USC Trojans: Markus Wheaton

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
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.


Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

February, 25, 2013
Our countdown of the top 25 players in the 2012 season continues.

You can see the preseason top 25 here.

No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

2012 numbers: Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 106 yards. And returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.

Preseason ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Lee: It's pretty simple: Lee, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore, was a unanimous All-American because he was the best receiver in the nation this season. Some might argue he was the best overall player in the nation. He ranked second in the nation in both receptions per game (9.08) and receiving yards per game (132.38). His 345 yards receiving at Arizona set a Pac-12 record and also were the fifth-most in FBS history. Lee produced three of the top four receiving games in the conference this year -- the Arizona performance, 197 yards versus Hawaii and 192 yards at Utah. Five times he went over 150 yards receiving. It wasn't like teams didn't know he was coming. He was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Further, the Trojans other top receiving target, Robert Woods, was a unanimous All-American the year before. You'd think Lee would have had to share the ball more. Yet Lee was so difficult to stop, so tempting to target, that it's possible -- probable perhaps -- that the Trojans strangely inconsistent offense this year looked to Lee too often. That, however, isn't Lee's fault. Lee posted a spectacular season that wasn't appreciated enough because his team was so massively disappointing overall.

No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah
The 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top wide receiver, have been announced. The Pac-12 is represented by three players.

Here are the semifinalists in alphabetical order:
A little surprised to not see Oregon State's Markus Wheaton not on the list. Cooks has more yards and a higher average per game, but Wheaton has more catches and touchdowns. Either way, both have been spectacular for the Beavers and it's a great honor for Cooks, who has been one of this year's breakout players.

Like the selection of Hill. He's the only player besides Cooks and Lee who is averaging at least 100 receiving yards per game (Lee is significantly farther ahead of the other two, averaging 144.7 yards per). Lee leads the Pac-12 in every receiving category with 98 catches and 13 touchdowns. He also leads the nation in catches and receiving yards.
Lane Kiffin summed it up pretty well.

"You're only as good or bad as your last game," the USC coach said when asked about his team's defense. And in USC's case, you can go back to the last two games. Before USC gave up 62 points at home to Oregon, it surrendered 39 points on the road in another loss at Arizona.

Now sitting on a two-game losing streak -- and on the verge of dropping three in a row for the first time since 2001 -- the Trojans are hoping to get back on track with Arizona State coming to town Saturday.

Things haven't exactly been going swimmingly for the Sun Devils, either. After starting off 5-1, ASU has dropped three in a row and has given up an average of 41.3 points per game during that stretch. While multi-game losing streaks are uncharted waters at USC, it's becoming a frighteningly familiar theme for ASU fans.

Last season, the Sun Devils were 6-2 -- including victories over ranked Missouri and USC -- but collapsed on the back end and lost four in a row to unranked teams before losing their fifth straight to Boise State in the MAACO Bowl. In 2009, they started off 4-2 only to drop six straight at the end of the year.

Both the Trojans and Sun Devils still have much to play for. ASU is looking, first and foremost, to gain bowl eligibility. But scenarios exist where it can still win the Pac-12 South. USC is also in a strong position to win the division -- so long as it gets past the Sun Devils and UCLA next week.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin, Matt Barkley
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergCoach Lane Kiffin called Matt Barkley and his USC squad "resilient" in the wake of a torching by Oregon.
Kiffin said that's helped his team knock the cobwebs off this week after the shootout loss to Oregon.

"I think they're great, kids are very resilient," Kiffin said when asked what the mood of his team has been this week. "They have a lot of other stuff going on in their life besides football. But they were excited to get back to work. We're very fortunate to still have a lot on the line, even though we screwed some games up, because of the balance of the South. I think that helps as well."

Todd Graham, in his first year as coach of the Sun Devils, said even though his team has lost three in a row, there are signs that it is maturing.

"I have been very proud of how they have played," Graham said. "They have had many opportunities in the last three weeks to implode or to take a step backward but they haven't done that."

