It's here! It's here! The start of watch list season!

This morning, the National College Football Awards Association rolled out its first two watch lists and -- no surprise -- several Pac-12 players were named to both the Bednarik Award watch list (given to the nation's best defensive player) and the Maxwell Award watch list (the nation's best offensive player).

Of the 76 players on the Maxwell Award watch list, 16 hail from the Pac-12. Arizona State, Oregon and USC lead the way with three players a piece on that list but again -- no surprises here -- the quarterbacks ruled the day for the conference as seven Pac-12 quarterbacks were listed. Five wide receivers got nods and four running backs made the list (including both of the Ducks' top guys).

MAXWELL AWARD WATCH LIST

Of the 76 players on the Bednarik Award watch list, 13 are from the Pac-12. Stanford landed four guys while USC and Washington notched three apiece. Like the offense, almost half of the conference's recognition was in one position group (the linebackers), but there's still a good spread of recognition among the rest of the Pac-12 position groups -- three defensive linemen, six linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties.

BEDNARIK AWARD WATCH LIST

For a full list of the watch listers, click here. The lists will continue rolling out over the next two weeks so keep your eyes peeled. Don't get too distraught if you don't see your favorite player's name. It's early and there's still plenty of time for change. All of these lists are in pencil (like, a digital pencil) so don't panic yet.

Happy Fourth of July!

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
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The Pac-12 blog will be celebrating the Fourth of July with family and friends today.

So go watch fireworks.

See you back on Monday.
Happy July 4th Eve. The mailbag arrives early this week.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Landon from Atlanta writes: I have heard rumblings of late, as to the upcoming demise of Oregon's dominance ? probably not this year, but in coming seasons. People point to solid coaching hires within the Pac-12, as well as a perceived slipping in recruiting recently. Some of these things make sense (CFB is cyclical), but is the recruiting issue more of perception than anything? People think Oregon SHOULD be recruiting better, because they are a more of a football power. However, Oregon has never been in the top 10 of recruiting. When ESPN ranked the top 150 quarterbacks in the class of 2011, Marcus Mariota was 123rd! Could Oregon be doing what it has done along, and it's just people's expectations that have changed? Maybe Oregon should be quoting Mark Twain about their demise.

Ted Miller: We've written about this before, though to a different question. Oregon, as previously noted, is doomed.

Consider this analysis:

Purple John from Seattle writes: Oregon is doomed. They are Johnny-Come-Latelies with no tradition. With Chip Kelly gone, it's just a matter of time before the glorious and stately Washington program stomps the Duckies into oblivion.

Orange & Black Sarah from Corvallis writes: Oregon is doomed. They are a lawless program under the thumb of a dithering plutocrat. Everyone knows that good eventually wins out, which means the Beavers and Mike Riley soon will overcome the evil kingdom in Eugene.

Stanford Steve from Bristol, Connecticut, writes: Oregon is doomed. As a former Stanford great both on the field and in the classroom, I have discovered the unifying equation for the universe. The eureka moment came when I eliminated Oregon from Pac-12 contention.

See. Oregon is doomed.

What's the source of these "rumblings" you're hearing? It's not any preseason publication I've seen. Oregon is practically a unanimous pick to win the North Division and Pac-12 championship. The Ducks are being ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 in preseason polls. Mariota is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

As for recruiting, have you been keeping up with the latest news, Landon? While the Ducks have missed on a few national prospects, most notably a couple of QBs, they've jumped seven spots to No. 18 in the latest ESPN.com recruiting rankings. That made the Ducks the No. 1 team in the Pac-12.

Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which it being in the national title hunt has become the standard not the exception. Folks mostly expect that to continue in 2014. While replacing Mariota won't be easy in 2015, keep in mind he's the third starting QB during this run, not the only one.

Yes, people's expectations have changed. Two regular-season losses now constitutes failure for some Ducks fans. That's how things go. Is it likely Oregon is going to go 57-9 over the next five years? Probably not. But I doubt there will be a massive downturn in the program's trajectory anytime soon.

Chester from Tempe, Arizona, writes: What are your thoughts on Arizona's RB situation and if RichRod n Co have enough offensive firepower and options to off-set the lack of a running game threat? You would think defenses would key on the passing game now.We recently lost a former 4 Star RS Frosh RB Pierre Cormier to injury retirement.

