Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers
What they're selling: Rich Rodriguez's offensive system worked wonders at West Virginia and introduced the nation to Denard Robinson at Michigan. In 2012, the explosive offense scored at least 34 points in 10 of the Wildcats' 13 games.
What they're missing: The Wildcats don't have the Territorial Cup, which went to Arizona State following a 41-34 victory last season. If Arizona is going to climb the Pac-12 ranks, it'll need to win at home and lock up local talent over the Sun Devils.
Arizona State Sun Devils
What they're selling: There's a new attitude at Arizona State, as Todd Graham took the Sun Devils from the most penalized team in the country to one of the least penalized in just one year. Installing that discipline and accountability has been a major selling point for recruits signing up to play with Graham.
What they're missing: The Sun Devils won their final three games of the season for the first time in more than three decades, but losses to UCLA and USC leave them looking up at the Pac-12 South leaders in the battle for national prominence.
California Golden Bears
What they're selling: One of the top public universities in the world, Cal will always be able to pitch its strong academics to recruiting. The new facilities and revamped California Memorial Stadium will help accentuate the package with a pretty bow.
What they're missing: Coach Sonny Dykes has recent Pac-12 experience, but his three years at Louisiana Tech took him completely out of the minds of West region recruits. In-state recruits, essential to Cal's recruiting success, are unfamiliar with what Dykes' systems look like in game action, although the Golden Bears will have a chance to make several statements this fall.
What they're selling: The Buffaloes need playmakers at a multitude of position on both sides of the ball. Playing time and the ability to make an instant impact are certainly on the table for Colorado recruits.
What they're missing: Colorado was two points away from a winless season in 2012 and has very little on-field momentum heading into 2013. The Buffs have just four wins in two years in the Pac-12, and until that changes, it'll be difficult to win significant recruiting battles.
What they're selling: The noisy uniforms and noisier Autzen Stadium provide the flash, but there is plenty of substance in the fast-paced offense the Ducks run. It's unlikely that will slow down under new coach Mark Helfrich.
What they're missing: Mostly obviously, they're missing Chip Kelly, which has left a slight cloud over how the program might change direction or continue unaltered under the new staff. But the possibility of looming NCAA sanctions means the Ducks can't sell completely smooth sailing to recruits in this class.
Oregon State Beavers
What they're selling: The Beavers can sell credibility, not just on the field, but with the coaching staff as well. Mike Riley and his staff have proven they can win in Corvallis and year after year, the Beavers' coach comes across as incredibly genuine to recruits.
What they're missing: In state, Oregon State is the decided underdog when it comes to flash and national appeal. The Beavers aren't often referred to as a "dream school" by recruits, so there is rarely a sure-fire commitment for coaches when they go out of state.
What they're selling: Arguably no school in the country has the combination of academics and athletics of Stanford. When you're recruiting student-athletes, that's a good place to start.
What they're missing: Despite the recent success, Stanford is never going to be able to put together the game-day atmosphere of some of its Pac-12 competition, including Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.
What they're selling: Jim Mora's staff has Southern California buzzing about the new direction UCLA is headed. That's a good thing for the Bruins, who have climbed out of the shadow of USC.
What they're missing: The Bruins had a chance to completely pass USC, but dropped their final three games of the season. There is still a question about whether they've jumped the Trojans for good and until that is settled on the field this season, the Trojans will likely get the benefit of the doubt, regionally and nationally.
What they're selling: No Pac-12 program can fall back on tradition like USC. And now with the John McKay Center, old school meets new school in a much-needed facility upgrade.
What they're missing: Rumblings about Lane Kiffin's job security began after a 10-point loss to UCLA, grew louder after a loss to Notre Dame and became deafening after a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Despite athletic director Pat Haden throwing his full support behind the coach, recruits and their families are having difficulty believing Kiffin and his staff are there for the long haul.
What they're selling: Offensively, there is plenty of intrigue as to how co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson direct the attack. Overall, there is still the memory of what Utah was able to accomplish as a BCS spoiler in 2008, and Kyle Whittingham hopes to spark some of that magic in the Pac-12.
What they're missing: In two years, the Utes are below .500 in the Pac-12 and missed out on a bowl game last season. At this point, it's still an uphill climb in terms of convincing recruits they can cause an upheaval in the conference standings.
What they're selling: It's tough to find a coaching staff with more energy on the field or recruiting trail, starting with head coach Steve Sarkisian and moving to every assistant coach on the staff. It's a young group that relates incredibly well to recruits.
What they're missing: The Huskies have yet to win eight games in Sarkisian's three years in Seattle, so hitting that number would be a big step toward proving there is some growing on-field momentum.
Washington State Cougars
What they're selling: Mike Leach is still one of the most interesting personalities in college football, and despite some stumbles in his first year at Washington State, recruits are still interested to see what the Cougars can do this fall in his second year.
What they're missing: The Cougars need wins and they need them now. Washington State hasn't posted a winning record since 2003 and when it comes to on-field performance, it simply can't compete with a majority of Pac-12 teams.
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Oregon State: WR Brandin Cooks
2012 production: Caught 67 balls for 1,151 yards (one of only four Pac-12 receivers to break 1,000 yards) with five touchdowns.
