Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.
Every team has players who have to step up this spring. Whether it's scout guys trying to become backups, backups trying to become starters or starters trying to become all-conference, every player should feel like he has something to prove. If they don't, someone behind them will.

That said, there are some positions/players who really have to something to prove. Chris Low is taking a national look at some players. Here are five more within the conference (in no particular order).

Evan Goodman, OT, ASU

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriSpring practices should assist Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon in finding his mojo again.
Goodman was one of the most sought-after recruits in Florida. Dennis Erickson started recruiting him and Todd Graham closed the deal. Now it's time for the former four-star to live up to the hype. He has the frame at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. And with Jamil Douglas leaving, the Sun Devils just happen to need a left tackle. Quarterback Mike Bercovici will be only as good as his protection. Goodman must win this job convincingly.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

We could say this about a lot of quarterbacks. So feel free to insert a “duh, Gemmell” after you read this. But what makes Solomon an interesting case is that the first-year starter actually regressed as the season went on. Consider his first nine games: 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Over his final five, he had just three touchdowns and two picks. The opponents, of course, have something to do with that: Washington, Utah, ASU, Oregon and Boise State weren't slouches. But the poise he showed seemed a bit shaken at the end. This spring would be a great time for him to re-establish himself as a steely team leader -- especially with changes coming across the offensive line.

Samson Kafovalu, DL, Colorado

Remember the name? He played in 17 games as a true freshman and sophomore and tallied three sacks in 2013. But academic and personal issues kept him off the team in 2014. He's back. And he has to win the trust of his coaches and his teammates before jumping into what should be a starting role. According to one Colorado staffer, he's been "tossing linemen around like rag dolls." His return could provide a much-needed boost to a defense that ranked last in the Pac-12 in rush defense last season, allowing 204.8 yards on the ground per game.

Destiny Vaeao, DL, Washington State

After losing a couple of top-notch wide receivers in Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, guys such as Dom Williams and Gabe Marks come to mind ... especially with Washington State looking for a new QB. But the Cougars also took a hit on the defensive front with Toni Pole graduating and Xavier Cooper jumping to the NFL. Vaeao has started the past two years and has shown some glimpses, tallying 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks last season. But as the only returning starter on the line, the staff is looking for more production from him in 2015.

Travis Feeney, LB, Washington

The obvious choice here is quarterback Cyler Miles. Maybe in Year 2 at the helm, things click for him and the offense. But what he won't have in Year 2 is the benefit of a veteran front seven backing him up. That's why Feeney, the lone returner in that front seven, is in such a critical position. While guys such as Keishawn Bierria, Azeem Victor, Joe Mathis and Elijah Qualls jockey for spots along the front seven, it will be Feeney the coaches will look at to assume the leadership role. The Huskies' defensive talent drain leaves plenty of questions. It's up to Feeney to step up, lead the front seven and answer them.

Q&A: ASU's Mike Norvell

February, 27, 2015
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As the Sun Devils gear up for spring ball later next month, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the 2015 season, his future with the program and some of the priorities for spring ball. He also weighs in on the phenomenon gripping the nation known as BERCO-ing.

Can we just go ahead and assume Mike Bercovici is penciled in as the starter?

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsMike Bercovici begins the spring at the top of Arizona State's depth chart.
Mike Norvell: Mike is going to be coming in as our starter. I’m excited about the guys that are there behind him and there to push him. But I think, when you look at what he did this last season, he’s a guy that can lead this football team and we’re excited about what he can bring this year.

Physically, we know what he brings. And it’s a little different than Taylor Kelly. Mentally, how is he different?

MN: Much like Taylor, he’s a very intelligent football player. He knows the offense better than anybody we have here. He loves that part of the game. He loves studying film. He understands all the different progressions and the things we ask quarterbacks to do here. He’s a true student of the game in that sense. We’re excited about what he does physically, but the mental aspect of how he plays, we feel is a huge advantage for us.

Coach [Todd] Graham has already said D.J. Foster would be moving to wide receiver. Have you ever been part of a program where a 1,000-yard rusher moves to the outside?

MN: No, and I think that shows you how special of an athlete D.J. is. We’ve got tremendous confidence in the guys we have in the backfield. We have a tremendous stable of running backs. Demario Richard, Kalen Ballage, a guy people don’t really know about is De’Chavon Hayes. He’s a guy that was a junior college guy that wasn’t cleared this past year, but will be ready to go this fall. D.J. will help us with matchups on the perimeter, but you’ll still see the ball in his hands from time to time. We’ll make sure he gets plenty of opportunities.

