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Features & Blogs
"Life in the UK"
• Sideline: Yes, Non–Conference Games DO Count
• NCAA Preview 2009
• Sideline: Time For The Talking To Stop
• Sideline: In Memory of Air McNair
• Sideline: Will Goodell Hand Out Hard Time?
• Sideline: Marshall's Not Joshing
• NFL Draft: No Rush To Judgment
• NFL Draft Analysis 2009 (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts (Part 2)
• Sideline: NFL Draft Thoughts
• Sideline: Will Play For Food
• Sideline: Wonderlic Scores
• Sideline: Manning and Sanchez
• Sideline: 2010 Leagues Sci–fi, or Fantasy? / March Madness
• Sideline: Break Out The Brackets
• Sideline: LaDainian Tomlinson On The Record
• Sideline: The Incredible Sulk Continues
• Sideline: Guildford Heat Fired Up
• Sideline: Super Bowl thoughts from the Valley of the Sun
• Sideline: I know I came in here for something
• Sideline: College Football National Signing Day
• Sideline: 27 Points — 27 Super Bowl thoughts
• Sideline: An Epic QB Matchup?
• Sideline: Appreciating Arizona for What They Were
• Sideline: NFL Divisional Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Bowl Season Hangover
• Sideline: Six weeks Later
• Sideline: Wildcard Weekend Preview
• Sideline: Santa's Sackings
• Sideline: A Weis Decision ...for Now
• Sideline: Eye on the Ticker
• Sideline: Lions — An Anagram of Losin
• Sideline: Ready for the Turkey
• Sideline: Making it to the Big Dance
• Sideline: Brighter Days Ahead for Chargers?
• Sideline: Unnecessary Hits To The Pocket / Upset: BYU
• Sideline: Romo's Pause / Seattle Seahawks
• Sideline: Weekend Prep: Red River and More
• Sideline: College Football's 'Crossroads' Weekend
• Sideline: Gramatical Error
• Sideline: Turning The Page
• Sideline: So Cal 'Quizzed
• Sideline: 3rd Tuesday Panic / Forté Yard Dash
• Sideline: Two and Oh; Oh and Two
• Sideline: No More NCAAffeine
• Sideline: Week 1 College Football
• Sideline: How To Spell Heisman / Chad Ocho Cinco
• Sideline: A Second Slice
• Sideline: The Favre story STILL won't go away
• Sideline: Olympic Notes / Ricky's Still Relevant
• Sideline: Committee Meetings
• Sideline: Let the QB Battles Begin
• Sideline: Slinging The Slinger — More Favre
• Interview: Clint Dempsey
• Sideline: Welcome to the 2008 season
• Sideline: Plus One
• 2008 NFL Draft Review
• Sideline: Draft: The Morning After
• Sideline: Draft: Thinking the Unthinkable
• Sideline: Draft: Ready For The Long Haul
• Sideline: Sofa–bound Sport
• Sideline: Post–Winter Wonderland
• Sideline: Six Impossible Things
• Sideline: Brady's Misdirection Play
• Sideline: Colorful Language
• Sideline: Let the Romo–bashing begin
• Sideline: Bowl Bites: The Wrap
• Sideline: All About The Coaches
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 3
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 2
• Sideline: Bowl Bites 1
• Sideline: Coach Situations Vacant
• Sideline: For Some, The Playoffs Are Now
• Sideline: A Certain Lack Of Welcome
• Sideline: Unrelated Notes
• Sideline: Two Thanksgiving thoughts
• Sideline: Halftime: NFC
• Sideline: Halftime: AFC
• Sideline: London / A Tale of Two Chads / Intimidation
• Sideline: Damp Squib / Other London Notes
• Sideline: Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em / Dolphins – The Aftermath
• Sideline: The Dolphins Did What?
• Sideline: Notes on the Defenses
• Sideline: Habits to be Broken
• Sideline: Overtime
• Sideline: This Week's Starters
• Sideline: USF: Covering The Spread / Fantastic Football
• Sideline: Grossman: The Final Act? / McNabb, the Epilogue
• Sideline: Eagles QB in Slight Controversy
• Sideline: Leftwich's Parting Gift / Boos cruise
• Sideline: Notre Dame M.I.A.
