USC Trojans: Connor Wood

Pac-12 lunch links: Players on mend

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
11:30
AM PT
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic, universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.

What’s ahead for the Trojans

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
5:00
AM PT
With the dismissal of Lane Kiffin and the naming of Ed Orgeron as interim coach, the current bye week provides an opportune time for USC (3-2 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) to take a deep breath. But with the most challenging stretch of their schedule still to come, the Trojans will need to regroup in a hurry. With that in mind, here’s a week-by-week look at USC’s remaining regular-season opponents.

Oct. 10
Arizona
Record: 3-1, 0-1 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Rushing offense: 291.5 yards per game (No. 2 Pac-12, No. 9 overall)
Passing offense: 111.2 yards per game (No. 12 Pac-12, No. 117 overall)

Notes: Hosting a rare Thursday night contest, the Trojans will take on an Arizona team that began the season on the right foot, but was brought back down to earth by Washington this past Saturday. Still, the Wildcats are no pushover, and tailback Ka’Deem Carey -- No. 3 in rushing nationally with 143.7 yards per game -- spearheads an extremely potent ground attack. Quarterback B.J. Denker is another capable rushing threat, but he’s struggled in the passing department, completing just 50 percent of his throws. On the other side of the ball the Wildcats have made strides since last season, ranking No. 2 in the Pac-12 with a turnover margin of plus-five.

Oct. 19
At Notre Dame
Record: 3-2
Key team statistics
Total offense: 380.2 yards per game (No. 88 overall)
Total defense: 364 yards per game (No. 46 overall)

Notes: A team that started out with high hopes, Notre Dame has hit a couple of bumps in the road so far. The Irish were completely overmatched in their recent 35-21 loss to Oklahoma. The defense has looked sharp at times, but not on a consistent basis like last year’s unit. Quarterback Tommy Rees has completed just 39.7 percent of his passes over the last two games, and he was picked off three times against the Sooners.

Oct. 26
Utah
Record: 3-1, 0-1 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Scoring offense: 42 points per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 19 overall)
Passing defense: 288.2 yards per game (No. 11 Pac-12, No. 111 overall)

Notes: Utah’s only loss came in a 51-48 overtime thriller to Oregon State, and as a whole, the Utes appear to have improved from 2012. Travis Wilson has settled in nicely at quarterback, directing an offense that averages more than 500 total yards per game. Led by a stout front seven, the defense has already compiled 15 sacks in four contests but the secondary has been picked apart at times.

Nov. 1
At Oregon State
Record: 4-1, 2-0 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Passing offense: 420.6 points per game (No. 1 Pac-12, No. 2 overall)
Total defense: 405.6 yards per game (No. 10 Pac-12, No. 71 overall)

Notes: The Beavers haven’t faced the stiffest of competition as of yet, and they lost in an opening day stunner to Eastern Washington, 49-46, so it’s hard to gauge just where they are. Quarterback Sean Mannion has been lighting it up, completing more than 67 percent of his passes for 403.6 yards per game -- the No. 1 mark in the nation. The defense hasn’t been so efficient, however, allowing 31.6 points per game.

Nov. 9
At California
Record: 1-3, 0-1 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Total defense: 512.5 yards per game (No. 12 Pac-12, No. 119 overall)
Passing offense: 373 yards per game (No. 2 Pac-12, No. 4 overall)

Notes: It’s been a rough go for coach Sonny Dykes in his first year in Berkeley, as the team’s sole victory came against FCS-level Portland State. Cal was blasted by Oregon last Saturday 55-16, due in part to another less than stellar outing from a defense that ranks near the bottom of the conference in just about every statistical category. Freshman signal caller Jared Goff has showed promise, passing for 1,317 passing yards -- the No. 12 mark nationally -- but he appeared shell-shocked against the Ducks and was pulled in the first quarter.

Nov. 16
No. 5 Stanford
Record: 4-0, 2-0 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Rushing offense: 219.5 yards per game (No. 5 Pac-12, No. 31 overall)
Rushing defense: 105 yards per game (No. 3 Pac-12, No. 21 overall)

Notes: The 2012 conference champs, the Cardinal have been a thorn in the Trojans’ side as of late, taking five of the last six meetings. They’re currently in the midst of a 12-game winning streak. Featuring an imposing offensive line, a physical tailback corps and the Pac-12’s top-rated passer in Kevin Hogan, Stanford has been grinding it out on offense with typical efficiency. Defensively, linebacker Shayne Skov and Co. have been staunch, particularly against the run.

