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Hundreds of the top West region prospects were on hand for The Opening Los Angeles Regional this past Sunday. Here are five trends that were revealed during and after the event.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 10, 2015
Mar 10
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I can sing, but I'm also good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing, which is a little different.
With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

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

California: The Bears are about as straightforward here as you can be. Jared Goff, a member of the "Most Likely to Become Nationally Known This Fall" club, will be the starter and Luke Rubenzer, who came off the bench to offer some athleticism in the QB run game, will be a backup who sees scattered action. While true freshman Ross Bowers might emerge, the expectation here is he will redshirt before competing for the starting job in 2016 if Goff opts to enter the NFL draft. Which Goff won't, because he'll stage a ceremony announcing his return to Berkeley on Dec. 24 in front of a Christmas tree -- er, "Holiday Tree" -- and guarantee a national championship to Old Blue Nation! (Hey, Oski, what was in this cup you gave me?)

Oregon: Marcus Mariota is back for his senior year after winning the Heisman Trophy... Ha! Did we get you? We kid, but only because this QB situation has been a wee bit covered already, and everyone knows nothing will be chiseled into coach Mark Helfrich's great granite depth chart tablet he keeps at the pinnacle of Mount Hood until the coaches get a look at Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams during preseason camp. As it is, sophomore Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years, will get the first snaps, and it will be up to redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak, Georgia Tech transfer Ty Griffin or true freshman Travis Waller to make a move before Adams arrives. There will be a post-spring pecking order, and it will matter, but we don't expect many clear answers from the Ducks until close to the opener. Now, who is that against?

Oregon State: Oregon State has seven QBs vying to replace Sean Mannion, but over the weekend new coach Gary Andersen said he is already on course to narrow the reps between three guys this week. "We'll move forward a little bit quicker than we thought initially," Andersen told reporters after Saturday's practice. "It's not as far as the starter, but as far as the top three kids, they'll start to get some more reps. That'll become more clear on Tuesday." That means a clearer pecking order between sophomore Luke Del Rio (the 2014 backup), junior Brent VanderVeen, sophomore Kyle Kempt, redshirt freshmen Marcus McMaryion, Nick Mitchell and Tanner Sanders and true freshman Seth Collins is about to emerge. The Beavers are moving from a pro-style offense to a no-huddle spread, so athletic ability will be at more of a premium. Stay tuned.

Stanford: While other schools are often complicated, Stanford is easy. Fifth-year senior Kevin Hogan is the starter. Any potential questions about that were answered by the way he played late in the 2014 season. So the battle is for the backup job between sophomore Ryan Burns and redshirt freshman Keller Chryst, a pair of prototypical pocket passers standing 6-foot-5 and equipped with big arms. It's an important competition because the winner positions himself for 2016 as a potential multi-year starter.

Washington: Junior Cyler Miles is an incumbent starter, but this will be a wide-open competition. Miles did some good things in 2014 as a first-year starter, such as protecting the ball in the passing game, but he doesn't have a great arm and the bottom-line offensive numbers were poor. The question, then, is whether anyone is good enough to beat him out. The competition includes junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a touted recruit. If you talk to 10 Huskies fans on this one -- and I have -- you'll probably get at least one vote for each of the aforementioned.

Washington State: Sophomore Luke Falk came off the bench for an injured Connor Halliday against USC last season and played well in three subsequent starts, though he started fast and faded a bit down the stretch, throwing six interceptions in the final two games. He'd seem to have the inside track to the starting job, but coach Mike Leach isn't the sort to easily hand over the starting job. So Falk should expect a challenge from true freshman Tyler Hilinski and redshirt freshman Peyton Bender.
The Pac-12 Blog caught up with new Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch recently.

Grinch comes to Washington State via Missouri, where he coached safeties the last three seasons. He won two SEC East Division titles and two bowl games with the Tigers. Before Missouri, Grinch spent three seasons coaching defensive backs at Wyoming.

What are your initial impressions of Washington State and Pullman?

Grinch: First impressions specific to the football program, obviously, coach [Mike] Leach is building a program here and has been in the process of doing just that. Anytime you’re building a program there’s ups and downs, it’s very rarely a linear path as you try to climb the mountain. I’m very impressed with his plan for Washington State and thrilled with the facilities that Bill Moos has put in place here, and it puts us on a level playing field, certainly, with the rest of the Pac-12 without question. And being in a college town like Pullman, it really has its advantages. You don’t have the bright lights and big cities, but you have a tight-knit community and being around people that are very passionate about Cougar football and Cougar athletics -- it’s certainly a nice atmosphere.

What made it the right move to leave Missouri?

Grinch: That was a tough job to leave. It was back-to-back SEC East championship teams. Coach [Gary] Pinkel and the staff is as good of a staff as there is in the country. Coach Pinkel is as good as anybody from a head-coaching standpoint. The longevity and the consistent performance that he has been able to do over his career is one that again, makes it that much harder to leave. But like anything in this profession, you’re always looking for the right opportunity to advance and then, most importantly, when those opportunities present themselves you want to make sure it’s at a place that you feel you can be successful and Washington State provided that, and also, an opportunity to work for a quality head coach and a guy that I have a lot of respect for. And, obviously, in coach Leach that was present. Beyond that, it was something I thought I’d take a look into, and it turned into mutual interest and it kind of went from there.