Without giving away the playbook, can we assume we’ll see him on speed sweeps and some fly stuff, a la Brandin Cooks?

MN: Yeah. He’s a guy that, no question, you have to get the ball in his hands. How many different opportunities and ways we can do that is what makes it fun to be a play caller and make sure we can utilize all his skills and talent.

You have to replace two tackles on the offensive line. Is that priority No. 1 in the spring?

MN: Yeah. We’re continuing to build that depth up front. We feel good about the guys we have up there, but we're also getting a better sense of getting what that five-man unit is going to be. I’d love to say we have six or seven guys we view as starters. If we can get to that point, we’ll have some great competition. We’re trying to get to that point as quickly as possible.

You’re entering the fourth year of the system. Is this where you saw the offense being when you guys came in and mapped it out?

MN: It’s multiple. We’ve made some great strides with what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go. I think we’re on track. Have we hit every goal that we want to accomplish? No, we’ve not. Is the future bright and do we have a lot of pieces in place to have high expectations for this year? Yes, we do. I’m looking forward to this year and the guys that we have. I love seeing the continuity and the growth that we have at each position. I think we’re going to have a special group. We just have to continue to work and have some guys step up and develop the young guys we have.

I know you don’t love talking about yourself, but you have been pursued by several teams over the last few years. Is there ever a right time for a coordinator to branch out and take over his own program? How much thought have you given that?

MN: I think every situation, you have to look at it. That’s the only way to be fair to myself and my family. It’s a tremendous compliment to the young men that we have and the coaching staff that we have here when people do express interest. I can’t tell you what that opportunity is going to be. You look at each situation and you see what the fit is. But it’s a tremendous compliment to the program we have here and Coach Graham, someone I’ve worked with going on nine or 10 years. I believe in the vision. I believe in how we treat our players. I believe in everything we do here and I’m excited to be a part of it. The brightest days are in front of us. Does that mean there might be an opportunity one day when I can lead a team? I don’t know. Right now, we have a tremendous program and a tremendous opportunity here and I’m extremely fortunate to be able to lead this offense.

What are your thoughts on “Berco-ing?” And have you ever done it?

MN: (Extended laugh) I’ve never done it. But if it’s after that result, I’m all about it. I might do it with him next time.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Spring questions: Arizona State

February, 24, 2015
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Continuing our reliance on the Roman alphabet, Arizona State is up next.

1. How do you even begin to replace Jaelen Strong? Strong hauled in 82 passes for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns -- including one amazing Hail Mary that brought us “Berco-ing.” If you haven’t thanked him yet for that alone, you should. Head coach Todd Graham has said do-everything back D.J. Foster would move to wide out, despite rushing for 1,081 yards last year. Look for a dusting of him in the run game -- a la speed sweeps, fly motion etc. -- but given the depth at running back, the move makes sense. Especially since Foster already has 163 catches for 1,874 yards and 11 touchdowns for his career. Nice luxury to have your 1K rusher become your go-to wide receiver.

2. How much will special teams be a factor? A lot. Count on it. Graham made special teams a point of emphasis in 2014 after a fairly abysmal 2013. The Sun Devils are in good shape with kicker Zane Gonzalez, but they’ll work with Matt Haack to become more consistent. The return game will be a priority, with Dechavon Hayes making the jump off of the scout team. The coaching staff loves his speed and he’ll likely be penciled in as the punt returner. Look for Kalen Ballage, who had a fantastic return day against Duke in the Sun Bowl, to stay with kickoff return duties.

3. Tackle talk? Perhaps more important than replacing Strong will be protecting presumed starting quarterback Mike Bercovici on the corners. With both offensive tackles -- Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka -- departing, the Sun Devils will look first to Evan Goodman at left tackle and Billy McGehee at right tackle. There’s some depth here, which helps. Freshman Quinn Bailey could get a look, and guard Christian Westerman could move outside, opening up Stephon McCray as an option inside.

You can follow along with the entire spring questions series here.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Most media events with college football coaches are like droning tennis matches -- back and forth, back and forth. With Arizona State coach Todd Graham, however, it's more like downhill skiing, perhaps the giant slalom. The media sit down and Graham explodes out of the gate, weaving between myriad topics without any need for reporters to participate, much less ask questions.

The good news is it's informative and pretty amusing. Graham, as is his wont, will undoubtedly overflow with optimism, never betraying any concerns over his depth chart, except retroactively. As in: Yes, he was "scared to death" about replacing nine defensive starters in 2014, an admission that inspired a smug celebration inside the head of at least one reporter, "Yesss! I knew it!"

