Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

We're in the midst of the NCAA tournament, that time of the year when upset wins (and losses, depending on one's perspective) define the month's sporting calendar. To mark the occasion, Ted Miller ranked the top 10 Pac-12 football bracket busters since the turn of the century.

Stanford's 24-23 shocker at USC was technically the biggest upset of them all -- the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs -- but which surprise was the most memorable?

Kevin Gemmell: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012

Of the “Pac-12” era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable upset than Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon in Eugene in 2012.

You had the Zach Ertz touchdown catch (or non-catch … talk amongst yourselves). You had a Stanford team adjusting to life after Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan making his first career road start and just his second start overall. You had an Oregon team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. You had Jordan Williamson’s Fiesta Bowl redemption and you had a Stanford defense that was downright brilliant.

Oh, did we mention that Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the country (coaches' poll)?

Stanford’s win busted the two-team BCS bracket wide open. And depending which lines you looked at, Oregon was favored by as many as 21.5 with an over-under of 64.5. The Cardinal couldn’t beat the Ducks the year before … at home … with Luck! … so why on earth would they do it on the road with a green quarterback?

Not only was the outcome surprising, but the way the game played out was equally unexpected. The previous three years, the winner had scored at least 50 points and the loser at least 30. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42. The next two years, Oregon won 52-31 and 53-30, respectively. The 2012 edition rewrote the playbook for how teams attacked Oregon.

Everything about that game was thrilling. And Oregon fans are probably still left wondering what would have been if De'Anthony Thomas had just thrown a block?

Ted Miller: Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002

I covered four of our top-10 upsets but for a myriad of reasons none left a bigger impression than Washington’s shocking 29-26 victory over third-ranked Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.

First of all, 2002 was an interesting year. For one, check out the preseason AP poll. Colorado is No. 7, Washington is No. 9 and Washington State is No. 11. Oregon and USC are Nos. 15 and 20. Yeah, that seems a bit weird. The Huskies imploded at Michigan in the season opener, tearing defeat from the jaws of victory, and never really recovered. Washington State bounced back from a loss at Ohio State to roll through the Pac-10, the signature victory over USC punctuated by a sliding Drew Dunning after he kicked the game-winning field goal. You might recall the Pete Carroll era at USC picked up after that.

Oh, and the Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price eras ended at Washington and Washington State after this season for very different reasons, though both would end up in a sort of coaching purgatory by the beginning of 2003.

As for the game, it was a remarkable back-and-forth affair, with a talented Huskies team finally playing to its potential against a Washington State team that was obviously much better. Yet you could feel Martin Stadium gasp with worry when Cougars QB Jason Gesser got hurt. If Gesser didn’t get hurt, the Cougs would have coasted home, but if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.

While the game was exciting for all four-plus hours, which included three overtimes, the ending and aftermath was most remarkable (here’s my column from after the game). It was decided by a controversial call that required referee Gordon Riese to explain himself on the field. That didn’t go well. Cougars fans started pelting the field with bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. It was an ugly scene.

That said, I still talk about this game with Huskies and Cougars alike. Everyone who witnessed has a take on it. Some Cougs tell me they still aren’t over it. And Huskies know that their program pretty much fell into an extended spiral down the toilet after this season. Their next winning campaign didn't come until 2010.

Chantel Jennings: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014

This was a pretty easy choice for me for two reasons.

First, it’s the only upset on the list that I saw in person. And let’s be honest: As great as it is to watch games from the comfort of your living room with friends, it doesn’t come close to being able to see the thing in real life.

Second, it was the second straight year this happened. It’s like the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Only it’s “Upset a team once, it’s surprising; upset a team in back-to-back years, and it doesn’t seem like much of an upset anymore.”

Would we even be having a debate like this if any of the other upsets had happened twice in a row? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve broken loose if Stanford had beaten USC again in 2008? (Instead, the Cardinal lost by 22.) Or, what if the Beavers came back in 2009 and beat up on the then-fourth-ranked Trojans again? (They almost did, only losing by six.)

