Pac-12: UCLA Bruins

Spring questions: UCLA

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process towards the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: UCLA

1. Who replaces Brett Hundley? Perhaps some folks are disappointed in how Hundley's final season went, but here's a guess that he'll be remembered as a transitional figure in Bruins football history, a three-year starter who returned the program to national relevance. Ergo, he left behind some big shoes to fill. Further, it's an interesting competition. You have redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel, a guy with a familiar last name who came off the bench last season for an injured Hundley and led the Bruins to a victory over Texas. He's a scrapper with a good football IQ, but he's not going to blow you away with his arm or athleticism. Then you have true freshman Josh Rosen, who was rated among the best prep QBs in the 2015 recruiting class. Rosen has all the physical talent in the world, but you never know how quickly he'll pick things up and become comfortable. The transition from high school to the Pac-12 isn't easy and few true freshmen start at QB, at least for an A-list program like UCLA has become. A third option is sophomore Asiantii Woulard.

2. Who replaces Eric Kendricks? UCLA has become a bit of the Linebacker U of late, so there's some nice symmetry in hiring Tom Bradley, the former longtime Penn State defensive coordinator who was a big part of that program becoming 'Linebacker U', as the new defensive coordinator. But replacing Kendricks, the Butkus Award winner, won't be simply a matter of promoting the No. 2 guy from 2014, and not just because he's the program's all-time leading tackler. Kendrick was the defense's heart-and-soul -- a term used by former coordinator Jeff Ulbrich -- and the unit's unquestioned leader along with providing a great deal of production. Kenny Young, who made six starts and recorded 35 tackles as a freshman, is the heavy favorite to Kendrick's spot on the depth chart. But it will take some other guys stepping up -- paging Myles Jack -- to replace Kendricks' leadership.

3. Will the offensive line take a step forward? The UCLA offensive line will be as experienced as any in the Pac-12 in 2015, with five guys who have started at least 19 games returning. And while the Bruins offensive line was maligned last season, it did lead the Pac-12's No. 2 rushing attack, which averaged 210 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. Pass protection was an issue, as the Bruins yielded a league-worst 41 sacks. Only 15 of those sacks came after game five, indicating an improvement. Still, if the goal is to be dominant line that leads a national title contender, the Bruins need more consistency up front. It will be interesting to see how things play out. The Bruins have junior college transfer Zach Bateman already on campus, and he might push a returning starter, particularly with oft-injured Simon Goines' status far from certain. There could be some shuffling as Adrian Klemm looks for the best five guys.
Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.

Mailbag: Beaming for Tom Bradley

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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After a brief hiatus (literally, I did nothing but sit around in my briefs and binge watch "Bates Motel"), I’m back with a mailbag -- at least this personality is. Follow me on Twitter, it will make my mom happy.

To the notes!

Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: I am a happy Bruin after finding out that Jim Mora has hired a quality coach in Tom Bradley. The defense has definitely been the weakest link in the Jim Mora era. How big of an impact, if any, does this hire have on our team? How confident do you feel that UCLA, with the addition of Coach Bradley, is going to compete for the Pac-12 title, and ultimately grab a spot in the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: It’s never a bad thing to add quality and experience, which is exactly what Bradley brings to the table. And to get that kind of a coach in late February, after a lot of the staff changes have already happened across the country, is pretty significant.

As for the defense being the “weak link” of the Mora tenure, I guess it depends on what your definition of weak is. Looking at it year by year:
  • In 2012 UCLA ranked eighth in the league in scoring defense (27.6), eighth in total defense (415.9 ypg), third in sacks (47), fourth in third-down defense (32.8 percent) and fourth in turnover margin (plus-7).
  • In 2013 the Bruins were fifth in scoring defense (23.2), fifth in total defense (385.9), sixth in sacks (32), third in third-down defense (34.9), and third in turnover margin (plus-10).
  • Last year they were seventh in scoring defense (28.1), third in total defense (398.5), tied for eighth in sacks (29), eighth in third-down defense (39.9) and eighth in turnover margin (even).

