2011 Pac-12 Spring Preview
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2011 Pac-12 Spring Preview
Pac-12 North Spring Buzz
Pac-12 South Spring Buzz
Pac-12 North Spring Attitudes
Pac-12 South Spring Attitudes
Pac-12 North Spring Key Positions
Pac-12 South Spring Key Positions
Pac-12 North Spring Questions
Pac-12 South Spring Questions
Pac-12 Spring Rankings
Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 30
The early spring buzz ... The big news in the offseason was the shake-up in the staff, Jeff Tedford’s response to last season’s first losing year with the program. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast returns after doing a nice job in 2010, but his counterpart on offense, Andy Ludwig, was let go. There were a series of other changes on both sides of the ball designed to provide a fresh outlook for a program that’s gone stale in recent years. The objective of the new staff will be to get acquainted with the personnel as quickly as possible, making for a more productive summer when the team hits the practice field again in August.
The big spring question is ... Who’s the starting quarterback? There’s no shortage of contenders, but sure-things to replace Kevin Riley come at a premium. Brock Mansion is the vet, but he flopped after Riley was injured, throwing two touchdown passes and five interceptions in five forgettable games. He’s clearly vulnerable. One of the more interesting contenders is Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo and the best all-around athlete of the group. A starter in the MAC in 2009, he threw 18 touchdown passes and rushed for 300 yards. Beau Sweeney is on the verge of becoming a journeyman, and Allen Bridgford and Austin Hinder have yet to take a snap.
The most important position to watch is ... running back. Quarterback is the obvious choice, but the backs are also pivotal after Shane Vereen bolted for the NFL. While there’s no doubt that Isi Sofele will be a major factor, at 5-7 and 186 pounds, he hardly has the frame of a workhorse. It’s a good thing Ron Gould is one of the nation’s best position coaches because his tutelage will be needed over the next few months. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Dasarte Yarnway, and Trajuan Briggs will compete for touches, but none is 100% healthy and Yarnway could miss the entire spring.
Spring attitude... All of a sudden, those boring eight-win seasons don’t look so bad in Berkeley. After struggling to get over the hump under Tedford, Cal would be happy to get back on the radar following last season’s 5-7 slump. It’s a crossroads type season for the coach and his program, which have never been able to get in the same company as USC or Oregon. Considering the uncertainty in the backfield, the Bears might be content just to narrow the growing divide with rival Stanford these days.
Spring Practice Begins: March 28
Game: April 30
The early spring buzz ... Oregon has begun to look like USC in more ways than just league championships. Under Pete Carroll, the Trojans were noted for amassing so much talent that backups leaving the program became commonplace. The Ducks are facing a similarly good problem. Dontae Williams, a blue-chipper from 2010, is leaving the program, sensing that touches will be tough to come by. Not only are LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner still in Eugene, but Lache Seastrunk was one of the nation’s top recruits a year ago. And in a case of the rich getting richer, coveted athletes De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson were signed this past February.
The big spring question is ... Can the Ducks maintain their intensity now that they’re clearly the hunted in the Pac-12? Back-to-back conference championships have put Oregon in the unique position of looking down at the rest of the field. However, can it play with the same drive and passion that it required to get to this spot? Chip Kelly and the rest of the staff know the team is loaded again on offense, but will have to pay special attention to keeping the Ducks focused and even-keeled between April and the start of another season.
The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. Three all-stars, Kenny Rowe, Brandon Bair, and Zac Clark, are gone from a unit that did a nice job of holding the line and creating pressure in 2010. DE Terrell Turner is the lone returning starter to a front wall that’ll need to regroup on the fly. He’ll be bolstered by Brandon Hanna, Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, and Dion Jordan, who’ll all be looking to win a job along the line. DT Jared Ebert, a 6-5, 285-pound transfer from Iowa Western Community College, has the motor and moves to be an instant impact recruit.
Spring attitude... Keep rolling. Oregon is at the apex of its existence, and the returns of James and QB Darron Thomas are going to help keep it there. After nearly winning the BCS Championship a year ago, the Ducks will once again be hunting for more than just a third straight Pac-12 crown. The offense will be fine, even with some openings on the line, but Nick Aliotti’s D will be a work-in-progress. The front seven, in particular, will require attention between now and the opener with LSU.
Spring Practice Begins: March 28
Game: April 16
The early spring buzz ... The excitement about WR James Rodgers receiving a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA has been replaced by concern about his availability. His rehabilitation from last year’s knee injury has gone slower than expected, and a second surgery was delayed by a lack of flexibility in the joint. After finally going under the knife in early March, he’s obviously been ruled out of spring practice, and the fear is that his recovery could linger deep into the summer or even the fall. The Beavers are facing a reality of having neither of the Rodgers brothers, James or Quizz, in Corvallis this fall.
