USC Trojans: Pac-12
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. We've spent a week examining the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The final conference we'll look at is the Pac-12.
Biggest obstacle: Defense, defense, defense. While this conference is never short on skill, weapons, quarterbacks and big-play offenses, finding playmakers on the defensive line is a whole lot tougher. It is staggering to see that from the top 40 players we've graded from the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Utah and Nevada since 2006, there are only three defensive linemen. That is well over 3,000 players graded and just three defensive linemen. Unlike Florida, which borders several states that are loaded with prospects, California does not have this luxury surrounding it in numbers and quality. The Pac-12 has the juice and player pool to be good enough to play for the national championship with a few teams, but can they win it without being loaded up front on defense?
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Sometimes, it seems fairly clear a guy is going to play immediately, particularly the JC guys who aren't signed to sit. But every year somebody who is supposed to be ready to play isn't, and someone comes from no where to make a major impact.
So... who are some first-year guys who will see action this year?
Glad you asked.
Arizona: While B.J. Denker may win the starting job at quarterback, both JC transfer Jesse Scroggins and incoming freshman Anu Solomon are solidly in the picture. It would be hard to believe one or the other won't see significant action this fall.
California: The Bears will need some help at defensive end if Chris McCain's academics aren't in order, so JC transfer Kyle Kragen looks like a good candidate to step up and fill a sudden need.
Colorado: Freshman linebacker Addison Gillam was one of the top performers this spring, and he topped the post-spring depth chart at Mike linebacker.
Oregon: While RB Thomas Tyner is the biggest name in the recruiting class and likely to be immediately in the mix, you probably can arrive at more certainty with kicker/punter Matt Wogan. Of course, Ducks fans most certainly do not have a strong opinion about their field goal kicking the past two years, which hasn't cost them any big games or anything.
Oregon State: The Beavers have three JC transfers at defensive tackle: Edwin Delva, Siale Hautau -- who both participated in spring practices, at least until Hautau broke his hand -- and Kyle Peko. It's likely two of them will start and the other will play.
Stanford: It's possible no incoming freshmen will see significant action for the veteran Cardinal, but if you were to guess a name, receiver Francis Owusu is a possibility, considering receiver is the team's most unproven position.
UCLA: The Bruins are replacing all four starters in their secondary, so expect to see at least a couple of youngsters on the depth chart in the back-half. Tahaan Goodman is a good bet to start at safety.
USC: The Trojans had a handful of freshmen arrive early for spring drills, many of whom are certain to play, but safeties Leon McQuay and Su’a Cravens immediately looked like prospects to start, or at least see significant action.
Utah: JC defensive tackle Ses Ianu is a candidate to start at a position of extreme need after the departure of Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger. He was listed as an "Or" on the post-spring depth chart with senior LT Tuipulotu.
Washington: The Huskies are a veteran team with 20 starters back, so it's unlikely any incoming players will win starting jobs, at least other than kicker Cameron Van Winkle, who could challenge returning starter Travis Coons. May also want to keep tabs on Damore'ea Stringfellow at receiver.
Washington State: While the Cougars are deep at receiver and need help on the offensive line, the most likely incoming player to contribute is JC transfer Vince Mayle at receiver, the team's highest rated newcomer. Mike Leach's offense thrives when it can spread the field, and Mayle has the physical skills to help do that.
He shifted through some data and found five potential "sleeper" teams in 2013. And two are from the Pac-12: USC and Oregon State.
By sleeper, he means "teams that played better than their records showed in 2012 -- and might not need to improve all that much to be a factor in their conference races in 2013."
Here's his methodology:
Expected Points Added is a metric that surveys the game situation to measure how much a given play or drive affects a team's likelihood of either scoring or allowing points. ESPN's Production Analytics team has used EPA with the NFL for a couple of seasons, and this is how it works. This season, we'll be unveiling college football EPA.
Our college EPA operates in the same framework as the NFL, except for one significant addition -- an adjustment must be made for opponent strength, since it varies so greatly across college schedules. Offensive performance is graded against the quality of the opposing defenses, defensive performance is graded against the quality of the opposing offenses, and even the special teams are graded against the quality of the opposing units (kick return versus kick coverage, etc.).
USC was the most disappointing team in the nation last year. So why does Edwards like the Trojans?
