USC Trojans: Washington Huskies

Four more spring games are set for Saturday, at which point more than half the Pac-12 will be done with spring ball. You know what that means ... the countdown to fall camp begins!

Here is quick peek at the four games being played this weekend:

Arizona State

Where: Sun Devil Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Arizona (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: When there are steaks on the line, like there will be in this one, you can pretty much guarantee a competitive atmosphere. Instead of an offense vs. defense scoring system, coach Todd Graham broke up the team with a good amount of starters on each side. Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead the maroon team and Mike Bercovici will quarterback the gold team, but the with nine starters departed off last season's defense, it's that side of the ball that will be worth paying attention to. Running back D.J. Foster, who has battled a minor toe sprain throughout the spring, will see limited action despite a clean bill of health. Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer will serve as the analyst on the Pac-12 Arizona broadcast.

USC

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It would have been a lot more fun if coach Steve Sarkisian waited until after the spring game to announce Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback. That way everyone could have overanalyzed the competition based on one meaningless game. But really, who are we kidding? The overanalyzation will go on regardless -- and Sarkisian did leave the door open for Max Browne to work his way back into the mix. It'll be interesting to watch both Kessler and Browne operate the up-tempo offense Sarkisian brought with him from Washington and how a rebuilt offensive line stacks up against a talented defensive front. The guys from WeAreSC kick around much more to pay attention to in this roundtable discussion.

Utah

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Mountain (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It'll be good to see quarterback Travis Wilson back under center in a game-like situation again, and even more intriguing because he'll be running new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense against the Utes' base defense. While the setting won't showcase the depths of the playbook, the Cliffs Notes version should provide enough to develop a better understanding of how things will be different next season. The clock will operate as it would in a regular game during a pair of 10-minute quarters in the first half and will use a running clock in the second half after an eight-minute halftime. If you're planning on attending, a food competition and MUSS football game will be held at 11 a.m. MT, with an alumni football game to follow at noon.

Washington

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

What to watch: Is Shaq Thompson the new Myles Jack? It has been a major storyline in Seattle throughout the spring how the talented linebacker -- and former minor-league baseball player -- is working with the offense. And after watching his some of his high school highlights, it's understandable why new coach Chris Petersen is intrigued by letting him go both ways. Any time there's a brand new coaching staff, the spring game carries a little extra sizzle, but it should also be noted those games aren't necessarily always as telling due to the lack of time the players have spent with the staff. It's a lot of fundamentals, a lot of evaluation, and the scope of what is accomplished is different when compared with schools with established staffs that are familiar with their rosters. Petersen has installed about 50 percent of the playbook. With Cyler Miles still suspended, quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams top the depth chart and will make their cases to replace the departed Keith Price.
Happy Friday!
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

SportsNation

Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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Discuss (Total votes: 970)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
Happy Friday!
Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay updated their top-10 lists at each position for the upcoming NFL draft.

Here's a look at how the Pac-12 offensive players stack up:

Quarterback

Marcus Mariota might have been taken No. 1 overall if he decided to leave Oregon, but without him the Pac-12 doesn't have any top-10 representation. Washington's Keith Price, who was not invited to the NFL combine, has a big day on Wednesday when the Huskies hold their pro day. Barring a team taking a flyer on him in the draft, Price is probably going to have to take the undrafted route to forge a NFL career.

Running back/fullback

The surprise here is how little both analysts think of Carey, who was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards. Sure, his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.70) didn't do him any favors, but this feels like a situation where the film isn't speaking as loudly as it does for others.

The love for Thomas was a bit surprising as well, but it's also tough to compare him to the rest of the group because he doesn't project as a true running back in the NFL. His versatility undoubtedly scored him points, but it also should be noted that 10 other running backs clocked faster 40 times at the combine -- including Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. See the whole list here Insider.

Receiver/tight end

Cooks and Lee, a pair of Biletnikoff Award winners, will both expect to hear their name called in the first round. After that, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pass-catchers fall into place.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOregon State wideout Brandin Cooks could be a first-round pick.
Notably absent is Colorado WR Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 40 at the combine and caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Buffaloes. He still figures to have a shot to go in the second-round to third-round range.

McShay lists Lyerla as the pass-catcher with the biggest risk:
Lyerla has some significant behavioral and emotional issues (leaving the Oregon program at midseason in 2013 and being arrested for cocaine possession weeks later) that just aren't worth dealing with, even for the potential reward his talent promises, were he to straighten things out.

See the whole list here Insider.

Offensive line

If they were quarterbacks, Yankey and Su'a-Filo would be forever linked. Widely regarded as two of the best offensive guards in the country, it will be interesting to see who goes off the board first. Su'a-Filo was the players' choice as the best offensive lineman in the conference in 2013, but Yankey was given the honor in 2012.