Why Cooks is so important: My initial thought here was Michael Doctor -- an extremely underrated linebacker who always seems to be near the ball and is highly productive. One of the best plays from 2012 that sticks out in my mind is him chasing down Brett Hundley from behind. Very impressive.
Then I thought about Storm Woods -- an up-and-coming running back with just the right balance of humility and swagger. No doubt, both of these players will be key in 2013.
But speaking with someone close to the program, they convinced me to go with Cooks. Not only because he's one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country -- but simply because there isn't a ton of game experience behind him.
For Oregon State to continue building on the momentum of 2012, the Beavers need him to be great.
Here's the caveat with Cooks, however. He was one of the nation's greatest benefactors of being a No. 2 receiver. Defenses were split last season because of Markus Wheaton lining up on the opposite side. Double Wheaton? Cooks will burn you. Double Cooks? It's Wheaton for miles.
That's not going to be the case in 2013. Behind Cooks is talent, but also inexperience. Obum Gwacham (two catches, 12 yards, one touchdown) and Richard Mullaney (13-156-1) missed the spring with injuries, and Malik Gilmore (RS) and Kevin Cummings (18-208-1) round out the top of the corps behind Cooks. Each has their own talents -- Gwacham is a big target. Mullaney catches everything and is a move-the-chains kind of receiver. Cummings is a veteran and a good slot receiver, but only has four starts in his career. Gilmore is also a big target, but inexperienced.
Worth noting too that the Beavers will probably lean more on tight end Connor Hamlett (32, 403-3), who had a nice breakout year last season.
It's possible the Beavers might look at some freshmen coming in to immediately contribute. So while Cooks is one of the top receivers in the league, those behind him are mostly untested. Meaning Cooks is going to have to be better than he was last season and show that he can be a true No. 1 receiver.
I have little doubt he can. He's blazes and has Velcro fingers. Plus, if the offensive line is improved as advertised, that will also mean the quarterback-to-be will have more time to allow deeper routes to Cooks to develop.
Naturally, the outcome of the quarterback competition is of great interest. Cooks had success with both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz. With Mannion, he caught 40 balls for 716 yards and four touchdowns. With Vaz, 27 balls for 435 yards and one touchdown. He had four 100-yard receiving games in 2012 -- two from Mannion and two from Vaz. So it bodes well that he can be productive with either guy throwing him the ball.
Coach Mike Riley has also stressed the greater need for balance. The running game showed solid progress in 2012, and with the improved line play and the continued maturation of Woods -- that should take some of the pressure off the receivers and allow the Beavers to get bang for their buck when they go down field. It will allow Cooks to show he's capable of being a bona fide No. 1.
2. Oregon: While Stanford and Oregon feel like 1A and 1B, you have to account for the uncertainty of the Ducks' changing coaches, particularly when it's one with as big a presence as Chip Kelly. The returning talent, including Heisman Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota at quarterback, is strong on both sides of the ball.
3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils and UCLA feel like 3A and 3B as the South Division favorites, but the Sun Devils welcome back 16 starters compared with 13 for the Bruins. The biggest question is at receiver, where incoming players are being expected to immediately compete for starting spots.
4. UCLA: There's a lot to like on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brett Hundley and outside linebacker Anthony Barr. There are questions at running back and in the secondary. Answer those, and get better play out of the offensive line, and the Bruins could be sniffing the top 15.
5. Washington: The Huskies welcome back 20 starters for the re-opening of a renovated Husky Stadium. It's fortuitous that this looks like coach Steve Sarkisian's best team. The biggest question was whether quarterback Keith Price would bounce back from a poor 2012 season. His strong spring, as well as improved play from the offensive line, hints that this could be a Top-25 team.
6. Oregon State: The Beavers are held back, at least in terms of perception, by two things: (1) Uncertainty at quarterback; (2) A worrisome crossing of the fingers at defensive tackle. Neither Cody Vaz nor Sean Mannion separated himself at quarterback, and the Beavers are counting on junior college transfers to fill their two voids at defensive tackle. Still, there's enough here to merit a preseason Top-25 ranking.
7. USC: This low power ranking has nothing to do with talent or potential. The Trojans have enough talent, if things come together, to play in the Rose Bowl. But coach Lane Kiffin sits on the hottest seat in the conference, the Trojans are adopting a new defense under Clancy Pendergast, and there are questions at quarterback and in the secondary. The Trojans might be the most volatile team in terms of predictions. They could win 10 games. Or six.
8. Arizona: Arizona's two main questions are about absence (replacing quarterback Matt Scott) and presence (essentially the entire two-deep returning from a bad defense). It's difficult to believe the Wildcats' quarterback play will be as good as it was last season, but it's also difficult to believe the defense won't be vastly improved. Off-field issues for running back Ka'Deem Carey seem as though they will be resolved, but there is no escaping receiver Austin Hill's knee injury.
9. Utah: The best news for the Utes this spring was improved play from the offensive line and the seeming maturation of quarterback Travis Wilson. There are, however, plenty of questions on defense at all three levels, and it will be interesting to see how Dennis Erickson operates as a co-offensive coordinator.
10. California: Cal also is a volatile stock. A gander through the depth chart has a lot of "what if." As in: What if the Bears get good quarterback play in 2012? What if running back Brendan Bigelow stays healthy? What if the offensive line improves? What if the defense is as good as the recruiting stars suggest it should be? Answer those "what ifs" positively, and this is a bowl team.
