Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Media Days takeaways: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 2 of media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

Gemmell: I think it's pretty notable that Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- a guy on the Biletnikoff watch list and a guy coach David Shaw called one of the most explosive players in college football -- probably won't play in Week 1. Shaw identified it as an "arm" injury for Montgomery, who didn't participate in spring ball. Shaw said it's likely they will take it slow for fall camp and might keep him out of Week 1. Translation: "We're playing UC Davis and should be fine without him." Because a week later they play USC. And they will need him for that game.

Jennings: There were plenty of good nuggets that came out of Day 2, but I was particularly interested to hear that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, the reigning Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year, put on 15 pounds of muscle during this offseason. That's a lot of weight for a kid who already hit (and ran) pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see how a bigger and stronger Jack does in Year 2 with Jim Mora and the Bruins.

Bonagura: For a media day, it was actually pretty quiet. The big news was clearly Washington coach Chris Petersen's decision to suspend projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles for the Huskies' opener against Hawaii, but even that will have little impact on the season. No one is expecting that to be much of a game regardless of who's under center for Washington. If anything, the move could end up helping the Huskies from a football standpoint because they'll get much-needed game experience for whoever ends up being the backup and give Miles extra time to digest the new coaching staff's system after missing every practice and meeting during spring ball.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHow long does Todd Graham have to stay in Tempe for rumors about a departure to subside?
Gemmell: Todd Graham caught a lot of flak -- I mean A LOT of flak -- when he jumped from Pitt to Arizona State. He had a reputation as a program hopper always looking for the best opportunity. When most jobs became available, Graham was always rumored (usually unsubstantiated) as wanting to move on. Well, he's not, and he addressed that Thursday. Coming into his third year (a longer tenure than five other Pac-12 coaches, mind you) he says he's committed to ASU for the "long haul" and could see himself retiring in Tempe. His house is paid off, he's got pretty good continuity with his staff and he's winning. Sounds like the makings of a long and happy relationship. But if he does leave on his own, is three years fair? Five? Time to let the "Todd Graham is gonna jump ship" storyline go.

Jennings: Cue the campfire and Kumbaya, please. Everyone is becoming bff's.

Not only is this year going to hold one of the deepest crops of quarterbacks in a single conference ever, this could also be one of the closer groups of quarterbacks ever. So many of these guys attended the Manning Passing Academy together -- Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley roomed together at the camp. And through the two media days, there just seemed to be so much bromance. You've got the guys in other conferences who say, "Yeah, he's a good player and I respect him" but it felt like this group genuinely could become fraternity brothers or something. Sure, they're going to take the field and try to destroy each other's teams, but I also feel like -- if given the chance -- most of them would sit down for a dinner together the next day.

Bonagura: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is ready for the spotlight. And maybe he's been ready, but it's going to be brighter this year. This was my first chance seeing Hundley handle a throng of media attention, in person, and he came off like a seasoned pro. Other players were similarly impressive, but with the festivities being held in Southern California, Hundley drew the most attention and it didn't faze him. Forget the fact that he's one of the most exciting players to watch in the country, there are plenty of reasons why he's an easy player to root for.

Best quote of the day?

Gemmell: I asked Colorado defensive end Juda Parker, of the 10 returning quarterbacks which one does he most want to sack. He responded with this gem: "The one I WILL sack is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's my classmate and we went to high school together. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably give him an extra nudge and say, ‘We'll talk about this after the game.'"

Jennings: I was walking by a group of men when one of them announced, "That's why you don't raise raccoons." I should've stopped and completely put myself into the conversation because, let's be serious, this could've been one of the most interesting points of the day. But I was on a mission and decided to find coffee that it was easier to just input my own thoughts as to why they were talking about that. I'd like to imagine it was something like, "We need to achieve world peace and ... that's why you don't raise raccoons."

However, I would also like to imagine that at one point in time Mike Leach attempted to raise a raccoon.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's not budging from UCLA if he has any say in it.
Bonagura: UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about his commitment to the school and after a long-winded answer, he finished with: "I'm staying there until they kick me out. That might be tomorrow, who knows. I've been kicked out before. But I'm staying until they kick me out."