• Sideline: Looking Beyond NFL Wk. 1
• Sideline: Best Hope For Heisman
• Sideline: Coaching Hot Seats / AP Poll Feeling ’Appy
• Sideline: The NFL’s Prime Cuts
• Sideline: Michigan Falls to Killer Apps
• Sideline: Look Out Couch / The Taint's On You, Bud
NCAA Preview 2009
Observations, Opinion & Occasional Silliness by Richard L Gale
Richard L Gale gives his ranking of the Pac–10 teams, and discovers USC daring to retain their conference title with a true freshman under center. A step too far?
There comes a point when USC's position as the Pac–10's top team becomes such a given, that everybody takes it for granted. Sure, the occasional hiccup has cost them a shot at the National Championship, but they're never quite careless enough to surrender their no.1 status in the conference.
How about now?
USC are a consensus top 4 pick of every poll conducted this side of padded walls, despite losing both coordinators to Washington, and most of the starting defense to the NFL. That they have now elected to start true freshman Matt Barkley at quarterback almost smacks of arrogance, but with this supporting cast, it's difficult to write off their chances of remaining on the national stage.
The whole of the Pac–10's best starting line returns (an immediate advantage over the rest of the conference), along with FB Stanley Havili and TE Anthony McCoy. As well as providing yet more protection, those two number amongst the seven out of eight top targets who return from last year, a group that is headed by WR Damian Williams (58 catches in his first season as a starter).
The running backs, while lacking a 1000–yard rusher, tallied over 2500 yards between them last season, and Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight — worth over 1300 of those yards between them — are back. While Johnson is the hard–running TD scorer (9 last season), McKnight factors into the receiving game and could have a massive statistical season for combined yardage.
Of course there is immense talent on defense, but while Barkley will lauded for a successful season, a USC campaign with just one loss (or less) will reflect most on free safety Taylor Mays, a frightening talent likely to go top 10 in next year's NFL draft, and who will be the leader of the defense. While super–skilled sophomores will break in and out of the defensive rotation, especially at linebacker, the Trojans will start mostly upperclassmen, the safeties are two–deep in seniors, and in case we forget, Coach Pete Carroll is a defensive specialist.
All the same, do you pick a team with this much defensive turnover and a freshman passer to go on the road, week 2, and beat Ohio State, and to manage further wins at Cal, at an ascendant Notre Dame, at Oregon? If the Trojans have made a habit of dropping one game a year that they shouldn't, how about now?
Cal running back Jahvid Best averages just over 8 yards a carry, and the only reason he doesn't average higher is because the home–run threat tends to run out of field before anybody catches him. Jahvid Best's 1500 yards last year were backed up with a further 700 by Shane Vereen, so as you might expect, they're running from behind a monster line that averages over 300lbs. While these monoliths cast a long shadow over opposing D–lines, they lack the finesse in pass protection that USC's line does, which is a small part of an offensive problem: the passing game.
QB Kevin Riley started more often than not last season in relief of Nate Longshore, but threw for just 1300 yards and 14 scores. No receiver reached even 30 catches, but WR Verran Tucker looked like a breakaway threat if the Golden Bears could get it to him more often, and freshman Isi Sofele has been getting rave reviews in camp. Sofele, a running back in high school, has been drawing Darren Sproles comparisons, and will be used in the return game, but don't be surprised to see him get looks as a receiver.
In contrast to USC, Cal brings back much of last year's starting defense, including all of the line and secondary. The latter is the pride of the Pac–10, plucking the ball out of the air 24 times last year, led by outstanding corners Darian Hagan (3) and part–time punt returner Syd'Quan Thompson (4). The team does lose a lot of last year's sacks to graduation — Zack Follett and Rulon Davis accounted for 15.5 of the team's 35 — but returning DEs Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan had 10 between them.
