Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

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 leader in interceptions.

We're breaking it down by division. Yesterday, we handled North and South offenses. Now, we move to the other side of the ball. As you'll read below, the Pac-12 North must replace a tremendous amount of defensive production in 2015.

1. Oregon

LB Joe Walker, DL DeForest Buckner, CB Chris Seisay

The skinny: The Ducks did lose defensive firepower, but they've also retained some of their big guns. Buckner is a future NFL talent who led the team with 13 tackles for loss (four sacks) last year, while Walker's 49 solo tackles were the most from the linebacking corps. The biggest production vacuum comes in the secondary, where Erick Dargan's conference-best seven interceptions have vanished. Seisay filled in for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu late, so he has big shoes to fill.

2. Stanford

LB Blake Martinez, LB Peter Kalambayi, CB Ronnie Harris

The skinny: The Pac-12's best defense for three years running faces a daunting reloading effort. Cardinal defensive coordinator Lance Anderson remains bullish about much of his roster's talent, though. Martinez returns 101 tackles, the most from the 2014 team, while Kalambayi's speed rush netted 6.5 sacks last season. The secondary saw a heavy load of departures -- Harris is now the elder statesman in the midst of youngsters. The hinge point of Stanford defensive success, though, will likely be the performance of its new-look defensive line.

3. Cal

LB Michael Barton, LB Devante Downs, S Griffin Piatt

The skinny: The Bears return their leading tackler in Barton, who finished with 80 stops last season. Barton also paced the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Downs came off the bench to top the roster with three sacks, but Cal needs to pressure the quarterback much more effectively to succeed defensively in 2015 -- as a team, they accumulated only 16 total sacks. There's an influx of fresh talent coming into the secondary (the Bears need it to stay healthy this time around), but Piatt grabbed three interceptions in just six games before going down with a season-ending injury.

4. Washington

LB Travis Feeney, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones

The skinny: There's a lot of individual star power to replace in Seattle. Hau'oli Kikaha's boatload of sacks are gone, as are John Timu's tackles and Danny Shelton's mind-boggling numbers from the nose tackle slot. Feeney is the most experienced returning starter. He recorded 4.5 tackles for loss last year for a Washington team that has lost a staggering 60.5 tackles for loss and 44 sacks to graduation. Baker brings back 80 stops -- third most on last year's team -- while Sidney Jones should benefit from having a trial-by-fire freshman year under his belt.

5. Washington State

LB Kache Palacio, LB Jeremiah Allison, CB Charleston White

The skinny: Xavier Cooper has declared for the NFL draft, so Palacio is the Cougars' most productive returner. He led the team with 6.5 sacks last season. Allison's 71 stops in 2014 make him the top returning tackler. Washington State defensive backs finished with only one interception throughout all of last season -- yes, you read that right. It belonged to White, so he earns the mention here, although there are still plenty of questions left to answer.

6. Oregon State

DE Lavonte Barnett, CB Larry Scott, S Justin Strong

The skinny: The Beavers must replace nine defensive starters. Their top six tacklers are all gone, and not a single one of the team's 11 interceptions in 2014 is returning. So finding a strong three-headed nucleus is a tough task at this point. Barnett led the team with 4.5 sacks last year, so there's that. Scott and Strong both racked up tackles in the secondary, but there's not much else to write home about when it comes to proven talent in Corvallis.

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. First up: the offensive three-headed monsters from the North. Both Bay Area schools feature complete returning trios (or more) on this side of the ball, so they earn the top nods. Oregon's reputable track record of reloading offensively comes next. Beyond that, question marks rule the Pacific Northwest.

1. Cal

QB Jared Goff, RB Daniel Lasco, WR Kenny Lawler/Stephen Anderson/Bryce Treggs

The skinny: Yes, that's more of a five-headed monster than a three-headed one. But Cal's returning talent at all offensive skill positions -- and a particularly deep stockpile of it at receiver -- gives the Bears tantalizing punch. Cal already upped its average output from 23 to 38.3 points per game in 2014, so Goff is entering his third season on a promising trajectory. Lasco (5.3 yards per carry) gives him a solid rushing threat, while Trevor Davis can help fill Chris Harper's void alongside Lawler, Anderson, and Treggs -- all of whom finished with around 50 catches last year.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB Remound Wright/Christian McCaffrey, WR Devon Cajuste

The skinny: Four players here, so my three-headed monster math is still off. But it's important to mention both Wright (nine touchdowns in 2014's final three games) and McCaffrey here, as they may roughly split duties between the red zone and the open field with Barry Sanders. McCaffrey, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per touch in 2014, looks to be the explosive type of player who can thrust Stanford's offense into a new gear. Hogan is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation, and Cajuste -- who averaged more than 15 yards per catch for the second straight year -- will be just one of his tall targets. This is a well-equipped nucleus.

