Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we've surveyed each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. We wrap up the series today with Washington State.

Biggest shoes: SS Deone Bucannon

Not only was he one of the most feared hitters in all of college football, he led the Cougars in tackles (114), solo tackles (78), interceptions (6), forced fumbles (3) and he was tied for the team lead with a pair of fumble recoveries. In other words, he was as do-all as do-all can be. Not surprisingly, he earned first-team All-Conference honors and a first-team All-America nod -- WSU’s first AP All-American since 2005. He was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back, and he leaves ranked fourth on the school’s all-time tackle list with 384.

Stepping in: Isaac Dotson

Washington State’s secondary is in complete rebuild mode. Not only do the Cougars lose Bucannon, but they also lost corners Damante Horton and Nolan Washington. Paging Dotson, a sophomore who is a former standout prep quarterback. He appeared in seven games last year, notched 10 tackles and sits atop the spring depth chart. Redshirt freshman Darius Lemora and sophomore David Bucannon -- Deone’s younger brother -- will also get some looks. But pretty much every position in the secondary is wide open. Head coach Mike Leach said as much last week before camp started. Like every player on this list, Deone Bucannon is not easily replaced. That the secondary is being overhauled might accentuate Bucannon’s absence that much more.

Previous big shoes

ESPN CFB Spring Tour: Oregon

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
11:00
AM ET
How will Year 2 in the Mark Helfrich Era go in Eugene? Our ESPN College Football Spring Tour continues in the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon reporter Chantel Jennings will be bringing you the sights and sounds from campus today. Keep this page open starting at 10 a.m. PT as Chantel provides insight, interviews, pictures and videos from Ducks camp.

By most football standards, last season in Eugene, Ore., was a success. Under a first-year head coach the Ducks had an 11-win season while their 273.5 rushing yards per game and 291.5 passing yards per game were among the best in the country. But there was no Pac-12 championship and no BCS bowl game (ending the Ducks’ run of four-consecutive BCS bowl game appearances). So, year two is going to be as big of a test as the first for Mark Helfrich & Co.

With spring practices beginning Tuesday, the first steps of 2014 will be taken as the Ducks look to build on what they did last season and fix the mistakes that were made and the shortcomings that plagued them.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe return of Marcus Mariota meant big expectations are back for Oregon's offense.
Offensively, their identity is set. Marcus Mariota decided to return to Oregon, and with that decision expectations soared for what this offense could do. The Ducks lost their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers but with Mariota slinging it behind an offensive line that returns abundant talent and experience, even average receivers could look great. The receiver depth is far better than average. Keanon Lowe and Bralon Addison need to continue to contribute at a high level as they look to make up for the loss of two of the top three receivers from 2013.

However, since the receiver experience is limited, look for Helfrich to get the tight ends more involved in the pass game as the Ducks return a trio that could help take some of the yardage burden off those WRs. In 2013 the tight end trio of Pharaoh Brown, Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis accounted for five touchdowns and 475 yards on just 30 receptions.

The run game, again, will be no surprise to anyone. Even without De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks should be fine. Byron Marshall -- who led Oregon with 14 rushing touchdowns and 1,038 rushing yards -- and Thomas Tyner will be able to attack defenses up front and be a very formidable matchup in the option when teams try to stop the run. They both boast good hands, so they’ll be able to help out in the pass game as well, helping Mariota put up even bigger numbers in 2014.

All of that combined will make up a high-powered offense, which is exactly what people expect out of Oregon. But the biggest question will be whether the defense can be an equal counterpart. And with an attack like Oregon’s, the defense must almost be even stronger considering it’s on the field about 10 minutes more per game than teams.

So it’s not very fair to put up their straight defensive numbers and statistics against any other team that doesn’t feature as prolific of an offense. But it is fair to say that it’s one of the bigger concerns heading into this spring and one of the facets of the game that must make the biggest strides.

Last year, Oregon was known for its deep secondary as it dared teams to throw. But in return, the Ducks struggled against the run even with an experienced group. They gave up 3.8 yards per rush and allowed opponents to convert on 65.5 percent of rushing attempts on third downs (119th nationally). Oregon returns DeForest Buckner on the D-line, but overall, the group will need to improve its numbers against the run. It’s certainly a place where players could emerge through spring ball and one of the most important position groups that must build depth.

