USC: Dion Bailey

A look at the Pac-12's free-agent signings

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona
Arizona State
California
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

UCLA
USC
Utah
Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Washington
Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.

Pac-12 NFL draft class by the numbers

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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Spring practice is over, and so is the NFL draft.

Now, the wait begins -- 107 days, to be exact. That's when Arizona State (vs. Weber State), Utah (vs. Idaho State) and Washington State (vs. Rutgers) open their 2014 seasons.

But before we look forward, we'll take another look back at how the Pac-12 fared in the NFL draft.

One word sums it up pretty well: average.

Headed into this year's draft, the conference had averaged 29.8 selections since 2000, which equated to 2.9 per team factoring in Utah and Colorado's arrival in 2011. The 34 selections this year obviously brings that total average up slightly, but it's also a hair under the per-team average (2.84).

Same thing with first-round picks. There were 55 first-round picks during that time period (3.9 per year), which means the three that went in the first round this year was close to status quo.

When Washington State safety Deone Bucannon became the last of those three picks, he snapped the Cougars' first-round drought that dated to 2003. That streak had been tied for the longest in the conference with Arizona State, which counts Terrell Suggs as its last first-rounder.

The conference finished behind the SEC (49) and ACC (42) at No. 3 with players picked in the draft, ahead of the Big Ten (30) and Big 12 (17) among the power five.

In January, Kevin Gemmell outlined who will be replacing the players who left early from the North and South divisions. The total list included 26 players. Nine of those players went undrafted: Cal's Brendan Bigelow, Kameron Jackson, Viliami Moala and Chris McCain; Oregon's Colt Lyerla; USC's Dion Bailey, George Uko and Xavier Grimble; and Utah's Jake Murphy.

There were 19 NFL teams that selected Pac-12 players: Vikings (3), Bears (2), Cowboys (2), Eagles (2), Jets (2), Saints (2), Steelers (2), Packers (2), Seahawks (2), 49ers, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Jaguars, Patriots, Raiders, Redskins, Texans, Titans.

Here's the conference draft tally:

Stanford: 6
UCLA: 5
Oregon: 4
Arizona: 3
Arizona State: 3
USC: 3
California: 2
Oregon State: 2
Utah: 2
Washington: 2
Colorado: 1
Washington State: 1

Round-by-round:

First round
9. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Minnesota Vikings
20. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: New Orleans Saints*
27. Deone Bucannon, Washington State: Arizona Cardinals

Second round
1. OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Houston Texans
6. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington: Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
7. WR Marqise Lee, USC: Jacksonville Jaguars*
13. WR Paul Richardson, Colorado: Seattle Seahawks*
15. LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: Washington Redskins
22. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington: Tennessee Titans

Third round
6. C Marcus Martin, USC: San Francisco 49ers*
8. DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Minnesota Vikings*
18. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: Chicago Bears
22. WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Philadelphia Eagles
34. TE Richard Rodgers, Cal: Green Bay Packers*

Fourth round
8. DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA: Seattle Seahawks
15. WR Shaq Evans, UCLA: New York Jets
16. CB Keith McGill, Utah: Oakland Raiders
17. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: Chicago Bears
21. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State: Green Bay Packers*
24. RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon: Kansas City Chiefs*
26. LB Khairi Fortt, California: New Orleans Saints*
40. OT Cameron Fleming, Stanford: New England Patriots*

Fifth round
1. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon: Philadelphia Eagles
5. OG David Yankey, Stanford: Minnesota Vikings*
17. CB Shaquille Richardson, Arizona: Pittsburgh Steelers
22. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford: Philadelphia Eagles*
34. OLB Devon Kennard, USC: New York Giants

Sixth round
16. LB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: Pittsburgh Steelers
25. RB Marion Grice, Arizona State: San Diego Chargers
28. RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford: Carolina Panthers
36. LB Marquis Flowers, Arizona: Cincinnati Bengals

Seventh round
16. DE Ben Gardner, Stanford: Dallas Cowboys
18. OLB Trevor Reilly, Utah: New York Jets
39. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: Dallas Cowboys*
*Left with eligibility remaining

By conference (FBS only)
SEC: 49
ACC: 42
Pac-12: 34
Big Ten: 30
Big 12: 17
Mountain West: 16
Conference USA: 9
Independents: 9
MAC: 8
Sun Belt: 4

Pac-12's top NFL draft defensive prospects

April, 1, 2014
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On Monday, we took a look at how the Pac-12's offensive players stack up as NFL prospects in the eyes of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Tuesday, it's the defense's turn.

