Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!
- What if Rich Rodriguez had been a basketball coach instead? (Point guards release a collective "phew" that he isn't).
- Todd Graham has high hopes for the Sun Devils.
- Some key position battles raging at California.
- In case you missed it on the blog yesterday, Colorado and TCU have inked a home-and-home.
- Former Duck Darron Thomas is still hoping the NFL will call.
- The Beavers have extended an offer to a three-star tight end.
- Sort of Stanfordy ... Jim Harbaugh is looking for the next Andrew Luck, but knows he probably won't find him.
- How’s the recruiting battle in LA going? A little something for UCLA and USC fans ... since you guys share so well.
- Dennis Dodd does a great job breaking down the newly-unsealed NCAA emails from the Todd McNair case.
- Utah opens spring ball with some position battles to keep an eye on.
- Phil Steele’s spring guide is loaded with good info. Washington fans might be particularly interested in page 6.
- Any Washington State fans remember James Hasty? He was just hired as a high school head coach.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
- Rich Rodriguez has netted the commitment of a three-star running back.
- The Arizona State staff says that it needs an improved Mike Bercovici at quarterback in 2015.
- A recap from the latest Cal football spring practice, courtesy California Golden Blogs.
- More on the life and death of former Colorado lineman Ryan Johanningmeier.
- Oregon kicks off spring practice in less than a week. Here's a preview.
- Details have been announced regarding Oregon State's spring game on April 18, while the Beavers have grabbed another 2016 commitment.
- Last week, Stanford coach David Shaw spoke about his former boss and a young quarterback prospect named Jameis Winston.
- As UCLA gears up for spring practice, here are some Bruin Bites.
- The latest USC football morning report from the Los Angeles Times.
- Five burning questions about Utah football -- answered.
- A Washington football mailbag tackles the Huskies' quarterback competition.
- Washington State needs a new director of player relations.
Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.
- The Wildcats wide receiving corps should be strong again.
- Speaking of receivers, ASU feels like it's got a pretty good stable as well.
- Some post-practice thoughts and analysis from Cal.
- Some good Colorado football Qs and As from Kyle Ringo's chat.
- Highlights from Marcus Mariota's QB Camp with Jon Gruden.
- Oregon State is keeping its eye on this JC cornerback.
- A preview of Stanford's pro day.
- UCLA loading up on linebackers.
- Former USC running back Reggie Bush is headed back to the West Coast.
- Would Eric Rowe be a good fit in Baltimore?
- Jake Browning could make an instant impact for Washington.
- Connor Halliday is on this list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the draft.
We continue our position previews but with the defense, it's a little bit harder to completely categorize each team uniformly so we're going with three groups -- defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.
Yesterday we examined the South's status in the secondary. Today, we're moving on to the North.
Spring position breakdown: Pac-12 North defensive backs, Part I
Cal: At safety, the Bears lost Michael Lowe (graduation) and Avery Sebastian (transfer) and the two main returning options -- Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt are both spending this spring rehabbing. Not exactly the best situation for a team that desperately needs to build depth in its secondary. But, if there's a silver lining to all of this, it's this: having that many sidelined players certainly opens up a ton of reps at safety for converted quarterback Luke Rubenzer and Cameron Walker. Walker is back at safety after having started eight games at strong safety as a freshman before moving to cornerback last season. Both he and Rubenzer will need to get acclimated/re-acclimated and now, there are plenty of reps to do just that. But, through practices so far, JUCO transfer Derron Brown is looking like he'll be able to make a smooth transition to the FBS level and possibly overtake any of the guys we've already named.
At cornerback the Bears are in much better shape. Cedric Dozier and Darius White Jr. both return, as do Darius Allensworth, Caleb Coleman and A.J. Greathouse. So even with Walker moving back over to safety, they're still in pretty good shape at CB. Though the secondary as a whole will feature a few new faces in 2015, it looks like they're making the right steps to move forward, too. After all, after giving up an FBS-worst 4,406 passing yards (and that's without a bowl game) it'd be hard to take a step backwards.