Hands down, those would be memorable, right? Because there’s something so great about that moment in which an upset or a second upset spurns a rivalry and the game is never the same. Every junior on Oregon’s roster this season is going to be telling the freshmen and sophomores about how they’ve never beaten the Wildcats in the regular season. Every senior is going to be telling the underclassmen how they want to leave Eugene without the stigma of allowing Arizona to be a stumbling block in the regular season. The difference between avenging a loss and making the same “mistake” twice is something that never leaves these players.

If Oregon had come back and smacked Arizona last year during the regular season, that wouldn’t be the case.

David Lombardi: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007

This was my first foray to the Coliseum, and it happened to feature the largest point spread (41) ever overcome in college football history.

I spoke with only one optimistic Stanford supporter before the game, and that happened to be Jim Harbaugh's fiancée (now wife), Sarah.

The USC dynasty was flying high -- the Trojans still had two more Rose Bowl championships on the way, including one later that season. It seemed as if Stanford hadn't advanced past its 1-11 nadir the year prior. In fact, a week before their trip to Los Angeles, the Cardinal had been blown out 41-3 at home by Arizona State. To further stretch out a long injury list, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure during the week. So Stanford threw skinny sophomore backup Tavita Pritchard to the lions of the Coliseum for his first career start.

Just a few months earlier, Harbaugh had already verbally chest-bumped Pete Carroll, who was then the bully on the Pac-10 block. "We bow to no man, we bow to no program here at Stanford University," the Cardinal's new coach had said to conclude a war of words between the two men, which began when Harbaugh publicly speculated on Carroll's future at USC.

In short, all context suggested that the Trojans would administer a beatdown to put Harbaugh and his overmatched squad in its place.

At halftime, though, USC only led 9-0, and the crowd booed the home team off the field after Stanford had stuffed a fourth-down attempt at the goal line. That was the first in a series of dominoes that fell the Cardinal's way.

Every single break proved instrumental in the upset. Trojan quarterback John David Booty, who remained in the game despite breaking his finger, threw four critical interceptions. Richard Sherman (yes, that Richard Sherman, still a wide receiver playing for Harbaugh and not Carroll back then) converted a do-or-die fourth-and-20 by a millimeter or two.

That set the table for the decisive fourth-and-goal fade, in which Pritchard found Mark Bradford -- whose father had recently passed away -- for the score that pushed Stanford to a 24-23 victory. The Cardinal had sucked the air out of the Coliseum in a shocker that might have cost USC a national title shot in 2007 and ignited the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry.

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and a leader in interceptions.

We tackled offensive trios for the North and the South on Tuesday. This morning, we looked at the defensive situation in the Pac-12 North, which looks to be a rebuilding adventure across the board. Here's a glimpse at the Pac-12 South, which looks like it may be in better shape than the North. There also seems to be some defensive parity across the board in this division, so keep that in mind when considering these rankings. There's no clear standout.

1. Utah

LB Jared Norris, DL Hunter Dimick, LB Gionni Paul

The skinny: The Utes will certainly miss Nate Orchard's beastly productivity (18.5 sacks, 21 TFL), but this strong defensive machine looks to keep on churning. Norris led last year's team with 116 tackles -- the next most productive player after Orchard accumulated only 61. Utah will turn to Dimick (10 sacks, 14.5 TFL) to pick up some pass-rush slack, while Paul's four interceptions paced the roster in 2014.

2. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, S William Parks, CB Cam Denson

The skinny: To begin, let's establish that Scooby Wright alone delivers the statistical output of an entire three-headed monster: 163 tackles, 19 TFL, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2014. It's remarkable to realize that Parks' 81 tackles -- second most of Arizona's returners -- were less than half of Wright's total last year. The safety did also contribute two interceptions, as did Denson at cornerback. With Jared Tevis and Tra'Mayne Bondurant both gone, the secondary must pick up slack to round out the Wildcats' new three-headed monster.

3. Arizona State

S Jordan Simone, LB Salamo Fiso, CB Kweishi Brown

The skinny: The Sun Devils are coming off a topsy-turvy season on defense, but the bet here is that Todd Graham's maturing unit will show much more consistency in 2015. Simone has gone from walk-on to ASU's leading returning tackler and critical defensive glue. Fiso will likely have to improve upon his 11 tackles for loss from last season to help this unit overcome the pass rush loss of Marcus Hardison. Brown brings back three interceptions.

