Print and Go Back College Football [Print without images]

Monday, May 15, 2006
Pac-10 spring recap

By Brett Edgerton
Special to

Can USC maintain its dominance? Which quarterback will Arizona State select? Will Oregon challenge for the Pac-10 title? Will UCLA turn things around on defense? Is Arizona ready to make a move? Take a look at what Pac-10 questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Arizona Wildcats
2006 Schedule
9/2 BYU
9/9 at LSU
9/16 Stephen F. Austin
9/23 USC
9/30 Washington
10/7 at UCLA
10/14 at Stanford
10/21 Oregon State
11/4 at Washington State
11/11 California
11/18 at Oregon
11/25 Arizona State

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Mike Bell (952 yds)
Passing: Richard Kovalcheck (1,351 yds)
Receiving: Mike Thomas* (771 yds)
Tackles: Darrell Brooks (93)
Sacks: Copeland Bryan (7.5)
Interceptions: Michael Johnson* (4)

Spring answers: Just call it the Willie Factor. Already elevated to cult-hero/one-name status around campus, sophomore QB Willie Tuitama has the look of something special at a school that has never fielded a first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback. After he took over under center with five games to go in 2005, Tuitama made his share of first-year mistakes. But he also showed the almost-magical leadership qualities that could make players on both sides of the ball rally around him. As long as Tuitama plays more like he did in the 52-14 thrashing of undefeated UCLA than in the sloppy loss to Washington the week after, the Wildcats finally will have their star quarterback. … And at long last, Arizona might actually have a deep O-line in front of that quarterback. Not only is there plenty of starting experience but coach Mike Stoops said the youngsters in the group are as good at this stage in their career as any he has ever been around. Redshirt freshmen Daniel Borg, Eben Britton and Blake Kerley were particularly impressive this spring. … It sure was nice seeing starting LBs Dane Krogstad, Spencer Larsen and Ronnie Palmer line up next to each other. It only happened one time in 2005, and that was only sparingly in the season finale against Arizona State. Palmer was hurt in the preseason and missed the first five games. Larsen missed the first two games after recovering from a spring knee injury, then missed two more later on. Krogstad started two games, missed another, started two more, then missed five games until the ASU contest. It was a mess, but at least the backups were given plenty of experience. That will pay off in '06. … If the Wildcats can find an adequate free safety replacement for Darrell Brooks, the best secondary in the Pac-10 this fall will make its home in Tucson. Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot will team up for the third straight year at corner, and Stoops believes senior SS Michael Johnson has a chance to be the first safety picked in next year's NFL draft.

Fall questions: Mike Bell, who led the Wildcats in rushing all four years of his career, is gone. Still, are the Wildcats going to show more commitment to the run to make the offense more balanced? It might be needed if they're going to turn around a unit that finished second-to-last in the conference in scoring and in total yards. Take out that bizarre UCLA game and the offense didn't reach 30 points in any Pac-10 contest. So can presumed replacement Chris Henry carry the load this year? He was a sprint champion in high school, but his college experience is limited. This will be one of the few positions on the team where true freshmen will be asked to contribute. Derke Robinson and Glyndon Bolasky need to be ready. … What about DE Louis Holmes and DT Gabe Long? They are ready, but will they be available? That's the most important question of all. The two highly touted JC transfers were in Tucson this spring, but not on the field. They were at a local community college, trying to qualify for UA's upcoming season. The shaky D-line certainly could use their help. Most recruiting services listed Holmes as the top junior college prospect in the country at any position. The same services listed Long as the top-rated tackle. … Arizona might also need JC transfer Nate Ness to step in at free safety when he arrives in August. Brandon Tatum and Dominic Patrick competed in the spring, but there's not a lot of experience there. … If the Wildcats are going to return to a bowl for the first time since 1998 -- and they certainly talk as if they are going to -- they will need to turn around that ugly turnover margin, ranked 105th in the country last season. Arizona turned it over 28 times and forced opponents to do so just 19 times. Henry put the ball on the ground more than a few occasions this spring, which is troubling.

