USC Trojans: UCLA Bruins

Lunch links: Any sleeper teams?

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
11:30
AM PT
Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring;
Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.
What is your team's best quarter? Worst? And what does it mean?

While it's probably a mistake to read too much into how a team does quarter by quarter -- the final score is what counts -- it might provide some tidbits of insight.

The baseline, of course, is this: Good teams are going to win most every quarter and bad teams will lose most every quarter. But what does it mean if your team starts fast or slowly? Or owns the third quarter? Or sputters in the second?

The conventional wisdom is teams that do well in the third are good at making halftime adjustments, but coaches often snort at such talk.

Former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter once painstakingly walked reporters through the halftime process to help them understand the small window for making significant schematic changes. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was at his snarky best -- even as he was being flattered -- when asked about "halftime adjustments."

Kelly, however, would admit that the occasional slow start by his offense was due to a feeling out period, where he and his assistants were taking the measure of what a defense was trying to do. That's the nature of football -- punching and counterpunching, reading and reacting.

Still, you probably shouldn't read too much into these numbers. While it's interesting that UCLA and Washington were very good in the third quarter last year while Arizona State -- curiously -- was not, the salient fact is the Sun Devils beat both.

 
  • Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Washington were the only Pac-12 teams to win every quarter.
  • California was the only Pac-12 team outscored in all four quarters. The Bears gave up 181 points in the first quarter, the worst defensive quarter in the conference.
  • The highest scoring quarter belonged to Arizona State, with 192 points in the second. Washington had 184 points in the third and Oregon 182 points in the first.
  • The best defensive quarter was USC in the first, holding foes to 37 points. Washington yielded 44 in the first and UCLA gave up 44 in the third.
  • Arizona State was dominant in every quarter, other than the third, when it was outscored 109-99.
  • Stanford was dominant in every quarter other than the fourth, which it lost 85-92, suggesting the Cardinal didn't fight for a large margin of victory.
  • Oregon was dominant in all four quarters and, despite that, posted the best fourth-quarter margin of 78 points (137-59), suggesting the Ducks enjoyed producing a large margin of victory.
  • Stanford yielded 60 or fewer points in each of the first three quarters. Oregon did so in the third and fourth (47 points and 59 points). Only three other teams produced even a single quarter with 60 or fewer points: UCLA in the third (44), USC in the first (37) and Washington in the first (44).
  • Colorado was outscored in the first three quarters but won the fourth decisively, 130-70. That suggests Mike McIntyre's team didn't quit.
  • USC won 10 games last year despite being outscored in both the third and fourth quarters. Only Cal and Washington State matched that dubious distinction.
  • Utah was outscored only in the fourth quarter. Oregon State was outscored only in the first.
  • Washington's 119-point margin (184-65) in the third was the largest for any quarter. Oregon's 109-point margin in the first quarter was second (182-73). Arizona State had the largest second-quarter margin at 77 points (192-115).
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
2:30
PM PT
I'm an early bird and I'm a night owl, so I'm wise and have worms.
As he has done the past five seasons, ESPN contributor Phil Steele takes a crack at projecting the preseason AP Top 25 Insider.

Steele has been pretty solid the last couple of years -- picking all 25 ranked teams in consecutive seasons. If he’s projecting your team, chances are they’ll be the list. He notes that this isn’t his personal preseason ranking, but rather his projection of how the AP will likely vote.

The Pac-12 is represented with Oregon at No. 3 and UCLA at No. 7 and three other teams in the projected Top 25.

Steele on Oregon:
While the Ducks, under new head coach Mark Helfrich, failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time in five seasons in 2013, they still managed their sixth-straight season with double-digit wins. This year they return 15 starters, led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is clearly one of the Heisman favorites heading into 2014. The biggest question might be how they adjust to long-time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's retirement. However, they do return linebacker Derrick Malone, their leading tackler, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could be the best cornerback in the country.

Stanford and USC check in at 12 and 14, respectively, and Washington rounds out the group at No. 22.

He raises an interesting point regarding the Cardinal:
The biggest question for the Cardinal in 2014, however, is how they will navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country: Stanford plays Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA --- all on the road.

The Pac-12 finished up 2013 with six teams ranked in the Top 25. ASU is the only team that was ranked to close the season that isn’t projected by Steele. But the Sun Devils are likely to receive some votes and have a chance to slip into the Top 25 in the first couple of weeks with a softer schedule. But then it ramps up for ASU with four straight games against teams in Steele’s projections, starting off with a home date against UCLA. Recall the last couple of seasons that game has essentially decided the Pac-12 South title, and the road team has won in consecutive years. Then ASU is at USC, home to Stanford and at Washington.

Arizona ended the season receiving votes and should start out 4-0 (vs. UNLV, at UTSA, vs. Nevada, vs. California). Then the Wildcats have back-to-back games against Oregon (in Eugene, can you say revenge game?) and home to USC. A 4-0 start and a win in either of those games keeps the Wildcats in the Top 25.