4. USC

LB Anthony Sarao, LB Su'a Cravens, CB Adoree' Jackson

The skinny: Though leading tacklers Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard are gone, plenty of exciting talent remains at USC. Sarao, now a senior, is the leading returning tackler on a balanced defense. Cravens is a true Swiss Army knife -- he's effective both in the secondary and at linebacker, evidenced by the fact he led the Trojans in both tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (3) last season. Jackson is still looking for his first career pick, but we're betting that comes soon, as his playmaking ability is not in question.


LB Myles Jack, LB Deon Hollins, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: This troika is tasked with filling the shoes of Eric Kendricks, perhaps the nation's most dependable tackling machine (145 last season). Jack is the unit's leading returner (87 stops in 2014), while Hollins led the Bruins with nine sacks as a sophomore. UCLA should benefit from the experience that Adams brings at cornerback. Remember that he housed two interceptions last year, and both returns were electrifying.

6. Colorado

LB Kenneth Olugbode, DL Derek McCartney, S Tedric Thompson

The skinny: The Buffs seem confident that they'll make major improvements to their atrocious run defense in 2015. That'll require a unit-wide effort originating from the front seven. But trio above represents an integral core of statistical production. Olugbode is Colorado's leading returning tackler, McCartney paced last year's team with 4.5 sacks, and Thompson recorded all three of the Buffs' interceptions in 2014.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

We're breaking it down by division. We tackled the offensive three-headed monsters from the North earlier today. Now it's time to move on to the Pac-12 South, which features plenty of firepower and plenty of question marks.

1. Arizona

QB Anu Solomon, RB Nick Wilson, WR Cayleb Jones

The skinny: Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Wildcats' surge to the top of the treacherous Pac-12 South was their youth at the skill positions. Solomon led the offense as a redshirt freshman, Wilson bowled over defenders as a true freshman, and Jones led the team in receiving as a sophomore. That entire nucleus returns in 2015, and it looks like more quality depth could be layering the receiving corps -- Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, and DaVonte' Neal come to mind. But the main point remains: Arizona returns a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver, and a developing quarterback who handled his inaugural campaign well. That's a three-headed monster that can flex its muscles in 2015.

2. ASU

QB Mike Bercovici, RB Demario Richard, slot receiver D.J. Foster

The skinny: There should be plenty of offensive confidence oozing out of the desert come fall. Bercovici showed plenty of dependability last season, so Todd Graham isn't waking up in cold sweats because of Taylor Kelly's graduation. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are confident enough in Richard's running abilities to move versatile weapon Foster to the slot. Richard racked up 478 yards on 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year old, while Foster already caught 62 passes while also serving as the primary running back last year. With Jaelen Strong's 1,165 receiving yards gone, Foster's position shift makes sense, and ASU has gunpowder in all three of its offensive cannons.

3. USC

QB Cody Kessler, RB Justin Davis/Tre Madden, WR JuJu Smith

The skinny: Kessler will be in the early Heisman Trophy discussion thanks to the gaudy numbers he posted in 2014 (39 touchdowns, five interceptions), but the Trojans do have to replace his two most influential sidekicks. Running back Javorius Allen (1,489 yards) and receiver Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards) are both taking lavish production with them to the NFL draft. Sure, the Trojans have been recruiting well enough to power through those losses, but doing so won't be a cakewalk. Davis and Madden are expected to share backfield duties (there are promising true freshmen coming, too), while Smith returns 54 catches. There's work to do at USC to make this troika as effective as it was last year, but the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- it's brimming with potential.


QB ?, RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton

The skinny: Brett Hundley is gone from this mix, but the Bruins can take solace in the fact they return the Pac-12's rushing champion. Perkins' 1,575 yards on 6.3 yards per carry led all conference backs last year, and there will be big weight on the junior's shoulders as a new quarterback takes over. Jerry Neuheisel or Josh Rosen must develop rapport with Payton, who emerged as Hundley's favorite target in 2014. That'll be the key in ensuring that Perkins again enjoys running room in 2015.

