, signified the clear leader in the North), but the 45-38 win over No. 10 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year was a breakthrough for the program. It put an end to the "can they win the big one" questions and was critical for the legitimacy of the league. Oregon to the rest of the conference: You're welcome.

Toughest loss: The Boise State loss in 2009 was a stinger. But anytime you lose in the National Championship game to the No. 1 team -- and the way it went down in those obscure final two minutes -- it's tough. That loss brought about some of the questions the Ducks were able to answer with the Rose Bowl win.

USC

Record vs. Top 25: 9-5 (.642)

Best win: The 35-3 win over Ohio State in 2008 stands out. But the victory at No. 4 Oregon last year bloodies the water for this year's much-anticipated showdown.

Worst loss: Also from last year, the triple-overtime loss to No. 6 Stanford shouldn't have ended the way it did. Maybe Stanford still would have won -- but that game was too epic to end on a fumble.

Stanford

Record vs. Top 25: 7-6 (.538)

Best win: The '09 win over Oregon stands out because the Ducks were a Top 10 team on a seven-game winning streak. Toby Gerhart ran wild -- picking up 223 yards and three scores. It was really Stanford's declaration that they'd arrived in the conference under Jim Harbaugh.

Worst loss: Many will think it's the Fiesta Bowl last year because the wound is still fresh and the manner in which it went down. But losing the Big Game 34-28 to No. 25 Cal in 2009 -- especially after notching back-to-back wins over Oregon and No. 9 USC -- is simply deflating. If the Oregon game was a declaration of arrival, the Cal game was a reminder of how deep the conference can be.

Utah

Record vs. Top 25: 4-5 (.444)

Best win: The 2008 Sugar Bowl. Big, bad 'Bama gets bounced by a tiny little non-AQ, leaving most West of the Mississippi with a great-big smile.

Worst loss: An overtime loss hurts. An overtime loss to a rival hurts more. An overtime loss when the opposing quarterback gives you a verbal smack down following the loss is just brutal. The 2009 Holy War loss to No. 19 BYU will always sting.

Arizona

Record vs. Top 25: 4-10 (.285)

Best win: Willie Tuitama was simply prolific in carving up No. 16 BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, throwing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and running for another in a 31-21 win. It was Arizona's first bowl win in a decade.

Worst loss: The double-overtime loss to Oregon in 2009 was tough, but the 33-0 beat down by No. 22 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that same year was a real stinker.

Oregon State

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Jacquizz Rodgers busted out 186 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 27-21 stunner of No. 1 USC in 2008. Doesn't get much sweeter than an unranked knocking off a No. 1. Though the 3-0 win over No. 20 Pitt. in the 2008 Sun Bowl gets a tip of the cap simply for the novelty.

Worst loss: The Beavers were shutout 38-0 by No. 6 Stanford in '10. That came a week after a 36-7 win over No. 20 USC. Talk about highs and lows.

Washington

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Because of the record the previous year and because it was Steve Sarkisian against Pete Carroll, the 16-13 stunner over No. 3 USC in 2009 is one worth re-living over and over if you're a Washington fan. Erik Folk was so clutch.

Worst loss: Anything from 2008 will do.

UCLA

Record vs. Top 25: 4-12 (.250)

Best win: Maybe No. 7 Texas was looking ahead to the showdown with Oklahoma. Oh well, don't turn the ball over four times in the first 30 minutes. Great performance from Johnathan Franklin in the 34-12 win in 2010.

Worst loss: Toss up between the 35-0 loss to No. 25 Stanford at home in 2010 or the 59-0 loss to No. 18 BYU in 2008. Both were brutal -- but the BYU one probably stung more since the Bruins had clipped No. 18 Tennessee in overtime just 12 days earlier in the season opener.

Cal

Record vs. Top 25: 3-10 (.230)

Best win: What's bad for the Cardinal is generally good for the Bears. The 2009 Big Game win at No. 17 Stanford was extra tasty -- especially when a late Andrew Luck interception in the red zone sealed the deal. Shane Vereen was on fire with 193 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

Worst loss: The No. 6 Cardinal reclaimed the axe the following year with a 48-14 thrashing in Berkeley. Stepfan Taylor produced three touchdowns and Luck produced a Stanford fan's dream highlight with his forearm deflection of Sean Cattouse.