But even with the shuffling and inexperience on the defensive line, new defensive coordinator Don Pellum will stick with the 3-4 base defense because of the depth and experience the Ducks have in their linebacker group, which returns three starters, and their defensive backs. Even though the Ducks have just one returning starter in the secondary (cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu), most of the DBs got some experience last season.

Next season could be huge for Oregon, but the foundation of what happens next December and January begins right now.
Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay updated their top-10 lists at each position for the upcoming NFL draft.

Here's a look at how the Pac-12 offensive players stack up:

Quarterback

Marcus Mariota might have been taken No. 1 overall if he decided to leave Oregon, but without him the Pac-12 doesn't have any top-10 representation. Washington's Keith Price, who was not invited to the NFL combine, has a big day on Wednesday when the Huskies hold their pro day. Barring a team taking a flyer on him in the draft, Price is probably going to have to take the undrafted route to forge a NFL career.

Running back/fullback

The surprise here is how little both analysts think of Carey, who was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards. Sure, his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.70) didn't do him any favors, but this feels like a situation where the film isn't speaking as loudly as it does for others.

The love for Thomas was a bit surprising as well, but it's also tough to compare him to the rest of the group because he doesn't project as a true running back in the NFL. His versatility undoubtedly scored him points, but it also should be noted that 10 other running backs clocked faster 40 times at the combine -- including Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. See the whole list here Insider.

Receiver/tight end

Cooks and Lee, a pair of Biletnikoff Award winners, will both expect to hear their name called in the first round. After that, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pass-catchers fall into place.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOregon State wideout Brandin Cooks could be a first-round pick.
Notably absent is Colorado WR Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 40 at the combine and caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Buffaloes. He still figures to have a shot to go in the second-round to third-round range.

McShay lists Lyerla as the pass-catcher with the biggest risk:
Lyerla has some significant behavioral and emotional issues (leaving the Oregon program at midseason in 2013 and being arrested for cocaine possession weeks later) that just aren't worth dealing with, even for the potential reward his talent promises, were he to straighten things out.

See the whole list here Insider.

Offensive line

If they were quarterbacks, Yankey and Su'a-Filo would be forever linked. Widely regarded as two of the best offensive guards in the country, it will be interesting to see who goes off the board first. Su'a-Filo was the players' choice as the best offensive lineman in the conference in 2013, but Yankey was given the honor in 2012.

Martin is one of eight players Kiper and McShay agree is the best player at his position. See the whole list here Insider.

Q&A: UCLA's Jim Mora

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
5:30
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UCLA opens spring football on Tuesday with high hopes and a good chance to be ranked in the preseason top 10. This is the third spring for UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has led the Bruins to a 19-8 mark in two seasons. He took a couple of minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog before spring kicks off.

This is your third spring. What have you learned during those first two, and are you going to be doing anything different this time around?

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Mora believes spring is a great time to go hard and be physical.
Jim Mora: Nope. Pretty much the same thing. It’s a great time to develop your younger players and start to get a feel for what your team is going to look like in the fall and start to develop that bond you need to have success. We won’t change anything. We go hard in the spring. It’s physical. It’s demanding. I think it’s a great time to get physical work in.

After the 2012 season, you closed with the back-to-back losses to Stanford and the bowl loss. Last year you closed with a win over USC and a bowl win. Do you buy into the idea of offseason momentum?

JM: No. To me, that first year, everyone says, “Oh, you lost three games in a row.” But those were three pretty different games. It wasn’t like we lost our last three regular season games. We lost our last regular season game, we lost in the Pac-12 championship game and we lost our bowl. It’s not like we had this huge slump or something. Every season is a new season. You have to develop the identity of your team. You have to commit to a certain work ethic, and our guys have done that. To me, spring ball signifies the start of a new season.

As a coach, what position battle are you most interested in?

JM: Outside linebacker, the guy who is going to replace Anthony Barr. I think that will be a good battle with Kenny Orjioke and Aaron Wallace and Deon Hollins. I’m excited to see how our defense adapts. We’ve got a new defensive coordinator. And as a staff we’ve learned a little bit more about our players and how to play in this conference and how to play college football with what teams are doing. We’re going to have to adapt a little bit, but it’s going to be fun to see.