Going to go out on a limb and say UCLA is not going to fire Jim Mora tomorrow. So modest, Jim.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I've known Stanford safety Jordan Richards for a while. We've talked a lot and done several videos together over the years. And I'm always impressed with his poise and confidence. I love how much he loves football. A lot of defensive players I talked to over the last couple of days admitted they have a tough road ahead with all of the offensive talent in the league. Richards shrugs it off and says it's the quarterbacks who have to prove themselves worthy of all the praise. I like that.

Jennings: I'm going to give some major props to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan here. One reporter asked Hogan about Mariota and Hogan went on a diatribe about how great of a person and player Mariota is. I'd imagine there are a lot of players out there who get sick of their same-position guys being talked about constantly (and having questions pitched to them about said guys), but Hogan couldn't say enough good things about Mariota. And yes, that says plenty about Mariota, but I think it says even more about the type of person Hogan is.

Bonagura: Relative to the rest of the players who were brought to Hollywood over the past two days, Juda Parker was one of the players I knew the least about. About 30 seconds into a chat with him, it became clear he's headed for big things. Time will tell if that's in professional football -- he's got a chance -- or in something else, but he expressed how important it was to develop skills during his time at Colorado that'll help both on the football field and "in a cubicle." It was obviously more detailed than that, but let's just say he served as an impressive ambassador for Colorado.

Cornhole was one of the activities available for the players and coaches at Pac-12 media days. If you could pick a threesome to play corn hole with, who would you pick and why?

Gemmell: Isn't this one obvious? Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler. Leave the coaches out of it. Stick with the three of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the Pac-12 from last year. Hundley led the conference with a 66.8 completion percentage. Mannion was second with 66.3 and Kessler was fourth at 65.4 (Keith Price was third at 66.2). The name of the game is accuracy. I want the guys who aren't going to miss.

Jennings: I'd pick Hundley as my teammate, because he and Eric Kendricks swept their competition -- 7-0, according to the leaderboard -- and I'm going to assume that the Heisman-contending QB was a big part of that. And for the competition, I'm going to pick Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich -- the two coaches that are likely going to battle Hundley the most for the top spot in the south division and the championship game. Overall, there'd be plenty of real rivalry happening and I love some good trash talk (which I'm hoping there'd be some of). Plus, if we lost, I'd convince Hundley to just walk around throwing footballs at people and saying it was because he's the Campus Enforcer.

Bonagura: For my teammate, I'm choosing Sean Mannion. If his 68 career touchdown passes aren't reason enough, I'm putting a lot of stock in his recent victory in the Air-It-Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. That event showcased his accuracy against several of the nation's best quarterbacks including USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, both of whom were also in Hollywood this week. As for who we're playing against, I want Mike Leach on my side of the pit (is it a cornhole pit?) purely for entertainment value and Sonny Dykes on the other to provide a reunion for the close friends.

Media Days are here: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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We're halfway through Pac-12 media days, which continue Thursday at the Studios at Paramount in Hollywood. Here's a look at who is on tap for Day 2:

Thursday's schedule: Leading off


The big "news" of the day was that Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in 2014. Predictions aren't always solid -- unless they come from the Pac-12 blog.

Still, it's noteworthy that 24 of 39 writers (including the #pac) all picked the Ducks to win -- especially since Stanford is the two-time defending champ. The Cardinal will be up Thursday, so no doubt coach David Shaw will be asked for a reaction.

More Levi's games?

During the Stanford nonconference primer, the Pac-12 blog lamented the fact the Cardinal and San Jose State put the Bill Walsh Legacy game on hold. Now it looks like talks have started again.

According to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, initial conversations have started to reboot the game. Here's what San Jose State coach Ron Caragher had to say:

"There's some fringe talk about it," Caragher said. "Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it'd be great."

The Pac-12 and Mountain West are already heavy scheduling partners. But for Bay Area fans, this game holds some special significance. Would be nice to see it up and running again.

Healthy and happy birthday

Cal safety Stefan McClure, oft injured in his career with the Bears, tells Sportswatch.com he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make his move from cornerback to safety. (He also plugs his birthday).

Cal obviously suffered through a bumpy 2013. A lot of that had to do with injuries on defense. So a healthy McClure is welcome news for the Bears.