Martin is one of eight players Kiper and McShay agree is the best player at his position. See the whole list here Insider.
That was a crazy game of poker.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
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Whether it's rock and roll or old soul, it don't matter.
video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

It's now a common occurrence for seventh and eighth graders to collect scholarship offers and even make verbal commitments to schools. Defensive tackle Jacob Daniel didn't take that route to becoming an elite prospect. In fact, when Daniel was that age, he wasn't playing football at all.

[+] EnlargeJacob Daniel
Blair Angulo/ESPN.comJacob Daniel didn't grow up a football player but took to the sport quickly in high school.
"I was a basketball player and I didn't play football until my freshman year," said Daniel, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman who now checks in as the No. 61 overall prospect and No. 10 defensive tackle in the country. "I didn't even really like football."

Daniel began his career as an offensive tackle, but was moved to the middle of the defensive line as a sophomore. It was during that season when his football light went on.

"We were playing Clovis High and we were undefeated," Daniel said of a game his team would eventually lose. "There were about 5,000 people in the stands and there was all that noise. I thought, 'Wow, this is fun.' That sealed the deal for me with football."

Daniel said he now can't live without the sport and is extremely grateful that night put him on a path to where he is now. He gives California two of the top 10 defensive tackle prospects -- along with Rasheem Green -- which should make Pac-12 coaches extremely happy, considering the position has been fairly thin in terms of depth in the state over the past few years.

Thomas Toki and Kahlil McKenzie also give California four of the top 20 defensive tackles in the nation, and Daniel said he's had his eye on the group for a while now, watching their highlight tapes.

Daniel, Green and McKenzie had a chance to meet during a trip to USC for the Trojans' junior day this winter, and while Daniel said he had a good time with the other ESPN 300 prospects and that he could see them working well as teammates, there's no guarantee they'll wind up at the same school, as all three still have plenty of the recruiting process left to explore.

For Daniel, roughly 30 offers have been cut to a final 11 schools, and he'll look to take that group down to five by the summer. And when Daniel ultimately settles on one program and makes his commitment, the coach might want to take a moment to send a thank you to the fans that filled that Fresno football stadium two years ago.

About his recruitment: Daniel made an early commitment to Washington, but pulled away from that when Steve Sarkisian left for USC. Daniel cut his list to 11 schools this spring, as Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, California, Fresno State, Mississippi, Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington remain in the hunt. The big defensive tackle is looking to trim that list even further before summer begins, as he'd like to head into the long break with a top five schools.


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This week the Pac-12 blog had an opportunity to chat with new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and new Washington coach Chris Petersen, the man who replaced Sark in Seattle.

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Which new head coach has the most pressure heading into the 2014 season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,482)

Both schools present a different set of challenges and varying degrees of pressure and expectation. But which coach has the most pressure on him? Sarkisian’s and Petersen’s coaching careers from here on out will be closely intertwined, especially because Petersen was considered a candidate for the vacant USC job before withdrawing his name.

This has all the makings of a great Take 2. And maybe your Pac-12 reporters will tackle that one sooner rather than later. But for now, we thought we’d put it to a vote. Which head coach, Petersen or Sarkisian, has more pressure heading into the 2014 season?

Petersen: He comes to Seattle with a gleaming résumé. The name value alone means folks are expecting Petersen to do great things almost immediately. Whenever a big-time coaching job opened up, Petersen’s name was at the top of the list. But he chose Seattle because he felt the timing and the situation were right. But for all of the hype and expectation surrounding his hire, the simple fact remains that he has to replace quarterback Keith Price, who was the smiling backbone of the program; a Doak Walker finalist running back in Bishop Sankey; and the 2013 John Mackey Award winner in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There is some good talent at Washington, but that trio isn’t easily replaced. Sark did a good job pulling the program from the cellar, but many are expecting Petersen to get this team into the 10-win neighborhood.

Sarkisian: It’s USC -- one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the country. And with that comes nearly unparalleled scrutiny. Sarkisian took an important first step toward winning some credibility when he locked down an A-list recruiting class. But there are still those concerned that Sark isn’t the home-run hire befitting a season-long coaching search. Winning would change that, but a slow start would only amplify it. Not only does he have to prove he’s the right guy for the job, but he has to win back a fan base that’s grown weary of losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive seasons. The Trojans will soon be off sanctions, which should help in recruiting. However, if he doesn’t win right away, you have to question whether he'll be given enough time to fully implement his vision.

Spring position breakdowns: OL

February, 27, 2014
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues.

