Five programs in need of a 2016 QB 

February, 25, 2015
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Quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting process. With 16 of the 27 signal-callers in the ESPN Junior 300 already having given verbal pledges, there is increased pressure to get a top quarterback in the fold early. While some programs are set in 2016 or for the future at the vital position, several programs face the task of having to sign a potential difference maker at the position in the 2016 class.

Here are five programs that must sign a difference maker in 2016, and some of those are well on the way.

Stanford will have to overcome a myriad of questions if it is to prove that 2014's five-loss campaign was just a temporary tumble from college football's elite. But on the first day of 2015 spring practice, David Shaw embraced the skepticism coming his program's way.

"I love it," he said. "There's a hunger now. As much as we try not to worry about what other people say about us, it's nice when people talk about our conference and don't talk about us. Our guys get a little upset. I think that's great."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Barry Sanders
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsQB Kevin Hogan and RB Barry Sanders return to lead the Stanford offense.
The Cardinal enjoyed an offensive resurgence to end 2014, but there are questions about their attack's ability to sustain that success for an entire season. Meanwhile, the core of Stanford's vaunted defense has been completely gutted. Shaw's club must replace all three starting defensive linemen from last season.

Winter training, which took place over the course of the past two months, was the first step in the Cardinal's reloading effort. Players say that sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley refined the program this year, and the changes helped infuse a fresh sense of accountability following disappointment in 2014.

"No one can half-ass a rep," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.

Monday's practice practice was Stanford's first chance to work out under full supervision of the coaching staff. While workout strain had been the dominant theme of January and the first half of February, the complete football package has now returned to the forefront. Shaw indicated that he was pleased with Stanford's communication on the first non-padded day of practice.

"There's a lot to compete for," he said. 'There'll be a lot of questions people have about us, and our guys are eager to answer those."

Here are some early returns:

The questions to answer
  • Stanford is dealing with a smattering of injuries and absences in spring practice, and those further complicate the challenges facing the Cardinal. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, the two most experienced members of their respective position groups, will both miss spring practice due to injury. That sets the table for potentially wild competition in the trenches and in the secondary this spring: It'll be a free-for-all of unproven players battling for playing time at those positions. Shaw noted that Luke Kaumatule will shift between outside linebacker and defensive end (in nickel situations), movement that could be a fitting illustration of what is -- at this point -- an unsettled defense. "We have talented young defensive linemen that we're excited to see play," Shaw said. "But they've got a lot to learn."
  • Running back Remound Wright will miss the first half of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue, leaving Stanford with only two scholarship backs -- Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders -- at the moment. Shaw said that fullbacks Pat Skov (when he returns from injury) and Daniel Marx will receive single-back carries, which seems indicative of Stanford's hunger for a power runner.
  • Hogan is clearly Stanford's man at quarterback, but Shaw said that both Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will receive first team chances as they compete for the backup job.
There isn’t a Pac-12 defense that will need to replace more major contributors than Washington.

The entire defensive front of Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Andrew Hudson and Evan Hudson is gone. So are Paul Hornung Award winner Shaq Thompson and John Timu, who led the Huskies in tackles during two of the four seasons he started. Washington assistant coach/linebackers coach Bob Gregory has his work cut out.

“Well, that’s college football,” Gregory said. “It’s never approached that there’s a problem. It’s just, ‘Hey, we’re moving on, that’s just the way it is.’ You’ve got pro football where you might have guys for a long time but [here] you’re going to graduate guys every single year.”

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington is losing its entire defensive front as well as star linebacker Shaq Thompson.
But they’re not just replacing “guys.” They’re replacing their front four, and more specifically for Gregory they’re replacing two of the best inside linebackers that Washington has seen in a while.

Thus far the eventual heirs to the thrones look like the 2014 backups -- Keishawn Bierria for Thompson and Scott Lawyer or maybe Azeem Victor for Timu.

Bierria started four games in 2014, including picking up starts during the two games that Thompson moved over to tailback. Gregory said Bierria could be joined in the competition by outside linebackers Travis Feeney and Cory Littleton as the Huskies search for that perfect match of productivity and playmaking ability, but in Bierria’s limited time this season Gregory was impressed with his natural instinct and how he “made plays when we needed to make some plays.”

“He’s got a chance to be a good football player,” Gregory said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later."

Gregory is also hoping that Lawyer or Victor proves himself as a starter sooner rather than later. Lawyer has the upper hand when it comes to experience, Gregory noted, but he also said he sees great potential in Victor, who redshirted last season.

But the common thread to all of these guys is this: Everyone is going to be relatively inexperienced and everyone is going to be replacing someone who was far from that.

Which brings up the topic that Gregory will have to bridge this season -- balancing the expectations of the players who fill these shoes in the fact that maybe they don’t need to be filled in the exact same way as the player who came before them.

There seems to be an art in this transition and Washington won’t be the only Pac-12 team that has to face this issue. Gary Andersen and Mark Helfrich both need to replace recording-breaking quarterbacks. Kyle Whittingham needs to replace the conference leader in sacks. Steve Sarkisian needs to replace a 100-yard-per-game rusher. And all of the conference players who step into these roles will be younger, less-experienced players.

