Oregon Ducks: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Oregon and UCLA are generally the preseason picks as the Pac-12's best candidates for the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, which also indicates they are the favorites to win their divisions and play for the Pac-12 championship.

That doesn't mean they are a sure-thing. Far from it. In fact, Phil Steele, who likes both Oregon and UCLA, says folks should watch out for USC. He rates the Trojans as one of the potential surprise teams of 2014.
The Trojans are one of just five teams in the country that have each of their positional units (QB, RB, etc.) rank in my top 40. Scholarship limitations have really limited them as of late, but they have some depth at key positions. There is no disputing a talent like defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The Trojans also have my No. 6 defensive line in the country, No. 5 linebackers and No. 3 defensive backs, giving them my No. 2 overall defense

ESPN.com's Insider also takes a look at several Pac-12 teams playoff chances here, including Washington, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

Still, the Ducks are the preseason Pac-12 front runners. Their chances of making the playoff are rated at 48 percent by Brian Fremeau with a projected record of 11-1.

ESPN analyst Brock Huard presents a detailed look at Oregon here. What he likes about Oregon isn't not surprising: QB Marcus Mariota, a favorable schedule and the Ducks recent track record.

He does, however, see some issues, starting with the Ducks front seven on defense. He writes:
... while Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have each seen plenty of snaps, they must both make significant strides to be the forces at the point of attack that BCS champs have wielded over the last decade.

That's entirely fair, though the defense looks a lot stronger and experienced at linebacker than it did a year ago. It's also notable the Ducks are rebuilding their secondary after you get past the return of All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Huard also notes that the injury to No. 1 WR Bralon Addison hurts, making the Ducks typical offensive explosiveness a question.

Finally, he points out that navigating the Pac-12 schedule -- not to mention a nonconference matchup with Big Ten favorite Michigan State -- will be rugged and challenging on a week-to-week basis, even with pair of favorable misses (USC and Arizona State).

Bottom line: Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which their being in the national title hunt has been the standard not the exception.

Barring anything exceptional in 2014, the Ducks should again be in the thick of things.
Eight Pac-12 players were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Athlon's on Monday, while 11 others were named to the other three teams.

Oregon, Stanford and USC each had a pair of first-team selections. The Ducks were represented by center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford's pair was OT Andrus Peat and kick returner Ty Montgomery, while USC was represented by WR Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams.

The other two first-team selections were UCLA LB Myles Jack and Washington LB Shaq Thompson.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the Pac-12's top Heisman Trophy candidate was second-team behind FSU's Jameis Winston, who won the trophy last year.

On the third team were three defenders: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, USC LB Hayes Pullard and Washington DT Danny Shelton. Agholor also was named a punt returner, so he got two spots.

On the fourth team: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong, Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo and USC O-lineman Max Tuerk, who was listed as a guard even though he plays center. Stanford safety Jordan Richards was fourth team with the defense, while Utah kicker Andy Phillips was a fourth-team specialist.

Most important player: Oregon

June, 13, 2014
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All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC's Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal
Steve Conner/Icon SMISenior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the unquestioned star of the Oregon defense.
Oregon: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 production: 84 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions, forced fumble

Why Ekpre-Olomu is so important: Marcus Mariota is the unquestioned star of the Ducks offense. Ekpre-Olomu is the same for the Ducks defense.

The almost certain preseason All-American -- he received second- and third-team nods last season -- and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer might be the best cornerback in the nation. Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so.

But it's not just that Ekpre-Olomu is good. And it's not just that, much like Mariota, he shocked many by opting to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.

It's that the Ducks secondary, typically a strength, is rebuilding. Ekpre-Olomu is the only returning starter because his fellow standout corner, Terrance Mitchell, made a poor decision to enter the NFL draft a year early. Mitchell wasn't drafted until the seventh round.

While the Ducks traditionally play a lot of folks on defense, and the projected starters in 2014 are fairly game-tested, there's no question that Ekpre-Olomu is the veteran bell cow and leader. He needs to lead not only by example but also lead by making sure everybody is lining up correctly and handling the adversity that inevitably hits a defensive back.