Nov. 23
At Colorado
Record: 2-1, 0-1 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Rushing offense: 115.7 yards per game (No. 10 Pac-12, No. 103 overall)
Passing defense: 300.3 yards per game (No. 12 Pac-12, No. 115 overall)

Notes: While Colorado has already doubled the team’s win total from 2012, it was exposed this past weekend in its first matchup with a formidable opponent, losing 44-17 to Oregon State. Quarterback Connor Wood and wide receiver Paul Richardson have certainly developed some solid chemistry, but the Buffs have failed to establish any element of a ground attack, and the defensive backfield has been exploited.

Nov. 30
No. 12 UCLA
Record: 3-0, 0-0 Pac-12
Key team statistics
Total offense: 614.3 yards per game (No. 1 Pac-12, No. 2 overall)
Scoring defense: 18 points per game (No. 4 Pac-12, No. 29 overall)

Notes: No matter what happens leading up to the Trojans’ clash with the Bruins, there will still be plenty on the line as USC will look to make a statement in the battle for Los Angeles. It won’t be easy though. UCLA head coach Jim Mora has the Bruins rolling right now, thanks to a prolific offense led by quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranks No. 11 nat8ionally in total offense (335 yards per game).

Pac-12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
9:00
AM PT
Kevin Gemmell went 7-0 last week and improved to a scintillating 33-3. Ted Miller went 6-1, missing with his Holy War pick, a selection he made only to put the stink on BYU. But Utah fans shouldn't send any more checks his way.

Miller therefore fell to 31-5. Gemmel; is already making plans for the $1 million he gets if he wins the season.

All games are Saturday.

Arizona at Washington

Gemmell: Not sure what to make of Arizona yet. It hasn’t been pressed, and the passing game is still a question mark. Taking on a Washington team that has been pushed -- and is at home -- seems like a lot to overcome. And I wouldn’t worry about Washington looking over the horizon to the Stanford game next week. It'll be focused on revenge after what happened last year in Tucson. Washington 38, Arizona 24.

Miller: The Wildcats have had two weeks to prepare, but a team can't really prepare for an atmosphere like Husky Stadium. While Wildcats QB B.J. Denker has played in road games, this will be a new level of extreme. The real issue is how effective Denker is throwing the football. If the Wildcats can achieve efficient balance, the holes will be bigger for RB Ka'Deem Carey. It also will be interesting to see how the Wildcats newly stout defense holds up against the Huskies' highly rated offense. Washington 35, Arizona 20.

USC at Arizona State

Gemmell: Plenty of great sidebars and storylines in this must-win game for both teams. The Sun Devils are holding on to whatever national credibility they have by a thread. USC is riding the coattails of its defense. If Arizona State can put together 60 minutes instead of 15, I think it wins by a couple of touchdowns. If it doesn't, it could be tight. ASU 24, USC 21.

Miller: We know USC's defense is good. Do we yet know if the Trojans' offense is going to be this bad all season? The first question is whether Trojans QB Cody Kessler's throwing hand is 100 percent. The passing game went south against Utah State last weekend after he got hurt. And what will Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly be able to do against that tough USC defense? Arizona State 21, USC 17.

Colorado at Oregon State

Gemmell: Much like Arizona, I’m waiting to see what Colorado is really made of. I love the start, and everyone feels good about the Buffaloes being 2-0. But Oregon State’s passing game has been wickedly efficient and the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection is one of the best in the country. The Buffs will score points, but before I start picking them in a league game on the road, I need to see just how much they’ve grown up. The two weeks off is also a wrench in predictions. They could be super rested, or super rusty. Oregon State 48, Colorado 38.

Miller: Colorado is a better team than it was in 2012, we know that. But being better and being ready to win on the road in the Pac-12 are two different things. I want to see what Buffs QB Connor Wood and WR Paul Richardson can do against a suspect Beavers defense. Oregon State 40, Colorado 28.