Ted Miller: While running back is a legitimate question for Arizona, I see it as more of a question of a name -- "Who's it going to be?" -- rather than a "Will the Wildcats be able to run the ball."

Arizona is going to run the ball well in 2014 for two reasons: 1. Rich Rodriguez offenses always run the ball well; 2. The Wildcats have one of the Pac-12's best and most experienced offensive lines.

I have no idea who wins the job between Nick Wilson, Zach Green, Terris Jones-Grigsby and Jared Baker, or some combination thereof with some contribution of elusive receiver DaVonte Neal. What I suspect strongly is the program will eclipse 5.0 yards per carry and 3,000 yards rushing as a team while throwing the ball better this fall.

Ben from LA writes: I don't know anything about Dykes, or who the Chancellor has in mind for AD, but I think of Cal as a sleeping giant. It's the Pac-12's best university that isn't saddled with an admissions handicap, it's got the campus, the weather, and proximity to a favorite city and America's premier industry, and it receives the same TV dollars as all the other schools. Given Cal's extraordinary proficiency at every academic and professional endeavor, what do you think are the obstacles to football excellence?

Ted Miller: I wonder what might have happened if Cal had completed its facilities upgrades in 2005 when Jeff Tedford and the Bears were an established Pac-12 power. I'd certainly wager that Tedford would still be the coach and Cal wouldn't have gone 0-8 in conference play in 2013.

The biggest thing holding Cal back before -- and during -- Tedford's tenure was a lack of commitment. Berkeley was Berkeley first -- Telegraph Avenue! -- and Cal Bears football was an afterthought, casual amusement or something to protest. That is no longer the case. The facilities are A-list, the Pac-12 is surging and fans and the administration are fully committed to being competitive.

The problem Sonny Dykes inherited was talent. He didn't have enough to be consistently competitive in the North, and then the guys he had got hurt.

Is Dykes the long-term answer? We should get a better idea of that this fall. The Bears need to show improvement, even if that doesn't include reaching the .500 mark.

But to your question about what might be holding Cal back, there is nothing exceptional you could point to, as there is with, say, Utah (three years removed from non-AQ conference) or Washington State (isolated location with limited recruiting base).

Cal can win, which means it should win. All it takes is the right coach and right players.

Jon from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Zero, zip, nada, nudge games between the SEC/PAC in 2014 unless there is a meeting in the Playoff.How can anyone possibly compare Conferences that hardly tee it up against one another? After all, WAZZOU gave Auburn at its place all that the Tigers could handle. I know scheduling is arranged far in advance but wouldn't an SEC/PAC Challenge (SEC teams 6 and 7 from the prior season play one another) be super sweet? LET'S PLAY BALL AGAINST THE BEST.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 and SEC don't play often as it is and won't play any regular-season games this year. This was specifically called a drag by ESPN brass and your Pac-12 reporters during a meeting this past week. You are not the only one who wants to pair the two best conferences and, you know, see what happens when stadium size and bombast no longer matter.

Yet I wouldn't hold your breath. I don't get a sense either conference is aggressively seeking out the other in any consistent way. The SEC doesn't want to play home-and-home series with West Coast teams, and the Pac-12 isn't eager to do too many one-game visits in enemy territory, as the Cougars did last year when they proved to be nearly the equals of the SEC champions. That leaves neutral-site games, which are complicated to put together and limited in number.

While there have been some tentative talks -- and some intense Twitter speculation about certain marquee matchups -- nothing has progressed to a point that it can be seriously discussed as a possibility.

As for quality nonconference games, the Pac-12's special relationship with the Big Ten is prevailing -- see good matchups this fall with Michigan State (Oregon), Michigan (Utah), Northwestern (Cal) and Illinois (Washington).

There are a couple of SEC-Pac-12 matchups in the future: Texas A&M will play Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium Sept. 5 2015, and then has a home-and-home with UCLA in 2015-16. There also are some more SEC-Pac-12 games scheduled a few years down the road.

Maybe we'll get one in the College Football Playoff?
There’s nothing like a good ol’ award watch list to generate some college football discussion during the height of summer, and the good folks at the College Football Performance Awards are the latest to publish theirs.