To look at USC in this light, you must focus on the schedule. While the average fan might scoff at the suggestion that Pac-12 teams play defense, the truth is that the Trojans played several well-above-average defensive teams in 2012, and all but one of those games came in conference play. Three USC opponents -- Stanford, Notre Dame and Oregon -- ranked among the nation's top 10 in adjusted defensive EPA, and the Trojans' offense performed extremely well against the Ducks and moved the ball relatively well against the Irish.
Therefore, the opponent adjustment makes the 2012 USC offense look a lot better than it seemed on the field, although it still wasn't close to matching the preseason hype. When you consider that Barkley missed the final two games due to injury, including the offense's dismal showing in the Sun Bowl, there was at least an excuse for the late-season swoon.
As for Oregon State, Edwards believes the Beavers were underrated in 2012, ranking 20th at season's end when they should have been nearer the top-10.
There was nothing flashy about this group from an EPA standpoint. After opponent adjustment, the OSU offense and defense both ranked top 20 in the nation for the season, and the special-teams unit was top 30. The Beavers had the best single-game offensive EPA performance of the year against the BYU defense and the best single-game defensive EPA performance of the year against the Wisconsin offense.
The one thing that stood out in the EPA numbers for Oregon State is that the team was consistently solid but rarely dominant. Typically, when one side of the ball played well, the other side was fairly average. That explains why five of the Beavers' 12 games against FBS competition were decided by four points or fewer. If OSU had found a way to win more than half of those games, it might have had a final poll ranking in line with its EPA numbers.
The Pac-12 blog views both as potential top-25 teams with the potential to win as many as 10 games.
It will be interesting to see if one or the other potential sleeper -- or both -- becomes fully awake this fall.
What is a "returning starter"? Typically, it means a player who started at least five games in 2012, though in some cases it might include a 2011 starter who missed last season due to injury.
As a conference, 187 total starters are back from a possible 288, including punters and kickers. That's an average of 15.6 per team, which is well above the 10-year average of 14.9 returning starters. Last year, 173 starters -- 14.4 per team -- were coming back.
Washington returns the most with 20 starters, followed by Colorado with 19. Utah returns the fewest, with 12.
Here are the numbers:
That's an average of 7.1 players on offense and 7.3 players on defense. Last year, the numbers were 6.3 for offense and 6.8 for defense. The numbers are slightly down for specialists (1.2 versus 1.3).
Of the returning starters, 12 were first-team All-Pac-12.
Of course, returning starters don't mean everything.
USC was widely celebrated for its 19 returning starters in 2012, which earned it the No. 1 ranking in the preseason Associated Press poll. Things didn't go so well thereafter. Meanwhile, Arizona State went a surprisingly sound 8-5 with just 10 returning starters, fewest in the conference in 2012.
And, of course, the conference's top two passers, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley, are both off to the NFL.
The returning members of the 2.5 K Club are:
- UCLA's Brett Hundley (3,740 yards, 29 TDs, 11 Ints, No. 4 in passing efficiency)
- Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 Ints, No. 2 in passing efficiency)
- Washington's Keith Price (2,728 yards, 19 TDs, 13 Ints, No. 8 in passing efficiency)
- Oregon's Marcus Mariota (2,677 yards, 32 TDs, 6 Ints, No. 1 in passing efficiency)
There's a reason why Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State are highly thought of heading into 2013: Proven production returning behind center. And if Washington can get Price back to top form, the Huskies become a top-25 team.
So how does everyone else stack up? Which teams seem likely to get 2,500 yards passing next fall?
Well, there's lots of "To be determined" intrigue.
TBD, Arizona: B.J. Denker will enter fall camp atop the depth chart, but this one is far from over. If USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, who owns by far the biggest arms on the roster, wins the job, the Wildcats are almost sure to pass for 2,500 yards. Coach Rich Rodriguez, though widely viewed as a spread-option coach, showed last year he's comfortable throwing, so Denker or incoming freshman Anu Solomon also could put up solid passing numbers.
TBD, California: New coach Sonny Dykes likes to throw the rock around. Louisiana Tech averaged 351 yards passing per game last year. So whoever wins the QB job -- we're betting on Zach Kline -- will almost certainly hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, Colorado: The Buffaloes struggled to the throw the ball last year, but new coach Mike MacIntyre might solve that, seeing his San Jose State Spartans passed for 332 yards a game last fall. Connor Wood, the frontrunner to win the job, has the arm to throw the ball around, but it's a matter of putting it all together.