Arizona State

Record vs. Top 25: 3-11 (.214)

Best win: The USC and Missouri wins last year were pretty big, but there is nothing sweeter than beating a rival, in double-overtime, on the road, when they are ranked and you aren't. That was the case in 2010 with a 30-29 win over No. 23 Arizona. James Brooks will always be remembered for blocking an extra point near the end of regulation to force overtime. And then blocking a second extra point -- seriously -- to lock up the win. As bizarre as it was magnificent for the Sun Devils.

Worst loss: The loss to No. 7 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last year was completely uninspired and capped a horrific end to the season. The Sun Devils went into a tailspin and Todd Graham has to pull them out.

Colorado

Record vs. Top 25: 2-12

Best win: In his first career start in 2009, Tyler Hansen threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and ran for another to spark an upset win over No. 17 Kansas. That was Colorado's last win against a Top 25 team. The Buffs are 0-7 since.

Worst loss: Back in the day before they joined the Pac-12, Colorado had a little rivalry with a midwest school named Nebraska. The No. 15 Cornhuskers sent Colorado into the Pac-12 with an ugly 45-17 loss in 2010.

Washington State

Record vs. Top 25: 0-12

Best win: You have to think the streak ends under Mike Leach -- and sooner rather than later.

Worst loss: Tragically, there are so many choices. But we'll go with the 69-0 to No. 6 USC in 2008 because at the time, WSU was riding the nation's second-longest streak without being shutout (280 games). That came to an end in a very embarrassing fashion. While Mark Sanchez threw for five touchdowns, the Cougars managed just 116 yards of total offense.

Big Game means plenty to Cal

November, 17, 2011
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California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?

Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.

"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAndrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?

The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.

And it means plenty to Cal.

For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.

Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.

Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.

That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.

"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."

Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.

The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.

That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.

Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.

It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.

"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."

Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.

Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."

Who will be the big bust in 2012?

August, 23, 2011
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CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy looks at the biggest AP preseason poll busts since 2001, and three Pac-12 teams make the list.

2002: No. 9 Washington (finished 7-6)
2001: No. 11 Oregon State (finished 5-6)
2009: No. 12 Cal (finished 8-5)

Easy to remember each of those teams.

The 2002 Huskies featured quarterback Cody Pickett, who passed for 4,458 yards that season, and wide receiver Reggie Williams. The season began with a last-second loss at Michigan due to a massive coaching blunder that cost the Huskies the game. Said then-coach Rick Neuheisel: "We switched substitution groups, which we're going to kick ourselves about for a thousand years."

The Huskies seemed to lose their mojo, but they then rallied for three consecutive wins to finish the regular season -- Neuheisel memorably created the "Northwest Championship" -- over Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State to earn bowl eligibility.

That Oregon State team was touted -- Sports Illustrated ranked the Beavers preseason No. 1 -- after an 11-1 finish in 2000, with quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton returning. Things immediately fell apart with a blowout loss at Fresno State. A 1-3 start, in fact, featured a 38-7 home loss to UCLA.

As for Cal, at least one writer [insert uncomfortable cough] celebrated the 2009 Bears as a potential national title contender. (They were stacked with talent: backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu, linebackers Mike Mohamed and Devin Bishop, cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, etc.) After a 3-0 start, the Bears headed to Oregon ranked sixth.

SPLAT! Cal goes down 42-3. The next weekend, just in case we didn't get the message, USC ripped the Bears 30-3 in Berkeley. Suffice it to say, there was nothing subtle about Cal's unmasking.

Here's this year's preseason top 10. So who becomes the bust this year?

1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. LSU
5. Boise State
6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. Texas A&M
9. Oklahoma State
10. Nebraska
Look, the Pac-12 is the conference of quarterbacks. Everybody knows that. No other conference even approaches the talent the Pac-12 has at the position in 2011.

Stanford's Andrew Luck, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles each could be first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Luck is almost certain to go No. 1 overall. Oregon's Darron Thomas, Oregon State's Ryan Katz, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Washington State's Jeff Tuel also are experienced, talented guys with plenty of upside.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireQuarterback is the position of power in the Pac-12, but LaMichael James and his fellow running backs can make a strong case as well.
So the Pac-12's position of power is, obviously, quarterback.

