Pac-12: USC Trojans

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.
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: USC

February, 19, 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.

USC Trojans

Biggest shoes: DT Leonard Williams

USC must replace three first-team All-Pac-12 performers, but the two departures on offense -- RB Javorius Allen and WR Nelson Agholor -- won't provoke many headaches. The Trojans are typically deep at the skill positions, and that will be the case in 2015, at least if young players continue to develop and/or live up to their star-billing. As for Williams, you can't easily replace a likely top-five NFL draft pick with one guy, particularly at a premium D-line spot. It's not completely about numbers either. Williams ranked second on the Trojans with 80 tackles, with 9.5 tackles for a loss and a co-team-high seven sacks. He also collected an interception and forced three fumbles. Those are good but not eye-popping stats. The larger issue with Williams was every offensive coordinator started preparation for the Trojans with, "What the heck are we going to do with that disruptive beast?" USC's defense was surprisingly inconsistent last year, and you could have wondered where it might have been without Williams. That reasonably becomes a key question for the Trojans, whom many are touting as a College Football Playoff contender, heading into a season when the speculation will be realized.

Stepping in: Claude Pelon, Delvon Simmons, Greg Townsend and a freshman

The most predictable starting D-line for USC would have Simmons and Pelon manning the DT/DE spots and Antwaun Woods or Kenny Bigelow at NT. Simmons was more productive last year with 44 total tackles, while Pelon was more of a playmaker with six tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Townsend, Malik Dorton, if he's not moved to an outside LB spot, and an incoming player -- Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel, Noah Jefferson, Christian Rector or Kevin Scott -- would add depth. It's also possible that LB Jabari Ruffin could get at look at DE. Don't be surprised if more than one or two true freshmen see action. While coaches always play for the present, the USC D-line will be senior-heavy next fall and the next generation needs to be ready for 2016. None of these potential combinations will equal one Williams, but the hope is increased depth will make for a more potent front in its totality.
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.

Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
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The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.


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On signing day in 2014, USC coaches set their sights on closing out their class by going four-for-four with targets still on the board. Cornerback Lamont Simmons was the first shot fired by the Trojans, followed by three cannon blasts in the form of Damien Mama, Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith.

The haul signaled a massive victory for head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was only two months into his tenure as USC head coach. He beat out crosstown rival UCLA, as well as a number of national programs, for all three Southern California recruits.

One year later, Sarkisian topped his 2014 performance, as he and the USC coaches closed what could be a program-altering 2015 recruiting class by going six-for-six with its final targets. Five of them were ESPN 300 prospects, including the No. 4 overall recruit, as well as a local high three-star.


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How resilient was your defense in 2014?

Last Thursday, we looked at the teams in the Pac-12 and how well they produced points after turnovers. This was the South Division, and here was the North. Now, we look at the flip side.

It can be frustrating when, after a big defensive stand, the offense coughs it up and gives the ball right back. Time for the defense to take the field again, be it inside their own red zone, the 50 or the opponent’s 1-yard line. (Or if you’re Shaq Thompson, just run it back 100 yards.)

Just like offensive points off of turnovers, there are exceptions. Sometimes a team gets a turnover at the end of the half or a game, so the defense doesn’t have to make a stand. So these numbers aren’t completely cut-and-dried. But rather it’s a measuring stick.

We’ll start with South and look at the North later today. If you’re curious how your team did in 2013, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.

Arizona

Turnovers committed: 18
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-18 (55 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5

Arizona State

Turnovers committed: 13
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-13 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 62
Games without committing at least one turnover: 6
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

Colorado

Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 104
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

UCLA

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 13-16 (81 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 82
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers committed: 12
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-12 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 42
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 4

Utah

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-16 (56 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 55
Games without committing at least one turnover: 4
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

Teams trending up post-signing day 

February, 9, 2015
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Who needs the NFL, Los Angeles? With the way USC and UCLA are going, the city is just fine when it comes to football.

The Trojans and Bruins lead our look at programs trending up following the end of the season, the coaching carousel and signing day.


1. USC
The Trojans just signed their first full recruiting class since 2011, when they were hit by NCAA penalties. Finishing behind only Alabama and Florida State in ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings, it wasn’t just a matter of quantity for USC. Among the 16 ESPN 300 prospects signed, it added the country’s No. 1 cornerback, running back and inside linebacker. The Trojans are stockpiling at this point.

Beyond recruiting, quarterback Cody Kessler -- the country’s most underrated passer -- is back. So are sophomore stars-in-the-making cornerback Adoree' Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith.

Pac-12 coaches always believed the Trojans had as much talent as anyone in the country, not just the league. With the numbers bouncing back, now they have the depth to counter any rash of injuries.

Given all that, and the Holiday Bowl win against Nebraska, this is why a number of people -- myself, included -- see USC as a playoff-type team in 2015. The talent is there. Can Steve Sarkisian coach the Trojans to that level?


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2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
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Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.


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Pac-12 morning links

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
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You're gonna need a bigger boat.

Happy Friday.

Leading off

February 4 is long gone, but don't think that the drama of national signing day has vanished with the date. UCLA is still at the center of some national attention because linebacker Roquan Smith, one of their touted Wednesday commits, hasn't faxed his national letter of intent to Westwood. Smith is reportedly concerned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has been in talks with the Atlanta Falcons, news that leaked shortly after Smith's commitment to UCLA but before his pledge to the Bruins became binding.

Smith may feel fortunate that he's not in the same boat as Ohio State recruit Mike Weber, who found Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to the NFL after he was locked into Urban Meyer's program.

In the case of Smith, UCLA, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas A&M are still technically alive in the battle for his services, and the saga will likely stretch into next week.

"[The recruiting period] isn't over until the end of April," Smith's coach said. "So there's no rush."

So in case any Pac-12 recruiting fans thought signing day would present a cut and dry finish to the 2015 cycle, think again. We're going to overtime, and it'll be a while longer before the drama fully subsides and the pre-spring ball vacation is here.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona's DaVonte' Neal is changing positions to help a thinned-out Wildcats defense. Read about the switch here.
  • .One of Arizona State's biggest victories this recruiting season came through the signing of defensive tackle prospect Joseph Wicker.
  • Is Cal football trying to mimic how Stanford recruits?
  • Colorado's series with an in-state rival is likely to end after 2020.
  • More signing day aftermath: This piece examines Oregon's slow-and-steady recruiting style.
  • A developing Oregon State trend: Polynesian players. The Beavers just signed eight of them.
  • Offensive lineman Kevin Reihner has exercised a graduate transfer to Penn State, and David Shaw indicated that he's not the only Stanford player who's been mulling his future options.
  • Chronicling UCLA's Jeff Ulbrich/Roquan Smith saga.
  • When it comes to recruiting, Steve Sarkisian has finished strong at USC.
  • Grading Utah's coaches for their 2014 performance while looking ahead to 2015.
  • Chris Petersen believes he has something special at Washington in Jake Browning.
  • Washington State has lost wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons to Oklahoma.
Just for fun

Here's another "my, how times have changed" glimpse at college football, featuring a former USC Heisman Trophy winner.

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