USC: USC Trojans

USC Grades: Defense stifles Mannion

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
7:16
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Claude PelonJohn Cordes/Icon SportswireClaude Pelon and the USC defense harrassed Sean Mannion throughout the Trojans' blowout win.

The USC Trojans had to wait two weeks to get back onto the field after their embarrassing upset loss to Boston College. They also had to wait a month to return to the Coliseum after opening up the season four weeks ago against Fresno State.

It’s still too early in the season to know exactly what kind of team USC has. Are they the team that blew out Fresno State and shocked Stanford in Palo Alto, California, to open up the season or the team that was unable to run or stop the run against Boston College? It’s hard to say, but USC’s 35-10 win over Oregon State momentarily put USC back on track and made the Boston College fiasco look like an early-season aberration.

GradePassing attack

Cody Kessler was once again efficient for the Trojans. He completed 24 of 32 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In fact, Kessler has not thrown an interception this season. Kessler has thrown at least one touchdown in 15 of his past 18 games. He is already 10th on USC’s career completions list with 333. Kessler is also completing 76.5 percent of his passes from inside the pocket this season, tied for fourth best by any Power Five quarterback with a minimum of 50 attempts.

GradeRushing attack

USC ran for 200 yards against Oregon State, bouncing back from their 20-yard performance against Boston College. Javorius Allen rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Justin Davis rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown. Allen also had a team-high five receptions for 23 yards, and Davis had three catches for 30 yards and a touchdown.

GradeIn the trenches

Not only did USC rush for 200 yards, but they held Oregon State to 58 yards rushing and recorded two sacks. Kessler was given enough time, more often than not, as USC controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and dictated time of possession.

GradeDefense

After a nightmarish game against Boston College, USC’s defense responded with its best performance of the season. Oregon State had only 181 total yards, the fewest by a USC opponent since San Jose State's 121 in 2009. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion finished 15-for-32 for 123 yards, which was his lowest career output. Su'a Cravens had a first-quarter interception return for a touchdown, the first of his career, and Leon McQuay had an interception in the end zone. USC’s secondary has not allowed a touchdown pass this season; no other secondary in college football can say that after the first four weeks of the season.

GradeSpecial teams

Andre Heidari’s lone field goal attempt from 36 yards was missed, but punter Kris Albarado had his best game, averaging over 40 yards per punt, including a 57-yard kick. USC didn’t get much from the return game outside of a JuJu Smith 35-yard return. The Trojans allowed Ryan Murphy to return a first-quarter kick for a 97-yard touchdown to tie the game and gave up 170 yards on four kick returns.

GradeCoaching

Steve Sarkisian opened up the offense some after a lackluster first quarter, as USC scored 35 points, their most since the season opener against Fresno State. The offense tallied 461 yards and USC won the turnover battle 2-0 after entering the game eighth in the nation with a plus-1.7 turnover margin. USC’s defense also shored up its problems from the Boston College game and shut down the Beavers, stifling Mannion, who passed for the fewest yards in his career.
LOS ANGELES -- The reaction was as subdued as the introduction.

During halftime of Saturday's USC-Oregon State game, Pete Carroll's name was quickly read along with the seven other USC Hall of Fame inductees who were unable to the game. It was so quick that the response when his name briefly echoed throughout the Coliseum was nonexistent.

Carroll wasn't on the field for the halftime ceremony, but nothing should be read into that. Carroll had always planned to spend the Seattle Seahawks' bye week in Miami with his son, Brennan, who is an assistant coach for the Miami Hurricanes, daughter-in-law, Amber, and grandchildren, Dillon and Colbie.

Throughout Carroll's coaching career, he has always dedicated bye weeks to his children, and this was the one chance he was going to get to see his son and grandchildren, who are 3 and 1, for six months.

Carroll had been told the halftime ceremony for the 16 inductees would be brief and slightly rushed with the late kickoff and he had already committed to attending the formal induction ceremony on campus in May. Each inductee ended up getting about a 20-second introduction for the six-minute, on-field ceremony.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
AP Photo/Scott EklundCarroll abdicated his USC post right before the NCAA levied sanctions, but he claims he would've stayed had he known how severe the Trojans' penalty would be.
If his son were a quarterback in the game (as was the case with Jack Del Rio, a fellow 2015 Hall of Fame inductee, whose son Luke is a backup quarterback with the Beavers), he would have been there.

Whatever ill will that existed between Carroll and USC fans after the coach's departure five months before the school was hit with crippling sanctions has long since faded away.

(Read full post)

USC Grades: Weak areas exposed by BC

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:09
AM PT
Tyler RouseWinslow Townson/Getty ImagesNot even Leonard Williams could slow the Boston College running attack on Saturday.


The USC Trojans entered last Saturday night as one of the Top 10 teams in the country. Although it was early in the season, it seemed as if Steve Sarkisian's first year as USC's coach was destined to reach the College Football Playoff with a schedule that had the Trojans playing just one ranked team at home before a late November date with UCLA.

