Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Stanford battled shorthanded through its first session of spring practice. Three weeks off have given the Cardinal's bruises some time to heal, and the team has returned for the second stretch on the mend.

Lineman Solomon Thomas returned from a toe injury Monday, helping fortify a Stanford defensive front that practiced throughout most of the first session with only three healthy bodies. David Shaw also noted that Aziz Shittu, the line's most experienced body, is ahead of schedule in recovery from the serious injury that ended his 2014 season. This all comes as welcome news for the Cardinal, who are also expected to lean on Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett and walk-on outside linebacker Torsten Rotto to fill out their once-decimated front.

The program seems particularly excited about the sophomore Thomas, who has packed on 23 pounds of strength since his arrival on campus less than a year ago. This video documents some of the work the team has done with sports performance director Shannon Turley this offseason.

Running back Remound Wright also returned to practice after missing the first spring session due to a disciplinary issue. The senior re-enters a competitive situation that also features Barry Sanders and dynamic talent Christian McCaffrey, who seems to be a primary center of attention for the Stanford offense moving forward. McCaffrey has added eight pounds of muscle since the end of last season.

Recruiting followers are still buzzing about the Stanford commitment of touted quarterback K.J. Costello, and Andy Drukarev examined the impact of his decision.

Finally, here's a chance to see Shaw wearing a Clemson windbreaker. The Cardinal coach visited Dabo Swinney's program and detailed some of the similarities it shares with his.

Stanford players are currently off until the beginning of the second spring session next Monday, but the program has enjoyed a pair of key developments this week.

On Wednesday, Stanford announced home-and-home series with Vanderbilt and TCU. The Cardinal have never played the Commodores or hosted an SEC opponent at Stanford Stadium. They'll travel to Nashville in 2021 and 2015, while Vanderbilt flies to the Bay Area in 2024 and 2027.

On Thursday, prized recruit K.J. Costello -- ESPN's top rated 2016 quarterback from the state of California -- chose the Cardinal over USC and Michigan. This was a critical victory for David Shaw for a number of reasons. Stanford hungered for a quarterback after not signing one in 2015, and their win for Costello also packed some symbolic punch: Both of Costello's parents went to USC, and former Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh is now at Michigan. It's looking as if Stanford's recruiting appeal has overcome 2014's five-loss season.

Harbaugh, by the way, hasn't been shy in discussing how he wants to duplicate his model of success at Stanford at Michigan.

video Stanford needed to win the recruitment of ESPN Junior 300 quarterback K.J. Costello on Thursday. The reason is simple: The Cardinal did not sign a quarterback in the 2015 class. David Shaw and his staff placed a huge checkmark next to the quarterback position Thursday when Costello committed to Stanford in front of teammates and media at Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.).

We're in the midst of the NCAA tournament, that time of the year when upset wins (and losses, depending on one's perspective) define the month's sporting calendar. To mark the occasion, Ted Miller ranked the top 10 Pac-12 football bracket busters since the turn of the century.

Stanford's 24-23 shocker at USC was technically the biggest upset of them all -- the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs -- but which surprise was the most memorable?

Kevin Gemmell: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012

Of the “Pac-12” era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable upset than Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon in Eugene in 2012.

You had the Zach Ertz touchdown catch (or non-catch … talk amongst yourselves). You had a Stanford team adjusting to life after Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan making his first career road start and just his second start overall. You had an Oregon team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. You had Jordan Williamson’s Fiesta Bowl redemption and you had a Stanford defense that was downright brilliant.

Oh, did we mention that Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the country (coaches' poll)?

Stanford’s win busted the two-team BCS bracket wide open. And depending which lines you looked at, Oregon was favored by as many as 21.5 with an over-under of 64.5. The Cardinal couldn’t beat the Ducks the year before … at home … with Luck! … so why on earth would they do it on the road with a green quarterback?

Not only was the outcome surprising, but the way the game played out was equally unexpected. The previous three years, the winner had scored at least 50 points and the loser at least 30. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42. The next two years, Oregon won 52-31 and 53-30, respectively. The 2012 edition rewrote the playbook for how teams attacked Oregon.

Everything about that game was thrilling. And Oregon fans are probably still left wondering what would have been if De'Anthony Thomas had just thrown a block?

Ted Miller: Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002

I covered four of our top-10 upsets but for a myriad of reasons none left a bigger impression than Washington’s shocking 29-26 victory over third-ranked Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.

