They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more important -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We move on to the North Division. You can see the South here.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

California

Tackles for a loss: 76 (43)

Sacks: 18 (13.5)

Interceptions: 5 (3)

Forced fumbles: 9 (4)

Key returner: Jalen Jefferson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT)

Key loss: DL Deandre Coleman (9 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

Breakdown: The Bears’ 2013 defense, perhaps the worst unit in team history, was hit so hard by injuries, these numbers aren't of much consequence. The big questions are if players such as DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, S Avery Sebastian can put up numbers this fall after returning from injuries.

Oregon

Tackles for a loss: 70 (40.5)

Sacks: 28 (18.5)

Interceptions: 17 (8)

Forced fumbles: 17 (12)

Key returners: OLB Tony Washington (12 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles); CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5 TFL, 3 interceptions, forced fumble)

Key losses: DE Taylor Hart (6.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Terrance Mitchell (5 INTs)

Breakdown: Mitchell's decision to enter the draft a year early hurts -- just as Ekpre-Olomu's decision to return was a pleasant surprise -- but the Ducks have plenty of numbers coming back. Washington led the 2013 defense in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles, and Ekpre-Olomu was a consensus All-American.

Oregon State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (43.5)

Sacks: 25 (11.5)

Interceptions: 19 (13)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returners: CB Steven Nelson (6 INTs); S Ryan Murphy (8 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 INTs, forced fumble).

Key losses: DE Scott Crichton (19 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Rashaad Reynolds (3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 6 INTs, 2 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Crichton led the Beavers in TFL, sacks and forced fumbles. His playmaking won't be easy to replace, though having a healthy D.J. Alexander and Michael Doctor at LB should help the front seven's numbers. Nelson and Reynolds tied for the Pac-12 lead in interceptions.

Stanford

Tackles for a loss: 109 (44.5)

Sacks: 44 (13)

Interceptions: 13 (10)

Forced fumbles: 15 (7)

Key returners: Kevin Anderson (6.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, INT); S Jordan Richards (4.0 TFL, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: OLB Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15.0 sacks, INT, 2 forced fumbles); LB Shayne Skov (13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Murphy was among the most productive defensive players in the nation, Skov was the defense's leader, and guys like D-linemen Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner shouldn't be overlooked, so the Cardinal defense loses a lot of numbers. The biggest question is how well Anderson replaces Murphy.

Washington

Tackles for a loss: 74 (58)

Sacks: 41 (36.5)

Interceptions: 16 (8)

Forced fumbles: 11 (6)

Key returners: DE Hau'oli Kikaha (15.5 tackles for a loss, 13.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); CB Marcus Peters (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, five interceptions, forced fumble)

Key loss: S Sean Parker (3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INTs)

Breakdown: These numbers reflect that the Huskies are in great shape with their front seven but the secondary is rebuilding. The Huskies should be plenty capable of putting pressure on opposing QBs, and that should help a secondary that will be young.

Washington State

Tackles for a loss: 75 (52)

Sacks: 21 (18)

Interceptions: 16 (3)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: DE Xavier Cooper (13.5 tackles for a loss, 5.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); LB Darryl Monroe (8 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles)

Key losses: S Deone Bucannon (4.5 TFL, 6 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); CB Damante Horton (3.5 TFL, 5 interceptions, forced fumble)

Breakdown: Like their friends from Seattle, the Cougars return a lot of production from their front seven but they are rebuilding their secondary. In fact, Bucannon, a four-year starter, leaves some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Pac-12.
While watching Cal’s defense suffer last year, all defensive end Brennan Scarlett wanted to do was pitch in and give his guys a hand.

Yet in a cruel act of irony, it was his hand that was keeping him off the field.

After Scarlett broke the middle metacarpal bone in his left hand in 2012, he developed a staph infection that spread into the bone, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season. All he could do was offer emotional support as his teammates stumbled through one of the worst seasons in program history. And on top of that, sweat out the future of his left hand.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Scarlett
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBrennan Scarlett has played in only 12 games in three seasons -- none in 2013 -- but has shown plenty of pop when healthy.
“It was pretty scary,” Scarlett said. “The infection spread so quickly and got into the bone. If they hadn’t caught it as quickly as they did, it could have spread to the whole hand. I’m not sure exactly what could have happened. But there were plenty of worst-case scenarios.”

