We're making our way through the offensive position groups, and today we get to tight ends. We started with the South, and here's the North:
Cal: Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin rarely utilizes a tight end and the Bears do not list any on their roster -- and have not since Sonny Dykes took over before the 2013 season.
Oregon: With Pharaoh Brown’s future still uncertain as he rehabs from a scary knee injury that nearly required amputation (good story from Andrew Greif of the Oregonian here), senior Evan Baylis figures to top the depth chart in 2015 with Johnny Mundt as his likely backup. Four other tight ends are listed on the roster for Oregon, but there is little experience outside of Brown/Baylis/Mundt. Three-star Jake Breeland will join the team for fall camp, but he’s a strong redshirt candidate.
Oregon State: Connor Hamlett is gone, but three returning tight ends saw the field last year in varying capacities for the Beavers, including Caleb Smith, who made 20 catches. Ricky Ortiz will switch to H-back, Kellen Clute will factor in and redshirt freshman Ryan Nall is an intriguing player that could see a hybrid H-back/TE role.
Stanford: Austin Hooper was second on the team with 40 catches as a redshirt freshman a year ago and leads the conference’s most talented group of tight ends. Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton should be ready for increased roles, but the player to watch is Dalton Schultz. Schultz was one of the top tight ends in the Class of 2014 and redshirted last year and conceivably, with Hooper, could form one of the nation’s top tight end pairings.
Washington: Josh Perkins started nine of the 12 games he appeared in and finished second on the team with 25 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Darrell Daniels, a one-time highly regarded receiving prospect, is also back after catching 11 passes for 171 yards last year. Drew Sample, the state’s No. 4 prospect in 2014, will come off his redshirt and compete with David Ajamu, and recent signees Michael Neal, who has already enrolled, and Ricky McCoy.
Washington State: Much like the system at Cal, there isn’t much use for a traditional tight end in Mike Leach’s offense. Nick Begg is the only player the Cougars list at tight end.
Heading up North to take a look at the wide receivers there.
Cal: Developing depth this spring at the wide receiver spot is key for the Bears’ success next fall. And with quarterback Jared Goff entering his third year as a starter, the expectations for this unit will be very high. Cal returns its top five receivers from the 2014 season in Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis. The unit looks to be doing some major strength and conditioning work in the offseason (example: Davis’ ridiculous vertical). The inside receivers will pick up some depth from former running backs Jeffrey Coprich and Patrick Laird, who’ve made the move over. But this should be an interesting spring considering most of the turnover is in the coaching staff, not the players. Former offensive graduate assistant Jacob Peeler was promoted to the inside receivers coach and Pierre Ingram, who was in charge of the run game and recruiting, will now be in charge of the passing game, wide receivers and recruiting.
Oregon: Though there’s nothing official out yet, it’s safe to bet that Darren Carrington will not be participating in spring ball for the Ducks. But what about Devon Allen? Will he be fully recovered at any point this spring? Will Oregon be down one or two receivers? But outside of those two players, it should be fun to see how this all shakes out. Without all the members of the QB competition on campus until the summer, this spring could essentially be a season spent building chemistry with a future backup (for those who believe it will be QB Vernon Adams starting next fall). Regardless, it’s important for all of these guys to get touches this spring. Byron Marshall is going to be a veteran leader for the group, as will Bralon Addison. Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson and Jalen Brown are guys looking to take a step up this spring.
Oregon State: The Beavers have a young but promising wide receiver group that needs to build chemistry with the quarterbacks this spring. Victor Bolden, who was the heir apparent to Brandin Cooks last season, scored just two touchdowns on 72 receptions in 2014. The Beavers will need him to step up this spring along with Jordan Villamin, who finished last season with six touchdowns on just 35 catches, and Hunter Jarmon, who tallied one touchdown on 20 catches in 2014. With the Beavers wanting to move faster under Gary Andersen, substitutions are going to be necessary, so players like Richard Mullaney, Rahmel Dockery, Xavier Hawkins and Malik Gilmore need to have big springs for receivers coach Brent Brennan. Bonus: this is the only OSU position group that didn’t go through a position coach change as Andersen decided to retain Brennan. Is that decision going to pay off for Andersen? He needs his receivers to have big springs so they can have bigger falls.