Defensive line

  • DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State: No. 4 (Kiper), No. 5 (McShay)
  • DT Will Sutton, Arizona State: No. 8 (Kiper), No. 10 (McShay)

If you've been following along since the end of the season, Sutton's spot isn't all too surprising. He didn't have a good showing at the combine and has taken heat about his physical condition, dating to before last season. Even with the concerns, it's hard to imagine he won't eventually find his way in the NFL. After all, he's only the second player in conference history to be a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Washington's Steve Emtman (1990-91) was the other. That's not by accident.

Coincidentally, the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, isn't ranked in the top 10 by either. See the list here. Insider

Other Pac-12 defensive linemen who figure to be in the mix in the draft are Cassius Marsh (UCLA), Taylor Hart (Oregon), Deandre Coleman (Cal), George Uko (USC), Tenny Palepoi (Utah), Morgan Breslin (USC), Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Josh Mauro (Stanford).

Linebacker

  • [+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr could be the first Pac-12 player to be drafted this year.
    OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: No. 2 (both)
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford: No. 6 (Kiper), No. 9 (McShay)
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Stanford: No. 3 (both)
  • ILB Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA: No. 8 (Kiper)

Barr is widely considered the Pac-12's best hope at landing in the first 10 picks, but if McShay was drafting, that wouldn't be the case. On drafting Barr, McShay wrote:
[Barr] of UCLA is a speed-rusher who stalls out when attempting to convert speed to power, and there is too much finesse to his game for me to pay a top-15 price for him. He looks like he's on skates when he attempts to set the edge.

That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the same player Stanford coach David Shaw compared to Jevon Kearse. Shaw called Barr called the best (defensive) player the conference has had in the "last few years."

Murphy is in a similar boat to Sutton in that his college production isn't necessarily being viewed as a lock to translate to the NFL. He still figures to be a good fit for a 3-4 team and should be expected to contribute right away.

Outside of the four listed, it wasn't a very deep year for linebackers in the conference. Utah's Trevor Reilly, who can play both OLB and DE, Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford and USC's Devon Kennard headline the rest of the NFL hopefuls.

Defensive back

McGill should send a thank you card in Pete Carroll's direction. It's largely because of Seattle's use of big-bodied corners en route to a Super Bowl victory that the league appears to be trending in that direction. At 6-foot-4, McGill's size -- in addition to his solid showing at the combine -- is a rare asset among the group of corners.

Bucannon looks like he'll be the first defensive back off the board, but will he be a first-round pick? That's unlikely, but it would be a surprise if he lasts into the third round.

Another storyline to watch is where the three defensive backs who left early -- safety Ed Reynolds (Stanford), cornerback Terrance Mitchell (Oregon) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (Cal) -- wind up.

See the lists for linebackers and defensive backs here.Insider

Spring position breakdowns: Safety

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.



Pac-12 at NFL combine: Tuesday recap

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
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Before Washington State safety Deone Bucannon made his way to Indianapolis for the NFL combine, he said he wanted to be a first-round pick.

While the first round still seems like a bit of a reach, Bucannon certainly helped his cause Tuesday with an impressive display of athleticism across the board. He turned in the day's fastest 40 time among the Pac-12's six defensive backs that participated (4.49) and ranked in the top-three among safeties in the 40, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock ranks Bucannon as the draft's No. 5 safety:
"He's got size, and he's got four years of high-quality production," Mayock said. Bucannon, who measured 6-1 and 211 pounds, had 383 tackles and 15 interceptions in his Cougars career. "I like him in the box, but he has the range to play on the back end," Mayock said.
Utah cornerback Keith McGill, who drew solid reviews at the Senior Bowl, also seemingly helped his draft stock by running 4.51 in the 40. Equally impressive was his 39-inch vertical leap which, at 6-foot-3, makes McGill a unique combination of athleticism and size.

