Biggest shoes to fill: USC

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at USC.

[+] EnlargeMax Tuerk
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsMax Tuerk is the favorite to start at center for the Trojans in 2014.
Biggest shoes: C Marcus Martin

While you could make a case USC's biggest question concerns who will generate an edge pass rush on defense, Martin was as underrated a player as a first-team All-Pac-12 center could be. Not only was he a force as a blocker, he was an important leader, which is one of the reasons he was often trotted out in front of reporters when the Trojans sports information staff needed an articulate voice -- see the news conference after Lane Kiffin was fired. He was the only Trojans O-lineman who started every regular season game in the same position, that "regular season" qualifier being required because he suffered a knee injury in the finale against UCLA that prevented him from playing in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State. Abe Markowitz gamely filled in against the Bulldogs, but he also is gone, as is 2013 depth chart reserve Cyrus Hobbi, who left the team. Finally, Martin's decision to enter the NFL draft a year early was a bit of a surprise, at least in terms of how he was perceived at the beginning of the 2013 season.

Stepping in: Junior Max Tuerk

Tuerk is the easy, safest answer, and some observers rate it almost as a done deal. The smart, versatile lineman has already started games at guard and tackle. It's not a matter whether Tuerk will start on the line, it's where. And it might be more important to go with an experienced junior such as Tuerk at center rather than have him move outside to right tackle to replace Kevin Graf and ask a youngster to quarterback the O-line. That said, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and freshman Toa Lobendahn, who enrolled early and has been impressive this spring, also are options. In the fall, touted freshman Viane Talamaivao arrives, and fifth-year senior Giovanni Di Poalo is a dark horse option. It just seems more likely that Rodgers, Lobendahn and Talamaivao will be competing for playing time at the less demanding guard spots than center.

Previous big shoes
Last week ESPN Insider Travis Haney brought out his top 10 offensive players who have to “prove it” on a national level. Among his listed players were Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. You can see the Pac-12 blog’s take here.

Now he turns his attention to defense Insider, where he lists a pair of Pac-12 players -- both on the defensive line. First up is Oregon’s Arik Armstead.

Writes Haney:
Armstead started five games a year ago, ending up with 13 tackles. He has not hit his ceiling on the defensive line, but there will be more opportunity with veteran Taylor Hart gone. Whether it’s on offense or defense, the coaching staff figures to find a way to make Armstead an impact player.

The Pac-12 blog has long been a believer that Armstead would be a monster at offensive tackle. In fact, my co-writer was just mentioning this a couple of months ago. Here’s an excerpt from a Ted Miller mailbag back in December:
Armstead is a potential NFL All-Pro at left offensive tackle, based on his skill set, and a CFL player on the D-line, based on his performance as defensive end/tackle thus far. I personally think he is leaving millions of dollars on the table by playing defense. In fact, if he were my son, I would relentlessly hound him to make the switch.

Haney also lists UCLA defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes as a “prove it” guy in 2014.

Per Haney:
When I visited Bruins camp in August, the staff noted that Vanderdoes was talented, but learning. The freshman’s ability was on display when he had 11 of his 39 tackles in the Oct. 19 game at Stanford. Once he "gets it," those sorts of games might become more commonplace.

Vanderdoes arrived on campus with a lot of hoopla following his fallout with Notre Dame. As a freshman he had 4.5 tackles for a loss and half a sack to go with his aforementioned 39 tackles.

One thing Haney failed to mention: Vanderdoes makes one heck of an offensive player (one rush, one yard, one touchdown; one reception, 18 yards). We know that the Bruins coaching staff likes to tinker with defensive players on offense. Myles Jack, of course, but Cassius Marsh, Jordan Zumwalt and Vanderdoes got into the mix as well. That just goes to show what a heck of an all-around athlete Vanderdoes is for his size.

Video: USC's QB competition

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
5:30
PM ET
video
ESPN.com's Ted Miller says don't be surprised if new USC coach Steve Sarkisian taps incumbent starter Cody Kessler as his starting quarterback at the end of spring practices.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
2:30
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Whether it's rock and roll or old soul, it don't matter.
The last we saw of Washington State, it was going rear-end-over-tea-kettle against Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Despite owning a 15-point lead with just over nine minutes left against a middling Mountain West team, the Cougars were, well, we're not going to type that hated term rivals use to tweak those in crimson and gray.

But it rhymes with "flooging zit."

The result was a stunning 48-45 loss that was difficult to even describe. Washington State had wrapped a bow around its first bowl game since 2003 and handed it to the grateful Rams. The Cougs had blown their chance for their first winning record in a decade.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesConnor Halliday has good reason to believe the 2014 season could be a special one at Washington State.
The collapse was so epic and strange that it seemed perfectly reasonable to a reporter that he began an interview with Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday on Tuesday with, "New Mexico Bowl… what the hell?" And Halliday didn't miss a beat.

"I don't know," Halliday said. "I've tried to explain it to many people. I don't know how you go about it. You can point the finger in many different places. You can say you can't fumble the ball two times in a matter of 45 seconds. You also can say you shouldn't give up [25] points in a half of football. You can say we should have thrown more instead of being conservative. You can say different things, but in the end you've just got to find a way to close out the game."

True. But the result itself wasn't what pained Halliday the most. The worst part was sending out guys he'd labored beside for four years, through some pretty darn tough times, with frowns on their faces.

"Probably the hardest thing for me was that was my graduating class that was leaving," he said. "I redshirted, but I came in with all those guys. It was tough to see Deone [Bucannon] go out like that. It was tough to see Damante [Horton] go out like that. It was tough to see Elliott Bosch, our center, go out like that. It was a crappy way to send out our seniors."

Yet while there are myriad ways to parse out the misery of that defeat, the reality is it was only one game in a season that hinted at a program climbing out of the muck. In the second season under coach Mike Leach, Washington State had again become competitive. It had become bowl-eligible by winning two out of its final three games in the rugged Pac-12. Bracketing off the bowl disaster, the 2013 season ultimately suggested an upward trend in Pullman, Wash.

While some fans might still be mourning the ending of 2013, Halliday and his teammates have moved on as they eyeball the beginning of spring practices Thursday. If the bowl loss has any lingering effect, it's a reminder of what the program is trying to leave behind.

"I think we were ready to get back to work [after the bowl game]," Halliday said. "I think we are really hungry. Part of the deal that Leach has instilled in us is there is no real option, no real choice. It's just like ingrained in your mind that you get back to work. We're going to get this ship back on the right path."

Halliday's junior season was notable for more than a few passing numbers. He ranked fifth in the nation with 353.6 yards passing per game. His 34.5 completions per game ranked second in the nation. His 34 TD passes were second-most in the Pac-12.

On the downside were 22 interceptions, six more than any other Pac-12 quarterback.

Of course, Halliday didn't have much support from one of the nation's worst running games. His receivers were mostly young and therefore, at times, out of position. And he was often under duress because his line was middling and opposing defenses were pinning their ears back in full-time pass-rushing mode.

It's probably encouraging to Cougars fans, however, that Halliday doesn't play along with the option of sharing blame for the interceptions.

[+] EnlargeGabe Marks
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsGabe Marks caught a team-leading 74 passes for the Cougars last season.
"The bottom line is I play a position where the fault is on me," he said. "It doesn't matter if the receiver ran the wrong route or protection broke down. No matter what happens, it's my job to take care of the football."

The offseason message for Halliday as he heads into his senior season is pretty straightforward: Make better decisions, protect the football, and this team will take another step forward.

Said Halliday, "If we eliminate the mistakes here and there, we can really do something special."

Don't quickly discount that as typical spring optimism. While there are some holes on defense and the offensive line, Washington State welcomes back its top-10 pass catchers from last season. And we're not just talking about warm bodies. The Cougars have size, speed, experience and depth at the position that rivals any team in the Pac-12 or, really, the nation.

"Go down the list. Everybody can make a play," Halliday said."It's a great time to play quarterback here."

There's so much depth at receiver, you have to wonder if Leach might move at least one guy over to defense to bolster his young and questionable secondary.

For Halliday, however the depth chart pencils out, he expects the program to make a mark in the highly competitive Pac-12 North Division. And, yes, that means going nose-to-nose with the top programs, such as Stanford and Oregon.

"Our biggest thing is to worry about ourselves, what we can control," he said. "But we are really not that far away."
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.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions.