Was it harder to leave Pinkel considering he’s your uncle?

Grinch: I’ll say this, if you look at his career and you just stack each year on top of another, find me another coach -- there’s a very short list of guys who have been that successful. That’s what made it so difficult.

Moving on to the Cougs, how much of last season’s defensive game film did you watch?

Grinch: I’ve watched a lot of it for a couple different reasons. More so than anything else, trying to get a feel for the Pac-12, the teams we’re actually going to face -- the offensive styles and offensive personalities in there. That was one of the motivations. Two, to kind of get a baseline for the guys who played a year ago and to try and attach names, numbers type of thing. Also, to kind of get a sense for what some of the issues were, but still keeping an open mind, because no matter what the issues were you’re here to install a new defense and do things in a different way, so you don’t spend too much time trying to correct the defense or the package that was implemented a year ago. Instead, you’re focused on implementing your own. So, the answer is yes, I’ve watched it, but with certain purposes in mind.

How much different will your defensive system look? What are the biggest differences we’ll see?

Grinch: It’s tough to speak to the exact differences. Again, my knowledge of exactly what was done in the past is not there, and I haven’t really concerned myself with what was done in the past other than the bones of it. We will be a 3-4 defense. In terms of commonality and all that, again, it’s hard to speak on. The biggest thing we’re trying to implement in our package now is as us as teachers in the classroom, us being the coaches, making sure guys have a very specific knowledge of their responsibility regardless of call, which allows them to play as fast as possible. That comes back to us. That’s kind of the mantra of this spring, making sure guys know exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there and making sure that guys are doing it at a top speed.

You’ve never coached in the Pac-12, so what did you see on film about those Pac-12 offenses that you’re going to face?

Grinch: The unfortunate part is it’s a lot of good football, and a lot of good football teams. Leaving the SEC, I have a lot of respect for that conference and the types of players and coaches that are back that way. It’d be a whole lot more exciting if I could tell you there was a dropoff between the two conferences, but unfortunately there’s not. You see well-coached football teams. You see a lot of athletes really across the board at the majority of schools in the Pac-12. It’s a good brand of football.
With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

We start our review, of course, at quarterback. First the South Division, then the North this afternoon.

Arizona: As he heads into his fourth year leading the Wildcats, Rich Rodriguez will have a returning starter behind center for the first time. Considering how well Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Rod Smith do developing QBs, that feels like a big deal. Anu Solomon had a good season as a redshirt freshman, despite playing poorly late in the year when he was clearly banged up. While there's talk in Tucson of a QB competition and of Solomon being vulnerable, the expectation here is Solomon will take a significant step forward as a second-year starter. The competition will end up being for the backup job between Jerrard Randall and Brandon Dawkins.

Arizona State: Though starter Taylor Kelly is gone, there's not much doubt here. Big-armed Mike Bercovici will be the starter. He saw significant starting action last season when Kelly was hurt and mostly distinguished himself. His passing ability -- his arm is among the best in the conference -- will add possibilities to the Sun Devils' throw game that didn't exist with the more athletic Kelly. As Bercovici is a fifth-year senior, the battle for the backup job among a gaggle of youngsters will be important, now and for those interested in eyeballing 2016. The candidates are redshirt freshmen Manny Wilkins and Coltin Gerhart and touted true freshman Brady White. Gerhart, younger brother to Toby and Garth, is playing baseball, so he won't be much of a factor this spring.

Colorado: Junior Sefo Liufau, entering his third year as the Buffaloes' starter, obviously threw too many interceptions -- a Pac-12-high 15 -- in 2014, but he also set several school passing records and flashed enough ability to raise an NFL eyebrow or two. If his supporting cast steps up, he could make a big jump in efficiency. Junior Jordan Gehrke is back as Liufau's backup, but it will be interesting to see if redshirt freshman Cade Apsay will make a move, if not this spring then in fall practice.

UCLA: After three years of Brett Hundley, the Bruins' QB job is open. This is a high-profile battle between a veteran, Jerry Neuheisel, with one impressive performance -- coming off the bench to lead UCLA to a win over Texas -- and a touted youngster in true freshman Josh Rosen, who was widely viewed as among the best prep QBs in the 2015 class. Rosen has more physical skills, but Neuheisel has experience and, one would expect, a far greater understanding of the UCLA offense. Asiantii Woulard is a third option, but he has yet to make his mark in practices. With the entire 2014 offense back other than Hundley, the winner of the competition will have a lot to work with.

USC: While senior Cody Kessler was far from perfect in 2014, particularly in big games, he's the top returning quarterback in the Pac-12. His chief concern is developing chemistry with a talented but young crew of receivers. Kessler will be on many preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists. Redshirt sophomore Max Browne, Kessler's backup the last two years, will battle redshirt freshman Jalen Greene and true freshman early enrollee Ricky Town to hold onto the job, which would provide an inside track for 2016.

