Video: Barkley continuing to develop

April, 26, 2011

USC head coach Lane Kiffin talks about Matt Barkley's growth, improved defense and dealing with NCAA sanctions.

Video: Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler

April, 26, 2011

Ted Miller talks with Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler.

Pac-12 lunch links: Sarkisian and Carroll chat about QBs

April, 26, 2011
The heart makes dreams seem like ideas.
BurfictAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Sun Devils are counting on Vontaze Burfict to be the leader of their defense in 2011.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The question is about personal fouls, and the look on Vontaze Burfict's face suggests that he's tired of that sort of inquiry. He's not a chatty sort as it is, but this is not a successful pathway into figuring out what makes the fearsome Arizona State linebacker tick.

"It matters what times you're talking about," he said of the myriad flags he's drawn for extracurricular activity during games over the previous two seasons. "They are totally different times. Some calls are bull crap."

Fellow linebacker Brandon Magee, a Centennial High School (Corona, Calif.) teammate, is sitting nearby. He offers his take on Burfict, who may be the nation's best inside linebacker.

"I wouldn't trade the fouls. Personal fouls are going to come," Magee said. "The way he plays out there, it doesn't matter to me. That's the way he plays. Great players, you might not like everything about them. But the one thing you can say is he gives it his all on every down."

One analyst, Petros Papadakis, called Burfict the "scariest" player in the country last year. In a not unrelated matter, it seems like an opportune time to change the subject, so Magee is asked if he thinks some players are scared of Burfict.

"They better be scared," said Magee, with just a hint of Don King showmanship. "We're not trying to be nice out there. We're not your friends. We're nobody's friends out there. I hope they know that, too. We try to make enemies. We don't want friends."

Burfict cracks up while Magee is talking.

Magee is told that some folks in the Pac-12 think Burfict is crazy. Does Magee ever hear that in games?

Replied Magee, "Oh, yeah, and I say, 'Yep. See if you can stop him.'"

Few can stop Burfict, a speedy, instinctive 6-foot-3, 252-pound package of football fury. Burfict more often has stopped himself after the whistles with personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Coach Dennis Erickson took away his starting job -- briefly -- last season after Burfict head-butted Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz. A few weeks later, in a tight game with Stanford, Burfict was called for a critical facemask penalty. The call, to use Burfict's term, was "bull crap," but Burfict couldn't resist the urge to point that out.

He was slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top of the facemask, which gave the Cardinal the ball on the Sun Devils' 7-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Stanford pushed in the game-winning score.

Burfict, you might have gathered, isn't a fan of interviews. He doesn't like the spotlight. He doesn't like to talk about himself. He just wants to bust heads and win games. At 4:30 p.m. ET -- 1:30 p.m. PT -- Tuesday, a video interview of Burfict will appear on the Pac-12 blog. You probably haven't seen many of those. Roy Firestone won't be jealous of its penetrating insights. It took a handful of takes to get through (hey, I messed it up once, too). But Burfict was a good sport and did what the folks at Arizona State asked. He's trying to take on a leadership role this season for a team with lofty aspirations, and that often includes stuff that isn't fun, such as being the superstar fronting the team for the media.

"I've got to lead by example, going to everything on time, being 10 minutes early," he said.

The public is probably not going to get to really "know" Vontaze Burfict, at least until he's ready to let them do so. But it's pretty clear that there's some distance between the Tasmania Devil on the field and the quiet, guarded dude off it.

"A lot of my friends from back home ask about him: 'How is Vontaze? Is he crazy? Is he a nice guy?'" offensive tackle Evan Finkenberg said. "He's actually really quiet outside of the football field. He's a really nice guy. He hangs out in my apartment sometimes."

The second-team All-Pac-10 selection earned a number of All-American honors last fall after leading the Sun Devils with 90 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss and two forced fumbles. His ability has never been a question since he was a touted recruit who was once committed to USC. More than a few folks will tell you a comparison to Ray Lewis, of whom Burfict said he models his game, is apt. But his big-picture development as a mature player has been a gradual process, learning self-control, becoming a leader instead of merely being a contact-seeking missile.