Those expectations, however, changed quickly after USC's 37-31 loss to unranked Boston College. Now we are left to wonder how good the Trojans really are this season. Sure, USC beat Fresno State, 52-13, to start the season but the Bulldogs are now 0-3 and have given up over 50 points in each one of their games. USC was thrilled to beat Stanford 13-10 at “The Farm” but the Cardinal got inside USC’s 35-yard line in each one of their nine drives. If Stanford doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot in seven of those nine drives, Stanford wins that game and USC is 1-2.

USC’s deficiencies were finally on display against Boston College where they were manhandled at the line of scrimmage and dominated for much of the game in suffering their first loss of the season.

GradePassing attack

Cody Kessler's numbers were perhaps the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable game for USC. He was 31-for-41 for 317 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. When he was finally allowed to throw the ball down field, USC’s offense looked alive again, but by that time it was too little, too late. Running back Javorius Allen was USC’s leading receiver on the night with nine receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown.

GradeRushing attack

USC tried and tried and tried some more to establish the running game against Boston College and ended up running into a wall each time. USC finished with just 20 yards on 29 carries for a paltry 0.7 yard per rush average. It was USC’s worst rushing performance since rushing for one yard against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

GradeIn the trenches

What made USC’s lack of a running game even worse was that Boston College ran at will on the Trojans. The Eagles ran for 452 yards and five touchdowns against USC. Boston College’s 452 rushing yards were the most given up by a USC team since Texas A&M gained 486 yards in the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl. USC also gave up five sacks, each one coming on a crucial third down, and USC converted just five of 16 third downs.


GradeDefense

USC’s defense probably deserves an F for giving up over 500 yards with most of that coming on the ground but they get some credit for holding Boston College to just 54 yards passing. Chris Hawkins also intercepted a Tyler Murphy pass as USC jumped out to a 17-6 lead to start the game. USC was also able to hold Boston College to just 2-for-11 on third down conversions. That’s the extent of the positives for USC’s defense, however, as Boston College did whatever they wanted on the ground and finished the game with a back-breaking 66-yard touchdown run by Murphy in the fourth quarter when USC was mounting a late comeback.

GradeSpecial teams

Andre Heidari nailed a 52-yard field goal early in the game and Kris Albarado escaped a near blocked punt to down a kick inside the 10-yard line. Albarado had 10 punts on the night with a 37.5-yard per punt average. Nelson Agholor wasn’t able to do much with his five punt returns, totaling just 15 yards.

GradeCoaching

Sarkisian’s offense looked like a revelation in the season opener when it ran a school-reocrd 105 plays. It was understandably scaled back for the second game against Stanford but his inability to open up the passing attack when the rushing game was shut down against Boston College was puzzling. It wasn’t until USC was down 30-17 with less than seven minutes left that Sarkisian finally opened up the offense. USC’s offense, however, is probably the least of its worries after giving up over 400 yards on the ground despite having the best defensive lineman in the country in Leonard Williams. As bad as USC was against Boston College, the Trojans should be able to win when they put up 30 points and hold their opponents to just 54 yards passing.

Unlikely Boston College stuns No. 9 USC

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:20
AM PT
video

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- This is not the way the No. 9 team in the nation is supposed to lose. This is not the way the Glamour Guys from USC go down. This is not the team that should be beating the Trojans, with their Hollywood profile and grand tradition.

The USC locker room is filled with four- and five-star recruits. And then there’s the Boston College locker room, a sweatier, and -- early Sunday morning -- happier version of the Island of Misfit Toys.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy is a fifth-year refugee from Florida. Two of the running backs, Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse, haven’t made it to 5-foot-10 yet, and both of them tower over 5-6 freshman Sherman Alston, whose 54-yard misdirection touchdown run late in the first half gave the Eagles a 20-17 lead they never lost.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesThough he finished with just 54 yards passing, Boston College signal-caller Tyler Murphy had 191 rushing yards and a touchdown vs. USC.
“We’re probably not your ideal top college football program as far as looks,” said Murphy, who started six games at Florida before transferring after last season. “Whatever it takes to win. Whether the guys are 5-2 or 7-8, we’ll find a place for them and we’ll find what they excel at and we’ll get them the ball.”

Murphy rushed for 191 yards, including a 66-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, on only 13 carries, to lead the Eagles over the Trojans, 37-31. Boston College hadn’t beaten a ranked team in six seasons or a top-10 team in a decade.

Boston College outgained USC on the ground 452 yards to 20. The Trojans haven't given up that much on the ground since 1977. The running game worked because the Eagles' offensive line, one of only two in the nation that starts five graduate students, won the battle on the line of scrimmage. And the running game worked because Murphy’s sleight of hand on the zone-read kept a fast Trojans defense moving in the wrong direction.

If you are looking for a mental picture of how Boston College won the game after spotting USC a 17-6 lead, think of a Trojans defender, sprawled on the ground, or turning the wrong way, lurching in vain toward an Eagles ball carrier. Suffice it to say it will be a long video session this week for USC cornerback Chris Hawkins. And he’s not the only one.