With defensive coordinator Lou Spanos heading back to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich being promoted from within, what kind of impact, if any, will that have on the defense?

JM: Not a lot. Just like every year, you tweak some things. It’s not going to impact it a lot. We’ve certainly made some changes. But we’re going to make changes next year, too. You continue to adapt. You try to grow. You try to add things that will make you better. You try to improve upon things you didn’t do well and you try to cut the fat so you’re not teaching things you’re not going to use throughout the year.

Was that a tough adjustment coming to the college game from the NFL? Every year in college there is going to be a lot of turnover and each season is a different team and a different personality.

JM: It’s interesting because it’s very different than the NFL. You’re right, there is more turnover. But at the same time, there is a little more certainty as well because unlike the NFL, where there is free agency so you’re adding guys, and there’s a draft where you’re adding guys who should be ready to play right away, in college you know there is going to be a natural attrition and you have a pretty good idea of who you can count on and who still needs to develop going into a season. Hopefully some of the freshmen develop, but you can’t always count on that. In some ways, as strange as it seems, it might be a little bit easier because you know what your team makeup is going to be a year in advance.

[+] EnlargeFabian Moreau
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIRising junior corner Fabian Moreau has earned positive reviews from Jim Mora.
Heading into spring, who is a player we haven’t heard of yet, but you think we’re going to hear his name a lot in 2014?

JM: I don’t know if you’ve heard his name a lot. Hopefully you don’t hear it a lot because he’s a cornerback and when you hear a cornerback’s name a lot, that means he’s making a lot of tackles because the ball is getting caught on him or he’s giving up touchdowns. But I think we have a really fine player in Fabian Moreau. Defensive backs are where I’ve worked most of my career and I think this guy has some real special traits. I think he has a chance to be a great player.

You’re big on leadership, as all coaches are. And you like to see players naturally develop into team leaders. Who are you eyeballing this year?

JM: That’s a great question. That’s the point of most uncertainty for me is -- who is going to assert themselves on the team. Four of our six team captains return, which is a real positive because they were voted captains by their teammates. You’ve got Brett Hundley. You’ve got Eric Kendricks, Jake Brendel our starting center and Ryan Hoffmeister, a linebacker and special teams guy. Xavier [Su'a-Filo] and Anthony [Barr] leaving, those are huge voids. It will be fun to see who steps up. Guys like Fabian, even though Myles Jack is only a sophomore, I think he’s got some leadership qualities to him. I don’t want to point too many guys out because there are a whole lot of guys on our team who are capable of stepping into that role.
That was a crazy game of poker.
While Sonny Dykes is in his second season at California, spring practices will begin Monday with plenty of newness. Call it a reboot after a dreary 1-11 campaign in Year 1.

Since getting rolled by rival Stanford on Nov. 23, Dykes has restructured his defensive staff, most notably hiring veteran coach Art Kaufman to coordinate a unit that was at an all-time low in 2013. He has tweaked the offseason conditioning program. He plans to change the structure of practices, including how he uses full-contact periods. He has refined his recruiting strategy.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Eric RisbergSonny Dykes is making a number of changes this spring in hopes of changing Cal's fortunes.
Bottom line: Coaching in Berkeley and coaching the team he inherited, not to mention severe injury woes, made for a bumpy transition for Dykes from Louisiana Tech, one that he needed more than a few months to figure out.

"A lot of screwdriver adjustments go on, especially the first year," he said. "Hopefully, you get to a place where you are comfortable and try to change as little as possible."

He also plans to batten down the hatches a bit. After having open practices his first year, only six practices will be open this spring.

"Sometimes too much information is detrimental," he said. "There's too much stuff out there."

There is some good injury news, which also is a change in course. For one, quarterback Jared Goff is ready to go after shoulder surgery. Goff said he has been throwing at 100 percent for about a month, though Dykes isn't going to push his sophomore starter too hard.

"We've got to be careful not to put too much on him and blow his arm out early," Dykes said. "We're going to bring him along slowly, probably split reps early and see how he handles it, see how he feels, give him the occasional day off."