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSun Devils coach Todd Graham has raised expectations, and he won't shy away form them.
What's obvious is Graham is comfortable and enjoying himself as he holds court in his spacious office, tall windows providing a nice view of construction workers banging away at the $256 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. The 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year has led the Sun Devils to consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in 39 years, as well as three consecutive bowl appearances. He took over a team that had posted just one winning conference record in the previous seven seasons and has gone three for three.

Twenty-eight FBS schools hired coaches prior to the 2012 season, 17 of whom remain at those schools. Of those 17, Graham, at 28-12, has posted the fourth-best overall record, behind only Ohio State's Urban Meyer (38-3), UCLA's Jim Mora (29-11) and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (28-11), whom he will meet to open the 2015 season in one of the nation's marquee nonconference matchups.

All this is said to support the notion that it's not just Everything-is-Awesome! coachspeak when Graham opens his pre-spring practice news conference talking about Pac-12 and national championships. Even a skeptic sees plenty of maybe on his 2015 depth chart.

"No doubt in my mind we're going to have a lot better football team next year," he said of a squad that finished 10-3 last year with a final No. 15 ranking.

Though he welcomes back two solid specialists, he said his chief concern is special teams, which has become a bit of a thwarted obsession for him. He's successfully imposed his will on just about every aspect of the program, from improved discipline and academics to aggressive, Devils-may-care styles on both sides of the ball, but most Arizona State defeats the previous two years included forehead slapping moments on special teams.

He also has to replace both starting offensive tackles, including first-team All-Pac-12 performer Jamil Douglas, as well as first-team WR Jaelen Strong, a potential first-round NFL draft pick who hauled in 10 TD passes last year. Further, his run defense was mediocre to poor and most of the unit's 39 sacks came from high-risk, high-reward blitzes rather than one of four men winning a one-on-one battle.

What Graham doesn't seem concerned about is his new starting QB Mike Bercovici. While departed starter Taylor Kelly was a smart player, good runner and great leader, Bercovici might own the best arm in the Pac-12 this fall. His three starts last year for an injured Kelly and extended playing time in important situations also mean the fifth-year senior arrives with plenty of seasoning.

Said Graham, "We've got a guy who has a lightning release. I mean, this guy can throw the football. We're obviously adapting everything to that."

In terms of playmakers, Graham is excited enough about his depth at running back to move versatile D.J. Foster -- a 1,000-yard rusher for goodness sake -- to slot receiver. Graham also gushed about running back/return man De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes and redshirt freshman receiver Jalen Harvey.

As for his defense, it reverses course from last year in that nine starters are back, and Graham raved about his depth at all three levels. He believes touted JC transfer Davon Durant will provide an instant boost to the pass rush at the devil-backer spot, where Carl Bradford was so productive in 2013.

The sum total is an intriguing team, one of five from the Pac-12's rugged South Division that figures to be ranked in the preseason. But national rankings and 10-win seasons are now been-there, done-that for the program.

"I think people know we are serious about it now," Graham said. "We want to win a national championship. We want to win a Pac-12 championship. Anything less than that ... that is the expectation."

Graham then raced ahead, slaloming through to other topics -- the value of national polls, his team briefly entering the College Football Playoff race in 2014, special teams, being pleasantly surprised by his defense last fall, etc. -- but his opening point stood out.

Graham expects Arizona State to continue to climb in 2015, and that's meaningful because there's not much space above that separates the Sun Devils from the national title hunt.
The NFL Combine kicks off on Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends

Offensive linemen:
Tight ends: SATURDAY, FEB. 21 | Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Quarterbacks:
Running backs:
Wide receivers: SUNDAY, FEB. 22 | Defensive linemen, linebackers

Defensive linemen:
Linebackers: MONDAY, FEB. 23 | Defensive backs
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.

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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.


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Some coaches put on a hard hat to inspire their players to work hard.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham puts on a hard hat and helps to tear down Sun Devil Stadium.

"I'm a football coach, a defensive guy, so I like tearing stuff up," Graham said. "It's an exciting time, an unprecedented time in our program."

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Courtesy of Arizona State athleticsTodd Graham provided a helping hand in Sun Devil Stadium's projected $265 million renovation.
The stadium's public fundraising began last September as the Sun Devils work toward what is projected to be a $265 million renovation. The first phase -- which is where Graham's hard hat came in -- is expanding the Sun Devils' student section by bringing it to field level in the south end zone. It will also include much-needed infrastructure upgrades.

