May 8, 2008

Pac-10 QB battles will continue into fall

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Pac-10 Spring Review
The Pac-10 has a reputation of being a quarterbacks' conference. Through the spring and into the fall, the league will be the home of quarterback questions. Only Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and USC (sort of) enter the fall with its quarterback position settled. Three teams will see their quarterback competitions continue into the fall because of injuries California (Nate Longshore), Oregon (Nate Costa) and Oregon State (Sean Canfield). Meanwhile, UCLA will try to get through two-a-days without losing another quarterback.
OVERVIEW: The Wildcats didn't have too much tweaking to do on the offense with 10 starters returning, including the Pac-10's leading passer, Willie Tuitama, and second-leading receiver, Mike Thomas. Safety Nate Ness continued his progress as a leader on the defense. That was critical for a defense that must replace nine starters. The linebackers and line played well as groups.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will emerge as the backup running back? Sophomore Nicolas Grigsby ended spring practice as perhaps the only Pac-10-ready running back. The Wildcats' recent history suggests they could always use more running backs. Three-star back Keola Antolin and two-star Greg Nwoko arrive in the fall and could provide depth.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Idaho


Arizona State
OVERVIEW: Rudy Carpenter's sore thumb caught up with him in the spring game when he was 7-of-21 for 88 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Other than the final practice, Carpenter enjoyed a good spring. He is expected to be ready for the fall after surgery to repair scar tissue in his throwing thumb, an injury that dated to the Oct. 27 win over Cal. He may have an extra weapon in the passing game when he returns. Kerry Taylor played all three receiver positions in the fall during the absence of Mike Jones and Chris McGaha.
LINGERING QUESTION: Which offensive line will show up in the fall? Arizona State allowed the third-most sacks in the nation last season (4.23 per game) and lost three starters. The new line struggled early in the spring before showing improvement over the final week and a half. Which was the better indicator of the line's abilities?
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Northern Arizona


OVERVIEW: Cal appears to be making the transition from a 4-3 defense to the 3-4, but coordinator Bob Gregory wouldn't admit to it. The Bears practiced extensively in the 3-4 during the spring, taking advantage of a deep group of linebackers led by Zack Follett and Worrell Williams. Coach Jeff Tedford turned over play-calling duties to coordinator Frank Cignetti. Tailback Jahvid Best was slowed by a hip injury, but should be ready in the fall. Cal has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past six seasons.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will be the quarterback? Nate Longshore missed all but two days of practice with a pulled pectoral muscle, delaying his competition with Kevin Riley until the fall.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Michigan State


OVERVIEW: Oregon moves on without first-round draft pick Jonathan Stewart, but the running back position might be in good hands with junior college transfer LeGarrette Blount. He was the surprise of the spring, capping it with five carries for 68 yards in the spring game. Projected starter Jeremiah Johnson was limited to non-contact drills after recovering from knee surgery. The defense, led by end Nick Reed and a veteran secondary, dominated the offense for nearly every practice.
LINGERING QUESTION: What affect will Nate Costa have on the quarterback race? None of the quarterbacks distinguished themselves in the spring. After missing the spring following knee surgery, Costa will rejoin the quarterback competition along with Justin Roper, Cody Kempt and true freshmen Chris Harper and Darron Thomas.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Washington


Oregon State
OVERVIEW: After a difficult 2007 season that began with the death of a mentor and ended with a lacerated kidney, wide receiver Sammie Stroughter returned healthy and in good spirits. The Beavers look to reload at tailback with redshirt freshman Ryan McCants and junior college transfer Jeremy Francis, both of whom had impressive springs. Diminutive freshman Jacquizz Rodgers could provide a spark as well. Every starter in the defensive front seven was lost; during the spring, the line was a pleasant surprise while the linebackers still need time to jell.
LINGERING QUESTION: How will the offensive line develop when everyone is available? Perhaps no position group needed more work than the offensive line. The Beavers will have to wait until the fall to see the complete picture, though. Guard Jeremy Perry missed the spring while rehabbing his knee. Tackle Tavita Thompson practiced, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible because of a rules violation for half the season. Meanwhile, tackle Andy Levitre and guard Adam Speer missed practice time with injuries. Behind the projected starters, depth could become an issue.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, at Stanford


