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May 13, 2007

Pac-10: What we know, what we don't

Hope springs eternal for teams in the Pac-10.

USC, UCLA and Cal look like they will continue to be at or near the top of the conference. Those teams are reloading this year, trying to stay ahead of some of the have-nots.

The bottom half of the Pac-10 is undergoing a serious makeover. One school that has undergone an attitude adjustment in the coach's office is Stanford.

New coach Jim Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback, took on USC and Michigan during the spring. He insinuated that Pete Carroll was going to leave USC after this season, and indicated Michigan has ways of getting players with borderline academics into school.

He followed up his USC comments by saying, "We bow to no man at Stanford University." Whether that happens in the fall remains to be seen.

Other teams changing with the times this spring were Arizona, where Sonny Dykes brought his pass-oriented offense from Texas Tech. Also in Arizona, Dennis Erickson looks to revive the ASU Sun Devils in his third tour of duty in the Pac-10.

Arizona Wildcats
Source: Jason Scheer of GoAZCats.com
What we learned from spring practice: Things are going to be quite different for the Wildcats next season. The old offense is nowhere to be found, and it looks as if Arizona will be running four-receiver sets under new coordinator Sonny Dykes from Texas Tech. It may seem early, but we know that Arizona's offense will be improved next season - though there will be a learning curve.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will step up at running back? Last year's leading rusher, Chris Henry, left early for the NFL Draft. Chris Jennings, Xavier Smith and Terry Longbons got some reps in the spring, but nobody separated themselves from the pack. With highly regarded freshmen Joseph Reese and Nicolas Grigsby coming in, Arizona coaches hope someone will emerge as the starting running back in preseason drills.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Source: Chris Karpman of ASUDevils.com
What we learned from spring practice: Quarterback Rudy Carpenter and the Sun Devils passing game appears to be back on track after one of the worst seasons in recent memory. Carpenter played hurt and made poor decisions at times last season, and he was working with an inexperienced and ineffective group of wide receivers. This spring, sophomores Kyle Williams and Brandon Smith made significant strides, and Carpenter is back to showing the type of accuracy that contributed to his national-best passer rating as a redshirt freshman in the 2005 season.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The cornerback spot opposite senior-to-be Justin Tryon saw four players work with the first team this spring. Unfortunately for ASU, none of them looked particularly impressive or played with any consistency. Senior Chad Green was the starter in the spring game, but he was critically injured in a car accident early the following morning. Chris Baloney, Jarrell Holman, Grant Crunkleton and incoming true freshman Omar Bolden will compete for the job the fall.
California Golden Bears
Source: A.W. Prince of BearTerritory.net
What we learned from spring practice: The offensive and defensive lines will pick up right where they left off. With Cal losing numerous cornerstone players, like Andrew Cameron, Erik Robertson and Brandon Mebane, it was pivotal the Bears establish some of the younger line prospects. With players like Chet Teofilo, Kevin Bemoll and Mike Tepper on the offensive side, plus Tyson Alualu, Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo on the defensive side, the Bears are in terrific shape.
The biggest question remaining for fall: If there is an injury to junior quarterback Nate Longshore, who will back up the all-conference candidate? Redshirt freshman Kevin Riley showed early on that he would challenge redshirt sophomore Kyle Reed. However, both were injured during camp. Reed's injury was minor, and both QBs will be 100 percent for the fall. However, Texas all-state QB Brock Mansion's arrival in Berkeley this summer is a welcome sight.
Oregon Ducks
Source: A.J. Jacobson of DuckSportsAuthority.com
What we learned from spring practice: Dennis Dixon solved the riddle of who will be the Ducks' starter at quarterback by separating himself from the rest of the pack. New offensive coordinator Chip Kelly will run a spread offense similar to Gary Crowton's. Kelly will put an emphasis on changing the tempo on occasion with a no-huddle version. John Bacon performed well enough at middle linebacker this spring that coach Mike Bellotti believes one of his biggest question marks on defense is solved.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Special Teams. Can the Ducks field punts, something that haunted them the entire 2006 campaign? Also, will the Ducks find a consistent place-kicker, something that cost the Ducks dearly last year, particularly in the Civil War game?
Oregon State Beavers
Source: Angie Machado of BeaverBlitz.com
What we learned from spring practice: The defense will be the strength of the 2007 Oregon State squad. With eight returning starters in the lineup and many experienced backups, the defense will be stronger and faster than 2006. On offense, the Beavers are looking at two sophomores and a redshirt freshman to fill the shoes of tight end Joe Newton. Sophomores Howard Croom and John Reese both saw limited playing time in 2006, but it was redshirt freshman Brady Camp who impressed the masses during the spring campaign.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Who will play quarterback? The Beavers are looking for one of the sophomores - Sean Canfield or Lyle Moevao - to step up and take the reigns of the offense. Neither prospect walked away as the clear leader, meaning that the quarterback race will continue into fall camp.
