Spring wrap-up: Pac-10
Arizona: I still don’t love the idea of Arizona employing co-coordinators on both sides of the ball, but the Wildcats didn’t seem to run into any problems this spring. However, how will they respond to the first bit of adversity during the season? Quarterback Nick Foles will lead a very talented offense that also features 6-4, 210-pound Juron Criner, one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-10. Nic Grigsby leads a deep backfield that also features Keola Antolin, who was the Wildcats’ leading rusher in ’09. But can Grigsby actually stay healthy? While ‘Zona has plenty of talent on offense, the defense must replace seven starters — including all three linebacker spots, which was the major concern during spring ball. The secondary should be steady, but the team will need big contributions from defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed as pass rushers. If they can hurry the QB, Mike Stoop’s Wildcats will finish high in the Pac-10 standings.
Arizona State: Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson still has not decided on a starting quarterback, as the competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and sophomore Brock Osweiler will continue into fall camp. Osweiler seemed to have the upper hand at the end of spring drills, however. Samson Szakacsy will rejoin the battle in the fall after sitting out spring drills with injury, but it looks to be Osweiler’s job to lose. No matter who is under center, he may have a tough time staying on his feet playing behind a questionable offensive line, which now has to replace veteran guard Jon Hargis in addition to two other starters from last season. Hargis injured his knee and was lost for the season. While the Sun Devils lost seven starters from an impressive defense, they exhibited their depth last season and have enough speed to remain a playmaking unit. Cornerback Omar Bolden and linebacker Vontaze Burfict are names to keep an eye on in perhaps a make-or-break year for Erickson.
California: After fending off his competition once again, senior quarterback Kevin Riley will get one more chance to show coaches that he could execute the game plan consistently every Saturday. While he has 22 starts under his belt over three seasons, too many times he has faltered after showing flashes of brilliance. Despite losing left tackle Mike Tepper to the next level, four starters return to the offensive line and running back Shane Vereen will pick up where Jahvid Best left off, which should provide Riley with enough chances to make plays down the field. On defense, new coordinator and veteran NFL assistant Clancy Pendergast will make the Golden Bears more aggressive — with lots of blitzes and stunts. And with senior defensive end Cameron Jordan, Pendergast will have a new leader on the line following the departure of Tyson Alualu.
Oregon: For all of the turmoil that the Ducks battled throughout the offseason, the team remains one of the top contenders for the Pac-10 title. Could they have been in contention for a national championship if Jeremiah Masoli had not been suspended for the season? Quite possibly, because Oregon is loaded with talent everywhere. But the Ducks should still get steady play under center from either senior Nate Costa or sophomore Darron Thomas. The problem is that Masoli was so good on broken plays, and he brought the “it” factor to the most important position on the field. Is it possible the defense could make up for the loss of Masoli? It sounds crazy for a Pac-10 team to have high expectations for a defensive unit, but the Ducks boast a deep secondary that returns four starters and capable backups. Former tight end Dion Jordan switched to defensive end and looks as if he could be a capable pass rusher in the fall. Bottom line: do not count out Chip Kelly’s squad even without a Heisman contender under center.
Oregon State: How will Oregon State rebound from having two starters on defense, linebacker David Pa’aluhi and defensive end Matt LaGrone, quit the team? Taylor Henry and junior-college transfer Dominic Glover look more than capable of replacing LaGrone, while the linebacking corps took a hit with Keith Pankey’s torn Achilles tendon forcing him to miss spring. Middle linebacker also remains an issue. On offense, sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz went above and beyond all expectations, and the big-armed and mobile signal-caller looks ready to use All-American wide receiver candidate James Rodgers as his top weapon. With brother Jacquizz giving the Beavers a formidable rushing attack, look for head coach Mike Riley to do another great coaching job and keep the team in the conference race all season.
Stanford: Will Stanford miss Toby Gerhart? Absolutely. You just don’t replace a Heisman Trophy finalist who rushed for 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns — taking the pressure off of young quarterback Andrew Luck. Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor likely will work as a committee until one is able to break from the pack. Alex Debniak and freshman Usua Amanam also will get a look in the backfield. But with a solid offensive line to work behind and good receivers to throw to, Luck is expected to take the next step in his development and live up to the confidence shown in him by head coach Jim Harbaugh. Meanwhile, hopes are high that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will have success with his hybrid 3-4 after the Cardinal defense finished ninth in the Pac-10 last season. Fangio plans on making the blitz a major part of the defense’s identity in Palo Alto, but the secondary — which allowed 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate in ’09 — remains an issue. Michael Thomas moved from cornerback to safety this spring in an effort to shore up the unit.
UCLA: Much of the talk surrounding UCLA this spring has been about the team employing a variation of Nevada's “pistol” offense — dubbed “the revolver,” which will feature the shotgun formation with a single running back and elements of the spread-option. It had its peaks and valleys during spring practice, but the Bruins will certainly display many weapons offensively in the fall. Wide receivers Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree, along with wideout transfer Josh Smith and tight end transfer Joseph Fauria, will be legitimate threats for Prince. Despite his subpar spring game performance, Prince seemed to display better arm strength, improved accuracy and a little more mobility during spring drills. The Bruins will need to replace six starters on defense — including three who earned first-team all-conference honors — but the unit brings back a lot of speed that will at least be able to help make up for some mistakes while it takes time to gel.
USC: Remember all that buzz that Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton garnered leading up to this past April’s draft? Much of the credit should go to new USC head coach Lane Kiffin, who was instrumental in making the Volunteers signal-caller into a draftable prospect. Now, can Matt Barkley reap similar benefits in just his second year in Los Angeles? Eleven touchdown passes against no interceptions in four scrimmages this past spring was a good start. But back to Kiffin. Replacing the popular Pete Carroll was going to be tough, but the brash coach knew the campus and the program, and the offensive and defensive schemes will be similar to what the players have been used to in the past. With a filthy defensive line led by tackle Jurrell Casey and ends Nick Perry and Arm ond Armstead, the unit will be leaned upon to help out a secondary that must replace all four starters — though Shareece Wright returns from academic ineligibility.
Washington: What else can we say about the job that Steve Sarkisian did in his first season in Seattle? Washington is poised for big things offensively in 2010, led by the potential top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, quarterback Jake Locker. Nine offensive starters return to the unit, including 1,000-yard-plus running back Chris Polk and three wide receivers — Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and James Johnson — who combined for 131 catches, 1,881 yards and 16 touchdowns in ’09. Opposing Pac-10 defenses should definitely be worried. Ten starters return to coordinator Nick Holt’s defense, but defensive ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson missed the spring with serious injuries. They are expected to be back for the fall but we’ll need to see how close they are to being 100 percent.
Washington State: Head coach Paul Wulff could be in a make-or-break season — despite just entering his third year — because of the success that in-state counterpart Sarkisian is having in Seattle. The Cougars are coming off an encouraging spring, however, as the staff is optimistic about its improved depth. However, defensive tackle could be an area of concern soon, as interior lineman Toby Turpin was dismissed from school while Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Luapo are dealing with academic issues. Wulff has just three wins in his first two seasons, and he may need a young receiving corps to step up this year if the Cougars want to score points.
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