Fortunately for Scarlett and the Bears, the best-case scenario seems to have prevailed. And after 18 months, he’s back on the field for the first time, practicing with his teammates during spring ball.

Coming out of Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore., Scarlett was a U.S. Army All-American and was a four-star player by multiple services. Some had him as one of the top 10 defensive ends in the country. But so far he has appeared in only 12 games over two seasons, starting nine. From those 12, there have been glimpses of his potential. He has 44 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He also has forced a pair of fumbles. When he’s healthy, he’s a playmaker.

“It’s been real disappointing and frustrating,” he said. “I think this is the year to finally show what I can do and maximize my abilities and finally live up to the hype that I had coming out of high school.”

The Bears need it. They ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last year, yielding a scoreboard-scorching 45.9 points per game. They also ranked last in total defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, opponent third-down conversion, red zone defense, fourth-down defense … you get the picture. It was bad.

Scarlett’s injury wasn’t the only one the Bears suffered. They also missed the play of Stefan McClure, Mustafa Jalil and Avery Sebastian, among many, many others, in one of the worst injury rashes in the country last year.

“I’ve never seen that many injuries happen in such a small window of time,” said Scarlett, who spent most of his 2013 in the film room. “It’s one thing to lose a guy and then five or six weeks later you lose another guy. But this happened week after week after week. And then you’re throwing in freshmen and guys who have never had the chance to play and weren’t expecting to play. It was really difficult for us as a team to get them all caught up. And as you can see what happened, it took its toll on us. I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t think anyone has.”

Naturally, when you’re giving up almost seven touchdowns per game, things tend to get a little down in the locker room. There was only so much Scarlett could do during that stretch.

“The media is all over you and you start seeing your fans fall off and people don’t show up,” he said. “You just have to take a step back and embrace your teammates and stick together and know that sooner or later things are going to turn around and the hard work is going to pay off. Being negative and keeping our heads down isn’t going to help anything. I think last season actually brought us that much closer together as a family and it will pay off.”

Sonny Dykes made the move in the offseason to reassign defensive coordinator Andy Buh and bring in Art Kaufman. Scarlett never got to be coached by Buh, but he learned the system anyway. He described Kaufman’s 4-3 scheme as similar but simpler than the one the Bears were running last season. And Dykes said he’s excited to finally see Scarlett's capabilities.

“To his credit, he did a good job of hanging in there,” Dykes said. “His attitude has been positive. He’s had some unfortunate things happen to him, but I thought his attitude has been good. He’s a guy I think we’re probably going to count on for some leadership as well. I think he’s become more comfortable in that role. I’m anxious to see him emerge and continue to get better.”
They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays here as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more importantly -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We start with the South Division.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

Arizona

Tackles for a loss: 77 (32.5)

Sacks: 24 (11.5)

Interceptions: 18 (12)

Forced fumbles: 9 (6)

Key returners: LB Scooby Wright (9.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception); S Tra'Mayne Bondurant (7.0 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: DL Sione Tuihalamaka (11 TFL, 5 sacks, forced fumble); CB Shaquille Richardson (3.0 TFL, 3 INTs)

Breakdown: The Wildcats must replace a lot of production, including their top two tacklers and tackles-for-loss producers. As has been the question for the past few years, it's uncertain who will lead the pass rush.

Arizona State

Tackles for a loss: 101 (16.5)

Sacks: 40 (5)

Interceptions: 21 (4)

Forced fumbles: 14 (6)

Key returners: S Damarious Randall (5.5 tackles for a loss, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); LB Salamo Fiso (5.5 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: DE Carl Bradford (19 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles); DB Robert Nelson (6 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: After losing nine starters, including six on the All-Pac-12 first and second teams, the Sun Devils are rebuilding on defense. Considering ASU's system is predicated on negative plays, developing new defensive playmakers is priority No. 1 for the defending South champions.

