Oregon Ducks: Thomas Tyner

It's hard not to look up and down the Pac-12 rosters and marvel at some of the offensive talent at just about every school. With 10 starting quarterbacks coming back, the fall promises to bring many sleepless nights for defensive coordinators in the conference.

And while the embarrassment of riches under center is one obvious storyline, there are plenty more dynamic position groups to keep an eye on.

We've been highlighting where each position group stands with camp rapidly approaching, and today we discuss which of those groups deserves to be considered the best of the best.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesUSC's Nelson Agholor had 56 catches for 918 yards last season.
Chantel Jennings: This was hard, and for me it came down to running backs and wide receivers. But, considering how great the quarterback situation is in the Pac-12, I think the receivers, conference-wide, are going to have huge seasons. Go down the line and pick out guys who are going to be major, major names to know this year: Arizona State -- Jaelen Strong, Stanford -- Ty Montgomery, Oregon -- Devon Allen, USC -- Nelson Agholor, Utah -- Dres Anderson, Washington State -- everyone and their mother. Quarterbacks are only good when there are receivers on the other ends of their passes and this group of receivers will make this group of quarterbacks look very good (and vice versa).

What makes this even more impressive is to look at the wide receivers that are gone after the 2013 season. Oregon State lost Brandin Cooks. Colorado lost Paul Richardson. Oregon lost Josh Huff. USC lost Marqise Lee. That's some serious yardage and production to lose in one season. But even with that loss, this position group -- in my opinion -- is going to be incredibly impressive this upcoming season. In 2013, the Pac-12 played stage for the eventual Biletnikoff Award winner. I think the same could be true in 2014.

Kyle Bonagura: With so many talented receiving groups out there (don't sleep on Cal), it's hard to go with one over the other, but I'm not convinced that's the case at running back. Kevin Gemmell took a look at each team's group of backs, and while he classified three (Oregon, USC and Arizona State) as being in great shape, it's pretty clear what group stands out: Oregon.

There's only a select few places in the country where Byron Marshall or Thomas Tyner wouldn't be the unquestioned feature back. At Oregon, they might be the second and third best options on their own team. Behind quarterback Marcus Mariota, of course. That's scary. And after the trio combined for 2,464 yards and 32 touchdowns a year ago, there is every reason to expect more in 2014 -- starting with the fact that they'll be running behind one of the best lines in the conference.

Taking everything into account -- especially the element Mariota adds -- finding a better offensive backfield in the country would be a tough task. There are schools that have more impressive workhorse-type backs, but Oregon's unique combination between its style of play and talent, for my money, is unmatched.
Over the past few weeks we examined the Ducks, position-by-position, evaluating the talent. But since I was in Eugene last week for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, I figured I'd stop by the football offices to check in with one of the guys who knows that information best, offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Today, we'll go through quarterback and running back highlights. Tomorrow, we'll get to wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line.

QUARTERBACK

  • They're certainly not shying away from any Heisman hype at this point in the year. On quarterback Marcus Mariota, Frost said, "We certainly think we have the best one in the country" and that "he throws better than anyone in the country." Well Jameis Winston, there you have it.
  • I was curious about Mariota's injury situation -- a lot of times when guys come back there might be some hesitation or some ounce of doubt still in their minds about their knee, or ankle or whatever. Frost isn't worried about it. He said that even a few weeks after the injury Mariota wanted to get the knee brace off. Frost also said that Mariota would've run for 200 yards in the bowl game (he rushed for 133 yards) but he was out of shape from the injury.
  • As far as the quarterback-not-named-Mariota situation, redshirt sophomore Jeff Lockie is the No. 2 guy this season ("without question," Frost said.). Frost doesn't seem concerned that the only backups on the roster at this point are Lockie and redshirt freshman Taylor Alie. Lockie was 8-of-13 last season for 57 yards and one interception. Alie is a local walk-on, but Frost did note how impressed he was with Alie's spring.
  • Alie will likely be the holder for field goals this season.
  • Regarding last season's backup, Frost said that they felt comfortable with both Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who has transferred to San Diego State, but if they would've had to name a backup, it would've been Lockie. But that the coaching really didn't want to "finalize the outcome of that competition until a point in time when we [needed] to."
  • On whether the flip side of having such a great QB like Mariota is the fact that you do get attrition with other guys: "Quarterbacks are a unique breed. … They're the leaders. They're used to being the guy. It's tough for guys to come in and not play. We've had a great one, which is a good problem to have. But a lot of the guys behind him hadn't had the chance to play as much as they'd like."
  • Fun note: Frost lauded Mariota for being good at many different things, but apparently golf is not one of those things.
RUNNING BACK