Stanford: Reports are positive for the Cardinal so far out of spring camp for an offense that struggled to find consistency last season. Devon Cajuste will be the prime candidate for Kevin Hogan’s go-to weapon. In 2014, Cajuste scored a team-high six receiving touchdowns on just 34 receptions. More impressively was the reliability with which he did that -- Cajuste was targeted just 56 times last season (expect that number to go up in 2015), and he caught 34 of those balls. That isn’t top of the Pac-12 good, but it’s still pretty good. Without Ty Montgomery, expect the balls to be distributed a bit more evenly. The Cardinal have a speed demon in Michael Rector and hope that this could be the year (starting now) that Francis Owusu really shines.
Washington: Chris Petersen will have his three bowl game starters returning in Jaydon Mickens, Dante Pettis and Brayden Lenius, so that’s certainly good news as all three of those players will have the upper hand in building chemistry with Cyler Miles this offseason. Past this, the Huskies will look to build some serious depth on the offensive side of the ball as they will need to be more explosive in 2015 considering the defense probably won’t be able to be stout next year. A few names to remember: Drew Before, John Gardner and Marvin Hall.
Washington State: The Cougars are going to have to replace the No. 1 and No. 7 receiver out of the Pac-12 this past year. For most coaches, that would sound horrifying. For Mike Leach, it’s just another day. The Cougs have River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Tyler Baker, Calvin Green, Robert Lewis and Gabe Marks (redshirted 2014 but played in 2012-13), who are all returners and will get a ton of reps this summer. One of the biggest names to watch will be Texas A&M transfer Sebastian LaRue, who had to sit out last year but is good to go this spring. And all of these guys had better make moves because while there are plenty of passes to go around, each guy wants to be featured, and the Cougars have 6-foot-6 juco transfer Chris Dimry coming in this summer who’s certain to make moves. Y’all know how Leach loves that fade.
Yesterday we began with the quarterbacks. Today, we move onto running backs. We gave a look to the South this a.m. and now we're moving up North.
California: Daniel Lasco is the undisputed top dog, a spring after being the Bears' MVP as well as the conference's fifth leading rusher. But that's really not the interesting storyline out of Berkeley. It gets interesting after Lasco, where early enrollee Lonny Powell -- a four-star RB and the Bears' second-highest ranked signee in the 2015 class -- has gotten compliments from Sonny Dykes already this spring. Could he make moves past Tre Watson and Vic Enwere into the second spot at RB? Khalfani Muhammad won't really factor into the spring since he's making moves on the track. Other notables notes from this group: Jeffrey Coprich and Patrick Laird both moved from running back to inside receiver giving Cal more depth there.
Oregon: There might not be a team in the nation that's deeper at running back than the Ducks right now. Before the postseason, it probably would've been 100-percent safe to say that Royce Freeman had the job on lock. And maybe that's still the case, but can anyone really count out Thomas Tyner, especially after that two-touchdown, 124-yards game against Florida State? Freeman still has the lead, but did the postseason performances diminish that at all? This spring could answer some of those questions. Then, you've got stud early enrollee Taj Griffin to add to the mix. He might not be 100 percent this spring due to a knee injury he sustained last fall, but expect him to be a factor in whatever ways he can -- the weight room, in meetings. And lest we forget about Byron Marshall who seems to be happy with his move to slot, but it would be short sighted to not give him a few carries to keep defenses honest, so he should take some reps there this spring too. Phew. And that's just the battle for the top few spots.
Oregon State: All eyes will be on Gary Andersen as he transitions the Beavers from a Mike Riley offense to one which he describes as "wide open." He said Oregon State will have success with running the ball. We've heard that before, but the Pac-12 Blog seems to believe it more when a guy who has featured players like Melvin Gordon and Robert Turbin says it. The Beavers' top returner is Storm Woods, who will need to prove himself to this new staff this spring. He showed flashes last year -- 100-yard games against Arizona State and Oregon late in the season -- but this spring he'll need to show that he can also be consistent. Pushing him will be Chris Brown and Damien Haskins, who both saw an increase in carries in the middle and toward the end of the season due to injuries to others.
Stanford: In February, reports circled about Stanford running backs coach Lance Taylor leaving for the wide receivers job at Georgia. So he might be the most important player in the game returning for the Stanford running backs this spring. Remound Wright will miss the first session of the spring season due to disciplinary issues. That leaves just two scholarship players to battle it out from the get-go for Taylor -- Barry Sanders and Christian McCaffrey. David Shaw also told reporters in late February that Patrick Skov and Daniel Marx will carry the ball some, too.
