Spring practices are in full force around the conference and as usual the Southern schools are either wrapping up or have wrapped up things for the spring and the Northern schools such as Washington still have a few weeks to go.
After a winter of misbehavior the Oregon football team is back on the field practicing in defense of their Pac 10 championship. The biggest chalenge for this team will be to recover from the loss of their suspended starting QB Jeremiah Masoli.
Senior Nate Costa completed 8 of 21 passes for 77 yards, while sophomore Darron Thomas was 8 of 22 for 101 yards and an interception in the first scrimmage of the spring. The defense limited the offense to less than 40 percent passing and 3.3 yards per carry on 64 rushing attempts for 211 yards.
The early results are mixed at Oregon. There are serious concerens right now about throwing the ball well enough to keep the Oregon offense balanced. The defense is obviously playing well if you look at the numbers posted after the scrimmage but James and Barner only played in the first two series.
Southern California Trojans
The cloud forming over the USC practice field is the spectre of NCAA probation for past misdeeds. On the field though the Trojans have lots of talent to work with. QB Matt Barkley is slimmer, faster, and more accurate than he was in the fall. The running game remains a concern but that question may be solved once Dillon Baxter gets his feet wet.
USC will have the best defensive line in the Pac-10. That's an opinion that feels pretty close to a fact you can write down in ink. Why? Lots of talent and the return of Ed Orgeron, who will provide a huge coaching upgrade. There's simply no way for players to slack off around his mega-intensity. Ends Armond Armstead, Nick Perry, Wes Horton and Malik Jackson and tackles Jurrell Casey, Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris, Hebron Fangupo and Derek Simmons give the Trojans a deep, big and athletic group of nine guys.
The early consensus on USC is that they have the talent to unseat Oregon and win the conference this season. The offense needs to be more productive in 2010 for them to do that. Being able to rush the ball better and throw the ball deeper will be keys.
Will the Beavers reload as usual or will they suffer some drop off on offense because of a new QB? Ryan Katz has looked very dangerous in practice this spring. It looks like the Beavers have found their answer at QB and that isn't good news for the rest of the Pac 10 because they have plenty of ammo to surround him with including the Rogers Brothers.
"What stands out about Ryan -- always has -- is he's got really good physical ability. A Great arm," Riley said. "It's one of those deals where you're kind of taken aback by the strength of his arm sometimes. He throws the ball so easily with a lot of velocity. He's got to learn a little bit more about taking something off it every once and a while. I tell him all the time, 'You don't always have to throw a 95 miles per hour ball.'"
Defensively the Beavers played a lot of young DB's last season but that should help in 2010. The front seven is strong and deep as usual. You have to pencil the Beavers in as a title contender if they can get a fast start out of Katz at QB.
The Husky offense has performed well this spring and the emergence of two exciting frosh RB's should keep Chris Polk fresh during the season and give special teams a dimension that it has been missing in the return game. Jake Locker continues to improve and Nick Montana looks like the QB of the future after he departs. Washington's trio of receivers may be among the nations best.
The highlight was, predictably, an impressive play from quarterback Jake Locker. Locker scrambled out of the pocket to his left and and the right-hander then flicked a perfect pass to Devin Aguilar 40 yards down the sideline. Said one observer, "Do you think any other quarterback in college football could do that?" Answer: Probably not. "He's playing at a real high level," coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The Huskies lose both starting defensive ends, most particularly Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, the Husky career sacks leader who finished second in the Pac-10 with 11 sacks and earned second-team all-conference honors. The backups combined for four sacks: sophomore Talia Crichton, junior Kalani Aldrich and sophomore Andru Pulu. Moreover, Pulu is presently suspended and Aldrich has been troubled with knee problems. It's possible some guys will get shifted around, including Everrette Thompson, who played inside at tackle last year. And it's likely some of the incoming players will get an early shot to contribute (maybe Darius Watters?)
Washington needs Aldrich and Thompson to come back healthy to provide the depth needed at DE. Can Jake Locker lead this team to a Rose Bowl? That is the goal of a squad that was 0-12 two seasons ago. Consensus opinion is Washington will win more than they lose and eight victories is a doable goal.
Replacing TB Toby Gerhart and S Bo McNally are the biggest challeges facing Stanford this spring. The heir apparent to Gerhart hasn't emerged yet. Most of the focus is on Andrew Luck who has the potential to be one of the better QB's in college football this season.
Harbaugh has recruited well so each year the squads level of talent continues to increase. They are going to need that this season because they are not going to control the ball on the ground like they have in the past few years with Gerhart gone. Stanford took some major hits in the assistant coaching department but Harbaugh has done a good job of biding his time and filling the lots. Expect the Cards to be in the mix once again.
Kevin Riley didn't perform well at QB last season and it allowed opposing defenses to shut down the Bear offense which was reliant on a strong rushing game. The Bear defense didn't live up to expectations either and they need to find some answers in a weak secondary.
There isn't an area of the 2010 Bears that will blow you away, but the offensive line welcomes back five guys who've started at least seven games, as well as a couple of quality backups, though it was a hit when veteran guard Mark Boskovich opted to graduate instead of use his final year of eligibility. Donovan Edwards (seven starts) is the most likely candidate to fill a void at one of the tackle spots. The health of talented guard Matt Summers-Gavin is an issue after a shoulder injury and concussion limited him to eight starts in 2009. As a group, the Bears were better run-blockers (third in the Pac-10 in rushing) than pass-blockers (31 sacks surrendered) in 2010. The latter often improves with experience and continuity. If the unit stays healthy, it could be one of the stronger crews in the conference.