McGill fits the mold mentioned here by ESPN's John Clayton:
The other bonus is the draft class offers corners with decent size and long arms. Many teams want to copy what the Seahawks have done with Richard Sherman and others. Going to a man-to-man scheme on the outside of a defense that uses a three-deep zone is going to be the trend if defenses can find the type of corners to run those strategies.

Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks probably made himself quite a bit of money after running the fastest 40-time among receivers over the weekend, but added $100,000 to his bounty because he did it wearing adidas cleats. The shoe company offered up that amount to whatever player at the combine clocked the fastest 40 time wearing its cleats. Kent State's Dri Archer ran the fast time, but wasn't wearing adidas.

Former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla earned a payoff of $10,000 from adidas for running the fastest 40 at his position group.

Here are how the defensive backs did in the 40 and bench press:

Cornerback

McGill, Utah: 4.51/did not lift
Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: 4.51/20 reps
Terrance Mitchell, Oregon: 4.63/did not lift

Safety

Bucannon, Washington State: 4.49/19 reps
Ed Reynolds, Stanford: 4.57/15 reps
Dion Bailey, USC: 4.66/did not lift

Replacing the Pac-12 South's early entries

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
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The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.

Talent drain leaves Pac-12 defenses in flux

January, 20, 2014
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The Pac-12 has seen a flurry of defensive coordinator movement over the last couple of weeks -- starting with the power struggle for former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the recent exoduses of Stanford’s Derek Mason to Vanderbilt as head coach and UCLA’s Lou Spanos to the Tennessee Titans as linebackers coach. Oregon’s promotion of Don Pellum to defensive coordinator to replace Nick Aliotti will also shine a spotlight on the Ducks’ defense in 2014 and beyond.

And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among the Pac-12 defensive stars entering the NFL in 2014.
Look at the top five scoring defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013: Stanford, Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA, respectively. All five have had defensive coordinators in flux in the young offseason.

That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.

But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.

Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.

In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.

The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.

Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).

But a lot more is gone than is coming back.

That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.

The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.

Sarkisian focuses on building trust at USC

January, 17, 2014
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When USC defensive back Josh Shaw learned Steve Sarkisian would be the Trojans' new head coach, it was as if a four-year-old wish was finally granted.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Jae C. HongDespite the familiarity, Steve Sarkisian says it will take some time before he feels "settled" at USC.
During the recruiting process, Shaw, a Southern California native, developed a strong bond with Sarkisian. Shaw liked Sarkisian and so did Shaw's family, but Washington wasn't the right fit. Shaw had his sights set on the SEC and chose Florida.

"I wanted to play for Coach Sark," Shaw said, "but you never choose a school for the coach."

Shaw's career path is a case in point.

He played for two coaches in two years at Florida -- Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp -- three coaches last year at USC -- Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton -- and Sarkisian will become No. 6 in five seasons when the Trojans open at home against Fresno State on Aug. 30.

For Shaw, adjusting to a new head-coaching personality has become old hat, and he said the transition at Florida was similar to the most recent change at USC.

"Coach Muschamp came in, [and] he gained our respect instantly," Shaw said. "We knew he had the team's best interest at heart. He wanted to win; we wanted to win."

And Sarkisian?

"That first meeting [on] the day he was hired, he told us he didn't expect for us to trust him right away and that it's earned," Shaw said. "He said it was going to be a process that he'll work at."

So far, so good.

Despite not having played a game for Sarkisian, he was one of the crutches Shaw leaned on the most after the bowl game and before deciding to return to USC for his final year of eligibility.

"There was already some familiarity with us [because of recruiting], but after several talks, we've grown closer," Shaw said. "We sat in his office, and he looked me right in the eye as we discussed what would be the best decision for my future."

The same guidance was there for the five players who opted to enter the NFL draft -- Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble, Marcus Martin, George Uko and Dion Bailey -- but Sarkisian said he wasn't caught off guard by any of their decisions.