Finally, with 10 starting QBs back in the Pac-12 and a bevy of A-list receivers inhabiting more than a few teams, an A-list, lockdown corner is about as important a player any conference team could have. Ekpre-Olomu's return means Oregon has the best one.

Other Most Important Players:
It will come as no surprise that Mel Kiper Jr. sees two of the five best senior QBs and three of the six best underclass QBs coming from the Pac-12 Insider.

But who would have thought that three of the 11 best defensive tackles Insider would come from the Pac-12, while none came from the D-line rich SEC?

USC's Leonard Williams, a junior, is a likely top-10 pick next spring, and he also is a candidate for top pick overall. But Kiper also really likes Williams' buddy at UCLA, Ellis McCarthy.
Really emerged in 2013 as his first-team reps arrived. McCarthy was a big-time recruit, but he had to learn about leverage and keeping blockers occupied, not just looking to shed them immediately and make plays in the backfield. He has a powerful, 6-4, 330-pound frame and could emerge as a likely first-rounder.

The third Pac-12 DT is Washington senior Danny Shelton.

Kiper also likes Pac-12 cornerbacks Insider. He rates Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as the No. 1 senior, USC's Josh Shaw as No. 2 and Oregon State's Steven Nelson as No. 3.

Among the underclass CBs, Kiper ranks Washington's Marcus Peters No. 2 and Stanford's Alex Carter as "5A."

On the defensive downside, Kiper doesn't including any Pac-12 defensive ends on his list Insider, which bodes well for those QBs.

On offense, Kiper likes Pac-12 receivers Insider but not running backs. He rates Stanford's Ty Montgomery the No. 2 senior receiver and Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and USC's Nelson Agholor as the Nos. 2 and 3 underclassmen, but Oregon's Byron Marshall -- at 5B -- is the only conference running back to make the list.
It’s time to start thinking about preseason watch lists. And the first one out is the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest “impact” on his team -- impact being an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

The award is in its 11th year.

Of the 42 players on this year’s watch list, 11 come from the Pac-12:
UCLA’s Anthony Barr was the 2013 winner. Cal’s Dante Hughes was the league’s only other winner, in 2006.

Other previous winners include Manti Te’o (Notre Dame, 2012), Luke Kuechly (Boston College, 2011), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin, 2010), Jerry Hughes (TCU, 2009), James Laurinaitis (Ohio State, 2008), Glenn Dorsey (LSU, 2007), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama, 2005) and David Pollack (Georgia, 2004).

You can click here for the complete watch list.
ESPN’s Todd McShay released his Way-too-early 2015 mock draft on Wednesday, giving a very early look into the future of some potential NFL draftees next season. Once again, the SEC leads the way, putting 10 players in the first 32 picks of McShay's first mock draft.

McShay predicts the No. 1 draft pick being a defensive lineman just like the 2014 draft. Only, instead of coming out of the SEC, he believes that defensive lineman will be one out of the Pac-12, USC's Leonard Williams.

McShay put eight Pac-12 players in the first round, including three top-10 picks. The ACC is behind the Pac-12 with seven picks, though six of those are from Florida State. The Big Ten has four players on the list while the Big 12 landed three.

Oregon leads the way for the Pac-12 with three players in the top 20 picks -- cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu. USC got on the board with two players in the top 32 while UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State each had one player.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

The life of any coach is a balancing act in which he tries to push his players and give them as much information as possible while trying to figure out where each individual, and the position group as a whole, can exist and perform at its best.

But that's what makes the spring so great. There really is no balancing act.

For Oregon secondary coach John Neal, it’s simply teach, teach, teach and ... teach. And the result is that with more than a week left in the spring season, the Ducks' secondary has installed its portion of the defense.

“It’s not detailed perfectly or anything like that, but there’s a pretty good understanding of what we want,” Neal said. “Now we can work from there, and all we have to do now is scale back from what we have.”

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal
Steve Conner/Icon SMISenior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is seasoned, but the rest of the Oregon secondary is lacking in experience.
The Ducks won’t scale back until a few weeks before their season opener on Aug. 30 against South Dakota. But the fact that there’s at least a baseline of everything Neal wanted to get through this spring -- with time to spare -- is pretty impressive for a group that doesn’t have a ton of game experience.