Aside from the Oregon defeat, ASU has been competitive in the two other losses. The Sun Devils lost on a last-second field goal to UCLA and hung with the Oregon State Beavers well into the third quarter. Graham knows his defense will be tested again, by the likes of Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. That's notable, since Arizona State has the league's top pass defense, allowing just 161.6 yards per game. And after having just seen Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks at OSU, now the Sun Devils have to face another dynamic receiving corps.

"Obviously Barkley has a phenomenal arm and a great deep ball," Graham said. "I've watched some passes that are just phenomenal. Marqise Lee is hands-down the best receiver in the country. He can catch the short screen pass, he can catch the vertical route, and he can take it to the house any time he puts his hands on the ball. Watching the Arizona game and watching the 300-plus yards receiving was absolutely phenomenal. Obviously, Woods is right there. He gets the ball the most. They have other receivers as well, but Woods is a special receiver. I think the thing that makes it all work is the quarterback."

Last year the Sun Devils scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 20 minutes to shock the Trojans. But ASU hasn't won at the Los Angeles Coliseum since 1999. Still, Graham insists this isn't the same old Sun Devils.

"We've had three tough weeks here, but let's get to the end of the season and we'll evaluate where we're at," he said. "Just don't give up on us. I can guarantee that there's no give-up in our guys."
As we turn the corner at the midway point of the season, your Pac-12 bloggers recount what has surprised them the most in the first half of the season. One is a pleasant surprise. The other, not so much.

Kevin Gemmell: I think we're all a bit taken aback by the remarkable success Oregon State has had so far this season. Let's be honest -- even the most devout of Beavers believers didn't think their team was going to have the school's best start since 1939. If you did, you are a real-McCoy psychic and you should immediately send all relevant stock tips here.

What's so impressive -- aside from the 5-0 start and top-10 spot in the BCS standings -- is the way Oregon State has gone about doing it. Great offense. Great defense. And above all, a no-nonsense, physical approach to football. There is an attitude -- a focused swagger, if you will -- that is really fun to watch.

[+] EnlargeMichael Doctor
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireLinebacker Michael Doctor has helped point the way for Oregon State's top-five rush defense.
The Beavers have been solid in the trenches on offense and relentless on defense. The offensive line has come together faster than most anticipated -- which obviously has contributed to a rushing attack that averages 119.6 yards per game (up from a league-worst 86.9 in 2011).

Defensively, you can’t say enough about the play of Scott Crichton, Jordan Poyer and a player I think is flying under the radar: Michael Doctor.

Naturally, the growth of quarterback Sean Mannion has been helpful. He’s done a much better job taking care of the ball (OSU ranks 12th nationally in turnover margin), and we’ve been talking about Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks as a potential breakout duo since we started doing weekly Take 2s in the spring.

Heading into this week’s games, the Beavers owned the second-best pass attack in the Pac-12. Again, with teams such as Washington State, USC and UCLA expected to air it out, did anyone really see that one coming?

And the fact that they can plug in Cody Vaz and not miss a beat is impressive.

But as much credit as Mike Riley deserves for the offense, defensive coordinator Mark Banker deserves equal praise -- if not more. The Beavers have the top rush defense in the conference and the No. 4 rush defense in the country, allowing just 70 yards per game on the ground. That’s elite status, and it takes more than just talented players to attain it. It takes an attitude. It takes an unwavering mentality that our defense is going to dictate to you, not the other way around.

Talking with Poyer and Crichton throughout the season, they said the simplest answer is that they are motivated by being 3-9 in 2011. It was a crummy season, and they didn’t want to feel like that again. That’s pretty good motivation.

The fact that Oregon State is better than last season isn’t a surprise. It’s the fact that the Beavers are so much better that is both surprising and pleasant.

Ted Miller: The mediocrity of USC's offense is shocking. No one saw that coming.

This is where someone claims he or she saw it coming. No you didn't. Stop it. No you didn't. Hush.

USC welcomed back nine starters from an offense that in 2011 averaged 35.8 points, 456.8 yards and 294.2 passing yards per game. Among those starters were quarterback Matt Barkley, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate; 2011 All-American wide receiver Robert Woods; second-team All-Pac-12 wideout Marqise Lee, the co-freshman offensive player of the year; second-team All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes; and 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal.

(Read full post)

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:
    [+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
    Kyle Terada/US PresswireCardinal quarterback Josh Nunes has solidified his starting job.