Does Gregory expect Bierria to score four defensive touchdowns next season? Does Gregory expect Lawyer or Victor to come in and register a 100-plus tackles in his first year starting?

No. But Gregory has seen it done at each of those positions so he knows that it is possible.

“These kids are competitors and they have very high expectations,” Gregory said. “But, it’s all about them, it’s all about you as a player developing. We don’t want them to think they need to be Shaq, we just want whoever it is to be themselves and to develop and be consistent players and play hard -- but all within themselves.”

Interior expectations aren’t the only thing Gregory needs to balance. He knows that in year two of the Chris Petersen tenure, there will be higher expectations from the administration and the public and within the coaches themselves -- all of this after losing so much on defense.

“It’s another year, the expectations are going to be a little bit higher,” Gregory said. “On the flipside, we’re going to have a lot of new faces on the defense. … We want to push the players as much as we can, but we have to bring those players along at a good pace and slowly so they can get it.”

Luckily for Gregory, all of these guys are on campus right now -- Washington isn’t relying on any true freshmen who won’t get to campus until June or July. And what each of these players is missing -- experience -- is only going to be found on the field.

Washington kicks off spring football on March 30.

“Now the challenge is the next guy up and we’ve got to develop those kids and bring them along at a fast pace,” Gregory said. “You go through winter conditioning and you hope you get better; you go through spring football and you hope you get better; then it’s summer. You hope all these phases of the offseason you want those guys to continue to improve.”

Spring questions: Arizona State

February, 24, 2015
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Continuing our reliance on the Roman alphabet, Arizona State is up next.

1. How do you even begin to replace Jaelen Strong? Strong hauled in 82 passes for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns -- including one amazing Hail Mary that brought us “Berco-ing.” If you haven’t thanked him yet for that alone, you should. Head coach Todd Graham has said do-everything back D.J. Foster would move to wide out, despite rushing for 1,081 yards last year. Look for a dusting of him in the run game -- a la speed sweeps, fly motion etc. -- but given the depth at running back, the move makes sense. Especially since Foster already has 163 catches for 1,874 yards and 11 touchdowns for his career. Nice luxury to have your 1K rusher become your go-to wide receiver.

2. How much will special teams be a factor? A lot. Count on it. Graham made special teams a point of emphasis in 2014 after a fairly abysmal 2013. The Sun Devils are in good shape with kicker Zane Gonzalez, but they’ll work with Matt Haack to become more consistent. The return game will be a priority, with Dechavon Hayes making the jump off of the scout team. The coaching staff loves his speed and he’ll likely be penciled in as the punt returner. Look for Kalen Ballage, who had a fantastic return day against Duke in the Sun Bowl, to stay with kickoff return duties.

3. Tackle talk? Perhaps more important than replacing Strong will be protecting presumed starting quarterback Mike Bercovici on the corners. With both offensive tackles -- Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka -- departing, the Sun Devils will look first to Evan Goodman at left tackle and Billy McGehee at right tackle. There’s some depth here, which helps. Freshman Quinn Bailey could get a look, and guard Christian Westerman could move outside, opening up Stephon McCray as an option inside.

You can follow along with the entire spring questions series here.
Washington finished 8-6 in Chris Petersen's first season this fall and more than a few Huskies fans were pretty grumpy about it. They expected more.

Now, you could make an argument they were right to be irritated. The Huskies had a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and Petersen's reputation when he was lured away from Boise State was that he got more out of his team's talent, not less.

Or you could make an argument that eight victories -- even in a 14-game season -- is pretty darn good for a program that has averaged just 5.42 wins over the past 14 years and has won more than eight games just once during that span (2013).

Yet whether you are a grumpy, hopeful or resigned Huskies fan, we bring you tidings of great joy. Washington will rise again. We, the perspicacious team known as the "Pac-12 blog," view the Huskies as the Pac-12 program with the most upside from its present state.

Why? More than a few reasons.

Washington has not only been elite before, it's an all-time top-25 program. It won the 1991 national title and has won 15 conference championships. When we mention those 14 years of averaging 5.42 wins, we make a cutoff after the Huskies' 2000 season, in which they won the Rose Bowl, finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. From 1980 to 2000, the Huskies won seven Pac-10 championships.

Of course, the Huskies' good friends in Eugene, Oregon, those low-key, humble Ducks, are politely raising their hands and gently protesting, "With all due respect ... live in the past much?"

Ah, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism, which Huskies fans can share, perhaps after asking Oregon fans if they'd like to know what it's like to actually win a national title.

For one, Husky Stadium might be the Pac-12's best stadium. Heck, it might be among the nation's best venues since its $280 million renovation that was completed before the 2013 season. It's on campus, it's big -- seating 70,000 -- and its location on Lake Washington with fantastic views of the snow-capped Cascade Mountains is postcard worthy.

It won't be difficult for Petersen to recruit to that stadium, which ranked third in the Pac-12 in attendance this fall at 64,508. Further, it is just the centerpiece of a program with A-list facilities.