  • On the Thomas Tyner vs. Byron Marshall debate -- Frost said there's a lot of confidence in both players. He said that it took Tyner a while to really get up to speed, but that he's there now and that Frost likes the competition between these two. Seems like even if there is a lead back and a No. 2 back, there really might not be a ton of separation in reps or carries.
  • Both have really good hands, but Frost said both "need to work on running routes a little bit and making sure they know more than one spot."
  • The first non-Tyner-Marshall player that Frost brought up was incoming freshman Tony James. James is the No. 14 RB in the 2014 class and chose the Ducks over offers from Auburn, Florida State and Ohio State.
  • On how the Bralon Addison injury affects the running backs: "We'd be silly if we just leave one running back on the field and most of these guys off the field. I can see us playing with more than one, using them in some other roles.
  • Frost cited the 2011 season when the Ducks used LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner together a lot, saying that might be something we see this season. That season James rushed for 1,805 yards, Thomas rushed for 595 and Barner rushed for 939. I don't think Frost is saying that 2014 will necessarily be another 4,000-rushing yard season, but, this idea of multiple-back situations keeps coming up a lot.
  • Apparently, Chip Kelly used to use, what he called, the "taser" position -- a guy that can play tailback, flanker and slot. This is something they're looking at using more of next season with Tyner or Marshall, it sounds like. Even if Addison weren't injured, this would've been something they would've considered doing more of this year.
  • In closing, Frost put it best: "We want our best five on the field for the situation all times. There have been times that's four running backs. There have been times that's two tight ends. And there's times that's four receivers. So, we'll just have to get through camp, figure out who our best guys are and go from there."
Welcome to the Friday mailbag.

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And you can follow my personal Twitter feed here... if you dare.

To the notes!

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Ted, The blog is very well run, but I feel you all are very conservative on your predictions and forecasts. What is a prediction of yours for this upcoming season from left field? For me, I see a 6-0 start for Colorado and a bowl win (I am not a Colorado fan). Also, with the conference being so deep and the possibility of another two-loss conference champ being relatively high, do you see a two-loss Pac-12 champ still making the playoff?

Ted Miller: Gemmell, chilling on vacation in an undisclosed, beachside location, just sent a bite of his fish taco skyward toward the Pacific Ocean after reading that I am "very conservative."

So you want some predictions from out of left field?
  • The SEC won't win the national championship for the second consecutive season.
  • That's because Oregon and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota will go undefeated. As in 15-0.
  • UCLA will not make the College Football Playoff because of two losses to the Ducks.
  • Either Oregon State or Washington State is going to win nine games this season.
  • Seven Pac-12 teams will finish ranked in the final AP poll.
  • By signing day 2015, the Pac-12 will have two new head coaches.
  • At some point, the Pac-12 blog will be wrong.

I know. That last one is nuts.


Matthew from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I'm a huge ASU fan, and student at ASU. I'm only 19 years old but I attended my first ASU game at two months old and I've witnessed 20 seasons. I read your articles and I love what you have to say, but I'm just curious about your response to Todd Graham's nephew. I think it's an interesting article, but I just wonder if you and other analysts are downplaying what Todd Graham has done. I see here you say he inherited much more talent than Rich Rod, but I don't know if I agree with that. I think he inherited an undersized defense and he built it into what it has become. He took Will Sutton, who was a head case on and off the field, and straightened him out. I remember flashes of Sutton during his freshman year, but he just couldn't figure out his head, and I think Graham deserves credit there. I also think Graham has recruited juco players, size, speed, and defense, where Rich Rod has recruited very few defensive players (according to the ESPN recruiting services). As such a big fan of ASU, U of A hasn't had offensive problems over the past few years, they just don't play defense and to be honest, I was scratching my head when U of A went with Rich Rod because his defense was so pathetic at Michigan. I think both coaches have done a great job at their positions, but I don't understand why ESPN is so anti-Todd Graham and ASU.

Ted Miller: I stand by what I wrote last week. Most objective observers would agree that Todd Graham inherited more talent at Arizona State than Rich Rodriguez inherited at Arizona.

That doesn't take anything away from how well Graham coached his players. In fact, you could make the argument that Graham coached his team better overall, and he deserves a tip of the cap for going 2-0 against Rodriguez. You could even argue that he's recruited better, though two years doesn't define a coach as a recruiter.

That said, if you were scratching your head when Arizona hired Rodriguez, well, I have a hard time believing that. It was a home run hire, period. There were a variety of reasons he didn't do well at Michigan -- a significant portion of those being out of his hands -- but the chief one, at least to me, was his not convincing his West Virginia defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, to follow him to Ann Arbor.

To support this point, let's consider the Arizona and Arizona State defenses last year. The Wildcats yielded fewer points per game (24.2 vs. 26.6) and yards per play (5.3 vs. 5.5) than the Sun Devils, despite having zero first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 performers on that side of the ball. The Sun Devils had six.

Yes, Arizona State played a much tougher schedule, particularly on the nonconference side of things. But the Wildcats held Oregon to a season-low 16 points.

I agree with this: Both coaches have done a great job (so far). It will be interesting to see how things stack up in the next five years, but both schools should enjoy their growing Pac-12 and national relevance.

Graham probably will never win over all his critics, and that includes fans, media and carping competing coaches. He's a fast-talking guy who's moved around a lot and has a reputation as being hard to work for.

But what I've realized in the past two years is he's one of the most authentic coaches out there. I actually "get along" with some coaches better, but I also know they, on occasion, are working me over. Graham, on the other hand, is always working me over. He's 100 percent consistent.

Graham's garrulousness that sometimes makes him seem like a used-car salesman? That's who he is. It's not an act. He's like that off the record. He's like that with a recruit's family. He's like that when he eats lunch with his assistant coaches. He's never low-key. He's always working, always competing. He is a driven, hungry son of a gun. My impression is he genuinely means what he says -- at least more than most coaches do -- and that includes trying to do things right, on the field and off.

Observing that Graham inherited more talent than Rodriguez isn't a tweak on Graham. It's just an observation that I believe is supported by substantial evidence.