Neal said he does feel like he has a group of veteran guys who’ve been good leaders for the secondary in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis.

Ekpre-Olomu is the most experienced of that group (84 tackles and three interceptions in 2013), but Neal said that Dargan has also had a very good spring, saying that the redshirt senior “could play any position -- he could play defensive tackle. He knows the defense that well.”

But even with that experience, there are still a lot of reps to be had by new players. Between last season’s three departing seniors, the Ducks will need to replace a lot of production. Terrance Mitchell, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson combined for 210 tackles, eight interceptions and 16 pass break-ups in 2013.

But Neal is confident that there’s talent in the Ducks defensive back meeting room to fill the void left by graduating seniors.

He pointed out that redshirt sophomore Reggie Daniels, redshirt freshman Juwaan Williams and junior college transfer Dominique Harrison as guys who’ve made big strides through the spring. Neal said he has been impressed with how they have “done a lot of good things in terms of how much work they’ve had to learn.”

For Neal, this is one of the most fun and most stressful times of the year. It’s fun because the pressure is lower, and that allows the coaches to continue installing -- even when everything isn’t perfect. But that lack of perfection leaves Neal wondering how much he’ll need to scale back in August.

In general, the feeling is pretty positive in Eugene. The Ducks believe that even though the secondary lost several key components in a unit that led the nation in defending passes of 10-plus yards, they will be able to be just as talented this fall with a mix of older players and younger blood.

“I feel pretty good about it at this point,” Neal said. “We’ve installed a lot of defense for four or five guys having not played a lot of football here. ... It’s not great. It’s not perfect. There are still a lot of details, but at least we’re getting it in.”
EUGENE, Ore. -- In the midst of player unionization movements and NCAA rules discussions, the Oregon defense is reminding itself of a simple fact while working through spring practices: Football is fun.

“You know when you’re a kid and you can just run forever, you can play forever ... Somehow, sometimes football gets you so bogged down that the kids don’t play with that, that fun, spirited emotion,” Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “And football has to be fun.”

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Don RyanErick Dargan (right) and his teammates are trying to bring some swagger to Oregon's defense.
Fun obviously means something different to every person. Most people wouldn’t consider early-morning workouts or weight lifting until you can’t feel your quads to be “fun,” but for the Ducks, it is.

The idea is to get back to the joy most of these players felt when they were children, playing Pop Warner football in front of their parents and coaches. There’s no way to completely avoid the thoughts that they’re playing on national TV and that scouts and fans are going to have opinions. However, if each player can get to a place where he’s enjoying himself, the other stuff will take care of itself.

Coaches have scaled back in terms of the football verbiage. That means less jargon for the defense this spring, which hopefully translates to more big plays on the field in the fall.

“You have to reduce the thinking,” Pellum said. “You have to free them up to have a little more fun. You have to create practice situations where it seems fun, where it’s competitive. And you have to allow those kids to do it.”

And they’ve changed the verbiage a bit, too. Defensive back Erick Dargan said Pellum has been emphasizing two words for the defense this spring: attitude and swag.

“Attitude has always been there, but the swagger is becoming a bigger part because sometimes we lack swag,” Dargan said. “Swagger isn’t just about fashion. It’s about how we carry ourselves and how we get ready to play. Always being ready and confident. The swag -- it’s not about how you dress, it’s about how you wear it.”

Dargan said for the Ducks, that swag has been defined as dominating one’s area and doing it with confidence and strength.

The Ducks certainly need that kind of approach this spring as they aim to replace two starters on the defensive line and three in the secondary. The linebackers return starters and depth, which will help the defense as Pellum is also in charge of coaching the linebackers.

The Ducks allowed a Pac-12-best 4.6 yards per play last season. But when it came to third and fourth downs, Oregon struggled, allowing teams to convert on 40 percent and 46 percent of their attempts, respectively. Neither one of those statistics placed the Ducks in the top 40 nationally.

Another way the players are enjoying this spring is with intra-position group competitions. This winter, the competition level between players improved in the weight room, and that has continued onto the practice field this spring.