Arizona: The Wildcats welcome back four starters, losing only RG Chris Putton. This mostly starless unit led the second-best rushing attack in the Pac-12 and yielded the second fewest sacks (17) in 2013. Junior Lene Maiava, the line's top backup at OT and OG last year, is a good bet to step in for Putton. By the way, all the 2013 backups are back as well.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiAll-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu is back to anchor Oregon's offensive line.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils lose LT Evan Finkenberg and center Kody Koebensky, but welcome back three starters, a crew headlined by LG Jamil Douglas, an NFL prospect who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. Also back are RT Tyler Sulka and RG Vi Teofilo. Junior Nick Kelly will get first crack at center, while junior Evan Goodman was Finkenberg's backup last year. Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, Sil Ajawara and Stephon McCray also are in the mix inside.

California: Cal welcomes back all five guys who started the Big Game against Stanford, a crew that included three freshmen and one sophomore. Only one of those guys, sophomore Jordan Rigsbee, started the first game, and he had moved from LG to center. The truth is, these guys played OK late in the season, and you'd think they'd improve significantly after a year of seasoning. Rigsbee and LG Chris Borrayo are good players, and Chris Adcock and Matt Cochran will be back in the mix after injuries derailed their seasons. There's also juco transfer Dominic Granado and four redshirt freshmen. As with most positions after the Bears’ miserable 2013, this unit should be much-improved.

Colorado: Three starters are back from a line that often struggled in 2013 -- LG Kaiwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer and RT Stephane Nembot -- with LT Jack Harris and C Gus Handler departing. Crabb was the backup center last year, so he might get a look there. In the mix are junior Marc Mustoe, junior college transfer Sully Wiefels, sophomore Alex Kelley and four redshirt freshmen.

Oregon: The Ducks lose undersized OG Mana Greig, who often struggled last year, but welcome back four starters, though LT Tyler Johnstone will miss spring practices after knee surgery. Center Hroniss Grasu earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors for a second time last year and is a likely preseason All-American -- he was second team for the FWAA in 2013. OG Cameron Hunt, who started five games as a true freshman, is almost certain to step into a starting guard positions opposite Hamani Stevens. Junior Andre Yruretagoyena is a guy to watch, also. It's likely position coach Steve Greatwood will do a lot of shuffling this spring, working a variety of combinations that allow him to develop depth.

Oregon State: Two starters are back -- C Isaac Seumalo and RT Sean Harlow -- and three starters are gone: LT Michael Philipp, LG Josh Andrews and RG Grant Enger. Seumalo earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and could get All-American consideration this fall, while Harlow should be much-improved after taking his lumps as a true freshman. Sophomore Grant Bays, junior Josh Mitchell, junior Gavin Andrews and juco transfer Luke Hollingsworth are in the mix.

Stanford: While the Cardinal are replacing four starters from the Pac-12's best offensive line last season -- only LT Andrus Peat returns -- a number of the 2013 backups saw significant action. So the hope is Josh Garnett replaces David Yankey at LG, Graham Shuler steps in for Khalil Wilkes at center, Johnny Caspers replaces Kevin Danser at RG and Kyle Murphy takes over for Cameron Fleming at RT. And the best guys who don't beat them out will act as the sixth and seventh O-linemen in Stanford's now-infamous "jumbo" packages.

UCLA: While UCLA loses first-team All-Pac-12 guardXavier Su'a-Filo to the NFL, the Bruins should be strong on the offensive line after injuries force them to start three true freshmen last fall. And those freshmen, Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry, played pretty darn well, considering. Jake Brendel is back at center -- he and Redmond earned honorable mention all-conference honors -- and tackles Torian White and Simon Goines, starters sidelined by injuries last year, are back. Then there's Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and Conor McDermott and Ben Wysocki, among others. Figures to be a lot of competition this spring.

USC: The Trojans lost center Marcus Martin, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2013, and RT Kevin Graf, but welcome back sophomore LT Chad Wheeler, senior LG Max Tuerk and senior RG Aundrey Walker, though Walker will be out spring after breaking his ankle against UCLA. Further, with a new coaching staff on hand, there's sure to be competition and some position changes. Junior Cyrus Hobbi and redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers figure to battle at center, and with sophomore Zach Banner sitting out with an injury, senior Nathan Guertler and redshirt freshman Nico Falah likely will man the RT spot. True freshman early enrollee Toa Lobendahn also could get into the mix, as could true freshman Damien Mama when he arrives in the fall, though he plans to take a Mormon mission in 2015.

Utah: Utah loses two starters, LG Jeremiah Tofaeono and center Vyncent Jones, but welcomes back junior LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RG Junior Salt and RT Siaosi Aiono, though Isaac Asiata started the final three games at RT. Sophomore Hiva Lutui was the backup center last year, but he'll battle Nick Nowakowski for the starting job, while junior J.J. Dielman has the inside track at LG.