5. Colorado

QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, WR Nelson Spruce

The skinny: This is an intriguing trio for a Colorado program that's eager to turn a bevy of heartbreaking losses into 2015 wins. A hemorrhaging run defense might have been the primary culprit in the Buffs 1-11 finish last year, but Liufau's conference-worst 15 interceptions also cannot be overlooked. If he does a better job avoiding these mistakes, Spruce and an improving run game should be ready to roll. Spruce's 106 catches led the Pac-12 in 2014, while Colorado's rushing efficiency has bettered from 3.1 yards per carry in 2012 to 4.1 last year. Powell, a 230-pound bruiser, led a committee of backs at 5.3 yards per carry.

6. Utah

QB Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson, RB Devontae Booker, WR Kenneth Scott

The skinny: The Utes have Booker, a 1,512-yard name that'll be tossed around in early Heisman discussions, but there has to be significant worry beyond his position. For one, both prospective quarterbacks struggled throwing the ball last season, and their road doesn't look to be getting any smoother. With Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson, and Westlee Tonga gone, the Utes are losing two of their top three receivers and their most productive tight end. Scott is the leading returning target while prized junior college transfer Deniko Carter will be counted on to produce immediately. There's potential there, but at this point, questions outweigh answers. Booker is the workhorse with a hefty load on his shoulders.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

You talkin' to me?

Colorado has finished their spring game, so we're in a slight Pac-12 practice lull while basketball is in the spotlight. But the avalanche of 11 other spring games is creeping closer. Here are some links from around the conference:

video The Pac-12 received a recruiting boost Monday night, as several members of the Ground Zero 7-on-7 team announced their college intentions and over the course of the day, the conference added five commitments in total. Specifically, the Los Angeles programs were the big winners with the Ground Zero prospects, as UCLA added two pieces to its 2016 class -- in No. 1 inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa and athlete Demetric Felton -- and USC got on the board for the 2017 class, with running back Stephen Carr.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19

Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.

With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

Today, we move to the defensive side of the ball and we're starting with the defensive backs. For the sake of time and avoiding headaches, we're going to just separate this into three groups -- the defensive backs, linebackers and defensive line. For teams that have certain hybrid positions and players, we put them into which of those three categories we thought they best fit. If you don't like how we did it, feel free to complain here.

Arizona: Cornerback Jonathan McKnight is out, leaving the Wildcats down a corner. The good news is that Jarvis McCall Jr. is back after finishing last season as Arizona’s ninth-leading tackler. Three players will try to battle it out to start opposite McCall: Cam Denson, Devin Holiday and DaVonte’ Neal. Denson is the most experienced, having started at CB against UCLA and Colorado and finishing the year with 21 tackles and two picks. Holliday played in just six games and finished with two tackles and one interception, while Neal has come over from the offensive side of the ball to help out with depth at the corner spot. All three are in similar physical molds to McKnight but this is going to come down to who can make the most plays. Whoever comes out on top this spring has a fast track to the starting job next fall so these reps are crucial.

However, the Wildcats aren’t as fortunate in the rest of the secondary, where they lost Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. Will Parks should fill Bondurant’s spot at spur pretty well, but he needs to bring the leadership of Bondurant and Tevis combined. Jamar Allah, Tellas Jones and Anthony Lopez will fight for minutes this spring alongside juco transfer Paul Magloire Jr., who has already received some praise from Rich Rodriguez. The quarterback turned running back turned safety enrolled early and with so many open reps and so few more opportunities left in his college career, look for him to make the most of this.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils return most of their secondary, but lose boundary safety Damarious Randall, who led ASU in tackles last season and tallied three interceptions. Replacing him will be no small task but Todd Graham has options in James Johnson, Chad Adams and Dasmond Tautalatasi. Whoever earns that starting spot will have the opportunity to work and grow alongside field safety Jordan Simone, who had a breakout year in 2014 after going from walk -on to scholarship player and he’ll look to build on that momentum. And at corner, the Sun Devils return both starters in Lloyd Carrington and Kweishi Brown as well as nickel Armand Perry. So, don’t be too worried if those three don’t get a ton of reps this spring because their spots are secure and now Graham is just looking to build some depth. Perry should get a few more reps as will Solomon Means and Ronald Lewis, as they try to break into the cornerback rotation.