Finally, we are certainly not even close to changing our "buy" rating on Petersen after one middling year, pretty much the only middling year of his career, and the first year in which he was a head coach in unfamiliar surroundings. Here's a guess his list of "What I Learned in My First Pac-12 Season" is fairly lengthy.

Unfortunately for our desire to be immediately right with this projection, the Huskies might, in fact, take a step back next season, despite the North Division looking wide-open after Oregon. Washington is replacing just about every defensive playmaker and its offense has even more questions, starting at quarterback but including a rebuilding offensive line.

Still, in terms of its long-term prospects, we're betting on Petersen to shortly push Washington back into the Pac-12 and national hunt.
The talk for the 2015 Pac-12 title is already in full swing, but let’s bring it back a notch. Or a few, depending on wherever you might place -- in varying levels of importance -- the nonconference football season.

But it’s what’s closest for us for football action, and the Pac-12 has a few very, very exciting games on the docket in 2015. Now, for the sake of this vote (as our technology only allows five options) we’ve taken Notre Dame games off the table. Sorry, Irish, maybe next time.

So, which nonconference, non-Notre Dame match up do you find most intriguing in the 2015 season?

1. Utah vs. Michigan | Thursday, Sept. 3

SportsNation

Which 2015 nonconference (non-Notre Dame) game is most intriguing?

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What a college football homecoming for Mr. Jim Harbaugh. While he was at Stanford, the Utes were of little thought considering they hadn’t even joined the Pac-12 yet. But now with Harbaugh back in college football and back in the Pac-12, he gets to face one of the newest to the Pac. And if the off-the-field storylines aren’t enough for ya, the on-field ones are pretty good, too. Utah took care of business in Ann Arbor last season but this year, in the season opener, they welcome the Wolverines to Salt Lake City for a Thursday night game in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Michigan is in a state of flux -- losing its quarterback (Devin Gardner), top receiver (Devin Funchess) and top defensive player (Jake Ryan) from the 2014 season. Utah has had a few significant losses as well -- Nate Orchard, Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson ... just to name a few.

2. Cal at Texas | Saturday, Sept. 19

The Bears shocked many (well, not me, I was the only one to pick that upset) when they went on the road last season in Week 1 and beat Northwestern, 31-24. But going on the road to Texas is an entirely different beast. Can Jared Goff lead Cal to victory in front of 100K in Week 3 this season? Cal is a perfect example of how much a program can grow between the first and second year under a new head coach. The Longhorns had their own struggles under Charlie Strong last year -- player dismissals, injuries, etc. -- but they still managed to make a bowl game. Plus, let’s add a bit of history to this game. Cal fans will still remember the 2005 Rose Bowl -- one that Texas got into (with politicking from former Texas coach Mack Brown) instead of Cal, even though the Bears led the Longhorns in the final regular season BCS poll that season.

3. Oregon at Michigan State | Saturday, Sept. 12

This was one of the most talked about matchups of the 2014 season and expect the same to be true for 2015. This year, it’s going to be a little bit different. The headlining quarterback? Not the Duck, but the Spartan -- soon-to-be-senior Connor Cook, who led the Big Ten in passing yards per game (247.2) last season. He’ll be matched up against a largely revamped Oregon secondary, which will feature mostly new (and young) faces. On the other side of the ball, this will be the first chance fans get to see Royce Freeman -- with another college offseason under his belt -- perform against an FBS-level defense (though, it will be a non-Pat Narduzzi defense, which should be noted). And what quarterback will Oregon field for this game? Still up in the air. But whoever it is should get ready for whatever Mark Dantonio is going to throw at him. Because even though Narduzzi is gone, Dantonio is going to want to use this game as a statement game for the MSU defense and specifically, its pass rush.

4. Oregon State at Michigan | Saturday, Sept. 12

Nothing like a former Big Ten coach taking his first road trip of his Pac-12 head coaching career … back to Big Ten country. And, there’s nothing like a former Pac-12 coach leading a Big Ten team against a former Big Ten coach leading a Pac-12 team. Follow? It’s a bit dizzying. Gary Andersen was more recently in the opposite conference, but he isn’t too familiar with Michigan. During his two seasons at Wisconsin, the Badgers and Wolverines never met on the field. But with the statement an underrated Utah team made at Michigan in Week 4 last season, could we see a bit of déjà vu in the Big House in Week 2 this year? Jim Harbaugh begins his Michigan tenure with two Pac-12 teams -- we’ll see how much either team tests or bests his Wolverines.

5. Washington at Boise State | Saturday, Sept. 5

SO. MANY. HOMECOMINGS. Next up: Chris Petersen gets the chance to go back to Boise State and that beautiful blue field to avoid what he did to so many Power 5 teams when he was at Boise State. The Broncos are coming off a solid season, 12-2 in its first year of the non-Petersen era. And Pac-12 teams might remember that No. 20 Boise State took down No. 10 Arizona in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, 38-30. (And Arizona took down Washington, 27-26, six weeks earlier -- we know how our Pac-12 Blog readers love the law of transitive property…) But how much different will Washington look in Year 2 under Petersen? There’s certainly a lot to replace -- Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton -- and that’s only the defensive side of the ball. But, can this offseason be a strong enough one for the Huskies that they come out full force in the first weekend of the season and avoid a defeat against a historically strong giant slayer? We’ll see.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most media events with college football coaches are like droning tennis matches -- back and forth, back and forth. With Arizona State coach Todd Graham, however, it's more like downhill skiing, perhaps the giant slalom. The media sit down and Graham explodes out of the gate, weaving between myriad topics without any need for reporters to participate, much less ask questions.