OVERVIEW: Stanford was pleased to get out of the spring with minimal injuries after an injury-plagued 2007. Projected starting tailback Anthony Kimble was healthy through the spring until aggravating a thigh bruise in the spring game. Toby Gerhart, who ran for 140 yards against San Jose State before missing the rest of the season, will return in the fall after playing baseball. Veteran NFL defensive coordinator Ron Lynn returned to the college game but will keep the system in place that led to a major turnaround last season.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will be the quarterback? Spring practice did not settle the competition. Tavita Pritchard, who was the quarterback for the upset over USC, and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier saw the most time in the spring game, but Alex Loukas was the game's MVP with two completions, three catches and a long run. Four-star freshman Andrew Luck arrives in the fall, and the starter is likely to be decided in the first seven to 10 practices of the fall.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, vs. Oregon State


OVERVIEW: In regard to quarterbacks, when it rains, it pours. Patrick Cowan was the favorite to win the starting job, but he will miss all of 2008 with a possible career-ending torn ACL. The same day Cowan was hurt, No. 2 man Ben Olson went down with a broken foot that will keep him out for two months. The defense, though, is in much better shape. Brigham Harwell and Brian Price are shaping up to be one of the nation's top tackle tandems, while Reggie Carter's move from outside to middle linebacker went off without a hitch.
LINGERING QUESTION: Can Olson stay healthy in the fall and what happens if he can't? Cowan and Olson have swapped the starting job because of injuries throughout the past two seasons. Cowan got an early start this year with a season-ending knee injury. When Olson returns from his broken foot, he will compete with junior college transfer Kevin Craft, who struggled during the spring, for the starting job. (Craft is the son of former San Diego State coach Tom Craft and was the California JC player of the year last season.) True freshman Nick Crissman and possibly Kevin Prince also will be on campus in the fall.
FIRST GAME: Sept. 1, vs. Tennessee


OVERVIEW: Pete Carroll named junior Mark Sanchez the starting quarterback. Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain fared well for most of the spring and Aaron Corp had the best spring game of the three. But Carroll never has switched quarterbacks between the end of spring and the season opener. Despite losing two first-round picks on the defensive line (tackle Sedrick Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson), the Trojans look to have a standout line after tackle Christian Tupou and end Clay Matthews emerged during the spring.
LINGERING QUESTION: How will the tailback situation shake out? USC enters another season with a crowded backfield. Joe McKnight has the highest ceiling. C.J. Gable has the most experience. But it will be tough to ignore Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson; both had excellent springs.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, at Virginia


OVERVIEW: Under new coordinator Ed Donatell, the defense showed signs of improvement, but there's nowhere to go but up. The first-team defense held a limited first-team offense to 250 yards and sacked Jake Locker three times and intercepted him once. D'Andre Goodwin showed signs of becoming the go-to receiver, but the Huskies lost a key part of their offense when center Juan Garcia went down with a possible season-ending foot injury.
LINGERING QUESTION: How will baseball affect Locker? Locker, who completed only 47 percent of his passes last season, showed improved accuracy during the spring, but he will spend the season playing baseball with the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast Collegiate Baseball League. Locker said his football responsibilities will take priority over baseball, which should be a comfort to Washington fans. Look at it this way: Summer baseball didn't hurt Oregon's Dennis Dixon last season.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, at Oregon


Washington State
OVERVIEW: The starting quarterback job is Gary Rogers' to lose going into the fall, but mobile Kevin Lopina will have every opportunity to earn playing time. The Pac-10's leading receiver, Brandon Gibson, had a phenomenal spring, new coach Paul Wulff said. Troubled lineman Andy Roof was moved to the defensive line with hopes of making an impact, but his future is in doubt after he was arrested on suspicion of assault after spring practice. Washington State also found out it would lose six scholarships because of poor academic performance under new NCAA regulations.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who will carry the ball in the fall? The 101st-ranked rush offense in the country still is looking for a feature back. Last year's leading rusher, Dwight Tardy, missed the spring with a knee injury, while Christopher Ivory missed parts of the spring because of academic issues. Junior college transfer Chantz Staden arrives in the fall to fill out the depth chart.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Oklahoma State


David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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