Utah: This one is interesting. Travis Wilson is back and in line to become a rare four-year starter behind center, but he briefly lost his job to Kendal Thompson last season and only regained it when Thompson's season ended with a knee injury. Wilson then turned in a strong performance in the bowl game. Thompson also won't be able to play this spring while he recovers, so Wilson can make an impression on his new/old offensive coordinator/QBs coach Aaron Roderick. Or might one of a foursome of other candidates make a mark: Donovan Isom, Chase Hansen, Brandon Cox and Connor Manning?
The Pac-12 and Big Ten are running away from the rest of the Power 5 when it comes to 1,000-yard rushers.

The Pac-12 saw half its teams have a 1,000-yard rusher last season, and only one team (pass-heavy Washington State) hasn’t boasted such a runner in more than five seasons.

The Big Ten also saw half its teams with a rusher who reached the 1,000-yard mark last season, and Wisconsin and Indiana each had a back top the 2,000-yard mark (Melvin Gordon for the Badgers and Tevin Coleman for the Hoosiers). Only two programs -- Maryland and Purdue -- haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher in over five seasons.

Among the longest droughts in the Power 5 were NC State, which hasn’t had a 1,000-yard runner since 2002 in T.A. McClendon, and Duke, which has gone 11 seasons since Chris Douglas surpassed the mark.

The Big 12 is where you’re least likely to find a 1,000-yard rusher. Only three teams (25 percent) had a rusher cross the milestone last season, half the rate of both the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Here’s an overall look, by conference, of each team and its most recent 1,000-yard rusher:

Pac-12 morning links

March, 9, 2015
Mar 9
10:00
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The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Is spring football satisfying your college football jones? Well, it's something, right?

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Ryan from Tucson writes: Why do I feel like Arizona is constantly being overlooked this offseason within the context of the PAC-12? All I'm hearing is about Oregon's quarterback competition, UCLA replacing Hundley, and USC as national title contenders. The Wildcats are returning their first starting qb in the Rich Rod era, a 1,000 yd rusher, and the National defensive player of the year, after a PAC-12 South title! At least when overlooked in basketball we can blame East coast bias, but within the context of the PAC-12 what gives?

Bored Arizona Fan from Phoenix writes: Dear Pac 12 blog, HELP! I've been trying to get my dose of Arizona football spring/pre-season news and I haven't found much. The Arizona football news seems quiet... too quiet. No staff changes, only one big news transfer (Connor Brewer), no injuries, no run ins with the law, no more renovations? Where is my drama?!What does it mean when a program is quiet this far into the off-season? Is no news good news?Also, is it football season yet? How about now? ... Now?

Ted Miller: "Bored" provides one answer to Ryan here: Arizona hasn't had a terribly newsy offseason, and it -- for the first time under Rich Rodriguez -- doesn't have a major spring intrigue, such as a QB competition, to invite tea leaf reading from reporters. Replacing three offensive linemen and several solid but uncelebrated defensive players isn't terribly sexy, though obviously important for the Wildcats' 2015 prospects.

And yet, Ryan, your question is a good one. I know this because just the other day I said to myself, "Are we overlooking Arizona?" Maybe.

First off: Why are you hearing so much about Oregon, UCLA and USC? Well, for one, they figure to be the three highest rated Pac-12 teams in the preseason polls. That sort of thing gets a team more coverage.

Moreover, Oregon and UCLA are replacing three-year starters at quarterback, with both players being national figures. One, you might have heard, won some trophy and is now expected to be selected way-up-high in the NFL draft this spring. Star QBs get attention, and QB competitions get attention. It's just the way things are done in our dangerous, thrilling world of college football reporting.

You might recall that we covered Arizona's QB competition pretty aggressively last spring and summer -- here and here and here -- despite Rodriguez pleasantly telling us nothing until he finally tapped Anu Solomon.

As for the Wildcats perhaps being relegated behind the Ducks, Bruins and Trojans after winning the Pac-12 South Division last season, there is a further explanation. While there are a lot of shiny pieces coming back, including the nation's most decorated defensive player in LB Scooby Wright III, the 2015 Wildcats' infrastructure has taken some big hits, particularly, as noted, the O-line and defense. Those are questions that can be answered, but at this point they remain questions.

All this said, Arizona has a huge advantage, one that makes many, many coaches and players and fan bases across the country bitterly jealous: It's situated close to my home, "Casa del Guapo Genio." That means I'm certain to visit this spring, something I know Rodriguez pretty much views as nothing less than a second appearance from Santa Claus.



Trev from Los Angeles writes: Not saying this is a trend yet, but looking back the big 6 bowls that were not the semifinals, did you notice anything interesting about the teams that lost? I did. Arizona -- UNLV, UTSA, Nevada. BaylorMississippi State- Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, FCS. Ole Miss -- Boise State, ULL, Memphis, FCS. See it now, not one played a Power 5 team OOC. I believe that a team's OOC SOS need to count for 50% of total SOS and this last year kind of proved that. Thoughts? Granted I do know this doesn't mean this will always happen but I find it funny that it did when college football started saying SOS would matter again.