Oregon State may receive a few votes as well -- though voters will likely be timid with the Beavers considering how last season started. Still, with three projected nonconference wins (vs. Portland State, at Hawaii, vs. San Diego State) the Beavers should be undefeated heading into conference play at USC. A 4-0 start and a win over USC would go a long way toward getting OSU in the Top 25.

Offensive explosion plays: South

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM PT
Just as defenses like to create negative plays for offenses, offenses like to create explosion plays -- plays of over 20 yards.

So which Pac-12 offenses created the most explosion plays in 2013? And how? And who's coming back in 2014?

I appreciate you asking.

The number to the left is the team's national ranking. "TDs" is how many of the explosion plays produced touchdowns. The "returning in 2014" is the explosion plays produced in 2013 by players who return in the fall.

In the "lost" and "returning" categories, we list players who had five or more explosion plays in 2013.

T7. Arizona State (10-4)
2013 explosion plays: 86 (62 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 11 pass, 14 run

Returning in 2014: 50 (38 pass, 12 rush)

Lost: RB Marion Grice (15); WR Kevin Ozier (9); TE Chris Coyle (6)

Returning: WR Jaelen Strong (22); RB D.J. Foster (11); QB Taylor Kelly (7)
36. UCLA (10-3)
2013 explosion plays: 69 (45 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 12 pass, 5 run

Returning in 2014: 53 (31 pass, 22 run)

Lost: WR Shaq Evans (10)

Returning: RB Paul Perkins (9); WR Devin Lucien (8); QB Brett Hundley (8); RB Steven Manfro (5)
T40. USC (10-4)
2013 explosion plays: 67 (43 pass, 24 run)

TDs: 12 pass, 11 run

Returning in 2014: 49 (26 pass, 23 run)

Lost: WR Marqise Lee (10); TE Xavier Grimble (5)

Returning: WR Nelson Agholor (15); RB Javorius Allen (12); RB Tre Madden (9)
T53. Arizona (8-5)
2013 explosion plays: 61 (32 pass, 29 run)

TDs: 6 pass, 9 run

Returning in 2014: 27 (25 pass, 2 rush)

Lost: RB Ka'Deem Carey (16); QB B.J. Denker (9); WR Terrence Miller (6)

Returning: WR Nate Phillips (9), WR Garic Wharton (8)
T71. Utah (5-7)
2013 explosion plays: 56 (38 pass, 18 run)

TDs: 9 pass, 5 run

Returning in 2014: 38 (23 pass, 15 run)

Lost: TE Jake Murphy (6); WR Sean Fitzgerald (5)

Returning: WR Dres Anderson (15); RB Bubba Poole (8); QB Travis Wilson (6)
T104. Colorado (4-8)
2013 explosion plays: 43 (36 pass, 7 run)

TDs: 14 pass, 3 run

Returning in 2014: 24 (17 pass, 7 run)

Lost: WR Paul Richardson (19)

Returning: WR Nelson Spruce (7); RB Michael Adkins (6)

They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.

We're defining negative plays here as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more importantly -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.

We start with the South Division.

(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).

Arizona

Tackles for a loss: 77 (32.5)

Sacks: 24 (11.5)

Interceptions: 18 (12)

Forced fumbles: 9 (6)

Key returners: LB Scooby Wright (9.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception); S Tra'Mayne Bondurant (7.0 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble)

Key losses: DL Sione Tuihalamaka (11 TFL, 5 sacks, forced fumble); CB Shaquille Richardson (3.0 TFL, 3 INTs)

Breakdown: The Wildcats must replace a lot of production, including their top two tacklers and tackles-for-loss producers. As has been the question for the past few years, it's uncertain who will lead the pass rush.

Arizona State

Tackles for a loss: 101 (16.5)

Sacks: 40 (5)

Interceptions: 21 (4)

Forced fumbles: 14 (6)

Key returners: S Damarious Randall (5.5 tackles for a loss, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles); LB Salamo Fiso (5.5 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: DE Carl Bradford (19 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles); DB Robert Nelson (6 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: After losing nine starters, including six on the All-Pac-12 first and second teams, the Sun Devils are rebuilding on defense. Considering ASU's system is predicated on negative plays, developing new defensive playmakers is priority No. 1 for the defending South champions.

Colorado

Tackles for a loss: 71 (42.5)

Sacks: 17 (11)

Interceptions: 10 (10)

Forced fumbles: 12 (7)

Key returners: LB Addison Gillam (9.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, INT); CB Greg Henderson (4 interceptions)

Key losses: DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe (10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles)

Breakdown: Other than Uzo-Diribe, just about all the key producers are back. But they need to take a decisive step forward this season. There's a sense in Boulder that the secondary might be ready for prime time.