The Eagles' defense sacked Cody Kessler five times and refused to afford him time to throw downfield. Kessler threw for 317 yards, but completed only one pass longer than 20 yards. Linebacker Josh Keyes made five-and-a-half of his eight tackles behind the line.

USC hoped it could come east, get ahead early and rest its starters. When you travel with 54 available scholarship players -- and that includes linebacker Hayes Pullard, who sat out the first half after a targeting penalty last week -- you look to ease the load when you can. When the Trojans flipped field position on the Eagles early in the game and started two possessions inside the BC 40-yard line, they grabbed a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

On the other side of the ball, The Eagles went three-and-out on their first three possessions and gained a net total of minus-2 yards. By the time they moved their total yardage into the plus column, the Eagles trailed 10-0.

“We grouped up together on the sideline and we said, ‘That ends now. We’ve got to start playing up to our potential,’ I think we turned the tide then,” center Andy Gallik said.

[+] EnlargeBoston College Eagles fans
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsDespite an early 17-6 deficit, Boston College stormed back to upset USC. The Eagles' fans stormed the field after the win.
On the Eagles' next snap, a first-and-10 at the BC 22, Willis got a big hole in the left side of the line, and then used great downfield blocks to race 52 yards to the USC 26. The Eagles scored six plays later.

“I thought we played our best football early in the game,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Our execution was good. But for whatever reason, we lost it. And that’s the part I have to figure out. They hit the one long run and things started to go the other direction on us.”

All upsets are emotional for the winners, but this one left a warm feeling throughout Alumni Stadium. Before the game, the parents of Welles Crowther, a Boston College lacrosse player who died a hero in the South Tower of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks, were introduced.

After the game, Eagle coach Steve Addazio gave them a game ball.

“We talked a lot about Welles Crowther,” Addazio said after the game. “We talked a lot about who he was and what it takes to be a BC man. Our guys really dug deep on this.”

Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball player whose fight against ALS prompted the Ice Bucket Challenge that raised more than $100 million to fight the disease, attended the game and was shown on the video boards at halftime, to the delight of the crowd of 41,632.

Football teams don’t live on emotion. They live on execution, and if that’s fueled by emotion, all the better. This Boston College team is a motley crew. But on Saturday night, the Eagles didn’t play that way. They looked like five-star recruits, every one of them. Ask the five-star guys they beat.

USC Grades: Streaks snapped at Stanford

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
9:30
AM PT
Steve SarkisianKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC's win at Stanford vaulted the Trojans into the top 10 and possibly the national title picture.
The Trojans had not won a game at Stanford since 2008. The Cardinal had not lost at home in 17 straight games, the longest streak among FBS teams. The Trojans, losers of four out of their past five against Stanford, hadn’t defeated the Cardinal in back-to-back seasons since 2006.

All of those streaks were snapped Saturday when the Trojans beat the Cardinal 13-10 in Palo Alto, California, and catapulted themselves back into the top 10 of the polls and into the College Football Playoff conversation.

It’s early, but if USC’s season ends with them playing for a national championship four months from now, Saturday’s win at Stanford will serve as the turning point.

GradePassing attack

Cody Kessler wasn’t spectacular, but he did what he needed to against Stanford. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 135 yards. He didn't throw for a touchdown, but he didn’t turn the ball over, either. Nelson Agholor caught a career-high nine passes and was targeted a career-high 13 times. Kessler passed on 10 of the Trojans' 14 third downs. USC converted on seven of those. Kessler is now 2-0 against Stanford as a starting quarterback, which is the only number he and the team really care about.

GradeRushing attack

Javorius Allen ran for a career-high 154 yards on 23 carries against Stanford. It was the most rushing yards the Cardinal have allowed to a player in a game since the 2012 season and second most against a David Shaw-coached Stanford team. Allen rushed for 113 of those yards inside the tackles, which is more than any player has rushed for against Stanford since the start of last season.

GradeIn the trenches

Not only did USC’s offensive line create the holes for Allen, it also gave Kessler enough time in the pocket on third down, which hasn’t always been the case for USC quarterbacks at Stanford. USC’s defensive line came up big at the end of the game when Stanford was in position for a game-tying field goal, at the very least. First, Leonard Williams sacked quarterback Kevin Hogan to push the Cardinal back. Then J.R. Tavai ended the game with sack and fumble, which was recovered by USC linebacker Scott Felix.

GradeDefense

The Trojans have had to depend on a bend-but-don't-break strategy on defense since they've been on sanctions. They usually end up breaking in the end. Against Stanford, they bent and bent and bent but never broke. Stanford drove inside USC's 35-yard line on all nine of its drives but scored only 10 points. After breaking USC's 35-yard line, Stanford averaged just 3 yards per play. Much of the blame is going to Shaw, Hogan and the Stanford offense, but some of the credit must go to USC's defense, especially after ending the game with back-to-back sacks and a fumble for the win.