Linebacker is where things will change up for 2009, but Mike Mohamed had 3 sacks and 67 tackles as a part–time starter, and there will be close competition between previous backups such as Mychal Kendricks and new arrivals such as Jarred Price. None of them will replace Follett, but as a unit, they don't represent a weak link between line and defensive backs.
With USC visiting comparatively early in the season (October 3), starting experience might see Berkeley overwhelm Barkley, but Cal must take care — visits to Minnesota, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford all carry danger, and many of the home dates (USC, Arizona, Oregon State, Maryland) feature teams Cal didn't beat one year ago.
A total of nine returning starters means the Ducks are vulnerable, but beyond an offensive line ram–raided by graduation and the NFL, the baton was somewhat passed last season. Something clicked for QB Jeremiah Masoli in the second half of last season (leaving Justin Roper to transfer) and while Jeremiah Johnson (1200 yards rushing) is gone, RB LeGarrette Blount was also a 1000–yard back in 2008, when he reached pay dirt 17 times. The 240lb back won't carry the rock alone, but if he gets the bulk of the carries, Jahvid Best and Jacquizz Ridgers may find they have company for the Pac–10 rushing title. Another player to watch will be tight end Ed Dickson, who had 35 catches for over 500 yards last year. Not enough of those occurred during the second half of the year when Masoli got hot, so if that passing relationship blossoms, senior Dickson could fill out his résumé nicely for the pros.
I spent a while shuffling my Pac–10 prediction table before I let the Ducks sit at no.3 and the reason is that line. Only tackle CE Kaiser returns, and with a schedule that is merciless from the start, getting Blount underway and keeping Masoli upright will be an immediate challenge.
The situation isn't much better on the defensive line. DE Will Takuafu is back, but game experience for the rest of the front four is next to nothing. Luckily, the Ducks are deep, talented and experienced at linebacker. OLB Spencer Paysinger was a relentless tackler in his first full season as a starter (95), and is joined by Casey Matthews (67). Tackle leader free safety TJ Ward (101) returns, but the secondary will have to replace both Patrick Chung and Jairus Byrd, high NFL picks.
CB Walter Thurmond and safety Talmadge Jackson will be no push–overs, but with the changes on the line, they will be tested. Thurmond, a capable tackler and frequent ball–hawk, certainly won't fear being picked on.
The Oregon schedule–makers may have bitten off more than they can chew in putting Boise State and Utah on the September non–conference slate, but the really big guns of their own conference — California, USC, Oregon State — all visit. Most people are counting out the Ducks because of that schedule, but if this team makes it unbeaten through September, the Hallowe'en meeting with USC may have you up well past the witching hour.
Brothers Jacquizz and James Rodgers accounted for over 2500 yards of offense last season. Less–hyped sibling James is liable to get a lot more attention this season as the Beavers' leading returning receiver (51 catches) and no other wideout with even ten catches. That makes the position as brittle as James Rodgers' 185lb frame. The line also has depth questions, and may well play two freshmen on the line. Depth is present at QB, however, with both Lyle Moevao and Canfield experienced, though neither game–changers.
The Heisman posters are all about Jacquizz Rodgers, however. If the 5' 7" back hadn't missed most of the final three games of the season, he'd have been headed for a 1500 yard season as a freshman. I hate to harp on the build of these two brothers, but when so much of the offense is built around them, and there are so few other play–makers, it makes Oregon State's presence in the top half of this list seem very fragile.
Depth is a question on defense as well, where all four secondary starters departed. The new guys all have some starting experience, however, so if the Beavers can avoid the kind of sporadic injuries that gave these players that experience in the first place, they might not be in bad shape. The front seven are sure to keep opposing quarterbacks under pressure. There will be two new ends, but whichever of four or five potential starters get the nod there, and however often freshmen substitute in at linebacker, DT Stephen Paea and outside backers Keith Pankey and Keaton Kristick will help keep things in order.