"For those guys that have been here for three and four years, I knew I wasn't going to win them over in one 30- or 40-minute meeting," Sarkisian said. "I just let them know I would be there for them one way or another. For the guys that decided to leave, we're going to do everything we can to support them, too."

When Sarkisian started meeting with players individually, there were two points he wanted to cover right away.

"I think, first and foremost, they understand why I chose to come to USC," Sarkisian said. "And that's to be the best. I want to coach with the best coaches; I want to coach the best players.

"The second piece is I wanted to learn why they chose USC. A lot of times it's for the the same reason, to win championships."

Winning championships is all Sarkisian knew in his previous stints with the Trojans.

After he was elevated from offensive assistant to quarterbacks coach under Pete Carroll in 2002, USC earned at least a share of the conference title each season Sarkisian was on staff. He took a foray into the NFL as quarterbacks coach of Oakland Raiders in 2004, but aside from that, he was there for six of the seven BCS bowl berths during Carroll's tenure.

His last season on staff before taking over at Washington in 2009 also happens to be the last time USC won a conference title.

Despite being home in Southern California and his familiarity with USC, "settled" isn't the term Sarkisian would use to describe his current situation, and he doesn't expect that to change for some time.

"I don't know in Year 1 if you're ever settled in," he said. "Certainly not in six weeks. There are just so many facets to the job, new problems you have to work through, everything is constantly moving."

Especially when it comes to hiring a coaching staff and recruiting.

Sarkisian's staff appeared to be set before defensive line coach Bo Davis, a week after joining the staff at USC, had a change of heart and opted to join Nick Saban's staff at Alabama.

With national signing day on Feb. 5, Sarkisian had to move fast to find a replacement. He settled on Georgia's Chris Wilson, a former defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, after contacting "some of the best defensive line coaches in the country."

USC will begin spring practice on March 11.

25 Pac-12 players entering NFL draft early

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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While a number of big-name players opted to stick around for another year of Pac-12, most notably Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, UCLA QB Brett Hundley and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, the conference was hit hard by early defections.

Here's the complete list of Pac-12 players who entered the NFL draft despite remaining eligibility.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
Brendan Bigelow, RB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE, California
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Viliami Moala, DT, California
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (was kicked off the team in October)
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford
Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington


Pendergast's future at USC up in the air

December, 23, 2013
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With the news that junior safety Dion Bailey will make himself available for the NFL draft, that is one piece of the Trojans' defensive puzzle that is known for next year.

[+] EnlargeClancy Pendergast
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comUSC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast did wonders with the Trojans in 2013.
In the coming weeks, the Trojans will find out if other draft-eligible defensive stalwarts such as defensive end George Uko, linebacker Hayes Pullard and cornerback Josh Shaw will stay in school or choose to follow Bailey to the next level.

Those decisions will obviously have a huge impact on the fortunes of the 2014 USC defense as all of those players had prominent roles in the success this season. But there is another important cog in the defensive machine that is also unclear in terms of being back: defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

New USC coach Steve Sarkisian has filled six spots on his staff -- including the news over the weekend that Trojans offensive coordinator Clay Helton would be retained -- but there has been no confirmed news as far as his plans for the defensive coordinator spot.

There is a lot of speculation that Justin Wilcox -- who served for the past two seasons as defensive coordinator for Sarkisian at Washington – would be coming down to join the staff at USC. The Huskies play in the Fight Hunger Bowl on December 27 so any update on Wilcox will likely come after that game.

Wilcox has certainly developed a reputation as an up-and-coming coach who bolstered the Huskies' defense and received consideration for the Boise State head coaching job after Chris Petersen left the Broncos to replace Sarkisian at Washington.

A quick check of Pendergast’s one-season body of work, however, has many USC fans wondering why Pendergast wouldn’t be a natural option to keep on the staff as well.

Pendergast took over a USC defense that gave up 394 yards per game in 2012, the second highest total in school history, and over 24 points per game, the fourth highest mark. In 2013 under Pendergast, the Trojans led the conference in passing defense and red zone defense and were No. 2 in total defense, run defense and scoring defense.