For Erickson, there's been a fine line between keeping Burfict from drawing too many flags while not muting his intensity, which is contagious for a defense.

"He's a boisterous guy on the field and in the locker room," Erickson said. "He is what he is. He's going to play with great enthusiasm and that sometimes gets you in trouble. During the spring, he was a real leader. He's matured."

And with the knee injury to first-team All-Pac-10 cornerback Omar Bolden, Burfict is the leader the entire defense will turn to.

Burfict can get better, and not just by staying on good terms with the officials. He sometimes misses his gap assignments. He could improve his drops in pass defense. But the expectation is the junior will enter the NFL draft after this season, when he'll likely be a first-round selection.

But, as for this season, Burfict wants to change the subject from himself and from the yellow flags of the past. What does he want to talk about?

Said Burfict, "Everybody is talking about national championships."

Practice makes Osweiler

April, 26, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler views himself as a "gamer," a guy who flips a switch on game day but may not always be at his best in practice. Sun Devils offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone views himself as a guy who thinks that's a load of, er, crud.

Mazzone wants to talk about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game but practice.

"I said, 'Brock, I'm going to be honest with you. Don't give me this [crud] that you're a game player. That don't fly with me,'" Mazzone said. "To me, a guy who's not a great practice guy is a guy who can't focus."

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrock Osweiler threw five touchdown passes in the spring game.
Osweiler didn't get off to a great start this spring, but he and the offense played better as the practices rolled on. And, of course, Osweiler peaked in the spring game, throwing five touchdown passes, which inspired confidence that he can lead Arizona State to the top of the Pac-12 South Division next fall.

That's critical because Osweiler became the starter by default this offseason. After a tight battle last spring and preseason, Osweiler lost out to Michigan transfer Steven Threet. While Threet threw too many interceptions, he also led the second-best passing offense in the conference. He went down against UCLA in game 11 with his third concussion, and Osweiler was brilliant in relief and then beat arch-rival Arizona.

While many figured Osweiler would beat out Threet in the spring, Mazzone said that was far from certain. What is certain is Threet is standing on the Sun Devils' sidelines now, helping coach instead of competing for the starting job because of recurrent concussions.

That means Osweiler is the man, for better or worse. If he isn't up to the job the alternatives are two players with no experience: redshirt freshman Taylor Kelly and true freshman Mike Bercovici. For his part, Osweiler thinks he's a better quarterback today because of the disappointment of last year.

"Not winning the quarterback competition, it bettered me as a person and as a football player," he said. "It's easy to be the guy who goes in from day one and plays and gets what he wants. I think I grew as an athlete to be put in that competition situation and lose it because I learned so much from it."

Part of that was learning to practice well consistently.

"That's what [coach Dennis Erickson] and Coach Mazzone told me after last year: I need to show it in practice more: 'If you want to be the guy, you've got to be the guy in practice too,'" Osweiler said.

Part of this is symbolic: The quarterback needs to set an example for the team in practice. But Osweiler's lack of distinction in practice had another side-effect: His teammates didn't know what to make of him. More than a few thought the offense might be in trouble when Threet went down.

"It amazed me last year when they put him in," cornerback Deveron Carr said. "He was scrambling, throwing. I was amazed. I didn't know that Brock. I hadn't played against that Brock. I didn't remember that Brock coming to Arizona State. Something clicked in his heart or his mind that he could be great."

And now? Said Carr, "He's matured a lot. He makes better decisions. He looks stronger. He's just an all-around better quarterback."

Osweiler was mostly forgotten before he came on in relief for Threet against UCLA and led the Sun Devils back from a 17-0 deficit with a tour de force performance. He passed for 380 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score as the Sun Devils rolled 55-17. The win over Arizona, however, was a bit deceiving. Osweiler was terrible in the first half and was fortunate to have a number of easy interceptions dropped. Further, if the Wildcats had not flubbed a pair of extra points the Sun Devils' smiles likely wouldn't have been so wide heading into the offseason.