But don't sleep on the running backs, either.

The conference welcomes back five backs who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last fall, including Oregon's Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, LaMichael James. That crew includes Washington's Chris Polk, Colorado's Rodney Stewart, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. Those are five backs who ranked among the top-38 in the nation in rushing last fall, including three in the top 13.

(And, by the way, if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen hadn't opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, the conference also would include the nation's No. 21 and 23 rushers from 2010).

Further, only California, Oregon State, Utah and Washington State have questions at the position. USC is stacked with talented backs, whether senior Marc Tyler (913 yards, nine TDs in 2010) comes back from suspension or not. Arizona State's Cameron Marshall (787 yards, nine TDs) is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and Arizona's Keola Antolin (668, seven TDs in 2010) has rushed for 1,830 yards and scored 21 TDs in three seasons.

Further, many of the backups -- Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Washington's Jesse Callier, Arizona State's Deantre Lewis or Kyle Middlebrooks, Stanford's Anthony Wilkerson and UCLA's Derrick Coleman (or Malcolm Jones/Jordan James) -- are talented and experienced (other than James, a redshirt freshman).

So conference of quarterbacks, conference of running backs -- both are positions of power.

Perhaps the Pac-12 in 2011 is now the Conference of Backfields?

Spring wrap: California

May, 9, 2011
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CALIFORNIA

2010 overall record: 5-7

2010 conference record: 3-6

Returning starters

Offense: 7, Defense: 5, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

WR Marvin Jones, WR Keenan Allen, OT Mitchell Schwartz, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, P Bryan Anger

Key losses

RB Shane Vereen, C Chris Guarnero, QB Kevin Riley, DE Cameron Jordan, S Chris Conte

2010 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Shane Vereen (1,167)

Passing: Kevin Riley (1,409)

Receiving: Marvin Jones* (765)

Tackles: Mike Mohamed (95)

Sacks: Mychal Kendricks* (8.5)

Interceptions: Marc Anthony* (2)

Spring answers

1. Getting defensive: Even with the top two nose tackles out -- Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne -- the Bears' front seven controlled the line of scrimmage. Ends Trevor Guyton, Gabe King and Deandre Coleman turned in strong springs. Mychal Kendricks moves from outside to inside linebacker next to D.J. Holt, while the rest of the linebacking crew is young but talented, including Cecil Whiteside, Chris McCain, Nick Forbes and David Wilkerson.

2. Isi on top: Isi Sofele isn't big and some wonder if he can take the week-to-week pounding a starting tailback does, but he was the clear No. 1 on the depth chart at the end of spring. He likely faces a challenge this fall.

3. Team matters: There was a lot of focus this spring on intangibles -- improving the team culture and building unity. Players wore workout shirts that said "Team Matters," and that was a theme that seemed to catch on. In 2010, the Bears were a talented team that often appeared unfocused. They either played great or terrible. Coach Jeff Tedford wants more consistency.

Fall questions

1. Is Maynard the man? Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, seemed to emerge as the top quarterback by the end of spring practices, eclipsing Brock Mansion and Allen Bridgford. Particularly appealing is his mobility. Will he hold his spot in fall camp, or might Mansion or Bridgford make a charge?

2. Is there going to be a youth movement? The Bears signed an outstanding recruiting class, and incoming players could be in the mix immediately on both sides of the ball. Who makes a move? It seems almost certain that one of the running backs gets into the rotation, but the incoming talent on defense is already on coordinator Clancy Pendergast's radar.

3. Tedford takes charge: Tedford is working extensively with the quarterbacks now, and he will be the primary play-caller this fall, a job he's juggled at various times during his Berkeley tenure. Will this extra coaching involvement help, particularly at quarterback, where things have fallen off in recent years?

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
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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

Updating Pac-12 in NFL draft

April, 30, 2011
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Here's where things stand for the Pac-12 through three rounds of the NFL draft.

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, Stanforrd: Carolina

Through three rounds by conference (with Nebraska in the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah in the Pac-12):

SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4

Note: The old Pac-10 has 13 without two first-round picks from Colorado. Big Ten has 12 without Nebraska. Big 12 has 12 if Colorado and Nebraska are included.