Some of the defensive backs have an open competition with interceptions. So far Dargan, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill are in. Any DB can throw his name into the hat, but there can only be one winner and that guy gets dinner from every other player in the ring.

Pellum isn’t encouraging each group to create these kinds of competitions, but he’s not going to make them scale back, either.

“All of that stuff is good,” Pellum said. “Friendly, good-spirited competition is good. This is the only time most of the kids are going to play football in their life, so they need to be enjoying every second of it.”

And if they are enjoying themselves this spring, while getting back to the fundamentals and playing with more spirit and confidence, Pellum believes there’s a better chance they’ll enjoy themselves during the 2014 season. Of course, wins are fun, and that’s also a big goal for Oregon. But right now, as the Ducks work their way through 15 spring practices, having fun is also a major concentration.

“We have to play with that spirit,” Pellum said. “We have to have a little more of an attitude. We have to play a little more disciplined, [be] tougher, meaner and have fun doing it.”
By most football standards, last season in Eugene, Ore., was a success. Under a first-year head coach the Ducks had an 11-win season while their 273.5 rushing yards per game and 291.5 passing yards per game were among the best in the country. But there was no Pac-12 championship and no BCS bowl game (ending the Ducks’ run of four-consecutive BCS bowl game appearances). So, year two is going to be as big of a test as the first for Mark Helfrich & Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next season could be huge for Oregon, but the foundation of what happens next December and January begins right now.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

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

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

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

Next up: North Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. Stanford

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

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

2. Washington

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

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

3. Oregon

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

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

4. Oregon State

S Tyrequek Zimmerman, DE Dylan Wynn, CB Steven Nelson

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

5. Washington State

LB Darryl Monroe, DT Xavier Cooper, ?

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

6. California

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

The skinny: We all know about the defensive injury issues the Bears had last season, which is why Lowe returns as the leading tackler and tied for the lead in interceptions with one (the Bears only had five all last season). Jefferson returns with the most sacks, and Kyle Kragen appears to be a good fit for the scheme. (Remember when Kameron Jackson had three in one game!) We’ll see how oft-injured but talented Stefan McClure fares at safety. Getting Sebastian back from injury will help in the secondary. The pass rush should be improved with Brennan Scarlett’s return.
The first day of Oregon’s spring practices is April 1 (no, we aren’t fooling you), which means we’ve got about three weeks until the Ducks take the field again. Last week we counted down the top five Oregon recruiting classes and this week we’re taking a look at the top five players to keep track of during spring ball.

No. 4: The guys who returned -- QB Marcus Mariota and CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 statistics:

  • Mariota: 3665 passing yards | 31 passing TD | 4 INT | 860 rushing yards | 9 rushing TD
  • Ekpre-Olomu: 84 tackles | 5 tackles for loss | 3 INT | 6 passes broken up | 9 passes defensed | 1 forced fumble
[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmo/USA TODAY SportsOregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is already considered a top NFL prospect.
Why to watch them: It’s always interesting to keep an eye on players who decide to pass up millions in the NFL to return to college for another season. Obviously, it’s an individual decision that each player makes, but whether they attack the next season with a chip on their shoulders or have cold feet about their decision remains a question that can only be answered once they hit the field. However, chances are that it will be chips on their shoulders for both Mariota and Ekpre-Olomu.

It would be surprising if either had seasons that were anything less than incredibly impressive, and that progression is likely start to show itself this spring. And there will be a chance for each player to prove himself as both are going to be asked to do even more than they did last season. Mariota is losing his No. 1 and No. 3 receivers; Ekpre-Olomu will be the Ducks’ only returning starter in the secondary. That kind of pressure should help to push these players to the next level, as they’ll be the team leaders.

Ekpre-Olomu said he chose to return because he wanted to progress as not only a player but a person and that he had unfinished business with the Ducks. From an accolades standpoint. there’s not a lot that Ekpre-Olomu can do that he hasn’t already accomplished. He was named an All-American and a is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

Mariota's name popped up in the Heisman Trophy conversation early in the season, but faded later. His numbers dropped a bit, the Ducks lost two games, Mariota was hobbled a bit by injury, and other players across the country put up bigger numbers. But this season, Mariota enters the season as one of the Heisman favorites, which is only helped by the fact that the Oregon’s offensive line returns talent and depth and is ready to protect him again.