3. Oregon

QB ?, RB Royce Freeman, WR Byron Marshall/Devon Allen

The skinny: The Ducks return a stockpile of offensive skill position talent. They just aren't set on a quarterback to replace Marcus Mariota yet. Regardless of Mark Helfrich's pick, is there anyone who truly expects that Oregon won't be productive next year? The Ducks have developed a reputable track record of reloading to light up the scoreboard. Match dynamic talent with that proven system, and there are bound to be fireworks at Autzen Stadium. The post-Mariota push starts with Freeman (1,365 yards, 19 touchdowns as a true freshman) and the versatile Marshall (over 1,000 receiving yards last year in addition to his rushing totals). Allen and Darren Carrington bring more speed to the outside, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of scorers here; Oregon just needs a point guard to glue it all together.

4. Washington State

QB Luke Falk, RB Jamal Morrow, WR River Cracraft

The skinny: Since running backs in Mike Leach's Air Raid system don't see much work, the focus in Pullman is on the passing components. Falk played in five games last season after Connor Halliday went down, and he'll be counted on to spark an offense that's losing Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, its top two 2014 receivers. The most productive returner is River Cracraft, who caught 66 passes for 771 yards last year -- but never more than four receptions in a game when Falk was his quarterback. There's work to do in the Palouse.

5. Washington

QB ?, RB Dwayne Washington, WR Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: The quarterback situation certainly wasn't great in 2014. Now that Cyler Miles is on a leave of absence, it's even murkier in Seattle. The player who fills that first question mark -- be it K.J. Carta-Samuels, Jake Browning, or Jeff Lindquist -- will be tasked with sparking an offense that's been rather stale lately. Dwayne Washington came on strong to close the regular season, posting three straight 100-yard efforts. Mickens also developed some consistency as time passed, but the Huskies still need more bite beyond those two weapons.

6. Oregon State

QB ?, RB Storm Woods, WR Victor Bolden

The skinny: It's critical that the Beavers effectively fill the question mark that Sean Mannion left behind. Luke Del Rio, Nick Mitchell, and Seth Collins are the three candidates for the quarterback job. The Beavers aren't devoid of talent elsewhere: Woods will be the featured back as a senior, while Bolden thrived to the tune of 72 catches in Mannion's senior season. Oregon State's new signal caller will be tasked with making the receiver's speed shine again, and the hope in Corvallis is that Gary Andersen's fresh uptempo approach will infuse the proceedings with new vigor.

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:

Pac-12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19

Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.

video What California quarterbacks were to Pac-12 recruiting in 2015, wide receivers in the state will be to the conference in 2016.

We continue our position previews but with the defense, it's a little bit harder to completely categorize each team uniformly so we're going with three groups -- defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

Yesterday we examined the South's status in the secondary. Today, we're moving on to the North.

Spring position breakdown: Pac-12 North defensive backs, Part I

Cal: At safety, the Bears lost Michael Lowe (graduation) and Avery Sebastian (transfer) and the two main returning options -- Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt are both spending this spring rehabbing. Not exactly the best situation for a team that desperately needs to build depth in its secondary. But, if there's a silver lining to all of this, it's this: having that many sidelined players certainly opens up a ton of reps at safety for converted quarterback Luke Rubenzer and Cameron Walker. Walker is back at safety after having started eight games at strong safety as a freshman before moving to cornerback last season. Both he and Rubenzer will need to get acclimated/re-acclimated and now, there are plenty of reps to do just that. But, through practices so far, JUCO transfer Derron Brown is looking like he'll be able to make a smooth transition to the FBS level and possibly overtake any of the guys we've already named.