Corey from the Netherlands writes: As a Ducks fan, one of the stories of this year is how Byron Marshall responds to some serious competition from Thomas Tyner. Everyone seems ready to give the job to Tyner based on talent alone, and the situation got me thinking about Alabama in 2009, with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Of course, Ingram held off the more talented Richardson to win the Heisman Trophy that year, albeit with rather mundane numbers for a Heisman winner. I doubt Marshall nor Tyner will end up on anyone's Heisman list (we have a much better candidate!), but I have this feeling that both will be over 1,000 yards on the season, with Marshall in the top 2-3 in the conference, Tyner top 10. What do you think?

Ted Miller: A Ducks fan in the Netherlands. Hmm. I hear Amsterdam is beautiful this time of year.

What do I think? Byron Marshall/Thomas Tyner or Thomas Tyner/Byron Marshall -- it doesn't matter. It's a great luxury for run-first teams to have two capable backs. The competition will make both of them better and more hungry for touches. As long as one or the other doesn't whine about his role, things should be fine.

As for who's 1A and who's 1B, I have no idea. That's a question that will be resolved in preseason practices. If I were guessing, I'd predict that Marshall will trot out with the first-team offense against South Dakota on Aug. 30, but it will be up to him to hold on to his perch as the first option.

The goal should be for the pair to combine for 2,300 to 2,700 yards, not unlike the production of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in 2010 and 2011. It's notable that Barner didn't hit 1,000 yards while playing behind James, so that benchmark isn't terribly important -- overall production is.


Jeff from San Diego writes: Ted... As a Trojan who has attended games since the John McKay era, in the words of the immortal Marv Goux, "UCLA is a boil to be lanced before playing Notre Dame." Beating UCLA is all well and good, but there is NOTHING better than beating Notre Dame -- the GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB. The history, the Heismans, the NCs...Yes, beating UCLA is required, but NOTHING compares to Notre Dame for a true Trojan!

Ted Miller: Maybe, but I do think context matters.

The present context is UCLA rising as a national power after having beaten the Trojans two years in a row. While USC has also lost two in a row to Notre Dame, the Bruins' recently elevated status in the context of the crosstown rivalry seems more notable, at least from a media perspective.

I'm sure some "true" Trojans value wins over Notre Dame more, though I suspect many of these are of an older generation. I'd also wager that plenty of "true" Trojans would, if forced to make a call, prefer beating UCLA this season compared to Notre Dame.

Another change in context: Sharing the South Division in the Pac-12. While the Notre Dame game is the "GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB," losing to UCLA has even more ramifications in a divisional format compared to the old Pac-10 format.


Jim from Goleta, Calif., writes: The term "blue-chip recruit" seems to be thrown around in both football and basketball recruiting and seems to mean a can't-miss guy that everyone is fighting over. Where did this term come from? Is it so ubiquitous that I am the only one who dosn't know where it came from?

Ted Miller: Blue chips, traditionally, are high-value poker chips. That's why the term was then applied to stocks, with a "blue chip stock" being stock in a large and profitable company that was a long-time industry leader.

The terms were almost immediately adopted when recruiting coverage began and gained wide acceptance and use in the 1980s and 1990s, though I couldn't figure out who first used the term "blue chip" to describe a prospect. There was a publication called "Blue Chip" magazine in the 1970s, and you can read about the early days of recruiting coverage here.


Zach from Seattle writes: I love the Pac-12 blog, and have been following it since I was a student at UW. The stories I enjoy most are usually the in-depth ones that cover a single theme with a focus on each school per story (example, the current "Key Stretch" series). However, the depth of the analyses you run usually restrict you to produce one story on each school per day. The blog usually tackles these stories in alphabetical order by school name. For fans of schools starting with a U or a W, that means we usually need to wait for a week or two to hear about a story regarding our school after cycling through the other 10-11 stories in the same vein from other schools. I can't help but feel that as writers, you feel that a story inevitably stales out by the 12th time you write it. My suggestion is that you not reduce the depth/quality of these stories but try to randomize/shuffle/invert the order you report these stories occasionally to let the Utahs, USCs, UCLAs, UWs and WSUs of the conference get some exposure to the fresh news that UA and ASU currently enjoy on a weekly basis. Seems like an easy fix, yes? Keep up the excellent work.

Ted Miller: Now Zach, we've done plenty of features in reverse alphabetical order.

Such as this. And this.

If we did a random shuffle, many fans would go ballistic. And I'd probably lose my place.

I will also say that no feature ever -- EVER -- grows stale for me. We commit to each story with 100 percent of our focus and passion whether that team starts with an A or a Z.

That's the Pac-12 blog guarantee.


Dave from Kabul, AFG writes: "Life is full of great joys...," you wrote, but I feel the need to remind you that one of them is ROFL-ing with glee over the newly posted worst-case scenario for a hated Pac-12 rival. Granted, people may have had trouble grasping the concept of the column, and I can see the trouble balancing the over-the-top fantasy with an actual best/worst case limits prediction. Still, if this column does go softly into that good night, where else shall I find such Hugo Award-caliber flights of fancy regarding these august programs I've come to know and love, respect and despise? A Husky Fever Believer.

Ted Miller: I truly appreciate the notes about the likely end of the Best-case/Worst-case stories.