That won't be such a bad thing because, with the transfer of backup Zach Kline, Dykes will need a clear pecking order behind Goff.

The biggest boost will be for the defense, which will get end Brennan Scarlett back. Scarlett missed the entire season with a hand injury that didn't properly heal, but he's reportedly in great shape and at 100 percent. When healthy, Scarlett has flashed the sort of skills that get a guy drafted to play on Sundays.

"It all starts with Scarlett," Dykes said. "Physically, I think he has a chance to be a difference-maker."

Other players who missed much or all of last season, such as defensive back Stefan McClure, safety Avery Sebastian and linebacker Nathan Broussard, will be limited in what they can do. Defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil won't be ready to practice until the fall.

Two junior-college transfers and a freshman early enrollee also will bolster the defense in DE Jonathon Johnson, defensive tackle Trevor Kelly and linebacker Devante Downs.

So there will be new players, new coaches and new formats in Dykes' second season. There are a lot of reasons to make changes, but Goff probably hit on the biggest as he talked about beginning anew in 2014.

Said Goff, "[We want to] get all that garbage behind us."

Biggest shoes to fill: Washington

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Monday, we look at Washington.

Biggest shoes: QB Keith Price

While some might believe it will be more difficult to replace stellar running back Bishop Sankey, the Huskies boast three experienced and capable backs who combined to rush for 815 yards and 10 TDs last season. When you toss in a strong, veteran offensive line, it seems a good bet that among Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier the Huskies will produce a 1,000-yard rusher again. Yet, we still might have gone with Sankey if not for QB Cyler Miles getting into off-field trouble that presently has him not participating in spring practices and his longterm status in limbo (he has yet to be charged). While not a sure thing, Miles had shown enough under stress in games -- not just throwaway time -- to suggest he could be a more-than-capable Pac-12 QB. Recall that a year ago, some thought he might unseat Price, who struggled in 2012. But this isn't just about uncertainty with Price's departure, it's also a tip of the cap to Price, who is on the short list of best Huskies QBs. He completed 66 percent of his passes last fall for 2,966 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 20th in the nation in passing efficiency. He also rushed for five touchdowns. And he became the school's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 75, completion percentage (64 percent) and passing efficiency. He played through injuries throughout his career and showed mental toughness with his bounce-back in 2013. Moreover, if you polled the 2013 Huskies on who the best-liked guy on the team was, I'd wager it would be Price, whose nickname, "Teeth," was based on his bright and constant smile.

Stepping in: TBA
If Miles can settle his legal problems, which also involve top receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, then he still seems like the frontrunner, even if he's suspended for a game or two or three. But maybe not. We don't know much of new coach Chris Petersen's thinking on this one. Miles might find himself irrevocably entrenched in Petersen's doghouse. Or he might just get booted from the team entirely. There is another option: Sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams simply plays great and outright wins the job. The problem with that is neither has thrown a pass in college. Miles beat Lindquist out for the backup job last season, but there's a new coaching staff and offensive system, so the slate is mostly clean along those lines. Neither Lindquist nor Williams has produced any obvious separation during the first portion of spring practices, which resume on Tuesday. Finally, uncertainty at QB is not a good thing in the Pac-12 in 2014, with 10 conference teams owning a fair degree of certainty at the game's most important position this spring. Only Arizona and the Huskies are looking for new starters.

Previous big shoes

Mailbag: College football unions?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
6:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. We're grilling up some steaks and the bar is open.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

Sam from Portland writes: Ted, what's your view on the unionization of the Northwestern football team? Personally, I think the whole issue is junk. As a Pac-12 university graduate, I get insulted every time I hear college athletes say they're slaves and that they don't get anything. I had to pay $24,000 per year for what they get for free: a degree and the attendant costs. Not only that, they get admiration and to do what they love while getting this stuff for free. These athletes point to their hours. Well, I was in the marching band and spent 30 hours a week on that as well as focusing on REAL college courses with real coursework. I didn't get a scholarship. I didn't get the massive admiration. I didn't get the shot at making the NFL. There's no Internet blog with 2.5 authors dedicated to the hard work I put in to my performances. Let's face it: Even at the small schools, the scholarship athletes get a TON more than regular students, and they get it for free. I'm not going to be dense here. I understand that the NCAA is making serious money off the hard work of the athletes, and there is a good argument that they deserve some direct monetary compensation, but the need for a union? Why should these athletes be coddled when the rest of the students pay millions (together, not apiece) just for the chance at getting a small portion of what these athletes get for free?