I wouldn't put the Bears in the title contender category but they will be hanging around close to the first division in 2010.
The Wildcats must replace seven starters from last year's starting defense, including all three linebackers. They also have brought in new defensive coaches. On offense QB Nick Foles and RB Nate Grigsby return in key positions. Grigsby needs to avoid the injury bug this season.
Over 15 practices, the Wildcats' new brain trust implemented new "nickel" and "dime" schemes and invented a hybrid look - the "Cheetah" package - that puts defensive ends at all four line positions and uses five (nickle) or six (dime) defensive backs. "That was purposeful," Kish said. "We wanted to see how many guys have flexibility to play different positions and … to utilize our strength, which is the guys up front. We wanted … a package the kids can feel good about."The Wildcats raved about the new look, calling it fun and player-friendly. The same can be said for Brown and Kish. Easygoing and personable, both coaches have won over their players.
Nobody in the conference loses as much as the Wildcats are going into 2010. They have a lot of holes to fill so I guess the question is are the Wildcats rebuilding or reloading?
Rick Neuheisel guided a pretty average squad with lot so holes on both sides of the ball to a bowl game last season. This year the fans expect more but he is still probably a year away from developing the type of lines that will push his offense and defense to the next level.
The Bruins new "pistol" offense, which features some spread-option elements, has inspired some skepticism, but Prince ran a version of it in high school and he's got good speed -- he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash during testing. There were some intriguing moments, but a couple of bad shotgun snaps surely will concern the coaches. Coach Rick Neuheisel said: "There's a lot of moving parts in this stuff. If we're going to be in this stuff and we're going to say that this is who we are and try to get to that point, we've got to be a heck of a lot better at it than this. If we can't get that done in 15 practices, then we have to ask ourselves if it's prudent to stay in it and that's where we are.''
UCLA needs to develop a running game and it looks like they have made some progress this spring with more big time talent arriving but the line needs to start opening up some holes. The team will also be doing some serious rebuilding on defense. UCLA will go as far as their two lines will take them.
This could be Dennis Erickson's last spring in Tempe if he doesn't get something going in the desert. Defensively the Sun Devils have some forces who can alter a game or at least alter the number of penalties called. Offensively they are breaking a new QB and trying to develop an offensive line.
The projected starting linebackers, the crew from Corona, Calif. — sophomore Vontaze Burfict and juniors Shelly Lyons and Brandon Magee — trash-talked and backed it up. Sometimes too far. During a running drill that included everyone on both sides of the ball except receivers and secondary players, Burfict and an unidentified offensive lineman got into a fight that started on the ground. The skirmish trickled into a scrum, as players on both sides of the ball pushed and swung wildly, with others trying to separate the two. Burfict, the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year, who earned a reputation for committing personal foul penalties as a freshman, heckled and taunted the offense all afternoon.
The rushing game finally made an appearence. ASU running backs totaled 111 yards. Cameron Marshall, out for more than a week with a hamstring issue, rushed seven times for 36 yards, scoring the Sun Devils' first rushing touchdown of the spring. James Morrison (6 for 38) and Jamal Miles (5 of 19) also had fine performances. "I thought Cameron came in and showed some flashes," Erickson said. Said Marshall: "I've been dying to get out here and run around with everybody. I didn't go full speed, but I didn't feel any pain."
Michigan transfer Steve Threet is battling Brock Osweiler for the starting job at QB this spring and the competition will likely continue into the fall.
Paul Wulff is another coach on the hot seat and he needs to win 3-4 games in 2010 to even get close to keeping his job. The good news is the Cougars have a lot of talent returning this season. They only lose four starters but as they say that is also the bad news. QB Jeff Tuel needs to provide a conistent turnover free perfomance for this team to start being at least fun to watch again.
Of the 48 players listed in WSU’s spring two-deep, former coach Bill Doba’s staff recruited only 15. And of the 22 players listed defensively, just four – junior Aire Justin and seniors Kevin Kooyman, Toby Turpin and Chima Nwachukwu – are holdovers. "We bit the bullet last year on defense and we redshirted eight first-year freshmen," Wulff said. "They could have played, based on how thin and how injured we were. But, ultimately, for the future of our program, to build the program we want, it’s going to help."
Many of those, including highly touted recruits such as defensive backs Nolan Washington, Jamal Atofau and Anthony Carpenter, linebacker Andre Barrington and rush linebacker/defensive end Sekope Kaufusi, aren’t even in the two-deep. But they’ll receive their chances this spring. As will junior college transfer Brandon Rankin, a 6-foot-5, 271-pound defensive lineman who will work at tackle and end, and redshirt freshmen Darren Markle, a 6-1, 225-pound weight-room legend, and converted running back Arthur Burns, both who will get opportunities at linebacker.
Obviously Washington State needs to win with youth this season which will be difficult. Wulff hasn't done a bad job recruiting but he needs to show some developmental skills in year three. He needs to show the skeptics out there that his team is getting better and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.