Washington: Both running backs who carried the ball 100-plus times for the Huskies return this spring, so expect Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman to be going after it for that top spot. Quarterback Cyler Miles carried the ball 118 times so he'll factor into the run game, as well. Fighting for carries behind that lead RB duo will be Deontae Cooper -- who has the upper hand on everyone else after 63 carries in 2014 -- as well as Jomon Dotson or Myles Gaskin, who will most likely find themselves in fourth-string or scout team spots come fall, unless they really surprise some folks. But the big question this spring is: Will there be a featured back coming out of camp or will it remain a committee approach?
Washington State: During Mike Leach's tenure the Cougs have averaged 40.8 rushing yards per game, which is less than many Pac-12 teams average in a quarter. That 12th-place finish in rushing yards in the league each season under Leach means there are very limited rushing yards to fight for on this team. But, which players will have the honor of doing that scrapping this spring? Expect it to be a two-man battle between Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks.
Well, since we’re so balanced here at the Pac-12 Blog, we couldn’t possibly look at what team will elevate itself without looking at what ranked team could plummet in the rankings.
Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25 will make the biggest drop (or not even make the top 25) at the end of the 2015 season?
1. USC | Schlabach’s rank: No. 3
Schlabach’s reasoning for putting the Trojans so high is understandable: They’ve got great depth and finally signed a full recruiting class (which was full of blue-chip talent). That’s a good recipe for success -- a returning QB, depth, some good juco transfers. But a lot of that talent is untested. Can USC really replace the production of Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor in one offseason, or will the Trojans fall like Troy? (terrible pun No. 1 of 2)
2. Oregon | Schlabach’s rank: 6
The Ducks return one of the deepest running back corps in the country and some pretty talented receivers, but with a question mark at quarterback and plenty of spots to fill on the defensive side of the ball, could Oregon be a team that is plagued by inconsistency and drops in the rankings? It’s certainly possible. Oregon joins Alabama, Baylor, Georgia and UCLA as Way Too Early top-10 teams that need to find a new QB. Could that one position be enough to sink the Ducks? (terrible pun No. 2 of 2)
3. UCLA | Schlabach’s rank: 9
Like Oregon, UCLA needs to find a QB and find it fast. The Bruins, like Oregon, also need to find a new pass rusher and some talented linebackers. Could the problems that malign Oregon also lay claim to the Bruins? But between UO and UCLA, which would be more susceptible to those problems?
4. Arizona | Schlabach’s rank: 13
The bridesmaid of the Pac-12 has done a good job of showing up, just not always finishing. Arizona wasn’t even mentioned in last season’s Way Too Early Top 25 (the February edition) but finished the season ranked No. 19. Will the Wildcats continue this upward trend, or will they pull a Stanford/Washington, which were both ranked in the Way Too Early Top 25 but finished the season with no one talking about them?
5. Arizona State | Schlabach’s rank: 18
Like the Ducks and Bruins, the Sun Devils need a new QB, but unlike Oregon and UCLA, the heir is already on the throne. And not only is Mike Bercovici on the throne, he’s already stating the goals of the program -- a national title. Could Bercovici’s words become fact? Or will they fall flat as ASU struggles to adjust to life in the spotlight?
- "Crop tops are like soooooo out right now." No, but really, the NCAA says they are.
- Grantland's NFL Draft Cocktail Conversation Guide lists quite a few Pac-12 guys.
- Breaking down Arizona's defense this spring.
- Could the Chiefs draft Jaelen Strong?
- California lost a starting defensive lineman to transfer on Monday.
- Some good background on a Colorado defensive back from Kyle Ringo.
- Marcus Mariota is up for another award.
- Oregon State added an OL to its 2015 class Monday.
- This writer doesn't see Andrus Peat going to the Vikings.
- Projecting UCLA's QB depth chart this spring.
- What does it take for USC to recruit in Georgia?
- Check out Utah's spring practice dates in case you're able to make one.
- Could Danny Shelton be going to Cleveland?
- Steve Gleason tweeted some congrats to Hunter Dale.
We move on to North Division quarterbacks. You can see the South Division here.
California: The Bears are about as straightforward here as you can be. Jared Goff, a member of the "Most Likely to Become Nationally Known This Fall" club, will be the starter and Luke Rubenzer, who came off the bench to offer some athleticism in the QB run game, will be a backup who sees scattered action. While true freshman Ross Bowers might emerge, the expectation here is he will redshirt before competing for the starting job in 2016 if Goff opts to enter the NFL draft. Which Goff won't, because he'll stage a ceremony announcing his return to Berkeley on Dec. 24 in front of a Christmas tree -- er, "Holiday Tree" -- and guarantee a national championship to Old Blue Nation! (Hey, Oski, what was in this cup you gave me?)