GradeSpecial teams

For the second year in a row, Andre Heidari made a long, game-winning field goal to beat Stanford. On Saturday, Heidari hit the 52-yard winner, which tied the longest field goal of his career. Late in the third quarter, Heidari drilled a 25-yard field goal to tie the score. He also had four kickoffs averaging over 60 yards, including a touchback after his final FG. USC deflected Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson's first field goal and got good pressure on him later when he missed a 26-yard attempt.

GradeCoaching

Normally, beating Stanford on the road and getting USC back into the top 10 two weeks into the season should be good enough for an A. But Steve Sarkisian takes a hit for not only getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty but also summoning USC athletic director Pat Haden down onto the field to have him take over arguing his case with officials. The bizarre incident resulted in Sarkisian and Haden being reprimanded by the Pac-12 and Haden receiving a $25,000 fine from the conference and a self-imposed two-game ban from the sidelines. It was an unfortunate incident that took the attention away from a big win for USC.

Cravens: Shaw, Brown on my mind

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
11:02
PM PT
video

LOS ANGELES -- While most USC players tried to change the subject when the names of Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown were brought up after Saturday's 52-13 victory over Fresno State, starting safety Su'a Cravens admitted he was thinking of both seniors and how their final seasons could have been different if they had handled their situations another way.

“I know [Brown] probably regrets saying what he said,” Cravens said of the running back who quit the team Aug. 21 and later called coach Steve Sarkisian "racist" in social-media posts since deleted. “It’s unfortunate. I know Sark personally, and Sark is a great coach, and there’s no way shape or form it's true what [Brown] said. I think he was just upset with the situation. If he could rethink that whole thing, he wouldn’t have said it. It’s the frustration of being in your senior year and really not playing. A.B. is my friend, and it’s unfortunate what he said.”

“[Shaw] apologized publicly to the coaching staff and to the entire football team and administration," Cravens added. "We all know what kind of guy Josh is, and he doesn't need to apologize to us for us to know that he’s sorry for what he did.”

What exactly happened with Shaw continues to be a mystery to most outside of the team -- the cornerback has been suspended after he admitted to lying about how he suffered a pair of ankle sprains -- and as much as Cravens would like to see the one-time defensive captain return, he understands that’s out of his hands.

“We got to see what happens legally, and if Coach Sark lets him back onto the team,” Cravens said. “We don’t know what happened. I’m sure if some guys did know what happened, they wouldn’t say because they might have to be witnesses in a courtroom. I don’t know. As far as I see it, he fabricated his story, and that’s all I know.”

Week 1 rivalries? Coaches say no thanks

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
3:00
PM PT
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Odd week finally yields to football

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
3:00
PM PT
Is anybody else ready for some football?

After one of the strangest weeks in the history of USC football, the Trojans get to put the focus back on the field Saturday, and kickoff can’t come soon enough.

The first hiccup of the week came last Saturday night when USC athletics director Pat Haden was unable to attend the annual “Salute to Troy” kickoff event on campus. The word given to the crowd that night was that Haden was dealing with family issues, but that everything was fine. As it turned out, Haden was actually in the hospital, and it was the second time in two days that he was there.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIt doesn't seem likely that Josh Shaw will be playing for USC anytime soon.
No reason has been given for why Haden was hospitalized, but he was back in the office this week, just in time to deal with the ups-and-downs of the Josh Shaw situation. The hero who wasn’t, a genuinely strange drama that still hasn’t been fully explained and might never be. What we know right now is that Shaw was suspended indefinitely by USC after admitting he lied about the original story, which combined with the ankle injuries means that he won’t be lining up for the Trojans anytime soon. In his post-practice media comments on Thursday, Sarkisian did leave the door open for a potential return for Shaw, but he gave no parameters for how or when that could happen.

Sarkisian also dealt with another off-field distraction in that Thursday media session when he responded to comments made by former USC defensive back/running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team this week but not before firing off comments in social media, calling Sarkisian a racist. Brown isn’t a name familiar to many fans outside of the USC program; he made a couple starts at corner early in his career before injuries really slowed him. Brown had requested a move to tailback this year, which Sarkisian granted, and brought a speed element. He could have found a role, but something obviously went wrong from his perspective in regard to his relationship with the head coach. Sarkisian refuted Brown’s comments and many players -- past and present -- immediately came to Sarkisian’s defense and spoke out against the remarks from their former teammate.

What does all this mean to the mindset of the team as they prepare for the season opener? After all, this was supposed to be a period of new beginnings for the Trojans. The NCAA sanctions basically a thing of the past, a talented roster capable of moving forward under their new coach, one who spent the offseason charming boosters and recruits with equal success. It would be easy to look at the distractions and think they would be an issue, but the guess here is that they will have very little impact, if any.

The most tangible impact will be the loss of Shaw on the field. You don’t just snap your fingers and replace a veteran senior who is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, one who was just elected a team captain, no matter how talented the players are who will be stepping in. But in terms of the drama influencing the emotion, preparation or focus of the team, I just don’t see it happening. The players have been waiting too long for this. The 2013 season showed this group that they can persevere through four coaching changes and still come out with 10 wins, so what happened this past week isn’t anything they can’t handle.