Colorado: The Buffs are in a slightly different position here considering they concluded spring practices yesterday. But here's a run down based off the notes from the spring game that were released as well as some thoughts that led to the event. The depth chart has Ken Crawley (who’s up to 180 pounds) and Chidobe Awuzie listed as the two top cornerbacks. Behind them are John Walker -- who won the team’s award as the most improved defensive back -- and Ahkello Witherspoon in the two deep. Awuzie was kind of a surprise to see atop the list considering how much praise we’ve heard about the rangy Witherspoon but considering that Awuzie is also listed as the starting nickel, we’re still expecting to see a lot of Witherspoon at corner. At safety, Evan White and Tedric Thompson took the starting jobs while Ryan Moeller and Afolabi Laguda fill out the two deep.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez frequently talks about wanting his players to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The idea, which is particularly important for quarterbacks, is that they learn to calmly handle stress in practice and then they will make the right decision at the critical moment when the screws couldn't be tighter in a game.

Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon seemed to have digested that lesson. Despite being a redshirt freshman, he'd led Arizona to a 6-1 record in the 2014 regular season in games decided by eight or fewer points, including a victory at then-No. 2 Oregon in his first career Pac-12 road start. Sure, he hadn't always been on point for all four quarters in every game, but he'd been a key part of a team that found ways to win.

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon, Sidney Hodge
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAnu Solomon says he's working on his accuracy and pocket presence this spring.
Then came the Fiesta Bowl.

After a nearly three minute drive -- glacial by Arizona standards -- the Wildcats had the ball on the Boise State 8-yard line. No timeouts.

"We’re down by eight," Solomon recalls, stepping in when a reporter pauses. "We have 16 seconds to go. I was aware of the situation. Third down, if I don’t have anything, throw it away we get another shot. We did a roll-out play and I didn’t see anything. But being the true competitor I am… All I can say is I wanted to do everything myself, to make something out of nothing. I was not being smart at that time. Right now, I’d take it back. But I can’t.”

Solomon held the ball too long, waiting for a crack in the Broncos defense that never appeared. Instead, he was sacked by Kamalei Correa for a 2-yard loss and the clock hit zero, a fantastic season ending on a dreary, "What the Heck Was He Thinking?" note.

Not yet comfortable being uncomfortable? Said Solomon, “It was that exact thing."

Solomon had a good year by most definitions, particularly when you again note he was a redshirt freshman. He passed for 3,793 yards with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions and rushed for 552 yards and two scores for a team that surprised many by winning the Pac-12's South Division.

Yet Solomon struggled over the second half of the season. Through the first seven games, he completed 63.3 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and four interceptions. Over the next seven, he completed 50.4 percent of his throws with eight TDs and five picks.

Sure, the second-half schedule was tougher. And, sure, Solomon was playing through multiple injuries -- "foot, knee, ankle," he said. But there's a reason Rodriguez has talked about Solomon this spring as if he's in another QB competition rather than being the first returning starter behind center Rodriguez has had in Tucson.

Solomon needs to get better if the Wildcats are going to continue to climb in the rugged South and again become a nationally relevant team.

As for injuries being the main culprit, Solomon parrots Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

“I don’t want to use the injuries as an excuse," he said. "My brain wasn’t injured.”

So Solomon isn't shying away from the idea that he needs to distinguish himself from Brandon Dawkins and Jerrard Randall this spring. He has added a few pounds to his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame from last fall, and he set a team QB record with a 325 pound bench press while running a 4.6 40-yard dash.

“Nothing is guaranteed in life," he said. "Every year in sports you have to earn your spot. As of right now, jobs are open and I’m competing for that spot.”