Eight Pac-12 schools are represented (sorry ASU, Cal, Colorado and Utah) on the three defensive lists, highlighted by USC’s Leonard Williams, UCLA’s Myles Jack and Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Here is the full list of Pac-12 representation.

Defensive linemen
Tony Washington, Oregon
Leonard Williams, USC
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
Xavier Cooper, Washington State

Linebackers
A.J. Tarpley, Stanford
Myles Jack, UCLA
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
Hayes Pullard, USC
Shaq Thompson, Washington

Defensive backs
Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Steven Nelson, Oregon State
Jordan Richards, Stanford
Su'a Cravens, USC
Josh Shaw, USC

Pac-12's lunch links

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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There was only one night game a year. On the 4th of July. The whole sky would brighten up with fireworks, giving us just enough light for a game. We played our best then because, I guess, we all felt like the big leaguers under the lights of some great stadium. Benny felt like that all the time.

Coaches get away with golf

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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In more than 30 years of coaching, Steve Spurrier has never lost a round of golf to one of his players. New challengers are apt to dismiss the claim, but Spurrier is happy to provide witness accounts of each of his triumphs. It's a record he takes seriously.

Of course, opportunities to hit the tees at all are getting harder to come by for coaches. The recruiting calendar has grown more cumbersome, the demands of the job more strenuous, and the number of coaches regularly playing golf has diminished as a result. Even Spurrier, the elder statesmen of the coaching ranks on both the football field and the golf course, doesn't get out quite as much as he used to. By the end of July, his clubs are already gathering dust.

But as the demands of the job increase, the importance of finding an escape is even more crucial, Spurrier said. So he has kept golf a priority during those few months every year when NCAA rules prevent him from working with his players.

For the rest of David M. Hale's story about why golf is a favorite offseason activity for football coaches, click here. And to find out what a few college football coaches had to say about playing golf with players and other coaches, their best rounds, their favorite courses and more, click here.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Defensive tackle. This is a difficult position to stagger when teams vary their scheme between 3-4 and 4-3 looks.

GREAT SHAPE

Washington: The Huskies welcome back both starting defensive tackles, including potential NFL first-round pick Danny Shelton, a 327-pound mountain in the middle. Evan Hudson had four sacks last year, and the expectations are high for redshirt freshman Elijah Qualls.

USC: The Trojans are strong across the board on the D-line, and we're not just talking about DE Leonard Williams. They welcome back the top four names on their 2013 depth chart at nose tackle, including starter Antwaun Woods and backup Cody Temple. Redshirt freshman Kenny Bigelow is expected to see plenty of time, too, and there are a number of talented players who could slide inside from end.

UCLA: Sophomore Kenny Clark eclipsed Seali’i Epenesa last year and he looks like a budding star, but the Bruins have several players big enough to play inside, including Ellis McCarthy and Eddie Vanderdoes, who are listed as ends. Kevin McReynolds and Eli Ankou also are options.

Stanford: DT David Parry is a returning starter, and redshirt sophomore Ikenna Nwafor could provide quality depth, though a nagging foot injury kept him out during spring practices. Aziz Shittu could move inside from end to bolster depth if Nwafor is hobbled.

GOOD SHAPE

Washington State: If you consider Xavier Cooper more a tackle than an end in the Cougars' 3-4 hybrid, then this position is even deeper. Kalafitoni Pole, who had 28 tackles and two sacks last year at end, will replace Ioane Gauta at nose tackle. Redshirt freshman Daniel Ekuale and junior Darryl Paulo will provide depth.

Oregon: The loss of the underrated Wade Keliikipi and his solid backup, Ricky Heimuli, is significant, though NG Alex Balducci has significant experience. Depth is a question. Junior Sam Kamp, who has added 30 pounds to his frame in order to hold his ground at NT, and some youngsters need to step up. JC transfer Tui Talia played well enough in the spring to be in the mix, though he's more of an end.

Arizona State: We consider Will Sutton more an interior DT than an end, so his loss hits here. NT Jaxon Hood has plenty of experience, though he battled a hamstring injury last year. The Sun Devils also are replacing Davon Coleman, who replaced Hood in the lineup last year. If in shape, 380-pound Mo Latu could be a force. The Sun Devils aren't afraid to shuffle guys up front, too.