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
PM PT
Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

USC position-by-position preview: defense

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
AM PT
Set to play in a new scheme put in place by first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, here's a position-by-position glance at how the Trojans look on defense as they inch closer and closer toward the team's season opener.

Defensive line

Headlined by 2013 ESPN.com All-American defensive end Leonard Williams, the Trojans defensive line is the backbone of an extremely formidable USC front seven. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Williams missed some time early in camp with a shoulder strain, but he's returned to action and looks poised to have another monster season. At nose tackle, Antwaun Woods -- who started six games in 2013 -- also missed some time in camp due to a hyperextended elbow, but he too has returned and is showing no ill-effects from his injury. At the starting interior defensive tackle position a pair of transfers in Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon share the top spot on the depth chart. Both are big, strong athletes, and Simmons brings the added bonus of possessing the ability to slide over to nose tackle. Greg Townsend Jr. had a promising camp and seems to be over his injury woes, so he'll likely factor into the rotation at defensive end. Cody Temple was sidelined for a majority of camp after suffering a concussion, but he's getting back in the swing of things now and is listed as the No. 2 nose tackle. Freshmen Malik Dorton and Don Hill, as well as fifth-year senior walk-on Teddy Baker, will also provide depth on the interior.

Over at rush end, J.R. Tavai and Scott Felix have battled it out since the spring, and both players have shined throughout the competition. In fact, as camp progressed Wilcox increasingly lined Felix up at SAM linebacker -- where he's now listed as the starter -- in an effort to get both defensive playmakers on the field at the same time. Charles Burks is another option at rush end.

Linebackers

Fifth-year senior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard led the Trojans in tackles in two of the past three seasons, and having been chosen as a captain in back-to-back years now, he also serves an important role as a team leader. Lining up next to Pullard at WILL linebacker will be Anthony Sarao, who has continued to assert himself as a valuable piece of the defense after starting the final seven games of the 2013 campaign. Sophomore Michael Hutchings is the primary backup at MIKE, and freshman Olajuwon Tucker made a major move during fall camp, to where he's now established himself as the No. 2 WILL linebacker. Still needing to add a little bulk to his 6-3, 230-pound frame, he's shown a knack for being around the ball. Senior Lamar Dawson, who has started 20 games in his career, figured to be a factor at WILL linebacker, but he still hasn't quite recovered from the knee injury that he suffered last season, and Sarkisian recently said that he expects him to be out another month or longer.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is going to have to move foreard without Josh Shaw in the immediate future.
With Jabari Ruffin going down with a season ending ACL tear early in camp, it was assumed that Quinton Powell would immediately moved into the No. 1 spot at SAM linebacker, but instead Felix has assumed that role. Meanwhile, Powell, who enjoyed a strong spring, is left battling freshman Uchenna Nwosu for the primary backup job. Right now Nwosu is actually listed ahead of Powell on the depth chart.

Defensive backs

Similar to the situation at wide receiver on offense, the Trojans found themselves with a seeming overabundance of talent in the secondary throughout fall camp -- particularly at cornerback -- after suffering from a lack of depth there last fall. But with the recent news that fifth-year senior cornerback Josh Shaw will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering two high ankle sprains while rescuing his nephew in a pool this past Saturday, this is a unit that all of a sudden will have to move forward, for at least awhile, without its most seasoned, and reliable performer at cornerback.

In the absence of Shaw, Chris Hawkins is the likely favorite to take his place atop the depth chart, with Kevon Seymour, who started 11 games for the Trojans in 2013, on the other side. It's a challenge that Hawkins appears more than up for. The redshirt freshman actually lined up with the No. 1 unit for a majority of the spring, as Seymour was sidelined early on due to illness.

Sarkisian and his staff also made a concerted effort to shore up the cornerback spot in the last recruiting cycle, and that will obviously aid the situation here. One of those freshmen, Adoree' Jackson, looks ready to make an immediate impact, and he'll almost certainly push for major minutes as well. One of the Trojans' most highly-touted signees, he's lived up to every bit of the hype so far, starring at both cornerback and wide receiver in practice. An explosive athlete, he figures to see more time on the defensive side of the ball early, especially now. Jonathan Lockett and Lamont Simmons are two more freshmen who have shown well, and it's not out of the question to assume that one or both will now be relied upon to contribute. Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton are two veteran reserve players, although both are currently sidelined with injuries.

At safety Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman performed at a high level during fall camp, and both are listed as sharing the top spot at free safety, although Bowman spent quite a bit of time running with the No. 1 unit at strong safety. Su'a Cravens, a 2013 freshman All-American, battled illness and a groin injury during a portion of fall camp, but he looks to be healthy enough to have gained his starting job back at strong safety. He'll also see plenty of time at the Dollar spot -- a linebacker/safety hybrid position that plays to his strengths as a bigger, more physical defensive back with outstanding football instincts.

Freshman John Plattenburg will help add depth, and walk-on Matt Lopes is another name to watch out for. D.J. Morgan, a converted tailback who has been hampered by knee and leg injuries throughout his career, was held out for a majority of fall camp.