UCLA

Tackles for a loss: 79 (31)

Sacks: 32 (8)

Interceptions: 14 (11)

Forced fumbles: 17 (9)

Key returners: LB Myles Jack (7.0 tackles for a loss, 1.0 sacks, 2 INTs, forced fumble) CB Ishmael Adams (1.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Anthony Barr (20 TFL, 10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles); DE Cassius Marsh (9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks)

Breakdown: Obviously, the loss of Barr is huge, but Marsh and LB Jordan Zumwalt also were highly productive players. The Bruins welcome a lot of guys back but those guys need to step up their negative-play production in 2014 -- paging Myles Jack.

USC

Tackles for a loss: 91 (49)

Sacks: 35 (15)

Interceptions: 17 (11)

Forced fumbles: 8 (6)

Key returners: DE Leonard Williams (13.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); CB Josh Shaw (5.5 tackles for a loss, 4 INTs)

Key losses: OLB Devon Kennard (13 TFL, 9.0 sacks); DB Dion Bailey (6.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 5 INTs, forced fumble)

Breakdown: USC welcomes back its three leading tacklers. Replacing Kennard's production is the big question for the defense. It was a huge gain for the Trojans when Shaw opted to return, as he solidified what should be a good secondary.

Utah

Tackles for a loss: 80 (31.5)

Sacks: 39 (13.5)

Interceptions: 3 (0)

Forced fumbles: 13 (7)

Key returner: DE Nate Orchard (9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)

Key losses: OLB Trevor Reilly (16 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble); LB Jacoby Hale (10 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Breakdown: Reilly was, by far, the Utes' best and most productive defensive player, but the loss of Hale to a serious knee injury this spring also hurts. It's pretty astounding that the Utes don't have a player coming back who had an interception in 2013.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
11:30
AM PT
I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law.
Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
PM PT
Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
11:30
AM PT
Oh, you mean my pilot's license? That's out back in the Cessna. Or perhaps you're referring to my license to kill. Revoked. Trouble at the Kazakhstan border. I could give you the details but then I'd have to kill you, which I can't do because my license to kill has been revoked.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
11:30
AM PT
I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
Happy Friday.
 
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions.

Next up: South Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. USC

LB Hayes Pullard, DT Leonard Williams, S Su'a Cravens

The skinny: Pullard was second-team All-Pac-12 after leading the Trojans with 94 tackles. While DE Devon Kennard led the Trojans with nine sacks last year, Williams was a force inside with six. It's also possible, of course, that attention to Williams, a certain preseason All-American, will open things up for a DE/OLB, such as J.R. Tavai. Cravens is likely to become as a true sophomore an all-conference performer. He had four interceptions last year, second on the team.

2. UCLA

LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Kenny Orjioke, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: Kendricks ranked third in the Pac-12 with 8.8 tackles per game last year. Does he finally break through on the all-conference team after two years as an honorable mention? Orjioke is the frontrunner to replace Anthony Barr. He's 6-foot-4, 240 pounds and has tons of potential. He, however, had just 12 tackles and two sacks as a sophomore. Adams led the Bruins with four interceptions last year.

3. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert, "spur" LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant

The skinny: Wright earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 as a true freshman, finishing with 83 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. With both MLB Jake Fischer and weakside LB Marquis Flowers gone, he seems like a favorite to lead the team in tackles, even if he stays at strongside backer. Gilbert ranked second on the team with four sacks, though it's possible the Wildcats defense will do some juggling to increase anemic sack numbers this fall. Or a new guy, such as LB Antonio Smothers or DL Jeff Worthy, will break through. Bondurant, a hybrid LB/safety, led the Wildcats with four interceptions in 2013.

4. Arizona State

LB Salamo Fiso, DE/OLB Viliami Latu, S Damarious Randall

The skinny: The Sun Devils are replacing nine starters on defense, but Randall and Fiso are two of the three returning starters. It is notable that coach Todd Graham has been moving guys around on defense this spring, so ultimate positions are a matter of conjecture at this point. Fiso ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles. Sophomore Latu might have a lead in the battle to replace Carl Bradford at the highly productive "devil" LB position. Randall had three interceptions last year.

5. Utah

LB Gionni Paul, OLB Jacoby Hale, S Eric Rowe

The skinny: Paul, a Miami transfer, is drawing raves this spring. He was a terror on the scout team a year ago. Hale is likely to replace Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes in tackles and sacks last year, at the "stud" linebacker. He was second on the Utes with 10 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. As for the Utes’ leader for interceptions, well, funny you should ask about a team that had just three picks all of last year, tied for fewest in the nation. We're going with Rowe, even though he didn't have a pick in 2013 and had just one in 2012.

6. Colorado

LB Addison Gillam, TBA, CB Greg Henderson

The skinny: Along with Wright and UCLA's Myles Jack, Gillam was a true freshman LB revelation last year. He led the Buffaloes with 107 tackles. He might be a good bet to lead the team in sacks, too. The Buffs are replacing leading sacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4), and it's unclear who will fill that void. D-lineman Samson Kafovalu is a possibility, but he's sitting out spring focusing on academics. Derek McCartney -- yeah, that McCartney -- has been playing well this spring. Henderson led the Buffaloes with four picks a year ago.

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