I just don't think I have it in me this season. These pieces have grown more monstrous every year, and the idea of a reduction in scope or length is as unappealing as trying to top last year's efforts.

It's not just the time commitment, either. I don't want to seem melodramatic or whiny here, but my chief worry over the years when doing these is letting a team down. Basically, I've had one day to come up with something, and I'd be in a panic in the middle of the night when I thought my piece for Team X was crap.

Again, not to be whiny, but I wrote one last year for a middle-of-the-pack team -- 1,600 words -- decided it was stupid and then completely rewrote it, finishing it in the wee hours of the morning. Still didn't like it.

I've got a week off coming up, and I've told myself to look at some options but, as noted, it feels as if the well has run dry.
This week on the Oregon blog we took a look at five players (or rather, four players and one position group) who stood out through spring practices for the Ducks.

The group contained two defensive nods and three offensive nods. There was one no-brainer (quarterback Marcus Mariota) and a few backups from 2013 who could make huge impacts in 2014. And the most important standout this spring was the defensive line -- which got the nod as an entire position group after looking much improved in the Ducks' spring scrimmage.

Check out all five Oregon spring standouts here:

No. 5: WR Devon Allen
No. 4: S Erick Dargan
No. 3: QB Marcus Mariota
No. 2: RB Thomas Tyner
No. 1: The defensive line
The spring season for Oregon was relatively un-newsworthy (with the exception of the Bralon Addison injury). And when it comes to spring football, un-newsworthy is typically a good thing. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t standouts.

This week we’re going to take a look at five standouts from spring practices.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsNo matter who wins the RB battle, Thomas Tyner will get his carries.
No. 2: RB Thomas Tyner

By no means has Tyner secured the starting running back spot for the Ducks. That race, between Tyner and Byron Marshall, will likely go on for months. And with how much the Ducks might run the ball next season, and how much both could be used, there might not be a huge difference in carries between the lead and second back.

However, Tyner had a really big spring for the Ducks. When I spoke with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich at Pac-12 spring meetings in Phoenix a few weeks ago, I asked him about his general thoughts from the spring and the first thing out of his mouth was how Tyner had been really consistent and impressive through the 15 practices.

The Ducks averaged 6.3 yards per rush last season, which was sixth nationally and the best for the Pac-12. They’ll want to keep that average up again in 2014, especially early in the season as the Duck receivers are still getting their feet wet. But where Tyner could help the most is in the open field -- where he has top-end speed and heavy hitting abilities (just ask Dominique Harrison if he has recovered from trying to tackle Tyner in the spring game). Tyner in the open field is a scary proposition for opposing defenses. Over the past four seasons, 19.5 percent of the Ducks’ rushes have gone for 10-plus yards. With the ball in Tyner’s hands early and often, that number could see its five-year high.

There were certainly other running backs that had solid springs (Marshall, included). The run game, as always, will continue to be a strength for the Ducks, but after seeing Tyner this spring and hearing about his progress, it might be an even bigger bright spot for Oregon this fall.

Other spring standouts:

Spring games primer

May, 2, 2014
May 2
4:00
PM ET
The final spring games of 2014 will take place in the state of Oregon this weekend. Here's a few things to keep an eye on.

Oregon

Where: Autzen Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week), KUJZ (95.3) in Eugene and KXTG (750 AM) in Portland.

What to watch: Oregon reporter Chantel Jennings had a nice summary on Thursday of some storylines to keep an eye on. It will be interesting to see how backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are used. Both have even gotten some work at wide receiver this spring as the Ducks look to find a replacement for the injured Bralon Addison. Though that’s likely more situational than anything. Still, both are fighting for carries to see who will be the No. 1 back in 2014 behind an offensive line that has bulked up significantly. … Admission to the game requires three non-perishable food items. Parking is $5 per vehicle, though shuttles are provided. After the game, Oregon players will donate their jerseys to approximately 100 service members.

Oregon State

Where: Reser Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: The offensive line has been an issue all spring because of the absence of some starters due to injury. That’s opened up opportunities for others to get some reps, but coach Mike Riley has expressed some frustration about not being able to build some chemistry with a starting five. A lot of eyes are on Victor Bolden as the guy who could step in to replace Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks. The backup quarterback spot is also of note, so look for Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio to make a push as Sean Mannion's No. 2. … Activities begin at 10 a.m. with the 50-yard line sale. There will be an autograph session at 10:45 a.m. and stadium gates open at noon.
Happy Friday.

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To the notes.

Jake from Spokane writes: What do you think Chris Petersen should do with Cyler Miles and Damore’ea Stringfellow? I know Miles wasn't charged and Stringfellow got off easy, but don't you think he should make an example out of them?

Ted Miller: Yes. And no.

As many of you know, I typically side with second chances. I think zero-tolerance is bad policy. Everything should be a case-by-case basis. For one, there's typically two sides to every story, with the less public, after-the-big-headlines side often being closer to the truth -- see past assault accusations against former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Or Duke lacrosse, for that matter.

I know the self-righteous out there love to tell everyone about their inflexible absolutes with behavior and Puritan standards for character. My experience with people like that is they almost always are full of pooh.

And yet a line I often do draw is at bullying, which the two incidents involving Miles and Stringfellow approximate. A bigger person pushing around a smaller person just because he can is abhorrent. That, to me, does reveal a deep-seated character flaw. The fact that alcohol apparently wasn't involved actually almost makes it worse. When you can't blame the booze, what can you blame, other than a flawed moral compass?