As for areas of emphasis, Solomon said his pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making and leadership are where he most needs to focus. While Arizona had one of the nation's deepest crews of receivers last year, Solomon admits he and his wideouts didn't develop an intuitive connection, particularly when plays broke down and there was some necessary improvising. A not-infrequent visual was senior Austin Hill gesticulating back toward Solomon after a pass flew off the mark.

"We struggled a lot last season being on the same page," Solomon said.

While the Wildcats are filling three holes on the offensive line, the skill players around Solomon, including running back Nick Wilson and receivers Nate Phillips, Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey and David Richards, are A-list. It's difficult to imagine that, after averaging nearly 35 points per game last year, an improved Solomon wouldn't give Arizona one of the nation's most potent offenses.

As for Rodriguez continuing to, er, help Solomon become comfortable being uncomfortable, as of Wednesday the QB said Rodriguez has yet to unleash one of his trademark epic tirades.

“Not yet," Solomon said. "He’s baby stepping his way there."
California will always be the first and last stop for Pac-12 coaches on the recruiting trail. In the 2015 class, 129 prospects from the Golden State signed with Pac-12 schools and no conference program signed fewer than five.

But for Pac-12 programs outside of California, particularly in the next three talent producing states of the West region -- Arizona, Utah and Washington -- locking up the borders can be a vital part of an eventual run at a conference, or even national, championship.

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Even though recruiters aren't in attendance at events like this past weekend's The Opening regional in Los Angeles, they're easily able to find out who performed well. Melquise Stovall was one of the players that stood out in everything he did and his stock is now red hot with colleges.

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With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

We're making our way through the offensive position groups and today we get to wide receivers. Let's begin with the South ...

Arizona: The Wildcats could have one of the most electric passing attacks in the Pac-12 next season with Anu Solomon and his crop of returning receivers. Arizona has five of its top seven receivers returning with the only Cats out being Austin Hill, who graduated, and DaVonte' Neal, who's still on the roster but moved over to defense. But between Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips and David Richards, there's going to be a lot of competition for catches this spring. Also, according to this report, there are a few 2014 scout team players who've impressed wide receivers coach Tony Dews so far this spring -- Tony Ellison, Kaelin DeBoskie, Jocquez Kalili and Darius Aguirre.

Arizona State: D.J. Foster will have his first full WR spring this year after being the second-leading receiver for the Sun Devils last year. Past Foster, the only other player who had significant receiving experience last season was Cameron Smith, who caught 41 passes for ASU. Look for these two to solidify their roles as starters, but they'll also have competition from Gary Chambers, Frederick Gammage, Ellis Jefferson and former JUCO transfer Eric Lauderdale.

Colorado: Nelson Spruce deciding to come back for his final year of eligibility might be one of the biggest returns -- from a team's own stock perspective -- in the league this year. This spring, expect him and Sefo Liufau to keep building that chemistry, especially considering Mike MacIntyre told reporters that he could see Spruce having another 100-reception season, which would make him the first Pac-10/Pac-12 player in history to have two 100-reception seasons. Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo will duel it out for the opportunity to get those non-Spruce balls as the Buffaloes attempt to replace the production of Tyler McCulloch and D.D. Goodson.

UCLA: The Bruins return their top six receivers from last year so since Jim Mora has plenty of experience returning, expect this spring to be a lot of experimentation with different formations for those top guys, while also building depth with lesser-known players. Is there a chance that Mora could go crazy and pull a Mike Leach and throw four (maybe five?) receivers out there on a single down? He certainly has the talent and depth to do so. Jordan Payton will be the Bruins' go-to, but past him Devin Fuller, Thomas Duarte, Eldridge Massington, Mossi Johnson, Devin Lucien and Kenneth Walker are more than capable. Better yet for the Bruins, all of those receivers except Walker, are at least 6-foot, giving UCLA serious opportunities for mismatches downfield. But Walker, even though he might be vertically challenged compared to his receiver teammates, is known as one of the fastest (if not the fastest) on the team, so he creates mismatches of his own. Long story short: The Bruins are going to have a strong spring full of veteran players who will be impact players come fall.