TBD, Oregon State: Sean Mannion nearly made the above list, passing for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 interceptions last year, ranking fifth in the conference in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game with 244.6. But he's still knotted with Cody Vaz in the competition for the starting job. If one guy starts the entire season, he will put up strong passing numbers because Mike Riley teams always do.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: The Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in passing last year with just 200 yards per game, but part of that was a scheme that played to a rugged defense and Hogan not winning the job until after midseason. Hogan is plenty capable, and his supporting cast is solid. Expect Hogan to at least hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, USC: Whether it's Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, the USC QB will throw for at least 2,500 yards if he maintains his hold on the job. While Lane Kiffin likes balance, there are too many passing game weapons not to attack downfield, starting with All-American receiver Marqise Lee.
Travis Wilson, Utah: The Utes were last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation in passing in 2012, but Dennis Erickson is now their co-offensive coordinator. One of the original architects of the spread passing attack, it's highly likely Utah will substantially boost the 190.7 yards passing a game it produced last fall. Wilson is fully capable of throwing for 2,500 yards, and the Utes are solid at the receiver position.
Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday still isn't free-and-clear of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, but he's a solid frontrunner in the competition. Whoever wins the job, he will put up big numbers in Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system. The Cougars couldn't stick with a QB last year, going back and forth with Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but they still led the Pac-12 with 330.4 yards passing per game. If Halliday starts 12 games, he'll throw for 4,000 yards.
And there was much rejoicing!
So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!
1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.
3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.
4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.
5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.
1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.
2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.
3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.
4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.
5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 5-4
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 6; special teams: 1
Top returners: WR Marqise Lee, TB Silas Redd, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Randall Telfer, OL Kevin Graf, DL Leonard Williams, OLB/DE Morgan Breslin, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Dion Bailey
Key losses: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, OL Khaled Holmes, DL Wes Horton, DB T.J. McDonald, DB Nickell Robey, RB Curtis McNeal, P Kyle Negrete
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Silas Redd* (905 yards, 9 touchdowns)
Passing: Matt Barkley (3,273 yards, 36 touchdowns)
Receiving: Marqise Lee* (1,721 yards, 14 touchdowns)
Tackles: T.J. McDonald (112)
Sacks: Morgan Breslin* (13)
Interceptions: Dion Bailey* (4)
1. Agholor is ready to go: USC has been fortunate to have a pair of dynamic receivers recently in Woods and Lee. With Woods taking his talents to Buffalo, the question of who will fill that second receiver spot was answered resoundingly in the spring with a terrific performance by Agholor. It’s not a complete surprise to see this happen, as Agholor had shown flashes as a true freshman, but it was a bit of a shock to see him at such a high level. With Lee sidelined for much of spring with a minor knee injury, Agholor stepped up and was the most consistent offensive performer of spring.
2. New defense gets positive reviews: The offseason arrival of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast also brought a new 5-2 scheme for the Trojans, and there was a lot of anticipation to see how things would fit. After 15 practices, the results were fairly solid, especially in the front seven. The defensive line looks strong in the middle -- led by Williams and George Uko -- while Breslin picked up where he left off last fall with 3.5 sacks in the spring game. Pullard looks set at one inside linebacker spot with much-improved Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao still fighting it out for the other open spot.
3. Early enrollees as good as advertised: The Trojans took advantage of the early enrollee signing period by bringing in seven freshmen to take part in the spring session. It was a star-studded group led by QB Max Browne and S Su'a Cravens. All seven had moments showing why they were so highly touted with the most impressive all-around performance coming from tailback Justin Davis, who had Lane Kiffin saying he could push for the starting job in the fall.
1. Quarterback battle: The most high-profile position battle didn’t get settled in spring, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes when there is no decision, it’s because nobody is playing well -- that’s not the case here. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek have both shown enough to take over the starting spot after being in the program for two full years. Kessler was steady and came away with the unofficial nod as the projected starter from most practice observers. Wittek missed some time with a knee injury but still showcased the strong arm that will keep this battle going into fall camp. Browne will likely redshirt this year behind those two, but his talent is obvious.
2. Filling the cornerback spots: The need to get things settled at cornerback is the biggest concern coming out of spring. There were simply too many big plays from the USC receivers against a defensive scheme that needs the corners to be effective in coverage. It’s such a glaring problem that Kiffin said he will likely move Josh Shaw from safety to corner in the fall. Shaw had played corner last fall, but he moved to safety in the spring and was the best player in the secondary. The good news is that the Trojans should have plenty of bodies at safety to absorb the loss.