Oregon State: On the one hand, the Beavers lose both starting DTs from 2013: Mana Rosa and John Braun. On the other, they feel much better about their interior D-line compared to this time last year. Miami transfer Jalen Grimble offers an immediate athletic upgrade on Rosa and Braun, and Edwin Delva, Siale Hautau, Brandon Bennett-Jackson and Noke Tago provide solid depth. Junior college transfer Kyle Peko also could play his way into the rotation.

Colorado: Five of the top six defensive tackles are back, including Josh Tupou, Juda Parker and Justin Solis, veterans with significant playing experience. Tupou, in particular, is promising inside. The Buffs are far more confident in what they have inside than outside on their D-line.

WE'LL SEE

Utah: The Utes lose Tenny Palepoi, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors, and fellow starter LT Tuipulotu as well as backup Latu Heimuli. So this is a bit of a rebuilding effort, though this is traditionally a position of strength for the program. Viliseni Fauonuku and Sese Ianu are the likely starters with promising redshirt freshman Filipo Mokofisi and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who's returning from an injury, providing depth. There also are some incoming JC options.

Arizona: With Tevin Hood and Kirifi Taula gone, the NG position in the Wildcats' 3-3-5 scheme is a question. Aiulua Fanene and Saneilia Fuimaono have returned from two-year missions, and both have playing experience. Sophomore Dwight Melvin likely gets the first look, though. LSU transfer Jordan Allen could be a factor inside, though he's a natural end. Jeff Worthy, a former Boise State player, at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, could play any of three positions along the line, and there's also 280-pound recruit Jerod Cody and some incoming JC transfers.

California: The Bears lose both Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala, but all should be well if Mustafa Jalil returns to 100 percent after missing last year with a knee injury. When healthy, Jalil has looked like a budding star, but he's a decided "we'll see." It doesn't help that Jacobi Hunter left the program. Harrison Wilfley and Marcus Manley also are interior possibilities.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end

Offensive line
It's hard not to look up and down the Pac-12 rosters and marvel at some of the offensive talent at just about every school. With 10 starting quarterbacks coming back, the fall promises to bring many sleepless nights for defensive coordinators in the conference.

And while the embarrassment of riches under center is one obvious storyline, there are plenty more dynamic position groups to keep an eye on.

We've been highlighting where each position group stands with camp rapidly approaching, and today we discuss which of those groups deserves to be considered the best of the best.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesUSC's Nelson Agholor had 56 catches for 918 yards last season.
Chantel Jennings: This was hard, and for me it came down to running backs and wide receivers. But, considering how great the quarterback situation is in the Pac-12, I think the receivers, conference-wide, are going to have huge seasons. Go down the line and pick out guys who are going to be major, major names to know this year: Arizona State -- Jaelen Strong, Stanford -- Ty Montgomery, Oregon -- Devon Allen, USC -- Nelson Agholor, Utah -- Dres Anderson, Washington State -- everyone and their mother. Quarterbacks are only good when there are receivers on the other ends of their passes and this group of receivers will make this group of quarterbacks look very good (and vice versa).

What makes this even more impressive is to look at the wide receivers that are gone after the 2013 season. Oregon State lost Brandin Cooks. Colorado lost Paul Richardson. Oregon lost Josh Huff. USC lost Marqise Lee. That's some serious yardage and production to lose in one season. But even with that loss, this position group -- in my opinion -- is going to be incredibly impressive this upcoming season. In 2013, the Pac-12 played stage for the eventual Biletnikoff Award winner. I think the same could be true in 2014.

Kyle Bonagura: With so many talented receiving groups out there (don't sleep on Cal), it's hard to go with one over the other, but I'm not convinced that's the case at running back. Kevin Gemmell took a look at each team's group of backs, and while he classified three (Oregon, USC and Arizona State) as being in great shape, it's pretty clear what group stands out: Oregon.

There's only a select few places in the country where Byron Marshall or Thomas Tyner wouldn't be the unquestioned feature back. At Oregon, they might be the second and third best options on their own team. Behind quarterback Marcus Mariota, of course. That's scary. And after the trio combined for 2,464 yards and 32 touchdowns a year ago, there is every reason to expect more in 2014 -- starting with the fact that they'll be running behind one of the best lines in the conference.