Oregon: Marcus Mariota is back for his senior year after winning the Heisman Trophy... Ha! Did we get you? We kid, but only because this QB situation has been a wee bit covered already, and everyone knows nothing will be chiseled into coach Mark Helfrich's great granite depth chart tablet he keeps at the pinnacle of Mount Hood until the coaches get a look at Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams during preseason camp. As it is, sophomore Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years, will get the first snaps, and it will be up to redshirt freshman Morgan Mahalak, Georgia Tech transfer Ty Griffin or true freshman Travis Waller to make a move before Adams arrives. There will be a post-spring pecking order, and it will matter, but we don't expect many clear answers from the Ducks until close to the opener. Now, who is that against?
Oregon State: Oregon State has seven QBs vying to replace Sean Mannion, but over the weekend new coach Gary Andersen said he is already on course to narrow the reps between three guys this week. "We'll move forward a little bit quicker than we thought initially," Andersen told reporters after Saturday's practice. "It's not as far as the starter, but as far as the top three kids, they'll start to get some more reps. That'll become more clear on Tuesday." That means a clearer pecking order between sophomore Luke Del Rio (the 2014 backup), junior Brent VanderVeen, sophomore Kyle Kempt, redshirt freshmen Marcus McMaryion, Nick Mitchell and Tanner Sanders and true freshman Seth Collins is about to emerge. The Beavers are moving from a pro-style offense to a no-huddle spread, so athletic ability will be at more of a premium. Stay tuned.
Stanford: While other schools are often complicated, Stanford is easy. Fifth-year senior Kevin Hogan is the starter. Any potential questions about that were answered by the way he played late in the 2014 season. So the battle is for the backup job between sophomore Ryan Burns and redshirt freshman Keller Chryst, a pair of prototypical pocket passers standing 6-foot-5 and equipped with big arms. It's an important competition because the winner positions himself for 2016 as a potential multi-year starter.
Washington: Junior Cyler Miles is an incumbent starter, but this will be a wide-open competition. Miles did some good things in 2014 as a first-year starter, such as protecting the ball in the passing game, but he doesn't have a great arm and the bottom-line offensive numbers were poor. The question, then, is whether anyone is good enough to beat him out. The competition includes junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a touted recruit. If you talk to 10 Huskies fans on this one -- and I have -- you'll probably get at least one vote for each of the aforementioned.
Washington State: Sophomore Luke Falk came off the bench for an injured Connor Halliday against USC last season and played well in three subsequent starts, though he started fast and faded a bit down the stretch, throwing six interceptions in the final two games. He'd seem to have the inside track to the starting job, but coach Mike Leach isn't the sort to easily hand over the starting job. So Falk should expect a challenge from true freshman Tyler Hilinski and redshirt freshman Peyton Bender.
- Breaking down Arizona's offense this spring.
- Former Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong is feeling good about the NFL draft.
- California is picking up a WR, via transfer from Tennessee.
- Expectations are high for Colorado WR Nelson Spruce.
- Sports Illustrated's Peter King takes on the BIG QUESTIONS about former Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.
- While Oregon State's defense is almost completely rebuilding, it was in control the first day in pads.
- Stanford's Christian McCaffery continues to show versatility.
- Former UCLA great Maurice Jones-Drew has retired from the NFL.
- USC's Su'a Cravens has an NFL future.
- Nice look at former Utah sack master Nate Orchard's backstory.
- A roundtable discussion that includes some thoughts on Washington coach Chris Petersen's first season.
- Washington State appears to have landed a late steal for its secondary in the 2015 recruiting cycle.
- If you missed Jon Wilner's excellent look at the Pac-12's financial issues going forward, well, you should remedy that. Here's the intro. There are some questions about TV revenue going forward, at least compared to Big Ten and SEC. Should the Pac-12 sell equity stake in the Pac-12 Networks?
Is spring football satisfying your college football jones? Well, it's something, right?
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To the notes!
Ryan from Tucson writes: Why do I feel like Arizona is constantly being overlooked this offseason within the context of the PAC-12? All I'm hearing is about Oregon's quarterback competition, UCLA replacing Hundley, and USC as national title contenders. The Wildcats are returning their first starting qb in the Rich Rod era, a 1,000 yd rusher, and the National defensive player of the year, after a PAC-12 South title! At least when overlooked in basketball we can blame East coast bias, but within the context of the PAC-12 what gives?