Still, that's all just putting a brave face on the fact that the defense has just three returning starters, and barely any seniors. It all feels tenuous, and if a little injury or panic sets in, Oregon State could plummet. Even last year, when the Beavers' pass rush broke down, they leaked points, 36 to Stanford, 45 to Penn State, 31 to Utah, 65 to Oregon. Special teams? The kicking is average at best, and with Sammie Stroughter gone, the probable return specialist will be… James Rodgers again.
The schedule has Oregon State away to Arizona State, USC, California and Oregon, so no breaks there. The early going could be easy with a 3–0 non–conference start, but it could get patchy until they play the two Washingtons in November.
100–Word Dash: UCLA
UCLA, 4–8 last year, expects a bounce–back season. New, rebooted or shuffling players are everywhere, but that's all good news — the quality is enticing. LB Kyle Bosworth (74 tackles in '07) is back from injury; LB Reggie Carter (83 tackles) moves outside–in; long anticipated OT Sean Sheller will finally take the field after MCL recovery in '06 and ACL recovery in '08; former Colorado starting center Kai Maiava is eligible to suit up; and Kevin Prince replaces Kevin Craft (20 interceptions). That equals a lot of fundamental improvement. Great special team play could swing that record around in a hurry.
100–Word Dash: Arizona
Even with a schedule of killer road trips (Iowa, Oregon State, California, USC), the Wildcats are optimistic of another postseason berth — though it may be tight. Defensively, they might be two–thirds returned to Desert Swarm days, with the entire line returning, and a potent secondary mixing in some sophomore studs. The linebackers, while less special, feature two seniors, and with many starters junior or below, this appears a two–year force. Offensively, inexperienced QB Matt Scott must find WR Delashaun Dean and the Gronkowski brothers for the passing game to balance the powerful rushing game (over 2000 yards in '08) again.
100–Word Dash: Stanford
Stanford went 5–7 last year, but getting one more in 2009 is going to be hard. Tough–running Toby Gerhart returns at running back, but Coach Jim Harbaugh is gambling on redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck over experienced Tavita Pritchard. The receivers are nothing special, and the line is being rearranged. On defense, the line looks good, especially at tackle (important against the Pac–10's star backs), but the secondary is susceptible, and names flit back and forth on that side of the roster too. If Harbaugh can conjure a magic combination and winning record from all this, he's a coaching genius.
100–Word Dash: Arizona State
The returning WRs are fine, and QB Danny Sullivan's alright. It's the line, which exits camp in mid–season form: hurt. When it's fit, its been horrible run–blocking and pass protecting. If (when) Sullivan gets hurt, the depth chart reads Szakacsy (tendonitis), Osweiler (true freshman) and a memory of Jack Elway. So it's up to defense, where there is star quality young and old. Senior DE Dexter Davis is a backfield terror — part of fierce line — and if freshmen safety Keelan Johnson and linebacker Vontaze Burfict start, they and WR/PR Kyle Williams offer game–changing plays. But that O–Line's tough to ignore.
100–Word Dash: Washington
Former USC Assistant HC Steve Sarkisian arrives to run the show. The arrow points up after last year's 0–12 debacle, but the cupboard is far from bare. Returning from injury: both dynamic yet erratic junior QB Jake Locker and freshman–again RB Chris Polk. Handy receiver D'Andre Goodwin (60 catches in '08) also returns. The defense looks something like a good front seven with seniors at both DEs and OLBs (EJ Savannah another player who skipped '08), and Pac–10 tackle leader Mason Foster at MLB. The Huskies are done living in the doghouse, but 3–5 wins is the ceiling for now.
100–Word Dash: Washington State
We'd better talk defense, because when it comes to offense, there's not much to be found in Pullman, and what there was in 2008 is best not mentioned. Hmm. Actually, lets talk punter instead, where Reid Forrest gets plenty of practice. Seriously, though, when hopes of improvement are tied up with two transfers from a rival (ex–Cal CB Brandon Jones and ex–Cal RB James Montgomery), you're not in good shape. The running game may be adequate enough to compete, but this is a team where a lack of returning starters may represent improvement. Going 0–9 in the conference is likely.