Are those “weak” numbers? Scoring defense hasn’t broken the 30-point mark (the Bruins were over 30 points in the final two years of the Rick Neuheisel era). The third-down defense was in the 40 percent range prior to Mora’s arrival. The trend here is UCLA’s defense is better under Mora than it was previously.

Whether Bradley pushes the Bruins into the upper-echelon of the conference -- i.e., the top two or three spots in each of those categories -- remains to be seen. The drop-off in sacks last year makes sense when you take guys like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh out of the equation and pair it with a new defensive coordinator.

Don’t get too caught up in the odd-front vs. even-front argument either. This is an experienced staff that can adjust on the fly either way. Besides, few teams in the Pac-12 are married anymore to just one front. There is so much disguising and diversity because of the range of offenses that “base” defenses fluctuate.

That’s the long answer. Short answer, be excited to nab a quality defensive-minded coach this late in the game.


Travis in Truckee writes: Seeing as draft day is the next real big event that pertains to college football, I'm curious who the blog thinks has the biggest potential to be an under-the-radar steal (a late rounder who winds up contributing heavily over the long haul) out of the Pac-12 this year. Cheers.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d say spring ball is pretty significant. We’ll be ramping up our coverage on all of the teams in the next few weeks. So don’t just disappear until April 30. Hang out for a while.

As for sleepers, if I could say with any certainty, they probably wouldn’t be under the radar, now would they?

So much depends on where they go, who the coach is and what’s the system. I think of Brandin Cooks, for example, being a phenomenal fit for New Orleans. Had he gone somewhere else, he might have been good, but maybe he doesn’t break 50 catches in his first season.

Granted, he was a first-round pick, so not exactly under the radar. I’m just using him as an example of right place, right system, right teammates.

Then you have someone like Cameron Fleming, drafted late in the fourth, making a contribution on a Super Bowl-winning team.

I think a guy like Sean Mannion could end up making a general manager look really, really smart. I’ve seen him projected around the third round. Chances are he goes to a team where he can sit for a year or two, learn the game without the “win now” pressure that Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston -- or maybe even Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty -- are going to be facing.

He has all of the physical tools to be a very good pocket quarterback. He understands defenses and he spent his entire career learning from a former NFL coach. While the NFL is tinkering more with zone reads and athletic quarterbacks are en vogue, it’s still a game built on solid quarterback fundamentals. Mannion has those. Given the right situation, I think he could be a very nice sleeper.


Dale in Stockton, Calif., writes: What is the latest news on DT Kenny Bigelow.

Kevin Gemmell: I reached out to my super-duper secret sources at USC … OK, I emailed Garry Paskwietz from WeAreSC … and he gave me the scoop.

Sounds like Bigelow is participating fully in the conditioning sessions. Media isn’t allowed in those, but according to Paskwietz, Bigelow left the field this morning “drenched in sweat.” So either he’s been living it up in the steam room, or he’s grinding.

There’s no official word on how much he’ll be participating in spring ball. But I imagine as we get closer to the Trojans kicking off on March 3, we’ll start to get a little more info on his status. Sounds like he’s been pretty active. Which is a good sign.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Snoop's son gets 'Coming To America' birthday party

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
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To quote King Jaffe Jaffer of Zamunda: "Time does fly fast, my son. It seems only yesterday I ordered your first diaper changed. Now you're a man ..."

For one night, Prince Akeem of Zamunda became Prince Cordell of Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg's son, UCLA WR signee Cordell Broadus, turned 18 over the weekend. What did the proud papa do?



Broadus' "Coming To America" party gave plenty of love to the 1988 Eddie Murphy classic, including a throne for the prince, plenty of rose petal scattering and, of course, a photo of the royal family.

