USC Trojans: Dion Jordan

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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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.

 

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
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What did we learn in Week 11? Read on.

Hogan was the right choice for Stanford: It seemed like odd timing that Stanford coach David Shaw switched starting quarterbacks as his team headed into its biggest game of the year, but freshman Kevin Hogan made his coach look smart, though it wasn't always pretty. Hogan completed 22 of 29 passes for 254 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-23 victory over Oregon State. He also rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries. His biggest pass was a 13-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz for the winning points. Hogan was effective with his feet and his arm, and he didn't wilt when things didn't go his way through most of the second and third quarters. Now he faces a bigger test: Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireKevin Hogan kept an even keel in Stanford's comeback victory over Oregon State.
USC shows some grit: USC held Arizona State to only 250 yards and three second-half points in a 38-17 win. The Trojans trailed 17-14 early in the third, and it looked as though they might pack it in for the season. But with senior center Khaled Holmes exhorting his teammates on the sidelines, USC showed some grit, particularly on defense. The same defense that got ripped by Arizona and Oregon's spread offenses shut down the Sun Devils, recording six sacks and forcing four turnovers. It was far from perfect. On the day quarterback Matt Barkley set the Pac-12 career passing yardage record (12,026 yards), surpassing the previous mark held by Carson Palmer, he threw three interceptions. Still, the Trojans play archrival UCLA next weekend for the Pac-12 South Division title.

Ducks are banged up with Stanford coming to town, but will that matter? Oregon arrived at California with major injury issues, particularly with its defensive front, and things only got worse as the game went on. The Ducks, however, pulled themselves together and dominated the Bears in the second half, winning 59-17. Still, Stanford, which visits Autzen Stadium on Saturday, is a much better team that Cal, particularly on the offensive line. Will the Ducks get some guys back, such as defensive linemen Ricky Heimuli, Dion Jordan and Isaac Remington? The Ducks don't talk about injuries, but injuries will be something lots of folks are talking about this week. Or speculating on.

UCLA gets its big shot at vulnerable USC: While UCLA let up in the second half at Washington State -- the Bruins were outscored 29-7 and won only 44-36 -- that doesn't change the big possibilities that lie ahead. Now 8-2, the Bruins can win the Pac-12 South Division if they beat archrival USC in the Rose Bowl on Saturday. That would mean stomping on the Trojans' once-hyped season, which would inspire plenty of consternation in Heritage Hall. UCLA fans would love to do that. And it would mean the Bruins could end up in the Rose Bowl, either as the Pac-12 champions or as an at-large selection. So big stakes are at hand.

Huskies step up, Utes step back: Utah and Washington squared off as teams that weathered midseason adversity and had won two in a row. But only one could maintain positive momentum. The Huskies' decisive 35-14 victory boosted their record to 6-4, earning them bowl eligibility. They can continue to climb the pecking order if they can beat Colorado and Washington State over the next two weekends, though both games are on the road. The Utes' offensive surge came to an end, with only 55 yards passing. They need to win their next two games, at home to Arizona and at Colorado.

Picking two first-team All-Pac-12 running backs won't be easy: Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 366 yards -- a new Pac-12 single-game record -- and five touchdowns in Arizona's 56-31 win over Colorado. He will take over the Pac-12 rushing lead, as Oregon's Kenjon Barner (65 yards) and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin (66 yards) had subpar games. The final two weeks probably will decide the two guys who end up first-team All-Pac-12.

First look: Oregon

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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USC Trojans (6-2 overall, 4-2 Pac-12 South) vs Oregon Ducks (8-0 overall, 5-0 Pac-12 North)

Date: Saturday, Nov. 3

Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Time: 4:00 p.m. PT

TV: FOX

Radio: ESPNLA710 (pre-game show starts at 10:30 a.m. PT)

Scouting Oregon: Three-time defending Pac-12 champion Oregon, under fourth-year head coach Chip Kelly, continues to steamroll through its schedule, including a 70-14 home win over Colorado last Saturday to up its winning streak to 11. UO has won 12 straight road games.

The Ducks’ high-octane offense, which has scored 30-plus points in 21 consecutive games (and 42-plus in the past 11 games), leads the nation in scoring offense (53.4, first in Pac-12) and is third in rushing offense (330.6, first in Pac-12), seventh in total offense (540.1, second in Pac-12) and 24th in passing efficiency (150.4, third in Pac-12).

Redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota (133-of-194, 68.6%, 1,483 yds, 18 TD, 5 int, plus 57 carries, 378 yds, 6.6 yards per carry, 3 TD and 1 rec, 2 yds, 2.0 avg, 1 TD), who is 17th nationally in passing efficiency (158.2, third in Pac-12), superbly directs the UO offense. Senior RB Kenjon Barner (141 carries, 974 yds, 6.9 avg, 14 TD, plus 13 rec, 158 yds, 12.2 avg, 1 TD rec), the nation’s No. 10 rusher (121.8, second in Pac-12) and scorer (11.3 points per game, first in Pac-12) who is approaching the 1,000-yard rushing barrier this season, and multi-purpose sophomore RB De'Anthony Thomas (58 carries, 499 yds, 8.6 avg, 7 TD, plus 24 rec, 218 yds, 9.1 avg, 3 TD and 12 PR, 220 yds, 18.3 avg, 1 TD and 6 KOR, 88 yds, 14.7 avg) -- who is third nationally in punt returns (18.3, first in Pac-12) -- are dangerous whenever they touch the ball. Top pass catchers include freshman WR Bralon Addison (19 rec, 226 yds, 11.9 avg, 3 TD, plus 3 KOR, 46 yds, 15.3 avg), junior WR Daryle Hawkins (16 rec, 134 yds, 8.4 avg, 2 TD), soph WR Keanon Lowe (13 rec, 133 yds, 10.2 avg) and soph TE Colt Lyerla (12 rec, 189 yds, 15.8 avg, 4 TD).

The Ducks defense is 13th nationally in pass efficiency defense (104.2, second in Pac-12), tied for 15th in tackles for loss (7.4, third in Pac-12), 16th in sacks (2.9, fifth in Pac-12), 23rd in turnover margin (+0.8, third in Pac-12) and 24th in scoring defense (19.4, third in Pac-12). Top tacklers are senior LBs Michael Clay (43 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2 sack, 1 dfl, 1 FR, 1 FF) and Kiko Alonso (42 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 sack, 2 int, 2 dfl, 1 FR, 1 FF), junior SS Avery Patterson (35 tackles, 1.5 for loss, 3 int, 2 dfl, 1 FR) and Brian Jackson (32 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack, 5 dfl, 2 FR) and senior DE Dion Jordan (33 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 5 sack, 1 dfl, 2 FF), who made the 2011 All-Pac-12 first team.

– courtesy USC Sports Information

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 1

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 concludes today.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC

2011 numbers: Completed 69.1 percent of his throws (308 of 446) for 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 2

Making the case for Barkley: Drum roll please. ... No? No drum roll? We don't have that sound file? OK, so this isn't exactly a "who shot J.R. moment" for the Pac-12 blog. I think it's safe to say we all saw this coming. And why not? Matt Barkley is by far the most complete quarterback in the country. With A-list wide receivers flanking him on either side, a phenomenal ground attack that includes two 1,000-yard rushers, fantastic tight ends, a solid offensive line and a stellar defense to get him the ball back, Barkley should produce credentials worthy of Heisman consideration and a high first-round NFL draft pick. He put the spotlight on himself when he made his declaration of "unfinished business," but if you know Barkley, you know he's not one to shrivel in the spotlight. And there is a bright one on him and his team this year as they enter the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. He earned second-team all-conference last year and is on every major preseason All-America team this year. Assuming all goes to plan, Barkley will be in New York for the Heisman presentation. He can go a long way toward making his case if he can produce similar numbers to last year and keep his team atop the rankings all season.

No. 2: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 3: De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
No. 4: Robert Woods, WR, USC
No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 4

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
12:00
PM PT
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

4. Robert Woods, WR, USC

2011 numbers: Caught 111 balls for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 8

Making the case for Woods: No one had more receptions in the Pac-12 last year than Woods. No one had more receiving touchdowns than Woods. And the scary thing is his numbers are probably going to get better. With quarterback Matt Barkley returning for another season, an A-list counterpart across from him in Marqise Lee and two tight ends that are the envy of most teams in the nation, Woods is going to see a lot of single coverage. And if you bracket Woods, you run the risk of getting beat deep by one of the others. And if you still decide to bracket Woods, chances are you are still going to get beat by one of the others. He's that good, and USC's offense is that good. There are maybe two guys in this conference who can run consistently with Woods in man-to-man ... and one of them already plays for the Trojans (see No. 14). And that's why Woods, a first-team All-Pac-12 and AP All-American last year -- headlines a talented group of wide receivers in the conference. At 6-1, 190 pounds, he's one of the truly special players in the Pac-12.

No. 5: Keith Price, QB, Washington
No. 6: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
No. 8: Keenan Allen, WR, California
No. 9: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 10: T.J. McDonald, S, USC
No. 11: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon
No. 12: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
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.

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