Ted Miller: Well look at you, Trev, with this interesting factoid! I like it. Your take is right on: A nonconference defeat would have prevented all of these teams from playing in a "New Year's Six" bowl game, which earned their conferences an extra $4 million.

I, too, think the nonconference component is one of the most critical elements for the selection committee to fairly judge teams as worthy of playoff spots, as well as lucrative berths in the New Year's Six games. It's so important that it's not only about what a program does in those games, it's about its intentions.

These teams, perhaps with the exception of Ole Miss, which played Boise State, aggressively avoided nonconference games that threatened any reasonable risk of defeat, much less a potentially ranked team from a Power 5 conference. When they made their schedules, they took a strategic stance of not caring about their transparent intention to avoid competition.

That's not, in itself, a stupid thing to do. If a team is just trying to make sure it gets bowl eligible, then scheduling nonconference patsies makes sense. But if you want to be considered for the CFP or a major bowl, it should be a prerequisite you play a nonconference game against a Power 5 foe.

What the A-list nonconference game does is provide evidence of how good your team is outside of the closed system of its conference. For example, last year everyone was writing sonnets about the SEC West. Turned out the SEC West was hugely overrated once it started playing, yep, teams not in the SEC West.

It's notable that none of these four teams stepped up their scheduling for the 2015 season. That should act as a significant impediment for their major bowl and CFP hopes, certainly more so than in 2014.



JJ from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: QUESTION.If healthy Alonso for McCoy makes sense. It took a while for Kiko's light to come on but as evidenced by his NFL Defense Rookie of the Year Award in 2013, Kiko should have been All American in 2012 after a terrific Rose Bowl in 2011. He is excellent against both the run and the pass.I recall his dominating game against K ST in the Fiesta Bowl. IMO opinion, Kiko and not Marcus was the MVP of this game. Do you think as I do that this trade makes sense?

Ted Miller: I think its a great trade for Chip Kelly and the Eagles, and this article outlines many of the reasons why.

First off, I have been around the block with debating the value of aging running backs. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote this in the preseason of 2007 about Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. I then wrote this in January 2008. So, yeah, lesson learned.

I know McCoy only turns 27 this summer, but he's already hinted he may be closer to 30 in running back years than 24, when he was super-elite. Perhaps he will be motivated by being cast off by Kelly, but the good money is on him being an A-list RB for no more than one or two more years. Meanwhile, LB Kiko Alonso is a budding superstar joining a defense that needs that sort of thing, and who, oh by the way, will cost way less in the immediate and even near term.

Don't look now, but Kelly has around $48 million in salary-cap space. My guess is his mad scientist mind is ticking a few steps ahead, perhaps even imagining bringing a certain former Oregon QB to the City of Brotherly Love.

One thing we know about Kelly is his offensive mind is playing speed chess while others are playing pong. He didn't unload McCoy on a whim. If he feels the need, Kelly can draft a quality running back this spring, perhaps as late as the third or fourth round.
Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process towards the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, 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.

Up next: Washington State.

1. Will the defense create a foundation this spring that brings consistency next fall? The Cougars had a hard time fielding a consistent defense in 2014. While there was that tremendous performance against Oregon, there was also that abysmal showing against Cal, in which Wazzu gave up 589 yards. In January, Mike Leach picked up former Missouri safety coach Alex Grinch to be the defensive coordinator and secondary coach and he got former Michigan cornerback coach Roy Manning to come to the Palouse to work with his outside linebackers. With these two new hires -- and possibly a staff that makes it through the full season -- can the work in the spring bring a consistent pass rush come fall? Defensive line coach Joe Salave'a has his work cut out for him trying to find players who can replace Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole. But he’s well known across the league as one of the best DL commodities, so he should be able to reach into his bag of tricks and work with the talent the Cougs have to create a baseline. The core group of linebackers is young, but with another spring season, they should take a step forward. One thing is for sure: If the Cougs want to get back to the postseason, they can’t be the 117th-"best" defense in the country when it comes to giving up points.

2. What will Luke Falk look like after a spring season of first team reps? The redshirt freshman stepped in for injured quarterback Connor Halliday at the end of season and looked nothing like a wide-eyed, first-year player. Just imagine what he could do after an entire spring season worth of reps. He’s definitely one big reason why Cougar fans should be excited for the years to come. After really only playing one third of the season, Falk was just 538 yards away from being one of the top-10 passing yard leaders in the Pac-12. His hunt for the top of that leader board in 2015 begins now.

3. How many wide receiver threats emerge? The Cougars need to replace conference-leading wide receiver Vince Mayle as well as the Pac-12’s seventh-best receiving yards leader in Isiah Myers. But with River Cracraft back for the Cougs, they’re on their way there. But Cracraft will need some help. Dom Williams, Tyler Baker and Calvin Green all jump out as candidates to help carry the load in 2015. The trio combined for 11 touchdowns and 1,032 yards on 83 receptions. Last season Washington State had six receivers record 400-yard seasons -- the only other Pac-12 team to do that was Oregon. The long and short of it is this for the Cougs: the more receivers, the better.