USC position-by-position preview: offense

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
8:00
AM PT
With fall camp in the books and the Trojans now immersed in game-week preparations for Saturday's season opener against Fresno State, here's a position-by-position look at where things stand for USC on offense today.

Quarterback

After emerging from a highly-publicized competition as USC's unquestioned starter at quarterback in the spring, Cody Kessler continued to perform at a high level throughout fall camp, appearing to grow more and more in command of Steve Sarkisian's new up-tempo offensive attack with each practice that passed. Having completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdown and 7 interceptions a year ago in 14 starts for the Trojans, there's every reason to believe that his numbers will only go up in 2014.

Second-year freshman Max Browne had a solid camp as well, and he'll serve as the primary backup. Freshman dual-threat quarterback Jalen Greene appears destined to redshirt this season, although with the strides that he's already made, he certainly looks to have a bright future.

Running back

The Trojans have a three-headed monster at tailback in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Allen -- the Trojans' team MVP in 2013 -- came into camp in fantastic shape and looks to be a perfect fit in Sarkisian's offense. He, along with Madden -- who rushed for more than 100 yards in four of USC's first five games in 2013 -- took the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 unit during the majority of fall camp. Madden hasn't practiced in a week due to a turf toe injury, and he's a game-time decision at this point. That paves the way for Davis, who excelled in the team's fall camp scrimmages, to carry a heavier load.

Walk-on James Toland IV and converted cornerback Anthony Brown are two reserves at tailback, although Brown has been sidelined as of late with a hyperextended elbow. (Update: Brown has since quit the team.)

One big question that arose as soon as Sarkisian became head coach was whether or not there's was a real role for the fullback in his offense. If fall camp is any indication, however, the answer is most definitely ‘Yes,' as both Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner were utilized in a variety of ways. Vainuku, in particular, appeared to make more plays coming out of the backfield than ever.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Ric Tapia/Icon SMINelson Agholor led the Trojans with 56 catches for 918 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
Wide receiver

The Trojans will field a wide receiver corps marked by talent and, in contrast to last season's squad, a plethora of depth. Nelson Agholor is the headliner. The team's leader in receiving yardage (918) in 2013, he's been showing off his versatility in practice, lining up outside as well in the slot periodically. George Farmer had arguably the best camp of his career, and it paid off in him landing atop the depth chart at the wide receiver spot opposite Agholor. After having been hampered by injuries throughout his time on campus so far, there's reason to believe this could be the year that he finally breaks through. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are a pair of veterans who will provide depth. Rogers, who now wears the highly-coveted No. 1 jersey, is a big and physical target who will try to improve on what was a promising freshman year in 2013. Blackwell, a fourth-year junior, asserted himself as a potential deep threat in practice this month.

There are also a host of freshmen who look poised to make an instant impact at wideout, perhaps none more-so than JuJu Smith. Bringing a unique combination of size, speed and sure hands to the table, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make a name for himself right from the get-go.

At the slot receiver position Ajene Harris is the name to watch. Somewhat of an underdog coming into camp after lining up at quarterback and defensive back on the high school level at Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, he now sits atop the depth chart after shining throughout fall camp. Highly sought-after two-way standout Adoree' Jackson will also see time here -- in addition to cornerback -- after asserting himself as a legitimate big-play threat.

Second-year freshman Steven Mitchell -- who was once thought to be the favorite to start at the slot position ahead of Harris and Jackson -- has been held back by knee and groin issues.

Freshman Rahshead Johnson, as well as veteran walk-ons Christian Tober, George Katrib, Robby Kolanz, Christian Guzman, David Mellstrom and Aaron Minor are others who will provide depth at wide receiver.

Tight end

The loss of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (academics) obviously dealt this already-thin unit a significant blow, but the good news is that Randall Telfer looks healthy and primed for a big season in Sarkisian's tight end-friendly offense. Former Wake Forest pitcher-turned walk-on quarterback-turned tight end Chris Willson currently sits at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. And then there's freshman Bryce Dixon, who just might be the most exciting performer of the bunch. A fantastic athlete with outstanding skills as a receiver, he certainly appears to possess the tools to allow him to flourish in Sarkisian's offense -- perhaps sooner than later.

With this group low in numbers, Sarkisian said that he might rely more on fullbacks Vainuku and Pinner, and that does seem to mesh with what was seen in fall camp.

Offensive line

Perhaps no unit was surrounded by more uncertainty heading into fall camp than the offensive line, but Tim Drevno's group has slowly started to come together. Still plenty of questions exist today, particularly with a trio of freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao all expected to play crucial roles.

The No. 1 group for the majority of camp was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. With Rodgers currently out with a knee sprain, however, it's Mama who is slated to get the starting nod against Fresno State -- meaning that for the first time in the post-World War II era the Trojans will likely have two freshmen starters on the offensive line in an opener. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., both Mama and Lobendahn appear to be up for the challenge. Aundrey Walker, who was hobbled early in camp, has started to come on, and with Sarkisian noting that he plans to rotate players in and out of the lineup along the offensive line, it stands to reason that he will see time somewhere on the field in a reserve role. He's currently listed as a backup at both tackle spots as well as at right guard. Talamaivao is the primary backup at left guard after beginning camp as a reserve center.