  1. Game of the week: Which Stanford team shows up at No. 7 Notre Dame? Is it the explosive offense that racked up more than 600 yards against Arizona? Or the struggling offense which failed to score an offensive touchdown at Washington? The Irish have one of the nation's best defenses, but Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes put to rest any questions about his starting job with his five-touchdown performance against the Wildcats. But for the Cardinal to be considered serious contenders in the Pac-12 North, they are going to have to get it done on the road.
  2. Speaking of the road: Heck of a time to make your first collegiate start -- midseason and on the road. But that's the challenge in front of Oregon State backup quarterback Cody Vaz. With the news that Sean Mannion will be out at least 2-4 weeks with a knee injury, the junior steps in after having not played since 2010. Head coach Mike Riley created a minor media buzz during spring ball when he said Vaz had closed the gap with Mannion. Fortunately for the Beavers, the running game is starting to click with Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew, and the wide receiver duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks is playing well. Vaz has some support.
  3. Is he for real? Anyone recognize the guy in blue wearing No. 15 last week? After his first interception last week, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was, dare we say, prolific. He completed 83.3 percent of his throws and tossed four touchdowns in the Bears' upset against UCLA. This coming a week after he completed 32.1 percent at home against Arizona State. The yards, touchdowns and completion percentage were all season highs. Has the light finally come on?
  4. No peeking: Can the Sun Devils resist the urge to look beyond Colorado to their showdown next week with Oregon? Head coach Todd Graham said it shouldn't be hard. But then again, these are college players, and you have to wonder if the 1-4 Buffs are being overlooked. The good news is we'll find out tonight, since it's the national Thursday game.
  5. Rally the troops: It's a good thing for Washington that USC isn't still ranked in the top five. The Huskies have been outscored 93-24 in their two games against top five programs this year. After the 41-3 loss to LSU, the Huskies had Portland State to beat up on. It's not going to be as easy this week with the No. 11 Trojans coming to town. Steve Sarkisian has had some success against the Trojans, and he obviously knows the program very well. Can he get the Huskies to put last week's debacle at Oregon behind them?
  6. About those Trojans: Head coach Lane Kiffin talked at length this week about how tough it is to come into the season with a high preseason ranking -- ya know, like No. 1. But the Trojans showed last week that maybe the fork-sticking was premature. After spotting the Utes 14 points, quarterback Matt Barkley calmly led a USC offense that looked potent and efficient. And in the process, he pulled himself back into the Heisman race -- though there is still work to be done on that front. Nov. 3 is still high noon for the Trojans, and the better they look leading into that game against Oregon, the better it will be for the conference. And, aside from the first three minutes last week, the Trojans looked pretty good.
  7. Swing game? If the Utah Utes hope to make a bowl game this season, this game might be the turning point. They face a UCLA team that showed its youth against Cal on offense, and a fairly seasoned defense looked porous. The Utes have to travel to Oregon State next week, where they'll see the Vaz-led Beavers (Utah knows a little something about overcoming-quarterback-injury adversity). Then it's five straight games against unranked teams to close out the season. A win puts them back at .500 and still in the bowl hunt. The Bruins are two wins away, but face a tougher second-half schedule, including closing out the season with USC and Stanford. A win by the Bruins puts them on the verge of bowl eligibility.
Who has the best wide receiver duo in the Pac-12 right now? We thought for sure it would be a no-brainer with the guys at USC. But a pair of receivers from Oregon State are making a case. That's the question your Pac-12 bloggers attempt to tackle today.

Ted Miller: Despite popular belief, the season isn't over. They play 12 regular-season games, then a Pac-12 title game and then a bowl game. Some guys who are blowing up statistically now will fall off. Others who are struggling will find their rhythm. It happens every season.

That's why I've still got a "buy" rating on USC's Robert Woods and Marqise Lee as the Pac-12's best receiver combination. Both will be All-Pac-12 by season's end.