The big spring question is ... Who become the new playmakers for returning starting QB Ryan Katz? Okay, so Quizz is off to the NFL and James is limping. Now what? The Beavers will use the next six months to surround Katz with athletes who can make yards on their own. The encouraging news is that his top three targets from 2010 return, H-back Joe Halahuni and wideouts Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop. The running game will be far less stable. Quizz was a workhorse the last three seasons, preventing the program from developing backups. The hope around the program is that Ryan McCants can go out strong in his senior season.
The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. The Beavers got hit hard by graduation on defense, especially up front. Three starters, including All-Pac-10 first team DT Stephen Paea, must be replaced during the offseason. Kevin Frahm and Dominic Glover bring a veteran presence to the inside and outside, respectively, but they’ll a lot more help for Oregon State to win the battles at the point of attack. Taylor Henry, Castro Masaniai, and Andrew Seumalo are a few of the younger players who’ll need to step up in 2011.
Spring attitude... It’s been a few years since the outlook for Mike Riley’s team was this pessimistic in an offseason. The Beavers are coming off their worst record since 1997, and face serious questions on both sides of the ball. There isn’t a returning player who earned higher than All-Pac-10 honorable mention in 2010, underscoring an overall lack of talent compared to the league’s elite programs. Riley has had a knack for coaching up kids during his tenure. He’ll need to do just that in order to turn Oregon State around this season.
Spring Practice Begins: Feb. 21
Game: April 9
The early spring buzz ... After starting half of 2009 at cornerback, senior Corey Gatewood is making a full-time switch to wide receiver this spring. While the Cardinal wants to make the most of his athleticism and playmaking ability, the move also addresses a pressing need. Last year’s top two receivers, Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen, have graduated, and expected starter Chris Owusu is still not completely healthy. While Andrew Luck is capable of making receivers look good, even he needs consistency from those around him, something Gatewood hopes to impact in the fall.
The big spring question is ... Can David Shaw continue what Jim Harbaugh started? While Harbaugh is still in the Bay Area, he’ll be no help to the Cardinal as a member of the San Francisco 49er staff. Shaw and his assistants lack this level of experience, so they’ll be under the microscope immediately, especially after the 2010 squad played in a school-first BCS bowl game. The good news for Shaw, besides Luck’s decision to return to school, is that he was a part of the program’s rise and knows the personnel, especially on offense. It should make for a slightly smoother transition.
The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. The unsung heroes from the last two years, the unit was broken up at the end of the 2010 season. Three starters are gone, leaving T Jonathan Martin and G David DeCastro as the mainstays. The competition will be heated everywhere else. In the early stages of spring, Kevin Danser turned heads at guard, Tyler Mabry is being counted on at tackle, and the battle between Sam Schwartzstein and Khalil Wilkes at center could carry on well into the summer months.
Spring attitude... Shaw will have an interesting dual-objective this offseason; he wants to put his own stamp on the Cardinal program while still feeding off some of the momentum created by Harbaugh. As long as Luck, an early Heisman favorite, is in the huddle, Stanford has a shot to once again contend for a league title and a January bowl game. However, the shake-up in the staff and the graduations of linemen on both sides of the ball will test the program’s ability to be as dominant as it was last fall.
Spring Practice Begins: March 29
Game: April 30
The early spring buzz ... While the Huskies are thrilled that their two best playmakers, RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse, have returned to school, depth has taken an offseason hit. RB Demetrius Bronson and WR Anthony Broyles, a couple of former high school gems, have decided to transfer in order to seek out more playing time. Plus, earlier this month, RB Johri Fogerson was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and possession of marijuana, which solidifies the role of Jesse Callier as the first back off the bench.
The big spring question is ... Who succeeds Jake Locker? It’s been six years since there’s truly been an open competition at the position at quarterback, so this is liable to create a genuine buzz around Seattle. The contenders will be sophomore Keith Price and redshirt freshman Nick Montana. Price has an extra year in the system and was the caddy in 2010, appearing sparingly in eight games. Montana, the son of NFL legend Joe Montana, isn’t the most physically imposing passer, but throws with accuracy and does a lot of little things well. Steve Sarkisian might not make a decision here until late in August.