The good news is it's informative and pretty amusing. Graham, as is his wont, will undoubtedly overflow with optimism, never betraying any concerns over his depth chart, except retroactively. As in: Yes, he was "scared to death" about replacing nine defensive starters in 2014, an admission that inspired a smug celebration inside the head of at least one reporter, "Yesss! I knew it!"

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSun Devils coach Todd Graham has raised expectations, and he won't shy away form them.
What's obvious is Graham is comfortable and enjoying himself as he holds court in his spacious office, tall windows providing a nice view of construction workers banging away at the $256 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. The 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year has led the Sun Devils to consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in 39 years, as well as three consecutive bowl appearances. He took over a team that had posted just one winning conference record in the previous seven seasons and has gone three for three.

Twenty-eight FBS schools hired coaches prior to the 2012 season, 17 of whom remain at those schools. Of those 17, Graham, at 28-12, has posted the fourth-best overall record, behind only Ohio State's Urban Meyer (38-3), UCLA's Jim Mora (29-11) and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (28-11), whom he will meet to open the 2015 season in one of the nation's marquee nonconference matchups.

All this is said to support the notion that it's not just Everything-is-Awesome! coachspeak when Graham opens his pre-spring practice news conference talking about Pac-12 and national championships. Even a skeptic sees plenty of maybe on his 2015 depth chart.

"No doubt in my mind we're going to have a lot better football team next year," he said of a squad that finished 10-3 last year with a final No. 15 ranking.

Though he welcomes back two solid specialists, he said his chief concern is special teams, which has become a bit of a thwarted obsession for him. He's successfully imposed his will on just about every aspect of the program, from improved discipline and academics to aggressive, Devils-may-care styles on both sides of the ball, but most Arizona State defeats the previous two years included forehead slapping moments on special teams.

He also has to replace both starting offensive tackles, including first-team All-Pac-12 performer Jamil Douglas, as well as first-team WR Jaelen Strong, a potential first-round NFL draft pick who hauled in 10 TD passes last year. Further, his run defense was mediocre to poor and most of the unit's 39 sacks came from high-risk, high-reward blitzes rather than one of four men winning a one-on-one battle.

What Graham doesn't seem concerned about is his new starting QB Mike Bercovici. While departed starter Taylor Kelly was a smart player, good runner and great leader, Bercovici might own the best arm in the Pac-12 this fall. His three starts last year for an injured Kelly and extended playing time in important situations also mean the fifth-year senior arrives with plenty of seasoning.

Said Graham, "We've got a guy who has a lightning release. I mean, this guy can throw the football. We're obviously adapting everything to that."

In terms of playmakers, Graham is excited enough about his depth at running back to move versatile D.J. Foster -- a 1,000-yard rusher for goodness sake -- to slot receiver. Graham also gushed about running back/return man De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes and redshirt freshman receiver Jalen Harvey.

As for his defense, it reverses course from last year in that nine starters are back, and Graham raved about his depth at all three levels. He believes touted JC transfer Davon Durant will provide an instant boost to the pass rush at the devil-backer spot, where Carl Bradford was so productive in 2013.

The sum total is an intriguing team, one of five from the Pac-12's rugged South Division that figures to be ranked in the preseason. But national rankings and 10-win seasons are now been-there, done-that for the program.

"I think people know we are serious about it now," Graham said. "We want to win a national championship. We want to win a Pac-12 championship. Anything less than that ... that is the expectation."

Graham then raced ahead, slaloming through to other topics -- the value of national polls, his team briefly entering the College Football Playoff race in 2014, special teams, being pleasantly surprised by his defense last fall, etc. -- but his opening point stood out.

Graham expects Arizona State to continue to climb in 2015, and that's meaningful because there's not much space above that separates the Sun Devils from the national title hunt.

Snoop's son gets 'Coming To America' birthday party

February, 23, 2015
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To quote King Jaffe Jaffer of Zamunda: "Time does fly fast, my son. It seems only yesterday I ordered your first diaper changed. Now you're a man ..."

For one night, Prince Akeem of Zamunda became Prince Cordell of Los Angeles.

Snoop Dogg's son, UCLA WR signee Cordell Broadus, turned 18 over the weekend. What did the proud papa do?



Broadus' "Coming To America" party gave plenty of love to the 1988 Eddie Murphy classic, including a throne for the prince, plenty of rose petal scattering and, of course, a photo of the royal family.

The royal family

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

Spring questions: Arizona

February, 23, 2015
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

In honor of the alphabet, we start with Arizona.