Arizona State Sun Devils
2006 Schedule
8/31 Northern Arizona
9/9 Nevada
9/16 at Colorado
9/23 at California
9/30 Oregon
10/14 at USC
10/21 Stanford
10/28 at Washington
11/4 at Oregon State
11/11 Washington State
11/18 UCLA
11/25 at Arizona

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Keegan Herring* (870 yds)
Passing: Rudy Carpenter* (2,273 yds)
Receiving: Derek Hagan (1,210 yds)
Tackles: Dale Robinson (115)
Sacks: DeWayne Hollyfield (5.5)
Interceptions: Jamar Williams (3)

Spring answers: Arizona State is going to start a really, really good quarterback. Who is going to be? Who knows. But with two quality options returning, we refuse to put this QB debate in the "questions" category. Prolific passer Sam Keller is competing with someone like Rudy Carpenter, who led the country in pass efficiency last year after Keller suffered a season-ending injury. Keller's thumb is completely healed and he's still listed atop the depth chart, but Carpenter was tremendous in the spring and any lead in this race is slimmer than slim. The two watch film together and get along super, but coach Dirk Koetter has made it clear he will not use a rotation. Somehow, we think it's going to turn out OK for the Sun Devils. … ASU is serious about using Rudy Burgess as a two-way/three-way/four-way threat. No joke. The junior was making plays everywhere you looked this spring. In the final scrimmage, he took 28 snaps at cornerback and 22 at wide receiver -- and the Devils insist he will be playing both. Burgess, the team's second-leading rusher each of the last two years, also will receive some carries and return kicks. … On a defense that could use as many pleasant surprises as possible, ASU received a pair in the form of DT Michael Marquardt and safety Josh Barrett. A defensive end at BYU, Marquardt beefed up, moved inside and was a load to block this spring. As for Barrett, he has tried just about every position on the field in his career but had never been able to go three practices without getting hurt. Completely healthy this spring, the junior turned some heads for the second time in Tempe. The first was when he clocked a 4.27 40 time at pro day.

Fall questions: Will the nation's second-best team in total offense score even more points this year? The passing game will be its typical self; the O-line returns 11 of its top 12 players; and TB Keegan Herring will be teamed up with a bigger and better Shaun DeWitty and an intriguing JC prospect in Ryan Torain. … So let's move on to the questions that warrant actual concern. For example: Will the nation's fourth-worst team in total defense give up even more points this year? Now, that is a question that needs answering if Arizona State is serious about joining the nation's elite. Is a team that gave up 289 yards per game through the air even allowed to talk about contending for the national title? Was anyone else watching the Insight Bowl in December? Yes, that was Rutgers taking it up and down the field to the tune of 532 yards and 40 points. So yes, we have a few questions about this defense that lost six starters. Can DE Loren Howard get healthy and be as good as he was at Northwestern? If so, can the Sun Devils put together more than a conference-worst 21 sacks? That's essential, because the secondary is an issue again. New position coach Al Simmons brings an NFL pedigree and a sterling reputation, but he has his hands full. Keno Walter-White and Chad Green are probably the top guys, but neither was healthy this spring and they have a combined three starts between them. How much will Burgess contribute? What about JC transfer Justin Tryon? Then there's linebacker, which is a complete mystery heading into the summer. Because of a rash of injuries, not much was decided in the spring. Robert James on the weak side is probably the only sure thing. Depth is so shaky even standout safety Zach Catanese has tried things out there. That move is still last resort, but the Sun Devils will need to see some good things in August from JC transfer Garrett Judah or some of the four freshmen.

California Bears
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Tennessee
9/9 Minnesota
9/16 Portland State
9/23 Arizona State
9/30 at Oregon State
10/7 Oregon
10/14 at Washington State
10/21 Washington
11/4 UCLA
11/11 at Arizona
11/18 at USC
12/2 Stanford

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Marshawn Lynch* (1,246 yds)
Passing: Joe Ayoob* (1,707 yds)
Receiving: DeSean Jackson* (601 yds)
Tackles: Desmond Bishop* (75.5)
Sacks: Brandon Mebane* (7)
Interceptions: Daymeion Hughes* (5)

Spring answers: If you're considered a great offensive mind, like California coach Jeff Tedford, it would be easy to rest on your laurels and stick with whatever plan has worked in the past. So give Tedford some credit for bringing in offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, who directed the high-powered Northwestern offense in a much different manner from what the Bears have been used to lately. Tedford will still call the plays, but Dunbar will have plenty to say in game planning and the spread option he brings over from Evanston will play a role in the offense. The Cal receivers aren't as tall as many around the Pac-10, but they are quick and the spread will give them more room to move around. If all goes as planned, the receivers will often be spread across the field and defenders won't be able to stack the line of scrimmage to stop the explosive Marshawn Lynch-Justin Forsett tailback tandem. Plus, these new formations should make it a little tougher to predict the direction of the run plays, which was almost always toward the tight end side in recent years. … It was initially feared by some that DeSean Jackson might play baseball during the spring, but he decided to camp out on the practice field and in the weight room instead. In the final scrimmage, he turned a short inside pass into a 70-yard touchdown on the very first play. Despite an ineffective passing game, Jackson showed flashes of greatness as a freshman. This year, he'll simply be a flash. … How good is the Cal linebacking corps? Freshman All-American Anthony Felder apparently can't find a place in the starting lineup. Spring surprise Justin Moye was that good. Add Worrell Williams, Desmond Bishop and a host of quality depth at each spot, and you have the deepest position on the field for the Bears. … Two others who made surprising, Moye-like impressions this spring: FB Will Ta'ufo'ou and FS/rover Bernard Hicks, back from injury and hitting everything in sight.