Oregon storylines

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet broke down his big three major storylines of media days. His thoughts:
  1. Oregon picked first
  2. Marcus Mariota in high demand
  3. Derrick Malone making improvements
Strike a pose

Just because the Cardinal weren't on the podium Wednesday, doesn't mean they (and the other five teams) didn't have media days responsibilities. You can see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan doing his best Blue Steel here:

 
Landing spot for Bruggman

Former Washington State quarterback Tyler Bruggman is going to land at Louisville, according to InsidetheVille.com.

In case you missed it a week ago, Ted Miller broke down what that means for the Cougs.

Enjoy Day 2! We'll be tweeting again all day.

Video: Oregon coach Mark Helfrich

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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video
Chantel Jennings talks to Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich at Pac-12 media day.
video
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby pursed his lips at college football on Monday and announced that "cheating pays." He warned his quaking audience of reporters that NCAA "enforcement is broken." His conference made a mistake by not including ominous organ music to punctuate his remarks.

A week before, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, after quoting Muhammad Ali, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, among others, sternly informed the media that the NCAA better provide the Big Five conferences autonomy so they can do what they want.

Or else.

ACC commish John Swofford went with snark. Hey, NCAA, he said, "The good ship Status Quo has sailed." If embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert were on stage, Swofford, the likely winner if the Big Five commissioners competed in a cage fight, would have given him a wedgie.

[+] EnlargeScott
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was all sunshine and smiles as he opened the Pac-12 media days Wednesday.
You can be sure when the Big Ten's maestro of dour, Jim Delany, takes the stage Monday, he will opt for a most vigorous finger shake at the NCAA after he references several important historical figures, so as not to yield any highfalutin ground to Slive and the SEC.

Ah, but out here on the lovely West Coast, we are more sunny. In contrast to his Grinch-like colleagues, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was positively ebullient as he addressed his gathered media throng. The Pac-12, he told us, is ... awesome. Pac-12 football? It's awesome, too. College football in general? While there are important challenges and changes ahead, it's, well, awesome!

"While I understand the concerns of my colleagues that have been expressed -- we've heard some doomsday and some threats over the last week," Scott said. "I am very confident and optimistic about where college sports is going and some of the recent reforms that we are seeing."

Curiously, the Big Five commissioners are pretty much on the same page and are almost certain to get what they want when the NCAA votes on granting them more autonomy in August. There is a general agreement among the Big Five on goals and how things will move forward. This contrast, then, was more about style and presentation. While other commissioners glowered, Scott and the Pac-12 went with the, to borrow a phrase from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "let's not bicker and argue about who killed who ... this should be a happy occasion," approach.

Of course, Scott has reasons to be cheerful as he lauded his conference in Hollywood, "the entertainment capital of the world," and celebrated its new neutral site conference championship game at sparkly Levi's Stadium in Silicon Valley, "the innovation capital of the world."

His conference welcomes back 10 starting quarterbacks and an average of 15 starters per team. Several teams are worthy of a preseason rankings, including national-title contenders Oregon and UCLA. Further, there is an impressive handful of Heisman Trophy contenders, led by Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"We had a record nine teams qualify for bowl games last season, the most in our history," Scott said. "Put simply, our conference has never been stronger or deeper than it is today, and that's why I'm filled with so much optimism as we look forward to the upcoming season."

Scott's address, which featured 4,400 words according to the official transcription, didn't mention the Pac-12 Network's inability to strike a deal with DirectTV. Scott was all about the positive. That included celebrating 10 new national titles -- though none in revenue-producing sports -- and lauding the conference's academics and programs for student-athlete welfare, noting the conference would invest $3.5 million in research aimed at improving the health and safety of athletes.

Scott's jauntiness was not without motive, which was notable as he gently chided the media to "resist the temptation to oversimplify these issues" brought to the public eye by the Ed O'Bannon versus the NCAA trial. He and the other commissioners, after all, are trying to pacify an athletic revolt, a storming of the NCAA's Bastille, if you will. While excited about potential reforms to college sports, Scott also again expressed concern about "radically changing the collegiate model into a professional model."

"From my vantage point, college athletics is working exceedingly well," said Scott, who is the highest paid conference commissioner, hauling in over $3 million in 2011-12, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Did Scott mention that the Pac-12 won 31 nonconference games, most in conference history, and went 6-3 in bowl games? But of course he did.