11. Washington State: There is every reason to believe the Cougars will be better in Year 2 under Mike Leach, starting with the seasoning all those young players received the hard way in 2012. But it's difficult to see the Cougs eclipsing too many other teams in the conference pecking order. The No. 11 spot here could come with five wins.
12. Colorado: Colorado will be better in coach Mike MacIntyre's first season than it was in 2012, mostly because it can't get any worse. The Buffs were one of the nation's youngest teams last season, and it showed. They figure to be bigger, stronger and smarter this fall. But probably not so much as to escape the basement here.
1. Quarterback competitions (mostly) unresolved: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC entered spring with straight-up QB competitions, and none arrived at any clarity at the position, though some seemed to hint at a front-runner. B.J. Denker looked like the Wildcats' best healthy QB, while Cal's Zach Kline seemed to assert himself slightly for the Golden Bears. At Colorado, Connor Wood's case was helped by attrition. USC's and Oregon State's battles were too close to call.
Further, returning veteran starters with something to prove, including Washington's Keith Price, Washington State's Connor Halliday and Utah's Travis Wilson seemed to assert themselves to varying degrees, though Austin Apodaca could push Halliday in the fall.
2. New coaches, new ways: Sonny Dykes took over at California as did Mike MacIntyre at Colorado. Both, as could be expected, brought changes. Mark Helfrich replaced Chip Kelly at Oregon and, as could be expected, he changed almost nothing. The most obvious change at Cal was open practice, which former coach Jeff Tedford's abandonment of curiously coincided with the Bears gradual decline. The Bears will adopt a no-huddle, spread offense, replacing Tedford's pro-style scheme, and switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, a reverse of the overall Pac-12 trend. MacIntyre arrived preaching relentless optimism and a pistol offense, while defensive coordinator Kent Baer will retain a 4-3 scheme, but hopefully get better results with his version.
3. Defense, line play look strong: The Pac-12 heads into 2013 poised for a banner year. Oregon and Stanford look like national title contenders -- both are likely preseason top-five teams -- while as many as seven conference teams seem like top-25 candidates. Some of the reasons for the promise are typical: returning QBs and skill players. But what's potentially a bigger reason for improved national standing is the physical side of the game: Offensive line and defense. Nine teams have at least seven starters coming back on defense, while seven teams welcome back four starters on the offensive line. Only one team, Utah, doesn't have at least three starters back on the O-line. Further, there's as much, if not more, star power coming back on the lines and on defense than at the skill positions.
2012 conference record: 6-3
Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2
WR Brandin Cooks, RB Storm Woods, DE Scott Crichton, LB D.J. Alexander
WR Markus Wheaton, CB Jordan Poyer, DT Castro Masaniai
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Storm Woods* (941 yards)
Passing: Sean Mannion* (2,446 yards)
Receiving: Markus Wheaton (1,244 yards)
Tackles: Michael Doctor* (83)
Sacks: Scott Crichton (9)
Interceptions: Jordan Poyer (7)
1. Stepping in for Poyer: Sean Martin already seemed like a solid replacement for the departed Poyer, but the impressive play of JC transfer Steven Nelson bolstered the competition at the position opposite Rashaad Reynolds, and that's a good thing. In any event, the Beavers can trot out three CBs who inspire confidence.
2. O-line is now a strength: During the 2010-11 downtick, the Beavers were mediocre-to-bad on the offense line. There was great improvement last year, and four returning starters and improved depth have transformed the line into a strength. That should get Storm Woods 1,000 yards in the fall and help whoever wins the QB job feel comfortable in the pocket.
3. Return of the TE/H-Back: The Beavers could be a little Stanford-y at tight end this fall because of good depth behind Connor Hamlett, who some are comparing to former Beavers star Joe Newton. The Beavers go four deep behind Hamlett with a strong array of pass-catchers with physical blocking skills.
1. Mannion? Vaz? Who knows? The QB competition between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz went unresolved. It was expected that coach Mike Riley wouldn't tap anyone in advance of fall camp, but the fact that opinions so strongly vary on who had a better spring further demonstrates how wide open this one remains.
2. Up the middle defense: Oregon State is replacing both starting defensive tackles and MLB Feti Taumoepeau as well as his backup, Rueben Robinson. Joel Skotte and Josh Williams are battling at MLB, but the picture at DT is cloudy. For one, it's almost certain the two starters will be first-year JC transfers, which always inspires some rubbing of the lucky rabbit's foot. Second, Siale Hautau injured his hand this spring, while Kyle Peko won't arrive until this summer. Without question, tackle is the biggest issue on defense.
3. Receiving depth: Despite issues at QB, Markus Wheaton and Bradin Cooks were the Pac-12's second best WR combo last year behind USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Cooks now becomes Wheaton, but who becomes Cooks? There were no obvious answers this spring. There were flashes but also inconsistency, not to mention some injury issues. Incoming players will have an opportunity here.
After all, spring games are always incredibly revealing of the inner workings of a program.
I jest. Hardy har har.
Spring practices are going to end for the Beavers with what coach Mike Riley called a "very difficult separation job for us" between quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, both of whom Riley said played "pretty well" over the past month or so.