Bored Arizona Fan from Phoenix writes: Dear Pac 12 blog, HELP! I've been trying to get my dose of Arizona football spring/pre-season news and I haven't found much. The Arizona football news seems quiet... too quiet. No staff changes, only one big news transfer (Connor Brewer), no injuries, no run ins with the law, no more renovations? Where is my drama?!What does it mean when a program is quiet this far into the off-season? Is no news good news?Also, is it football season yet? How about now? ... Now?
Ted Miller: "Bored" provides one answer to Ryan here: Arizona hasn't had a terribly newsy offseason, and it -- for the first time under Rich Rodriguez -- doesn't have a major spring intrigue, such as a QB competition, to invite tea leaf reading from reporters. Replacing three offensive linemen and several solid but uncelebrated defensive players isn't terribly sexy, though obviously important for the Wildcats' 2015 prospects.
And yet, Ryan, your question is a good one. I know this because just the other day I said to myself, "Are we overlooking Arizona?" Maybe.
First off: Why are you hearing so much about Oregon, UCLA and USC? Well, for one, they figure to be the three highest rated Pac-12 teams in the preseason polls. That sort of thing gets a team more coverage.
Moreover, Oregon and UCLA are replacing three-year starters at quarterback, with both players being national figures. One, you might have heard, won some trophy and is now expected to be selected way-up-high in the NFL draft this spring. Star QBs get attention, and QB competitions get attention. It's just the way things are done in our dangerous, thrilling world of college football reporting.
You might recall that we covered Arizona's QB competition pretty aggressively last spring and summer -- here and here and here -- despite Rodriguez pleasantly telling us nothing until he finally tapped Anu Solomon.
As for the Wildcats perhaps being relegated behind the Ducks, Bruins and Trojans after winning the Pac-12 South Division last season, there is a further explanation. While there are a lot of shiny pieces coming back, including the nation's most decorated defensive player in LB Scooby Wright III, the 2015 Wildcats' infrastructure has taken some big hits, particularly, as noted, the O-line and defense. Those are questions that can be answered, but at this point they remain questions.
All this said, Arizona has a huge advantage, one that makes many, many coaches and players and fan bases across the country bitterly jealous: It's situated close to my home, "Casa del Guapo Genio." That means I'm certain to visit this spring, something I know Rodriguez pretty much views as nothing less than a second appearance from Santa Claus.
Trev from Los Angeles writes: Not saying this is a trend yet, but looking back the big 6 bowls that were not the semifinals, did you notice anything interesting about the teams that lost? I did. Arizona -- UNLV, UTSA, Nevada. BaylorMississippi State- Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, FCS. Ole Miss -- Boise State, ULL, Memphis, FCS. See it now, not one played a Power 5 team OOC. I believe that a team's OOC SOS need to count for 50% of total SOS and this last year kind of proved that. Thoughts? Granted I do know this doesn't mean this will always happen but I find it funny that it did when college football started saying SOS would matter again.
Ted Miller: Well look at you, Trev, with this interesting factoid! I like it. Your take is right on: A nonconference defeat would have prevented all of these teams from playing in a "New Year's Six" bowl game, which earned their conferences an extra $4 million.
I, too, think the nonconference component is one of the most critical elements for the selection committee to fairly judge teams as worthy of playoff spots, as well as lucrative berths in the New Year's Six games. It's so important that it's not only about what a program does in those games, it's about its intentions.
These teams, perhaps with the exception of Ole Miss, which played Boise State, aggressively avoided nonconference games that threatened any reasonable risk of defeat, much less a potentially ranked team from a Power 5 conference. When they made their schedules, they took a strategic stance of not caring about their transparent intention to avoid competition.
That's not, in itself, a stupid thing to do. If a team is just trying to make sure it gets bowl eligible, then scheduling nonconference patsies makes sense. But if you want to be considered for the CFP or a major bowl, it should be a prerequisite you play a nonconference game against a Power 5 foe.
What the A-list nonconference game does is provide evidence of how good your team is outside of the closed system of its conference. For example, last year everyone was writing sonnets about the SEC West. Turned out the SEC West was hugely overrated once it started playing, yep, teams not in the SEC West.