Fall questions: Quarterback, perhaps? Nate Longshore won the job last year, but went down with a severe ankle injury in the first half of the first game. Replacement Joe Ayoob played so erratically he eventually was booed off the field in Berkeley before converted fullback Steve Levy steadied the ship with season-ending wins over Stanford and BYU. So what now? A fully recovered Longshore has the slight edge on the depth chart heading into summer, but there's reason to believe the other two, more mobile quarterbacks have a chance, especially Ayoob. The incorporation of the spread option seems to play more to their skills. This one should be fun to track. … Of course, with a rebuilding offensive line, does anybody want to stand back there alone, anyway? The Bears lose three starters up front, and they were all doozies. If you watched the NFL draft, you heard the names of all three called: Ryan O'Callaghan, Aaron Merz and Marvin Philip. Although massive tackle Mike Tepper is back in the fold after missing 2005 and converted D-lineman Chet Teofilo looks as though he can contribute, this is still an area of concern. And with that opening trip to Knoxville, it's not as if Cal has very long to figure it out. … The defense was the best in the Pac-10 last year and almost certainly will be again. It's worth noting the loss of longtime rover Donnie McCleskey, though. He was not only a good player but an unbelievable team leader. Is former walk-on running back Brandon Hampton up to the task?

Oregon Ducks
2006 Schedule
9/2 Stanford
9/9 at Fresno State
9/16 Oklahoma
9/30 at Arizona State
10/7 at California
10/14 UCLA
10/21 at Washington State
10/28 Portland State
11/4 Washington
11/11 at USC
11/18 Arizona
11/25 at Oregon State

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Terrence Whitehead (679 yds)
Passing: Kellen Clemens (2,406 yds)
Receiving: Demetrius Williams (1,059 yds)
Tackles: Anthony Trucks (99)
Sacks: Trucks (11)
Interceptions: Aaron Gipson (7)

Spring answers: It's not a lock and he can't perform poorly in preseason practice, but Dennis Dixon does have a clear lead over fellow junior Brady Leaf in the quarterback race. Dixon's arm is more accurate and a little stronger, and he simply can do more things in the spread offense than Leaf, who was also hurt by some costly interceptions this spring. Both, of course, played extensively in the fall after the injury to Kellen Clemens, but the coaches don't want another juggling act in 2006. So unless something drastic happens in August, expect Dixon to get the nod. But for what it's worth, coach Mike Bellotti thinks both are farther along than Clemens was at this point in his career. … Despite the loss of Terrence Whitehead, the Ducks love their situation at tailback. Jonathan Stewart can run you over; Terrell Jackson can make you miss; and Jeremiah Johnson can do a little bit of both. If Stewart can avoid any more nagging injuries, he and Johnson have the potential to match the Onterrio Smith-Maurice Morris combo from the 2001 Pac-10 championship team. … They will be aided by the return of five starters on the offensive line, a group that helped cut the team's sack total in half in 2005. Add to that a pair of highly regarded JC guards, Pat Fo'oalo and Fenuki Tupou, and the Ducks now look even sturdier up front. … With starting FS J.D. Nelson out with injury, the Oregon coaches got a good look at junior college transfer Matthew Harper. They liked what they saw. Wherever he ends up, Harper can be a real playmaker, as he showed with his two picks in the spring game.

Fall questions: The Ducks certainly have plenty of receivers, but do they really have that clear-cut No. 1 guy who can fill the go-to role? For the first time in his 12 years as head coach, Bellotti can't answer that question heading into summer. Is Cameron Colvin the one? Can James Finley get his academics in order? If he's eligible, can onetime USC signee Derrick Jones help out with his speed? … Even with DE Devan Long and DT Haloti Ngata, the school's first consensus All-American in 43 years, Oregon never really developed much of a pass-rush last year. Now, the Ducks get to try again without those two players, and without sacks leader Anthony Trucks at linebacker. Can DT Cole Linehan play as well as he did against Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl? Will tackle Matt Toeaina need to permanently move to end, where he spent the spring? Or will three incoming JC recruits, including Dexter Manley II, provide immediate help? At linebacker, no one has the size or speed of Trucks. The wild card around that outside area is redshirt freshman Jairus Byrd. He's a Patrick Chung-type player and will find his way onto the field somehow. … Is Terrell Ward for real? He hasn't played a game in three years, but was so impressive at corner this spring that he earned himself a scholarship in the process. Where does he factor in? Junior Jackie Bates and redshirt freshman Willie Glasper are the favorites heading into August, but this position has to be considered a worry spot after the loss of Justin Phinisee and Aaron Gipson, who led the nation with seven picks last year.