[+] EnlargeKain Colter, Tim Waters, Leo Gerard
AP Photo/Paul BeatyKain Colter's attempt to unionize the Northwestern football team could be a significant development in how colleges treat scholarship athletes.
Brandon from Seal Beach, Calif., writes: I appreciate the concern and well-being of college athletes, but when did this entitlement idea come into play that they deserve additional compensation? Sure, the NCAA and universities make boat-loads of money off of the athletes posing to be students, but demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me. If they don't want to risk injury, don't feel like the scholarship, minimal stipend, and various perks being a Div. I scholar athlete bring about, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues. I don't know -- maybe I'm in the minority, but I think this is a slippery slope we're traversing.

Ted Miller: We live in interesting college football times.

The biggest takeaway for me from the Northwestern union and Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA cases is that college football is going to continue to change in many ways over the next decade. Just as conference realignment and the advent of the College Football Playoff dominated the discussion the past few years, the debate on how we should properly compensate and support college athletes will consume us in the years ahead.

What we have is an asset -- big-time college football -- that is very popular and therefore very valuable. That value, however, has been monetized over the past quarter-century in a way that disproportionately benefits management -- coaches, athletic administrators and the NCAA -- and external businesses -- television, merchandisers, athletic apparel companies, etc. The athletes -- labor! -- have not seen their benefits and compensation increase.

Ergo, we have an argument that is typical across many commercial enterprises in this country. When many folks say they love free markets, what they mean is they love a market that they control, one in which they make the rules, which -- surprise, surprise -- makes it easier for them to make money. When folks say that market forces allow FBS head coaches make $5 million a year, why don't they also nod when market forces motivate a would-be agent to give Reggie Bush's family a house rent-free?

Of course, it's against the rules, rules that -- coincidentally -- were made by and/or benefit the folks who are getting rich off college sports.

Now, I'm not an extremist on this by any means. One of my pet peeves is when fans, athletes or sports writers discount the value of a college scholarship. If you are presently paying for a child to go to college, you know full well that athletes already are well-compensated.

But this does touch on a long-debated solution that I expect to happen in the next couple of years: Athletic scholarships covering the full cost of attendance. While that expense will further separate the haves and the have-nots in college sports, that seems to be an inexorable trend in any event. The programs banking big bucks in the power conferences need to find a way to share their wealth.

A complication? We don't know what this might mean for non-revenue sports. Title IX prevents programs from giving more money to male athletes in revenue sports compared to female athletes. If the cost of scholarships increase across the board, you will see a lot of programs cutting sports, most likely men's non-revenue sports.

There are plenty of other things the NCAA and college athletic departments can do, from lifetime disability coverage for injuries to figuring out creative ways to allow athletes to pocket some of the revenue they are playing a major role in creating. I think Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples does a nice job here of laying things out with the Northwestern-union case and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA.

Now I don't want to ignore the points of Sam and Brandon from above.

Unions? That could get complicated. But, first of all, I'm skeptical that we'll get to a point anytime soon in which college athletes unionize. The cumulative effect here, to me, is going to be forcing the NCAA and the major conferences to institute reforms to placate revenue-producing athletes so they don't continue to pursue legal action.

Sam, the reason college athletes get coddled is they have a highly valuable skill. You mention you were in the band. If you, say, happened to cut two gold records while you were in high school, I'd bet you would have gotten a scholarship to your Pac-12 school. Colleges love really talented folks. Not that you aren't talented. You, after all, read the Pac-12 Blog.

Brandon goes with the "there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues" argument if they don't like the current system. Actually, when it comes to football, there really isn't another route to the professional ranks. What percentage of NFL players didn't play college football?

Brandon also notes that "demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me." Well, if you have leverage and high value, go to your CEO and ask for a raise. That's the free market.

What these college football players are doing at Northwestern is quintessentially American. They are exercising leverage in our social and commercial systems.