Links: It's all about the O-line at Oregon

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
2:30
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I got laid off when they closed that asbestos factory, and wouldn't you know it, the army cuts my disability pension because they said that the plate in my head wasn't big enough.

Some Pac-12 draft notes

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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ESPN draft guru Todd McShay took a measure of specific qualities of offensive of players expected to be selected in this week's NFL draft, which starts Thursday, and a number of Pac-12 players fall into interesting spots.

Here are some notes.

Quarterbacks Insider
McShay ranked Washington's Jake Locker No. 3 overall among the QBs, behind Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton.

He ranks Locker No. 2 in toughness/leadership.

Running backs Insider
McShay ranks Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Stanford's Owen Marecic No. 1 among the RBs and FBs in competitiveness. Marecic is No. 2 among FBs in pass blocking.

He ranks California's Shane Vereen No. 3 in vision/patience, No. 2 in receiving skills and No. 3 in pass blocking.

USC's Stanley Havili No. 1 among FBs in vision/patience, agility/acceleration and receiving skills.

McShay has Vereen ranked ninth overall and Rodgers 10th among running backs. Marecic is No. 4 among FBs and Havili is No. 6.

Tight ends Insider
McShay ranks USC's Jordan Cameron third in both ball skills and big-play ability.

He ranks Cameron sixth overall among TEs.

Offensive line Insider
He ranks USC's Tyron Smith No. 1 in pass protection among OTs. He ranks Colorado's Nate Solder No. 2 in run blocking among OTs.

Among centers, USC's Kristofer O'Dowd ranks No. 3 in awareness.

McShay ranks Smith No. 1 overall among offensive line prospects. Solder is fifth.

Pac-12 1,000-yard backs in 2011

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
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The Pac-10 produced six 1,000-yard rushers in 2010 -- seven if you include Colorado's Rodney Stewart -- and all seven could have returned in 2011 if Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and California's Shane Vereen had not opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Still, the returning collection of rushers is impressive.

Here's the list. Each is good enough to earn All-American and/or All-Conference consideration.

1. LaMichael James, Oregon: James was a Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous All-American and was the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back. He also has a fine singing voice and cooks a mean batch of oatmeal cookies. Rushed for 1,731 yards and 21 TDs in 2010. Only thing that might cramp his numbers is a backfield that is crowded with talent. Two 1,000-yards rushers in 2011?

2. Chris Polk, Washington: Polk may be the favorite to lead the Pac-12 in rushing in 2011. Why? For one, the Huskies are breaking in a new quarterback, so it's unlikely they will pass 30 times per game. Second, Polk is a workhorse -- see 1,415 rushing yards in 2010. Third, the offensive line figures to be improved after surging late last year. Still, there is good depth behind Polk, so he might not get 260 carries again.

3. Rodney Stewart, Colorado: Stewart rushed for 1,318 yards last year, his 109.8 yards per game ranking 12th in the nation. "Speedy" -- that's what Stewart is called in Boulder -- at 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, is built a bit like Jacquizz Rodgers. Coach Jon Embree wasn't thrilled with the depth behind Stewart this spring, which could mean plenty of touches. But can Stewart stay healthy with another 290 carries, particularly in a 13-game season with no off weekends?

4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards last year and would have had a lot more if not for continuing fumbling issues. And if Franklin holds onto the ball this fall, it's a good bet that he'll be in the All-Conference mix.

5. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: Taylor quietly rushed for 1,137 yards last year and has shined this spring -- coach David Shaw calls him a "stud." The Cardinal, however, is deep in the backfield. Taylor likely will share touches, particularly with talented sophomore Anthony Wilkerson.

And who are the top candidates to crash the 1,000-yard party? Consider:

Keola Antolin, Arizona: He no longer has to share the backfield with Nic Grigsby. But can he stay healthy?

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: Marshall likely will split carries with Deantre Lewis, but Lewis has missed spring practices after being the victim of a random shooting in his hometown.

Isi Sofele, California: Cal always has a 1,000-yard rusher, but this year there's plenty of uncertainty in the backfield. Sofele is a clear No. 1, according to coach Jeff Tedford, but a strong incoming recruiting class might produce a challenge.