Odds are if there is any separation, we won't be told about it.
See how much Riley enjoys the oft-repeated quarterback competition questions in this video. That might be a legitimate frump from the nicest guy in coaching when he replies to a query about "clarity" with, "That it's a tough competition. That's the clarity."
It will be a mistake to read too much into what will be a glorified practice Friday, just one of 15 at that.
Yet if Mannion or Vaz plays decidedly better than the other, then message boards and some professional opiners will light up with, "But, of course, it's got to be Vaz/Mannion. He just played so much better when the pressure was on!"
That reaction won't mean much, but it also won't be completely illegitimate. A rough parallel perhaps could be drawn to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Kelly" moment in the Ducks' spring game a year ago, when he decisively outplayed Bryan Bennett, who began the spring as the favorite to replace Darron Thomas.
While at the time it seemed smart not to read too much into a single afternoon, there also was plenty of "he's legit" buzz about Mariota. That proved entirely founded when the 2012 season rolled around. That's why Bennett migrated away from Eugene.
This is a different sort of competition, though. Both Mariota and Bennett were unknown quantities at the time. We'd seen little of Bennett and nothing or Mariota, a redshirt freshman. Further, unlike Oregon State, Oregon had closed practices, so we had little idea what transpired in the other 14 practices.
So we extrapolated with the little we had and that purely theoretical exercise ended up validated.
But we know Vaz, a senior, and Mannion, a junior. Both have starting experience. Both have played well. And poorly. We know their strengths and weaknesses. Reporters have watched them the entire spring. And neither has earned front-runner status.
This from Gary Horowitz probably sums up the thinking of many observers, if they were to take a position: "My hunch is that Vaz would need to have a clear edge in fall camp to win the starting job because Mannion has two years of eligibility remaining, and college programs are always building toward the future."
What are Vaz and Mannion saying? Not much. I've not read a revealing quote from either yet, nor have their teammates intimated that one or the other is rising.
Here's a video of Pac-12 Networks’ Ashley Adamson chatting with Vaz. Did that help you figure things out?
Pac-12 spring practices began with five wide-open quarterback competitions. It feels like we know more now about the candidates at Arizona, California, Colorado and USC. There is more clarity with those four. Guys have been weeded out. You could hazard an educated guess -- B.J. Denker, Zach Kline, Connor Wood and Cody Kessler -- for each.
Yet Mannion/Vaz doesn't feel that way, unless you assume the tag will go to the younger guy if things are close to equal.
It probably would help Riley out if one or the other started an implacable surge on Friday, one that might provide credence to a budding hunch, inside and outside the locker room. As Riley said of the rest of his team, "We have a pretty good idea of who quite a few of the starters will be."
Still, whatever the post-spring game momentum, it can be reversed. For every Mariota, there's a Taylor Kelly, who got off the canvas after a poor spring a year ago for Arizona State and rose from No. 3 to No. 1 on the depth chat.
What are some of your personal goals for this season?
Storm Woods: I have to be more confident. Sometimes last year I would second-guess myself as a freshman and I made some mistakes. I want to be able to run more than we did last year. I also want to be a bigger threat in the passing game and have better execution in the red zone. Field goals are good. But touchdowns are better so we definitely need to get our red zone efficiency up. (Note: Oregon State ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in red zone efficiency in 2012 and No. 9 nationally, scoring 91.4 percent of the time).
You started out so great at 6-0 and then went 3-4 down the stretch. Are you guys still frustrated with the way the season ended or have you moved on?
SW: Yes sir. Very frustrated. I know the Stanford and Washington games, we were very capable of winning those. Just mental mistakes with us. Offsides, stuff like that. With Oregon, we just have to capitalize. We gave them great field position with special teams and you can't do that against a high-powered offense like theirs. We just have to learn from our mistakes and get it together.
Is it strange for you not knowing who your quarterback is going to be?
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsStorm Woods hopes his better feel for the offense will lift Oregon State's running game.
Are there any adjustments you have to make to them? Sean [Mannion] is a little taller. Does Cody [Vaz] have a different type of cadence?
SW: Not really. It's all pretty similar. We do a lot of ball-handling and I've worked with both, and I work with both throwing me routes so I can get used to both.
You talked about wanting to improve the running game. It was much better in 2012 than it was in 2011. But I'm sure it's not where you guys want it to be. What has to happen for you to take it where you want it?
SW: I'm going to have to stay healthy, durable. Watch more film. And get bigger, stronger and faster in this next offseason and the summer leading up to fall. A lot of it is on me. There were times when I didn't trust a play and I'd bounce outside instead of cutting up. I have a lot of growing to do. I need to get better at trusting the system. I feel like I've got a better feel for the offense and think the ground game is really going to take off this year.
Was there one game last year when it all clicked and started to come together for you?
SW: The Texas game was probably my most complete game -- blocking, catching, running. The other was probably Arizona. I was feeling really good that whole week of practice.
Not surprisingly, those were your two 100-yard games last year.
SW: Yeah. Funny how that works.
I understand you watch film with the offensive linemen. Is it different watching film with other position groups rather than just the backs?
SW: I watch film with all the different offensive positions. Watching with the quarterbacks, I learn to be more tactical in my route-running. Learning to come back to the football because if you don't, that's when interceptions happen. With the offensive linemen, I see the scheme and who blocks who and where the play will hit and where there might be holes in case I need to cut back.