At cornerback the Bears are in much better shape. Cedric Dozier and Darius White Jr. both return, as do Darius Allensworth, Caleb Coleman and A.J. Greathouse. So even with Walker moving back over to safety, they're still in pretty good shape at CB. Though the secondary as a whole will feature a few new faces in 2015, it looks like they're making the right steps to move forward, too. After all, after giving up an FBS-worst 4,406 passing yards (and that's without a bowl game) it'd be hard to take a step backwards.

Oregon: The Ducks secondary will be going through some major transition this spring. It loses cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis, as well as safety Erick Dargan, who led the Pac-12 in interceptions a season ago. But safety Tyree Robinson got some good experience there last season (finished with 36 tackles) and will work to solidify himself as the starter for the fall alongside the only returning starter in he secondary, safety Reggie Daniels. A season ago, Daniels finished as the team's third-leading tackler and though there are certainly strides to be made on the field for him, a lot of this spring will be about him filling a leadership void in the secondary. Chris Seisay stepped in for the injured Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason and because of that experience, defensive coordinator Don Pellum considers Seisay to be battle tested. At the corner spot opposite Seisay there will be some interesting competition between Arrion Springs, Mattrell McGraw and early enrollee Ugo Amadi.

Oregon State: First, the good news: One of the two cornerback starters from a season ago is in the Oregon State secondary. Bad news: The Beavers are going through a complete defensive coaching change and need to find players who can not only start, but also several others who can rotate in to Kalani Sitake's defense. Returning starter Larry Scott has the lead at one corner, but nothing is in sharpie yet so expect him to be pushed by the other top three cornerbacks on the Beavers' spring roster -- Dashon Hunt, Dwayne Williams and Charles Okonkwo -- as OSU looks for the top two guys. At safety, it'll be 100-percent turnover and there are only four scholarship safeties on the roster this spring -- Justin Strong, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Brandon Arnold and Adam Soesman. Strong and Noland-Lewis are the obvious frontrunners due to the fact that they've actually been on the field, but with minutes dangling in front of some younger players, don't discount how much someone can step up. But, this is a position to watch this spring as quarterback Tanner Sanders could join the competition. He's not in the running for the QB job so it'd make sense for him to look at a position shift and safety would make sense considering he was actually recruited as a safety by some schools. Will he play here for the Beavers? Maybe.

Duck Tales: Oregon's pro day

March, 13, 2015
Mar 13
EUGENE, Ore. -- On Thursday, Oregon hosted its pro day, which, if you've never been to one (like me), just think of middle school fitness testing with about 100 people judging you while you do it, and then another 30-40 people writing about it.

Writers were kind of roped off to one side of Oregon's indoor practice facility, and since most of us a) didn't bring our binoculars and b) don't know NFL scouts by their faces, it's hard to say exactly who was in the building. But, we do know all 32 teams were there -- thanks to their team-issued wind breaks (NFL scouts, keeping the wind-breaker jacket business in business since...) -- including one head coach (Tennessee Titans), and five GM's. And know this, there was a good presence from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 1 overall pick), a large contingent from the Titans (No. 2 pick), and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly wasn't there.

Here are some observations from Eugene...

QB Marcus Mariota

Like most of the past three years in Eugene, Mariota was the headliner of this day. He didn't show up right away, which left us writers wondering if he would be showing up at all, or whether he would just be doing individual workouts with teams.


After a good performance at the NFL combine, he certainly didn't need to work out for everyone, and even though he did end up throwing, many of us wondered how much that even mattered. He didn't look perfect (he said it was just an "OK" performance) and though only one pass was a bad miss, he overthrew and underthrew a few others. But, does 67 passes (he completed 60, unofficially) like that really matter? The teams that liked him before that performance still like him after that performance, and if a team brings him in for an individual workout, there really isn't going to be anyone in the room saying, "Well, you know when he went back to Eugene for pro day..."

So, it's hard to say whether any stock should really be placed into that or not. It was interesting to see Mariota under center with Hroniss Grasu, then calling a huddle together and breaking said huddle.


DL Arik Armstead

Armstead, looking a bit more trim than the last time he was in Eugene, didn't participate in any of the testing. However, he was run through a bunch of bag drills, run by a rep from the Chargers. Several scouts (and a few teammates -- most notably DeForest Buckner on crutches) looked on. Armstead's main critique was that he needed to cut his arms through faster and get his knees higher -- nothing too earth-shattering to hear for a defensive lineman.