I'm proud of them.


Keith from Teutopolis, Ill., writes: Pro days. What's the big deal? I'm confused by all the fawning over Johnny Football's pro day and by the criticisms of Teddy Bridgewater's. Scouts have dozens of hours of real game action to look at. How or why does a QB's draft stock skyrocket or plunge based on an hour of throwing a football in a controlled environment?

Ted Miller: Keith, I wouldn't get bogged down in the gushing.

Most of what you hear from NFL folks this time of year is misdirection. If an NFL scout with a top-10 pick really wants to draft Johnny Manziel, he's probably whispering to a reporter off the record that Manziel has a hitch in his throwing motion that means he'll average 25 interceptions a year before running off to Tahiti with a flamenco dancer.

I was at the Senior Bowl one time listening to a scout gush about a player I had covered who I didn't think much of. When he finished, I went, "Really?"

He took a sip of his beer, grinned and slurred, "Maybe."


Sonoran Coug from the Desert writes: Ted, I want to let you in on some information. Washington State is going to win the Pac-12 North. How? WSU is poised to put up big numbers in 2014; the Pac-12 North lays down nicely for an awakening WSU program. The no 'natty' Diva Squad plays in Pullman this year, Stanford's roster resembles their fan base, and there is a quarterback-less Washington. And while we are on the subject of Washington, ARE YOU KIDDING!! New quarterback, new running back, new offensive and defensive coaching staff. My mouth is watering for apples as I write this. Or are you and Kevin going to fall for the new coach trick again, so shiny, so new? We here in Coug Nation don't dwell on the past. P12 North results 2014: 1. WSU; 2. OSU; 3. Oregon; 4. Stanford; 5. Washington; 6. California.

Ted Miller: The "No 'Natty Diva Squad" is going to be the name of Kevin and my new band. (We're sort of a Men Without Hats/Iron Butterfly fusion with a hip-hop component).

As for the Cougs… well, maybe. Stranger things have happened.

Who saw the Cougars coming in 1997?

I was at the 2000 Apple Cup -- brrr -- when the Washington brutalized Washington State 51-3. The Huskies went on to win the Rose Bowl and the Cougars finished 4-7.

The next year, the Cougs began a run of three consecutive 10-win seasons.

As for next year, the passing game should be strong with senior QB Connor Halliday and a deep crew of receivers. The 2014 schedule also is favorable with just five road games, no UCLA and Oregon, and USC and Washington both coming to Pullman.

But what holds back my Coug optimism is the O-line and secondary. Need to see how that all fits together.

Finally, you well know that we won't fall for the "shiny new coach trick" any more than we would fall for the banana in the tailpipe.

Ohhh… but Chris Petersen is so… shiny!


Blake from Mesa, Ariz., writes: I don't know how you guys can continue to post poll questions. You must know that no matter the topic, the winner is going to be Oregon. As an Oregon fan myself, I find this comical but also annoying. Maybe for the next poll you can state in your post that the winner is Oregon and that the poll is to see who the fans think is No. 2.

Ted Miller: Oregon fans do mobilize for their team, and they do seem to vote for the Ducks whether they actually believe they merit the vote or not.

Yet the Pac-12 blog will continue to maintain its absolute neutrality and allow market forces to prevail without instituting arbitrary regulations.
Happy Friday.
 

Poll: Best three-headed monster?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
1:00
PM ET
Which Pac-12 team has the best overall three-headed monster?

To review what the heck we are writing about: On offense, that's an elite combination at quarterback, running back and receiver. On defense, it's an elite combination of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 unit has the best three-headed monster?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,817)

We've reviewed South offenses and North offenses and South defenses and North defenses.

But now we want your take on whose troika is the mightiest. Who has the surest thing heading into 2014?

On offense, we like Oregon in the North and Arizona State in the South.

Oregon offers QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall and WR Bralon Addison. Arizona State counters with QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong. That right there is a tough call.

The Ducks probably have a lead at quarterback, but you could say the Sun Devils are better at the other two spots. Or you might not.

On defense, we like USC in the South and Stanford in the North.

USC offers LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams and S Su'a Cravens, while Stanford has LB A.J. Tarpley, DE Henry Anderson and S Jordan Richards.