Based on what I know typing this today, here's what I would do if I were Petersen.

First, I would meet with a crew of Huskies seniors who command respect in the locker room and ask their positions on the situation and why they feel that way. I would ask if there were details of the incidents that they knew of or had heard of from reasonably reliable sources that differed from public accounts. I wouldn't ask what they thought I should do, but I would take the measures of their feelings toward both, including whether those feelings were different between the pair.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen hasn't announced the punishment for Washington players Cyler Miles and Damore'ea Stringfellow.
Barring any major surprises, I'd then meet with Miles and tell him he was being conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first game (at Hawaii, so he'd truly be missing a fun trip). I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with strength coach Tim Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third. A quarterback, in particular, is supposed to set a standard in the locker room.

Then, I'd meet with Stringfellow. He too would be conditionally reinstated, though he would be suspended for the first three games. I'd provide him a list of in-house punishments, which would include a generous amount of extra quality time with Socha.

And I would tell him that this was his second chance. There won't be a third.

I'd publicly announce my decision in May or June so it wasn't a big, distracting story right before the beginning of preseason practices. I'd also have both of them meet with the media, though only after a stern session with myself and sports information director Jeff Bechthold, where we'd hammer home talking points about being humble, regretful and accountable while not reviewing too many details of the incidents. Something like, "I know I won't do this again because of how horrible I felt and still feel for hurting someone and embarrassing my family, my school and my team."

I'd also minimize the "put it behind me" talk, which always comes off as lacking regret while suggesting impatience with a justifiable inquisition. Want to win a news conference? Say, "No, I'm not going to put this behind me. I'm going to think about it every day to remind myself of what it feels like to be a bad person, which I never want to feel again."

These situations typically involve a complicated calculus, particularly when the players are key contributors, as both of these guys are. Petersen has a duty to his players, fans, administrators and himself to do what he was truly hired to do: Win. Yes, he should aim to build character and help young men grow into quality adults, but the reality is that comes in second place to winning. Sorry if that bursts your idealistic bubble, but there's a reason why even the greatest teachers aren't paid $3 million a year.

That said, bad apples in a locker room don't help the cause. Sometimes temporary pain -- suspensions or giving players the boot -- helps a program, helps it win over the long term.

My impression of Petersen is he's the clearest of thinkers. While most of us view this as the first big test of his administration, I suspect it feels fairly routine for him.


Tim from Portland writes: Hey Ted, I wonder if I'm the only one thinking that the loss of the Ducks' top four receivers could actually be a good thing. I know we lose a lot of numbers with those four out, but isn't it possible Oregon could go back to the blue-collar attitude they had in Chip [Kelly's] first couple years as head coach? I mean, in those years at least we met or exceeded the expectations for the season.

Ted Miller: Yes, Tim, you are the only one thinking that.

Are you saying that Bralon Addison's blowing out his knee this spring is a good thing? My answer to that: No. One thousand times no. Have you seen Addison play? Before he got hurt, I saw him as a legitimate All-Pac-12 candidate.

And, no, losing your top four receivers is never a good thing, either. Never. Well, unless they all ran 5.0 40s and were locker room cancers.

Also, I'm not sure if I've ever viewed Oregon as a "blue-collar" team. I see Oregon as a cutting edge, fancy-pants team that has the best facilities in the nation and gets to go behind the velvet rope at all the cool clubs.

I'd also like to point out that the Ducks' horribly disappointing season included 11 wins, a dominant bowl victory over Texas and a top-10 final ranking.

Now, if you're saying the Ducks might run the ball more next fall with four returning starting O-linemen, a good crew of tight ends and what should be a dynamic RB combination in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, I could get on board with that.

That said, quarterback Marcus Mariota is an A-list passer. While there are unknowns at receiver, I suspect the cupboard isn't empty. I'd be surprised if Mariota doesn't throw for at least 250 yards per game.


Dave from Tucson writes: Ted, thanks for some good, informative articles on football. Just a minor reporting point on this: "...Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker." Actually, Matt Scott had beaten out Nick Foles to start the 2009 season and started two games before being benched for Foles. Denker also started a game and played the entire game against Colorado in the 2012 season when Matt Scott was down with a concussion. Matt Scott was not a first-year starter in 2012 and Denker was not a first-year starter in 2013.

Ted Miller: I think you're mixing up "first-time" and "first-year."

Both Scott and Denker had started games and seen action before ascending officially to the starting job, but neither was a returning starter, which is typically defined as starting at least five games during the previous season. Nick Foles preceded Scott as the 2012 starter, and Scott preceded Denker as the 2013 starter.

And, just as Washington QB Cyler Miles, despite starting at Oregon State, was not the Huskies' starting QB in 2013. That was Keith Price.


Mr. Elizabeth Bennet from Salt Lake City writes: I enjoyed the quote you added to your lunch links from April 16. I wonder what your thoughts are on how Jane Austen would have commented on the state of college football, given all the clamoring for change that has happened and the widening gap of aristocracy between the conferences? Also, which "Pride & Prejudice" character best describes each Pac-12 football coach/team? It seems like the Pac-12 blog does a good job as the Elizabeth Bennet of the college football world, offering witty, but insightful commentary on the society within college football.