OL Jake Fisher

It sounds like Jake Fisher had a great day at the event. Though, it was hard to tell from the reporters' row since he didn't test in anything (no need to after the numbers he posted at the combine). He did go through drills/stretches for the offensive linemen. This was on the opposite side of the field and had a gaggle of scouts, so unlike Amstead's workout, which happened directly in front of us, it was nearly impossible to tell what kind of feedback Fisher was getting.

But, according to it was Fisher who possibly boosted his stock the most of any player at the event.

S Erick Dargan

Coming into pro day, it seemed as though Dargan had the most to gain from the experience. He didn't get invited to the NFL combine, so unlike the other players on this list, he didn't have a national stage like this at any other time. He didn't necessarily wow anyone with his stats though -- 4.74 in the 40-yard dash, 29' in the vertical jump, 9-5 in the broad jump, and 17 bench-press reps. He participated in a few other events (see video below), but those numbers weren't passed along.

But how would those numbers have stacked up against other safeties at the combine?

For the 40, vertical jump and broad jump, he would've been in the lower groups of the safeties at the combine who actually did participate in those drills. But, he showed off his strength. His 17 bench-press reps would've tied him for sixth at the combine with Louisville's Gerod Holliman.

Erick Dargan. 40.

A video posted by mollyablue (@mollyablue) on


OL Hroniss Grasu

Grasu wasn't 100 percent, but he still ran the 40 (5.06).

In the 20-yard shuttle he ran a 4.71, and in the three-cone drill he clocked a 7.84.

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

Heading up North to take a look at the wide receivers there.

Cal: Developing depth this spring at the wide receiver spot is key for the Bears’ success next fall. And with quarterback Jared Goff entering his third year as a starter, the expectations for this unit will be very high. Cal returns its top five receivers from the 2014 season in Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis. The unit looks to be doing some major strength and conditioning work in the offseason (example: Davis’ ridiculous vertical). The inside receivers will pick up some depth from former running backs Jeffrey Coprich and Patrick Laird, who’ve made the move over. But this should be an interesting spring considering most of the turnover is in the coaching staff, not the players. Former offensive graduate assistant Jacob Peeler was promoted to the inside receivers coach and Pierre Ingram, who was in charge of the run game and recruiting, will now be in charge of the passing game, wide receivers and recruiting.

Oregon: Though there’s nothing official out yet, it’s safe to bet that Darren Carrington will not be participating in spring ball for the Ducks. But what about Devon Allen? Will he be fully recovered at any point this spring? Will Oregon be down one or two receivers? But outside of those two players, it should be fun to see how this all shakes out. Without all the members of the QB competition on campus until the summer, this spring could essentially be a season spent building chemistry with a future backup (for those who believe it will be QB Vernon Adams starting next fall). Regardless, it’s important for all of these guys to get touches this spring. Byron Marshall is going to be a veteran leader for the group, as will Bralon Addison. Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson and Jalen Brown are guys looking to take a step up this spring.

Oregon State: The Beavers have a young but promising wide receiver group that needs to build chemistry with the quarterbacks this spring. Victor Bolden, who was the heir apparent to Brandin Cooks last season, scored just two touchdowns on 72 receptions in 2014. The Beavers will need him to step up this spring along with Jordan Villamin, who finished last season with six touchdowns on just 35 catches, and Hunter Jarmon, who tallied one touchdown on 20 catches in 2014. With the Beavers wanting to move faster under Gary Andersen, substitutions are going to be necessary, so players like Richard Mullaney, Rahmel Dockery, Xavier Hawkins and Malik Gilmore need to have big springs for receivers coach Brent Brennan. Bonus: this is the only OSU position group that didn’t go through a position coach change as Andersen decided to retain Brennan. Is that decision going to pay off for Andersen? He needs his receivers to have big springs so they can have bigger falls.

Stanford: Reports are positive for the Cardinal so far out of spring camp for an offense that struggled to find consistency last season. Devon Cajuste will be the prime candidate for Kevin Hogan’s go-to weapon. In 2014, Cajuste scored a team-high six receiving touchdowns on just 34 receptions. More impressively was the reliability with which he did that -- Cajuste was targeted just 56 times last season (expect that number to go up in 2015), and he caught 34 of those balls. That isn’t top of the Pac-12 good, but it’s still pretty good. Without Ty Montgomery, expect the balls to be distributed a bit more evenly. The Cardinal have a speed demon in Michael Rector and hope that this could be the year (starting now) that Francis Owusu really shines.