Taking everything into account -- especially the element Mariota adds -- finding a better offensive backfield in the country would be a tough task. There are schools that have more impressive workhorse-type backs, but Oregon's unique combination between its style of play and talent, for my money, is unmatched.
Every wonder what it's like to go through a strength and conditioning program that college football players go through?

Well, the wait is (sort of) over. In one week, football fans will get a look inside the metro Detroit training facility of Rich Rodriguez's former director of strength and conditioning, Mike Barwis, in the Discovery Channel reality TV show "American Muscle," which premiers July 9 at 9 p.m. ET.

Barwis worked with Rodriguez at West Virginia (2003-2007) and Michigan (2008-2011), but stayed in Michigan after the 2011 season to begin Barwis Methods, where he trains college and professional athletes as well as paraplegics, which will be a very interesting aspect of "American Muscle."

The reality show will chronicle Barwis through his unique training regimen (check out the show's trailer and the show's website here). Former Stanford and current Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will appear on the pilot episode. Other NFL players such as Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Pierre Garcon will also appear during the first season.

"I had designed [the system] before we met, but specifically adapted it to meet his needs in football,” Barwis said of Rodriguez. "His is a unique style of play that requires a specific dynamic in the development of athletes to play in the fast paced style of football. My two assistants now run his program the same way at Arizona."

Preseason magazines on Pac-12

July, 1, 2014
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Preseason magazines don't always get it right, but they certainly whet our appetite for the college football season.

As for how they view the Pac-12's 2014 pecking order and national standing among the preseason Top 25s, there's been a high degree of consensus: Thus far, just about everyone has Oregon winning the North Division and UCLA winning the South Division.

Stassen.com is a great preseason reference source, both for this year and as a historical reference. It keeps track of what the preseason magazines prognosticate every year.

If you toss in Phil Steele, who concludes his countdown today, we have five major publications with their predictions: Lindy's, Athlon, The Sporting News and USA Today.

Each ranks defending national champion Florida State No. 1, other than The Sporting News, which ranks the Seminoles No. 3 and Oklahoma No. 1.

Oregon leads the Pac-12 in each poll save Phil Steele, who ranks UCLA No. 5 and Oregon No. 6. The Ducks ranking ranges from No. 2 (Sporting News) to No. 6 (Phil Steele, Athlon). UCLA is ranked as high as No. 5 (Phil Steele) and as low as 10th (USA Today).

As for the Pac-12 standings, all five publications predict Oregon wins the North and UCLA wins the South. All five have Stanford second in the North. Four of five have USC second in the South, with The Sporting News tapping Arizona State No. 2 and USC No. 3. All five have California last in the North and Colorado last in the South.

Is the Pac-12 really this predictable? You can be sure it won't be.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
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So hold on to the ones who really care. In the end they'll be the only ones there. When you get old and start losing hair, can you tell me who will still care? Can you tell me who will still care? Mmmmmmmmm bop.
This week we chatted with Washington State assistant head coach/special teams coach Eric Russell to check in on how the Cougar special teams are doing, which position battles to watch, and how the recruiting trail is these days.

Let's get down to business. You need to replace four-year starting kicker Andrew Furnery and returner Leon Brooks. Who did you like for those spots in the spring?

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Rajah BoseMike Leach's team ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in punt returns and seventh in kick returns in 2013.
ER: Kicking wise, I think Erik Powell had a very solid spring. As far as field goals, I think he was 25 of 30 in the spring and showed the ability to bounce back from a miss, not let it affect him the rest of the day. We feel good there, but we still have a couple guys walking on, transferring in to provide him some competition. So we'll know more about that in the fall. Obviously, he has never been in a game, never been in front of a crowd but I think with his makeup and demeanor ... he'll be fine. [For] returner, I think Leon did a steady job. He ranked in the top half of the Pac-12 last year. Finding that guy, you want a guy who can make some big plays for you but at the same time, No. 1, get the ball fielded and maintain possession of the ball. There are a few guys we've been looking at back there. I don't know if anyone has stood up and just stolen the job yet. We're looking at River Cracraft, Jamal Morrow, Rickey Galvin possibly -- some of those guys or some that are coming in. It's a wide open job and it'll probably heat up for fall camp, but we have to make a decision fairly quick so we can rep that guy as much as possible.