Next up: South Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. USC

LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens

The skinny: Pullard was second-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Trojans with 94 tackles. While DE Devon Kennard led the Trojans with nine sacks last year, Williams was a force inside with six. It's also possible, of course, that attention to Williams, a certain preseason All-American, will open things up for a DE/OLB, such as J.R. Tavai. Cravens is likely to become as a true sophomore an all-conference performer. He had four interceptions last year, second on the team.

2. UCLA

LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Kenny Orjioke, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: Kendricks ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game last year. Does he finally break through on the all-conference team after two years as an honorable mention? Orjioke is the frontrunner to replace Anthony Barr. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has tons of potential. He, however, had just 12 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore. Adams led the Bruins with four interceptions last year.

3. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert, "spur" LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant

The skinny: Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a true freshman, finishing with 83 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. With both MLB Jake Fischer and weakside LB Marquis Flowers gone, he seems like a favorite to lead the team in tackles, even if he stays at strongside backer. Gilbert ranked second on the team with four sacks, though it's possible the Wildcats defense will do some juggling to increase anemic sack numbers this fall. Or a new guy, such as LB Antonio Smothers or DL Jeff Worthy, will break through. Bondurant, a hybrid LB/safety, led the Wildcats with four interceptions in 2013.

4. Arizona State

LB Salamo Fiso, DE/OLB Viliami Latu, S Damarious Randall

The skinny: The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense, but Randall and Fiso are two of the three returning starters. It is notable that coach Todd Graham has been moving guys around on defense this spring, so ultimate positions are a matter of conjecture at this point. Fiso ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles. Sophomore Latu might have a lead in the battle to replace Carl Bradford at the highly productive "devil" LB position. Randall had three interceptions last year.

5. Utah

LB Gionni Paul, OLB Jacoby Hale, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: Paul, a Miami transfer, is drawing raves this spring. He was a terror on the scout team a year ago. Hale is likely to replace Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in tackles and sacks last year, at the "stud" linebacker. He was second on the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. As for the Utes’ leader for interceptions, well, funny you should ask about a team that had just three picks all of last year, tied for fewest in the nation. We're going with Rowe, even though he didn't have a pick in 2013 and had just one in 2012.

6. Colorado

LB Addison Gillam, TBA, CB Greg Henderson

The skinny: Along with Wright and UCLA's Myles Jack, Gillam was a true freshman LB revelation last year. He led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles. He might be a good bet to lead the team in sacks, too. The Buffs are replacing leading sacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4), and it's unclear who will fill that void. D-lineman Samson Kafovalu is a possibility, but he's sitting out spring focusing on academics. Derek McCartney -- yeah, that McCartney -- has been playing well this spring. Henderson led the Buffaloes with four picks a year ago.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at UCLA.

Biggest shoes: OLB Anthony Barr

A two-time All-Pac-12 first-team selection, Barr was one of the most feared linebackers in the nation. He totaled 65 tackles last season, but did most of his damage in the backfield, where he tallied 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He also forced five fumbles (recovering four of them). He ranked second in the league in tackles for a loss and third in sacks.

Stepping in: Kenny Orjioke (maybe)

The junior-to-be has a ton of upside and potential. He’s built like Barr (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) and possesses similar natural athleticism that made Barr such a productive edge rusher. Orjioke produced 11 stops last year, including two tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. But he’s not the only one in the mix. Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins should also get looks. Wallace appeared in 13 games last year and had five tackles, while Hollins appeared in 11 with seven stops and a tackle for a loss. UCLA’s linebacker corps is solid, despite the departure of Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. Myles Jack is a gifted playmaker and Eric Kendricks has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league the last couple of years. Those two will occupy plenty of attention, leaving Barr’s replacement room to work on the edge.

Previous big shoes
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.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.

Video: Mailbag on QB draft decisions

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
5:30
PM ET
video
Kevin Gemmell answers a reader's question about returning quarterbacks in the Pac-12.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
2:30
PM ET
Starks are always right eventually. Winter is coming.
Colorado fans can breathe easy, for now. After seeing five different starting quarterbacks over the last two seasons and six in the last three, it appears that sophomore Sefo Liufau is in good shape to keep his job -- at least through the first half of the spring session.