Oregon State Beavers
2006 Schedule
8/31 Eastern Washington
9/7 at Boise State
9/23 Idaho
9/30 California
10/7 Washington State
10/14 at Washington
10/21 at Arizona
10/28 USC
11/4 at UCLA
11/18 at Stanford
11/25 Oregon
12/2 at Hawaii

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Yvenson Bernard* (1,321 yds)
Passing: Matt Moore* (2,711)
Receiving: Mike Hass (1,532 yds)
Tackles: Trent Bray (116)
Sacks: Keith Ellison (5)
Interceptions: Sabby Piscitelli* (4)

Spring answers: Perhaps it's time to get to know Yvenson Bernard. We probably shouldn't have to introduce him this late in the game, but did you know he ranked ninth in the country in rushing last year? Didn't think so. Bernard's 1,321-yard performance got lost in the shuffle when the Beavers took a late-season tumble, but coach Mike Riley calls him one of the most versatile players he ever has been around. Bernard is not only a nice runner and receiver but also is smart and tough and can lay a block. … Bernard isn't the only reason Oregon State is primed for a big season on the ground. Want to know how impressive JC transfer Clinton Polk was in his debut this spring? "He runs like Steven Jackson" was uttered quite often around the practice facility. So yes, he'll be on the field as much as possible. OSU might even employ a two-back set occasionally. Also, both Bernard and Polk will benefit greatly from an offensive line that returns all five starters for the first time since 1977. With almost every reserve back as well, this should be the best Beavers front line since 2000, when OSU reached the Fiesta Bowl. … Maybe the biggest spring answer was seeing TE Joe Newton running around on his previously injured leg. As QB Matt Moore piled up pick after pick and the team stumbled its way to a 1-4 finish, people tended to forget just how devastating the preseason loss of Newton was to the Beavers. The tight end has been a vital part of the OSU offense for several years now, and the absence of a large and sure-handed target like Newton (6-7, 252) helped sink Oregon State to the very bottom of the Pac-10 in red zone offense. Inside the 20, the team threw only five TD passes. … The team was also at the bottom of the conference with just 22 sacks. The spring exploits of DE Jeff Van Orsow, however, gave the Beavers some hope of reversing their recent lack of a pass-rush. The junior is a returning starter, but recorded just one sack in 2005. He'll surpass that number quite quickly this season.

Fall questions: Will Moore get his colors straight this year? No quarterback in the country threw to the wrong team more than Moore did last season, tossing 19 interceptions and countering it with just 11 TD passes. That kind of ratio won't cut it anywhere. Unlike last spring, Moore wasn't battling for a starting job this year. Redshirt freshman Sean Canfield moved past junior Ryan Gunderson into the No. 2 slot, but he isn't ready to challenge for the top spot quite yet. So it simply comes down to Moore making better decisions and not forcing the ball to the first option. … Oh wait, who exactly is that first option? Biletnikoff winner Mike Hass and his nation-leading 139.3 yards per game are no longer around. Neither is fellow starter Josh Hawkins. Junior Anthony Wheat-Brown is a nice athlete, but he's a slot receiver with a history of nagging injuries. Even if he's in the lineup, who is joining him? Until the rest of the group decides to stop dropping passes, this could be real problem spot for the offense. … So could another 36 turnovers, a total surpassed by only one team in Division I-A in 2005. Can the Beavers take better care of the ball and not put the defense in such precarious situations? And we're not just talking about Moore here. … The staff feels OK with the way the D-line is shaping up, but what about linebacker? Losing leading tackler Trent Bray hurts, but losing NFL draftee Keith Ellison is a killer. The way he could cover receivers, it was almost as though the Beavers had an extra safety on the field. The two replacements are a junior with more career success on special teams (Derrick Doggett) and a JC transfer (Joey LaRocque) who got off to a nice start in the spring but is still relatively unknown. And in the middle, will it be Alan Darlin or Andy Dawkins? … For the first time since that aforementioned 2000 Fiesta Bowl team, OSU returns all four starters in the secondary. Only time will tell whether that's a good thing. By the time the season starts, JC transfer Coye Francies will have had a chance to unseat CB Brandon Hughes anyway. And it's not as if Keenan Lewis or the rest of the corners are a sure thing. In one of those bizarre-but-true stats, the Oregon State cornerbacks did not record a single interception during the entire 2005 season.