It's notable that none of these four teams stepped up their scheduling for the 2015 season. That should act as a significant impediment for their major bowl and CFP hopes, certainly more so than in 2014.
JJ from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: QUESTION.If healthy Alonso for McCoy makes sense. It took a while for Kiko's light to come on but as evidenced by his NFL Defense Rookie of the Year Award in 2013, Kiko should have been All American in 2012 after a terrific Rose Bowl in 2011. He is excellent against both the run and the pass.I recall his dominating game against K ST in the Fiesta Bowl. IMO opinion, Kiko and not Marcus was the MVP of this game. Do you think as I do that this trade makes sense?
Ted Miller: I think its a great trade for Chip Kelly and the Eagles, and this article outlines many of the reasons why.
First off, I have been around the block with debating the value of aging running backs. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote this in the preseason of 2007 about Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. I then wrote this in January 2008. So, yeah, lesson learned.
I know McCoy only turns 27 this summer, but he's already hinted he may be closer to 30 in running back years than 24, when he was super-elite. Perhaps he will be motivated by being cast off by Kelly, but the good money is on him being an A-list RB for no more than one or two more years. Meanwhile, LB Kiko Alonso is a budding superstar joining a defense that needs that sort of thing, and who, oh by the way, will cost way less in the immediate and even near term.
Don't look now, but Kelly has around $48 million in salary-cap space. My guess is his mad scientist mind is ticking a few steps ahead, perhaps even imagining bringing a certain former Oregon QB to the City of Brotherly Love.
One thing we know about Kelly is his offensive mind is playing speed chess while others are playing pong. He didn't unload McCoy on a whim. If he feels the need, Kelly can draft a quality running back this spring, perhaps as late as the third or fourth round.
1. D.J. Foster's move to slot receiver will prove to be an excellent idea.
Foster was brilliantly versatile last season for Arizona State, tacking 62 catches and nearly 700 receiving yards on top of his 1,100-yard rushing campaign. Simply put, he's a premier athlete, and that gives coach Todd Graham a multitude of options on offense. Foster's move to the slot, then, only makes logical sense given the circumstances in Tempe: Jaelen Strong is gone from the outside, and Demario Richard is ready to pick up Foster's slack in the backfield. This shift doesn't handcuff ASU, either -- Foster can continue being his versatile self in 2015 and contribute to the ground attack. In fact, the slot may actually further highlight his adaptability.
2. At least 27 instances of "Berco-ing" will happen around the state of Arizona as QB Mike Bercovici officially takes the reins.
There have already been a few identified -- official or unofficial -- Berco-ing activities that have happened so far this offseason (see below). But now, with Bercovici officially taking the reins of this team and declaring its goal a national title, there will be a few fans around the state and country who find themselves celebrating in a much different way. Hint: This is much more difficult without a helmet -- don't break your nose.
David Shaw will be asked to talk about how no one is talking about his team, leaving him with a "that's so meta" reaction.
For the first time in several years, no one is really talking about the Cardinal going into spring football. The usual powerhouse had a slow start to last season, which left its final stretch -- impressive as it might have been -- relatively unnoticed, which in turn left its team this offseason relatively unnoticed. Enter: the most meta interview in which Shaw is asked to talk about talking, or rather, talk about how no one is talking about his team.
Q: David, can you discuss how different it is for you to be at this point in the season with little to no one really talking about your team?
A: [Hint: It doesn't matter what he says here because he spurns the question by actually talking about his team.]
4. Oregon State RB Storm Woods will take a huge leap forward as Gary Andersen actually makes running an emphasis in Corvallis.
Andersen has made it very clear he intends to run the ball. Mike Riley used to say this a lot, but given Andersen's ability to turn out some top-notch running backs, we're getting the idea he's very, very serious about it. The front-runner right now is Storm Woods, who showed flashes last season, specifically against Arizona State and Oregon. In preparation for said leap, the Pac-12 Blog is now taking advanced nicknames for Storm Woods in Cor-Vegas. Tweet them to @ESPN_Pac12blog.
5. Mike Leach gon' Mike Leach at some point and say something non-football related that makes headlines.
Now's a good time to review just a smidgen of what makes Washington State's Mike Leach a fascinating treasure. Many details can be found in this piece, which chronicles his long walks through the countryside to work, among other nuggets. But Leach's sound bites may be the most entertaining gifts of all. Remember that not too long ago, he predicted human extinction. What will be next? Better question: Can anything top that? We'll just have to wait and see.