Washington: Chris Petersen will have his three bowl game starters returning in Jaydon Mickens, Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius, so that’s certainly good news as all three of those players will have the upper hand in building chemistry with Cyler Miles this offseason. Past this, the Huskies will look to build some serious depth on the offensive side of the ball as they will need to be more explosive in 2015 considering the defense probably won’t be able to be stout next year. A few names to remember: Drew Before, John Gardner and Marvin Hall.

Washington State: The Cougars are going to have to replace the No. 1 and No. 7 receiver out of the Pac-12 this past year. For most coaches, that would sound horrifying. For Mike Leach, it’s just another day. The Cougs have River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Tyler Baker, Calvin Green, Robert Lewis and Gabe Marks (redshirted 2014 but played in 2012-13), who are all returners and will get a ton of reps this summer. One of the biggest names to watch will be Texas A&M transfer Sebastian LaRue, who had to sit out last year but is good to go this spring. And all of these guys had better make moves because while there are plenty of passes to go around, each guy wants to be featured, and the Cougars have 6-foot-6 juco transfer Chris Dimry coming in this summer who’s certain to make moves. Y’all know how Leach loves that fade.
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. We gave a look to the South this a.m. and now we're moving up North.

California: Daniel Lasco is the undisputed top dog, a spring after being the Bears' MVP as well as the conference's fifth leading rusher. But that's really not the interesting storyline out of Berkeley. It gets interesting after Lasco, where early enrollee Lonny Powell -- a four-star RB and the Bears' second-highest ranked signee in the 2015 class -- has gotten compliments from Sonny Dykes already this spring. Could he make moves past Tre Watson and Vic Enwere into the second spot at RB? Khalfani Muhammad won't really factor into the spring since he's making moves on the track. Other notables notes from this group: Jeffrey Coprich and Patrick Laird both moved from running back to inside receiver giving Cal more depth there.

Oregon: There might not be a team in the nation that's deeper at running back than the Ducks right now. Before the postseason, it probably would've been 100-percent safe to say that Royce Freeman had the job on lock. And maybe that's still the case, but can anyone really count out Thomas Tyner, especially after that two-touchdown, 124-yards game against Florida State? Freeman still has the lead, but did the postseason performances diminish that at all? This spring could answer some of those questions. Then, you've got stud early enrollee Taj Griffin to add to the mix. He might not be 100 percent this spring due to a knee injury he sustained last fall, but expect him to be a factor in whatever ways he can -- the weight room, in meetings. And lest we forget about Byron Marshall who seems to be happy with his move to slot, but it would be short sighted to not give him a few carries to keep defenses honest, so he should take some reps there this spring too. Phew. And that's just the battle for the top few spots.

Oregon State: All eyes will be on Gary Andersen as he transitions the Beavers from a Mike Riley offense to one which he describes as "wide open." He said Oregon State will have success with running the ball. We've heard that before, but the Pac-12 Blog seems to believe it more when a guy who has featured players like Melvin Gordon and Robert Turbin says it. The Beavers' top returner is Storm Woods, who will need to prove himself to this new staff this spring. He showed flashes last year -- 100-yard games against Arizona State and Oregon late in the season -- but this spring he'll need to show that he can also be consistent. Pushing him will be Chris Brown and Damien Haskins, who both saw an increase in carries in the middle and toward the end of the season due to injuries to others.

Stanford: In February, reports circled about Stanford running backs coach Lance Taylor leaving for the wide receivers job at Georgia. So he might be the most important player in the game returning for the Stanford running backs this spring. Remound Wright will miss the first session of the spring season due to disciplinary issues. That leaves just two scholarship players to battle it out from the get-go for Taylor -- Barry Sanders and Christian McCaffrey. David Shaw also told reporters in late February that Patrick Skov and Daniel Marx will carry the ball some, too.