Oregon: The Ducks secondary will be going through some major transition this spring. It loses cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis, as well as safety Erick Dargan, who led the Pac-12 in interceptions a season ago. But safety Tyree Robinson got some good experience there last season (finished with 36 tackles) and will work to solidify himself as the starter for the fall alongside the only returning starter in he secondary, safety Reggie Daniels. A season ago, Daniels finished as the team's third-leading tackler and though there are certainly strides to be made on the field for him, a lot of this spring will be about him filling a leadership void in the secondary. Chris Seisay stepped in for the injured Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason and because of that experience, defensive coordinator Don Pellum considers Seisay to be battle tested. At the corner spot opposite Seisay there will be some interesting competition between Arrion Springs, Mattrell McGraw and early enrollee Ugo Amadi.
Oregon State: First, the good news: One of the two cornerback starters from a season ago is in the Oregon State secondary. Bad news: The Beavers are going through a complete defensive coaching change and need to find players who can not only start, but also several others who can rotate in to Kalani Sitake's defense. Returning starter Larry Scott has the lead at one corner, but nothing is in sharpie yet so expect him to be pushed by the other top three cornerbacks on the Beavers' spring roster -- Dashon Hunt, Dwayne Williams and Charles Okonkwo -- as OSU looks for the top two guys. At safety, it'll be 100-percent turnover and there are only four scholarship safeties on the roster this spring -- Justin Strong, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Brandon Arnold and Adam Soesman. Strong and Noland-Lewis are the obvious frontrunners due to the fact that they've actually been on the field, but with minutes dangling in front of some younger players, don't discount how much someone can step up. But, this is a position to watch this spring as quarterback Tanner Sanders could join the competition. He's not in the running for the QB job so it'd make sense for him to look at a position shift and safety would make sense considering he was actually recruited as a safety by some schools. Will he play here for the Beavers? Maybe.
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.
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.
- "Crop tops are like soooooo out right now." No, but really, the NCAA says they are.
- Grantland's NFL Draft Cocktail Conversation Guide lists quite a few Pac-12 guys.
- Breaking down Arizona's defense this spring.
- Could the Chiefs draft Jaelen Strong?
- California lost a starting defensive lineman to transfer on Monday.
- Some good background on a Colorado defensive back from Kyle Ringo.
- Marcus Mariota is up for another award.
- Oregon State added an OL to its 2015 class Monday.
- This writer doesn't see Andrus Peat going to the Vikings.
- Projecting UCLA's QB depth chart this spring.
- What does it take for USC to recruit in Georgia?
- Check out Utah's spring practice dates in case you're able to make one.
- Could Danny Shelton be going to Cleveland?
- Steve Gleason tweeted some congrats to Hunter Dale.
1. D.J. Foster's move to slot receiver will prove to be an excellent idea.
Foster was brilliantly versatile last season for Arizona State, tacking 62 catches and nearly 700 receiving yards on top of his 1,100-yard rushing campaign. Simply put, he's a premier athlete, and that gives coach Todd Graham a multitude of options on offense. Foster's move to the slot, then, only makes logical sense given the circumstances in Tempe: Jaelen Strong is gone from the outside, and Demario Richard is ready to pick up Foster's slack in the backfield. This shift doesn't handcuff ASU, either -- Foster can continue being his versatile self in 2015 and contribute to the ground attack. In fact, the slot may actually further highlight his adaptability.
2. At least 27 instances of "Berco-ing" will happen around the state of Arizona as QB Mike Bercovici officially takes the reins.
There have already been a few identified -- official or unofficial -- Berco-ing activities that have happened so far this offseason (see below). But now, with Bercovici officially taking the reins of this team and declaring its goal a national title, there will be a few fans around the state and country who find themselves celebrating in a much different way. Hint: This is much more difficult without a helmet -- don't break your nose.
David Shaw will be asked to talk about how no one is talking about his team, leaving him with a "that's so meta" reaction.
For the first time in several years, no one is really talking about the Cardinal going into spring football. The usual powerhouse had a slow start to last season, which left its final stretch -- impressive as it might have been -- relatively unnoticed, which in turn left its team this offseason relatively unnoticed. Enter: the most meta interview in which Shaw is asked to talk about talking, or rather, talk about how no one is talking about his team.
Q: David, can you discuss how different it is for you to be at this point in the season with little to no one really talking about your team?
A: [Hint: It doesn't matter what he says here because he spurns the question by actually talking about his team.]
4. Oregon State RB Storm Woods will take a huge leap forward as Gary Andersen actually makes running an emphasis in Corvallis.
