2008 PAC-10 Preview: Key Offensive Departures

Time will tell if 2008 will bring a shift in power among the various Pac-10 teams. Yet, one thing is for certain – each squad will be faced with the task of replacing several key players from last season. The ability to achieve this feat will determine any successes or failures in the upcoming campaign. We identified the top 12 players in the league we feel will be the hardest to supplant.

12. Roy Scheuning, OL, Oregon State

A three-time All-Pac-10 selection, Scheuning was the definition of consistency for the Beavers during the past four seasons, starting a school-record 50 consecutive games while earning starting nods at both guard and tackle. Listed to replace Scheuning in the starting lineup is sophomore Ryan Pohl, who notched a pair of starts in 2007, while senior Michael Cole will also compete to replace the Beavers' first-team All-Pac-10 honoree from last year.

11. Mike Pollak, C, Arizona State

For the first time in a long while, the Sun Devils enter the season with lacking a proven leader at center. Pollak, a Tempe native and first-team All-Pac-10 selection as a senior in 2007, followed an outstanding lineage at the position over the past decade, succeeding all-conference honorees Grayling Love, Drew Hodgdon, Scott Peters and Grey Ruegamer. One of the most powerful players on the Sun Devil roster and an all-around team leader, Pollak was the starting center in each of the 31 games that ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter has started through the end of last season.

Competing to replace Pollak are junior Thomas Altieri and redshirt freshman Garth Gerhart. Altieri spent the spring with the edge over Gerhart; however Altieri has only appeared in just three games over his two seasons on the field at ASU, so the learning curve expects to be rather sharp for either competitor.

10. Sam Baker, LT, USC

Only the third Trojan to become a three-time first-team All-American, the left side of the offensive line for USC will have a void even larger than Baker's 6-5, 305-pound frame to fill as the Trojans prepare for the 2008 season. Sophomore Butch Lewis is the frontrunner to begin the season atop the depth chart at left tackle after subbing for Baker in three starts during the 2007 season.

9. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon

In only two years as Oregon's starting tailback, Stewart quickly became one of the Pac-10's toughest ball carriers, as the 5-11, 228-pounder combined excellent power, speed and versatility, and greatly thrived in Oregon's spread offense. As a junior in 2007, Stewart led the Pac-10 in rushing and all-purpose yards, while finishing fifth in both categories on Oregon's career lists.

Prior to deciding to surpass his senior season for a shot at an NFL career, Stewart closed out his collegiate career in impressive fashion, carrying 23 times for a career-high 253 yards in Oregon's Sun Bowl win over South Florida. Luckily for Duck fans, Oregon has the personnel to not miss much of a beat in Stewart's absence; however there's still work to be done.

Senior Jeremiah Johnson is one of the league's top returning backs; however he missed the final seven games of the season in 2007 due to injury, which also kept him out of spring drills. Junior college transfer LaGarrette Blount de-committed from Florida State to become a Duck, and is out of the same physical mold of Stewart, while Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti also likens the 6-2, 230-pound Blount to former Duck Rueben Droughns. Added to the mix will be 6-1, 220-pound sophomore Andre Crenshaw, Oregon's leading returning rusher from last year (415 yards, four touchdowns), as well as sophomores Remene Alston and Malachi Lewis, each of whom saw limited time last year. True freshman LaMichael James will join the team in the fall after being ranked as the No. 40 running back prospect in the nation last season.

8. Fred Davis, TE, USC

Uncharacteristic to the what has become the norm for Trojan receivers, USC does not boast a bona fide game breaker at the position as it has in the past with players such as Keary Colbert, Kareem Kelly, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Mike Williams and others.

Originally recruited as a wide receiver before bulking up to become a tight end, Davis blossomed into USC's most dangerous receiving target as a senior and was recognized as the nation's best at his position, earning the John Mackey Award and first-team All-America honors in 2007 after leading USC with 62 catches for 881 yards (14.2 avg.) with eight touchdowns. In addition to the loss of Davis, backup Dale Thompson graduates from last season, leaving Anthony McCoy, who caught only two passes in 2007, as the only active tight end on the Trojan roster to have entered the stat book last season, while senior special teamer Jimmy Miller and redshirt freshman Rhett Ellison will also look to earn playing time.

Never reluctant to provide ample time to first-year players, head coach Pete Carroll and company may have to immediately rely on the services of 6-4, 235-pound incoming true freshman Blake Ayles, rated by Scout.com as the No. 2 tight end prospect among the class of 2008. Although things may very well pan out differently as the season progresses, it's strange to think that USC enters the season with no proven "go-to" threat in the passing game, a disadvantageous position for first-year starting quarterback Mark Sanchez to face.

7. DeSean Jackson, WR, California

One of the nation's most dynamic big-play threats over the past three seasons, Jackson's early departure to the NFL affects the Golden Bears in both the passing game and in the return game, as he earned second-team All-Pac-10 recognition in both departments last season. During his career in Berkeley, Jackson quickly became the Pac-10‘s career leader in punt return touchdowns, while scoring 28 times in 36 games and earning first-team All-America honors as a junior in 2006.