Stanford Cardinal
Source: Erik Williams of CardinalReport.com
What we learned from spring practice: The biggest thing we learned is that the team has talent, but it's going to take time to put it all together. There were some impressive displays in the spring scrimmages, but every unit on the field also showed inconsistency. If Stanford is going to perform better than it did a year ago, it's going to need to be more consistent.
The biggest question remaining for fall: While there is talent, almost everyone on the field is unproven. Can Stanford possibly turn things around in one season? It's going to be tough to expect more than a win or two in Jim Harbaugh's first year, based on what we saw with the team's inconsistency. There is talent, but a lot of pieces need to come together for Stanford.
UCLA Bruins
Source: Rick Kimbrel of BruinBlitz.com
What we learned from spring practice: The Bruins defense looks to be one of the best in the West, and it could end up being better than the squad that held USC to nine points a year ago. The only departure is defensive end Justin Hickman. Nikola Dragovic returns, and Dragovic beat out Hickman for the spot two years ago. Dragovic then sustained a knee injury, and Hickman kept the job. For the first time in years, UCLA will enter training camp in August knowing who the starting quarterback will be. UCLA coach Karl Dorrell named Ben Olson the starter. With that hurdle out of the way, the Bruins hope that Olson fulfills his immense potential.
The biggest question remaining for fall: The biggest question mark will be the offense. Bruins fans are hoping the offense under new coordinator Jay Norvell will duplicate the same kind of turnaround that the Bruins defense did in 2006 when they became one of the most feared defenses in the Pac-10. If Olson and the rest of the offense can execute the system, this could be the best Bruins team in years.
USC Trojans
Source: Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com
What we learned from spring practice: Even with most of the secondary out with injuries, the Trojans defense was playing in midseason form this spring. Returning 10 starters on that side of the ball, opposing offenses will have their hands full against USC. With the emergence of Taylor Mays, maybe the biggest safety in the country, the Trojans now have three potential All-Americans at the position. Josh Pinkard, a guy Pete Carroll called the best player on the team, returns from knee surgery and joins Kevin Ellison - making the USC safety rotation out of this world.
The biggest question remaining for fall: With center Ryan Kalil now an NFL millionaire, who will snap the ball to quarterback John David Booty? Nick Howell, Matt Spanos and Jeff Byers all took turns at center, with Spanos the favorite to win the job this fall.
Washington Huskies
Source: Ryan Lawson of HuskyDigest.com
What we learned from spring practice: The receiving corps proved to be the strong point of the offense this spring. Seniors Marcel Reece, Cody Ellis, Anthony Russo and Corey Williams will lead an experienced and talented group next fall. Reece proved this spring that he can be the big-play receiver every team covets. It appears that Williams is finally playing to the outstanding ability he showed his freshman year - something Husky fans have long been awaiting. Aside from the receivers, redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Locker looked solid the entire spring, showing good accuracy and outstanding bursts of speed.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Defensive secondary. Between safeties and cornerbacks, Washington only has six scholarship players. Roy Lewis is solid, but unfortunately he is the only cornerback with game experience. Free safety Jason Wells and strong safety Mesphin Forrester have logged some playing time, but are still fairly unproven. As coach Tyrone Willingham stated numerous times, the race for the starting secondary spots won't start until the fall. Incoming freshman Quinton Richardson, Vonzell McDowell and Victor Aiyewa must come ready to play, no questions asked.
Washington State Cougars
Source: Tony Duarte of CougZone.com
What we learned from spring practice: Washington State learned during spring ball that receiver Brandon Gibson is likely to be the replacement for Jason Hill as the Cougars' go-to guy in the passing offense. Gibson led the team with 731 receiving yards while Hill (600 yards, four touchdowns) received the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses. With Hill gone to the NFL, Gibson showed this spring he could be more of a target for senior quarterback Alex Brink.
The biggest question remaining for fall: Going into the fall, Washington State is most concerned with defensive line depth and health. Injuries to Fevaea'i Ahmu, Lance Broadus, Aaron Johnson and Matt Mullenix - along with the injury-plagued career of Ropati Pitoitua - have left major question marks about whether the Cougars have the depth to handle multiple injuries to the veterans on the line. The Cougars are also concerned about how effective those that are returning from injuries will perform in the fall.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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