Washington: Both running backs who carried the ball 100-plus times for the Huskies return this spring, so expect Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman to be going after it for that top spot. Quarterback Cyler Miles carried the ball 118 times so he'll factor into the run game, as well. Fighting for carries behind that lead RB duo will be Deontae Cooper -- who has the upper hand on everyone else after 63 carries in 2014 -- as well as Jomon Dotson or Myles Gaskin, who will most likely find themselves in fourth-string or scout team spots come fall, unless they really surprise some folks. But the big question this spring is: Will there be a featured back coming out of camp or will it remain a committee approach?

Washington State: During Mike Leach's tenure the Cougs have averaged 40.8 rushing yards per game, which is less than many Pac-12 teams average in a quarter. That 12th-place finish in rushing yards in the league each season under Leach means there are very limited rushing yards to fight for on this team. But, which players will have the honor of doing that scrapping this spring? Expect it to be a two-man battle between Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks.
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?

Pac-12 morning links

March, 10, 2015
Mar 10
I can sing, but I'm also good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing, which is a little different.
The Pac-12 Blog offers 10 predictions for this spring season.

1. D.J. Foster's move to slot receiver will prove to be an excellent idea.

Foster was brilliantly versatile last season for Arizona State, tacking 62 catches and nearly 700 receiving yards on top of his 1,100-yard rushing campaign. Simply put, he's a premier athlete, and that gives coach Todd Graham a multitude of options on offense. Foster's move to the slot, then, only makes logical sense given the circumstances in Tempe: Jaelen Strong is gone from the outside, and Demario Richard is ready to pick up Foster's slack in the backfield. This shift doesn't handcuff ASU, either -- Foster can continue being his versatile self in 2015 and contribute to the ground attack. In fact, the slot may actually further highlight his adaptability.

2. At least 27 instances of "Berco-ing" will happen around the state of Arizona as QB Mike Bercovici officially takes the reins.

There have already been a few identified -- official or unofficial -- Berco-ing activities that have happened so far this offseason (see below). But now, with Bercovici officially taking the reins of this team and declaring its goal a national title, there will be a few fans around the state and country who find themselves celebrating in a much different way. Hint: This is much more difficult without a helmet -- don't break your nose.

3. Stanford coach David Shaw will be asked to talk about how no one is talking about his team, leaving him with a "that's so meta" reaction.

For the first time in several years, no one is really talking about the Cardinal going into spring football. The usual powerhouse had a slow start to last season, which left its final stretch -- impressive as it might have been -- relatively unnoticed, which in turn left its team this offseason relatively unnoticed. Enter: the most meta interview in which Shaw is asked to talk about talking, or rather, talk about how no one is talking about his team.


Q: David, can you discuss how different it is for you to be at this point in the season with little to no one really talking about your team?

A: [Hint: It doesn't matter what he says here because he spurns the question by actually talking about his team.]

4. Oregon State RB Storm Woods will take a huge leap forward as Gary Andersen actually makes running an emphasis in Corvallis.

Andersen has made it very clear he intends to run the ball. Mike Riley used to say this a lot, but given Andersen's ability to turn out some top-notch running backs, we're getting the idea he's very, very serious about it. The front-runner right now is Storm Woods, who showed flashes last season, specifically against Arizona State and Oregon. In preparation for said leap, the Pac-12 Blog is now taking advanced nicknames for Storm Woods in Cor-Vegas. Tweet them to @ESPN_Pac12blog.

5. Mike Leach gon' Mike Leach at some point and say something non-football related that makes headlines.

Now's a good time to review just a smidgen of what makes Washington State's Mike Leach a fascinating treasure. Many details can be found in this piece, which chronicles his long walks through the countryside to work, among other nuggets. But Leach's sound bites may be the most entertaining gifts of all. Remember that not too long ago, he predicted human extinction. What will be next? Better question: Can anything top that? We'll just have to wait and see.

6. Quarterbacks will be the most talked about subject in Eugene, Oregon, even though the competition won't really begin until this summer.

Yes, there'll be intense focus on Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and the others taking snaps this spring in an effort to become Marcus Mariota's successor. But while that group is doing its thing on Oregon's practice field, the potential front-runner for the job will be working out at Eastern Washington's rec center, of all places. Transfer Vernon Adams won't be around for spring ball, but his arrival in Eugene later this summer will add true sizzle to the battle.

7. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will both settle in primary running back roles at USC.