Spring questions: Washington

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at last season and begin the forward-looking process toward the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, returning starters need to get better, and youngsters need to step up.

Though some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be featured front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team must address this spring.

Up next: Washington

1. So, who'll be the quarterback? This question almost certainly won't be resolved until fall camp, but that won't stop us from discussing it right now. Because incumbent Cyler Miles struggled through significant stretches of the 2014 season, this question is, after all, one of the leading thoughts on the minds of Husky fans this offseason. For the most part, Miles avoided interceptions last year, but he did run into some fumbling trouble, and he often failed to provide the cohesive glue that an offense demands from its quarterback. That's why a competition is opening up in Seattle. Strong-armed prospect K.J. Carta-Samuels comes off his redshirt season in an attempt to make a move, while fresh four-star recruit Jake Browning enrolled early to throw his name into the fray. Jeff Lindquist, who saw some action last year, is also still around. Coach Chris Petersen has promised that the best man will win.

2. How much of a free-for-all will the competition in the front seven be? Several studs populated Washington's defensive front seven in 2014, but six of them are gone. Only linebacker Travis Feeney remains from last year's starting crew. The Huskies must replace marquee bodies Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, and John Timu -- among others -- up front. This, of course, will be a massive replacement effort. Shelton brought serious block-gobbling ability to the middle of the defense, Kikaha was a true sack master, and Thompson was a turnover-forcing machine.

Washington's secondary, so young and inexperienced in 2014, has actually become the more battle-hardened portion of the defense. This marks a major role reversal, as several bodies will jockey for position in the front seven this spring. Look out for Elijah Qualls and Joe Mathis along the line. Senior Cory Littleton and a host of younger players will be in the mix with Feeney on the second level.

3. How will the offensive line begin its reloading process? Dexter Charles is returning at guard, but the rest of Washington's offensive front is undergoing major turnover this offseason. Coleman Shelton also brings returning experience to the table (at tackle), but beyond that, the Huskies will be scrambling to develop trusted bodies in their attempt to protect the team's 2015 starting quarterback. Spring practice may be worth watching just to catch a peek at Kaleb McGary, a 6-foot-7 offensive line specimen who switched over from the defensive side late last season. His progress may be vital to Washington's fortunes at this position group. The Huskies also expect a crew of freshmen reinforcements this summer, but the state of their offensive line is very much in question as spring ball approaches.
The Pac-12 Blog offers 10 predictions for this spring season.

1. D.J. Foster's move to slot receiver will prove to be an excellent idea.

Foster was brilliantly versatile last season for Arizona State, tacking 62 catches and nearly 700 receiving yards on top of his 1,100-yard rushing campaign. Simply put, he's a premier athlete, and that gives coach Todd Graham a multitude of options on offense. Foster's move to the slot, then, only makes logical sense given the circumstances in Tempe: Jaelen Strong is gone from the outside, and Demario Richard is ready to pick up Foster's slack in the backfield. This shift doesn't handcuff ASU, either -- Foster can continue being his versatile self in 2015 and contribute to the ground attack. In fact, the slot may actually further highlight his adaptability.

2. At least 27 instances of "Berco-ing" will happen around the state of Arizona as QB Mike Bercovici officially takes the reins.

There have already been a few identified -- official or unofficial -- Berco-ing activities that have happened so far this offseason (see below). But now, with Bercovici officially taking the reins of this team and declaring its goal a national title, there will be a few fans around the state and country who find themselves celebrating in a much different way. Hint: This is much more difficult without a helmet -- don't break your nose.

3. Stanford coach David Shaw will be asked to talk about how no one is talking about his team, leaving him with a "that's so meta" reaction.

For the first time in several years, no one is really talking about the Cardinal going into spring football. The usual powerhouse had a slow start to last season, which left its final stretch -- impressive as it might have been -- relatively unnoticed, which in turn left its team this offseason relatively unnoticed. Enter: the most meta interview in which Shaw is asked to talk about talking, or rather, talk about how no one is talking about his team.

Example:

Q: David, can you discuss how different it is for you to be at this point in the season with little to no one really talking about your team?

A: [Hint: It doesn't matter what he says here because he spurns the question by actually talking about his team.]

4. Oregon State RB Storm Woods will take a huge leap forward as Gary Andersen actually makes running an emphasis in Corvallis.

Andersen has made it very clear he intends to run the ball. Mike Riley used to say this a lot, but given Andersen's ability to turn out some top-notch running backs, we're getting the idea he's very, very serious about it. The front-runner right now is Storm Woods, who showed flashes last season, specifically against Arizona State and Oregon. In preparation for said leap, the Pac-12 Blog is now taking advanced nicknames for Storm Woods in Cor-Vegas. Tweet them to @ESPN_Pac12blog.