Stanford Cardinal
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Oregon
9/9 at San Jose State
9/16 Navy
9/23 Washington State
9/30 at UCLA
10/7 at Notre Dame
10/14 Arizona
10/21 at Arizona State
11/4 USC
11/11 at Washington
11/18 Oregon State
12/02 at California

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jason Evans* (248 yds)
Passing: Trent Edwards* (1,934 yds)
Receiving: Mark Bradford* (609 yds)
Tackles: Kevin Schimmelmann (86)
Sacks: Julian Jenkins (7)
Interceptions: Brandon Harrison* (3)

Spring answers: Stanford felt as though QB Trent Edwards deserved more credit than many Cardinal fans and Pac-10 followers were willing to give him last year. Those critics might have no choice but to notice this season. The fifth-year senior has a completely healthy shoulder and seems more confident in his decision making. Edwards is not afraid to tuck it away and run if there's nothing happening downfield. Perhaps his numbers, a 17-7 TD-INT mark and a 63 percent completion rate, were overlooked last season. But there's one big reason those numbers might get even better in Edwards' final year. … When 6-foot-7, 235-pound WR Evan Moore dislocated his right hip in the season opener, it was a devastating blow to Moore and to the Stanford passing game. The initial fear was that it was a Bo Jackson-like injury and Moore's career would be history. Luckily, those fears never came to fruition and the senior worked himself back to condition this offseason, even trying out yoga to improve his flexibility. The Cardinal have some depth questions at receiver, but there's no doubting a healthy 1-2 punch of Moore and Mark Bradford. … With those depth issues at receiver, Stanford is devising ways to involve several players in the passing game. Chief among them is FB Nick Frank, a starter last year but never before a focal point of the offense. Well, he's not just a big body anymore. The staff think he's athletic enough to be involved in the run and the pass. … Stanford still has plenty of unanswered questions on defense, but it saw plenty of promise from a pair of sophomores on the front seven. Both OLB Clinton Snyder and NT Ekom Udofia played well enough this spring to earn starting spots. If you're counting at home, that's two Udofia family members on the defensive front seven. Brother Udeme is a senior entrenched at the linebacker spot opposite Snyder.

Fall questions: Stanford needs to figure out how to move the ball on the ground. The running game ranged anywhere from nonexistent to awful in 2005. The Cardinal averaged just 92.3 yards per game, which ranked them 110th in the country. Now, the company line is that this group is better. The maturation is obvious, and the overall improvement is very noticeable. But Anthony Kimble, he of the 27 yards per game, is the No. 1 option? Consider us skeptical until we see some actual production from this group. We're also not sold on the blocking from the offensive line. … How bad is the aforementioned depth problem at wide receiver? Beyond Moore and Bradford, only junior Marcus McCutcheon has caught a pass in a college game -- and his career total is three. Those three were the only scholarship receivers on the practice field this spring. Can a few of the true freshmen arriving this summer contribute right away? Do they have much of a choice? … The defense took some major hits. Let's be honest: Are there really standouts left on this side of the ball? It's not as though this was a great group to begin with. Stanford now has to replace NT Babatunde Oshinowo and DE Julian Jenkins, two longtime contributors and recent NFL draft picks. Those are just two of the hits taken in the front seven, which will have to get major contributions from a few players who haven't exactly contributed much in the past. In the secondary, the cornerback who ends up starting opposite Nick Sanchez will have no significant experience. That's not good news for a pass defense that gave up 285.9 yards per game last season. … On special teams, the Cardinal must replace four-year starter Michael Sgroi with either senior Derek Belch or junior Aaron Zagory. Neither has ever swung his leg in a college game. Not once.

UCLA Bruins
2006 Schedule
9/2 Utah
9/9 Rice
9/23 at Washington
9/30 Stanford
10/7 Arizona
10/14 at Oregon
10/21 at Notre Dame
10/28 Washington State
11/4 at California
11/11 Oregon State
11/18 at Arizona State
12/2 USC

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Maurice Drew (914 yds)
Passing: Drew Olson (3,198 yds)
Receiving: Marcedes Lewis (741 yds)
Tackles: Spencer Havner (99)
Sacks: Justin Hickman* (5.5)
Interceptions: Havner (3)