That's a group of six players who figures to earn All-Pac-12 honors.

First you might choose which crew you like on offense and which one you like on defense. Then you could ask yourself which one you'd most want to play for your team.

It's nice to have star power at all three levels on either side of the ball. But your question today is whose stars shine the brightest.

Biggest shoes to fill: Utah

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at Utah.

Biggest shoes: DL/OLB Trevor Reilly

Man, was this guy good. He played through injuries and carried the Utes with his ability to rush the quarterback, stop the run and play in coverage. He was a true hybrid, and as a result was rewarded as a first-team all-conference performer. He led the Utes with 100 tackles. He led the Utes with 16 tackles for a loss. He led the Utes with 8.5 sacks. He tied for the most interceptions (1) and most fumbles recovered (3). Of all the players we’ve talked about replacing so far in this series, few were as versatile and wore as many hats as Reilly.

Stepping in: No one

Does that seem a little vague? Well, coach Kyle Whittingham said it himself. “It takes two guys to replace Trevor.” It’s a very apt statement, because Utah doesn’t have another hybrid guy like Reilly. Not many teams do. Reilly would handle responsibilities at both defensive end and outside linebacker. Now, it will be an individual guy in each spot. Nate Orchard will handle the defensive end responsibilities and Jason Whittingham will be the linebacker. Not complete downgrades, by any means. Whittingham was second on the team in tackles last year behind Reilly with 81. He was also notched five tackles for a loss, a sack and broke up four passes. Orchard did some good work in the backfield as well, recording 9 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks to go with his 50 tackles.

Previous big shoes
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions. Wednesday we looked at defenses in the South.

Next up: North Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. Stanford

LB A.J. Tarpley, DE Henry Anderson, S Jordan Richards

The skinny: The Cardinal lose their top tackler (Shayne Skov) and top sack guy (Trent Murphy). But there are others ready to take control. Tarpley has long been one of the league’s most underappreciated linebackers (93 tackles last season) and Anderson’s return boosts a front seven that should continue to party in the backfield. Richards is solid at one safety spot, though there are some questions about who will play opposite him. The Cardinal still boast the top defense in the league until proven otherwise.

2. Washington

LB Shaq Thompson, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DB Marcus Peters

The skinny: The Huskies have some losses, like everyone else in the country, but there is plenty of talent coming back for the new coaching staff to work with. That returning production is enough to slot them No. 2. Thompson continues to get better with each season and appears on the verge of a breakout year. Kikaha has not-so-quietly turned into one of the Pac-12’s most feared rushers (13 sacks last season) and Peters is back after making five interceptions last season. They lose some leadership with the departure of Sean Parker and there's some question marks in the secondary. But this should be a salty group in 2014.

3. Oregon

LB Derrick Malone, DE/OLB Tony Washington, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

The skinny: Despite losing Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson and Terrance Mitchell, the secondary still boasts one of the top defensive backs in the country in Ekpre-Olomu. Mitchell led the team with five picks in 2013, but a lot of teams opted not to test Ekpre-Olomu. Malone is back after making 105 tackles, and Rodney Hardrick should be on his heels as top tackler. The linebackers should be a strength. Washington returns after recording 7.5 sacks to go with 12 tackles for a loss. Now, if they could just get off the dang field on third down ...

4. Oregon State

S Tyrequek Zimmerman, DE Dylan Wynn, CB Steven Nelson

The skinny: Zimmerman brings his 104 tackles back from last season and the return of OLB Michael Doctor, the team’s leading tackler in 2012, should be a nice boost. Replacing the production of Scott Crichton and his 7.5 sacks will be difficult. Linebacker D.J. Alexander and Wynn should see their share of time in the backfield. Nelson, a former junior college transfer, had a spectacular first season with the Beavers with a team-high six interceptions (tied with Rashaad Reynolds) and eight breakups.

5. Washington State

LB Darryl Monroe, DT Xavier Cooper, ?

The skinny: Do-all safety Deone Bucannon is gone after leading the team in tackles (114) and interceptions (6). He was an All-American for a reason. Monroe is an obvious choice for tackles, and Cooper is the obvious choice for sacks. But the secondary is wide open. Mike Leach has essentially said all four spots in the secondary are up for grabs. Clouding the issues is the future of cornerback Daquawn Brown, who has legitimate experience but also some legal hurdles to overcome.