Scott was followed to the podium by Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who immediately made the typically grumpy media feel right at home again.

Said Rodriguez, "I could be like every other coach in America and tell you how excited I am to be here, but that would be lying. Truth is, I'd rather still be on vacation or meeting with my coaches."

Rodriguez apparently didn't get the memo that everything, including Pac-12 media days, is awesome.

Pac-12 media days live: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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Pac-12 media days kick off in Los Angeles Wednesday. Keep this page open beginning at noon ET/9 a.m. PT as ESPN.com reporters bring you the latest from the day's proceedings. Scheduled to appear Wednesday are players and coaches from Arizona Wildcats, California Golden Bears, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Washington State Cougars and Utah Utes, as well as commissioner Larry Scott.
 

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Wyoming at Oregon
  • Illinois at Washington
  • Army at Stanford
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • USC at Boston College
  • UCLA vs. Texas (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
  • Arizona State at Colorado
  • Nevada at Arizona
  • Byes: Cal, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: UCLA vs. Texas

Why: What an incredible Week 2 that was. Oregon made a national statement with its convincing win against Michigan State and I can’t believe Stanford-USC ended in another last-minute field goal! That had to be one happy team from the state of California.

For Week 3, let’s take a step out of our comfort zone and travel to a place not normally frequented by the Pac-12 faithful during the regular season -- Texas.

Let’s be honest. Texas isn’t what it used to be. The Longhorns are trying to get back there under new head coach Charlie Strong. But it might take a while.

However, the Texas brand still carries a ton of name value. And a win against the Longhorns at a neutral site (only by name), would be a huge boost for a UCLA program trying to make a splash on the national stage. The Bruins will likely be a top 10 team to start the season. And barring an unbelievable mishap at Virginia or home against Memphis, they will be a team the playoff committee is keeping an eye on when this game rolls around.

From an individual standpoint, this game could also be a big boost for quarterback Brett Hundley and his Heisman candidacy. Voters were already eyeing Marcus Mariota and his five-touchdown performance against Michigan State last week (three in the air, two on the ground). They aren’t going to care much what Hundley does against Virginia or Memphis. But if he goes into Texas and has a huge game, that will definitely give him a boost.

There are also, of course, the rumors that circulated about UCLA head coach Jim Mora when the Texas job became available. Whether those were substantiated or legitimate are irrelevant. They were out there -- and that adds an element of intriguing to this game.

This is a game UCLA should win, thus making it a must-win. If the Bruins want to go to where they hope they will, they have to win this game convincingly. If they do, they will get the benefit of beating a brand-name team, even if the Longhorns are currently re-branding.

Nevada at Arizona has some intrigue because it’s a rematch of the thrilling 2012 New Mexico Bowl. And Illinois’ trip to Washington is another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown. But as far as national interest goes, UCLA-Texas is the game to see this week.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.
The watchlist roll out continues this week with the announcement of the Rotary Lombardi preseason list.

Of the 123 players on the list, 15 are from the Pac-12 representing six schools.

Eligibility for the Lombardi Award includes offensive or defensive “down” linemen or linebackers “who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.”

Here are the Pac-12 players.
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Pac-12 programs hold commitments from 13 prospects who participated in Nike's The Opening this week, including four quarterbacks who finished in the final Elite 11 quarterback ranking and two offensive linemen who were named to the Final Five on that side of the ball. Though the conference will undoubtedly finish with commitments from many more of the recruits in attendance, we take a look at how the 13 commitments fared over the four days.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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Happy Friday!
Today, we finish our preseason position reviews.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Safety. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT

Arizona: Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis return with a combined 78 starts. On Thursday, Tevis, a former walk-on, was named to the Bronko Nagurski watch list for the nation's best defensive player. Safety is a clear strength for the Wildcats.

Oregon State: Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman both begin Year 3 as starters. Combined, they have 345 career tackles and neither has missed a game the past two years. Murphy was an all-conference honorable mention selection last year.

UCLA: Between Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and Tahaan Goodman, the Bruins are loaded with talent at safety. Both Goforth and Jefferson were named all-conference honorable mention last season, but Goodman has the potential to be the best of the group. Tyler Foreman, a well-regarded recruit, will be coming off his redshirt.