The royal family

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

The NFL Combine kicks off on Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends

Offensive linemen:
Tight ends: SATURDAY, FEB. 21 | Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Quarterbacks:
Running backs:
Wide receivers: SUNDAY, FEB. 22 | Defensive linemen, linebackers

Defensive linemen:
Linebackers: MONDAY, FEB. 23 | Defensive backs
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
When asked to select my three favorite Pac-12 players from the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300, it became a far tougher assignment than Tuesday's five surprises or Wednesday's five intriguing recruitments.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley authored so many standout moments that it was difficult to separate any of them. Stanford maulers such as David Yankey, David DeCastro and Andrus Peat, along with super tailback Toby Gerhart, helped Stanford become one of the most physically impressive teams in the nation. Pass-catchers such as Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen and USC's duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee could each be the subject of feature-length highlight films.

But when it came down to it, turns out I'm just a sucker for two- (and sometimes three-) way football.

Adoree' Jackson

After a strong true freshman season, Jackson is already No. 38 in the Ultimate 300 and the No. 4 USC Trojan on the list. Jackson was USC's best cornerback in 2014, turned three of his 10 receptions into touchdowns and brought back two kickoffs for scores. Jackson's signature plays in 2014 came in the Trojans' bowl game against Nebraska, when he put USC's first points on the board with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown, then scored the first touchdown of the second half by turning a short pass into a 71-yard score.

Shaq Thompson

Thompson was a star on both sides of the ball for Washington in 2014 and has the Paul Hornung Award -- given to the nation's most versatile player -- to prove it. Any number of plays from this past season come up when Thompson's name is mentioned, including his 100-yard fumble return against Cal, his performance against Illinois when he scored two defensive touchdowns, and his back-to-back 100-yard rushing games against Colorado and UCLA. During his junior year, Thompson rushed for 456 yards and two touchdowns, and totaled 81 tackles, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles, as he rocketed up from No. 231 to No. 87 in the newest Ultimate 300.

Myles Jack

As a true freshman, Jack was inserted as a tailback against Arizona, and almost immediately everything changed for Jack and the Bruins. He rushed six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard scoring run against the Wildcats, as the legend of Myles Jack was born. He tallied four rushing touchdowns against Washington and was named the Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2013. In 2014, Jack took a step back from the offensive side of the ball, but still rushed for three touchdowns. He was great again on defense, racking up 88 tackles and an interception. He checks in at No. 238 on the Ultimate 300, and like the other two listed above, he's capable of adding to his highlight tape in any number of ways.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

February, 18, 2015
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Players come and go.

In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.

That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

UCLA Bruins

Biggest shoes: ILB Eric Kendricks

How exactly do you replace a Butkus Award winner? That’s the tough challenge that a brand new defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach will have to figure out. Kendricks led the Bruins and was second in the Pac-12 in total tackles (149). His 11.5 tackles for a loss was a team best, as were his three interceptions. But more importantly, he was the heartbeat of a UCLA defense that managed to pick up the slack when the Bruin offense was stalled (or completely, utterly stopped). The Bruins are going to need someone who not only contributes heavily to the statistics sheet but also contributes off the field.

Stepping in: Kenny Young

Young started six games this season at the inside linebacker spot opposite Kendricks so the move over shouldn’t be too difficult. Yes, he is young (pun intended) and he only registered 35 tackles this season, but Jim Mora spoke highly of him throughout the season and with another spring ball and offseason under his belt, Young could come into the 2015 as a much more mature and dependable playmaker for the Bruins. Seeing him as a bigger contributor when it comes to him getting to the ball carrier isn't that much of a stretch. But, can he excel as a vocal and emotional leader for UCLA as the Bruins shift over to a new regime on the defensive side of that ball? That remains to be seen.
Not all recruitments are created equal, as some see prospects commit to their dream school early and never waver, while others have more twists and turns than a Formula 1 race. Taking a look through the recently released 2015 Ultimate 300, we spotlight five of the more interesting recruitments in the Pac-12, alphabetically by prospect.

Prep for the 2015 season for a few teams is right around the corner as players begin to hit the field over the next few weeks for the start of spring practices.

That means that some players' campaigns for the 2015 player of the year starts ... now (at least in the Pac-12 Blogosphere).

Marcus Mariota -- even last spring -- was the clear-cut frontrunner for the award. This year, it's not as obvious. There are a few players that stand out, and then there's always the possibility for a dark horse candidate, someone to burst onto the scene out of nowhere.