But what’s notable about both of these players is how much they’ve progressed each season. Ekpre-Olomu’s tackle totals have gone from 34 to 63 to 84 in his three seasons. Meanwhile, Mariota's passing yardage totals gained nearly 1,000 yards from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and though his rushing yardage remained similar (752 yards as a freshman; 715 yards as a sophomore) he became more productive with his runs, finding the end zone with his feet nine times last season as opposed to five times as a freshman.

After this season, Ekpre-Olomu’s eligibility will run out; Mariota would have one more year. But if their seasons go as many expect they will, at this time next year both players could be first-round NFL draft prospects.

The countdown:

Poll: Top defense in 2014?

February, 14, 2014
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The shuffling of defensive coordinators appears to be over. We think. And as previously noted, all five of the top scoring defenses in the Pac-12 last year have seen changes at the top of the defensive coaching hierarchy. Three of the hires were internal promotions and two were coordinators who stayed with their head coach while switching schools.

This is how the top five scoring defenses played out last year:
  1. Stanford (19.0 points per game)
  2. Oregon (20.5)
  3. USC (21.2)
  4. Washington (22.8)
  5. UCLA (23.2)

Who got the better end of the deal? Sounds like a poll question for you to ponder all weekend long.

Which team will lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2014?

Your options:

SportsNation

Which team will lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2014?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    30%
  •  
    25%
  •  
    11%
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    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,124)

Stanford: Derek Mason departed to become head coach at Vanderbilt and Lance Anderson was promoted from within. The Cardinal lose some marquee players but have others such as safety Jordan Richards and linebacker A.J. Tarpley returning.

Oregon: Out is longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti, who retired. In is longtime position coach Don Pellum. The Ducks lose some talent but return standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who gives the Ducks' secondary instant credibility.

USC: Clancy Pendergast was not retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. So Justin Wilcox is in after working his magic at Washington. The Trojans lost a lot of players to the draft, but a couple key players are back and there is a pretty good crop of young, talented players.

Washington: New head coach Chris Petersen brought his guy, Pete Kwiatkowski, with him from Boise State. The Huskies made tremendous strides in two seasons under Wilcox and have some pretty solid personnel returning.

Other: UCLA's Lou Spanos returned to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich was promoted from within. Head coach Jim Mora will still oversee a lot of the defense. Though impact players like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh are gone, the Bruins have plenty of talent coming back. ... Arizona was sixth in the conference last year and made huge strides from 2012 to 2013. Can it keep the momentum going? ... Arizona State (seventh) also shuffled its defensive staff around with the hiring of Keith Patterson, though Todd Graham will still be heavily involved in the defense. ... Utah (eighth) is just two seasons removed from leading the conference in scoring defense. Can the Utes get back to the top?

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 15

January, 27, 2014
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s Top 25 players from the 2013 season continues.

You can review our 2013 preseason Top 25 here.

No. 15: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmo/USA TODAY SportsTeams rarely looked to challenge Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
2013 numbers: Ekpre-Olomu was second on the Ducks with 84 tackles. He also had five tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and nine passes defended. He also forced a fumble.

Preseason ranking: No. 8

Making the case for Ekpre-Olomu: This is always the dilemma when it comes to A-list defensive backs. Though his tackles were up from 63 last season, he had fewer passes defended, fewer interceptions and fewer forced fumbles. It’s not for lack of talent. And I don't think many would criticize him for having a bad season. Rather his reputation as a lockdown corner precedes him, and as a result, teams weren't throwing in his direction as much. A first-team All-American per ESPN, he was also a second-team All-American by several other publications and the Walter Camp Foundation. He already was slated as one of the top defensive back prospects in college football. Now that he’s returning to Oregon for another season, he’s going to get that much better, that much sharper and that much more polished. Expect him to be on pretty much every preseason All-America list and the postseason ones as well. His return gives Oregon’s secondary instant credibility.

The countdown:

Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.

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