Osweiler believes he's significantly better today than when he came off the bench last November.

"My skill set is almost night and day if you want to compare it to the Arizona game last year to right now," he said. "I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason to better than skill set."

Erickson and Mazzone said that Osweiler understands the offense better and has improved his mechanics, changing his throwing motion to speed up his release. While the 6-foot-8 Osweiler looks like a prototypical pocket passer, he runs a 4.7 40-yard dash. His 56 yards rushing in the win over Arizona were critical.

By the end of spring practices -- practices, not a game -- Erickson saw Osweiler putting it all together. "He just flowed better," Erickson said.

Of course, this fall, our measure of Osweiler and the Sun Devils will be what they do in the games, not practice.

Arizona State: 'It's our time now'

April, 26, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- One hundred and twenty FBS football teams will head into the summer claiming they're going to be good next year. Most will be wrong, despite their insistence on unparalleled locker room chemistry.

Arizona State is no exception to the universal spring optimism, but there's some momentum behind the good feeling after a strong finish in 2010. Expectations are high in Tempe. How high? Buckle up.

[+] EnlargeBrock Osweiler
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireArizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler has his sights set on the BCS title game.
"A lot of people are talking about the Rose Bowl," quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "But we're talking about the Sugar Bowl. That's how much confidence we have as a team."

Osweiler isn't talking about the Allstate Sugar Bowl, though. He's talking about the BCS title game. Really.

Arizona State hasn't posted a winning season since 2007, when it went 10-3 in Dennis Erickson's debut and inspired false hope that things would be easy under a pedigreed coach. Not so. Over the past few seasons, the Sun Devils have found ways to lose, and they were typically creative in doing so. Missed field goals and extra points, turnovers on the goal line, turnovers in extraordinary bunches, missed tackles, missed throws, missed opportunities. It was sometimes great theater, though redundant tragedy from the Sun Devils' perspective.

In 2009, they lost four games by five or fewer points. In 2010, they lost four games by four or fewer points, including squandered opportunities versus Wisconsin and Stanford. They somehow managed to stay within 11 points of Oregon -- one of three teams to do so -- despite seven (seven!) turnovers.

But from that manure pile sprouts the flower of hope. The Sun Devils welcome back 17 starters that includes depth on the offensive line and loads of speed and skill on both sides of the ball. They look like a slight favorite in the first year of the Pac-12 South Division, even though two returning starters, cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson, went down with knee injuries this spring.

"Everybody has to be optimistic before the season starts, but this year it's like everybody just knows," receiver Gerell Robinson said. "It's not like a hope or a feeling. Everybody just knows that if we do what we're supposed to do, we'll get to where we want to be."

That high expectations are the top story is good news for Erickson, who would be the subject of hot seat talk otherwise. His fast start hid some roster shortcomings -- most notably a dearth of offensive linemen -- and fans had started to turn away as the mediocrity piled up. In 2007, the average attendance in Sun Devil Stadium was 62,875. Last fall, it was 47,943.

The players are aware there's pressure to win in 2011.

"It's like some negative energy that we're turning into a positive on the field because nobody wants to see a coaching staff change," cornerback Deveron Carr said.

Beyond returning a majority of starters from 2010, the Sun Devils are a veteran team: They will feature a 30-man "senior" class (players in their final year of eligibility). The offensive line welcomes back all five starters and many of the backups even have starting experience. The top-six rushers from last fall are back, as are four of the top-six receivers. On defense, the top-three tacklers are back as are the three leaders in sacks and tackles for a loss.

And these aren't just hacks. The Sun Devils averaged 32.2 points per game in 2010, which ranked third in the Pac-10, and ranked fifth in total and scoring defense.