Terron Ward, Oregon State: Ward is a 5-foot-7, 190-pound grayshirt from powerhouse program De La Salle, and I know little about him. But Jacquizz Rodgers is high on him and that's good enough for me.

D.J. Morgan, USC: Marc Tyler rushed for 913 yards last year, but he struggles to stay healthy. Coach Lane Kiffin -- and reporters -- are gushing about Morgan. Of course, last preseason, everybody was gushing about Dillon Baxter.

Thretton Palamo, Utah: The former rugby star has been turning heads in Salt Lake City and may be the surprise winner of the RB competition.

Rickey Galvin, Washington State: Galvin, who broke his arm in the Cougars season-opener last year at Oklahoma State, is the Cougars most dynamic back. The Cougs passing game should be strong, which might create opportunities in the running game when defenses over-commit.

New Pac-12 draft projections

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
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ESPN NFL draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have posted new mock drafts that include the first three rounds.

You can see Kiper's here Insider and McShay's here Insider.

Here are the Pac-12 players in Kiper's draft (he has the conference being shut out in the third round).

Round one
9. OT Tyron Smith, USC: Dallas
17. DE Cameron Jordan, California: New England
21. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Kansas City
25. QB Jake Locker, Washington: Seattle
26. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado: Baltimore
29. OT Nate Solder, Colorado: Chicago

Round 2
36. FS Rahim Moore, UCLA: Denver
38. DE Brooks Reed, Arizona: Arizona
43. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Minnesota
54. CB Brandon Burton, Utah: Philadelphia

And here are the conference players in McShay's draft.

Round one
9. OT Tyron Smith, USC: Dallas
12. DE Cameron Jordan, California: Minnesota
22. OT Nate Solder, Colorado: Indianapolis
25. QB Jake Locker, Washington: Seattle
27. DE Brooks Reed, Arizona, Atlanta

Second round
37. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Cleveland
38. OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA: Arizona
46. FS Rahim Moore, UCLA: Denver
48. CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado: Oakland
49. LB Mason Foster, Washington: Jacksonville
56. DT Jurrell Casey, USC: New Orleans

Third rond
84. RB Shane Vereen, California: Tampa Bay

Some interesting differences and similarity, including both having Tyron Smith going to Dallas at No. 9 overall Jake Locker going to the hometown Seahawks at No. 25.

Jimmy Smith lasting to the 48th pick in McShay's draft surprises me. McShay also has Mason Foster and Jurrell Casey going in the second round, while Kiper doesn't even have them picked at the end of his third round.

We shall see.

Who's back from the top 25?

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
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This will be my final post on our 2010 top 25 players rankings. It's also a line between looking back at the Pac-10 and looking forward to the Pac-12.

This post projects ahead: These players are the leading candidates for a preseason top 25.

First, here's who's back in 2011 -- 11 players -- from our top-25.

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
4. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
13. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington

And here's who's back -- nine players -- from our "left-out list."

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
John Boyett, FS, Oregon
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Delano Howell, SS, Stanford

So that's 20 front-runners for the next list we'll put together this summer. Also, don't forget that competition will be more intense with the inclusion of Utah and Colorado for the next list.

Or will the Utes and/or Buffaloes get shutout? Neither welcomes back a first-team all-conference player from the Mountain West or Big 12, respectively (Colorado doesn't have a second-team player coming back, either).

Should be pretty interesting.

Who just missed the top-25? And why

March, 22, 2011
3/22/11
9:00
AM ET
Welcome to the "How the heck could you be so stupid, Pac-12 blog!" post.

Our ranking of the top-25 Pac-10 -- not Pac-12 yet -- players is over. Here is our final tally.

Sure each of you has some sort of gripe with the list, and I would hope you would. The cool kids hang out here, and cool kids don't agree on everything because then they wouldn't be cool.

The most popular harrumph was the omission of Stanford's two-way player, Owen Marecic. I completely understand that. I likely would have ranked him 26th, but even then I would have paused. I will tell you why in a moment.

The angry mobilization by typically "read but don't comment" Stanford fans was great, though. I anticipated both the irritation with Marecic's absence and the general frustration with the lack of Stanford players on the list. Both reactions were perfectly reasonable, and the zealousness was fun. There were plenty of "What about Stanford?" moments for me while I toiled over the final list.