USC: The Trojans lost a lot when both Nelson Agholor and George Farmer decided to leave early for the NFL. Add to that 41-catch RB Buck Allen and USC has a lot of shoes to fill. But fear not, they seem to have the numbers to do it. JuJu Smith returns and he'll become Cody Kessler's go-to receiving weapon. This spring will be spent building trust and chemistry between those two as Kessler adapts to the post-Agholor era. Past Smith, Adoree' Jackson, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell will have a lot to prove after showing flashes last fall. On top of those four familiar faces, the Trojans welcome early enrollee JUCO transfer Isaac Whitney, who could boost the USC wide receiver corps. At 6-foot-4 Whitney towers over most other wide receivers and though spring will be his first reps with the Trojans (meaning he might be slower to start because of the new-ness of everything) he could be a guy that makes monstrous gains this spring and summer.

Utah: Last year the Utes finished last in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game. Heading into this spring the Utes lost three of their four top receiving threats, so to say that players need to step up is a bit of an understatement. One of the problems last fall was the quarterback rotation, so it was hard to build chemistry when a new face popped up every game behind the offensive line. This spring, that problem will still exist since Kendal Thompson is out, so the Utah receivers need to do the best they can to just build depth with a question mark still at the QB spot. Utah can't afford to be a singular attack (read: Devontae Booker) come fall. Kenneth Scott will look to step up as the go-to receiver while Tim Patrick and Delshawn McClellon spend the spring battling for those No. 2 and No. 3 receiving spots before junior college transfer Deniko Carter (No. 8 WR in the 2015 JUCO class) gets to campus this summer and tries to climb the ladder himself.
With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

Yesterday we began with the quarterbacks. Today, we move onto running backs. Starting in the South…

Arizona: Rich Rodriguez said that even though running back Nick Wilson is fully recovered he won’t be going through any full-contact drills this spring since there’s no need for him to prove he can get hit and still be effective. He already did that this past fall when he led Pac-12 freshmen and was the conference’s fourth-leading rusher. But with Terris Jones-Grigsby gone, there are a few players who do need to get hit and prove that they can make up for some of the lost yardage. Two names to watch: Jared Baker and Jonathan Haden. And with Wilson out of contact drills, expect some younger players’ names to crop up as Rodriguez gives carries to guys who’ll be more involved on scout team come fall.

Arizona State: With D.J. Foster’s move to receiver, alleviating some of the post-Jaelen Strong era pains, there will be plenty more carries with the Sun Devils. In February, quarterback Mike Bercovici predicted that Demario Richard would probably come out as ASU’s starting running back next season. Richard comes in a similar mold to Foster (Richard is 5-foot-10, 210 pounds while Foster is 5-foot-11, 205 pounds). Richard caught 13 passes and had 84 carries last season, so he can be counted on as a passing-catch running back. But, don’t expect Kalen Ballage to take Richard’s promotion (through Bercovici’s eyes) sitting down. Todd Graham spoke very highly of Ballage last season and Ballage’s 96-yard kick return in the Hyundai Sun Bowl is what set up Richard’s game-winning TD. This battling duo will be fun to watch this spring.

Colorado: The Buffs had four running backs with 75-plus carries last season and quarterback Sefo Liufau toted the ball 69 times, too, but past those five players there really was no one else on the running back radar for Mike MacIntyre. Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II and Phillip Lindsay are all back for Colorado, but only Powell is full go for the spring. McIntyre told reporters in February that Lindsay is day-to-day and Adkins could be out until the middle of spring, leaving Powell with the brunt of carries and the rest going to whoever doesn’t have a turf-toe or knee injury. George Frazier, Jordan Murphy and Kyle Evans are all names we could hear this spring but mostly because of said personnel problems.

UCLA: Paul Perkins, ladies and gents. There’s not a whole lot else Bruin fans need to (or want to) think about when it comes to running backs. After leading the Pac-12 in rushing in 2014, he’s back and ready to make even bigger strides. With Brett Hundley and Jordon James gone, there will be some serious yardage that needs to be made up in 2015. Perkins can take a lot of it, but it’d be nice if Nate Starks had a big spring for the Bruins so he could be counted on next fall to take the load of Perkins’ shoulders every so often. And, stop me if you’ve heard this once before: it should be interesting to see what Jim Mora does with Myles Jack. He carried the ball 28 times for UCLA last fall but will all the back-up eggs be put in Starks’ basket? Or will Jack remain an occasional running-backer -- giving the Bruins a few more options in short-yardage situations? And does that change how the spring looks for the Bruins or Jack?