Is this more changeover than you've experienced or can remember in just one offseason?

ER: It's a lot. You don't probably wish that upon yourself. But when you come in somewhere new, it's all new to you, too. So you don't really know what you have and Andrew did a great job and we were obviously fortunate that he had some experience. But, it does leave for a lot of restless sleeping at night in the summer wondering what you've got and how are these guys going to react. There are going to be a lot of open jobs, probably with some freshmen.

You mentioned Powell as a strong candidate for the kicking spot. He hasn't kicked in a game. What did you do to simulate that experience for him and other kickers during the spring?

ER: I think being coached by me is pressure. During spring in practice we'd line up the kickers and the competition. One is kicking for the offense, one is kicking for the defense. We do a lot of distractions -- hollering, screaming, yelling at them, kicking for up-downs, or whatnot. Putting a lot of the focus on the team on those guys. And then as many live reps as we could in different situations. That's pretty much the majority of what it was, the competition at the end with the emphasis being on the team trying to root for them or against them or a lot of distractions or putting something on the line in regard to their teammates.

Washington State just put in some incredible new facilities. Are you feeling the perception of the Cougars changing as you go out on the recruiting trail?

ER: The reception from all the high school players and coaches has been good. I think the toughest thing for us right now is that everyone is hearing about these things but still getting kids to Pullman. We're not the most easily accessible campus in the Pac-12. But when they do get on campus, they're pretty much blown away. They see this Pac-12 institution and top-notch facilities and Coach [Mike] Leach and the leadership of the university. I think that puts us in the mix more when we can get them on campus. But as far as the reception and being able to at least get in the door on kids, yes, it has been improving each and every year since we've been here. Hopefully, people see the results on the field. That'll take care of a lot of it too. Recruits want to win games. Guys see the opportunities that a lot of young guys have had here since we arrived and [recruits] are looking for the opportunity to come up and play early in their career, if they're deserving. I think there's some excitement. There's still a lot of work left to be done in the recruiting process, but I think we're able to compete now.

OK, some offseason stuff … were you on the fishing expedition with Leach when he caught that giant fish? And do you have any other good Leach stories from your time coaching together?

ER: Yeah, I was fishing with him but I wasn't in his boat. So obviously [the guides] knew to make sure which boat caught a fish. I got to watch them land that. It was pretty cool watching them all take turns reeling in that big fish. It was funnier watching the guys posing for the picture -- who actually wanted to touch that fish and who was a little bit scared of that fish. Obviously Coach wasn't one of those [scared] guys. I was with him the one year at Texas Tech and through two seasons now. He's good to work for. For the most part, he trusts you to do your job and if you do your job every day, to the best of your abilities, he's going to support you and be there for you. With my [special teams] role, he doesn't tie my hands with personnel issues. He's going to let me use the people we need to use to be successful. Some places maybe aren't that free with their personnel and their elite players. … I'm with you guys, you never know what's going to come out of his mouth or where his train of thought is coming from. He can get on a tangent. Those staff meetings can go a little longer if someone asks him a question about something off the cuff. You better just get comfortable for a while. He's tough but you know what's expected.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Offensive line.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: The Ducks welcome back four and a half starters (the departed Mana Greig and returning true sophomore Cameron Hunt split a guard spot), and that crew is led by All-American Hroniss Grasu, who tops the Pac-12 with 40 career starts. In fact, Oregon welcomes back 107 career starts, second most in the conference. One qualifier: Left tackle Tyler Johnstone is trying to come back from a knee injury he suffered in the bowl game. He probably won't be available early in the season, so junior Andre Yruretagoyena is the frontrunner to step in.

Arizona: The Wildcats no-name unit was highly productive last year -- yielding just 17 sacks while leading a running game that averaged 5.3 yards per carry -- and four starters are back. The unit ranks third in the conference with 104 returning starts, with four-year starting tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele tallying 38 and 37 career starts apiece, respectively. Junior Lene Maiava, the line's top backup at tackle and guard last year, is a good bet to step in for right guard Chris Putton. All the 2013 backups are back as well.