"We have some experience coming back and we have a lot of confidence in what we are doing," Erickson said. "Our players have been through a lot the last three years, lost some close games. Now it's their chance to step up and make some plays."

The biggest question: Is Osweiler up to the job? After starter Steven Threet went down with his third concussion against UCLA, Osweiler was brilliant coming off the bench and then overcame a bad first half to beat archrival Arizona. It was expected to be a tight quarterback competition this spring, but Osweiler won the job by default when the recurrent concussions forced Threet to retire.

The offense struggled early in spring practices, but Osweiler inspired confidence with five touchdown passes in the spring game as the offense dominated.

"He made some great throws that make you go, 'Wow, that was amazing,'" left tackle Evan Finkenberg said.

While losing Bolden and Simpson was a big blow -- both could return by midseason -- the pieces still appear to be in place for a run at the first Pac-12 title game. And one of those pieces is confidence.

"I think this team knows it's our time now," Finkenberg said. "We have the pieces in place to have a big season and do the things we want to do."

Visiting the Sun Devils

April, 25, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State finished spring practices on Saturday with the annual spring game, but that doesn't mean we're done with them.

The Pac-12 blog is in Tempe at present talking to a host of Sun Devils -- players and coaches -- trying to figure out how the favorites in the South Division feel heading into the offseason.

So stay tuned.

Video: UCLA DC Joe Tresey

April, 25, 2011

Ted Miller talks with UCLA defensive coordinator Joe Tresey.

Pac-12 lunch links: Character not an issue for CU's Smith

April, 25, 2011
Got money, and you know it
Take it out your pocket and show it
Then throw it like
This a way (uh huh)
That a way (uh huh)
The first thing you look at when evaluating a college football team is experience at quarterback. Here's an interesting factoid about the Pac-12: All 12 teams welcome back at least one quarterback with starting experience.

Of course, not all starting experience is equal. Washington's Keith Price has one start on the road at Oregon, which doesn't match the 20-plus starts of passers such as Arizona's Nick Foles, Stanford's Andrew Luck or USC's Matt Barkley. Nor do Cal and UCLA fans likely take much comfort from the starting experience of their returning quarterbacks.

So who welcomes back a "quality" starter? Well, we were going to rate that at passing for 2,500 yards* in 2010, but then saw Oregon State's Ryan Katz threw for 2,401 in 12 games. Had the Beavers earned a bowl berth instead of finishing 5-7, Katz would have hit the benchmark. And then we noticed that Utah's Jordan Wynn passed for 2,334 yards in just 10 starts.

The Pac-12 blog, perhaps even more than the Pac-10 blog, values flexibility.

The general gist to be taken from this list is this: In 2002, six Pac-10 quarterbacks eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark. Don't be shocked if that many do it again in 2011.

Here's the list. And then we look at a few expected starters who almost certainly will reach the 2,500, er, 2,300 mark in 2011.

[+] EnlargeLuck
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStanford's Andrew Luck is the leading returning passer in the Pac-12.
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford (3,338 yards): Luck likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, so the Heisman Trophy runner-up is pretty darn good. Does he throw for more yards in 2011? Maybe. His receiving corps took a hit, as did his O-line. Still, the over-under for Luck has to be around 3,500 yards.

2. Nick Foles, Arizona (3,191): Foles is the Pac-12 quarterback most likely to eclipse the 4,000-yard mark for three reasons: 1. He's good; 2. His receivers are good; 3. There's little indication with five new starting O-linemen the Wildcats will be consistent in the running game.

3. Darron Thomas, Oregon (2,881): Would you bet against Thomas putting up better numbers in his second year as the starter under coach Chip Kelly? Neither would I, even though the Ducks' offensive line has been shaky enough this spring to raise some eyebrows. Thomas is going to need, however, some young receivers to step up.

4. Matt Barkley, USC (2,791): The guess here is Barkley dusts the 3,000-yard mark this fall. His offensive line struggled this spring, but the young receivers are talented and Barkley seems due for a breakthrough.

5. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (2,780): Tuel also seems like a sure-thing to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark. He's a third-year starter with a strong crew of receivers. If his protection is just a little better this fall than last -- and it should be -- he and the Cougs will scare folks with their passing attack.

6. Ryan Katz, Oregon State (2,401): Katz might have the strongest arm in the conference, and with a year of experience under his belt he figures to take a step forward in 2011. But his corps of receivers has health issues, starting with James Rodgers' knee injury. But if Rodgers, Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop are 100 percent, Katz should thrive.

7. Jordan Wynn, Utah (2,334): Considering Wynn averaged 230 yards passing per game in his 10 games, he was on his way to 3,000 yards passing. Further, if you recall his MVP effort in the Poinsettia Bowl versus California in 2009 -- 26 of 36 for 338 yards and three TDs -- you know he can toss the rock around. But he sat out spring practices due to a shoulder injury and we don't yet know how he will adjust to Norm Chow's pro-style offense.

As for the other five teams, three have not yet decided on a starter: California, UCLA and Washington, though the (slight) favorites at this point this spring are Zach Maynard for Cal, Kevin Prince for UCLA and Keith Price for Washington.

1. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State: Osweiler had 797 of the 3,437 yards the Sun Devils passed for in 2010. He looked good in relief of Steven Threet over the last two games of the season. Considering the strong, experienced supporting cast working in year two of Noel Mazzone's spread offense, you'd expect Osweiler to reach the 3,000-yard mark.

2. Tyler Hansen, Colorado: Hansen, a senior, has played in a lot of games but he's yet to put a full season together for whatever reason. The expectation shouldn't be for huge numbers in Eric Bieniemy's offense -- you'd expect the Buffaloes to be run-first with running back Rodney Stewart. Still, if Hansen plays 13 games, the guess here is he'll throw for at least 2,500 yards.

Preseason top 25 features three from Pac-12

April, 25, 2011
"College Football Live" has completed its preseason top 25, which was completed by a 38-person panel consisting of our analysts, studio hosts, play-by-play announcers, bloggers, researchers and production team members.

It includes three Pac-12 teams: No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 Stanford and No. 25 Arizona State.

Here's the complete poll.

1. Oklahoma
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. LSU
5. Boise State
6. Florida State
7. Stanford
8. South Carolina
9. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State
11. Texas A&M
12. Arkansas
13. Nebraska
14. Wisconsin
15. TCU
16. Michigan State
17. Notre Dame
18. Florida
19. Virginia Tech
20. Texas
21. Mississippi State
22. Auburn
23. Missouri
24. West Virginia
25. Arizona State

Obviously, this poll makes clear how big the Oregon-LSU game is on Sept. 3 in Cowboys Stadium. Odds are the winner will rise to No. 1, which would then essentially guarantee it a berth in the national title game if it finishes undefeated.

And how times change: Oregon and Stanford ranked in the preseason top-10 and USC nowhere to be found. Not very 2004, eh?

I would have ranked Arizona State higher.

As for the nine unranked members of the Pac-12: Who do you think should have been the fourth ranked team?

Video: USC DC Monte Kiffin

April, 25, 2011

Ted Miller talks with USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

USC spring notes

April, 25, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- One of the coachspeak quotes that often raises an eyebrow from the media is the ole, "We're young" declaration. Sometimes it's true, of course. But even so, it seems like a ready-made excuse.

But when USC coach Lane Kiffin throws it out -- "We're going to be extremely young" -- he recites numbers that back him up.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireWith uncertainty at several positions, USC will be relying heavily on returning quarterback Matt Barkley.
The Trojans have just 12 scholarship seniors and 14 scholarship juniors, he said. Further, 12 players on the two-deep sat out spring practices. Eight players who did participate this spring are early enrollees from this February's recruiting class. In the fall, 23 first-year players arrive.