The most important position to watch is ... linebacker. Cort Dennison is back for one more year to solidify middle linebacker. That’s the good news. The troubling fact, though, is that Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa need to be replaced on the outside. The pair combined for 244 tackles, 35 stops for loss, and 11 sacks a year ago, so filling that void will require a monumental effort. Princeton Fuimaono, Jordan Wallace, and Cooper Pelluer were three young backups from last season, who will get every opportunity to contribute early in their careers.
Spring attitude... Washington is a little confused these days. On the one hand, the Huskies are still riding high after finally returning to the postseason and stunning Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. On the other, life after Locker brings trepidation. The quarterback situation needs to get worked out, but the program has to like where it’s currently headed under Sarkisian and his staff. The objective will be to keep the momentum going and make sure December’s bowl game doesn’t wind up looking like a fluke.
Spring Practice Begins: March 7
Game: April 16
The early spring buzz ... It has not taken Ian Knight to scale the depth chart at defensive end. The first-year transfer from Butler (Kans.) Community College is already listed as a starter opposite Travis Long. The Cougars are seeking more speed and pressure from the outside, which the 6-2, 245-pounder appears capable of providing. After looking as if he’d be headed to the Big Ten coming out of high school, he took a detour at the JUCO level, making 56 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, and 5.5 sacks last season.
The big spring question is ... Can the job of head coach Paul Wulff be saved in 2011? Well, it won’t technically happen in March or April, but if the Cougars are going to win six games and qualify for the postseason, it’ll all start in the spring. Wulff has gone 5-32 in three seasons, and the administration probably needs to see a bowl invitation in order to grant the coach a fifth year. Knowing what’s on the line, the staff has opened up the competition everywhere, leaving few holdovers safe if they’re unable to raise the level of their game.
The most important position to watch is ... running back. Sure, the Cougars are going to throw the ball with QB Jeff Tuel and receivers Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter, but the ground game can’t be ignored. Wazzu needs more balance after ranking 117th nationally and averaging 2.6 yards a carry. Logwone Mitz is an experienced senior, but he has limited upside and rarely breaks off long runs. It’ll be worth monitoring the progress of redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin, who missed 2010 with a broken arm and can make people miss, a plus when running behind a poor Cougar line.
Spring attitude... There’s a sense of desperation around Pullman. Again. Everyone from the players and coaches to the fans and boosters can sense it. While the program was clearly improved last season, moral victories won’t be enough in 2011. Washington State must start making tangible strides if Wulff and his staff are going to survive. After using so many underclassmen the last two seasons, it could pay dividends if the line play improves and the D can finally begin pulling weight and making more stops.
Spring Practice Begins: March 21
Game: April 16
The early spring buzz ... Nick Foles has just one year of eligibility remaining, but the Wildcats could be set at quarterback for the next three seasons. Once Foles graduates, Arizona might hand the offense to Tom Savage, who was lured across the country by head coach Mike Stoops. A former blue-chip recruit from Pennsylvania, he had a solid debut with Rutgers in 2009, but got injured and was never able to recapture his swagger as a sophomore. Unhappy with the situation, Savage took his time deciding on his next stop, eventually choosing to play in the desert, beginning in 2012.
The big spring question is ... Can the ‘Cats use the spring to shake off the bad mojo from last year’s season-ending collapse? While there’s a need to bolster both sides of the ball, the staff will also be looking to repair the team’s psyche. After climbing high up the polls, Arizona failed to sustain, losing its final five games, capped by an awful bowl loss to Oklahoma State. If the players are still a little fragile, they better address it in March and April because there’ll be no leniency once the season starts.
The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. Actually, both lines face an overhaul, but the blockers are especially vulnerable. All five starters have left Tucson, including All-Pac-10 C Colin Baxter and LT Adam Grant. Backup Jack Julsing is also gone, further muddling the unit’s depth. In fact, only two returning linemen, Chase Gorham and Kyle Quinn, appeared in more than five games in 2010. Quinn started the Alamo Bowl in place of Baxter, a role he’ll reprise this fall. Inside, Vaughn Dotsy has lettered and Chris Putton worked his way up to second team. Tackle is a riddle that might look to the latest class for answers.
Spring attitude... Although the Wildcats have been to three straight bowl games, they’ll spend the next few months trying to locate some lost swagger. Of course, even if that occurs, it won’t solve the holes that exist on offense and defense. It’s going to be an important offseason for Arizona, which has an uncomfortable number of holes to fill. The
strength is on offense, where Foles, RB Keola Antolin, and WR Juron Criner give the program one of the better trios of playmakers in the conference.
Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 23
The early spring buzz ... Well, so much for that highly anticipated quarterback battle in Tempe. What might have been a three-man competition has now boiled down to one healthy Sun Devil, junior Brock Osweiler. His potential competition, Steven Threet and Samson Szakacsy, have given up the sport because of concussions and shoulder problems, respectively. Now, that doesn’t mean Osweiler is winning the job by default. He played real well after Threet was sidelined late in the year, throwing five touchdowns without a pick and leading Arizona State to wins over UCLA and Arizona.
The big spring question is ... Is this the last stand for head coach Dennis Erickson? After starting so quickly at Arizona State, he’s flat-lined, going 15-21 without a bowl invite over the last three seasons. This season, he’ll have fewer excuses than ever before, coaching a team loaded with returning starters. Assuming Osweiler doesn’t get injured, testing a sudden lack of depth behind center, the Sun Devils will boast experience at every spot on the field. With that many familiar faces, another mediocre season will be tough for Erickson to justify to the administration.
The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. Again. This is one of those perennial issues that just doesn’t seem to go away for Arizona State. For years, the Sun Devils have struggled to keep their quarterbacks off the dirt, which is one of the reasons Threet is no longer in pads. An impressive seven players who started part of 2010 are back, but only one, C Garth Gerhart, earned at least honorable mention all-conference. While there’s optimism about this group, results will be needed if Osweiler is going to truly bloom this fall.
Spring attitude... If Arizona State was ever going to get back on the rails, now would be the time to do it. A trendy choice to win the Pac-12 South, the Sun Devils return a 6-8 chucker at quarterback, options at the skill positions, and almost every starter on defense. For a school that lost four games by no more than four points a year ago, attitude and confidence will be important intangibles heading into 2011. If it gets hot early and starts learning how to win the close ones, it has a chance to be one of this year’s bigger surprises.
Spring Practice Begins: March 11
Game: April 9
The early spring buzz ... Change is everywhere in Boulder, including in the way the program is attacking its offseason conditioning. New head coach Jon Embree brought Malcolm Blacken over from the Washington Redskins, who immediately saw a deficiency in the athletes he inherited. Dan Hawkins’ old staff preached heavy lifting, which left the Buffaloes a little lacking in the areas of flexibility and agility. The new emphasis will not only be on strength, but how well the players can transfer it and functionally use it. It’s a new philosophy that the holdovers are already embracing.
The big spring question is ... Can QB Tyler Hansen end his career on a high note? He’s been a disappointment, but then again, he hasn’t exactly gotten a ton of support. The starter before rupturing his spleen midway through last year, he’s thrown more career interceptions than touchdown passes, a trend that could bump him from the pole position if it continues. Back to full strength again, his main spring objective is to digest the system and earn the confidence of an entirely new set of coaches.
The most important position to watch is ... cornerback. The Buffs ranked 110th nationally against the pass when fifth-year seniors Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown were still in Boulder. Now that they’re headed to NFL careers, what happens to the Colorado pass defense, especially as it enters a league known for its quality quarterbacks? Jonathan Hawkins and Arthur Jaffee are returning seniors, but both will get challenge for starting assignments. In particular, Georgia transfer Makiri Pugh is now eligible and sophomore Jered Bell showed enough in limited action as a rookie to be considered a building block of the future.
Spring attitude... Just because Colorado is in full-fledged rebuilding mode doesn’t mean the program is lacking in talent. RB Rodney Stewart and receivers Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons are quality skill guys, and NT Will Pericak and LB Jon Major are the cornerstones of the front seven. Still, the Buffaloes have a long way to go, particularly on offense, as they begin life in a new conference. Embree & Co. will use 2011 to set the table and the ground rules in the hopes of gradually turning things around at a school that’s gone five years without a winning season.
Spring Practice Begins: March 31
Game: April 23
The early spring buzz ... His personnel incapable of sparking the Bruins, Rick Neuheisel has looked to his coaching staff for some divine intervention. He cleaned house after last year’s four-win disappointment, bringing in a couple of new coordinators. The final piece of the staff puzzle was defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, whose hiring in mid-February ended an exhaustive two-month search. While he had success in the Big East with Cincinnati and South Florida, he was a surprise addition and by Neuheisel’s admission, the school’s fourth choice. He’ll operate out of a 4-3 base, with the flexibility to shift alignments when necessary.
The big spring question is ... Can hot-shot recruit Brett Hundley nab the quarterback job in his Westwood debut? Why not? Widely considered one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of Chandler (Ariz.) High School, he won’t be competing against Troy Aikman and Cade McNown. Projected starter Kevin Prince has had trouble staying healthy, and is still recovering from a knee injury. Richard Brehaut struggled in his place last fall, throwing a pick in each of his last six games. Although it’s never easy for a rookie to make up this much ground so quickly, UCLA is open to suggestions for solving its offensive woes.