Ted Miller: I think it's a universally acknowledged truth that Jane Austen would have been a heck of a sportswriter, full of sense and sensibility as well as persuasion. While some -- mostly those who haven't read her -- probably see her as some sort of "chick-lit," the reality is she's a wonderfully biting observer of how folks behave, not to mention underrated when it comes to humor.

As for Austen and college football, she's already commented. You may not know this, but Lady Bertram in "Mansfield Park" is the personification of the NCAA, a novel, by the way, that includes these two felicitous quotes:

  • Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
  • A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

As for the "Pride and Prejudice" request, I'm not going to wander down that road -- who wants to be Wickham or Collins or Lydia? -- but I will say Chip Kelly had plenty of "Darcy" in him.


EUGENE, Ore. -- A team is only as good as its twos and threes -- or so says Oregon wide receiver coach Matt Lubick. If that’s true, the Ducks are about to find out how good they are in the passing game.

While the addition of former Ducks basketball player Johnathan Loyd to the football team brought some excitement last week, it was quickly overshadowed by the news that wide receiver Bralon Addison had torn his ACL.

While there have been several success stories of players who’ve returned quickly from these types of injuries, considering the timing of Addison’s injury, Lubick needs to count on his twos and threes for the brunt of the receiving duties in the 2014-15 season.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB Thomas Tyner might need to make more plays in the passing game this season.
“They’re very eager,” Lubick said of his youthful players. “They’re excited to learn. If there’s a blessing in disguise about an injury happening at this time it’s that it gives those guys reps now as opposed to right in the middle of the season when they wouldn’t get as many reps.”

And those guys need to take the reps considering the personnel situation in the wide receiver corps.

Of the Ducks’ top 10 leaders in receptions last season, the top four will not be playing next season (that includes Addison, who was the No. 2 receiver last season). Those four players accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Ducks’ receptions and 72 percent of the Ducks’ receiving yardage. As a group, receivers 5-10 last season accounted for only slightly more catches than Josh Huff did on his own.

And of those six players who return, only two are pure receivers -- Keanon Lowe and Chance Allen. The other four are tight ends (John Mundt and Pharaoh Brown) and running backs (Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall).

“The neat thing about spring ball is you’re trying to figure out about your team,” Lubick said. “Is our best personnel group two tight ends? Is our best personnel group two running backs or is it still three wideouts? We still don’t know that. We’re still trying to find that out.”

Over the past three seasons Oregon has had a running back in its top four receivers, including the 2012-13 season when running back De'Anthony Thomas led the team in receptions. However, for Tyner or Marshall to boost themselves into the top four, they’d have to nearly triple their receptions next season. It’s certainly possible, but Oregon would still need receivers to step up because they’re not going to be able to throw to backs or tight ends on every play.

The two returning receivers from last season’s top-10 group -- Lowe and Allen -- only accounted for 23 catches, 331 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.

However, it’s not ridiculous to believe that such inexperienced players could make a huge jump in just one season. From the 2011-12 season to the 2012-13 season Colt Lyerla and Daryle Hawkins went from just 12 combined catches to 50 catches. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season Addison went from 22 catches and 243 yards to 61 catches and 890 yards.

But when Lyerla, Hawkins and Addison made those jumps there were several other players making huge impacts from a receiving standpoint as well, guys like Thomas and Huff. This season, Lowe and Allen won’t have that luxury because there aren’t other experienced players around them in the passing game.

Another issue for the Ducks is that the young guys are going to need to play above their age from a consistency and blocking standpoint. Generally, blocking isn’t one of the aspects emphasized for most high school wide receivers and so they get to college and need to learn that skill.

“At Oregon, it’s not just about catching balls,” Lubick said. “You have to be able to make plays without the ball. You have to be able to make plays with the ball. You can’t do one without the other, you have to do both. That’s sometimes the biggest adjustment for guys who weren’t used to doing that in high school.”

Lubick said that he, offensive coordinator Scott Frost and coach Mark Helfrich will be looking for the most consistent wide receivers through the spring and those will be the ones who get the starts in the spring game.

“The good thing about it is we have a lot of talent, a lot of resources and our offense gives us a lot of flexibility to have a whole bunch of personnel groupings,” he said. “… To be in our offense, whether you’re a tight end or running back, you have to know all the spots. It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”

But chances are, no matter who steps up, there will be at least a few completely new names catching balls during the spring game.

On one end will be a possible Heisman contender (assuming his receivers can help boost his passing yards) and one of the best-known quarterbacks in the nation. And on the other end will be a bunch of the Ducks’ twos and threes. People know how good QB Marcus Mariota is. Now, according to Lubick’s reasoning, they’ll find out how good the passing offense is as a whole.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on on the Metaphysician Network.

To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.
It might be a very different looking Oregon team that takes the field next fall … and not because of the uniform changes (though, those are sure to be something different). Instead, the guys wearing those uniforms might fill them out a bit differently.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks and Tennessee Volunteers
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOregon is hoping the weight gained by player like Johnny Mundt will not affect the team's speed advantage.
Through this winter, several players went through some significant weight changes by making minor tweaks in the strength and conditioning program. But coach Mark Helfrich is hoping that the weight gains aren't just shown physically but in how the players take the field, as well.

“Hopefully a lot of that is confidence,” Helfrich said. “Just that edge of you feeling a little better about yourself, you’re moving a bit more, you’re physically bigger. It’s just you’re coming into the play with more confidence and that’s a big deal.”