That improvement was seen with many of the same players that were on the team in 2012, except for a few key losses in current NFL players T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. There was a change in scheme, from the 4-3 to the 5-2. There were depth issues, coaching changes and double duty for Pendergast, who also served as secondary coach. And there was success against both ends of the offensive spectrum -- his defense held up against the physical power running attack of Stanford and against the highest-ranked passing game in the country with Fresno State.

There was improvement with many individual players. Devon Kennard had spent three years playing out of position and was coming off a missed season due to injury, but he ended up leading the team in sacks and was a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist. Leonard Williams was named an ESPN All-American. Pendergast took a safety in Shaw and made him a valuable corner, J.R. Tavai moved from an interior D-lineman to a stand-up OLB and Bailey made the effortless switch from linebacker to safety.

Pendergast isn’t flashy, but he’s a relatively quiet coach on the field who holds his players accountable and gets obvious results. Players like Shaw have been quick to praise him for the work that was done this year. Oh, and if you want NFL swag, he’s also got Super Bowl experience from a stint with the Arizona Cardinals.

There is a lot on Sarkisian’s plate in terms of filling out his staff but one of his best options might just be to find a way to keep Pendergast around if at all possible.

A success to the power of 10

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
5:30
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – Because of the constantly rehashed circumstances that is their fate in a season that seems like four packed into one, the USC Trojans will be looking to end it with a perfect “10” against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday afternoon in Sam Boyd Stadium.

If you’re a movie aficionado, when you refer to “10,” there is this image of actor Dudley Moore entangled with jaw-dropping actress Bo Derek along with the hypnotic and sensual music of Maurice Ravel’s "Bolero" in the background. It was a comedy of sorts, but you never forgot the visuals and the musical score once you saw it on the big screen.

If the Trojans are victorious – and they are favored to do so – it would be bring this most scrutinized team its 10th victory of the season and would allow them to crow like Dudley Moore and finish a most unexpected season with a Bo Derek record. For all its trials and tribulations, a 10-win season would also be the 26th time a USC football team has reached such a celebrated plateau.

In the glorious history of USC football, more often than not, 10 victories is considered the minimum to be cardinal-and-gold acceptable. This team, despite its four losses and unusual circumstances, to say the least, will find itself with its own special identity.

As the Trojans prepare for Saturday’s early afternoon kickoff, it seems almost light years since the man with the trademark white visor, sunglasses and oversized play card – not so affectionately referred to as a giant Denny’s menu – was calling for bubble screens and a horizontal passing game to end all horizontal passing games.

[+] EnlargeDion Bailey
Chris Williams/Icon SMIDion Bailey and the Trojans can win a 10th game in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, a total that's a benchmark in school history.
Although Lane Kiffin probably should have been given his walking papers after the humiliating Hyundai Sun Bowl loss last New Year’s Eve to underdog Georgia Tech in El Paso, USC athletic director Pat Haden eventually pulled the plug in late September on one of the darkest coaching chapters in USC football history.

***

Junior safety Dion Bailey: “We’ve been playing with 30 players and 10 freshmen, so to get to 10 wins will be remarkable.”

***

Enter former interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who performed an incredible resuscitation of the football program after Kiffin’s early season dismissal. All “The Voice” did was completely turn around the team’s personality, give it direction and leadership, a sense of purpose, and an X’s and O’s philosophy that resulted in a 6-1 Pac-12 record the rest of the way, which included a huge upset of No. 5 Stanford.

Unfortunately for Orgeron, his sense of self-worth and his unification of Trojans nation from players to fans to media was upended when athletic director Haden gave “O” and his team a major awakening by hiring as the new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Washington Huskies head coach and a former Trojans assistant with Orgeron under Pete Carroll.

So incensed was the “one heartbeat and one family” Orgeron with Haden’s decision, he abruptly resigned, leaving a wake of tears and broken dreams among the Trojans players. Gone but not forgotten, Orgeron will still be in the hearts of the Trojans players taking the field this weekend.

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Junior defensive tackle George Uko: “Ten wins would mean a lot, especially to go through what we’ve been through and to finish with double digits in victories. We’d like to win it for coach Orgeron.”