5. Mike Leach gon' Mike Leach at some point and say something non-football related that makes headlines.

Now's a good time to review just a smidgen of what makes Washington State's Mike Leach a fascinating treasure. Many details can be found in this piece, which chronicles his long walks through the countryside to work, among other nuggets. But Leach's sound bites may be the most entertaining gifts of all. Remember that not too long ago, he predicted human extinction. What will be next? Better question: Can anything top that? We'll just have to wait and see.

6. Quarterbacks will be the most talked about subject in Eugene, Oregon, even though the competition won't really begin until this summer.

Yes, there'll be intense focus on Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and the others taking snaps this spring in an effort to become Marcus Mariota's successor. But while that group is doing its thing on Oregon's practice field, the potential front-runner for the job will be working out at Eastern Washington's rec center, of all places. Transfer Vernon Adams won't be around for spring ball, but his arrival in Eugene later this summer will add true sizzle to the battle.

7. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will both settle in primary running back roles at USC.

Javorius Allen is gone, so the Trojans have room opening up in the backfield. Davis is USC's leading returning rusher and Madden is returning following a turf toe injury that derailed his entire 2014 campaign. Built in the 225-pound power back mold, Madden brings a significantly different style to the table than the 195-pound Davis, and this will allow the Trojans to work on developing a complementary mix-and-match between the two players.

8. Chris Petersen will practice his fall avoidance of answering Boise State questions by avoiding answering Boise State questions.

Washington at Boise State is one of the most anticipated season openers for 2015. By nature, most college football coaches don't talk about the ensuing regular season too much during the spring because they don't want it to be too much of a distraction or show any kind of non-spring ball focus. That said, the matchup with the Broncos will probably be brought up a few times. This will give Petersen ample opportunity to practice whatever tactic he intends to apply next fall when folks ask him similar questions but expect a much better answer.

9. Cal will continue to show significant strides offensively.

During their miserable 1-11 campaign two seasons ago, the Bears planted some seeds offensively. Coach Sonny Dykes debuted Jared Goff as a true freshman, and the new coach introduced his aggressive aerial attack. There were growing pains aplenty, but 2014 saw marked improvement for the Bears. They developed an effective rushing attack, and Goff morphed into an upper-tier conference quarterback (5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). This 2015 spring will see a continuation of Cal's offensive blossoming.

10. There will be a spring football rivalry between UCLA and USC.

Bruins, watch your bear. Trojans, watch out for Tommy Trojan.

OK, so maybe this is a more far-fetched prediction, but we can dream. Spring football needs some excitement.
Four prospects received immediate invitations to The Opening following last year’s Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp, though several more from the event eventually found their way to the preeminent summer showcase. This year, The Opening Los Angeles Regional will again feature many of the top prospects in the West region, as several position groups will be loaded and several states will showcase their top recruits, who are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with California’s best. Here are five things to watch heading into Sunday’s event.


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During a Colorado spring practice last week, head coach Mike MacIntyre approached his program's sports performance director, Dave Forman. He noted that the Buffs, fresh off their first session of winter conditioning, looked more physical and powerful than before.

In many other contexts, such a note from the boss would be music to a strength coach's ears.

But the time for smiles and pats on the back in Boulder isn't yet here. Forman knows the program is still in dire need of visible results: Colorado is 4-32 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011.

[+] EnlargeDave Forman
Courtesy of ColoradoDave Forman worked to tailor Colorado's offseason strength program to address the team's weaknesses.
From his own recent experience at Stanford and San Jose State, Forman is familiar with what the resurrection of a football program looks like. So despite the Buffs' 0-9 league finish in 2014, he's confident Colorado is churning toward the demanded breakthrough in his third year on campus -- and now is no time to rest.

"First, you have learn to compete," Forman says. "Then, you have to learn how to win."

Colorado has accomplished the first half of that. The Buffaloes were more competitive in 2014, ultimately to no avail in the win column.

"You put your heart and soul into something and it's a heartbreaking loss, those kids finally felt that last year," Forman says. "I think they finally understand what needs to be done. There are little, tiny details they may have overlooked last year, and they now realize how important they are."

In one-on-one meetings to begin this offseason, Forman listened as Colorado players recounted their particular frustrations from the difficult season that had just passed, and he worked to tailor the Buffs' offseason program to address the team's weaknesses. Colorado's rush defense, by far the worst in the Pac-12, gave up 30 runs of 20 yards or more in 2014, ranking the team No. 122 nationally in that category. Blown defensive assignments, often caused by a lack of communication in crunch time, proved devastating.

As a result, Forman has placed an emphasis on fusing communication with greater physical strength. He based many of the Buffs' winter conditioning workouts on cadence -- "down-up-one, down-up-two" -- to encourage a synchronous atmosphere. In this environment, no player could "hide" from any part of the workload.

"At the end of the day, everyone was doing the same amount of work," Forman says. "Nobody skimped out on anything. We're fostering trust and building camaraderie. There's no more pointing fingers. You have to trust that the guy next to you is going to do his job on the field, and this is aimed at developing that trust."