Colorado

Tackles for a loss: 71 (42.5)

Sacks: 17 (11)

Interceptions: 10 (10)

Forced fumbles: 12 (7)

Key returners: LB Addison Gillam (9.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT); CB Greg Henderson (4 interceptions)

Key losses: DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe (10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Other than Uzo-Diribe, just about all the key producers are back. But they need to take a decisive step forward this season. There's a sense in Boulder that the secondary might be ready for prime time.

UCLA

Tackles for a loss: 79 (31)

Sacks: 32 (8)

Interceptions: 14 (11)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: LB Myles Jack (7.0 tackles for a loss, 1.0 sacks, 2 INTs, forced fumble) CB Ishmael Adams (1.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Anthony Barr (20 TFL, 10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles); DE Cassius Marsh (9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks)

Breakdown: Obviously, the loss of Barr is huge, but Marsh and LB Jordan Zumwalt also were highly productive players. The Bruins welcome a lot of guys back but those guys need to step up their negative-play production in 2014 -- paging Myles Jack.

USC

Tackles for a loss: 91 (49)

Sacks: 35 (15)

Interceptions: 17 (11)

Forced fumbles: 8 (6)

Key returners: DE Leonard Williams (13.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); CB Josh Shaw (5.5 tackles for a loss, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Devon Kennard (13 TFL, 9.0 sacks); DB Dion Bailey (6.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 5 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: USC welcomes back its three leading tacklers. Replacing Kennard's production is the big question for the defense. It was a huge gain for the Trojans when Shaw opted to return, as he solidified what should be a good secondary.

Utah

Tackles for a loss: 80 (31.5)

Sacks: 39 (13.5)

Interceptions: 3 (0)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returner: DE Nate Orchard (9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Key losses: OLB Trevor Reilly (16 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble); LB Jacoby Hale (10 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Breakdown: Reilly was, by far, the Utes' best and most productive defensive player, but the loss of Hale to a serious knee injury this spring also hurts. It's pretty astounding that the Utes don't have a player coming back who had an interception in 2013.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
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I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law.

Video: Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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video
Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison talks about the Sun Devils rebuilding defense and his improvement this spring.
SEATTLE -- As if there weren’t enough changes at Washington this offseason between the Steve Sarkisian era ending and the Chris Petersen era beginning, the team graduated three-year starter Keith Price and then began spring football without his heir apparent Cyler Miles, who was being investigated for a post-Super Bowl incident.

Last week it was decided that Miles wouldn’t be charged in the incident. However, he still wasn’t back practicing with the team and Petersen wouldn’t give a timeline or ultimate decision on when -- or if -- Miles will return to the team.

“We haven’t really decided on that whole situation,” Petersen said. “It’s kind of one day, one week at a time and there’s no reason to rush anything. We’re always going to do the right thing. … We have to do the right thing by the school, this program and by the kids as well.”

Without Miles as a part of the equation the Huskies are running spring practice with just two quarterbacks, sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. Between the two, Lindquist is the only one with game experience, though he has only appeared in three games. Miles, on the other hand, appeared in eight games last season for the Huskies, completing 37 of 61 pass attempts for four touchdowns, 418 yards and two interceptions.

Not having Miles this spring puts the Huskies at a disadvantage for next season. But it’s not just the fact that they’re missing their best QB this spring -- they’re also missing any kind of veteran player in the quarterback meeting room, which is a first for offensive coordinator and QB coach Jonathan Smith. It adds yet another wrinkle in the challenges Smith is facing as a coordinator installing a new offense with the Huskies.

“How young we are, and especially you add in the piece of a new offense, so that’s new to us,” Smith said.

But the youth isn’t a complete bad situation for Washington. With younger players it’s easier to mold them into the type of players who better fit into a newer offense and that’s what’s happening with Lindquist and Williams this spring.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lindquist
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJeff Lindquist is splitting quarterback reps with Troy Williams this spring for the Huskies.
“In some ways they might not be as ingrained in what [Sarkisian had] done,” Smith said. “But I would definitely take a veteran, though, a guy who has seen a lot of plays.”

So far the Huskies have split first-team reps equally with Lindquist and Williams.