Lee is already well on his way. He leads the conference with 10 receptions per game and six touchdown catches. Sure, he trails the outstanding Oregon State tandem of Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton in yards per game, but his 114.2 ypg still ranks 10th in the nation.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods, Marqise Lee
Rich Barnes/US PresswireRobert Woods (2) hasn't put up the numbers of teammate Marqise Lee (9), but there's much season left.
Woods has four touchdowns, which is good, and 50.8 yards per game, which isn't. But having seen Woods for two years, do you really believe his numbers are going to stay down? I don't either. I mean … he's Robert Freaking Woods, a 2011 All-America, for criminy sakes!

I suspect that Wheaton and Cooks shortly will get the Woods-Lee treatment. Opposing defenses will decide to use a lot of Cover 2 and bracket coverages that practically function like double-teams and dare the Beavers to run the ball. Defenses will decide they'd prefer that Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion look elsewhere when he drops back -- or be forced to take chances throwing into multiple defenders. Those defenses also would rather take their chances with the Beavers still questionable, though clearly improved, running game.

I expect USC coach Lane Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley to figure things out over the second half of the season. They will find ways to get the ball to Woods and Lee. They will counterpunch against schemes that have worked during the early going. They'll take more shots down field, but they'll also create glorified handoffs with short dumps to let them both do their thing in space.

Stanford tackled well in the secondary when it upset USC. Not all teams will.

By season's end, both Lee and Woods will have more than 100 yards receiving per game. And we'll wonder why we ever doubted them and Barkley.

Kevin Gemmell: When we’re wrong, you guys love to tell us -- over, and over and over -- usually accompanied by colorful language and GPS-like directions about where we can stick our opinions.

So the few times we’re right, we have no trouble patting ourselves on the back. And a few months ago, we did a Take 2 on potential breakout players in the conference. I went with Cooks. I felt good about the pick then. I feel great about the pick now.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks
Adam Davis/Icon SMIBrandin Cooks (7) and Markus Wheaton (2) are both averaging more than 134 yards per game.
The Wheaton/Cooks duo is coming together just as Oregon State coach Mike Riley had hoped. Mannion is an older, wiser quarterback and is playing big-boy football. The offensive line has come together and is playing well and the Beavers have a running game. That means play-action. And that means big plays downfield, as evidenced by their stellar yards per catch (19.2 for Cooks, 14.9 for Wheaton).

There are only three players in the Pac-12 who are averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game. One is from USC, two are from Oregon State. There are only two players averaging more than 130 yards per game. Neither of them are from USC. So, at least as of right now, I would say that puts an end to the debate.

And you’re right, Ted. Teams are going to start paying more attention to them. That’s fine, because there is no defense for speed. We know Wheaton can blaze. And Cooks has comparable speed. If you look at some of their big plays -- a lot of the ground that is covered comes after the catch -- such as Cooks’ 75-yard touchdown against UCLA. Mannion saw the blitz and hit Cooks on a quick slant, and his legs did the rest.

Plus, the West Coast offense is the perfect scheme for busting the Cover 2 because the short-to-intermediate routes suck up the safeties. You can't bracket every down against a pro-style team (unless you want your defense on the field for 15-play, seven-minute drives all of the time). All it takes is one play-action and either of these guys can be gone.

And if a big throw with a soft touch is needed, Mannion has shown several times this year that he can split defenders and lead his receivers. And so long as they have half a step, he can place it where it needs to be and hit those guys in stride.

Lee is great. In fact, I’m more than willing to declare him the No. 1 wide receiver in the conference -- and country -- right now. Woods is great. And Ted could be right, noting that by the end of the year they might emerge as the top duo. But right now, I trust my eyes and I trust the numbers. And both, indisputably, favor the Beavers’ tandem.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 23, 2012
One fantastic upset, one cool, calm quarterback performance and three defensive standouts highlight this week’s helmet stickers.