What else do you do to build that relationship with the offensive linemen, since those are the boys who take care of you?
SW: I'm always hanging with them. I'm always eating with them. I have study group with all of them. If something's going on after practice, I'll go out with them. Play video games. There's no greater bond than a running back and his linemen.
What's the best part of winning? Is it the hip-hip-hooray cheer? Or going to In-N-Out?
SW: Ah man. You can't make me choose. I love the hip-hip-hooray. But you can't beat In-N-Out. Best burgers in town.
Fill in the blank. In 2013, Oregon State football will be "__________."
SW: Among the top five in the nation.
The Beavers reversed course as a program. After consecutive losing seasons and a horrid 3-9 finish in 2011, they went 9-4 and finished the season ranked 20th.
Those looking ahead might be fretting what is at question heading into 2013: The up-the-middle defense, the departure of two first-team All-Pac-12 standouts in cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver Markus Wheaton and an on-going quarterback cha-cha.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsScott Crichton (95) leads an Oregon State defense that returns seven starters from 2012.
Seven of the Beavers' 17 returning starters are on defense, including Crichton, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 after posting 44 tackles and leading the Beavers with 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He also forced a fumble, recovered two more, blocked a kick and swatted down three passes.
Crichton had six sacks as a redshirt freshman for a terrible defense. If you project similar improvement from 2012 to 2013, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound junior could push into some rarified sack numbers.
And Crichton sees plenty of room for improvement. Just start with conditioning. Crichton, who's sitting out spring practices with a shoulder injury, said getting stronger and more fit this offseason will make him a better player. When he watches film from last fall, that's what stands out to him when his play falls short.
"A lot of it was strength and stamina, endurance. I got tired on some plays," he said. "I remember one of the plays in the Stanford game, I was just jogging. I got chewed out by my coach."
Defenses won't be able to obsess exclusively about Crichton on the edge. For one, the capable Dylan Wynn, also a two-year starter, is back on the opposite end. Further, the Beavers are athletic at outside linebacker with D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor.
That foursome accounted for nearly half of the Beavers' total tackles for loss.
Of course, winning is more than personnel and X's and O's. The Beavers seemed to lose their way emotionally in 2010 and 2011. Just about everyone associated with the program recalls a renewed energy -- peppered with some anger -- in advance of the 2012 0ffseason.
"It was a mindset," Crichton said. "Everyone was sick and tired of losing. Everyone was doing extra in the offseason. But it should be like that every time. We shouldn't need a losing season to get going."
How much better was 2012 than 2011? It was nearly 10 points on defense. The Beavers surrendered 30.83 points per game in 2011, which ranked 89th in the nation. They yielded just 20.62 in 2012, which ranked 22nd.
If the Beavers continue to take steps forward, they will then run into the Oregon and Stanford tandem that has locked down the conference since 2009, and the Pac-12 North Division since it was created in 2011. The Ducks' recent run of excellence makes it hard to be satisfied in Corvallis, even with Top-25 finishes.
A season won't be truly fulfilling until the Beavers again take the Civil War, which they haven't done since 2007.
"I thought last year was a our year to get them but we lost to them. It was heartbreaking," Crichton said. "We get hungrier every year. Soon that scoreboard will change and it will go our way."
If Crichton collects double-digit sacks in 2013, and one or two of them come against Marcus Mariota, then maybe that scoreboard will change.
This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.
Buy or sell Oregon State winning the North?
But in my mind, there are too many unknowns to justify a buy rating. Too many gaps in the data. To start, who starts? We don't know who the quarterback is going to be. Kind of an important variable when deciding to buy into a team. And we won't know until well into fall camp. That's a long time for receivers and running backs to wait to find out who will be their leader -- though I think both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz are capable players. But the longer it's drawn out, the harder it will be for the loser to accept their role as backup.
There's a lot to like about Oregon State. I think the offensive line is going to take a huge step forward and I like Storm Woods at running back and the depth behind him. I've been a rather huge Brandin Cooks fan for a while and a Mike Riley fan pre-dating Y2K.
But the passing game is another great unknown. How will Cooks perform without Markus Wheaton on the other side drawing the double coverage, and who is the established No. 2?
Did I mention they haven't picked a starting quarterback yet? Not to mention there are defensive questions on the line and in the secondary.
The schedule sets up nicely for a potential 7-0 start, assuming there are no stumbles along the way. But the final five will test them -- with Stanford, USC, ASU, Washington and Oregon to close out the year. There's a good chance all five of those teams will be ranked in the top 25.
Folks will buy Oregon State early. But the back stretch is as tough as any in the conference. They get Stanford, USC and Washington at home. But running the table -- or even going 4-1 over that stretch is going to be extremely difficult. That's the time when divisions are won and lost and with the data available right now, I can't buy.
Just too many unknowns at this point.
Sell: I'm not as conflicted on this as Kevin.
AP Photo/Don RyanThe Beavers are waiting till the fall to pick a starting QB between Sean Mannion (4) and Cody Vaz (14).
Kevin hits on many of the biggest questions. I, however, am not as worried about quarterback. I think Mannion and Vaz are both capable, and the Beavers managed to win nine games in 2012 with a loopy QB carousel last fall.
My chief concern is the up-the-middle-defense.
Oregon State's front seven is as good as just about anybody on the flanks of coordinator Mark Banker's 4-3 scheme. But it must replace both starting defensive tackles -- the underrated Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai -- and middle linebacker Feti Taumorpeau (Feti Unga), as well as his top backup, Rueben Robinson.
The favorite to start at MLB is sophomore Joel Skotte, who had seven tackles last year. The favorites at defensive tackle? They weren't on the team last year. The general feeling among the Beavers is their best options at DT are junior college transfers Edwin Delva and Siale Hautau.
Pop goes the red flag of worry.
I already hear the Beavers fans: "These new guys are going to be awesome. You're a Duck-loving idiot, Ted Miller."
I have touched on this a bit before. You can call it "Simi Kuli Syndrome" or the more technical term "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT.
The point is no one -- not us, nor the Beavers coaches who recruited Delva and Hautau -- has any idea if these incoming JC guys will be up to snuff. They may be fantastic. They may be better than Seumalo and Masaniai from the get-go. But I'm skeptical until I see them defeat Pac-12 offensive linemen.
I think Banker will find a way to work around this issue, though if you look back to 2011, the Beavers' problems on defense started at tackle. It, however, is a big enough issue for me to doubt Oregon State will win the North.
Addressing the media Tuesday in a pre-spring conference call, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said it's doubtful anything will be decided between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz this spring. Mannion is listed No. 1 on the depth chart -- only because Riley and Co. didn't include an "or" between the two names. Anyone looking for meaning to Mannion being No. 1 can keep looking.
"You can't read anything into that," Riley said. "We're going to split their time evenly. You don't need to ask them daily about what's going on because I probably won't make a decision until the end of fall camp. I'm just going to let them play and grow and try to get better this spring. We'll give them absolute even turns as we go -- unless somebody just takes the bull by the horns and separates. But I don't know if that's going to happen. I think they both did a lot of good things and they both had some rough moments. It's a matter of who comes out of it with the most consistent, best play. And that might take some time. I think they are both knowledgeable. They both work hard and are well-respected. We're going to let them get as much preparation as they can."
This will be one of the more closely watched quarterback competitions in the conference -- and nationally, as the Beavers are expected to start the season in the preseason top 25.
Mannion helped the Beavers to a hot start in 2012, guiding them to victories in their first four games before hurting his knee against Washington State. That paved the way for Vaz, who engineered back-to-back wins at BYU and against Utah.
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSean Mannion is listed as Oregon State's No. 1 QB, but nothing's been decided, coach Mike Riley said.
Mannion finished the year with 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on 64.7 percent passing. Vaz completed 58.9 percent of his throws for 1,480 yards, but also had 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
"We've talked to both of them about the fact there is going to be competition," Riley said. "They have to learn to handle that and be a great leader and a great teammate and focus on doing their best. I think it will be good for both of them. I think it will bring the best out in both of them and then we'll have to see what we're going to do from there. I suppose in the long run we could come out of it stronger."
- Players who will miss spring ball include: Safety Tyrequek Zimmerman, left tackle Garrett Weinreich, defensive end Scott Crichton, wide receiver Richard Mullaney and fullback Tyler Anderson. Left guard Chase Eldredge and center Isaac Seumalo will be limited.
- Riley talked about the competition between Sean Martin and junior-college transfer Steven Nelson to replace departed cornerback Jordan Poyer: "[Martin] got more opportunities to play last year and that was all good for him, and we'll see if he can step up into what can be a reliable starting role. ... [Nelson] is always around working out, and in a short amount of time has seemed to fit in real well. I anticipate good things from him in spring ball. The best thing that can happen to this team is really develop good competition with good players at the corner. "
- Riley on the depth at running back with Storm Woods, Terron Ward and Chris Brown: "That right there is good depth. I hate losing Malcolm [Agnew] because he's a good football player. He's all over special teams and when you watch our cutups or games, he's always doing something. But I think we have good players there. Storm can build on his freshman year for sure and Terron Ward looked really good in the offseason running and has really worked hard. Chris Brown is a young talent trying to break in where he can hopefully fill some of those roles that Malcolm Agnew played and bust into the rotation of playing in the game."
And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.
Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.
Biggest shoes: Cornerback Jordan Poyer
The consensus All-American ranked first in the Pac-12 and second nationally in interceptions -- hauling in seven in 2012 and returning one for a touchdown. It's a tough call between him and wide receiver Markus Wheaton -- the school's all-time leading receiver. But the co-captain was so prolific in OSU's turnaround in 2012, finishing third in league in pass breakups per game (1.17). He finished with 51 tackles (34 solo) including five for a loss and a pair of sacks. He also forced a fumble and recovered another. There weren't many lockdown corners in the conference last year. Poyer was one of them.
Stepping in: Sean Martin or Steven Nelson
Martin seems like an obvious option. He filled in for Poyer last year when he missed the Arizona State game (and earned himself a coveted Pac-12 helmet sticker, making him the envy of everyone in Corvallis.) He appeared in 12 games last year and tallied 43 tackles (32 solo), including one for a loss. He also had two interceptions, five passes defended and he forced a fumble. He might look like the favorite, but JC transfer Steven Nelson -- a highly-regarded recruit from College of the Sequoias in Northern California -- is expected to push him. When Nelson signed in December, Mike Riley characterized him as a player "who will step into our program and compete immediately." ESPN RecruitingNation ranked him as the No. 1 JC cornerback in the nation and per his scouting report, he's a "smooth corner with good man-to-man skills."