Spring answers: Losing a receiving threat like TE Marcedes Lewis obviously hurts, but the new quarterback will have plenty of options. Seven players who caught a touchdown in 2005 return, including Joe Cowan, Marcus Everett and Brandon Breazell. And by August, the Bruins will be able to add to the mix highly touted freshman Terrence Austin and Junior Taylor, a veteran who tore his ACL early last season. … You won't see FB Michael Pitre's name a lot in the newspapers, but it's about time someone noticed the job he is doing. The 5-11, 230-pound bull could block rush-hour traffic on the 405. … Of nine assistant coaches, six are brand-new to Westwood. Reason to worry? Not if the spring was any indication. Head coach Karl Dorrell couldn't believe how quickly things fell into place with the reworked staff. … Chris Horton, who missed much of 2005 with a wrist injury, looks more than ready to replace four-year starter Jarrad Page at strong safety. And at corner, watch out for Rodney Van, an early favorite of new coordinator DeWayne Walker.

Fall questions: Can this Olson be as good as that last one? Dorrell claims Patrick Cowan still has a shot at the job under center, but most feel Ben Olson is a mortal lock. Once a can't-miss prospect, Olson is now a 23-year-old who hasn't played a meaningful down since suiting up for Thousands Oaks High School in 2001. There are going to be some meaningful downs this year. Will Olson be able to shake off the rust? A tough Utah team awaits in the opener. … Who will be snapping the ball to the new quarterback? Former D-lineman Nathaniel Skaggs moved over to the injury-ravaged position during Sun Bowl practice and doesn't have plans to return to the defense. He'll battle it out with senior Robert Chai in the middle. … Wait, did Arizona just score again? We'll have to check. That disastrous 52-14 loss to the Wildcats wasn't exactly a fluke. The Bruins gave up an average of 47.8 points in their last four games and only one team in the entire country gave up more rushing yards over the course of the season (232.8 ypg). The D-line should be better with the return of a healthy Kevin Brown, and the attitude is already better with intense Walker stalking the practice field. In the end, though, this unit simply has to toughen up when it matters. And adequately replacing three senior starters at linebacker would be a good start.

USC Trojans
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Arkansas
9/16 Nebraska
9/23 at Arizona
9/30 at Washington State
10/7 Washington
10/14 Arizona State
10/28 at Oregon State
11/4 at Stanford
11/11 Oregon
11/18 California
11/25 Notre Dame
12/2 at UCLA

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 4, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Reggie Bush (1,740 yds)
Passing: Matt Leinart (3,815 yds)
Receiving: Dwayne Jarrett* (1,274 yds)
Tackles: Oscar Lua* (66)
Sacks: Lawrence Jackson* (10)
Interceptions: Darnell Bing (4)

Spring answers: In a backfield chock-full of question marks, it at least was refreshing to witness the surprising emergence of Ryan Powdrell this spring. A little-used linebacker, the senior was moved to the offense, where he was expected to be nothing more than a reserve fullback. However, by the end of spring practice, the 250-pounder found himself at the top of the depth chart at tailback. Granted, it was a classic victory by attrition. Nevertheless, Powdrell showed he can pound the ball up the middle and catch it coming out of the backfield. He won't be starting at tailback, but he will find his way onto the field. ... The coaches were much more pleased than they thought they'd be regarding the offensive line. Despite the team's losing three starters to the NFL, many worries were eased when guard Chilo Rachal and tackle Kyle Williams emerged as starters on the right side. The Trojans also got back 2004 starter Jeff Byers, who missed all of last season with an injury and is battling junior Matt Spanos to win back his starting spot at left guard. By the way, the anchors on the O-line are LT Sam Baker and C Ryan Kalil, two of the best in the country at their position. ... TE Dominique Byrd was a nice player, but USC isn't pining over his departure because replacement Fred Davis had an outstanding spring. He's a good blocker with good hands and surprising speed. ... When people criticized SC's defense late in the season, they tended to forget how badly injuries had wrecked the unit, particularly in the back seven. Damaged knees on LBs Dallas Sartz and Brian Cushing, as well as DBs Kevin Ellison and Terrell Thomas, were costly in '05, but all four will be ready to go in August. That's big news. Sartz and Cushing join a loaded and versatile linebacking crew that can boast six players who have started. Meanwhile, Ellison will step right into a starting spot at strong safety, where he excelled as a freshman before blowing out his knee while making a crucial pick against Arizona State. With Terrell Thomas back, Kevin Thomas continuing to improve and Mozique McCurtis emerging, coach Pete Carroll was confident enough to say that, by midseason, this will be the finest group of cornerbacks he has ever had in L.A.