California at Oregon

Gemmell: Another step in the maturation of Jared Goff. Being down defensively isn’t where you want to be when playing Oregon -- especially on the road. No reason why the Ducks don’t keep things rolling. Oregon 49, Cal 21.

Miller: Both teams were off last weekend, and Cal needed a break. But Autzen Stadium isn't a place to go to heal a season. I think this one might get a bit lopsided. Oregon 50, California 20.

Stanford vs. Washington State (in Seattle)

Gemmell: Will be interesting to see how the Cougars attack Stanford early with Ed Reynolds out for the first half. I'm guessing they go at the heart of the Stanford secondary because running against the Cardinal will be a chore. Turnovers have been Washington State’s Achilles Heel (11 total, minus-3 ratio, worst in the league). Stanford will do what Stanford does. And what Stanford does should be more than enough. Stanford 31, Washington State 17.

Miller: Stanford will be missing All-American OG David Yankey, too, so the Cougs' front-seven will be catching a break. No guard in the country is better at pulling, so that hits the Cardinal's bread-and-butter. But Stanford figures to take this one seriously because the Cougars gave them trouble last year, is an obviously improved team and the Cardinal turned in a woeful fourth quarter last weekend against Arizona State. Stanford 35, Washington State 22.

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:00
AM PT
Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
It all seemed so simple before Week 1 of last year. Six quarterback competitions, six resolutions before the first game of the year.

Taylor Kelly had won the gig at ASU. Jordan Webb set foot on campus and was almost instantly Colorado’s starter. Marcus Mariota outdistanced Bryan Bennett. Josh Nunes was Andrew Luck’s successor. Brett Hundley was an exciting unknown, and Jeff Tuel was the guy to lead WSU’s Air Raid.

Of course, simplicity doesn’t always last. Be it injury or performance, Webb and Nunes weren’t the starters at the end of the season and Tuel went back-and-forth with Connor Halliday. Mariota, Kelly and Hundley, however, went on to be three of the four most efficient quarterbacks in the league.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) will both see time at QB for the Trojans.
The moral of the story: Don’t fear the unknown. But don’t be too comfortable with it, either.

Which leads us to this year’s crop of quarterback competitions. It’s not as cut-and-dried as it was a year ago. At least two of them are ongoing and will probably stretch into the first weeks of the season.

The No. 24 Trojans open against Hawaii with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek still in the hunt for the right to replace Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin, however, said he has zero concerns that the competition hasn’t been resolved.

“I see it as completely opposite,” Kiffin said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call. “I think they have both performed so well. We feel great about both of them running our offense. I see it as a positive. I think they've really worked on their weaknesses … that way we don’t have to call the game any different based on who is in. We can do all of our stuff.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t picked his guy yet, either. Though he did say he has seen some recent progress from B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins. A week ago, it was thought that as many as four or five guys could still be in the mix.

“I’d be more concerned if none of them made progress,” Rodriguez said. “In the last week and a half, they have all made some pretty good progress. B.J. Denker and Javelle Allen, the guys that have been in the program, have made pretty good progress. And Jesse Scroggins has gotten better as well. I feel good about that. There’s no question there is always more concern when you don’t have experience there. B.J. has been in the system for a year and Javelle has been in the system for a year. We feel pretty confident they can run the whole entire offense and with Jesse it’s just a matter of time.”

And time is on Arizona’s side. The Wildcats don’t exactly have a pressing first month of the season. They host Northern Arizona this weekend, followed by a trip to UNLV before hosting UTSA on Sept. 14. Then it’s a bye week before opening league play at Washington.

One report last week had Oregon State playing the quarterback shuffle heading into Week 1. But Mike Riley put that to rest yesterday when he named Sean Mannion his starter.

“I had told some stories in the past of experience with two quarterbacks playing, but never intended to start a rotation situation here at all,” Riley said. “We intended to name a starter and then have kind of left it up in the air … Sean is the starter and we’ll go into the game like that.”

Connor Wood won the job at Colorado -- ending a QB competition that started with six but dwindled after injuries and transfers.