1. Will Solomon take a step forward? The good news for the Wildcats -- great news, really -- is that Rich Rodriguez, with rising sophomore Anu Solomon, will have a returning starter at QB for the first time in Tucson. He and QB coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have produced such impressive results with Matt Scott, B.J. Denker and Solomon in one year, you have to expect that a second season of seasoning and refinement in the system will yield a significant amount of improvement behind center. That's the suspicion, but now Solomon needs to make it happen. Solomon started the 2014 season impressively and peaked at midseason, but he faded late in the year, particularly against Oregon and in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. That suggests defensive coordinators figured out what made him uncomfortable and exploited it. Moreover, as a laid back sort, he's going to need to take more of a vocal leadership role. It's one thing eclipsing expectations of what a redshirt freshman starter can do. It's another to advance to an all-conference sort of player.

2. Who will fill three big O-line holes? The Wildcats must replace four-year starting offensive tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele as well as their best lineman in 2014, second-team All-Pac-12 center Steven Gurrola. Senior Carter Wood, a former walk-on who started the Fiesta Bowl for the suspended Gurrola and is best known for throwing up on the ball against Oregon, will get first crack at center. California transfer Freddie Tagaloa is an option at tackle, and at 6-foot-8 and 330 pounds with starting Pac-12 experience, he looks the part. T.D. Gross and Lath Fresh were the backup tackles last year. With three experienced returning guards in Cayman Bundage, Lene Maiava and Jacob Alsadek there also are some options for shuffling.

3. Who lines up with Scooby? Though the linebacking corps surrounding all-everything defender Scooby Wright returns intact, the defense must replace both starting defensive ends -- unless the NCAA grants Reggie Gilbert an extra year due to medical hardship -- and three of five starters in the secondary. The secondary has some promising youngsters returning, such as corner Cam Denson, and the apparent move of junior to be DaVonte’ Neal to corner is intriguing. JC transfers are likely to help, most notably the touted Anthony Fotu on the D-line and safety Paul Magloire. Arizona has played decent to good defense with less than A-list talent under Rodriguez. The question is can it continue to advance after suffering some personnel losses.
Stanford opens 2015 spring practice today looking to sustain strong 2014 offensive momentum while reloading a defense that is losing several key starters. The Cardinal's spring will be divided into two sessions: This first one runs until March 7, and the second kicks off March 30 and wraps up with the April 11 spring game at Stanford Stadium.

Here are five developments to keep an eye on over the next six weeks:

Competition along the defensive line

Stanford has been forced to replace significant pieces in each of David Shaw's years at the helm, but this offseason the team must rebuild the entire defensive line. This trench is considered the foundation of what has been the Pac-12's stingiest defense the past three years, and it's losing all three starters.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Phillips
Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY SportsStanford needs a big contribution from Harrison Phillips, right, as it retools its defense for 2015.
The battle to replace Henry Anderson, David Parry, and Blake Lueders is on. Veterans Aziz Shittu and Luke Kaumatule must solidify prominent spots, or logic says Stanford is in deep trouble. They are expected to fight young talents Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas, who are expected to mature into stalwarts. The development of the defensive line will be intriguing, especially since Stanford's roster no longer features a prototypical block-gobbling nose tackle. It creates a question mark that can't be ignored.

Rotation in the secondary

Though assistant Randy Hart appears to have his hands full with the defensive line, secondary coach Duane Akina finds himself in a similar situation. Stanford has recruited notably well at this position over the past two cycles, so it appears Akina has ammunition to work with. Still, the Cardinal must replace strong safety Jordan Richards (an integral defensive captain) and both starting cornerbacks -- Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons.

Spring practice provides a first chance to assess Stanford's shifting plan at cornerback -- where will fifth-year man Ronnie Harris fit in relative to younger blue chip talents like Terrence Alexander? -- nickel back, and safety. Zach Hoffpauir will be a key piece of the puzzle at the latter two positions, but he is playing baseball for the Cardinal, so several underclassmen should have a chance to move up the pecking order in the coming weeks.

Cohesiveness of the offense

While the defense reloads, Stanford's offense returns largely intact. The Cardinal surged on this side of the ball to end the 2014 season, so spring marks a chance for quarterback Kevin Hogan and Co. to maintain the cohesiveness and efficiency they finished with. Stanford's offense has struggled mightily during spring practice ever since Andrew Luck graduated. With the defense in the midst of such a daunting reloading effort, this can be the offense's chance to finally turn the tables. Finding consistent spring confidence is important for a group that took so long to establish an effective rhythm in 2014.

Progress at tight end

After several consecutive banner seasons, Stanford's threat at tight end disappeared completely in 2013. Its return began in 2014 when the young crop of Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton, and Greg Taboada hit the field. The trio developed increasing comfort last season, and expectations have taken full flight as they enter their third year in the program. Stanford is certainly hoping to re-establish an elite size-speed threat at the position beyond those three, and spring will serve as a gauge of progress on that front -- especially since many are hopeful that sophomore Dalton Schultz can make this crew a four-headed monster.