So now I will take on the unenviable task of briefly explaining why players didn't make the list. I'm guessing I will want to take a shower afterwards because the "left-out list" includes many outstanding players, many of whom will be high draft choices this year and in years to come.

But Marecic gets special treatment; he goes first. Here's my reasoning.

Yes, Marecic is a great story. Two-way player. Good on both sides of the ball. Tough guy. Quiet. Cool hair. Cult hero. Really, really smart. Tenth in the Heisman Trophy vote. Jim Harbaugh struggled each week to top the previous week's praise of a guy he repeatedly called "his favorite player."

But here's the problem: 1. He was the second best fullback in the conference (USC's Stanley Havili was the best; he didn't make the list); 2. He was Stanford's fourth-best linebacker -- see the numbers here.

And then he had the Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas, Sione Fua, Delano Howell, Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro problem. If you were picking a team for a high-stakes game, you'd pick those guys -- all Cardinal teammates -- before Marecic. And none of those guys made the list.

Yes, you would. Trust me. If, say, you were playing for $10 million, you'd pick one of them. Why? Because a good fullback and solid-to-middling linebacker isn't as valuable as an outstanding one-way player.

Nor would you pick Marecic over Shane Vereen, No. 25 on our list. Before you scream at your computer screen, let your mind drift back to this unhappy memory, Stanford fans.

Now, Stanford fans, take heart. This summer, we will begin an top-25 preseason list, and at this point you figure to get as many as six guys on that list, including No. 1 overall.

Also, it might help to look at the list below. Not exactly chopped liver.

This list is roughly in the order of consideration.

Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: He's a cool dude. He's going to be off the NFL draft board before the end of the second round. But he didn't put up great numbers for a bad defense.
Brandon Bair, DT, Oregon: Bair's production went down over the second half of the season. He got beaten up a bit, and offensive coordinators starting paying him more attention. Further, I was already uncomfortable with seven players from one team on the list.
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford: Love his game. Got better as year went on. Just missed the cut. He, Vontaze Burfict and Mychal Kendricks are your first-team All-Pac-12 LBs in 2011.
Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: 21.5 sacks over the past two seasons, including a conference-leading 11 in 2010. But Brooks Reed was a better player, and Elmore had a couple of off games. At one point, he was fighting to retain his starting job over D'Aundre Reed.
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: A close second to Skov as the most productive player on the Stanford defense.
Sione Fua, NT, Stanford: Fua might have been the conference's most underrated player. So why stop now?
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California: 15 tackles for a loss. Highly productive. Highly talented. But he didn't fully arrive in 2010.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington: He may still end up a first-round draft choice but his numbers just weren't good enough this fall.
John Boyett, FS, Oregon: Got caught in the shuffle of Ducks. Further, the coaches didn't pick him first- or second-team All-Pac-10, rating him behind Cal's Chris Conte, UCLA's Rahim Moore, USC's T.J. McDonald and Washington's Nate Williams, none of whom made the top-25.
Mike Mohamed, LB, California: A very good player who perhaps slipped a little in 2010.
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford: The top-25 was hard on O-linemen.
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: See above.
Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: No true freshman made the list, not Wilson, not USC's Robert Woods. But Coug fans: You will have your first top-25 player this preseason. Maybe more than one.
Colin Baxter, C, Arizona: Baxter dropped because the Wildcats offensive line underachieved.
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: A good QB. Folks will see that this year. Still, only ranked sixth in the conference in passing efficiency.
Chris Conte, S, California: First-team All-Pac-10. Safeties didn't fare well on the list.
Delano Howell, SS, Stanford: Second-team All-Pac-10. See above.
Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: A solid tackle who was eclipsed by better players.

Some notes & thoughts on top-25

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
12:00
PM ET
Our countdown of the Pac-10's top-25 players is over, and the chief result is annoying Stanford fans, particularly those of FB-LB Owen Marecic.

Their gripe is legit. Not including Marecic kept me up at night -- really -- but this wasn't a list of my favorite players.

On Tuesday, we will look at the players who just missed the cut, which includes Marecic and a significant group of Stanford teammates. It's a long list -- nearly as long as the top-25 -- with a lot of good players. It was easier when I did my first iteration of this list in 2009, which included 30 players.