Center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo, guard/tackle Nathan Guertler, tackle Nico Falah and guard Jordan Simmons will all provide depth -- although Simmons has missed extensive time due to his 2013 knee injury.

Freshmen tackles Chris Brown and Jordan Austin (hip surgery) will likely redshirt.

Trojans fight through 'challenging day'

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
12:45
AM PT
In two weeks the USC Trojans will be playing the Fresno State Bulldogs and Steve Sarkisian asked his team after a Saturday practice in the Coliseum if they were ready.

"When I gathered the team together I asked them two questions," Sarkisian said. "I told them to look in the mirror and ask themselves, 'Am I ready to play a game in two weeks?,' and, if not, what are the issues preventing you from being ready?"

If the Saturday session is any indication there is still plenty of work to be done, it was one of those grind-it-out days following a physical practice Friday night and the mood wasn't helped after three USC players left the practice due to ankle injuries.

"It was a challenging day," Sarkisian said. "It's just the sheer fact of being in the second week of camp, guys are mentally and physically sore and beat up. They are fatigued. But I liked the way our leaders responded today and as coaches we didn't need to back off to make it a light practice. It was a warm one today and guys fought through it, which is good because we don't have the luxury of holding guys out."

Sarkisian did say that he thinks his team is "really close but not there yet" and he referenced a good performance Friday night by the offense as an example of how things are coming together in a positive way. Cody Kessler had one of his best performances of camp by hitting long touchdown passes to George Farmer and JuJu Smith, and those weren't the only highlights of the night.

"We saw a lot of weapons last night," Sarkisian said. "It's not just putting multiple personnel groupings on the field, it's guys who can be real weapons. We've got guys who can establish the run game, which opens up one-on-one opportunities outside and if we execute there it softens up the defense for the run again. We've accomplished a lot in two weeks but there is more work to do, that's why camp is four weeks instead of two."

Su'a at SAM

One of the big questions in the offseason for the Trojans involved Su'a Cravens and the possibility of him moving to outside linebacker in a role similar to the one played by Shaq Thompson at Washington. With similar size and athletic ability the comparison between the two players seemed natural.

With the season-ending injury to Jabari Ruffin last week those questions came up again and Saturday was the first time that Cravens took reps at the strongside (SAM) linebacker spot. Up until this point Sarkisian had said the coaches planned to keep Cravens at safety while moving closer to the line in nickel situations, but now they might look at switching him from different positions depending on the opponent.

"Against teams that play four-wides, Su'a could be at SAM in our nickel and dime packages," Sarkisian said. "Against more traditional offensive teams like Stanford where we are playing man-to-man and blitzing, he could play back at safety. He likes to make plays and be around the ball and we're trying to find ways to do that."

Injury update
  • Three important players for the Trojans went down with ankle injuries during the team's helmets and shoulder pads practice Saturday -- tailback Justin Davis, offensive lineman Damien Mama and rush end J.R. Tavai. Davis suffered his injury during a kick-return drill, but Sarkisian noted that it is not a reoccurrence of the ankle injury that he suffered midway through last season. Mama, who has been taking reps with the No. 1 unit at right guard, went down during an 11-on-11 period. Tavai, who is in a battle with Scott Felix for the starting rush end job, hurt his ankle during a one-on-one session.

    And while Davis and Mama appeared to spend the majority of the day in the trainers' tent with ice on their ankles, Sarkisian said that, at least initially, it doesn't look like any of the players will be out for too long.

    "We had three guys roll ankles -- the first reports are none of which are serious, but we'll obviously re-evaluate just to make sure," Sarkisian said. "But we think that these guys will be back with us in no time."

  • The list of those who sat out practice included Antwaun Woods (elbow), Cody Temple (concussion), Lamar Dawson (knee), Ryan Dillard, Jordan Simmons (knee) and Anthony Brown (elbow).

  • Leonard Williams suited up for the first time in almost a week after injuring his shoulder, and while he only participated in early non-contact drills and warm-ups, Sarkisian believes he's on the verge of making a complete return.

    "We saw a lot of Leonard today compared to what he's been doing," Sarkisian said. "I think we'll see a lot more in the next two days."

  • Another player who has missed extensive time recently, Adoree' Jackson, was able to participate in the entirety of practice. Having lined up at both wide receiver and cornerback early on in camp, the talented freshman lined up solely on the defensive side of the ball Saturday as a precautionary measure.

    "He was a little rusty out there, but all in all his athleticism was great," Sarkisian said. "We saw him on a couple kickoff returns. He's exactly what we saw early on, but technique-wise, when you don't practice that long you can be a little rusty, so we've got to get him back going again."