Fall questions: When your last two quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy and the probable replacement has back problems while seeing only mop-up duty, it's a good bet the first question is under center. Don't get us wrong here -- no one doubts the talent of fourth-year junior John David Booty. Carroll said both Booty and redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez are ahead of where Matt Leinart was the spring before he led SC to the first of its two straight national titles. The problem is, Booty lasted all of one practice before recurring back spasms sprang up and required surgery. Then, shortly after spring drills, Sanchez was accused of sexual assault and arrested, although no charges have been filed. If the Trojans were ever in a position where Booty and Sanchez were not available, it would be doomsday. ... USC is stacked enough at receiver that it wouldn't be doomsday sans Dwayne Jarrett, but it sure wouldn't be the same, either. We're talking about a guy who has been around two years and is already fifth all-time in the Pac-10 in TD catches (29). We don't need to tell you how special a player he is, so be on the lookout the next couple of weeks as the school wraps up its investigation into whether Jarrett's financial arrangement with Leinart's father violated NCAA rules. It's possible the All-American receiver might miss a portion of the upcoming season. ... Then there's the backfield, where LenDale White and some guy named Reggie Bush used to reside. Who lives there now? The Trojans can have power when they use Powdrell and FB Brandon Hancock, but where's that flashy, elusive back? Hershel Dennis suffered yet another season-ending knee injury. Desmond Reed's recovery from knee surgery is going much slower than expected, and Michael Coleman underwent his second hip operation, which is never a good sign. It appears Chauncey Washington might actually be academically eligible for the first time in three seasons, but do we really know what to expect from a senior with 19 career carries? As for the host of freshmen arriving in August, Bush and White faced similar circumstances when they came on the scene in 2003. That turned out all right. Will Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody, C.J. Gable and Kenny Ashley have the same kind of impact? ... On defense, there are three interesting position battles to keep an eye on in August: sophomore Rey Maualuga vs. senior Oscar Lua at middle linebacker, sophomore Kyle Moore vs. junior Jeff Schweiger at one end spot and sophomore Cary Harris vs. a healthy Terrell Thomas at one corner spot. All three are too close to call at this point. ... It's safe to say the Trojans will be punting at least slightly more than they have the last couple of years. But who will be doing so now that Tom Malone has graduated? The experiment of moving kickoff specialist Troy Van Blarcom ended soon after it started, so that leaves walk-ons Taylor Odegard and Greg Woidneck, who arrives this summer from Arizona State.

Washington Huskies
2006 Schedule
9/2 San Jose State
9/9 at Oklahoma
9/16 Fresno State
9/23 UCLA
9/30 at Arizona
10/7 at USC
10/14 Oregon State
10/21 at Cal
10/28 Arizona State
11/4 at Oregon
11/11 Stanford
11/18 at Washington State

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: James Sims (495 yds)
Passing: Isaiah Stanback* (2,136 yds)
Receiving: Sonny Shackelford* (592 yds)
Tackles: Evan Benjamin (109)
Sacks: Manase Greyson Gunheim* and Manase Hopoi (5)
Interceptions: Josh Okoebor* (3)

Spring answers: When an offense goes into the huddle, it's always good for the players to know who the leader is. Unlike last year, when everyone but Matt Hasselback was competing for the starting QB job, everyone knew who the general was this spring. That general is Isaiah Stanback. Although the staff felt good about how Carl Bonnell performed in the No. 2 slot, there's no question Stanback is the man. He was the most consistent candidate and had an outstanding spring game. It's tough to decipher much with most of Washington's practices closed, but there are whispers around the program that Stanback will be leaving the pocket more in 2006. … When he does throw, he'll have a surprising target in TE Michael Gottlieb. He didn't play a down last year, but turned some heads this spring and took advantage of an injury to vault to the top spot on the depth chart heading into summer. … The coaches couldn't stop raving about the transition Dashon Goldson made from free safety to cornerback. He's quick and showed the ability to be the playmaker the Huskies so desperately need at corner. UW totaled just nine interceptions last year. At Goldson's old position, the staff has high hopes for JC transfer Ashley Thomas, who was around this spring but won't practice until August.