Balance in the backfield

Kelsey Young is no longer on Stanford's roster and is expected to transfer, so a crowded Cardinal backfield has one less body competing for touches. Shaw's distribution of carries figures to be a key factor in the 2015 season, and the prolific rise of youngster Christian McCaffrey promises to make the development of the position a fascinating watch. Remound Wright exploded at the goal line to close 2014. His coexistence with McCaffrey and Barry Sanders will continue to be an important variable.

Toughest coaching job in the Pac-12

February, 23, 2015
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Before we dive into why Washington State is the toughest job in the Pac-12, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. This is not about desirability Insider. That can be judged only on a case-by-case basis.

Mike Riley was always a better fit in Corvallis, Oregon, than he would have been in Tempe, Arizona. No one will ever convince David Shaw that Los Angeles is a better place to live than Palo Alto, California, and vice versa for Steve Sarkisian. For me, Pullman, Washington, isn't the remote wasteland it is often unfairly portrayed to be by people who might have been there a couple of times. I chose to leave the Bay Area to go to school there and have only good memories of the time I spent in what is truly a college town.

Everyone has their fit.

But even those who cringe at the thought of Southern California traffic have to admit it's much easier to win football games there than places like Washington State or Oregon State. That's not debatable. Roughly 90 years of data bear it out.

In the past 92 years, the Cougars have won 46.5 percent of their games. In the conference, only Oregon State (45.8) is worse. But in the past 10 years, the Beavers (61-52) have won nearly twice as many games as the Cougars (34-74).

Plenty of factors weigh in, but let's use a general term that encompasses the most noteworthy: resources.

It's not just money, of which the schools from large media markets (and Oregon) are flush. That part is likely well understood, but success is affected perhaps more so by recruiting, and that's where Washington State's location, as a resource, is a detriment.

In the past four years, there have been 16 four- and five-star recruits from the state. Of those, only two lived within 125 miles of Pullman. And in the Class of 2015, 17 recruits from the state signed with FBS schools -- none with the Cougars. Only Oregon State, which signed one in-state recruit this year, faces a similar challenge. Oregon's national prestige has made it essentially a non-issue in Eugene, but that's relatively new.

On the other end of the spectrum is Southern California, which boasted 27 four- and five-star recruits this year alone. Even without those factored in, the region still boasted far more talent than the Pacific Northwest.

So without much of a local talent base to pull from, Washington State -- which also has the conference's smallest athletic budget -- can only compete for the second- and third-tier recruits. There's the occasional blue-chipper looking for a college-town atmosphere who determines Pullman is the right place for him, but it's usually a hard sell -- especially because of the program's lack of success following the string of three straight 10-win seasons from 2001 to 2003.

No one should say it's impossible to win at Washington State -- because it's not -- but there's not a school in the conference where it's harder. That doesn't make Mike Leach's job a bad one ... just harder than most.

Pac-12 at the combine: Sunday recap

February, 22, 2015
Feb 22
7:45
PM ET
Linebackers and defensive linemen worked out on Day 3 of the NFL combine's on-field drills on Sunday, which means several of the Pac-12's most high-profile prospects were on display.

Six of the conference's seven first-team linebackers/defensive linemen worked out -- with rising junior Scooby Wright III the lone exception -- including potential top-10 picks Leonard Williams (USC) and Danny Shelton (Washington). While the more big-name guys performed about as expected, it was a trio of lesser-known players -- Oregon State's Obum Gwacham, UCLA's Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Washington State's Xavier Cooper -- that might have improved their stock the most.

Here's how all 17 players fared:

Defensive linemen

DE Henry Anderson, Stanford
40-yard dash:
5.03 seconds (27 of 43)
Bench press:
n/a
Vertical jump: 30 inches (t-26 of 39)
Broad jump: 111 inches (t-16 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.20 seconds (5 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.19 seconds (t-2 of 35)
DT Arik Armstead, Oregon
40-yard dash:
5.10 seconds (32 of 43)
Bench press:
24 reps (t-22 of 36)
Vertical jump: 34 inches (t-8 of 39)
Broad jump: 117 inches (t-8 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.57 seconds (t-20 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds (t-17 of 35)
DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State
40-yard dash: 4.86 seconds (14 of 43)
Bench press:
29 reps (t-9 of 36)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-32 of 39)
Broad jump: 110 inches (t-18 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.23 seconds (6 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.37 seconds (8 of 35)
DE Obum Gwacham, Oregon State
40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds (3 of 43)
Bench press:
22 reps (t-28 of 36)
Vertical jump: 36 inches (6 of 39)
Broad jump: 121 inches (t-2 of 39)
3-cone drill: n/a
20-yard shuttle: n/a
DE Marcus Hardison, Arizona State
Bench press:
27 reps (t-13 of 36)