  • Aundrey Walker (knee) also appeared to go through the whole practice session, although he still wore a yellow jersey. With Mama out, he saw time with the No. 2 unit at right guard. Chris Brown also took reps with the second unit at the same position.

Poll: Which teams will meet in December?

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
12:00
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Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    40%
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    23%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,609)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 15-11

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
9:00
AM PT
Our list of the Top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

15. UCLA LB Eric Kendricks

2013 stats: 106 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

Why he's ranked here: In his time at UCLA, Kendricks has gone from an outstanding defensive scout team member to being a crucial element to one of the best linebacking groups in the conference (and maybe the country). In his redshirt senior season, we are expecting big things. And we aren't the only ones. UCLA coach Jim Mora sees big things happening for Kendricks. At Pac-12 media days last week he spent quite a bit of time complimenting Kendricks. First, on his leadership, saying, "He's kind of a glue guy. Without even saying a lot, he's kind of that guy that everyone wants to orbit around." Second, Mora complimented Kendricks' personality, explaining that if his daughter married Kendricks, he would be perfectly OK with that. Third, he said Kendricks had great hair.

We can't guarantee all of that (though, if there's a Pac-12 award for best hair, he'd have to be a semifinalist, right?) but the first fact seems pretty valid. Kendricks' leadership is going to be huge for the Bruins this season, and when a player is given that kind of a role by his coaches, and looked up to by his teammates, a lot of times that results in very big numbers on the field. Will he record double-digit tackles in games? There is a good chance. In 2012, he averaged 10.6 per game and in 2013 (ailed by injuries) he averaged 8.8. But he's just the first of two Bruins linebackers in this grouping on our countdown. Running backs, take note ...

14. Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson

2013 stats: 78 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: Thompson was second on Washington last season in tackles, but he's going to take on a bigger role this season as he begins his journey as a two-way player (perhaps he can ask No. 13 a few questions about that role). At Pac-12 media days, coach Chris Petersen addressed this and said, "We don't want to water him down and make him less of a defensive player. So I think there is a fine balance there and we'll continue to work through that." What exactly that fine balance is, we'll see. But there are certainly reps to be had at running back as the Huskies attempt to replace the production of Bishop Sankey. And Thompson could be a guy who contributes there. With the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball for Washington, Thompson -- who wasn't talked about too much even a year ago -- cracked the top 15 players in the conference in 2014.

13. UCLA LB Myles Jack

2013 stats: 75 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions; 38 carries, 267 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns

Why he's ranked here: So, with Thompson taking on a larger role on both sides of the ball, Jack is scaling back a bit. He was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, but this season, look for him to be much more a defensive player. Jack has athleticism pouring out of him, and with more of a focus on defense, and the discipline that brings, he could be scary, scary good this season -- so good he is the second-highest ranked linebacker on this list (not bad for a sophomore).

Though Mora didn't have quite the flowery sentiments about Jack as he did Kendricks (no hair or dating his daughter comments), he did say that if anyone were to ask UCLA players who the hardest-working Bruin was, that they would all say Jack or quarterback Brett Hundley. That is what the fans should care about. With someone who has his talent and athleticism, the fact that he is still the hardest-working player on the team means something. And that is going to show on the field this season. Could he lead the Pac-12 in tackles? Maybe. Could he and his top-25 counterpart Kendricks be an absolute nightmare to face this season? We think definitely.

12. USC LB Hayes Pullard

2013 stats: 94 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: For two of the past three seasons, Pullard has led the Trojans in tackles. Chances are that this could be Year 3 for him in that category. He is going to have serious competition for best linebacker in the conference (cough, cough, Nos. 15-13), but with 39 starts and 282 tackles under his belt, we're pretty sure Pullard is going to make the most of his senior year. At Pac-12 media days, USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought the strength of his team was in its front seven, and at the middle of that front seven for the Trojans this season is going to be Pullard. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior should crack 100 tackles this season, and we wouldn't be too surprised if at least 10 of those are for a loss.

11. Stanford OT Andrus Peat

Why he's ranked here: At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw told NFL.com that he thought Peat was second to just one offensive tackle he has ever been around -- 11-time NFL Pro Bowler John Odgen. That is pretty high praise. Peat is the highest offensive tackle and second-highest offensive lineman on our list. Assuming nothing goes insanely wrong, he will be an easy all-conference pick at the end of the season and possibly a semifinalist or finalist for the Outland Trophy. At 6-7, 316 pounds, he's going to be pretty tough to move. We're certainly looking forward to a few potential matchups with top defensive linemen (one, whose name will pop up later on in this list ...) as Peat looks to prove himself as the most feared tackle in the Pac-12. At this point in time, he has our vote. We'll see how the season shakes out.

Check out the rest of the rankings here: No. 25-21, No. 20-16
USC Trojans coach coach Steve Sarkisian added yet another solid recruiting piece to his 2015 class after San Clemente quarterback Sam Darnold committed to USC on Friday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler233162188418
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1509096.18
J. Davis733344.62
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor4853311.17
J. Smith2635013.51
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense189.3273.4462.7
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring35.623.112.4