USC: Tre Madden might still be nursing a turf toe injury, but if he is 100 percent, it’ll be a fun spring season for USC run game coordinator Bob Connelly as he watches Madden and Justin Davis square off to be the top running back. The winner will have the upper hand this fall when USC sees an influx of young talent. If Madden is healthy, you’ve got a player whose career has been plagued by injuries vs. the 2014 back up -- chip on the shoulder vs. chip on the shoulder. This could get spicy. And, if Madden isn’t full go, then it’ll mostly just be a lot of reporting on guys who’ll probably be next year’s third- or fourth-string running backs. Yay spring ball.

Utah: Like Arizona and UCLA, the Utes have their No. 1 guy locked up in Devontae Booker, who took the 2014 season by storm and finished as the conference’s second-leading rusher. After a full winter of strength and conditioning, how much more polished will he look? Utah also returns back up Bubba Poole and third-stringer Troy McCormick, who will probably retain those same roles this spring. The Utes are sitting pretty at running back.
Last week we took a look at what team that wasn’t listed on Mark Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25 might find its way onto the final AP poll of next season.

Well, since we’re so balanced here at the Pac-12 Blog, we couldn’t possibly look at what team will elevate itself without looking at what ranked team could plummet in the rankings.


Which Pac-12 team will make the biggest drop (or not make the top 25) at the end of the 2015 season?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,420)

So, let’s flip that question around: Which of the five Pac-12 teams on Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25 will make the biggest drop (or not even make the top 25) at the end of the 2015 season?

1. USC | Schlabach’s rank: No. 3

Schlabach’s reasoning for putting the Trojans so high is understandable: They’ve got great depth and finally signed a full recruiting class (which was full of blue-chip talent). That’s a good recipe for success -- a returning QB, depth, some good juco transfers. But a lot of that talent is untested. Can USC really replace the production of Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor in one offseason, or will the Trojans fall like Troy? (terrible pun No. 1 of 2)

2. Oregon | Schlabach’s rank: 6

The Ducks return one of the deepest running back corps in the country and some pretty talented receivers, but with a question mark at quarterback and plenty of spots to fill on the defensive side of the ball, could Oregon be a team that is plagued by inconsistency and drops in the rankings? It’s certainly possible. Oregon joins Alabama, Baylor, Georgia and UCLA as Way Too Early top-10 teams that need to find a new QB. Could that one position be enough to sink the Ducks? (terrible pun No. 2 of 2)

3. UCLA | Schlabach’s rank: 9

Like Oregon, UCLA needs to find a QB and find it fast. The Bruins, like Oregon, also need to find a new pass rusher and some talented linebackers. Could the problems that malign Oregon also lay claim to the Bruins? But between UO and UCLA, which would be more susceptible to those problems?

4. Arizona | Schlabach’s rank: 13

The bridesmaid of the Pac-12 has done a good job of showing up, just not always finishing. Arizona wasn’t even mentioned in last season’s Way Too Early Top 25 (the February edition) but finished the season ranked No. 19. Will the Wildcats continue this upward trend, or will they pull a Stanford/Washington, which were both ranked in the Way Too Early Top 25 but finished the season with no one talking about them?

5. Arizona State | Schlabach’s rank: 18

Like the Ducks and Bruins, the Sun Devils need a new QB, but unlike Oregon and UCLA, the heir is already on the throne. And not only is Mike Bercovici on the throne, he’s already stating the goals of the program -- a national title. Could Bercovici’s words become fact? Or will they fall flat as ASU struggles to adjust to life in the spotlight?
Hundreds of the top West region prospects were on hand for The Opening Los Angeles Regional this past Sunday. Here are five trends that were revealed during and after the event.

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