"He's big, he's athletic, he's got a strong arm, and he's a talented athlete," said coach Mike MacIntyre, who noted he was also very pleased with the progress of freshman Sefo Liufau. "He really started capturing the essence of our offense and understanding where to go with the ball and where to go with our run game. He kept improving."

Cal coach Sonny Dykes took a different approach, naming Jared Goff his starter as soon as he could.

“Anytime you have a starting quarterback, I think everyone is more comfortable,” Dykes said. “The quarterback is more comfortable. The skill-position players can start to get on the same page. You develop a relationship with the center and quarterback and their ability to communicate with each other and the sense of timing that needs to exist there. I think what it does is settle everybody down.”

Quick look at Week 1 Pac-12 games

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
5:00
PM PT
Here's a quick look at Week 1 in the conference. All times are ET.

Thursday

Utah State at Utah, 8 p.m. Fox Sports 1: Utah leads the series 77-29-4 but the Aggies won 27-20 in overtime last year in Logan. That ended the Utes 12-game winning streak in the series. The Aggies went 11-2 last year but lost coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells takes over, and he has 15 starters back, including QB Chuckie Keeton, who put up big numbers last year. This will be the debut of Utes new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.

No. 21 USC at Hawaii, 11 p.m. CBS Sports Network: USC leads the series 8-0. Hawaii is coached by Norm Chow, who went 3-9 in his first season. Trojans fans might have heard of him, and there isn't a warm relationship between Chow and USC coach Lane Kiffin. The Rainbow Warriors have 17 starters back. Chow made some news before the season when he dismissed offensive coordinator Aaron Price -- son of former Washington State coach Mike Price -- before he'd even coached a game. Chow now will run the offense.

Friday

Northern Arizona at Arizona, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Arizona leads the series 11-1, and that defeat occurred in 1932. The game likely will feature the debut of Wildcats QB B.J. Denker, though coach Rich Rodriguez has been coy about his starting QB, separating the top-three guys with an "Or" on his depth chart. The Wildcats beat the Lumberjacks 41-10 in 2011.

Saturday

Nicholls State at No. 3 Oregon, 4 p.m. Fox Sports 1: These teams have never met, and it's unfortunate they will Saturday. Nicholls State went 0-7 in the Southland Conference last year, its lone 2012 win coming over NAIA Evangel. Oregon State beat Nicholls State 77-3 last year when the Beavers were legitimately trying not to score. As The Oregonian has pointed out, it's likely the Autzen Stadium points record (72, recorded against New Mexico in 2010 and Nevada in 1999) will be broken.

Eastern Washington at No. 25 Oregon State, 6 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series against the FCS power 2-0, last winning 56-17 in 2006. It was announced Monday afternoon that Sean Mannion will start at QB for the Beavers over Cody Vaz, who still might see some playing time.

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m. ESPNU: Auburn leads the series 1-0, beating the Cougars 40-14 in 2006. This will be the debut of Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, as well as his starting QB Nick Marshall. Two years removed from a national title -- won in a nailbiter over Oregon -- Auburn went 3-9 last fall and fired coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn was the Arkansas State coach last year, but he also was Chizik's offensive coordinator in 2010. The Tigers welcome back 17 starters.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Bishop Sankey
Josh Holmberg/USA TODAY SportsBoise State and Washington played in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, with the Broncos winning 28-26.
strong>Nevada at No. 21 UCLA, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After Chris Ault retired -- again -- Brian Polian became the Nevada coach. The Wolf Pack has 12 starters back from a 7-6 team, most notably QB Cody Fajardo, a dynamic pass-run threat. He rushed for 1,100 yards and passed for 2,786 yards last year, accounting for 32 total TDs.

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m. Fox Sports 1: The series is tied 1-1. Boise State beat the Huskies 28-26 in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, while the Huskies prevailed in the 24-10 in 2007. The Broncos have only 10 starters back from their 11-2 team, while the Huskies welcome back 20. While Boise State QB Joe Southwick didn't put up big numbers last year, he was extremely efficient over the latter third of the season.

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2: Northwestern leads the series 1-0 -- a 20-14 win in 1949. The Wildcats welcome back 17 starters from a 10-3 team that beat Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl last year. That includes the outstanding combination of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark. They combined for over 2,200 yards rushing last year. This is the debut of Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who replaced Jeff Tedford, as well as true freshman QB Jared Goff.