First of all, 2002 was an interesting year. For one, check out the preseason AP poll. Colorado is No. 7, Washington is No. 9 and Washington State is No. 11. Oregon and USC are Nos. 15 and 20. Yeah, that seems a bit weird. The Huskies imploded at Michigan in the season opener, tearing defeat from the jaws of victory, and never really recovered. Washington State bounced back from a loss at Ohio State to roll through the Pac-10, the signature victory over USC punctuated by a sliding Drew Dunning after he kicked the game-winning field goal. You might recall the Pete Carroll era at USC picked up after that.

Oh, and the Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price eras ended at Washington and Washington State after this season for very different reasons, though both would end up in a sort of coaching purgatory by the beginning of 2003.

As for the game, it was a remarkable back-and-forth affair, with a talented Huskies team finally playing to its potential against a Washington State team that was obviously much better. Yet you could feel Martin Stadium gasp with worry when Cougars QB Jason Gesser got hurt. If Gesser didn’t get hurt, the Cougs would have coasted home, but if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.

While the game was exciting for all four-plus hours, which included three overtimes, the ending and aftermath was most remarkable (here’s my column from after the game). It was decided by a controversial call that required referee Gordon Riese to explain himself on the field. That didn’t go well. Cougars fans started pelting the field with bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. It was an ugly scene.

That said, I still talk about this game with Huskies and Cougars alike. Everyone who witnessed has a take on it. Some Cougs tell me they still aren’t over it. And Huskies know that their program pretty much fell into an extended spiral down the toilet after this season. Their next winning campaign didn't come until 2010.

Chantel Jennings: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014

This was a pretty easy choice for me for two reasons.

First, it’s the only upset on the list that I saw in person. And let’s be honest: As great as it is to watch games from the comfort of your living room with friends, it doesn’t come close to being able to see the thing in real life.

Second, it was the second straight year this happened. It’s like the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Only it’s “Upset a team once, it’s surprising; upset a team in back-to-back years, and it doesn’t seem like much of an upset anymore.”

Would we even be having a debate like this if any of the other upsets had happened twice in a row? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve broken loose if Stanford had beaten USC again in 2008? (Instead, the Cardinal lost by 22.) Or, what if the Beavers came back in 2009 and beat up on the then-fourth-ranked Trojans again? (They almost did, only losing by six.)

Hands down, those would be memorable, right? Because there’s something so great about that moment in which an upset or a second upset spurns a rivalry and the game is never the same. Every junior on Oregon’s roster this season is going to be telling the freshmen and sophomores about how they’ve never beaten the Wildcats in the regular season. Every senior is going to be telling the underclassmen how they want to leave Eugene without the stigma of allowing Arizona to be a stumbling block in the regular season. The difference between avenging a loss and making the same “mistake” twice is something that never leaves these players.

If Oregon had come back and smacked Arizona last year during the regular season, that wouldn’t be the case.

David Lombardi: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007

This was my first foray to the Coliseum, and it happened to feature the largest point spread (41) ever overcome in college football history.

I spoke with only one optimistic Stanford supporter before the game, and that happened to be Jim Harbaugh's fiancée (now wife), Sarah.

The USC dynasty was flying high -- the Trojans still had two more Rose Bowl championships on the way, including one later that season. It seemed as if Stanford hadn't advanced past its 1-11 nadir the year prior. In fact, a week before their trip to Los Angeles, the Cardinal had been blown out 41-3 at home by Arizona State. To further stretch out a long injury list, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure during the week. So Stanford threw skinny sophomore backup Tavita Pritchard to the lions of the Coliseum for his first career start.

Just a few months earlier, Harbaugh had already verbally chest-bumped Pete Carroll, who was then the bully on the Pac-10 block. "We bow to no man, we bow to no program here at Stanford University," the Cardinal's new coach had said to conclude a war of words between the two men, which began when Harbaugh publicly speculated on Carroll's future at USC.

In short, all context suggested that the Trojans would administer a beatdown to put Harbaugh and his overmatched squad in its place.

At halftime, though, USC only led 9-0, and the crowd booed the home team off the field after Stanford had stuffed a fourth-down attempt at the goal line. That was the first in a series of dominoes that fell the Cardinal's way.

Every single break proved instrumental in the upset. Trojan quarterback John David Booty, who remained in the game despite breaking his finger, threw four critical interceptions. Richard Sherman (yes, that Richard Sherman, still a wide receiver playing for Harbaugh and not Carroll back then) converted a do-or-die fourth-and-20 by a millimeter or two.

That set the table for the decisive fourth-and-goal fade, in which Pritchard found Mark Bradford -- whose father had recently passed away -- for the score that pushed Stanford to a 24-23 victory. The Cardinal had sucked the air out of the Coliseum in a shocker that might have cost USC a national title shot in 2007 and ignited the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry.

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

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

1. Oregon

LB Joe Walker, DL DeForest Buckner, CB Chris Seisay

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

2. Stanford

LB Blake Martinez, LB Peter Kalambayi, CB Ronnie Harris

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

3. Cal

LB Michael Barton, LB Devante Downs, S Griffin Piatt

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

4. Washington

LB Travis Feeney, S Budda Baker, CB Sidney Jones

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

5. Washington State

LB Kache Palacio, LB Jeremiah Allison, CB Charleston White

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

6. Oregon State

DE Lavonte Barnett, CB Larry Scott, S Justin Strong

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

Pac-12 morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
10:00
AM ET

And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

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

1. Cal

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

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

2. Stanford

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

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

3. Oregon

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

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

4. Washington State

QB Luke Falk, RB Jamal Morrow, WR River Cracraft

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

5. Washington

QB ?, RB Dwayne Washington, WR Jaydon Mickens

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

6. Oregon State

QB ?, RB Storm Woods, WR Victor Bolden

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

Pac-12 morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24
10:00
AM ET

You talkin' to me?

Colorado has finished their spring game, so we're in a slight Pac-12 practice lull while basketball is in the spotlight. But the avalanche of 11 other spring games is creeping closer. Here are some links from around the conference:

ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback K.J. Costello announced on Twitter that he will be making his commitment on March 26 at his high school. Costello is the No. 40-ranked prospect and one of the highest-ranked quarterbacks yet to make his commitment.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
10:00
AM ET

Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.

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

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

We continue our annual position-by-position spring previews but with the defense, it’s a little bit harder to completely categorize each team uniformly so we’re going with three groups -- DL, LBs and DBs.

We examined the South’s status in the secondary on Monday. Tuesday morning we started with three schools (alphabetically here, folks) in the North. We finish up the Pac-12 defensive backs with the final three schools in the North.

Stanford: Quick run down on what the Cardinal lost/might lose: cornerback Alex Carter declared for the NFL Draft; Wayne Lyons transferred away from Stanford; safeties Jordan Richards and Kyle Olugbode are out of eligibility; Zach Hoffpauir, who’s currently playing baseball for Stanford, has indicated that the MLB draft is a possibility this year. Add to that the factRonnie Harris is injured and sitting out of Stanford spring ball and that means a lot of reps for a lot of new faces. Cornerback Terrence Alexander and nickel back Taijuan Thomas have played well so far in the Cardinal camp, but Brandon Simmons, Alijah Holder, Alameen Murphy and Denzel Franklin will all have plenty of reps to improve their games. Safeties Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd both need to fend the young blood -- which there’s plenty of -- within the program.

Washington: A year ago, the UW defensive backs were the least experienced group on the field. Now, after the Huskies lost six of their front seven, the defensive backs are sittin’ pretty for Washington, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few question marks among the group. John Ross has mentioned that he’d like to play both ways, and we’ll see how that goes with Chris Petersen, but when it comes to the WR/DB debate, it sounds like there’s a better chance we see him mostly on the defensive side of the ball. But the other cornerback spot will be interesting. Sidney Jones, who finished the season with 61 tackles and two interceptions, looks to be the favorite, but you can’t underestimate Jermaine Kelly, who had the starting job before a season-ending ankle injury last fall, is back this spring and should be able to go full contact. At safety, stud Budda Baker and Kevin King have the inside tracks on the starting spots (the former way more so than the latter), but there will be competition for the two- and three-deep with Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker and JUCO transfer/early enrollee Ezekiel Turner. This spring will be all about building consistency and depth in the secondary.

Washington State: The Cougars have a new defensive coordinator in Alex Grinch, who also will be coaching the defensive backs. Like Washington, the Cougars had a relatively young defensive back group last season that didn’t play too well, but it sounds like the Cougars DBs had a good offseason. The expectation is for the group to take a step forward, but that’ll be made a bit harder by the fact there will be some turnover in the group as Daquawn Brown -- who led the Cougars in tackles last year -- is no longer with the team. Keep an eye on safeties Darius Lemora and Sulaiman Hameed. At cornerback, Charleston White, who was the team’s 10th-leading tackler a year ago, should snag one job, while the other is between Marcellus Pippins and Pat Porter. The secondary will also get former Texas A&M receiver Sebastian LaRue ,who could factor in at several spots this spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday we began with the quarterbacks. Today, we move onto running backs. We gave a look to the South this a.m. and now we're moving up North.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPONSORED HEADLINES