Andersen has made it very clear he intends to run the ball. Mike Riley used to say this a lot, but given Andersen's ability to turn out some top-notch running backs, we're getting the idea he's very, very serious about it. The front-runner right now is Storm Woods, who showed flashes last season, specifically against Arizona State and Oregon. In preparation for said leap, the Pac-12 Blog is now taking advanced nicknames for Storm Woods in Cor-Vegas. Tweet them to @ESPN_Pac12blog.
5. Mike Leach gon' Mike Leach at some point and say something non-football related that makes headlines.
Now's a good time to review just a smidgen of what makes Washington State's Mike Leach a fascinating treasure. Many details can be found in this piece, which chronicles his long walks through the countryside to work, among other nuggets. But Leach's sound bites may be the most entertaining gifts of all. Remember that not too long ago, he predicted human extinction. What will be next? Better question: Can anything top that? We'll just have to wait and see.
6. Quarterbacks will be the most talked about subject in Eugene, Oregon, even though the competition won't really begin until this summer.
Yes, there'll be intense focus on Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and the others taking snaps this spring in an effort to become Marcus Mariota's successor. But while that group is doing its thing on Oregon's practice field, the potential front-runner for the job will be working out at Eastern Washington's rec center, of all places. Transfer Vernon Adams won't be around for spring ball, but his arrival in Eugene later this summer will add true sizzle to the battle.
7. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will both settle in primary running back roles at USC.
Javorius Allen is gone, so the Trojans have room opening up in the backfield. Davis is USC's leading returning rusher and Madden is returning following a turf toe injury that derailed his entire 2014 campaign. Built in the 225-pound power back mold, Madden brings a significantly different style to the table than the 195-pound Davis, and this will allow the Trojans to work on developing a complementary mix-and-match between the two players.
8. Chris Petersen will practice his fall avoidance of answering Boise State questions by avoiding answering Boise State questions.
Washington at Boise State is one of the most anticipated season openers for 2015. By nature, most college football coaches don't talk about the ensuing regular season too much during the spring because they don't want it to be too much of a distraction or show any kind of non-spring ball focus. That said, the matchup with the Broncos will probably be brought up a few times. This will give Petersen ample opportunity to practice whatever tactic he intends to apply next fall when folks ask him similar questions but expect a much better answer.
9. Cal will continue to show significant strides offensively.
During their miserable 1-11 campaign two seasons ago, the Bears planted some seeds offensively. Coach Sonny Dykes debuted Jared Goff as a true freshman, and the new coach introduced his aggressive aerial attack. There were growing pains aplenty, but 2014 saw marked improvement for the Bears. They developed an effective rushing attack, and Goff morphed into an upper-tier conference quarterback (5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). This 2015 spring will see a continuation of Cal's offensive blossoming.
10. There will be a spring football rivalry between UCLA and USC.
Bruins, watch your bear. Trojans, watch out for Tommy Trojan.
OK, so maybe this is a more far-fetched prediction, but we can dream. Spring football needs some excitement.
The sheet contained a dream list of hires that Andersen wanted to bring with him to Corvallis.
“You’re crazy, those guys aren’t going to go anywhere in the country with you,” he remembers her saying.
The names on the sheet were mostly those of men that Andersen had coached with before. The two that Stacey Andersen didn’t know were wide receiver coach Brent Brennan, whom Andersen hoped to retain from Mike Riley’s staff, and running back coach Telly Lockette, who had the same position at South Florida.
- Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake had been Gary Andersen’s running back/tight end coach at Southern Utah in 2003, then was brought to Utah to coach the linebackers when Andersen was promoted to assistant head coach/defensive coordinator of the Utes.
- Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin had been Andersen’s OC at Utah State from 2009-12.
- Defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a was Andersen’s defensive line coach at Utah State (2009-10) and then again at Wisconsin (2013-14).
- Quarterback coach Kevin McGiven coached quarterbacks during Andersen’s first season at Utah State (2009).
- Defensive back coach Derrick Odum coached the Utah secondary from 2000-02 while Andersen was working with the Utes' defensive tackles and special teams. Andersen then brought Odum to Utah from 2005-07 to work with the safeties.
- Linebacker coach Ilaisa Tuiaki was Andersen’s defensive graduate assistant at Utah in 2008 and then worked with him again at Utah State from 2009-11.