***

Enter second interim head coach Clay Helton, who had been given the play-calling duties by Orgeron, who instructed Helton to provide a power running game and spread the ball around. The results were stunning, as the Trojans offense came alive as the defense continued to dominate.

Now the folksy southern drawl of Helton and his easygoing personality has the biggest challenge of all, having to motivate the Trojans after the intense, motivational leadership of the strong-willed Orgeron.

This seasonal soap opera recently concluded with the hiring of Sarkisian, who will be in Las Vegas this weekend to view firsthand the nucleus of a team that he is on record as saying is of championship caliber.

***

Junior quarterback Cody Kessler: “Like coach Helton told us, there are only so many teams in college football that can get 10 wins, and if we do, we’re in an elite group.”

***

All of which brings us back to the goal of a 10-win season. Ask any of the current players and they have seemingly have bought into Helton’s mantra that 10 wins will forever make them immortal.

And that certainly wouldn’t have been predicted for a team that has had more than its allotted time in the proverbial barrel, but a 10-win season would be the type of closure that would even bring a smile to Bo Derek, the original “10.”

Pac-12 lunch links: Mora dismisses UT talk

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
11:30
AM PT
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought ... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps ... means a little bit more!

WeAreSC roundtable: Postseason honors

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
8:00
AM PT
The USC football team banquet will be held this week with the annual team awards handed out. The WeAreSC staffers give their picks on some of the top performers of the season.

MVP

Garry Paskwietz: Leonard Williams
Johnny Curren: Leonard Williams
Greg Katz: Leonard Williams

Top offensive player

GP: Javorius "Buck" Allen
JC: Marcus Martin
GK: Cody Kessler

Top defensive player

GP: Devon Kennard
JC: Devon Kennard
GK: Devon Kennard

Most impactful freshman

GP: Su'a Cravens
JC: Su’a Cravens
GK: Su’a Cravens

Surprise performer

GP: Buck Allen
JC: Buck Allen
GK: J.R. Tavai

Tough guy of the year

GP: Dion Bailey
JC: Soma Vainuku
GK: Hayes Pullard

Biggest one-game performance

GP: Hayes Pullard vs Stanford
JC: Soma Vainuku vs Colorado
GK: Buck Allen vs Cal

Future star

GP: Justin Davis
JC: Justin Davis
GK: Darreus Rogers

Trojans hitting stride at right time

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
3:00
PM PT
The Trojans arrived home in Los Angeles on Sunday morning in a good position.

Coming off a satisfying 49-27 victory over Colorado, USC extended its win streak to five games and an overall 6-1 record under interim coach Ed Orgeron. It might not have been enough to get the Trojans into the Pac-12 title game -- ASU clinched the berth from the south on Saturday night -- but that bit of news will do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the players and coaches.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Colorado.
There is too much else to celebrate about what this team has accomplished to worry about the title game. Yes, it would have been nice for the program, especially considering the Trojans have yet to play in the game as it enters its third year in existence. But to focus solely on the title game would be a disservice to everything else that has gone on with this program over the last seven weeks, a process that has seen the team continue to improve to the point where they are playing their best football of the year at a time when the Bruins come to the Coliseum.

Not only do the Trojans have a chance to put the finishing touches on an amazing in-season turnaround with a victory over UCLA, they also have a chance to right a painful memory from last year. In their first season under coach Jim Mora, the Bruins got the upper hand in 2012 with a 38-28 victory in the Rose Bowl, a win that was all the more notable considering USC had beaten UCLA 50-0 the previous year.

The Bruins have tried to use the momentum from last year to lay claim to ownership of Los Angeles, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The slow start to the USC season appeared to give credence to those efforts, all while UCLA got a big road win over Nebraska and had high-profile stars such as Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr.

Then came the coaching switch for USC and tides of change have swung local momentum back in favor of the Trojans. While USC has been thriving under Orgeron, the Bruins are 3-3 in their last six games. While the Bruins were once ranked in the top 10 and the Trojans were unranked, the two teams now stand right next to each other in the rankings at No. 22 (UCLA) and 23 (USC).