  1. Jordan Webb, QB, Colorado: Welcome to the helmet stickers, Buffs. No team has received more grief in the past few weeks than the Buffs. But Webb threw for 345 yards on 29-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. He also scored the game-winning touchdown -- a 4-yard run with nine seconds left to shock the Washington State Cougars 35-34 and give Colorado its first victory of the season.
  2. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: A strong, efficient performance from ASU’s first-year starter in guiding the Sun Devils to a 37-7 win over Utah. Kelly finished 19-of-26 for a career-high 326 yards and three touchdown passes. He also rushed seven times for 19 yards.
  3. Oregon's defense: What the heck. Give 'em all a helmet sticker. The unit forced five turnovers and shut out an Arizona team that was averaging 46.3 points and more than 600 yards per game. Michael Clay led all Ducks with 13 tackles -- including two for loss -- and he also forced a fumble.
  4. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State: This was another game in which offensive players could have been awarded helmet stickers (Markus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks, Sean Mannion), but it was the defense that was so impressive in shutting down UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, the nation’s leading rushing heading into this game. Crichton had six tackles, including three tackles for a loss, and he recorded both of Oregon State’s sacks.
  5. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC: Breslin tallied six tackles, 4.5 for loss and three sacks in USC’s 27-9 victory over Cal. Breslin became the first Trojan to get three sacks in one game since Rey Maualuga did it in the 2008 Rose Bowl against Illinois.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

1. Who can rebound? Washington State, Cal and Colorado will all look to get in the win column this week after disappointing debuts. Each has something specific it needs to work on in Week 2. The Bears need to find a way to get off the field on third down, Colorado needs to find a running game, and Washington State needs to find a little confidence (positive rushing yards wouldn't be bad, either). And even though Stanford won last week, there was a vibe around the team that a 20-17 against San Jose State isn't going to cut it. And they are right. After this week's game against Duke, USC comes to town and then a big road trip to Washington. Cal has its big matchup with Ohio State looming as well. A lot needs to be sorted out for these four teams in Week

2. Super schedule: Some huge measuring-stick games this week against out-of-conference, BCS-conference foes (seven total). UCLA will see what they really have in Brett Hundleywhen he sees a Nebraska defense that won't be as generous as Rice. And we'll see if Arizona State and Arizona are the real deal when they take on Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively. While it was nice to see all three win in Week 1, the big question now is whether they can all sustain it with the competition level being increased dramatically. And there are a couple more nonconference games we should mention ...

3. What about the Beavers? Mike Riley joked that so far this season feels like the training camp that would never end. As last week's game against Nicholls State was re-routed because of Hurricane Isaac, we're still not sure what we're getting with Oregon State. We know they want to run the football, and Storm Woods is the guy to do it. At question is whether they'll have success against Wisconsin. It's tough to open the year against a ranked opponent, and Riley called this one of the biggest nonconference games in school history. Also eager to see how much progress Sean Mannion has made and how OSU's passing attack led by Markus Wheaton stacks up against the Badgers. By the way, big ups to OSU, which will have volunteers from the American Red Cross at Reser Stadium to take donations that go to victims of Hurricane Isaac. Classy gesture.

4. What about the Huskies? Grrr ... the SEC. They win national championships. They dominate the rankings. Their fans come to our blog and troll with impunity. Grrr. How well will the Huskies represent the conference when they travel to Baton Rouge? Washington showed a lot of inconsistency against San Diego State, particularly on offense. And losing running back Jesse Callier for the season certainly doesn't help the situation. But when the Huskies were clicking, it was Keith Price connecting with Austin Seferian-Jenkins (nine catches, 82 yards) and Kasen Williams (six catches, 75 yards, 1 touchdown). That trio will have to have a monster game to pull off a shocker against the No. 3 team in the land.

5. Desert defense: Some interesting matchups when you look at Arizona and Arizona State's competition -- particularly at the quarterback spot. How will the Wildcats fare against Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, who actually saw less field time last week than Marcus Mariota? The Sun Devils might or might not face Illinois starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has been out with an ankle injury. Head coach Todd Graham said they are prepping to face Scheelhasse, though there's a good chance (depending on which update you read at any particular hour) the Sun Devils could be seeing Reilly O'Toole.

Six Pac-12 players are on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the nation's best receiver.

You can view the entire list here.

Here are the Pac-12 players on the list.

Keenan Allen, California

Dan Buckner, Arizona

DeVonte Christopher, Utah

Markus Wheaton, Oregon State

Marquess Wilson, Washington State

Robert Woods, USC

Feel free to ponder how USC wide receiver Marqise Lee (1,143 yards receiving, 11 TDs in 2011) was left off this list.
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.