Lindquist said that because everything is so new and because both players are inexperienced, this spring has been less about the competition between the two and more about trying to help one another with the offense and playbook.

“Obviously, we’re competing against each other,” Lindquist said. “But I think right now for the two of us it’s more about getting a good grasp of the concepts and how to operate the offense.”

Creating a learning environment with competition between Lindquist and Williams will be crucial for the Huskies whether or not Miles comes back next week, next fall or not at all.

Like every coach, Petersen will rely heavily on his QB, but he’s accustomed to a lot of production out of that position. He’s coming off a season with terrific quarterback play at Boise State. The Broncos finished the 2013-14 season second in QB completion percentage (70.6) while averaging 36 pass attempts per game as opposed to Washington, which attempted only 32 passes per game.

Through 10 practices Petersen has been relatively happy with what he has seen out of his young quarterbacks. Certainly they’re not close to where they want to be, but all things considered -- a coaching change, the quarterback graduation and suspension, new verbiage, new wrinkles -- the transition is running fairly smooth in Seattle.

“I think both guys are making progress, I really do,” Petersen said. “I think both guys are truly improving.”

Video: Stanford's Shaw on scrimmage

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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Kyle Bonagura talks with Stanford coach David Shaw about the highlights of the Cardinal's third open scrimmage of the spring.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott joined "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" Friday to discuss the National Labor Relations Board's ruling that Northwestern's football players can unionize.

Scott and Cowherd touched on a variety of topics, including the potential negative effects on women's athletics, whether the athletes currently have enough time to devote to studying and redefining amateurism.

Listen to the full interview here, or read some of the highlights below:

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, like other college athletics leaders, is concerned about unionization affecting smaller sports.
On the Northwestern ruling: "Really surprised that student-athletes would be in a NLRB director's view 'employees.' It so radically changes the relationship between student-athletes and their universities in a way that I don't see as positive.

On if all Pac-12 football programs make money: "Certainly. Football is very, very popular. Men's basketball is as well. There's no doubt about it. I think the same could probably be said for most of Division I from a football perspective, but those resources are being used to support lacrosse and women's volleyball and soccer and is completely tied to the educational mission."

On what the surplus money from football and men's basketball is used for: “The money that is generated is invested back in student-athletes and programs and enhancements for fans and making sure the programs are successful going forward. What would happen -- in my view -- if this unionization effort or these pay for play lawsuits are successful and you had to go down this path with football student-athletes and men's basketball student-athletes, what it would do is take all the resources that are available for these other sports away and that would be a big concern from my perspective. You think about women's sports and the advancements that have been made under Title IX. You think about the importance of college sports for the Olympic movement and how these kids are working just as hard as football players and basketball players and they really value the opportunity and the access it gives them to unbelievable educations. That would really be the real shame of all of this if it would up, in our conference for example, being able to support 7,000 student-athletes across 35 sports to some amount dramatically less."

On how Title IX would be affected: “It's hard to say exactly how Title IX would apply in an employee-employer relationship or if it would apply at all, but -- and again I don't want to paint an extreme example, when I don't really know where it'll go -- there's only two sports that people would consider successful with the revenues that it generates. Any unionization effort that I've ever seen in pro sports, it's not just about health care and work conditions, I mean they're going for a big slice of whatever's available and I just can't envision any scenario under which the unionization of athletes is going to benefit women's athletics at all. I don't know what Title IX will protect and won't protect under this new regime. What I do know is very few government policies have been as successful as Title IX has been in terms of creating access and opportunity for women and I am sure that women are going to suffer greatly in terms of access and opportunity if this unionization effort is successful.”

On if athletics prevents student-athletes from pursuing challenging majors: “That's not our experience, not my experience. We've got student-athletes graduating with chemistry, and engineering and architecture. I really don't subscribe to that … there's no question there's significant time demands and commitments if you want to be the best at anything that you do, but that's not just about football players and basketball players."