6. California

S Michael Lowe, LB Jalen Jefferson, S Avery Sebastian?

The skinny: We all know about the defensive injury issues the Bears had last season, which is why Lowe returns as the leading tackler and tied for the lead in interceptions with one (the Bears only had five all last season). Jefferson returns with the most sacks, and Kyle Kragen appears to be a good fit for the scheme. (Remember when Kameron Jackson had three in one game!) We’ll see how oft-injured but talented Stefan McClure fares at safety. Getting Sebastian back from injury will help in the secondary. The pass rush should be improved with Brennan Scarlett’s return.
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
As Washington State kicks off spring ball Thursday, head coach Mike Leach isn’t focusing on one particular theme or message. In his mind, the message should be universal: get better every day, regardless of the calendar. And if he has to remind his guys of that, then, well, they aren’t his guys.

“We don’t have a lot of guys looking for ways to get out of work,” Leach said. “They are all collectively working pretty hard. Those looking for the easy way are quickly getting outnumbered.”

As Leach enters his third spring as the Cougars’ head coach, the team has taken on more of a “his guys” personality. Gone are the days of whiny receivers and bellyaching over workouts. He believes everyone on his roster is committed to his way of thinking … at least, he hopes so.

And his guys know that heading into spring, nothing is certain.

“Everything is a competition,” Leach said. “People have the opportunity to beat one another out and you earn your job every day. The reps will be split up. The guys who are ahead or performing better will get more reps to try and further develop their skills. How you perform will impact the number of reps you get. But that won’t declare anything necessarily. Once you get to camp you have to do it all over again.”

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonMike Leach is stressing competition this spring.
That shines an extremely bright spotlight on a few position groups: the secondary, the offensive line and possibly running back. The Cougars have to replace All-American safety Deone Bucannon and both corners, Damante Horton and Nolan Washington. Several spots on the line are up for grabs -- returning starters included. And even the running back position, where Marcus Mason returns as the team’s leading rusher, isn’t a sure bet. Leach praised the potential of Theron West and Jamal Morrow.

“That whole position is chopping at his heels,” Leach said. “Mason was a steady guy last year. He did some good things. At the end of last year, the hottest running back we had was West. A lot of that took place in the bowl workouts and he had a pretty good game in the bowl game. Then Morrow has looked pretty good. He redshirted and did a lot of good things there. It will be a very competitive position.”

The spring depth chart -- the very definition of a living document -- lists a lot of youth in the secondary, including redshirt freshman Charleston White and sophomore Daquawn Brown as the corners and sophomore Isaac Dotson and junior Taylor Taliulu as the safeties.

“There are plenty of jobs open there,” Leach said. “The corner positions are open. The safety positions are open. It will be interesting to see. It’s a bunch of people who haven’t played a lot so they’ll be fighting it out to see who gets more playing time.”

Notes

  • Leach said he believes backup quarterbacks Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk will get enough work to put some pressure on incumbent starter Connor Halliday: “I think Bruggman and Falk are both capable of pushing him. Both have a really good skill sets. Connor has the advantage in experience. We’re going to have the opportunity to rep a lot of them. We’ll run two pass skills throughout spring and rotate guys around. They’ll all have a lot of reps.”
  • The depth in the secondary might be complicated by the recent legal trouble of Brown. While he’s still officially listed on the depth chart, Leach said they are taking a wait-and-see approach with him: “We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. Right now what’s come out has been greatly embellished so we’ll have to see how all of that comes out.”
  • Leach was asked his thoughts on the news Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and could unionize: “If these guys are professionals and they want everything to be like it is in the NFL, that means that shortly we’re going to be having a draft and I for one would be pretty excited about having a whole nation full of quality athletes to draft from. So I’m looking forward to that … That means if somebody doesn’t perform well, you pay them less. If somebody performs real well, you pay them more. Although obviously every team should have the same salary cap. In addition to that, you have the opportunity to draft anybody you want. And maybe I’m wrong, but it follows if we’re going to professionalize this kind of stuff. It follows that you handle it like professionals do.”

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