DT Ellis McCarthy, UCLA
40-yard dash: 5.21 seconds (39 of 43)
Bench press:
24 reps (t-22 of 36)
Vertical jump: 32 inches (t-18 of 39)
Broad jump: 109 inches (t-20 of 39)
3-cone drill: 8.16 seconds (34 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 5.07 seconds (35 of 35)
DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
40-yard dash: 4.62 seconds (2 of 43)
Bench press:
25 reps (t-18 of 36)
Vertical jump: 39 inches (1 of 39)
Broad jump: 127 inches (1 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.36 seconds (12 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.19 seconds (t-2 of 35)
60-yard shuttle: 11.75 seconds (3 of 9)
DE Nate Orchard, Utah
40-yard dash: 4.80 seconds (t-8 of 43)
Bench press:
n/a
Vertical jump: 31.5 inches (20 of 39)
Broad jump: 115 inches (11 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.28 seconds (8 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.43 seconds (11 of 35)
60-yard shuttle: 12.06 seconds (6 of 9)
NT David Parry, Stanford
40-yard dash: 5.38 seconds (41 of 43)
Bench press:
34 reps (t-2 of 36)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-32 of 39)
Broad jump: 103 inches (t-31 of 39)
3-cone drill: n/a
20-yard shuttle: n/a

NT Danny Shelton, Washington
40-yard dash: 5.64 seconds (43 of 43)
Bench press:
34 reps (t-2 of 36)
Vertical jump: 30.5 inches (25 of 39)
Broad jump: 95 inches (39 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.99 seconds (32 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.65 seconds (t-25 of 35)
DE Leonard Williams, USC
40-yard dash: 4.97 seconds (t-21 of 43)
Bench press:
n/a
Vertical jump: 29.5 inches (t-29 of 39)
Broad jump: 106 inches (t-23 of 39)
3-cone drill: 7.59 seconds (22 of 36)
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds (t-17 of 35)
Linebackers:
ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds (t-9 of 34)
Bench press:
19 reps (t-24 of 33)
Vertical jump: 38 inches (t-5 of 33)
Broad jump: 124 inches (t-6 of 33)
OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
ILB Hayes Pullard, USC
40-yard dash: 4.78 inches (t-22 of 34)
Bench press:
19 reps (t-24 of 33)
Vertical jump: 31 inches (29 of 33)
Broad jump: 110 inches (t-29 of 33)
OLB J.R. Tavai, USC
40-yard dash: 4.91 seconds (29 of 34)
Bench press:
20 reps (t-20 of 33)
Vertical jump: 30.5 inches (30 of 33)
Broad jump: 112 inches (t-24 of 33)

OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington
40-yard dash: 4.64 seconds (t-11 of 34)
Bench press:
n/a
Vertical jump: 33.5 inches (t-20 of 33)
Broad jump: 117 inches (t-20 of 33)
OLB Tony Washington, Oregon
40-yard dash: 4.99 seconds (33 of 34)
Bench press:
17 reps (31 of 33)
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (t-23 of 33)
Broad jump: 110 inches (t-29 of 33)
Congratulations consumers of Pac-12 football, you now know what you already knew you knew: Marcus Mariota is fast.

At Day 2 of the NFL combine's on-field activities, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs were on display. Here's how those from the Pac-12 fared:

Quarterbacks

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Since 2006, only five quarterbacks have run a faster 40 time than Mariota's 4.52: Reggie McNeal 4.35 (Texas A&M, 2006); Robert Griffin III 4.41 (Baylor, 2012); Marcus Vick 4.42 (Virginia Tech, 2006); Brad Smith 4.46 (Missouri, 2006); Tyrod Taylor 4.51 (Virginia Tech, 2011). It was in no way surprising that Mariota's other numbers measured up well, but probably more important, he drew good reviews as a passer.

40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds (1 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 121 inches (3 of 13)

Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley might be the most interesting prospect among the group simply because he was asked to a lot of different things in college and is tough to project where he'll go in the draft. He confirmed he's one of the best athletes among quarterbacks.

40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (5 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 120 inches (5 of 13)

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: USA Track and Field won't be calling anytime soon, but Mannion's lack of speed isn't a new revelation. As a pocket passer, he showed what he needed to by delivering accurate, catchable balls.

40-yard dash: 5.14 seconds (13 of 13)
Vertical jump: 31.0 inches (9 of 13)
Broad jump: 105 inches (10 of 13)

Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana (transferred from Oregon): Bennett might have been talked about as one of the draft's best quarterbacks if not for a certain Hawaiian's decision to attend Oregon. After two years in the FCS, he's a relative unknown, but the combine showed he matches up favorably from a physical standpoint.

40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds (7 of 13)
Vertical jump: 37.0 (2 of 13)
Broad jump: 125.0 inches (1 of 13)

Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday met with teams, but is still not ready to workout as he continues to rehab from the broken ankle that ended his senior season prematurely.

Wide receivers

Nelson Agholor, USC: Agholor tested well, but suffered a minor setback with a dislocated finger that ended his day early.

40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds (t-7 of 39)
Bench press: 12 (t-20 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a Broad jump: n/a


Dres Anderson, Utah: Not fully recovered from a season-ending knee injury, Anderson met with teams and participated in the bench press.

40-yard dash: n/a
Bench press: 13 (t-14 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a
Broad jump: n/a

Kaelin Clay, Utah: Put simply, it was a rough day for Clay. As a guy who figures to have a shot to make a team as a potential return specialist, the raw numbers might be more important than for others. However, after watching how dangerous he is all year, I'm comfortable saying he's more athletic than the numbers indicate.