6. Quarterbacks will be the most talked about subject in Eugene, Oregon, even though the competition won't really begin until this summer.
Yes, there'll be intense focus on Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak and the others taking snaps this spring in an effort to become Marcus Mariota's successor. But while that group is doing its thing on Oregon's practice field, the potential front-runner for the job will be working out at Eastern Washington's rec center, of all places. Transfer Vernon Adams won't be around for spring ball, but his arrival in Eugene later this summer will add true sizzle to the battle.
7. Tre Madden and Justin Davis will both settle in primary running back roles at USC.
Javorius Allen is gone, so the Trojans have room opening up in the backfield. Davis is USC's leading returning rusher and Madden is returning following a turf toe injury that derailed his entire 2014 campaign. Built in the 225-pound power back mold, Madden brings a significantly different style to the table than the 195-pound Davis, and this will allow the Trojans to work on developing a complementary mix-and-match between the two players.
8. Chris Petersen will practice his fall avoidance of answering Boise State questions by avoiding answering Boise State questions.
Washington at Boise State is one of the most anticipated season openers for 2015. By nature, most college football coaches don't talk about the ensuing regular season too much during the spring because they don't want it to be too much of a distraction or show any kind of non-spring ball focus. That said, the matchup with the Broncos will probably be brought up a few times. This will give Petersen ample opportunity to practice whatever tactic he intends to apply next fall when folks ask him similar questions but expect a much better answer.
9. Cal will continue to show significant strides offensively.
During their miserable 1-11 campaign two seasons ago, the Bears planted some seeds offensively. Coach Sonny Dykes debuted Jared Goff as a true freshman, and the new coach introduced his aggressive aerial attack. There were growing pains aplenty, but 2014 saw marked improvement for the Bears. They developed an effective rushing attack, and Goff morphed into an upper-tier conference quarterback (5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio). This 2015 spring will see a continuation of Cal's offensive blossoming.
10. There will be a spring football rivalry between UCLA and USC.
Bruins, watch your bear. Trojans, watch out for Tommy Trojan.
OK, so maybe this is a more far-fetched prediction, but we can dream. Spring football needs some excitement.
“If you do something a second time,” he said in August, “you should be better, you should be more efficient, and there’s no exception with me.”
Now defensive coordinator Don Pellum has a similar task.
On the one hand, when looking at a defense that was one of the most inconsistent groups in the conference, it doesn’t seem as though it would be too hard to take a step forward, especially because most of the players will be in their second year in the program.
But for Pellum, the answer is simple.
“We have a bunch of weapons,” he said. “This year we won’t carry as many, but we’ll be more specific. So if all of a sudden we’re playing a certain team and they’re running a certain play, last year we might’ve had two or three or four different things we could do. [This year] we’re going to dial it down to one or two and be really, really good at them.”
The process of becoming really, really good at those plans begins at the end of the month, when Oregon begins spring practice. As it gets closer, Pellum is getting more excited.
For him, he sees a lot of veterans in his meeting room, even though most of the public might not.
“I’m excited about where we are,” Pellum said. “We lost some terrific players, but I think overall in terms of depth and experience, we’re far ahead of where we were a year ago right now.”
He said in his first year he hadn’t realized how few senior starters were on the defensive side of the ball until he walked into a meeting as the defensive coordinator and began to actually count: zero on the line, two in the linebackers group (Tony Washington, Derrick Malone) and just one proven, battle-tested senior defensive back (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu).
In Year 2, Pellum rattles off a group of players at each position group that he views as veteran because they know his system and how he works.
The Ducks return defensive lineman Alex Balducci and a few experienced linebackers in Joe Walker, Rodney Hardrick and Tyson Coleman. In the secondary, cornerback Chris Seisay got some playing time near the end of the season after Ekpre-Olomu’s injury and safety Reggie Daniels finished third on the team in tackles. So there’s certainly talent there, but the depth remains to be seen.
But with those players and a coach willing to scale back to better fit his team, could Oregon take a big step forward in 2015?
“[Last year] we had a big toolbox,” Pellum said. “Our toolbox will be a little smaller this year. And now, after going through the season, we know how the opposition is going to really attack or try to counter, so now it’s going to be more specific to what these defenses are for.”
Pellum will attack Year 2 with the same expectation his head coach had last year: If you do something a second time, you should be better.
“I feel real comfortable about what this group can do,” Pellum said. “I think we can carry a little less, but I think we can be a lot more efficient.”