Then: Alamo Bowl. Texas. What the heck?
The pause was pregnant. As in "Rosemary's Baby" pregnant. Yes, we had to go there. No, the Beavers 31-27 grab-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance against an inferior Texas squad isn't a fond memory in Corvallis.
Adam Davis/Icon SMIOregon State returns 17 starters next season, including receiver Brandin Cooks, 7 .
Cooks then said the bad memory helped fuel offseason workouts. With 17 starters back, the 2013 Beavers should have a good shot at redemption.
But Cooks and company, who will begin spring practices on April 1, are looking for more than redemption.
"First of all, we don't want to go back to the Alamo Bowl," he said. "It was great, but our eyes are set on a BCS bowl."
That means the Beavers feel they are ready to take down Oregon (and Stanford), which hasn't happened since 2007.
Said Cooks, "Oh, yeah."
If Oregon State is going to win the Pac-12's North Division, know that Cooks will play a key role. He broke out as a sophomore with 1,151 yards receiving -- his 88.5 yards per game ranked fifth in a conference deep at the position -- and his eye-popping 17.2 yards per catch led the conference and was No. 2 in the nation among 1,000-yard receivers.
With the departure of Markus Wheaton to the NFL, the speedy Cooks will be the go-to guy in the Beavers passing game.
Of course, the big question this spring is quarterback. The Beavers have two with starting experience: Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz. That conceivably could feel like a good thing, but not many Beavers fans view it that way.
Mannion took over the starting job early in the woeful 2011 campaign, displacing then returning starter Ryan Katz. He led the Beavers to a 5-0 start and national ranking last year, but was forced to the sidelines by a minor knee injury. Enter Vaz, who played great in a win against BYU and OK in a win against Utah.
Mannion returned to face Washington, perhaps too early. Suffice it to say, he didn't play well, throwing four interceptions before getting yanked for Vaz.
And so the quarterback carousel began. Vaz, Mannion, Vaz. Each has played well. And each has looked terrible.
Cooks plays good soldier when asked about the back-and-forth, which couldn't have been good for the offense's rhythm.
"It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," he said. "Cody stepped up. Sean stepped up. To go back and forth like we did last year, I thought we'd run into major problems. But both of those guys came in, [and] it didn't really change between the receivers and the quarterback. As a receiver, you'd like to have one set quarterback. Coaches are working on that. I'm pretty sure they'll get that down this year. That was a big controversy last year. But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be."
Cooks also isn't going to play favorites. He doesn't go too deep when asked about the differences between Vaz and Mannion
"That's a good question," he said. "As I run routes and the ball is coming to me, it's coming to me in basically similar ways. I feel like they are pretty much the same. The difference is Sean has a few inches over Cody [6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1]. He can see over that line. But both of those guys deliver the ball in the same way and have the same playing style, to be honest."
It's worth noting that Cooks put up outstanding numbers even with the quarterback carousel. Still, you'd have to wonder what he could do as the feature guy if the Beavers were stable and consistent at the position. That seems like the best path to challenging the Ducks (and Stanford) in the North.
Of course, there's another tough question Cooks must face as he becomes the Beavers go-to guy: Who'd win a race between him and Wheaton, who notoriously beat Oregon speedster De'Anthony Thomas in a 100 meters race?
Said Cooks, "That's a hard one. I'd take that first 50. If we were to run a 100, he'd probably get me at the end."
The school unveiled new uniforms, logos, lettering and even new color schemes in a brand identity launch Monday night.
You can see video of Mike Riley and the creative team from Nike here, as well as plenty of images.
Oregon State AthleticsOregon State's beaver logo got an updated look.
OSU and Nike officials worked on a nearly two-year brand evolution program to refine and update the celebrated marks of the University, honoring the rich tradition of academics and athletics. With the goal of developing an innovative and contemporary athletic brand identity, OSU and Nike worked with student-athletes, coaches, administrators and alumni to compile input on the department’s brand attributes.
“Oregon State Athletics has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last 15 years and our new brand identity is another sign that the Beavers continue to confidently move forward,” said Director of Athletics Bob De Carolis. “The ultimate goal for the rebrand is to attract high-caliber student-athletes to a contemporary brand, while respecting our heritage.”
The new Beaver logo features clean, contemporary lines and a modern, confident and timeless graphic structure. The logo accurately reflects the essence of Oregon State Athletics – Heritage, Strength, Victory, United, Innovation, Tenacity, Dedication and Integrity. Through these brand identity updates, Oregon State creates separation and distinction in the marketplace while respecting the past and representing the future.
But the Beavers aren't going all Oregon. As The Oregonian's Lindsay Schnell, perhaps the top fashionista among the nation's college football writers, points out, "The OSU black football socks are inscribed with the words “hip hip hooray.” Very Mike Riley.
Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis to The Oregonian: “It’s not about anything that’s going on in Eugene. It’s about trying to get a consistent look for us that has a little bit of a cool factor. We’re going to be plain and simple with the three uniforms. You could do different combinations, but we’re going to stay true to what (Nike) gave us.”
The biggest addition is a fancy new Beaver, who seems to have a little vampire in him. There's also a new, metallic bronze secondary color.
Anyone else miss this guy?
You just know that Beaver would be your ever loyal wingman after 36 holes of golf and loooong night at the tables in Vegas.
Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA each have A-list signal-callers returning in 2013, but there's at least some degree of quarterback intrigue at the other eight schools. Arizona, California, Colorado and USC have wide-open competitions with no clear front-runner, while Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State have varying degrees of uncertainty behind center.
So which situation is most interesting?
Kevin Gemmell: What makes the Oregon State quarterback competition so interesting is the fact that you have two players who are already proven. Sean Mannion could probably start for most pro-style teams in the country. And so could Cody Vaz.
AP Photo/Don RyanThe Beavers are not in a rush to pick a starter between Sean Mannion (4) and Cody Vaz (14).
No team enjoyed the spoils -- or spoilers -- of quarterback play more last season than the Oregon State Beavers, which seemed to have a love/hate relationship with its signal-callers all year long. Had it not been for outstanding quarterback play, there's a good chance Oregon State doesn't beat UCLA or Arizona (courtesy of Mannion). And had it not been for outstanding quarterback play, there's a good chance Oregon State doesn't beat BYU (courtesy of Vaz). Then again, if it hadn't been for shaky quarterback play, maybe the Beavers beat Washington (courtesy of Mannion) or Stanford (courtesy of Vaz).
At times, both quarterbacks were life preservers for their teams -- bailing them out in tough situations. Other times, they did the Santa thing, handing out free footballs. Both quarterbacks have outstanding potential and could certainly make waves for all-conference honors -- if they can square up their consistency. And if Mike Riley can decide on one.
It's a great problem to have. I promise you that Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre, Rich Rodriguez and Lane Kiffin -- four coaches breaking in new quarterbacks this spring -- would love to have two quarterbacks with multiple starts competing for the gig. And not just starts -- but quality starts in big games at home, on the road, against ranked teams. Both guys know what it's like to win -- and lose -- a big game.
It's unlikely we're going to get an answer about the starter this spring. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if it's not until a week and a half before the Beavers kick off the season at home against Eastern Washington (we're not expecting any Week 1 hurricanes in Corvallis), before Riley picks his guy. And with a rejuvenated running game and a rising star in Brandin Cooks catching balls -- whoever wins the job will have a nice well of experience from which to draw from. And whoever carries the clipboard will be the most experienced backup quarterback in the league. That's what makes this competition so intriguing.
Ted Miller: This is a hard one for me. I think there are a lot of interesting quarterback situations in the Pac-12 this spring.
When USC has a quarterback competition, it's always national news. Just because it's USC.
I'm curious about how quickly new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre can teach his quarterbacks the pistol offense -- and then pick one to lead his team. It seems as though new California coach Sonny Dykes and former elite recruit Zach Kline are a perfect match, but Berkeley has done funny things to promising quarterbacks the past few years. And do Utah (Travis Wilson), Washington (Keith Price) and Washington State (Connor Halliday) have decided front-runners to lead their offenses next fall? Probably, but you'd think at least one might surprise us.
Yet no team's trajectory seems so tied to what it can do at quarterback in 2013 as Arizona.
The Wildcats have 11 starters back on defense. Yes, it was a rotten defense in 2012, but that returning experience -- really the entire two-deep -- strongly suggests it should improve next fall. They also have six starters back on offense, including All-America running back Ka'Deem Carey, second-team All-Pac-12 receiver Austin Hill and three starters on the offensive line, including both tackles protecting the new quarterback.
Yet Rich Rodriguez's spread system demands a lot of a quarterback. Further, the next Wildcats quarterback will have huge shoes to fill, as you guys well know the Pac-12 blog thinks very highly of the departed Matt Scott, who was second-team All-Pac-12 and ranked sixth in the nation in total yards.
The question is whether B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins, Javelle Allen or incoming freshman Anu Solomon, who doesn't report until the fall, can approach the numbers and leadership Scott offered last year.
The Pac-12 blog, alas, is skeptical, and is therefore worried many, many Arizona fans will come to his Scottsdale home in December -- hat in hands -- and say, "You were right. Matt Scott was really that good. Sorry we participated in the bludgeoning of you in the comments section. Here's a chilled bottle of Grey Goose. And some fresh belon oysters. And $10,000."
Denker played pretty well in relief of an injured Scott against Colorado, but, well, that was Colorado, and Carey was going nuts against the hapless Buffs. Scroggins was good enough to be a USC backup, but he washed out academically and fell out of favor before going to a junior college. Allen is a redshirt freshman. Solomon a true freshman.
In other words, the position is a complete mystery. The Pac-12 blog loves mysteries. Fans, not so much.
If the Wildcats can get solid quarterback play in 2013, they will be a factor in the South Division. But if the position is shaky, they could stumble below .500.
The question is whether Arizona's quarterback mystery is like something Hercule Poirot will tie a nice bow around, producing satisfying clarity at the end, or if it will end up looking like something from Dennis Lehane -- dark, messy and fraught with human fallibility.