SportsNation

Who will be the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year?

  •  
    10%
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    30%
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    8%
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    23%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,415)

So, who do you think walks away with next season's player of the year honors?

1. UCLA RB Paul Perkins

Perkins led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 rushing yards). His 121.2 rushing yards per game still put him front of Oregon State and Washington State's team rushing totals per game. His 6.3 yards per carry was a Pac-12 best, and with the UCLA offense looking a little different next season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Mora relying even more on Perkins to carry the load. Could that be enough to propel him to the top of the Pac-12?

2. USC QB Cody Kessler

Kessler will be right there with Perkins, fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and the player of the year honors. Kessler didn't get as much attention this season as some other QBs in the conference despite leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (69.7) and finishing second in passing touchdowns (39), but in 2015 he should be the talk of the town, especially considering how many weapons the Trojans will have around Kessler.

3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III

Wright was the defensive darling of the postseason award circuit in 2014 picking up the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and many others. He was the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which sets him up well for a step up -- player of the year -- in his next season. But the other players on this list are talented and, no surprises here, they're all offensive players and every talented defensive player will tell you how much more they have to do to get the same amount of love as an offensive skill player (every single lineman will say this, too). But with 14 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2014, it's a pretty safe bet to expect more of Two Star Scoob in 2015.

4. Oregon RB Royce Freeman

With another offseason under his belt, Freeman is going to appear even more prepared for the college game (which is kind of a scary thought). He tore apart Pac-12 defenses this season -- 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns versus conference opponents in 2014. Whoever starts for the Ducks at quarterback is going to have their ups and downs -- that's to be expected of a first-year starter. Expect Oregon to lean more on the run game -- meaning Freeman -- to get its offense going.

5. Other

The battle for the fourth spot in this poll was highly contested (but due to technology, only five names could be put into this poll which is why the voting is relatively limited). Utah running back Devontae Booker was right there with Freeman, especially when considering what Booker did this season and knowing that 2015 is his last hurrah. He burst onto the Pac-12 scene as a relative unknown and finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (116.3). Cal quarterback Jared Goff was under serious consideration. When looking at the strides he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it's wild to think what he might look like as a junior. Arizona running back Nick Wilson was also in the conversation. Though Freeman was the freshman running back that garnered the most attention in the Pac-12 last season, he wasn't the only one. Wilson -- another year older, another year stronger -- is going to be a force in the conference in 2015, too.
A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.


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Jerry Neuheisel looks like his dad, former UCLA quarterback and coach Rick Neuheisel, but their most notable resemblance is when they speak. The delivery, tone of voice, mannerisms, the tendency to make sport of the moment is so similar it's uncanny.

It's amusing for those who know father and son, and it's amusing for Jerry.

"My mom will call and I can answer the phone and pretend I'm my dad and she will have no idea for the first two minutes," he said. "Then I can't take myself seriously any more and I burst out laughing. I think I spent too much time in the press conference room as a child. Now I can't get rid of it."

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJerry Neuheisel had only two appearances last season, but led the Bruins in a win over Texas.
He's like his dad, now the lead football analyst for the Pac-12 Network, in other ways. When Rick Neuheisel showed up at UCLA, he was a walk-on who became best known for holding for All-American kicker John Lee. He wasn't big or athletic and didn't have a great arm. Little was expected of him. Jerry Neuheisel isn't a walk-on but he hasn't generally been considered a legitimate candidate to start behind center for the Bruins.

Yes, he came off the bench for the injured Brett Hundley to beat Texas last year, but that smacks of an isolated moment. After all, touted recruit Josh Rosen has arrived in time for spring practices, and he looks as if he stepped out of quarterback central casting. The younger Neuheisel doesn't really have a chance, right?

"I would say Neuheisels have a lot of experience being counted out of quarterback competitions," Jerry said. "In any competition, whether there's a favorite or not, it comes down to who's the best player. I know at the end of the day it won't be about who's who but who's the best guy to lead the team. And I wouldn't want it any other way."