The USC players are certainly going to want revenge for last year. Trojans safety Dion Bailey said in the locker room following the Colorado game that he and his teammates needed to “remind the Bruins” of who runs the town. That bit of chatter about ownership rights of the city is always part of this rivalry so that’s nothing new, but it doesn't figure to be the overriding storyline of this game.

The ongoing saga of Orgeron and his pursuit of the full-time USC job will dominate the discussions leading up to Saturday night, but what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is the fact his team is playing well right now, as good as he could have hoped for in such an important matchup.

USC has a quarterback in Cody Kessler who has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games while growing into a clear leader of the offense. The running game has received a huge boost from the play of Buck Allen, with his nine rushing touchdowns in the last four games and the splash of explosiveness he adds on the ground. There is also the thought in opponents' minds now of a 260-pound fullback in Soma Vainuku who can move pretty well, too.

On the outside there is still the reality that Marqise Lee is bothered by injuries but Nelson Agholor has stepped up to help pick up some of the slack. Lee would love to be back on the field against UCLA to help make up for 2012 in what will likely be his final home game at the Coliseum. At tight end, Xavier Grimble showed on Saturday what can happen when the tight ends are healthy and utilized the right way as he led the team with six catches.

The development of the offensive line has to be considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s no accident when a team has four different running backs go for over 100 yards in a game, at some point the line is doing something right.

On defense, the USC front seven is starting to get recognition as one of the best units in college football. Leonard Williams is playing like an All-American and Devon Kennard isn’t far behind. It makes it all the more impressive to think the Trojans are doing this lately without leading sacker Morgan Breslin, primarily due to the fine play of J.R. Tavai.

There has been the dependable leadership from Hayes Pullard while Anthony Sarao stepped in for an injured Lamar Dawson without missing a beat. And what was once the biggest weakness on the team, the secondary play and coverage at the corner spot, has been stabilized by the physical presence of Josh Shaw while Bailey has been a playmaker at safety.

On top of all that, kicker Andre Heidari battled through his job being put up for grabs to nail the biggest kick of his career in the win over Stanford.

Those are a lot of positives for the Trojans, players who are rising up and playing well, and by no means are these the only players getting it done. Orgeron has provided substance to the loose atmosphere he has fostered with the Trojans and now he and his team have a chance to finish this magnificent regular season run in style.

Pac-12 names players of the week

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
2:00
PM PT
USC quarterback Cody Kessler has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with defensive player of the week Robert Nelson of Arizona State and special teams player of the week Andre Heidari of USC.

Here’s some more info on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:
Kessler, a sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., was 25-of-37 for 288 yards and a touchdown in a 20-17 upset win over No. 5 Stanford on Saturday night in the Coliseum. He produced a season-best for both completions and attempts while connecting on 10 in a row as the Trojans held on to a seven point lead entering the third quarter. With the score tied 17-17 and 1:23 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Kessler completed a 13-yard pass to Marqise Lee on fourth and two to keep a drive alive that ended with a game-winning field goal.

Nelson, a senior from Lakeland, Fla., led an Arizona State defense that forced four interceptions from the nation’s leading passer in a 30-17 win over Oregon State in Tempe on Saturday night. Nelson collected two interceptions, returning the second one 23 yards for a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter, while adding five tackles and a fumble recovery on the night. Nelson now has six interceptions on the year, which is tied for fourth in the nation and is the most for a Sun Devil cornerback in a single season since 1987.

Heidari, junior from Bakersfield, Calif., hit the game-winning 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to seal the upset victory over Stanford. The game-winner helped the Trojans snap a four-game losing streak to the Cardinal while it was their first game-winning field goal since 2000. Heidari now has 38 field goals in his career.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running back Marion Grice of Arizona State and running back/linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA; and Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Addison Gillam of Colorado, Erik Kendricks of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; and USC safety Dion Bailey. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was punter Sean Covington of UCLA and Oregon running back/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler265186214820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen17710105.78
J. Davis773434.52
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor5864311.17
J. Smith3242713.32
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense178.1272.3450.4
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring33.823.310.5