The losses of Jackson, as well as Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan, leaves senior LaReyelle Cunningham as the only returning Bear receiver to have caught a pass in 2007, hauling in only four receptions for 33 yards . The Bears will hope to get a boost from former University of Florida transfer Nyan Boateng, a junior who sat out last season after his cross-country trip, but did not see action in 2006 after appearing in five games as a true freshman for the Gators in 2005 and missed his entire senior season in high school. Thus, he carries the rust of having seen very limited action over the past four football seasons.

Also looking to make an impact will be redshirt freshmen Michael Calvin and Alex Lagemann, as well as incoming junior college transfer Verran Tucker and true freshman Jarrett Sparks. The potential star of the group is incoming freshman Marvin Jones, the prize of Cal's 2008 signing class, rated by Scout.com as a four-star prospect and the No. 23 wide receiver recruit in the country. In any event, a wide receiver corps which combines for 12 career receptions at the FBS level is enough to darken the spirits of even the most tie-dyed Berkeley natives.

6. Yvenson Bernard, RB, Oregon State

Quick -- name the only FBS player to have rushed for over 1,200 yards in each of the past three seasons. Darren McFadden, right? Wrong. Ray Rice? Nope. Mike Hart? Guess Again. Small in stature with big time ability, Bernard, a 5-9 dynamo, totaled 3,862 yards and 38 rushing touchdowns as a three-year starter for the Beavers, quietly becoming one of the most accomplished running backs in Pac-10 history. Not only will Oregon State lose Bernard's 1,214 rushing yards from 2007, but also gone are Matt Sieverson and Clinton Polk, a duo which combined for 562 yards and five scores last year.

In the wake of the three departures, the Beavers' leading returning rusher from last season is 5-8,182-pound flanker James Rodgers, who was an all-purpose weapon as a true freshman last year, collecting 594 rushing yards with three touchdowns as well as 19 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown; however he is unlikely to serve as a full-time tailback. Senior Patrick Fuller stands as the only returning "running back" to record a carry in 2007, rushing 10 times for 40 yards.

Oregon State will lean heavily on a group of newcomers this year, including redshirt freshman Ryan McCants, junior college transfer Jeremy Francis and true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers (James' brother). Jacquizz Rodgers was one of the premier high school backs in the nation last season, rated as a four-star prospect and the No. 22 running back in the nation; however his size (5-8, 165) may prevent him from being a full-time feature-back. Francis (6-1, 220) has the measurables and versatility to excel, while McCants is revered as having the greatest potential of the group, as he brings exceptional size (6-1, 236) and excellent credentials to the fold, having been listed as a four-star recruit and the nation's No. 35 running back in the class of 2007.

5. John David Booty, QB, USC

In two years as the Trojans' starting quarterback, Booty went two-for-two in terms of Pac-10 Championships and Rose Bowl victories, while compiling a 20-3 record at the helm. No pressure for the new guy, right? Recently named USC's starter for the 2008 season, Mark Sanchez is, as is any Trojan quarterback these days, expected to instantly be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner and lead USC to a National Championship.

The problem is, Sanchez, the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the Class of 2005, hasn't reminded anyone of Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart (or of Booty, for that matter) thus far in spot duty for USC, appearing in eight games with three starts as a sophomore last season, totaling 695 yards on 69-114 passing (60.5 pct.) with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Sanchez slightly edged former Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain to earn the reigns to the Trojan offense, so the leash will be limited during his first year as a starter.

Generally speaking, Sanchez has the tools and credentials to achieve Trojan-like success; however in just over three years on campus, he's suffered physical and legal setbacks and has not shown unbelievably impressive play on the field in the time he has received. Making matters tougher is the fact that no playmaking wide receivers have stepped up for the Trojans and the offensive line must replace four starters, so the cupboard full of prep All-America running backs will be used early and often.

4. Louis Rankin, RB, Washington

In 2007, dual-threat quarterback Jake Locker received much of the hype for the Huskies (well, as much hype as anyone on a 4-9 team can receive), however the most consistent offensive player on the team last season was tailback Louis Rankin, who became the first Husky back to surpass 1,000 rushing yards since 1997, as he totaled 1,294 yards on the ground, fifth-most in school history.

A second-team All-Pac-10 member and team MVP as a senior, Locker's early development was greatly aided by Rankin's reliability. Locker now returns as the team's leading rusher, totaling 986 yards on the ground last season, while sophomore Brandon Johnson collected 196 yards on 51 carries a year ago. Junior J.R. Hasty remains tremendously talented but has had a wide world of challenges in terms of simply staying on the field. Rankin's departure isn't the only one that will affect the Huskies in 2008, as Washington's top six wide receivers have finished their college careers, leaving virtually no experience at the offensive skill positions to provide relief for Locker, who struggled with consistency as a rookie, completing only 47.3-percent of his passes while tossing 15 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.

Redshirt freshmen Brandon Yakaboski, a two-star prospect in 2007 and Willie Griffin, a three-star recruit in 2007, rated as the No. 36 running back in the nation, will both compete for time at running back for the Huskies, as will incoming freshmen Demitrius Bronson, Terrance Dailey and David Freeman. Long story-short, Washington will need some youngsters to step up quickly on offense to ensure that Locker can progress as a passer in 2008 and avoid a "sophomore slump".