[+] EnlargeDave Forman
Courtesy of ColoradoForman came to Colorado after stints at Stanford and San Jose State.
With Forman's group-oriented focus providing the backbone, Colorado's players saw significant strength gains across the board this winter. Receiver Nelson Spruce said he's already squatting and bench pressing as much as he ever has.

If it's easier for Forman to stay positive and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, it's because he's seen the results of his regimen pay off twice before.

He served three years as sports performance guru Shannon Turley's assistant at Stanford. He arrived there in 2008, a year after Jim Harbaugh inherited a 1-11 squad, and saw the Cardinal bleed yardage and blow two leads in the final minute of games on their way to a 5-7 season. That team finished an agonizing one win short of bowl eligibility, but it went on to post an 8-5 record in 2009 and a 12-1 Orange Bowl championship season in 2010, Forman's third year.

Forman then took over the head strength and conditioning role at San Jose State following the program's 1-12 campaign in 2010. This resuscitation followed a similar trajectory. The Spartans finished 2011 a painful 5-7, victims of defensive hemorrhaging and several blown fourth-quarter leads. But they turned the anguish into an 11-2 campaign the following season.

Forman came to Boulder with MacIntyre in 2013, and he can draw firm parallels to his previous two jobs. The staff's first season saw Colorado blown out of virtually every conference game except for a win against 1-11 California. Despite finishing 0-9 in Pac-12 play in 2014, the Buffs' average margin of defeat tightened by a full 10 points, including two double-overtime losses.

That hurt has become Colorado's offseason fuel, and it's caused Forman to sense something familiar to him -- a warmth brought on by progress.

"There's a nice feeling in the air," he says. "It feels different. You're walking down to practice, there's construction going on [Colorado's major facilities upgrades], and you can really point to an upward trajectory happening on a daily basis. It's a good vibe."
USC's defense was a mixed bag in 2014.

It ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and tied for third in yards per play. It was good against the run -- 3.8 yards per rush -- and ranked second in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. It led the conference in interceptions and third-down conversions.

So, the numbers were solid.

But there also was Boston College rushing for 452 yards in an upset win, Arizona State scoring 20 fourth-quarter points and winning on a Hail Mary pass, and there was UCLA gaining 461 yards in a win and Nebraska piling up 525 yards in a loss.

So, mixed bag.

Justin Wilcox, who has built quality defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington before following Steve Sarkisian to USC, has long been a respected coordinator and is widely viewed as becoming a head-coaching candidate sooner rather than later. His defense welcomes back eight starters, but it also loses some star power, as the Trojans head into a season of high expectations.

With USC starting spring practices this week, it seemed like a good time to check in.

What were some of the things you were happy about with your defense last year?

[+] EnlargeJustin Wilcox
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has eight starters coming back, but he also needs some new leaders to emerge.
Justin Wilcox: This will probably answer both sides of your question. At times, we played really efficiently, good football. I think the biggest thing for us is finding consistency in performance. That to me is the big thing going forward. We had a couple of games and parts of games we played really well. It was just consistency. You’ve got to do it all the time in order to play well, whether it’s the fourth quarter, which was an issue for us in a couple of games. We can do better preparing ourselves. The kids having a better understanding, it being a year in, are going to be more comfortable not only with the schematics and the teaching but also the situational awareness. Big picture-wise, we just need to do a better job performing consistently. I think we’ve got a good bunch of guys and we are excited about the ones who are joining us. We’ll have a shot to do some good things.

How much was depth an issue?

Wilcox: We don’t really talk about that. I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere with a college football coach where he’s like, ‘We’ve got too much depth.’ Obviously we need to continue to develop our depth. I think where it shows is we need to substitute guys earlier in games, especially against the tempo teams. When the numbers get up high, you’d like to see the big guys, even some of the skill guys, you want to roll them a little bit so at the end of the game you’ve got more juice. But that’s always a fine line. We’re not the only school thinking that way.

I was thinking in terms of you guys still being yoked with NCAA sanctions last year. You guys weren’t going very deep with substitutions on your defense and you seemed to tire out late.

Wilcox: Yeah, it’s not really something, the sanctions and all that, we just don’t talk about it. We are excited about the guys who are here. We’ll continue to develop depth on defense at every position through recruiting. And we’ll continue to look at the best ways to substitute and roll guys. That’s critical. You want your best players out there on critical third downs.

How do you replace Leonard Williams?

Wilcox: A guy like that is pretty unique and rare, not only for the physical tools he has but also because he just loves to play the game. A guy with unique physical tools -- 6-5, 300-plus pounds, who runs and is smart and plays with good leverage and is athletic -- and you see he loves playing. Whether it was practice or a game, he was going. He had games when he played over 90 plays. To answer your question, it’s not going to be one person. It’s going to be a collection of people. It will be guys who are returning and some added bodies, freshmen who get here in the summer.

Su'a Cravens is a guy with a ton of talent. How does his role advance this year? He kind of has that hybrid thing going for you.