Not that there was a ton of concern for Liufau, who started the final seven games last season. And it doesn’t mean a whole lot in March. But for a program that has seen tumultuous turnover at the position of late, a little stability isn’t a bad thing.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsRising sophomore Sefo Liufau appears entrenched as Colorado's starting signal-caller.
Following Colorado’s first full scrimmage of the spring season last week, Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntyre said he has been pleased with his starter.

“Sefo hasn’t done anything to lose the job by any stretch,” MacIntyre said.

So, that’s a relief. After taking over the starting job last season, Liufau completed 59.4 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Not stellar numbers, but for a freshman jumping in halfway through the season, not terrible, either. His final three games (California, USC and at Utah), he showed some promise with seven touchdowns to three interceptions.

Over the last two seasons, Colorado’s potpourri of starters have combined for 32 passing touchdowns to 34 interceptions with a completion percentage of 56 percent. As a not-so-shocking result, Colorado has ranked at or near the bottom of the league in most offensive statistics.

Turnover probably has a lot to do with that. If the Buffs can stick with a quarterback, chances are those efficiency numbers will improve. The fact that Liufau has added about 10 pounds of muscle so far this offseason doesn’t hurt, either.

“Sefo has been very good,” MacIntyre said. “The first couple of days, I noticed a zip on the ball. He was stronger. I think he was completely healthy, his body was fresh. He’s throwing off his back foot better and rotating his hips better, so he has more zip on the ball. He’ll be more accurate. He was good before, but he’s gone out and done the things that Coach (Brian) Lindgren told him to do in the offseason on his own, and he’s improved in that area.”

While it appears for now that Liufau’s job is secure, MacIntyre noted that he’s been equally pleased with backup Jordan Gehrke.

“It’s exciting to see that Jordan is right there on his heels, not that much separation,” he said. “You better have a few guys who can play. Jordan has the ability to escape (the pass rush) and can make some plays and he’s getting a good grasp of the offense. When Connor (Wood) left, I felt like ‘Uh oh,’ and that opened the door for Jordan and he’s taken advantage of it.”

Liufau tossed four touchdowns in Friday’s scrimmage on 9-of-17 passing. He has yet to throw a pick in a scrimmage setting.

Liufau is certainly one of the most intriguing up-and-comers in the conference. And consistent, reliable quarterback play might be exactly what the Buffs need to push them one step closer to being bowl eligibile for the first time since 2007.

Biggest shoes to fill: Stanford

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at Stanford.

Biggest shoes: OLB Trent Murphy

A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer, Murphy led the Pac-12 in sacks (15) and tackles for a loss (23.5) in 2013. He also had 62 total tackles, an interception, five QB hurries, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. The Cardinal not only will miss his HUGE production, they will miss his motor and leadership. While you could argue that the Cardinal has more uncertainty at running back, more holes on the offensive line and Shayne Skov leaves a huge void in the middle of the defense, Murphy's shoes still seem the biggest.

Stepping in: Junior Kevin Anderson

Anderson, at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, is smaller than Murphy, though his motor is every bit Murphy's equal. He was solid as Murphy's backup last year, collecting 26 tackles, with 6.5 coming for a loss, with 1.5 sacks and an interception, and seemed to do his best work late in the season. The general feeling is positive that Anderson can step into Murphy's shoes and, at least, adequately replace his tremendous production. Still, if Anderson doesn't become the A-list pass rusher that Murphy was, the Cardinal might have to tweak some things schematically to figure out new ways to get pressure on opposing QBs. That might include more high-risk blitzing.

Previous big shoes

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
7:00
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We’re taking a quick look at everything that’s happened in the last week in Pac-12 recruiting.

There hasn’t been too much movement conference-wide since last week’s recruiting roundup. But there has been a couple of significant developments for two schools. Here are a couple of notes on what’s happened in recruiting over the past seven days.

First, UCLA added its fifth commit of 2015 -- and it was a big one. The nation’s top-ranked pocket passer, Josh Rosen, committed to the Bruins last week.

Here’s a take from ESPN’s Tom Luginbill on what Rosen brings.
"This is a bit of a deviation from UCLA's current offensive philosophy in terms of what they've had with Brett Hundley. Rosen brings more pocket-passing prowess in terms of moving the ball with his arm and his mind as opposed to the athletic luxury that Hundley brings to the field."

Also, Oregon State landed its first commitment of the 2015 class with cornerback Treshon Broughton.

Here’s a snapshot at where each school stands. As always, all listed players are per ESPN.com's RecruitingNation.

Arizona

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Morie Evans, WR, Huntsville, Texas; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas

California

2015 commits: 0

Colorado

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento, Calif.

Oregon

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Treshon Broughton, CB, Tustin, Calif.

Stanford

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Georgia; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City.

UCLA

2015 commits: 5
Player(s): Josh Rosen, QB, Bellflower, Calif.; Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Jaason Lewis, ATH, Virginia Beach, Va.; Victor Alexander, OLB, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.

USC

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Ricky Town, QB (PP), Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB (PP), Elkton, Maryland; Taeon Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.

Utah

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Alfred Smith, WR, Destrehan, La.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, ATH, Kahuku, Hawaii; Corey Butler, WR, Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT, Kaysville, Utah.

Washington

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle.

Washington State

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.
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.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTaylor Kelly could have Arizona State's offense off and running this fall.
This year, we're breaking things down by division.

First up: South Division offense three-headed monsters.

There are two "pure" offensive three-headed monsters in the South: USC and Utah. Both welcome back their leading passer, rusher and receiver, though some fans might be surprised to know that Marqise Lee didn't lead the Trojans in receiving last season.

The biggest mystery team? Arizona, which is replacing its leading passer and rusher and has several wild cards who might challenge to be the first pass-catching option. Typically we'd project a starter, but the Wildcats seem to be completely wide open at QB and RB. So they get a "?" at both positions.

Otherwise, the projections of new starters aren't terribly unpredictable.

1. Arizona State

QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong

The skinny: If you were ranking three-headed monsters nationally, this might be a top-10 troika. You have a three-year starter at quarterback who passed for 3,635 yards and 28 TDs last year, a receiver who caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and versatile running back who's dangerous as a runner or receiver.

2. UCLA

QB Brett Hundley, RB Jordan James, WR Devin Fuller

The skinny: Hundley starts the season as a top Heisman Trophy candidate. James started off great last year -- 116 yards rushing per game with a 6.3 yards per carry average in the first four games -- before getting hurt. While WR Shaq Evans is off to the NFL, Fuller leads a strong crew of returning receivers.

3. USC

QB Cody Kessler, RB Javorius Allen, WR Nelson Agholor

The skinny: This is a strong threesome, though some see Kessler being threatened by redshirt freshman Max Browne this spring. Allen surged in the second half of the 2013 season, when he rushed for most of his 785 yards (5.8 yards per carry), but the Trojans have a lot of depth at the position. Agholor is a frontrunner for first-team All-Pac-12 honors after catching 56 passes for 918 yards last year.

4. Utah

QB Travis Wilson, RB Bubba Poole, WR Dres Anderson

The skinny: If Wilson is cleared medically and is 100 percent full-go, he's got a chance to be a good QB, building on what he did while healthy in 2013. Poole is the Utes' leading returning rusher, though he could face a challenge from a handful of other backs, including redshirt freshman Troy McCormick and juco transfer Devontae Booker. Anderson will be joined by Kenneth Scott, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the 2013 opener.

5. Colorado

QB Sefo Liufau, RB Michael Adkins, WR Nelson Spruce

The skinny: Liufau was solid as a true freshman starter last year. He should be much better this fall. Adkins combined with Christian Powell to essentially split 1,000 yards rushing in 2013, with Powell offering the power option. Spruce was a solid No. 2 behind Paul Richardson last year, but it remains to be seen how he will perform as option No. 1.

6. Arizona

QB ?, RB ?, WR Austin Hill

The skinny: We honestly have no idea who will start at QB and RB next year, and the Pac-12 Blog believes that's probably not far from what Rich Rodriguez is thinking today. If we were going to go with complete conjecture at QB, we'd bet on a showdown between Texas transfer Connor Brewer and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon. Same thing at running back, where it seems likely a true or redshirt freshman replaces Ka'Deem Carey. Even Hill is a projection here based on his outstanding 2012 numbers, as he sat out last season with a knee injury. Sophomore Nate Phillips is the Wildcats' leading returning receiver.
It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth's dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.

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