40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds (t-20 of 39)
Bench press: 10 (t-25 of 30)
Vertical jump: 33.0 inches (t-32 of 38)
Broad jump: 113 inches (36 of 38)

Vince Mayle, Washington State: Mayle is at risk of being labeled a system receiver after testing well below average -- at least compared to the other receivers -- in Indy. After a quiet Senior Bowl, Mayle hasn't helped his stock after a brilliant senior year.

40-yard dash: 4.67 (37 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches (t-22 of 38)
Broad jump: 117 inches (30 of 38)

Ty Montgomery, Stanford: As was the case during the season, Montgomery's hands were called into question during the combine.

40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds (t-26 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 40.5 inches (6 of 38)
Broad jump: 121 inches (t-17 of 38)

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: If we were handing out a Pac-12 blog award for the day's best performance, it would go to Strong. After measuring in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, his 4.44-second 40 and 42-inch vertical jump make him a rare combination of size and athleticism. Which is basically a confirmation of everything Arizona State fans have known for awhile.

40-yard dash: 4.44 (t-13 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 42.o inches (2 of 38)
Broad jump: 123 inches (9 of 38)

Running back

Buck Allen, USC: Good speed for a running back, but was tied for the fewest reps on the bench press.

40-yard dash: 4.53 (t-6 of 31)
Bench press: 11 (t-29 of 30)

Pac-12 at the combine -- Friday recap

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
10:30
PM ET
A large chunk of my day was spent watching large human beings run 40 yards in spandex. I'd call the whole exercise pointless, but that would require me to come to grips with the fact that I woke up earlier than I would have otherwise to watch something that is pointless and I'm just not ready for that.

Six Pac-12 players were expected to participate in the NFL combine's first day of on-field activities. Here's how they fared:

Offensive linemen

OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: Nothing popped out about Douglas' day, but he did turn in an impressive 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash -- which is actually more applicable for a lineman.

40-yard dash: 5.25 seconds (21 of 40)
Bench press: 28 reps (t-10 of 37)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-19 of 38)
Broad jump: 99 inches (t-21 of 36)
3 cone drill: 7.99 seconds (19 of 37)
20-yard shuttle: n/a

OT Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher had the most notable day of the Pac-12 contingent, coming in with the fastest times in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle and second-best marks in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.

40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds (2 of 40)
Bench press: 25 reps (t-20 of 37)
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (t-2 of 38)
Broad jump: n/a
3 cone drill: 7.25 seconds (1 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.33 seconds (1 of 37)

OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Peat elected not participate in the bench press and was good enough in the other events. There wasn't anything about his day that should alter any preconceived notions about him.

40-yard dash: 5.18 second (12 of 40)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 31 inches (t-8 of 38)
Broad jump: 105 inches (13 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.01 (21 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.62 (t-10 of 37)

OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: Poutasi's decision to declare for the draft was surprising and he didn't help his cause with a below-average performance Friday. Other than in the bench press, he ranked near the bottom in nearly every category.

40-yard dash: 5.32 seconds (24 of 40)
Bench press: 26 reps (t-13 of 37)
Vertical jump: 26.5 inches (t-29 of 38)
Broad jump: 95 inches (32 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.09 seconds (t-24 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.89 (33 of 37)

C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: Considered one of the draft's top center prospects, Grasu was at the combine but did not participate in on-field drills.

Tight End

Randall Telfer, USC: Telfer only participated in the bench press (20 reps).

Players come and go.

In a perfect world, teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.

That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

For the complete list from this series, click here.

Washington State Cougars

Biggest shoes: DT Xavier Cooper

It would have been easy to list quarterback Connor Halliday or wide receiver Vince Mayle based on what they did last season, but does anyone think the transition to Luke Falk -- or anyone else, really -- will result in much decline in WSU's passing game? Halliday was very good. An all-time great at the school, even. But if there is one thing Mike Leach can be counted on to do, it's have the next quarterback ready. With that, almost by default, we look to the other side of the ball, where there are plenty of gaps to plug. Most notably: Cooper. At 6-foot -4 and 299 pounds, the defensive tackle experienced enough success over the past three seasons to convince himself he was ready for the NFL draft. He finished the season with 37 tackles, led the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and was one of the few players who physically stood out on defense for the Cougars. His early departure stings worse considering it wasn't a foregone conclusion he would leave, and it coincides with the end of nose tackle Toni Pole's career, too.

Stepping in: sophomore Daniel Ekuale, junior Robert Barber, freshman Ngalu Tapa

Ekuable and Barber both stepped in at times with varying degrees of success last year, but neither played enough to develop much of a meaningful opinion about them. Coincidently, they're both from Pago Pago, American Samoa (attended different high schools) and don't have much in the way of recruiting profiles, either. At 6-2 and 314 pounds, Tapa is a name to keep an eye on coming off his redshirt season. A three-star recruit in 2014, he was a dominant high school player in one of the best leagues in Northern California. Recent four-star signee Thomas Toki should also compete for playing time as a freshman.

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