Although college football teams don't often resolve major competitions or issues during spring practices -- at least they tend to resist public proclamations -- that's not going to stop us from making predictions. There's just too many juicy goings-on for us to keep quiet. So here are 10 bold predictions, though you might quibble with what degree of boldness we have attained.
We took a look at six teams that have the most work to do (because, we couldn’t stick to five for this list. Sorry to our readers who expect series like this to be identical … and also to defensive coordinators across the league: You’ve got your work cut out for you this spring and next fall).
Arizona: At least they’ve still got Scooby Wright, right? That’s probably what a lot of Wildcats fans are going to be saying this offseason as Arizona attempts to replace so many contributors on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats will need to replace three of their top five tacklers -- Jared Tevis, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant -- in addition to Dan Pettinato and Jonathan McKnight, who both registered at least 45 tackles last season.
Oregon State: Let’s just say that it’s far easier to note the players who actually return to the Beavers rather than their departures. So, Gary Andersen, in his first season, will welcome back 2014 starters Jaswha James and Larry Scott. That’s it. He has nine other starters to replace, including the top six tacklers from 2014. Of the 12 players to register at least 25 tackles last season, only three weren't seniors. Need we go on? Didn’t think so.
Stanford: The Cardinal are in a similar boat to the Beavers in which they lose way more than they retain while also losing guys at every level of the defense. Up front, coach David Shaw needs to find replacements for Henry Anderson, David Parry and Blake Lueders. In the middle, he’ll need guys to step into the shoes of Kevin Anderson, James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley. In the secondary, they lose Alex Carter, Jordan Richards and Wayne Lyons. The Cardinal led the conference a year ago in total defense (282.4 yards per game), but with this kind of turnover hitting that mark again seems far off. But really, is anyone wishing they were a defensive coordinator at Oregon State or Stanford right now? Bueller?
Washington: A season ago, the Huskies were second in the league in rushing defense (121.9 yards per game) and now they need to replace six players from their front seven, including the entire defensive line. Can Washington really take a step forward in Year 2 under Chris Petersen without Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton aggravating every single Pac-12 quarterback and Shaq Thompson and John Timu creating big plays every other play? The good news is that the Huskies retain all four starters from the secondary so the group that was the youngest a year ago will now be the oldest. But, for anyone who watched the third-worst Pac-12 pass defense in 2014, that might not really sound like good new
USC: The Trojans lose four of their six top tacklers. Hayes Pullard, Gerald Bowman and J.R. Tavai all used up their eligibility while Leonard Williams opted to head to the NFL a bit early. Losing half of those guys would be rough for a defense that finished fifth in the league a season ago, but to lose every single one of them (they accounted for 315 tackles including 31 tackles for loss and 15 sacks) is really rough for a team that has such high expectations for the 2015 season. But Trojans fans can take Arizona’s approach: At least you still have Su'a Cravens and Anthony Sarao, right?
UCLA: The Bruins lose three of their top four tacklers from the 2014 season, including Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks. Between Kendricks, Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA will need to make up for 282 tackles including 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. In a few games this season the Bruins defense made up for its offense when it was slow (or, not scoring at all -- hello, Virginia) and many of the reasons for this defense being so productive are no longer on the roster.
Oregon: The Ducks defense was a hard thing to diagnose last season. In certain games, it was opportunistic and aggressive and tackled extremely well. And in others, it was the exact opposite. Oregon will lose several key players off that up-and-down defense from a season ago. Arik Armstead left early for the NFL and linebackers Tony Washington and Derrick Malone are gone. Defensive back coach John Neal has his work cut out for him in a secondary that lost starters Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan. Due to injuries and rotations, several guys got reps for Oregon and with a core group of linebackers returning, there seems to be a bit less work to do in Eugene than some other Pac-12 cities.
Utah: The Utes will undoubtedly miss Nate Orchard and his ability to get to quarterbacks, as well as starters Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen out of the secondary. But Utah also has three of its top six tacklers returning, including its leading tackler (linebacker Jared Norris). Plus, Hunter Dimick is primed for a big season a year after recording 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.
Pac-12 Teams Can Load Up At WR
TBD Washington Boise State 1:00 AM ET Colorado Hawaii 8:00 PM ET Weber State Oregon State
TBD Arizona State Texas A&M TBD Portland State Washington State TBD Grambling State California TBD Stanford Northwestern TBD Virginia UCLA TBD Arkansas State USC TBD Eastern Washington Oregon