That means 35 players who aren't participating this spring will be new to competition for playing time during preseason camp. In other words, the USC you saw -- or read about -- this spring isn't really going to be the USC that shows up this fall.

At least, that's the hope for Kiffin, because things were far from pretty -- particularly on offense -- this spring.

Some notes.

  • It's difficult to judge quarterback Matt Barkley this spring because his supporting cast was so thin. Kiffin mostly lauded his leadership, and the general feeling is that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods are going to light things up this fall. As for quarterback depth, it seems redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins took the lead for the backup role over touted true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Kessler seemed slightly more polished than Wittek this spring.
  • The depth looks strong at running back, even if Marc Tyler can't stay healthy. Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan and Curtis McNeil each had their moments. Morgan is intriguing but "still very raw," said Kiffin, who added that McNeil, who was academically ineligible last season, "actually outperformed all those guys." The fullback is Soma Vainuku, a freshman.
  • The receiving corps is going to be long on potential and short on experience. Woods often looks like a budding All-American. Said Kiffin: "Robert Woods has really taken his game to the next level. It's hard to imagine he's only in his second semester." If Kyle Prater can stay healthy, he also has all-star potential. Brandon Carswell, De'Von Flournoy and Markeith Ambles -- who's struggled to stay out of the doghouse because of discipline issues -- provide uncertain depth. It's almost certain that incoming freshmen, including the celebrated tandem of George Farmer and Victor Blackwell, will get immediate looks.
  • Rhett Ellison has had a good spring and is getting looks at both tight end and fullback. Xavier Grimble, Christian Thomas and Brandall Telfair also are in the tight end mix, with each bringing different skills to the position.
  • The offensive line? Huge question mark. The only certainty is Matt Kalil at left tackle. Khaled Holmes started at guard last season and is expected to start at center this fall, but he didn't do contact work this spring. Kevin Graf probably fits in somewhere. There really wasn't a second unit of scholarship players this spring. Incoming freshmen Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker will get serious looks in the fall. Former coach Pete Carroll was an outstanding recruiter, but he fell short recruiting offensive linemen over his final few seasons.
  • Andre Heidari, the No. 1 prep kicker in the nation last year, has looked solid this spring. The hope is incoming freshman Kristopher Albarado will win the punting job.
  • The big question on the defensive line is the uncertain health of Armond Armstead. An undisclosed health issue prevented him from practicing and his future is uncertain. Said Kiffin, "That's big. He really came on at the end of the year. We'll know more this summer." With him, the Trojans' defensive line could be elite. Without him, it still could be pretty good. Junior end Nick Perry, if he can stay healthy, will become an NFL prospect. He was clocked at 4.6 in the 40 at 250 pounds. Said Kiffin, "He's everything you want. He's an NFL dream, height, weight, speed, jumping." Redshirt freshman defensive tackle George Uko has made the most gains this spring. End Wes Horton and tackle DaJohn Harris have experience, as does tackle Christian Tupou, who should return from a knee injury that killed his 2010 season.
  • The likely starting linebackers -- Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard and Shane Horton -- sat out with injuries. Things are thin behind them, though redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard "has played extremely well," according to Kiffin. This is another position where incoming freshmen -- Lamar Dawson? Tre Madden? -- could make an impact.
  • Cornerback Nickell Robey has had and outstanding spring, and safety T.J. McDonald is a budding star. There's less certainty at the other two spots, though Anthony Burnett appears to have caught Kiffin's eye at the other corner. Jawanza Starling, Drew McAllister, Demetrius Wright and Marshall Jones are competing at the other safety. Dion Baily is getting a look at a "nickel linebacker."

Reviewing spring scrimmages and games

April, 24, 2011
Arizona State, UCLA and USC concluded spring practices Saturday with spring games, while a number of other teams scrimmaged. Here's a roundup.

Video: UCLA coordinator Mike Johnson

April, 22, 2011

Ted Miller talks with UCLA offensive coordinator Mike Johnson.



Thursday, 9/25
Saturday, 9/27