The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. UCLA’s best shot of improving on offense will be to open a few more holes and do a better job of protecting the quarterbacks. That hasn’t happened in years. The promising news is that despite graduations, the Bruins will be getting a much-needed infusion of veteran talent. Sean Sheller was granted a sixth year of eligibility, Jeff Baca returns from academic ineligibility, and Kai Maiava returns from an ankle injury. If they can mesh with the younger kids, the unit has a chance to be better than forecasts.
Spring attitude... Three years into his rebuilding project, and Neuheisel has the Bruins going in reverse. After making a cameo in the Top 25 in early October, UCLA lost six of its final seven games and then performed poorly on signing day. Naturally, it’s a crucial year for the coach, who’s squandering an opportunity to narrow the gap on wounded rival USC. There’s an air of desperation in Westwood that’ll only dissipate if a bunch of players overachieve and perform beyond their resume.
Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 16
The early spring buzz ... When G Michael Reardon opted to not return for his final, choosing to work for his father’s company instead, it was another hit to the Trojan offensive line. Fellow guards Butch Lewis and Zack Heberer and C Kris O’Dowd were seniors in 2010, and junior T Tyron Smith left early for the NFL. Although Reardon wasn’t all-star caliber, he did start last year’s final five games and would have provided a much-needed veteran presence. Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes are set in the lineup, but don’t be shocked if freshmen climb into the two-deep in a hurry.
The big spring question is ... Can the defense rebound in Monte Kiffin’s second year as the coordinator? The underlying cause of last year’s five-loss campaign, Troy was uncharacteristically porous, especially when the ball was in the air. The positive news is that most of the regulars are back on campus, and a second season in the system should benefit everyone. At the height of the Pete Carroll era, the defense was among the stingiest in America, which is where this team is aiming after bottoming out in 2010.
The most important position to watch is ... the secondary. There are plenty of familiar faces from last fall, but even more work that needs to be done in the defensive backfield. Three starters return, and S T.J. McDonald is beginning to look like a sure-fire high draft choice once his amateur days are over. However, the cornerbacks remain a question mark. The team’s best cover guy, Shareece Wright, has run out of eligibility and Nickell Robey is still young and undersized. Someone has to rise up and start making more plays in pass defense this season.
Spring attitude... USC may not be out of the woods, but it’s beginning to see a little daylight. With a year of NCAA sanctions and postseason ineligibility now in the rear view mirror, the program is that much closer to getting back on equal footing with the rest of the conference. The objective for Kiffin and his staff in 2011 is to start producing better results and a cleaner product after regressing beyond expectations last season. If the line comes together, the offense should again be potent with QB Matt Barkley returning for his third year. The D, on the other hand, must gel and become more than just a bunch of talented, yet disparate, parts.
Spring Practice Begins: March 8
Game: April 16
The early spring buzz ... A new conference isn’t the only major change Utah is facing in 2011. The program is also installing a different offense, courtesy of first-year coordinator Norm Chow. Gone is the spread, replaced by a multiple look. The quarterback will be under center far more often, which means different footwork for the passers and angles for the running backs. While starter Jordan Wynn is taking snaps and digesting all that he can, he’s still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and is unable to throw passes during spring drills.
The big spring question is ... Who carries the load now that Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata have graduated? The Utes lose their top two rushers and more than 70% of last season’s production, leaving a hole in the backfield. Unless one of the holdovers makes a quantum leap, the job could eventually go to a newcomer, either true freshman Harvey Langi or junior college transfer John White. If the situation really becomes dire, don’t be surprised to see the staff employ sizable backup QB Griff Robles in more “Wildcat” packages.
The most important position to watch is ... cornerback. The offensive backfield bears close scrutiny, but so does the defensive backfield. Last year’s All-Mountain West corners, Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman, are both headed to NFL, a major concern as the Utes prepare for life in the Pac-12. Conroy Black, for one, is ideally positioned to take full advantage of Burton’s departure. In his third year removed from Fullerton (Calif.) Community College, he’s one of the fastest and most dynamic all-around athletes on campus. After being the first man off the bench, all he needs now are reps.
Spring attitude... These are exciting times in Salt Lake City. Gone are the days when the Utes played in the shadows and needed perfection in order to earn a spot in a BCS bowl game. Winning the Pac-12 will be no small chore, but at least Utah has more control of its own destiny. Conference affiliation will have no bearing on how the school prepares in the offseason. Kyle Whittingham wants to install the new offense, get the backfield in shape, and get beyond last year’s poor finish.