Javorius Allen is gone, so the Trojans have room opening up in the backfield. Davis is USC's leading returning rusher and Madden is returning following a turf toe injury that derailed his entire 2014 campaign. Built in the 225-pound power back mold, Madden brings a significantly different style to the table than the 195-pound Davis, and this will allow the Trojans to work on developing a complementary mix-and-match between the two players.

8. Chris Petersen will practice his fall avoidance of answering Boise State questions by avoiding answering Boise State questions.

Washington at Boise State is one of the most anticipated season openers for 2015. By nature, most college football coaches don't talk about the ensuing regular season too much during the spring because they don't want it to be too much of a distraction or show any kind of non-spring ball focus. That said, the matchup with the Broncos will probably be brought up a few times. This will give Petersen ample opportunity to practice whatever tactic he intends to apply next fall when folks ask him similar questions but expect a much better answer.

9. Cal will continue to show significant strides offensively.

During their miserable 1-11 campaign two seasons ago, the Bears planted some seeds offensively. Coach Sonny Dykes debuted Jared Goff as a true freshman, and the new coach introduced his aggressive aerial attack. There were growing pains aplenty, but 2014 saw marked improvement for the Bears. They developed an effective rushing attack, and Goff morphed into an upper-tier conference quarterback (5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). This 2015 spring will see a continuation of Cal's offensive blossoming.

10. There will be a spring football rivalry between UCLA and USC.

Bruins, watch your bear. Trojans, watch out for Tommy Trojan.

OK, so maybe this is a more far-fetched prediction, but we can dream. Spring football needs some excitement.
Last season, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich held himself to a personal mantra: Year 2 would be an improvement from Year 1.

“If you do something a second time,” he said in August, “you should be better, you should be more efficient, and there’s no exception with me.”

Now defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a similar task.

On the one hand, when looking at a defense that was one of the most inconsistent groups in the conference, it doesn’t seem as though it would be too hard to take a step forward, especially because most of the players will be in their second year in the program.

[+] EnlargeDon Pellum
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon loses quite a bit from its defense, but coordinator Don Pellum sees ways in which his group will be improved and more efficient.
On the other hand, when looking at the players that Pellum loses -- his top two tacklers, an All-American cornerback, his most athletic pass-rusher -- it’s hard to know how the Ducks will be able to take a step forward when they are replacing so many players.

But for Pellum, the answer is simple.

“We have a bunch of weapons,” he said. “This year we won’t carry as many, but we’ll be more specific. So if all of a sudden we’re playing a certain team and they’re running a certain play, last year we might’ve had two or three or four different things we could do. [This year] we’re going to dial it down to one or two and be really, really good at them.”

The process of becoming really, really good at those plans begins at the end of the month, when Oregon begins spring practice. As it gets closer, Pellum is getting more excited.

For him, he sees a lot of veterans in his meeting room, even though most of the public might not.

“I’m excited about where we are,” Pellum said. “We lost some terrific players, but I think overall in terms of depth and experience, we’re far ahead of where we were a year ago right now.”

He said in his first year he hadn’t realized how few senior starters were on the defensive side of the ball until he walked into a meeting as the defensive coordinator and began to actually count: zero on the line, two in the linebackers group (Tony Washington, Derrick Malone) and just one proven, battle-tested senior defensive back (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu).

In Year 2, Pellum rattles off a group of players at each position group that he views as veteran because they know his system and how he works.

The Ducks return defensive lineman Alex Balducci and a few experienced linebackers in Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Tyson Coleman. In the secondary, cornerback Chris Seisay got some playing time near the end of the season after Ekpre-Olomu’s injury and safety Reggie Daniels finished third on the team in tackles. So there’s certainly talent there, but the depth remains to be seen.

But with those players and a coach willing to scale back to better fit his team, could Oregon take a big step forward in 2015?


“[Last year] we had a big toolbox,” Pellum said. “Our toolbox will be a little smaller this year. And now, after going through the season, we know how the opposition is going to really attack or try to counter, so now it’s going to be more specific to what these defenses are for.”

Pellum will attack Year 2 with the same expectation his head coach had last year: If you do something a second time, you should be better.

“I feel real comfortable about what this group can do,” Pellum said. “I think we can carry a little less, but I think we can be a lot more efficient.”