On if amateurism needs to be redefined: “I agree with that and I think that's where this needs to go. I think we need to redefine what amateurism is as part of an educational or collegiate model. I've been an advocate for reform within the NCAA system. There is room to do more for student-athletes and health -- stronger restrictions on time demand, covering the full cost of attendance. But what amateurism is, it shouldn't exceed what's the full cost of actually attending. They should not be paid compensation to play. They shouldn't be seen as pros. They're there as amateurs, they're there as students and athletics are a really important part of what they're doing, but they are students primarily and we absolutely should do more and I'm going to continue to push for us to do more. It just can't cross that line of starting to get paid a salary or negotiating through collective bargaining. That's a pro model, completely different.”
Welcome to the mailbag. It's Friday, and that is always a good thing.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Bryan from Portland, Ore., writes: Now that Northwestern football players have been declared employees, and are eligible to unionize, can they be taxed for their scholarship? Nobody would be very happy to have to pay $15K in taxes for a full ride scholarship to NW.

Ted Miller: You are correct. And if college football teams in the major conferences unionized across the country, things would become complicated.

In fact, I don't think that's what's going to happen. Further, despite my mailbag last week and tweak of Texas AD Steve Patterson here about being all business until it comes to the issue of treating college football players like employees, my feeling at present is unionizing college football would be fraught with potentially negative unintended consequences and probably not a good thing for the sport -- both for those who play as well as those who coach and administer.

Yet the threat of unionization, the threat of players uniting to get a better cut of the action, is what I view as a positive good. Unionizing should be a last resort if the folks who run things don't figure out a way to treat the players better.

To repeat myself from last week, my thinking on this aligns with Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, and I keep linking his article because he wrote things I was thinking before I did, so he merits acknowledgment.

Further, this represents a change of heart for me. For a long time, I saw a scholarship as enough payment, and I resented the ignorance of the drive-by-columnists who took shots at college football without regularly covering the sport. My feeling was only a handful of players owned real star power, and that the jersey players wore on Saturdays actually held the enduring value and ultimately created the revenue. But that position was developed in the 1990s. Over the past three to five years, with conferences realigning and then signing mega-deals for broadcasting rights, as well as the coming College Football Playoff, I've adjusted my thinking.

What should players get? Glad you asked.
  • Full cost of attendance scholarships. My feeling is this is going to happen pretty soon.
  • Lifetime disability coverage for injuries suffered while they played college football.
  • Players should be able to profit from their images, though we certainly understand this could get complicated to monitor.
  • Transfer rules need to be reevaluated, making it easier for players to change schools. That will make life difficult for coaches, but they are paid $3 million or so a year to deal with difficulties.
  • There should be a need-based fund that pays for parents to go on recruiting visits and to attend games.

I also think we need to reevaluate player-agent contact. While pay-for-play with boosters is about a program gaining a competitive advantage, player-agent contact is about a player looking out for his future. You'll notice that the carping about agents tends to come from coaches, ADs and fans because they don't want their star players entering the draft before their eligibility has expired. Rules against agents have zero benefits for players.

Sure, you could open up some unsavory situations, but it seems like it would be better to have as much as possible happening out in the open than what we have now.


Gret from Salt Lake City writes: Hey guys, the Big Ten blog did this a while back and I thought it would be fun to try here! If you could be the dictator of the Pac-12 for a day, and could only make three changes, what changes would you make?? and no school, no matter how powerful, could fight you on anything. They would all just have to go along with whatever decisions you made.

Ted Miller: First, I adopt much of what I wrote above.

Second, I'd force the Pac-12 Network and DirectTV to reach a compromise deal. This is mostly because I am sick of hearing about the impasse between Pac-12 Network and DirectTV.

Third, I'd schedule more day games. There would be no more than two 7 p.m. PT (or later) kickoffs during the Pac-12 schedule.

Fourth, I'd make Kevin call me "The Great and Powerful Oz." Oh, oh … or "Heisenberg."


Ryan from New York writes: Ted, Nice "puff" piece on the Bruins. But they need to beat somebody other than embattled Bo Pelini and a depleted USC team that dressed less than 50 scholarship players in LA last fall. UCLA is 1-6 in the last couple of years against Oregon, Stanford and ASU. Not good. Before you start popping off about being a national title contender, you have to beat the good teams. Oh, and beating an underachieving Virginia Tech team that played more than half the game with a backup QB who had thrown less than 5 passes all year doesn't count. Peace out.

Ted Miller: I was wondering where you'd been. I fear it's going to be a long and frustrating year for you, Ryan.

UCLA welcomes back 19 starters from a squad that beat five teams that won eight or more games last year, including a 10-win USC team. By 21 points! Also back is QB Brett Hundley, leading a team that finished the season 10-3 and ranked 16th.

The Bruins are going to be ranked in or very near the preseason top 10. Oregon, USC and Stanford all visit the Rose Bowl.

You can stew and frump all you want, but the reason people think highly of the Bruins’ chances is something called "supporting evidence."


Brian from San Diego writes: You know how cities across the U.S. have sister cities? Los Angeles has Athens, Greece for example; and San Francisco has Naples, Italy. Just for fun what schools would you say are "sister schools" of Pac-12 members?

Ted Miller: Just for fun.
  • Arizona-Florida: If you've hung out at both places, you'd get it. Close color schemes, too.
  • Arizona State-Florida State: Hey, bud, let's party!
  • California-Michigan: Great state schools. And not afraid to tell you about it.
  • Colorado-Texas: Perhaps the nation's two best college towns.
  • Oregon-Ohio State: Our fan base is more obnoxious. No, our fan base is more obnoxious. Wait. I like how you think. Same here! (Hugs). [70 percent of Oregon fans will find that at least reasonably funny; 30 percent will swear a blood oath against the Pac-12 blog].
  • Oregon State-Kansas State: Great coaches, overachieving programs, folksy atmosphere, cool towns.
  • Stanford-Duke: They could talk about computer code and James Joyce. Only problem is Duke students are mostly folks who got rejected by Stanford and the Ivy League.
  • UCLA-North Carolina: Good schools. Great hoops tradition. And shades of light blue!
  • USC-Alabama: They'd argue endlessly about which program is the "Greatest in College Football History," and the experience would be absolute bliss for each fan base.
  • Utah-TCU: The Pac-12 is hard! The Big 12 is hard!
  • Washington-Miami: They shared a national title and are presently trying to regain their national stature. And this pairing would give Hurricanes fans somewhere to go in the summer and Huskies fans somewhere to go in the winter.
  • Washington State-LSU: These programs are very different but if you got the fan bases together the party would be absolutely epic, whispered about for centuries, as in: "Great Granddaddy, tell me about the time you partied for four weeks with those Cajuns."



Happy Friday!
video
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona State offense is cruising along, owning the line of scrimmage and making plays. Taylor Kelly and company are efficient and dominant, even with a couple of negative outcomes here and there. Hard-to-satisify Sun Devils coach Todd Graham says later, "Our offense should score every time it has the ball."

But who are these guys getting gashed? This isn't the Arizona State defense, is it? Where's Will Sutton? Where's Carl Bradford? Where's Alden Darby and Chris Young?

Here's a guess that unless you're a regular on Sun Devils football message boards, you can't name a single guy who will be starting on defense for Arizona State next year.

Not only did Arizona State lose nine starters, it lost all of its defensive stars. Six of those guys were first-team or second-team All-Pac-12. Two others were honorable mention.

"Every year you've got to hit the restart button," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "Some years more than others."

That's for sure. Not only are just about all the players new -- several top backups also finished their eligibility -- so is Patterson, who was hired away from West Virginia to coach with Graham, his college roommate.

Yet things aren't dire. Only uncertain. Of course, the Sun Devils probably will play some barn burners next fall, particularly with 10 starting quarterbacks returning in the Pac-12. The measure of whether they can repeat as South Division champions, however, probably will come down to how quickly folks stop calling the defense inexperienced and start calling it surprisingly good.

The two returning starters are linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Damarious Randall. Nose guard Jaxon Hood and DB/LB Laiu Moeakiola, part-time starters in 2013, also are back. You can pencil in Lloyd Carrington at one corner. Marcus Hardison will take on a spot on the defensive line. After that, things are pretty fluid and figure to remain that way until a bevy of first-year players arrive in the fall, including several juco transfers who are expected to immediately be in the starting mix, such as linebacker Darrius Caldwell.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAll-conference DT Will Sutton is one of nine starters the Sun Devils must replace on defense.
That, in fact, is one of the challenges this spring. While the focus is on the present, there is some forward thinking in terms of what an eventual pecking order and rotation might be.

"No doubt. We spend an enormous amount of time talking about personnel, people who aren't even here," Patterson said. "But the focus right now, in the middle of spring ball, is more to the people on campus."

It's clear the coaches are excited about several young players. Safeties James Johnson and Marcus Ball, both redshirt freshmen, have been impressive. True freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun, an early enrollee, seems certain to earn playing time, if not a starting role.

Still, there are a lot of questions, particularly with the front seven. It's pretty clear that the production of individual players won't match the past two seasons.

"We are not going to replace Carl Bradford and his production," Patterson said. "I don't think we'll have that type of individual player. We're not going to replace those guys. We'll play more as a unit, play more team defense."

Last season, the Sun Devils ranked 18th in the nation and second in the Pac-12 with 7.21 tackles for a loss per game. They ranked 18th in the nation and third in the Pac-12 with 2.86 sacks per game. They were sixth in the nation and first in the conference with 1.5 interceptions per game.

Graham's defense, which Patterson will run, is predicated on negative plays. It doesn't matter if no one on the 2014 defense picks up 19 tackles for a loss, as Bradford did, or grabs six interceptions, as Robert Nelson did, but it does matter if the Sun Devils are close to their 2013 team averages next fall.

Even though the Sun Devils will be young, they will continue to use an aggressive scheme. Said Patterson, "That's the core of who we are. We're not going to change that."

That also means taking chances. Another issue beyond piling up negative plays will be how often aggression ends up yielding an explosion play by the opposing offense.

The good news is Arizona State's defense might not face a better offense than the one it scrimmages against in practice. If the defense starts forcing a few three-and-outs against Kelly & Co., then it would be perfectly reasonable to imagine the Sun Devils again making a run in the South Division.
STANFORD, Calif. -- With linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy off to the NFL and defensive coordinator Derek Mason and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski off to Vanderbilt, change is inevitable for the Stanford defense.

For some, that's code for "worse."

[+] EnlargeA.J. Tarpley
Tony Medina/Getty ImagesA.J. Tarpley, who was the 2009 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, has been a key cog in the Cardinal's defense for the past three seasons.
Not for fifth-year senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley.

"Great players leave. We're not going to lower our goals," he said. "We're not going to say, 'OK, we're not going to be as good as last year.' I want this linebacking corps to be better than last year.

"I do feel that our linebacking corps has gotten better every year since I got here, so why not? Why can't we be be better than we were last year?"

Tarpley wasn't looking for a literal answer, but if he were, the fact that Skov was one of the nation's best inside linebackers and that Murphy led the nation in sacks would be on the list. Those aren't guys who simply get replaced without some level of drop off.

That isn't lost on Tarpley, either. He, perhaps better than anyone, understands just how valuable Skov and Murphy were to the Stanford defense. The part that isn't understood as well beyond the Stanford locker room is how Tarpley's role has been nearly as vital to the Cardinal's success over the past three seasons.

"We see it all the time and we've just marveled at how solid he is, how efficient he is," new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson said. "I think playing next to Skov is a reason he's been a little overshadowed, and then with Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas on the outside the last few years I think it's easy to get overshadowed."

Over the past three seasons, Tarpley is the Cardinal's leading tackler (216). If he replicates his 2013 total (93), he'll finish his career in the top 10 on the school all-time tackles list. Currently, only two other players who began their career in 1990 or later are part of the group: Skov (2009-13) and Chris Draft (1994-97).

Tarpley's near-immediate production came as no surprise to Stanford coach David Shaw, who said the former Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year made a strong impression during his true freshman season during the team's scrimmages on Fridays.

"He just seemed to make every play," Shaw said. "Tackle after tackle after tackle, and if the ball was thrown anywhere around him he either picked it off or deflected it."

Both Shaw and Anderson credited Tarpley's instincts as a major factor in his success, which, coupled with good quickness, makes up for what wouldn't be described as elite athleticism. Anderson has Tarpley down for 4.75 seconds in his most recent 40-yard-dash.