Sunday

Colorado vs. Colorado State (Denver), 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Colorado leads the series 61-21-2 but the Rams won 22-17 last year. The game will be played on Sports Authority Field at Mile High, previously known as Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos. The Rams welcome back 18 starters from a 4-8 team in Jim McElwain's second season. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, who is making his debut leading the Buffaloes, announced this week that Connor Wood will start at quarterback.

Pac-12 lunch links: QB Wood to start

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
11:30
AM PT
I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age.
How much can we really learn from spring? Funky scrimmages with backwards scoring systems; depleted depth charts; completely new installs for four teams. Actually, more than you'd think. Here are five things we learned about the Pac-12 during spring.

  1. Quarterbacks are still in limbo: Be it Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon or Colorado, almost half of the teams still don’t know who is going to be under center when the season starts. Stanford funneled its list of five down to two, Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham. ASU still has a three-way battle with Michael Eubank, Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly -- though coach Todd Graham said they have a better idea than they are probably letting on publicly. The very private competition between Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett at Oregon remains in question -- though Mariota was spectacular in the spring game while Bennett faltered. Still, coach Chip Kelly said that one game isn’t going to be his basis for comparison. UCLA coach Jim Mora wanted to name a starter by the end of spring, but no one has “grabbed” it, so we’ll have to wait until August before learning whether Brett Hundley, Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut gets the gig. And at Colorado, the competition was put on hiatus when Nick Hirschman broke a bone in his foot and couldn’t compete in spring drills. One has to think that was a huge advantage for Connor Wood to get almost all of the reps with the first-team offense.
  2. Not everyone has quarterback issues: Teams thought to have quarterback question marks heading into spring seemed to have resolved them. In Utah, Jordan Wynn is completely healthy, and both coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson have declared Wynn their guy. While Mike Leach hasn’t officially declared Jeff Tuel his starter, it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning the job in the fall, short of Tuel suffering a significant injury or amnesia. He had a splendid spring, and appears to be a great fit for Leach’s offense. And at Arizona, Matt Scott seized the job early and left little room for any competition. Coach Rich Rodriguez has been gushing about how quickly Scott has adjusted to the offense. At Cal, Zach Maynard, once thought to be challenged by freshman Zach Kline, appears to not only have held on to the job, but distanced himself from pursuers.
  3. Wide receivers aplenty: And there are plenty of those in the conference. USC has probably the best tandem in the country in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Cal’s Keenan Allen (though he missed spring drills) should continue to put up big numbers, and Washington State’s Marquess Wilson should flourish in the Cougars’ new system with Tuel as his quarterback. Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks could challenge the USC duo statistically if quarterback Sean Mannion continues to develop. There are stars on the rise at Arizona State (Jamal Miles) and Stanford (Ty Montgomery), and a potential star at Washington (James Johnson). Look out Biletnikoff, the Pac-12 is a comin'…
  4. The conference of defense? The Pac-12 might never bunk its reputation as an offensive-centric conference (especially when it keeps churning out offensive talent). But there is a surplus of talented defenses and defensive players who were on display this spring. Washington seems to have plugged its leaks with new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. There’s a 3-4 trend sweeping the conference, and with notable playmakers like Star Lotulelei (Utah), John Boyett (Oregon), Dion Jordan (Oregon), Chase Thomas (Stanford), Josh Shirley (Washington), T.J. McDonald (USC) and DeAndre Coleman (Cal), it’s easy to see why some of the Pac-12 defenses will get the same kind of love as the offenses do in 2012.
  5. Confidence is at an all-time high: As it should be in the spring. The four new coaches all feel confident about the systems they have installed. Stanford feels as good as it ever has about its running game. USC and Oregon should get lofty preseason rankings, and this is the time of the year when fans go through the schedules game by game and always seem to come up with a minimum of six wins. Sorry to say, there are teams in the conference that won’t make it to a bowl game this season. But when you hear the coaches talk about their teams, you’d think the conference is going to go 12-0 in the postseason. This is a magical time for fans filled with hope and possibility. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
10:34
AM PT
Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.

ARIZONA

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.
ARIZONA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.
COLORADO

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.
UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.
USC

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.
UTAH

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD