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Pac 10 Spring Football - What's Happening?
USC RB Joe McKnight
USC RB Joe McKnight
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 2, 2008


What's happening this spring? Does UCLA have a healthy quarterback? Who's the next Oregon State rushing star? Who's the Oregon quarterback? What's USC RB Joe McKnight's problem? Here are three key spring tidbits you need to know about for each Pac 10 team.

Pac 10 Spring Football 2008

What You Need To Know For Each Team

By Richard Cirminiello 

Arizona

Deep Threat … The ‘Cats are hoping they’ve finally uncovered a homerun hitter at wide receiver in JUCO transfer Derick Barkum.  One of the fastest players on the roster, he’s got the wheels to take advantage of Willie Tuitama’s cannon, while creating some space underneath for the other receivers.  After proving he can win a footrace, Barkum will spend the next couple of months trying to convince the coaches he can also catch the ball with consistency.

Hi, My Name is Earl … Former H-back Earl Mitchell has made a smooth transition to defensive tackle, one of the Wildcats’ biggest need areas entering the season.  A 6-2, 265-pound playmaker that has to be on the field, his quick retention of a new position has impressed the staff.  If the spring was a good indicator, Mitchell will be introducing himself to a bunch of opposing quarterbacks this fall.

QB of the Future … While Arizona hopes it won’t have to use him extensively until 2009, it really likes the potential of redshirt freshman Bryson Beirne, a Willie Tuitama clone with substantial upside.  Sure, there were mistakes, but his first spring in Tucson was a success, and a chance to show off the big arm that’ll be connecting with Wildcat receivers a year from now.    


Arizona State


Middle Man … Junior Gerald Munns has left few doubts that he’ll be the Sun Devils’ starting middle linebacker, soaring past Morris Wooten and Mike Nixon with a fantastic spring session.  At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he’s been everywhere for the defense, playing much faster than his 40 time and with the keen instincts that always put him near the ball.

Em-Bolden the Secondary … While it’s hardly a news flash that sophomore Omar Bolden is one of the Pac-10’s up-and-coming corners, he’s elevated his overall game from last season.  A little bigger, faster, and wiser, he’s already the headliner of the defensive backfield and a budding lockdown cover guy with an NFL future.

Protecting Rudy Carpenter
… Besides improving the play of the personnel, the Sun Devil staff is searching for solutions to an offensive line that yielded a school-high 55 sacks a year ago.  The running backs will be key components, both as blockers and pass-catchers on screen plays designed to keep defenses from pinning their ears back.  Any backs that can’t pick up the blitz or have stone hands will find it infinitely harder to get on the field.


California


Nate Long-Shot? … While Jeff Tedford continues to stress that incumbent Nate Longshore is his quarterback, a pec injury that curtailed his spring hasn’t helped in his fight to hold off Kevin Riley.  Riley moves better than Longshore and was flawless in his last game, a comeback win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.  Don’t buy Tedford’s smokescreen.  Riley is closing the gap on Longshore all the time, and might be ready to surpass him in August. 

Hip Replacement … When likely starting RB James Montgomery suddenly left the program in March, it created a quandary for the Bears, who also lost Justin Forsett to graduation.  The program’s top back, Jahvid Best, would be the no-brainer successor if he wasn’t recovering from a serious hip injury.  Best has pulled a surprise of his own, taking part in non-contact drills, when he wasn’t expected back until the summer.  Sophomore Tracy Slocum picked up some of the slack in April, running hard and earning a spot in the backfield rotation.       

Anger Management … One of the defense’s best weapons this fall will be the booming leg of redshirt freshman P Bryan Anger, who takes over for Andrew Larson.  Anger put on an aerial show throughout March and April, regularly hammering out punts of more than 50 yards, while hanging the ball in the air for an eternity.


Oregon


Summer Blockbuster … If you’re pining to see how the quarterback battle between Nate Costa and Justin Roper unfolds, you’ll have to wait until August.  While Roper, last year’s Sun Bowl hero, took most of the spring snaps with the first team, Costa won’t be rushed back from last winter’s knee surgery.  The staff will turn him loose in August to see if he is indeed the best fit to run the Ducks’ spread offense.

Blount Object … Heralded JUCO transfer LaGarrette Blount made an immediate impression in his first spring with Oregon.  A 6-2, 235-pound battering ram, he’s already drawing comparisons to a bigger version of former Duck Reuben Droughns.  Blount’s combination of power and quickness makes him a natural to bolster a backfield that’s missing Jonathan Stewart and still awaiting the return of Jeremiah Johnson from knee surgery.

Trench Wars … Oregon’s quest to find a couple of new starters on the offensive line is bringing out the best of sophomore C.E. Kaiser, a tackle that can also move inside and play guard.  One of the strongest players on the roster, he’s been getting reps with the first team, and at worst, will play an important part of the unit’s rotation.


Oregon State


Next in Line … He’s just a redshirt freshman, but Mike Riley is convinced Ryan McCants is about to become the next 1,000-yard rusher in Corvallis.  A physical, 236-pound runner, he’s already attracting favorable comparisons to a young Steven Jackson.  McCants has done nothing to hurt his status as the Beavers’ heir apparent to Yvenson Bernard.

New Linebackers … Although you don’t get better by losing the all-league trio of Derrick Doggett, Alan Darlin, and Joey LaRocque, Oregon State is cautiously optimistic about the three new linebackers preparing to take over.  Outside linebackers Keaton Kristick and Keith Pankey, and middle linebacker Bryant Cornell have jumped at the opportunity to start, playing well and showing leadership on a young and impressionable D.   

Moevao for Now … At least until Sean Canfield recovers from shoulder surgery, Lyle Moevao is the unchallenged starting quarterback for the Beavers. Neither got the job done a year ago, making this a critical spring for Moevao and the entire offense.  Canfield expects to throw again in July and be at full strength in August, when he’ll resume his tussle with Moevao.


Stanford


Quarterback Situation Remains Muddled … Although incumbent Tavita Pritchard probably has a narrow edge coming out of spring, Jim Harbaugh is nowhere near naming a starting quarterback.  While Pritchard made strides in March and April, so did Jason Forcier and Alex Loukas, keeping this a tightly-packed competition that likely won’t be decided until just before the opener. 

Tip-Top Shape … If you listen to Harbaugh, Stanford’s most valuable assistant in the offseason has been strength coach Shannon Turley, who has the Cardinal in much better shape than last year.  For a squad that lacks depth, improved strength, stamina, and conditioning could turn a couple of second-half losses into comeback wins this fall.

No Casualties … Arguably the best news to come out of spring camp was that no Cardinal suffered an injury that won’t heal long before preparation continues in the summer.  Only TE Jim Dray and Allen Smith, who were already spring scratches, are questionable for the start of the season.  Their knee injuries have been so severe that any return in 2008 remains up in the air.


UCLA


Taking a Knee … In an eerily similar situation to last fall, the Bruins are again saddled with major injuries at the quarterback position.  Patrick Cowan, who’d nudged ahead of Ben Olson in April, tore the ACL in his left knee during practice and is expected to miss the season.  Minutes after Cowan was hurt, Olson broke a bone in his foot and will be out up to two months recovering from surgery.  While Olson should be ready for the opener, UCLA is in a mad dash to prepare JUCO transfer Kevin Craft, freshman Chris Forcier, and converted receiver Osaar Rasshan for expanded roles.   

Lanis Retires … The already daunting task of rebuilding the Bruin offensive line got much tougher when projected starting T Aleksey Lanis announced he was leaving the team.  An 18-game starter over the last two seasons, he opted to quit playing football when nagging soreness in his left knee wouldn’t abate.  Lanis’ decision accelerates the timetable for Sean Sheller, one of the program’s heralded recruits of 2006.   

Spring Star … Redshirt freshman CB Courtney Viney, one of UCLA’s smallest players, is making a very big impression on the coaching staff.  Neuheisel and coordinator DeWayne Walker can’t stop raving about Viney’s athleticism and competitiveness, giving him some equity as the defense searches for playmakers in a revamped secondary.


USC


Sanchez Ends the Drama … One of the most anticipated quarterback duels of 2008 appears to be over for now.  Mark Sanchez has gotten the nod over Mitch Mustain in a battle of two former No. 1-rated prep passers, playing with greater consistency and a better grasp of the offense.  Of course, the season doesn’t start for another four months, so it would be na├»ve to assume that Mustain has no chance to close the gap in the summer.

Don’t Panic, Trojan Fans … Yes, RB Joe McKnight has been declared academically ineligible, but no, it won’t impact his eligibility in the fall.  It’s a good thing, too, because before being shut down, the super soph was having a monster spring, routinely delivering big plays as a runner, receiver, and returner on special teams.  The Reggie Bush comparisons are here to stay.      

Elephant Hunter
… Before spring, the Trojans moved Clay Matthews to “elephant”, the same rush-end spot handled by Brian Cushing two years when the team had a glut of linebackers.  So far, the experiment has been a smashing success, with Matthews routinely making plays behind the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback.  A former walk-on, he’s earned playing time at both linebacker and on the defensive line as a situational pass rusher and a co-starter with Everson Griffen


Washington


Flea Flicker … After catching just six passes in 2007, DeAndre Goodwin, aka “the Flea”, has emerged as the best receiver in a corps that was gutted by graduation.  One of the team’s fastest players, he’s played at a high level throughout spring, stretching the Husky secondary and taking on more of a leadership role.  Washington needs more players like Goodwin if Jake Locker is going to take the next step as a complete quarterback.

Cam’s Engine … Junior Cameron Elisara is one of the reasons the Huskies are remaining upbeat about a defensive line that must replace three starters.  Playing 10 pounds lighter than last season, the defensive tackle with the great motor has been stronger, quicker, and more fundamentally sound than in recent seasons.

Juan Gone … The Huskies suffered a devastating blow when center, and top blocker, Juan Garcia suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot that could end his final season before it ever began.  He’s putting off surgery and risking an improperly healed injury in the hopes that a dedicated rehabilitation program can get him back on the field sometime in October.


Washington State

The Quarterback Race … While the competition to replace Alex Brink will be ongoing, long-time backup Gary Rogers has failed to relinquish his spot in the pole position.  The 6-7, 235-pounder has continuously stood out from the crowd, taking on a leadership role and flashing maximum RPMs on his deep balls.  While not an ideal fit for Paul Wulff’s new spread offense, he’s shown enough as a passer to make the coaches overlook his modest mobility.

A Running Mate for Gibson … The Cougars are on the verge of uncovering a No. 2 option to top wideout Brandon Gibson from a most unlikely place.  Converted defensive back Michael Willis, an academic casualty a year ago, has had a breakout spring on the offensive side of the ball.  Well-sized and physical at 6-0 and 215 pounds, he’s picked up his new assignments in a hurry, commanding attention with six catches for 129 yards and a score in a recent scrimmage.

Role Reversals … In an attempt to shore up the secondary, Wazzu is moving starting CB Chima Nwachukwu to free safety and starting SS Alfonso Jackson to cornerback.  At least for now, the staff believes Nwachukwu is a better fit at safety, and Jackson has the speed and temperament to handle covering the opposition’s best receiver.