Over the past two seasons the Sun Devils -- which boast the largest student section in the Pac-12 -- are 12-1 at home. Graham said that the students are a big part of that, which is why he's looking forward to having more of them at field level.

"We've had so much success," Graham said. "And a reason why we've had so much success is because our student section is absolutely the best I've ever been around. They're loud and it's a very, very adverse and difficult place to play because of our students."

Though Graham looked a little out of place in a tractor, it wasn't his first time operating machinery like that.

"I grew up being a construction helper," Graham said. "I've poured concrete, roofed houses, did a lot of stuff growing up."

Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
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The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.


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How resilient was your defense in 2014?

Last Thursday, we looked at the teams in the Pac-12 and how well they produced points after turnovers. This was the South Division, and here was the North. Now, we look at the flip side.

It can be frustrating when, after a big defensive stand, the offense coughs it up and gives the ball right back. Time for the defense to take the field again, be it inside their own red zone, the 50 or the opponent’s 1-yard line. (Or if you’re Shaq Thompson, just run it back 100 yards.)

Just like offensive points off of turnovers, there are exceptions. Sometimes a team gets a turnover at the end of the half or a game, so the defense doesn’t have to make a stand. So these numbers aren’t completely cut-and-dried. But rather it’s a measuring stick.

We’ll start with South and look at the North later today. If you’re curious how your team did in 2013, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.

Arizona

Turnovers committed: 18
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-18 (55 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5

Arizona State

Turnovers committed: 13
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-13 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 62
Games without committing at least one turnover: 6
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

Colorado

Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 104
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

UCLA

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 13-16 (81 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 82
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers committed: 12
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-12 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 42
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 4

Utah

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-16 (56 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 55
Games without committing at least one turnover: 4
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

2016 recruits to watch in the Pac-12 

February, 6, 2015
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Signing day for the Class of 2015 just wrapped up, but coaches have been hard at work on the 2016 class for months. Oregon and USC each already have three ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed, and UCLA holds a commitment from the No. 53 overall prospect, tight end Breland Brandt.

Here are five uncommitted 2016 prospects to watch in the West region who will be of particular interest to Pac-12 programs.


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Pac-12 morning links

February, 6, 2015
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You're gonna need a bigger boat.

Happy Friday.

Leading off

February 4 is long gone, but don't think that the drama of national signing day has vanished with the date. UCLA is still at the center of some national attention because linebacker Roquan Smith, one of their touted Wednesday commits, hasn't faxed his national letter of intent to Westwood. Smith is reportedly concerned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has been in talks with the Atlanta Falcons, news that leaked shortly after Smith's commitment to UCLA but before his pledge to the Bruins became binding.

Smith may feel fortunate that he's not in the same boat as Ohio State recruit Mike Weber, who found Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to the NFL after he was locked into Urban Meyer's program.

In the case of Smith, UCLA, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas A&M are still technically alive in the battle for his services, and the saga will likely stretch into next week.

"[The recruiting period] isn't over until the end of April," Smith's coach said. "So there's no rush."

So in case any Pac-12 recruiting fans thought signing day would present a cut and dry finish to the 2015 cycle, think again. We're going to overtime, and it'll be a while longer before the drama fully subsides and the pre-spring ball vacation is here.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona's DaVonte' Neal is changing positions to help a thinned-out Wildcats defense. Read about the switch here.
  • .One of Arizona State's biggest victories this recruiting season came through the signing of defensive tackle prospect Joseph Wicker.
  • Is Cal football trying to mimic how Stanford recruits?
  • Colorado's series with an in-state rival is likely to end after 2020.
  • More signing day aftermath: This piece examines Oregon's slow-and-steady recruiting style.
  • A developing Oregon State trend: Polynesian players. The Beavers just signed eight of them.
  • Offensive lineman Kevin Reihner has exercised a graduate transfer to Penn State, and David Shaw indicated that he's not the only Stanford player who's been mulling his future options.
  • Chronicling UCLA's Jeff Ulbrich/Roquan Smith saga.
  • When it comes to recruiting, Steve Sarkisian has finished strong at USC.
  • Grading Utah's coaches for their 2014 performance while looking ahead to 2015.
  • Chris Petersen believes he has something special at Washington in Jake Browning.
  • Washington State has lost wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons to Oklahoma.
Just for fun

Here's another "my, how times have changed" glimpse at college football, featuring a former USC Heisman Trophy winner.

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