Defensive lineman Sam Kamp put on the most weight of any player, packing on another 29 pounds and fellow lineman T.J. Daniel added 22. Not to be outdone, the offensive linemen packed on more than 100 pounds as a unit, with guard Doug Brenner leading the way with 26 pounds and Matt Pierson, Cameron Hunt and Elijah George all bulking up at least 20 pounds.

“I think we’ve kept our speed and athleticism,” center Hroniss Grasu said. “The added weight gain is just there to get us more physical and blowing the defensive line off the ball where we lacked that toward the end of the season.”

But it wasn’t just the big men making significant changes. Tight end John Mundt packed on 20 pounds and in the linebacker group, guys like Tyson Coleman, Joe Walker and Tyrell Robinson all put on at least 15 pounds.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota is up to 218 pounds and hopes to be at 220 for the start of the 2014 season, while both leading backs made some important changes -- Byron Marshall lost six pounds (down to 201 pounds) while Thomas Tyner added 14 pounds and is up to 215.

With all of the weight gain the main concern would be that the high-powered offense the Ducks feature might be lacking some of that Oregon speed, but the players have tried to keep up their speed with the added weight. Mundt said that one of the focuses was finding that sweet spot for each player at which he stayed as fast as possible but got as big as possible.

“We were all pushing each other in the weight room and in conditioning,” Mundt said. “We’ve all gotten better and stronger, so that’s a good thing. … I think we have more strength and size across the board, but we’re still moving fast.”

Added bulk is certainly going to benefit this team,and as long as each guy can still move the same, the only teams struggling with the weight gain with be opponents. In May, if a player doesn’t appear the same when he takes the field for the spring game, it’s not the uniform, it’s the guy in the uniform.
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.
There are still two weeks until Oregon begins spring practice, but that won’t keep us from looking ahead and making predictions about what we'll see in the spring game.

Prediction No. 1: Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner will carry the ball 35 times in the spring game.

Why: Last season, the Ducks were the second-most prolific offense in the nation, falling just behind a potent Baylor attack. Oregon accounted for 565 yards of offense per game and 7.55 yards per play (also second best, this time to Florida State).

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Thomas Tyner should get ready for some additional work.
Mariota led a balanced offense, with about half of that production coming from the running game (273.5 yards per game, 6.3 yards per rush). The Ducks tallied 42 rushing touchdowns and scored a rushing touchdown, on average, once every 13 carries.

Though the Ducks lost De'Anthony Thomas, they still return their top three rushers --- Marshall, Mariota and Tyner. Marshall led the Ducks with 14 rushing touchdowns and 86.5 rushing yards per game and Mariota and Tyner accounted for nine rushing touchdowns each, creating a three-headed monster that found holes in nearly every defense.

A season later, these three should be even better as they’ve matured in the game, know the playbook better, and have another cycle of offseason conditioning and strength training.

The rushing attack will need to be more prolific this season, at least early on. The Ducks lost their No. 1 and No. 3 receivers, so other offensive players are going to need to make up for that lost production. It doesn't necessarily need to come from other receivers (though, per prediction No. 4, the tight ends will step up), and with how much experience Oregon returns in the run game, it seems like Oregon might attack with the rushing game early and often to get the offense moving. In situations such as the Sept. 6 game against Michigan State, don't be surprised if the Ducks favor the run over the pass. And don't be surprised if you start to see the pieces of that puzzle forming in the spring game.

In the May 3 scrimmage, with these three on the field (and a defensive line that will still be making major shifts and adjustments), they’ll be able to run wild. Mariota will look to get the ball down the field, but don’t be surprised if these three account for 35 carries in the spring game -- an increase of four carries from the trio’s average of 31 per game last season.

Other spring game predictions:

  • No. 5: The D-line won’t be as far along as people would like
  • No. 4: The tight ends will be more involved in the pass game
  • No. 3: Cameron Hunt will make the most noticeable strides on the O-line
  • No. 2: The offense will look great ... the defense certainly won’t
There are still two weeks until Oregon begins spring practice, but that won’t keep us from looking ahead and making predictions about what we'll see in the spring game.

Prediction No. 2: The offense will look great … but the defense certainly won’t.

Why: This isn’t a huge surprise. Offenses can evolve more quickly (especially when so many players on the offensive line return) and it theoretically takes less for them to impress fans than a defense. On top of that, because the defense does have more players to replace, the Oregon offense will be playing a group that is still in building mode.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall and the Oregon offense should be ahead of the defense this spring.
This won’t necessarily be the case in 2015 if Marcus Mariota leaves and the offense finds itself trying to find its way under a new quarterback. But for now, the core of the offense -- Mariota, the offensive line and the top three rushers (Mariota, Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner) -- return. It will take more work to get the receivers up to the level of the rest of the offense, but (see prediction No. 4) there’s a decent chance the tight ends will get more involved in the pass game.

So, essentially, this spring game isn’t going to tell a whole lot about this team. Yes, Mariota should look great. The offensive line should be able to move the line of scrimmage against a less experienced defensive line, and the running backs -- who have ample experience -- should be able to find the holes and get solid gains.

Those are all certainly things that will make every fan excited, but also remember that it’s also Oregon’s defense out there. The defense will have many more yards to make up and though they’ll show improvement, they’ll be the lesser skilled group out there on the field on May 3.