Fall questions: Will the Huskies find a consistent running game? Washington hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Rashaan Shehee nine seasons ago. Last year, the 495 yards from James Sims were the fewest from a UW rushing leader since 1973. Not good. Will anyone emerge from the pack this fall? Louis Rankin entered spring in the top spot, but Kenny James was the most consistent and is the leader for now, with redshirt freshman J.R. Hasty lingering as a wild card. Slowed by a shoulder injury for much of 2005, James bulked up to 220 in the offseason and was praised by coach Tyrone Willingham for his conditioning. On the field, though, the coach didn't walk away seeming very comfortable with this group's progress. An offensive line that lost four starters and five of its top seven players will not help matters. Can anything get done if the guys up front don't rebuild quickly? … It has been a few years since Reggie Williams left for the NFL. Isn't it about time Washington found itself another No. 1 receiver? If Craig Chambers ever becomes that guy, it'll be at Montana, where he transferred this offseason. JC transfer Marcel Reece (6-3, 235) passes the looks test, but he could only watch from the sidelines this spring as he waited to become eligible. He's expected to be available in the fall. … The Huskies lose a pair of key cogs at linebacker in Joe Lobendahn and Evan Benjamin, the team's leading tackler the past two seasons. At Benjamin's outside spot, can sophomore Chris Stevens show the same kind of rush potential he began to display toward the end of last year? On the inside, Trenton Tuiasosopo, whose cousin Marques used to quarterback around these parts, returns after a bike accident that resulted in skull damage and knocked him out for two seasons. Will he win his starting battle with senior Tahj Bomar? … Many around the program feel the Huskies could've gotten to six wins if they hadn't blown the Air Force opener in such heartbreaking fashion. But over the past few years, the Huskies have folded at the first sign of adversity, giving away three winnable games in the fourth quarter last season alone. To get the confidence level to where it needs to be, it's crucial this team get a few wins under its belt early -- and winning a few close ones couldn't hurt.

Washington State Cougars
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Auburn
9/9 Idaho
9/16 Baylor*
9/23 at Stanford
9/30 USC
10/7 at Oregon State
10/14 California
10/21 Oregon
10/28 at UCLA
11/4 Arizona
11/11 at Arizona State
11/18 Washington
* -- at Qwest Field

2005 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerome Harrison (1,900 yds)
Passing: Alex Brink* (2,891 yds)
Receiving: Jason Hill* (1,097 yds)
Tackles: Eric Frampton* (87)
Sacks: Mkristo Bruce* (10)
Interceptions: Alex Teems (3)

Spring answers: Two of the most important answers arrived before spring even started. The nation's third-leading receiver, Jason Hill, decided to bypass the NFL and return to Washington State. It was probably the staff's biggest recruiting job of the offseason, as Hill (110 ypg) returns to the team's deepest position. In addition, WR/punt return extraordinaire Michael Bumpus won an appeal and was allowed to re-enroll this semester after initially being disqualified for an academic year because of poor grades. Not only that, but Chris Jordan finally appears 100 percent healthy and converted corner Lorenzo Bursey looks as though he'll be able to contribute in the slot. … Another position change that should benefit QB Alex Brink and the passing game is that of new tight end Jed Collins. After trying out H-back and linebacker, it appears he finally has found a home. With 6-foot-8 Cody Boyd still recovering from injury, the emergence of Collins was a welcome sight. … If DE Matt Mullenix spends as much time in the backfield this fall as he did this spring, the team's beleaguered secondary might find at least a little relief. The junior was quick on the rush and quick up the depth chart, vaulting to a starting spot opposite Mkristo Bruce.

Fall questions: How do the Cougars replace the 1,900 rushing yards they lose with the graduation of Jerome Harrison? Stocky DeMaundray Woolridge (5-8, 223) averaged six yards a carry as a backup last season, and the coaches were encouraged by his work this spring. However, 1,900 yards is still 1,900 yards. And the lateral quickness Harrison possessed will be tough for Woolridge to replicate. If he's eligible, might JC transfer J.T. Diederichs help carry the load? … Somehow, we're pretty sure the offense will work itself out. The defense? Now that's where it gets dicey. That side of the ball ranked 106th nationally last year, giving up 443 ypg and big play after big play during a miserable seven-game losing streak that spanned two months of the season. There will be an interesting battle in August at one of the defensive tackle spots, where returning starter Fevaea'i Ahmu likely will be challenged by junior Ropati Pitoitua when he returns from a leg injury. Then there's the secondary, which played a large part in Wazzu giving up 289 yards through the air, which was more than all but four teams in I-A football. The pass defense is a big reason the program has won just four conference games in the last two years after winning 19 in the previous three. The situation at safety looks fine, especially with the light bulb coming on for Michael Willis this spring. However, the outlook at cornerback is still shaky at best. The return of Tyron Brackenridge from academic suspension helps, but can the Cougs find a second starter who won't be exploited all season long in the pass-happy Pac-10? It didn't happen this spring, so they might be turning to a host of newcomers. … Will Washington State clear up its problems in the kicking game? There is no backup to challenge him, but PK Loren Langley needs to turn it around after tailing off severely at the end of the fall, including a 28-yard miss in the Apple Cup. The Cougars also are faced with the task of replacing Kyle Basler, who led the league in net punting last season. Neither Darryl Blunt nor walk-on Fritz Brayton showed enough consistency during spring practice.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at