- Offensive line coach T.J. Woods worked with tight ends and special teams and then the offensive line during Andersen’s head coaching tenure at Utah State. Andersen brought him along to Wisconsin from 2013-14 to coach the OL again.
- Strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon met Andersen during the 2006 season at Utah, when he was an assistant director of strength and conditioning. When Andersen left for Utah State in 2009 and Wisconsin in 2013, he brought Simon along to be the director of strength and conditioning both times.
It was a pretty ambitious list, and the Andersens knew that.
“She said, ‘... they’re in good spots, they’ve got great jobs.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m going to see,’ ” Gary Andersen remembered.
The staff looked very different from his coaching staff at Wisconsin, but it was a dream team, all the best guys hand picked from different points of Andersen's coaching life.
“I told the coaches as we kept going through it I was like, ‘We’re like an ‘80s band getting the band back together and going on tour,’ ” Andersen said. “But it has been awesome to be able to get everyone here.”
Unlike an ‘80s band, there doesn’t have to be a whole lot of retuning with this group. Because Andersen had remained pretty consistent throughout his coaching career -- he has a handbook he developed early on and has used at every stop since -- most of the coaches know the way he works, the lingo they’ll use, and how everything will get done.
Each defensive assistant has spent at least four seasons with Andersen. Though Kauha’aha’a was the only defensive coach who was with Andersen at his two most recent spots, this feels like very little turnover to Andersen, which should help the fact that the Beavers have to replace nine defensive starters.
The offensive side of the ball is a little different. Lockette and Brennan need to learn the language, but it should help that Baldwin, McGiven and Woods were all on Andersen’s staff during the 2009 season.
Baldwin said that he has already felt more comfortable in the first season of this job than he has anywhere else (he has coached at 13 other schools). He said it was nice to have a Day 1 in which there really didn't need to be any introductions to other staff members.
“You're not worried 'Do you have a tie on or slacks or suit coat?" Baldwin said of his first day in Corvallis. "I came in my coaching sweats because we weren't impressing anybody, we knew each other."
So while the entire Beavers roster will spend the spring getting to know the new staff, the new staff doesn't feel too new to one another. It feels like a reunion of the school of Andersen.
While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.
Up next: Oregon State.
1. How quickly can the Beavers adjust to the new regime? No matter how many questions Oregon State answer this spring and next fall, this will be the most important question and likely the one that acts as a catalyst to everything else. Mike Riley leaving was a shock to everyone and for a team (especially one that expected its coach to retire in Corvallis) to suddenly have a new coach who has new policies, new ways of running practices and new ways of attacking the game, it can be a hard adjustment. Gary Andersen already said that he knows that not everyone gives in to change so easily and he doesn’t expect all 100-plus players to just buy in immediately, but the faster Oregon State buys in to the new way of life in Corvallis, the faster it can get to the other very pressing questions.
2. How quickly can the Beavers adjust to post-Sean Mannion life? Not only are the Beavers adjusting to a new coach, they’ll also be adjusting to a new signal-caller. Life without Mannion is going to be a huge adjustment for everyone on the team. Yes, he was the foundation for the offense, but he was also a calming influence in the locker room and having that kind of turnover coincide with a coaching turnover is a lot. It’ll also be interesting to see if there’s any attrition here. Andersen’s offense is going to look quite a bit different from what Beaver fans are used to. He’s going to run a “wide open” offense and just by looking at the dual-threat QB he signed in the 2015 class, you get the idea that he’s moving in a different direction. Some of the quarterbacks on Oregon State’s roster seem to have that ability and potential, but there are others who might not be the right kind of fit for an offense that uses a mobile QB.
3. Who steps up on defense? The Beavers need to replace nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, including their top six tacklers from the 2014 season -- the defensive line returns only Jaswha James and the secondary returns only Larry Scott, while the linebackers are in complete turnover mode. Andersen said he’s looking at this as an opportunity for other guys to step up, and in reality it might be better that he and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake can come in and implement what needs to be implemented without too many guys who played much in another scheme. But no matter what way he slices this, there are a lot of shoes to be filled.
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.
Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
- California: 32
- Texas: 3
- Two signees: Florida, Utah
- One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
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).
Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
- California: 28
- Washington: 14
- Idaho: 2
- One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
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
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.