The best benchmark for the team is at won’t come until the second week of the season when Michigan State, the reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions, comes to Eugene. That will be the first great defense that Mariota and his arsenal will face, and it will be the first good offense that the Ducks will face and try to slow.

Other spring game predictions:

  • No. 5: The D-line won’t be as far along as most would like
  • No. 4: The tight ends will be far more involved in the pass game
  • No. 3: Cameron Hunt will make the most noticeable strides on the O-line

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
7:15
PM ET
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: With Ka'Deem Carey off to the NFL, figuring out Arizona's running back situation requires a bit of guesswork. Backups Daniel Jenkins and Kylan Butler are out of eligibility and rising junior Jared Baker tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. That leaves no running backs who had a carry last season. Those competing for carries will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green, and true freshmen Jonathan Haden, an early enrollee, and Nick Wilson.

[+] EnlargeOregon/Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesByron Marshall will be the Pac-12's leading returning rusher in 2014.
Arizona State: The torch was passed from Marion Grice to D.J. Foster toward the end of last season, and Foster will have a full offseason to prepare to be the No. 1 guy. He showed impressive flashes in spot playing time in the past two seasons, and ran for 318 yards (6.2 yards per carry) in three starts after Grice was lost to injury.

California: Much was made about Brendan Bigelow's talent during his career in Berkeley, but it never materialized the way many expected it would. He was beaten out by true freshman Khalfani Muhammad a year ago, then opted out of his final year of eligibility for a shot at the NFL -- and subsequently was not invited to the combine. Getting a feel for how coach Sonny Dykes would like to use his running backs is tough considering the lopsided nature of most of the games last year, but Muhammad showed all the signs that he would develop into a good Pac-12 running back.

Colorado: Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II will both be back after combining for 1,097 yards rushing in 2013. With receiver Paul Richardson off to the NFL, there's the need for added production on offense, and while coach Mike MacIntyre showed at San Jose State he'd prefer that to come through the air, it could add up to more opportunities for Powell and Adkins.

Oregon: Does it even matter who the Ducks hand the ball to? Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but, regardless, Oregon remains loaded with speed and talent at running back. Byron Marshall (1,038 yards rushing) and Thomas Tyner (711 yards) will both see plenty of carries when quarterback Marcus Mariota (715 yards) isn't running on his own. The team does lose De'Anthony Thomas, who opted to leave early for the NFL, but Thomas turned into a relative afterthought last season anyway.

Oregon State: It shouldn't be hard to improve the Beavers' running game after they ranked 115th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. Their top two backs -- Terron Ward and Storm Woods -- return and figure to see more use under new offensive coordinator John Garrett. There was a glimpse of what could be against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl as the Beavers unleashed a more balanced approach. Woods ran for 107 yards on 16 carries and Ward added 54 yards on nine carries in a comfortable 38-23 victory.

Stanford:The Cardinal's running back situation is outlined here in more detail, but it should be noted that the competition between Remound Wright, Barry J. Sanders and Ricky Seale -- competing to replace Tyler Gaffney -- will also include Kelsey Young. Young was recruited to Stanford to play running back, but was switched to receiver and is now back at running back. Sanders has the name recognition, but all signs point to Wright getting the first crack at being the primary back. However it plays out, it would be a complete shock if one back was used as much as Gaffney was in 2013 and Stepfan Taylor the two seasons before that.

UCLA: If things play out the way UCLA coach Jim Mora hopes they will, linebacker Myles Jack will be just that … a linebacker. After winning Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year, the Bruins would ideally keep him on defense. For that to happen, someone needs to step up. That conversation still includes Jordon James and Paul Perkins, while Craig Lee, a four-star recruit who redshirted last year, also factors into the equation.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen will likely head up USC's running back committee next season.
USC: After watching Bishop Sankey turn into one of the nation's premier backs under the tutelage of new coach Steve Sarkisian, USC's deep stable of running backs has to be intrigued. The Trojans will return four of their top five leading rushers from a year ago -- Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis, Ty Isaac -- when they were predominantly a run-first team. Allen, who was named the team MVP in 2013, figures to get the first crack at being the starter, but that could be just in name only as a running-back-by-committee scenario seems likely.

Utah: Another season, another new offensive coordinator for the Utes. This time it's Dave Christensen's job to invoke life in the Utah offense, which will return leading rusher Bubba Poole (607 yards) and Lucky Radley (284 yards). The Utes averaged just 4.1 yards a carry as a team last year, which is partially to blame for the change from Dennis Erickson to Christensen after just one year.

Washington: The NFL combine taught us that Bishop Sankey might have been the most physically gifted running back in the country last year. It's not as simple as plugging in another guy to replace him, but the Huskies are still in good shape. Senior Jesse Callier (48 carries, 213 yards in 2013), who was slated to be the starter before an ACL tear in the season opener in 2012, is intriguing and will compete with fellow senior Deontae Cooper (43 carries, 270 yards) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (27 carries, 332 yards).

Washington State: Considering quarterback Connor Halliday had three single-game passing totals that were more than leading rusher Marcus Mason ran for in entire season (429), any discussion about the Cougars' running game is tough to take seriously. Yes, there will still be running backs on the roster. No, they probably won't combine to run for 1,000 yards as a team.

Previous positions

Quarterback

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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Kanell's College Football Playoff Teams
Danny Kanell discusses which teams he would pick for the College Football Playoff and predicts the winner.
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