A lot of Oregon fans disagree with me -- and with Chip Kelly and Nick Aliotti and the Pac-10 coaches who vote for the All-Pac-10 team -- and rank Cliff Harris ahead of Talmadge Jackson. Certainly their right. Not sure Ducks fans have much to gripe about with this list, though, considering there are seven Ducks on it and no other team has more than three.

Feel free to make your own lists. The most difficult part, you'll find, is when you come up with 25 names and then go, "Oh, crud, forgot about X! Can't leave him off!" And then you have to knock someone off your list.

And the next list -- preseason -- will be tougher because it will including Colorado and Utah.

Couple of notes.

Here are the top-25 players by team. The bolded names return in 2011.

Arizona
6. Juron Criner
15. Brooks Reed
18. Nick Foles

Arizona State
11. Omar Bolden
13. Vontaze Burfict


California
8. Cameron Jordan
25. Shane Vereen

Oregon
2. LaMichael James
4. Darron Thomas
12. Jeff Maehl
17. Kenny Rowe
19. Casey Matthews
20. Talmadge Jackson
22. Cliff Harris

Oregon State
3. Stephen Paea
9. Jacquizz Rodgers

Stanford
1. Andrew Luck
10. Chase Beeler

UCLA
21. Akeem Ayers

USC
14. Matt Barkley
16. Tyron Smith
24. Jurrell Casey

Washington
4. Mason Foster
7. Chris Polk
23. Jermaine Kearse


Washington State
None

And here are the players who made the preseason list but didn't make this list. Some tough cuts here.

No. 2. Jake Locker, QB, Washington
No. 6. James Rodgers, WR, Oregon State
No. 7. Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
No. 10. Trevin Wade, CB, Arizona
No. 12. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona
No. 18: Colin Baxter, C, Arizona
No. 20. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State
No. 22. Owen Marecic, LB/FB, Stanford
No. 23. Kristofer O'Dowd, C, USC
No. 25 Kai Forbath, K, UCLA

Pac-10 top 25 from 2010: No. 1

March, 21, 2011
3/21/11
9:00
AM ET
We conclude our countdown of the Pac-10's 25 best players from 2010.

Note: Because we are ranking players based on this past season, it's Pac-10, not Pac-12.

Here are the preseason rankings (click each name to read the blurb).

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyAndrew Luck led Stanford to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl win.
No. 1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

2010 numbers: Luck ranked third in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 3,338 yards with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 70.7 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 453 yards and three scores.

Preseason ranking: No. 4

Making the case for Luck: Well, the NFL's case would be picking Luck first overall in the draft this spring, but Luck thumbed his nose at expectation and said he wanted to get his Stanford degree and opted to return for his redshirt junior season. But this ranking isn't about NFL projections or that Luck embodies everything you'd want a student-athlete to be. He's not No. 1 because we like him. And he's not even No. 1 because if you asked any college coach in the nation who'd he picked first heading into the 2011 season, he'd take Luck and not even think about it for a moment. Luck, the 2010 Heisman Trophy runner-up, put up huge numbers last fall and led the Cardinal to its best season in the modern era. Stanford finished with a 12-1 record and a dominant Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, in which Luck threw four touchdown passes and earned MVP honors. Luck had two mediocre games last season: He threw two interceptions in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Oregon. But over the final eight games he threw 19 touchdown passes and just four picks. And 71 percent completion rate is just sick, particularly when you consider he was throwing to just an average corps of receivers.

No. 2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
No. 3. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
No. 4 Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
No. 5. Mason Foster, LB, Washington
No. 6. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
No. 7. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
No. 8. Cameron Jordan, DE, California
No. 9. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
No. 10. Chase Beeler, C, Stanford
No. 11. Omar Bolden, CB, Arizona State
No. 12. Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon
No. 13 Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
No. 14. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
No. 16. Tyron Smith, OT, USC
No. 17. Kenny Rowe, DE, Oregon
No. 18. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
No. 19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
No. 20. Talmadge Jackson, CB, Oregon
No. 21. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
No. 22. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
No. 23. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
No. 24. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
No. 25. Shane Vereen, RB, California

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