USC: Despite losing Dion Bailey early to the NFL, USC still has the potential to have one of the best safety combinations the conference. Su'a Cravens might have been the best freshman safety in the country last season. Who he'll play next to remains a bit of a question, but if it's Josh Shaw -- who is proven at both safety positions -- or someone else, possibly Leon McQuay III, USC will be in great shape.

GOOD

Arizona State: One of only two returning starters for the Sun Devils on defense is safety Damarious Randall, which, by default, will rise expectations for his performance. The competition for the other starting spot still needs to run its course, but many expect Marcus Ball, who missed last season with an injury, to win the job.

Stanford: Jordan Richards is a potential All-American at strong safety, but the spot opposite him remains the biggest question mark on the Stanford defense. The vacancy, created by Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL, resulted in the coaching staff moving a pair of offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and receiver Kodi Whitfield to safety. Those two will compete with Zach Hoffpauir, who spent the spring playing baseball, and Kyle Olugbode.

WE'LL SEE

California: Much like the case at linebacker, the Bears return several players that have started games, but based on the defense's performance last year, it's hard to generate much optimism. The best thing going for the group is the return of Avery Sebastian, who was a starter before going down with an Achilles tear in the first half of the first game last year (at which point he already had 10 tackles and a pick). He'll likely line up next to Michael Lowe.

Colorado: Jered Bell is back, but the Buffs need to replace Parker Orms, who was a fixture in the starting lineup the last two seasons. Tedric Thompson, Marques Mosley and Terrel Smith have all started games in the past and they'll compete with Ryan Moeller, who is coming off his redshirt.

Oregon: Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson ran out of eligibility which makes safety one of question marks facing Oregon headed into 2014. Pencil in Erick Dargan, a fifth-year senior that has contributed throughout his career, at one spot, but the other isn't as clear. Issac Dixon is probably the favorite, but Tyree Robinson should push him.

Utah: After three years of starting at safety, Eric Rowe split his time between corner and safety in the spring and will likely wind up playing more cornerback. That move leaves the safety spot a little hazy. Tevin Carter, who started his career as a receiver at Cal, went to a junior college and sat out last season due to academic issues, is expected to have one spot. Brian Blechen, who missed last season with an injury, should have the other. Although, Blechen could play linebacker, which would likely result in Charles Henderson at safety.

Washington: The Huskies don't return either starting safety, but have a large group of talented players vying for playing time. It's probably too early to make safe predictions on who will start, but Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker, Kevin King and Thomas Vincent are all in the mix. UW also signed three safeties to its most recent recruiting class.

Washington State: If you were to name the individual player who meant more to his team's defense than any other last season, Deone Bucannon might have been that pick. Without him, the Cougars have a likely pair of starters in Isaac Dotson, a former quarterback, and Taylor Taliulu, who lost his starting job late last year.
Another day, another watch list.

Today, it's the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back. The watch list includes 39 players from 10 conferences, including four players from the Pac-12. Again, like every watch list, this is in pencil, not permanent marker. Names could change and appear. The winner will be announced at the The Home Depot College Football Awards on Thursday, Dec. 11.

Pac-12 players on the watch list:
  • S Su'a Cravens, Sophomore, USC -- 2013 statistics: 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions
  • CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Senior, Oregon -- 2013 statistics: 84 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 interceptions
  • S Jordan Richards, Senior, Stanford -- 2013 statistics: 69 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 interceptions
  • CB Marcus Peters, Junior, Washington -- 2013 statistics: 55 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 5 interceptions

A few schools landed more than one player including Michigan State, UCF, Arkansas State, Boise State and Florida State.

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:
As much talk as there has been (including here at the Pac-12 blog) about how good the offenses in the conference will be this season, Thursday's release of the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's best defensive player, and Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman, shows the Pac-12 measures up well against other conferences in defensive talent, too.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with 18 players on the Nagurski list, edging out the SEC (16), Big 12 (13), ACC (12) and Big Ten (10). For the Outland Trophy, which includes a mix of defensive and offensive players, the Pac-12 ranked second with 11 players behind the SEC (19).

Stanford's Henry Anderson, USC's Leonard Williams and Washington's Danny Shelton are on both.

Here are the Pac-12 players that were included:

Nagurski (defensive player)
Outland Trophy
Other watch lists

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