3. Impact of injuries and physical practices: There was a lot made of the fact that the Trojans were going to increase hitting in practice as part of the plan to be more physical in 2013. Kiffin had elected not to hit last fall in part to keep the team healthy with reduced roster numbers, but he ultimately decided that tackling in practice was simply too necessary. Then the injuries started to hit and by the time the end of spring rolled around, the Trojans had 20 players on the sidelines with various ailments, and they couldn’t tackle in the spring game. It’s unclear what the practice policy will be in the fall on this important issue.
The Conference of Quarterbacks saw two of its own tumble precipitously, USC's Matt Barkley to the first pick of the fourth round, and Arizona's Matt Scott to undrafted. Meanwhile, four of its five first-round picks were defensive players. And the offensive guy was a lineman.
Oregon was the top-dog, with five picks, including two in the first round and one in the second. USC, which once held that position on a near-annual basis, ended up with an underwhelming four -- same as UCLA -- the first being receiver Robert Woods in the second round, 41st overall.
Arizona and Arizona State, 2012 bowl game winners, were both shut out, while woeful Colorado produced two draft picks.
The conference as a whole supplied 28 draft picks, a number that ranked third among FBS conferences.
The SEC led the way with an extraordinary 63 draft picks. In fact, this article here does a nice job of quantifying how stunning the SEC's dominance was in the draft, not unlike how it has dominated the BCS.
The seven-team SEC East actually had more draft picks than any other conference with 32. That, in fact, is the number of SEC draft picks in the first three rounds.
Yeah... well. Heck. I don't even know what to say about that.
The ACC was No. 2 with 31. After the Pac-12, the Big 12 offered up 22 with 10 teams as the Big Ten did with 12. The Big East had 18.
Scott, who signed a free agent deal with Jacksonville, wasn't the only player who likely was surprised to not hear his name called. Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas, two times a first-team All-Pac-12 performer, went undrafted and signed a free agent deal with New Orleans.
Other free agent signings of note:
- Washington State QB Jeff Tuel: Buffalo Bills
- UCLA TE Joseph Fauria: Detroit Lions
- California RB C.J. Anderson: Denver Broncos
- Utah CB Ryan Lacy: New Orleans Saints
- Arizona State LB Brandon McGee: Dallas Cowboys
- USC CB Nickell Robey: Buffalo Bills
- California DE Aaron Tipoti: Buffalo Bills
- USC S Jawanza Starling: Houston Texans
- Utah P Sean Sellwood: Atlanta Falcons
- Utah C Tevita Stevens: Washington Redskins
- Colorado LB Doug Rippy: Denver Broncos
- UCLA CB Aaron Hester: Denver Broncos
- Stanford CB Terrence Brown: Cincinnati Bengals
- Colorado S Ray Polk: Seattle Seahawks
- Oregon LB Michael Clay: Miami Dolphins
- Oregon DT Isaac Remington: Philadelphia Eagles
Here's how things unfolded for the conference in the draft, round-by-round:
First Round: 3. Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon: Miami; 14. Star Lotulelei, NT, Utah: Carolina; 20. Kyle Long, OG, Oregon: Chicago; 22. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: Atlanta; 26. Datone Jones, DE, UCLA: Green Bay.
Second Round: 35. Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford: Philadelphia; 41. Robert Woods, WR, USC: Buffalo; 46. Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon: Buffalo.
Third round: 71. T.J. McDonald, USC, S: St. Louis; 76. Keenan Allen, WR, California: San Diego; 79. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Pittsburgh.
Fourth round: 98. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Philadelphia; 107. Brian Schwenke, OL, California: Tennessee; 109. David Bakhtiari, OT, Colorado: Green Bay; 121. Khaled Holmes, OL, USC: Indianapolis; 125. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA: Green Bay; 133. Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford: Atlanta.
Fifth round: 140. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: Arizona; 145. Steve Williams, CB, California: San Diego; 155. Jeff Locke, P, UCLA: Minnesota.
Sixth round: 172. Nick Kasa, TE, Colorado: Oakland; 182. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Carolina. 192. John Boyett, S, Oregon: Indianapolis; 196. Jeff Baca, OL, UCLA: Minnesota.
Seventh round: 212. Joe Kruger, DL, Utah: Philadelphia. 218. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State: Philadelphia. 236. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: Chicago. 247. Marc Anthony, CB, California: Baltimore.