Rick Neuheisel, of course, won the starting job for UCLA to start the 1983 season, lost it to Steve Bono after a 0-2-1 start, but replaced the injured Bono to lead the Bruins to a win over USC and a Rose Bowl triumph over then-No. 4 Illinois, with Neuheisel winning game MVP.

So dismissing Jerry might be premature. Sure, he's the underdog, but he showed moxie against Texas in difficult circumstances, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 33-yard game-winner on a double move from receiver Jordan Payton. While that's a small bit of serious work with which to evaluate Neuheisel, it resonated with larger meaning to the rising junior quarterback.

"It just showed that I could do it," Neuheisel said. "You dream about that moment. You grow up in a college coach's house and I dreamed about wearing UCLA's colors and being a college quarterback and winning a game like that. I can remember being in my back yard making that throw, only it was usually a Hail Mary and not a pump fake. It was one of those moments when your dream becomes your reality and then you know you can do it."

The game film, which, yes, he's watched a few times wasn't all rainbows and rose petals, though. Neuheisel saw himself going through his progressions too fast. He was too focused on what he could ascertain from his pre-snap reads. A couple of times, he almost tossed interceptions when he made assumptions about coverages that weren't correct.

When Neuheisel talks about the game, he sounds like a coach. He rolls through his analysis, little of it self-congratulatory, ticking off things he learned from the tape and what he most needs to improve. It's no surprise that he wants to follow in his dad's footsteps and coach college football. The nuances of the sport clearly intrigue him.

"I'm sure it gets old for my brothers and my mom, but we sit around every family dinner going over different things that have happened," Neuheisel said of the father-son football banter. "We talk about strategy possibly more than any other father-son could talk about it. We've watched that Texas game at least 15 different times. We have a very special connection around the game of football."

Not surprisingly, he has a theory about the Bruins 2014 season, which started with talk of a dark horse run to the College Football Playoff, but the Bruins ended up losing the South Division title on the last weekend of the season after being upset by Stanford.

"I think last year we let the hype get to us," he said. "It had been a while since UCLA was talked about like that, being in the top-10, being in the national championship hunt. I think we let it get to us a little bit. But I think that will be valuable to us this year. We want to make sure we don't end up one game short of the Pac-12 championship next year."

Neuheisel seems pretty confident he can be a part of that quest in 2015. To him, the equation is pretty straight-forward: Prepare, compete and then see what the coaches decide.

"The quarterback competition will take care of itself," he said.
Roquan SmithTom Hauck for Student SportsElite players like Roquan Smith may opt to sign financial aid agreements instead of letters of intent.
Roquan Smith has made a decision, and he's sticking with it.

Or so he says.

Smith, a heralded linebacker prospect who announced his plans to attend UCLA as part of the "ESPNU National Signing Day Special" last week, announced his new choice to play at Georgia on Friday.

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Top performances: Brett Hundley

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
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We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Hundley bedevils Arizona State

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley riddled Arizona State for 427 yards and five touchdowns.
Who and against whom: In a critical early season matchup with defending Pac-12 South Division champions Arizona State, Hundley stepped up in a big way in a 62-27 victory.

The numbers: Hundley accounted for five touchdowns, throwing for four and running for another. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 355 yards and rushed for 72 yards on eight carries.

A closer look: This was a matchup of unbeaten, ranked teams, yet both had plenty of early season questions. UCLA, in particular, had arrived at 3-0 in unimpressive fashion. But Hundley dominated the Sun Devils with big plays, hurling not one but two 80-yard touchdown passes, one to Eldridge Massington and another to Jordan Payton. Those TDs made him the first UCLA player to complete two passes of at least 80 yards in one game. Hundley’s 427 yards of total offense were the fifth most in school history and extended his own school record to 13 games with 300 yards of total offense. He also became the first UCLA player to have three career games with 400 yards total offense, moving past Cade McNown. While neither team would go on to win the South Division, in this game Hundley stepped up for the Bruins and made a national statement.

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