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Pac-12 Football: One Key Spring Assessment For Each Team

Apr 5, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) throws a pass during a spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Apr 5, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) throws a pass during a spring practice at Howard Jones Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Spring football season winds down across the Pac-12 in the coming week. Some programs like Arizona have already packed up the tent; UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington are the last to close down shop next weekend.

A folly media and blogger types commit regularly is overemphasizing April happenings in the context of September. That said, there are some developments of the season from around the conference that could shape it come autumn.

This blogger laid out a few from UA's practices last week here on After the jump, each of the Pac's other 11 leave the season with one burning issue to follow before kickoff on August 30.


The Sun Devils have a quarterback competition unfolding, with none of the three (Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank and Taylor Kelly) separating from the pack through 15 practices.

Whomever wins the job has a sturdy building block in tailback Cameron Marshall, who became the first Sun Devil rusher to accumulate over 1,000 yards in the Dennis Erickson era and tied the program's single season record for rushing touchdowns (18).

Todd Graham’s staff built its self-titled High Octane Offense ironically enough off its running game last season. Ray Graham flourished at Pitt, before going down with a knee injury. Marshall could have a monster campaign under the new coaching staff.


The Golden Bears have been reliant on a stout defense each of the last few seasons, but Jeff Tedford is faced with replacing 265 tackles, 44.5 for loss and 15 sacks worth of production from the foursome of Trevor Guyton, D.J. Holt, Ernest Owusu and Mychal Kendricks.

That's a ton of pressure coming from the front seven now lost. The starting 11 on that side of the ball must gel early, because the offense has weapons to be Tedford's most well rounded since the 2004 campaign.


A decided low point of Arizona’s season came when the Wildcats traveled for their first conference game ever in Boulder, and were routed by the last place Buffaloes.

CU won two-thirds of all its victories in November, showing some improvement under first year head coach Jon Embree. CU’s defense has a high ceiling; in fact, the Buffs (and some gale force winds) forced Nick Foles into what could be considered the worst conference game of his UA career.

The linebacking corps of Jon Majors, Derrick Webb and Douglas Rippy combined for 201 tackles -- and Rippy made 62 despite playing in just seven games. He was lost in mid-October to a knee injury. That unit gives CU a solid starting point for its defense. However, the offense is going to struggle. Mightily.

Tailback Rodney Stewart roasted UA for 181 yards, three touchdowns on the ground, and a scoring pass to quarterback Tyler Hansen – truly, the lowest of low points in a bad 2011.

CU lost talented wideout Paul Richardson to an ACL tear this spring, rendering the offense without any proven weapons. If the Buffs are going to be competitive at all, they will need to grind opponents to a halt; not exactly easy to do in a conference known for offense.


The Ducks lost much to the NFL Draft: LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, . But with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas returning, Chip Kelly’s offense should be just fine. The real plot worth following in Eugene is if UO will even have the opportunity to defend its three-year reign atop the conference.

UO has been the target of much criticism in recent months, most recently an ESPN The Magazine expose on marijuana use. A traffic stop in which talented cornerback Cliff Harris admitted to lighting up beforehand began his decline from All-American to off the team.

Of course, that is minor in comparison to the lingering NCAA cloud. Payments to Willie Lyles' recruiting service raised red flags that could cost the Ducks a postseason berth.


As young teams are wont to do, Oregon State finished much stronger than it began. Sean Mannion had dynamic moments at quarterback, which perhaps overshadowed the customary mistakes a freshman makes.

The question is how patient will OSU fans and administration be with his youthful corps? Mike Riley is 8-16 in the last two seasons, coinciding directly with rival Oregon's rise to national prominence. OSU returns 17 total starters on its offense and defense, but questions remain.

No clear No. 1 tailback emerged, and the Beavers were among the most porous defenses in the nation a season ago.


If you watched a Stanford football game in 2011, you heard commentators drill home David Shaw’s balanced approach to the offense despite having Andrew Luck behind center. Of course Shaw was going to prominently feature running back Stepfan Taylor --- he's one of the most talented backfield players in the conference.

Taylor transitions from complementary piece to star in 2012. How he fares in that role could determine if the Cardinal is in the hunt for a third straight BCS bowl bid.


The aforementioned surprising rise of Osweiler was the handiwork of new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Apparently, the man is seen as a miracle worker: he was entrusted to work with Tim Tebow earlier this off-season, and now deals with the unenviable task of molding an efficient Bruin quarterback. UCLA hasn’t had one of those since Drew Olson in 2005.

For a third straight season, it's a Kevin Prince - Richard Brehaut competition, with highly touted recruit and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley somewhere in the mix. Hundley has the disadvantage of being recruited for Rick Neuheisel's Pistol offense experiment, thus doesn't exactly fit Mazzone's spread scheme.


Viewers of Game of Thrones might agree that Prince Jaffrey looks like a young Matt Barkley. Fittingly, USC’s coronation as King of the Pac-12 might be equally premature as Jaffrey’s, because the Trojans are without their best player of 2011.

Offensive tackle Matt Kalil would probably go No. 1 in the NFL Draft any other season. He was the best at his job of any lineman in the country, a fact made evident by the scant six sacks USC allowed all season. The protection Barkley was afforded allowed him to flourish, lowering his interception total from 12 in 2010, to seven last season.

Barkley's timing was off this spring, and resulted in picks. Too much can't be read into it -- he was without Robert Woods, and practice is just that. But given his turnover prone nature each of his first two campaigns at USC, Lane Kiffin's staff must have some concern about how Barkley performs without Kalil guarding his blind side.


Arguably the best offensive player in the conference, running back John White, powers Utah’s offense. White is the offense's cornerstone, but how effective that offense is depends heavily on quarterback play. Jordan Wynn enters his third season at Utah’s starter, yet hasn’t gone a full campaign.

Injuries have caused UU to change its offensive approach midway through each of the last two seasons. The Utes are most dangerous with a healthy Wynn.

How the nation's youngest offensive coordinator and former UU quarterback Brian Johnson builds the offense around Wynn and White's complementary abilities will be intriguing. Johnson called plays at the line in the Utes' memorable Sugar Bowl defeat of Alabama in January 2009.


Washington proved last season that having a potent offense is no substitute for defense. The Huskies’ inability to stop…well, anything, resulted in Nick Holt’s dismissal.

UW stole away Justin Willcox from Tennessee. Having coached in the nation's best defensive conference, Willcox's hire was a major coup. Coming along with him is linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. The final coaching robbery Steve Sarkisian pulled was Tosh Lupoi, defensive line coach and masterful recruiter from Cal.

A new staff brings promise, but the Husky defense will only be as effective as the players running the new schemes.


Most spring quarterback competitions are the result of a starter leaving, and unproven prospects trying to exhibit their worth. Mike Leach entered an ideal situation at Washington State, having a quarterback competition between two proven commodities.

Jeff Tuel has shown competency in his 1 1/2 year starting, and was jaw-dropping in the Cougars' spring game. He finished 19-21 with 285 yards and two touchdowns, one an 80-yarder to stud wide receiver Marquess Wilson. If Wilson remains focused -- Leach has addressed concerns -- he'll have an All-America type season.

Tuel was good in the spring, but had no pressure from competing Connor Halliday. Halliday burst onto the scene with a record-setting performance in WSU's defeat of Arizona State, and remains firmly in the race despite recovering from a lacerated liver.