Washington: The Huskies welcome back seven players with starting experience, including five with 20 or more career starts. Not only do they welcome back all five starters from 2013, they welcome back a crew that started every regular-season game together. With four senior starters and one junior, Washington leads the Pac-12 with 124 returning starts. While not a star-studded crew, three 2013 starters -- Dexter Charles, Mike Criste and Micah Hatchie -- earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season. So why aren't the Huskies No. 1? They yielded 30 sacks last year, which ranked seventh in the conference and both the Ducks and Wildcats averaged more yards per rush.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: While UCLA lost first-team All-Pac-12 guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to the NFL, the Bruins should be strong on the offensive line after injuries forced them to start three true freshmen last fall: Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry. Those guys will be older, stronger and more seasoned. The Bruins, who welcome back players with 88 career starts, are led by center Jake Brendel (27 starts), but the wild card is transfer Malcolm Bunche, who made 14 starts at Miami. It's not unrealistic to believe this could turn out to be as good as any O-line in the conference, but yielding 36 sacks a year ago forces one into a wait-and-see approach.

Arizona State: While the Sun Devils lost two starters from 2013, and the O-line was inconsistent last year -- an eye popping 41 sacks yielded and just 4.4 yards per rush -- the general feeling in Tempe is this could be the program's best O-line in more than a decade. Jamil Douglas will be in the Morris Trophy conversation this fall, though he's a more natural guard than left tackle, where he finished spring practice. He leads the Sun Devils' three returning starters with 27 starts. Auburn transfer Christian Westerman was often dominant during spring practices, and Nick Kelly has taken control at center. The depth is pretty solid, too.

USC: The Trojans welcome back three starters: Chad Wheeler, Max Tuerk and Aundrey Walker, though Walker is almost certain to face a preseason challenge from one of the touted youngsters. Sophomores Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and true freshmen Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama, Jordan Austin and Viane Talamaivao are names to watch. This unit will be talented, but it might be a year or two away from peaking.

Stanford: Stanford welcomes back just one returning starter, though he's pretty darn good: Sophomore preseason All-American Andrus Peat. So why aren't the Cardinal relegated to the "We'll see" category? Two reasons: Stanford has become an offensive line recruiting and developing factory -- they've earned the benefit of the doubt -- and the guys who are slated to step in aren't entirely anonymous or green, as most saw action last year in "jumbo" packages. It seems likely to stack up like this: Josh Garnett replaces David Yankey at left guard, Graham Shuler steps in for Khalil Wilkes at center, Johnny Caspers replaces Kevin Danser at right guard and Kyle Murphy takes over for Cameron Fleming at right tackle.

Utah: While the Utes rate toward the bottom of the conference when it comes to returning O-line starts at just 46, this unit hints that it could be pretty stout. Two starters are gone, but junior left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, who had a good spring, guards Junior Salt and Siaosi Aiono are back, as is Isaac Asiata. Of course, the unit was inconsistent last year, often yielding pressure and struggling in run blocking. The stated intention with new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen was to get leaner and quicker. That directive will play into preseason competitions for sure.

Oregon State: Two starters are back: center Isaac Seumalo and right tackle Sean Harlow. Seumalo, who owns 25 of the Beavers 42 returning starts, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and could get All-American consideration this fall, while Harlow should be much-improved after taking his lumps as a true freshman. The good news, despite apparent inexperience, is five guys have started at least one game. Sophomore Grant Bays, junior Josh Mitchell, junior Gavin Andrews and juco transfer Luke Hollingsworth are in the mix. While the Beavers didn't run terribly well last year, they improved as the season went on.

WE'LL SEE

Colorado: Offensive guard Daniel Munyer, with 27 career starts, leads a crew of three returning starters. The good news is the Buffaloes only yielded 20 sacks last year. The bad news is the rushing offense averaged 3.4 yards per carry, which ranked 11th in the conference. The Buffaloes have to get better on the O-line in order to take another step up in the Pac-12 after a rough three seasons.

California: The Bears have eight guys coming back with starting experience, including all five who started the Big Game against Stanford, a crew that included three freshmen and one sophomore. Only one of those guys, sophomore Jordan Rigsbee, started the first game, and he had moved from left guard to center. There is plenty of hope for improvement, grounded in some part in improved play late last season. Still, the unit yielded 35 sacks and led an anemic rushing attack.