Wilcox: Sure. I think just adding to his toolbox. We played him as you said in kind of a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety type role and he was very effective. He affected the game as a blitzer and as a low zone player defending balls. Getting picks, getting sacks, tackle for losses, he was impacting the game, which was awesome. The more he can develop at that spot, playing off blocks, understanding route combinations that the offense is going to use to manipulate the zones. Just playing more and getting more experience. He’s an intelligent guy. He’s got really good instincts. Just adding a few more tools to that toolbox, whether it’s coverage techniques he can expand on, maybe some run stunts we can use him. I think he’ll continue to be a guy who affects a game in different ways.

You lose the veteran leaders of your 2014 defense, Williams and LB Hayes Pullard. Who are going to be the vocal leaders next year?

Wilcox: That’s a great question. We’ve got some veteran guys coming back. The names that jump out, Anthony Sarao has played quite a bit at linebacker. Up front, nose tackle Antwaun Woods is a guy who’s played a lot. In the back end? We’ll see. A lot of young guys played a lot last year, Adoree' Jackson, John Plattenburg, those guys were playing significant roles for us, starting. I think Kevon Seymour at the other corner did some good things. But the two guys who have played the most are Anthony and Antwaun. We’ll look to them first for leadership, not only on the field but also at meetings, workouts. Between now and the start of the season, that stuff is as important as anything, just building the chemistry of the team and the accountability to one another.

Who are some young players you expect to compete for starting jobs?

Wilcox: Obviously the ones I already mentioned. John Plattenburg did a really good job at safety. Got better every game as the season went on. I thought we saw him really grow up. He got dinged late in the bowl game but in the Notre Dame game he really played well. Adoree' obviously came in as a young guy, playing corner and playing offense. I think this is a big spring for [safety] Leon McQuay. He played as a true freshman and quite a bit last year. We get [MLB] Lamar Dawson back who’s played a lot of football here but was out last season. He’s kind of a guy we’re looking for. Up front, guys like Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, we need them really to continue to take the next step. Backup nose guard Cody Temple. Outside linebacker Scott Felix. Those are guys who are really important for us to be good. They’ve got to continue to develop. Jabari Ruffin, we are going to get him back from injury last year, as we are with nose tackle Kenny Bigelow. Those are two guys we were looking forward to helping us last year but unfortunately got injured before the season.

With the freshman class, you signed a lot of guys who seem like they might be ready to play. How many do you anticipate playing?

Wilcox: The feeling is when they get here we will give them every opportunity to compete to get on the field. We need them. We were talking earlier about developing our depth. Whether that means they play every special team and are situational players or they become starters, we recruited those guys because we believed they had the ability and physical tools to play. Now there are so many variables when you’re talking about football, on and off the field. We really like the class and all of those guys are going to be pressed early in their careers. In fall camp, it’s going to be a race to get them prepared to play. We’re looking for all those guys to help us.

Spring questions: USC Trojans

March, 5, 2015
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances of last season and begin the forward-looking process toward 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're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: USC.

1. How do you replace DE Leonard Williams? You don't replace Williams, a likely top-five pick in the NFL draft this spring. There is no one on the USC roster with the physical dimensions and skills to do so. Williams ranked second on the Trojans with 80 tackles, with 9.5 tackles for a loss and a co-team-high seven sacks, but he also caused problems for offensive simply by being there. He demanded attention in a game plan. Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, a pair of 295 pounders, saw extensive action last year and began spring practices this week with the first unit as DE/DT. Another candidate, Greg Townsend, sat out with an injury. Redshirt freshman Malik Dorton and junior Jeff Miller offer smaller, quicker options. It's also possible that linebacker Jabari Ruffin could get at look at defensive end when he's healthy, and it's likely one or two of the touted incoming freshmen will be the rotation. Williams rarely left the field. The good news is USC figures to have a deeper and therefore fresher rotation this fall.

2. Who will be QB Cody Kessler's top targets? Three of USC's top four receivers from 2014 are gone, including top target Nelson Agholor, who caught nearly twice as many passes as any other Trojan. He also led the offense with 12 TDs. No one else had more than five. No. 2 receiver JuJu Smith had a strong showing as a true freshman and he has plenty of upside. He's likely the new No. 1. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell are second and third options, while Adoree' Jackson, a starting cornerback, will see action on both sides of the ball. No doubt there will be opportunities for incoming players to push into the rotation. Further, with the departure of tight end Randall Telfer and uncertain status of suspended sophomore Bryce Dixon, things are pretty fluid at tight end behind Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

3. What's the pecking order at running back? Justin Davis was Javorius Allen's backup last year and he rushed for 595 yards, but it will be interesting to see how Tre Madden looks when he returns -- finally? -- from a toe injury. A healthy Madden is a true threat to start. Touted incoming freshmen Ronald Jones and Aca'Cedric Ware seem unlikely to redshirt, particularly Jones who was ranked the No. 1 running back in the nation by many recruiting services, including ESPN.com. Sophomore James Toland is another option. This competition won't truly heat up until preseason camp, but Davis has the most to gain -- or lose -- this spring.

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