3. Alex Brink, QB, Washington State

Lost in the futility of four bowl-free seasons in Pullman, Wash., is the fact that Brink ended his Cougar career ranked third in Pac-10 history in passing yards (10,913) and fifth in touchdown passes (76). As the Paul Wulff era begins at Washington State in 2008, the likely replacement for the school's career-leading passer is 6-7, 234-pound fifth-year senior Gary Rogers, who has appeared in 27 games with no starts, completing only 46.2-percent of his passes (24-52) with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Also listed on the Cougar spring depth chart are juniors Cole Morgan and Kevin Lopina, redshirt freshmen Marshall Lobbestael and true freshman J.T. Levenseller, none of whom have thrown a pass at the college level, nearly giving Rogers the starting nod by default. To Rogers' (or whichever quarterback starts‘) benefit is the return of Brandon Gibson, one of the nation's top receivers, who caught 67 passes for 1,180 yards and nine scores in 2007.

2. Justin Forsett, RB, California

Although most of the offensive credit Cal head coach Jeff Tedford receives comes because of his fluency in the passing game, having produced recent first-round NFL draft picks such as Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller, the Bears have processed a great handful of big-time running backs since Tedford game to Berkeley in 2002, including 1,000-yard backs in Joe Igber (2002), Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), J.J. Arrington (2004), Marshawn Lynch (2005, 2006), and most recently, Forsett (2007).

Last year, Forsett notched first-team All-Pac-10 honors after leading the league with 15 touchdowns, while ranking second in the conference and 12th in the nation with 1,546 rushing yards. As if those credentials were not challenging enough to replace, complicating matters further was the transfer of sophomore James Montgomery prior to the start of spring drills, as he would have been the team's second-leading returning rusher after collecting 190 yards on 36 carries with two scores as a redshirt freshman last season.

The main option for 2008 will be sophomore Jahvid Best, a speedy big-play threat that corralled 221 rushing yards on only 29 attempts (7.6 avg.) with two scores as a true freshman last year, and Best assumes to be an integral factor on special teams returns and as a receiver out of the backfield. The question remains if the 5-10, 193-pounder can handle full-time duty as an every-down back, as he is the only running back on the roster with game experience.

True freshman Covaughn DeBoskie, the No. 28 running back prospect and a four-star athlete in the Class of 2008, enrolled at Cal in January and figures to fight for time this season, as will 5-10, 192-pound redshirt freshman speedster Shane Vereen, rated in 2007 as a four-star recruit and the nation's No. 24 running back prospect. Sophomore Tracy Slocum, who was rated as the No. 17 running back prospect in the Class of 2006, but did not see the field last year after redshirting as a true freshman the previous season and will compete for time in 2008.

1. Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon

You've got to feel for a guy who works his way to become a clear-cut Heisman Trophy favorite and leader of the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, only to suffer a season-ending injury, eliminating his Heisman chances and sending the Ducks from a possible BCS Championship Game appearance to a three-game losing skid to close out the 2007 regular season.

Despite his injury, the dual-threat quarterback notched first-team All-Pac-10 accolades and was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league and ranking third in the nation in passer efficiency (161.19), while passing for 2,136 yards with a 67.7 completion percentage, while throwing 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Equally dangerous with his feet as with his arm, Dixon added 583 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground as a senior last season. Also departing from Oregon's quarterbacks stable is Brady Leaf, the athletic polar opposite of Dixon, as the 6-5, 225-pound pocket dweller totaled 1,660 career passing yards with nine touchdowns as a frequent sub passer for the Ducks.

A sigh of relief for Team Nike was last year's four-touchdown Sun Bowl performance by Justin Roper, helping lead Oregon's 56-21 demolition of South Florida, however before that game, Roper posted modest numbers of 162 yards on 15-31 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions in four games. Roper, a 6-6, 205-pound sophomore, leads the charge to replace Dixon, but will face competition from sophomores Nate Costa and Cody Kempt, as well as former BYU transfer, junior Cade Cooper.

Other Key Offensive Departures

QB: T.C. Ostrander, Stanford

RB: Chris Markey, UCLA; Ryan Torain, Arizona State; Chauncey Washington, USC

WR: Mark Bradford, Stanford; Brandon Braezell, UCLA; Anthony Brown, Oregon State; Michael Bumpus, Washington State; Rudy Burgess, Arizona State; Lavelle Hawkins, California; Robert Jordan, California; Evan Moore, Stanford; Marcel Reese, Washington; Anthony Russo, Washington

TE: Jed Collins, Washington State; Brent Miller, Arizona State; Craig Stevens, California

OL: Brian De La Puente, California; Kyle DeVan, Oregon State; Mike Gibson, California; Peter Graniello, Arizona; Chilo Rachal, USC; Drew Radovich, USC; Brandon Rodd, Arizona State; Geoff Schwartz, Oregon; Matt Spanos, USC; Shannon Tevaga, UCLA


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