Originally Published: May 7, 2010
Kyle Terada/US PresswirePerhaps the two best QBs in the nation -- Andrew Luck and Jake Locker -- can be found in the Pac-10.

Eventful offseason bears intriguing story lines

By Ted Miller
ESPN.com

The best thing about 2010 spring practices in the Pac-10 is that it changed the subject. Almost.

Oregon's off-the-field problems, chiefly the fraternity theft that resulted in the season-long suspension of Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli? No, let's talk about the Ducks' new quarterback competition -- not why it exists, mind you -- or all the speed on the field.

The shocking departure of USC's living-legend coach, Pete Carroll, and the ensuing controversial hiring of Lane Kiffin away from Tennessee after a single season? No, let's talk about the Trojans' trying to regain their mojo and Matt Barkley 2.0 while watching YouTube videos of Dillon Baxter runs.

Two Oregon State defensive starters quitting the team for "family" reasons? No, let's watch big-armed Ryan Katz make his move for the starting quarterback job and wonder if Jacquizz Rodgers can become a Heisman Trophy candidate and question whether anyone can block Stephen Paea one-on-one.

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Ric Tapia/Icon SMICan anyone contain Oregon State's Stephen Paea one-on-one?

Coaches on the hot seat at Washington State and Arizona State? Bah! Did you know that Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck might be the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2011 NFL draft?

UCLA has a new "pistol" -- check that: revolver -- offense and Arizona has four new coordinators. Kevin Riley is still California's quarterback and could make his 436th start -- plus or minus -- this fall.

After all the offseason distractions, spring practices revealed a Pac-10 that looks more wide open than it has since the turn of the century -- recall that most everyone thought that the conference was still USC and everyone else last preseason.

The Ducks looked like solid favorites for 2010 -- not to mention national title contenders -- before Masoli made one of the worst choices in recent memory. Now USC, Oregon State and, yes, Stanford also look like teams that could make a run.

And that shouldn't leave out a host of teams that could make a dark-horse charge. In fact, you could make an argument that nine teams saw enough encouraging work this spring to believe they have a shot to earn a bowl berth and, perhaps, to push into the top half of the conference.

Heck, even Washington State, winner of just three games over the past two seasons, looks much improved.

Of course, that's what spring is all about: generating optimism above all else. At this point, everybody's got a chance.

As far as star power, there's plenty: Locker and Luck, the Rodgers brothers -- let's not forget receiver James Rodgers is an All-American candidate -- and LaMichael James. There's got to be a Heisman Trophy candidate somewhere there, right?

Defense? Paea, Rahim Moore, Jurrell Casey, Mike Mohamed, Vontaze Burfict and Trevin Wade are All-American candidates. And watch out for Mason Foster, Armond Armstead, Shareece Wright, Cameron Jordan and Lawrence Guy.

Then there's the final looking-ahead question as spring comes to a close.

Did a team walk into the offseason looking like a national title contender?

Probably not. But that sort of negative talk doesn't belong in the spring. Save it for August.

What we learned this spring

By Ted Miller
ESPN.com

What did we learn this spring in the Pac-10? Read on.

1. Reports of Oregon's demise are greatly exaggerated: Watching the Ducks practice this spring certainly made me think "what if?" As in: What if quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a Heisman Trophy candidate, had told himself it wouldn't be a good idea to steal stuff from a fraternity house? Some of you might recall that I not so long ago predicted that Oregon might end up in a BCS bowl game -- the BCS bowl game.

But Masoli wasn't the only reason expectations were so high. The Ducks are talented across the board and are still a top contender for the Pac-10 title. Of course, that's also the reason the "what if" is so meaningful (and surely painful for Ducks fans): Odds are good that the Ducks will take a step back with either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas at quarterback. It won't be a giant step back -- the over/under with this team only dropped from 10 wins to nine -- but it will be a step.

2. The hullabaloo over, now it's up to Kiffin to coach: There is no honeymoon at USC. The expectation is to play in the Rose Bowl every year. At least. While the NCAA may end up taking a hatchet to that, it's still up to controversial new coach Lane Kiffin to maintain the Trojans' tradition of excellence. If he does, that will take care of all -- or most -- of the howling about his big mouth and his inexplicably rapid rise through the coaching ranks.

The first impression is that Kiffin is running a tight ship with high standards for play and behavior. He also has kept his comments mostly tame, other than tweaking UCLA on national signing day. There's no question he's surrounded himself with an outstanding staff. Sure, there's a lot of huff-and-puff with Kiffin. But this spring suggested there's also coaching substance. The real measure, of course, will be this fall.

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Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe frenzy surrounding Lane Kiffin's hire is over. Now it's time to see if he can bring USC back to the top of the Pac-10.

3. The Pac-10 is deep: The Pac-10 was deep in 2009. It appears deeper in 2010. After spring practices, it's fair to say only Washington State looks like a true long shot to earn a bowl berth. Every team has plenty of reasons for optimism. It's possible that Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Stanford will start the season as Top 25 teams. Arizona has experience and talent on offense. UCLA has two potential first-round NFL draft picks on its defense. California has a lot of guys back from a team that won eight games. Arizona State has hope at quarterback to go along with an impressive defense. Washington may be as good at the offensive skill positions as any team in the country. Even the Cougars should be more competitive this fall. While there might not be a national title contender here, it wouldn't be shocking if any of the top nine teams ended up ranked in the final Top 25.

4. Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks: It wasn't too long ago that we were wondering what the heck happened to the Pac-10 quarterback tradition. Well, simply put: It's back (even without Masoli). Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck may be the best two quarterbacks in the nation and could be top-10 NFL draft picks -- and one could go first overall. And don't be surprised if Arizona's Nick Foles or USC's Matt Barkley put up numbers that place them in the all-conference mix. Meanwhile, California (Kevin Riley), UCLA (Kevin Prince), and Washington State (Jeff Tuel) welcome back starters with experience. Each is plenty capable, if not yet consistent. Oregon State is breaking in a new starter, but the early returns on strong-armed sophomore Ryan Katz are uniformly positive.

The only true competitions heading into the summer are at Oregon (Costa vs. Thomas) and Arizona State (Brock Osweiler vs. Steven Threet) and neither situation should have fans wringing their hands with worry.

5. Questions on defense: They say "defense wins championships." While more than a few Pac-10 fans would point out that playing against unsophisticated offenses with caretaker quarterbacks helps a defense appear great, the fact is that USC dominated the Pac-10 from 2002 to '08 because of defense, and Oregon won the conference title last year with a defense that put up the best numbers versus conference foes. Just about every team has questions on defense, though a handful potentially could be quite stout.

Folks at Oregon gushed about their D this spring. There's lots of speed, but a lack of size may be an issue with the front seven. USC looks good on the line but is rebuilding its secondary and is thin at linebacker. Oregon State unexpectedly lost two returning starters, who quit the team. Arizona must replace seven starters. Arizona State is excited about its D but also lost seven starters. California and UCLA lost five and six starters, respectively, including their best players. Stanford and Washington must get better on defense to take another step up in the conference. And Washington State is crossing its fingers over two defensive tackles with academic issues. So there are a lot of questions on the mean side of the ball heading into the offseason.

Best of spring

By Ted Miller
ESPN.com

Everyone loves "best of" lists. Here's one for the Pac-10 after spring practices concluded.

Best spring game performance, offense: USC senior fullback Stanley Havili caught three long touchdown passes -- 28, 33 and 50 yards -- in the Trojans' spring game.

Best spring game performance, offense II: With Jacquizz Rodgers chilling on the sidelines, Oregon State's backup running backs made a statement. Sophomore Jordan Jenkins rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries, while junior Ryan McCants had 74 yards on 24 attempts.

Best spring game performance, defense: UCLA defensive end Datone Jones had two sacks, recovered a fumble and, according to the L.A. Times, "spent a good portion of the evening in the backfield."

Best spring game performance, defense II: Washington State defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, a JC transfer, had two sacks and a tackle for a loss as the No. 1 defense dominated the No. 2 offense.

Best spring game performance by a kicker: UCLA's Kai Forbath, the defending Lou Groza Award winner, was 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, making kicks of 44, 34, 51 and 57 yards.

Best competition heading into fall, offense: Nate Costa vs. Darron Thomas to be Oregon's quarterback.

Best competition heading into the fall, defense: Chris Galippo vs. Devon Kennard to be USC's middle linebacker.

Best "who's the best" competition: Let the debate begin between Washington QB Jake Locker and Stanford QB Andrew Luck. Wait. It already has.

Best new marketing campaign: Stanford's new "What's your deal?" ticket plan is a homage to the prickly exchange between Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh and USC's Pete Carroll after Stanford ran up the score on the Trojans. Funny, methinks.

Best new playmaker: USC's true freshman running back Dillon Baxter became a YouTube sensation with a spectacular run during a scrimmage, and his other spectacular runs have made it clear he isn't a one-hit wonder. The Reggie Bush comparisons have already begun.

Best impression of dear old dad: Freshman quarterback Nick Montana capped an 80-yard drive with a short touchdown pass on the final play to give his team the win in Washington's spring game. You may recall that Nick's dad, Joe, was a fairly good NFL quarterback with a penchant for the dramatic -- and noticing John Candy in the stands.

Best position change: Oregon switched Dion Jordan from tight end to defensive end, where his athleticism suggests he can become a dangerous pass-rusher. Jordan was going nowhere at tight end. He may end up in the NFL as a defensive end.

Best performance by a backup quarterback: Senior Mitch Mustain, the most written-about QB to never start a game for USC, passed for five touchdowns and 299 yards in the Trojans' spring game. Quarterback controversy? Naaaa. Might Mustain become the next Matt Cassel? Maybe.

Best comeback by a quarterback: Many were ready to crown Michigan transfer Steven Threet as Arizona State's starting quarterback, but sophomore Brock Osweiler was more consistent much of the spring and could end up running the Sun Devils' offense in the fall.

Best offensive threesome you've never heard of: Here's a guess that receivers Gino Crump, Travis Cobb and fullback/H-back Taimi Tutogi make a lot of plays for Arizona next fall.

Best refusal to go away: No player in the Pac-10 has been more analyzed -- criticized -- than California quarterback Kevin Riley. Well, Riley again held on to the starting job this spring and heads into his senior year trying to put a successful cap on a career that has featured just a bit of everything.

Best physical freak of nature: Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea is not only the strongest college football player, he may be the strongest football player in the nation.

Best new acquisition: Arizona State has "adopted" Kyle Oden, 3, who has a pediatric brain tumor and is nearly blind in one eye.

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