Washington State: This is a questionable position for Washington State. The Cougars not only lost three starters, most notably center Eliott Bosch, they welcome back the second fewest starts in the conference at 33, though Gunnar Eklund and Joe Dahl started every game last season. Last year, the Cougars didn't even really try to run the ball and they gave up 32 sacks. There is, however, some optimism over improved size and athleticism. Still, this is going to be an inexperienced unit.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS

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Wide receiver

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The honors keep coming for three former Pac-12 football players now with NFL teams.

Stanford's Trent Murphy, USC's Devon Kennard and Washington State's Deone Bucannon were all named Pac-12 Tom Hansen Conference Medal winners Monday, an honor that takes into account athletic and academic performance and leadership. Each school in the conference honors one male and one female student-athlete.

Murphy, a team captain, graduated with a degree in science, technology and society before being drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. The outside linebacker led the nation with 15 sacks and was a consensus All-American.

Kennard was a second-team All-Academic team selection in the conference as he worked on a master's degree in communication management. He was selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round.

Bucannon was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round after standout career for WSU in which he finished fourth on the school's all-time tackle list and third in interceptions. He majored in criminal justice.

Here is the full list of winners:

Arizona: Lawi Lalang (XC/track and field); Margo Geer (swimming and diving)
Arizona State: Cory Hahn (baseball); Stephanie Preach (volleyball)
California: Brandon Hagy (golf); Alicia Asturias (gymnastics)
Colorado: Andreas Haug (skiing); Shalaya Kipp, (XC and track and field)
Oregon: Robin Cambier (tennis); Laura Roesler (track and field)
Oregon State: Josh Smith (soccer); Jenna Richardson (soccer)
Stanford: Murphy; Chiney Ogwumike (basketball)
UCLA: Joe Sofia (soccer); Anna Senko (swimming and diving)
USC: Kennard; Natalie Hagglund (volleyball)
Utah: Ben Tasevac (tennis); Mary Beth Lofgren (gymnastics)
Washington: Sam Dommer (rowing); Kaitlin Inglesby (softball)
Washington State: Bucannon; Micaela Castain (soccer)
Oregon and UCLA are generally the preseason picks as the Pac-12's best candidates for the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, which also indicates they are the favorites to win their divisions and play for the Pac-12 championship.

That doesn't mean they are a sure-thing. Far from it. In fact, Phil Steele, who likes both Oregon and UCLA, says folks should watch out for USC. He rates the Trojans as one of the potential surprise teams of 2014.
The Trojans are one of just five teams in the country that have each of their positional units (QB, RB, etc.) rank in my top 40. Scholarship limitations have really limited them as of late, but they have some depth at key positions. There is no disputing a talent like defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The Trojans also have my No. 6 defensive line in the country, No. 5 linebackers and No. 3 defensive backs, giving them my No. 2 overall defense

ESPN.com's Insider also takes a look at several Pac-12 teams playoff chances here, including Washington, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

Still, the Ducks are the preseason Pac-12 front runners. Their chances of making the playoff are rated at 48 percent by Brian Fremeau with a projected record of 11-1.

ESPN analyst Brock Huard presents a detailed look at Oregon here. What he likes about Oregon isn't not surprising: QB Marcus Mariota, a favorable schedule and the Ducks recent track record.

He does, however, see some issues, starting with the Ducks front seven on defense. He writes:
... while Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have each seen plenty of snaps, they must both make significant strides to be the forces at the point of attack that BCS champs have wielded over the last decade.

That's entirely fair, though the defense looks a lot stronger and experienced at linebacker than it did a year ago. It's also notable the Ducks are rebuilding their secondary after you get past the return of All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Huard also notes that the injury to No. 1 WR Bralon Addison hurts, making the Ducks typical offensive explosiveness a question.

Finally, he points out that navigating the Pac-12 schedule -- not to mention a nonconference matchup with Big Ten favorite Michigan State -- will be rugged and challenging on a week-to-week basis, even with pair of favorable misses (USC and Arizona State).

Bottom line: Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which their being in the national title hunt has been the standard not the exception.

Barring anything exceptional in 2014, the Ducks should again be in the thick of things.

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