"There's a lot of people that think I study tremendous amounts of film and know what plays the offense is going to run, but that's not the case," Tarpley said. "I believe I'm a pretty good athlete. I base everything off my quickness and just read plays to make things happen."

And if film study isn't the root of his ability to read defenses, what is? That's simple: video games -- the Madden franchise, in particular.

Tarpley is a firm believer that playing Madden -- a game in which he claims he's unbeatable -- has helped develop his understanding of the way angles, routes and coverages work.

"Looking at the plays in Madden you see passing concepts, you see zone coverages and how those work out ... where this guy is and who he's replacing and how things can occur," he said. "I really do think going through the plays on both offense and defense -- what beats what? -- I think that's helped me as a player. When I'm out there on the field, it's almost a [subconscious] decision in my mind how something should develop."

That understanding has allowed Stanford to regularly use him to cover receivers in single coverage with good results. Tarpley is the program's only player to record an interception in each of the past three seasons.

"He is one of the best coverage linebackers I've been around," Anderson said. "He has such good patience and a good feel for routes and what people are going to try and run. That is one thing that stands out. I don't know if I've been around anyone like him like that."

Tarpley's focus is on finishing his Stanford career strong, but he made it clear the NFL is also in his sights.

"I've always been doubted my whole career. No one's ever said how great I was going to be so I've always had that mentality with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I'm going to dream about [playing in the NFL] every day until I can earn a spot there."

And if that doesn't work out, there's always the Madden pro leagues to fall back on ... or his Stanford degree.
It might be a very different looking Oregon team that takes the field next fall … and not because of the uniform changes (though, those are sure to be something different). Instead, the guys wearing those uniforms might fill them out a bit differently.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOregon is hoping the weight gained by player like Johnny Mundt will not affect the team's speed advantage.
Through this winter, several players went through some significant weight changes by making minor tweaks in the strength and conditioning program. But coach Mark Helfrich is hoping that the weight gains aren't just shown physically but in how the players take the field, as well.

“Hopefully a lot of that is confidence,” Helfrich said. “Just that edge of you feeling a little better about yourself, you’re moving a bit more, you’re physically bigger. It’s just you’re coming into the play with more confidence and that’s a big deal.”

Defensive lineman Sam Kamp put on the most weight of any player, packing on another 29 pounds and fellow lineman T.J. Daniel added 22. Not to be outdone, the offensive linemen packed on more than 100 pounds as a unit, with guard Doug Brenner leading the way with 26 pounds and Matt Pierson, Cameron Hunt and Elijah George all bulking up at least 20 pounds.

“I think we’ve kept our speed and athleticism,” center Hroniss Grasu said. “The added weight gain is just there to get us more physical and blowing the defensive line off the ball where we lacked that toward the end of the season.”

But it wasn’t just the big men making significant changes. Tight end John Mundt packed on 20 pounds and in the linebacker group, guys like Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker and Tyrell Robinson all put on at least 15 pounds.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is up to 218 pounds and hopes to be at 220 for the start of the 2014 season, while both leading backs made some important changes -- Byron Marshall lost six pounds (down to 201 pounds) while Thomas Tyner added 14 pounds and is up to 215.

With all of the weight gain the main concern would be that the high-powered offense the Ducks feature might be lacking some of that Oregon speed, but the players have tried to keep up their speed with the added weight. Mundt said that one of the focuses was finding that sweet spot for each player at which he stayed as fast as possible but got as big as possible.

“We were all pushing each other in the weight room and in conditioning,” Mundt said. “We’ve all gotten better and stronger, so that’s a good thing. … I think we have more strength and size across the board, but we’re still moving fast.”

Added bulk is certainly going to benefit this team,and as long as each guy can still move the same, the only teams struggling with the weight gain with be opponents. In May, if a player doesn’t appear the same when he takes the field for the spring game, it’s not the uniform, it’s the guy in the uniform.

Video: Arizona State coach Todd Graham

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
9:00
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video Arizona State coach Todd Graham talks about spring practices, his veteran offense and his rebuilding defense.
Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.

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