Washington: Not only does Washington welcome back all five starters from 2013, it welcomes back a crew that started every game together. (Well, actually, James Atoe started the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at RG for Colin Tanigawa). And not only that, this is the Pac-12's most veteran crew, perhaps the most experience group in the nation, with four senior starters and one junior. Oh, and not a single backup from the Apple Cup depth chart graduated either, though Erik Kohler took injury retirement. LT Micah Hatchie and LG Dexter Charles both earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year. This has a chance to be a very good line.

Washington State: Offensive line is a questionable area for the Cougars this spring. They lost three starters, topped by center Elliott Bosch, the line's leader in 2013, and three top backups. Junior LT Gunnar Eklund and junior LG Joe Dahl are back. Sophomore Riley Sorenson is almost certain to win a starting job, likely at right guard, while Sam Flor and Carlos Freeman will battle at center, while Cody O'Connell, Cole Madison, Devonte McClain and Jacob Seydel are in the mix at the vacant tackle spot.

Previous positions

Quarterback

Running back

Receiver
Two years ago, the Pac-12 had an Oregon problem. The Ducks had won three consecutive conference titles and were among the favored to make it four. They didn't. Now the Ducks, and the rest of the Pac-12, have a Stanford problem, as the Cardinal have won two titles in a row.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA fully healthy Marcus Mariota should again be one of the Pac-12's top Heisman candidates.
Further, considering that USC won six consecutive conference crowns from 2003 to 2008, it's fair to say the Pac-12 has a diversity problem. It didn't used to be like that. From 1995 to 2002, seven teams won conference titles. The only repeat winner? Washington State.

Is 2014 the season for a new color scheme at the top? Will the South (Division) rise again? (We're eyeballing you, UCLA.) While we're at it, will the conference, which last won a national title in 2004, break through this fall, finishing atop the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff?

These are the big-picture questions that start to get answered as Pac-12 teams begin spring practice. Stanford got rolling Monday. Arizona, Washington and Colorado hit the field next week. Oregon and UCLA won't get cracking until April 1, and the Ducks and Oregon State won't finish until May 3, officially sending us into the long, hot days of the summer offseason.

As is the case most years, there's a little old and a little new in the Pac-12 this spring.

Start with the head coaches. USC and Washington will hit the field for the first time with new guys in charge, making Oregon State and Utah the only two conference teams headed by the same guy since the 2010 season. Neither coach is much of a stranger. USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from the Huskies, and Washington turned around and lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State.

The bigger area of turnover was coordinators. Just three teams didn't make any changes on the top of their offensive and defensive units: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

There will be more stability at quarterback. Ten teams welcome back their 2013 starters, if we can be optimistic enough to include Utah's Travis Wilson, who will practice this spring with no contact but still has not been fully cleared to continue his career due to a pre-existing medical condition.

Arizona and Washington will stage full-on competitions to replace B.J. Denker and Keith Price, respectively. Wilson's uncertain status makes the Utes' QB situation complicated, while at USC, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne is expected to provide a strong challenge to incumbent starter Cody Kessler.

Meanwhile, the returning QB talent is strong. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley will be near the top of every preseason Heisman Trophy watch list. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion aren't too far behind.

The situation at running back and receiver is not as strong. The top four rushers from 2013 are gone: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney and Arizona State's Marion Grice. The top three receivers -- as well as USC's Marqise Lee -- also are off to the NFL: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/University of Southern California/Collegiate Images/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian has switched divisions but takes over a USC team that finished third in the Pac-12 South.
There are a lot of voids across the conference on defense as well. Just two first-team All-Pac-12 performer are back -- Ducks CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and USC DE Leonard Williams -- and just four on the second team. The six players who led the conference in tackles for a loss are gone: Stanford's Trent Murphy, UCLA's Anthony Barr, Oregon State's Scott Crichton, Arizona State's Carl Bradford, Utah's Trevor Reilly and Arizona State's Chris Young.

While Stanford and Oregon -- it used to be Oregon and Stanford -- will remain the favorites among many, both have big questions on defense. The Ducks will be projected ahead of the Cardinal, however, because of Mariota's return and Stanford having to replace Gaffney and four starting O-linemen.

Yet this go-around, Stanford has the winning streak in the series and consecutive crowns and Oregon has the chip on its shoulder.

"It's not that we should [have a chip on our shoulder]. It's that we need to," Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. "Like you said, Stanford has kind of had our number the past couple of years. … As one of the leaders on this team, it's my job to remind everyone that [Stanford] beat us the last two years. It hasn't really been a close game. It might be close by score, but they've dominated us in both performances. We need to have a chip on our shoulder in order to get where we want to this year."

That last line pretty much applies to every Pac-12 team this spring.

The conference was as deep as it's ever been in 2013 and a record six teams ended up ranked in the final Associated Press poll, but the conference produced just one BCS bowl team and no team finished in the final top eight.

Will a Pac-12 team advance from good to elite in 2014? Spring practice provides an important step toward that possibility.

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