Like it or not, the quality of the bowl game UCLA plays in next year will depend in part on the quality of the competition in the Pac-10. Not to mention the amount of Karl Dorrell's bonus. So just how good do those teams look after completing their spring practices? Unfortunately, this article will contain no first-hand observations. But that's never stopped us before from "reading the tea leaves," now has it? No, indeed.
Using an amazing little thing called the Internet (which could be a big thing one day, mark our words), it's quite amazing what dirt can be found out about the other nine programs in the Pac-10 and how they stack up against UCLA at this early date. There must be some reason why football programs are mistrustful about those crazy WIGs (white Internet guys) -- who keep causing problems resulting in practices being closed, or press conference attendance policies being tightened -- beyond having trick plays leaked to the media by moonlighting screenplay writers.
The fabled network of TheInsiders sites, believe it or not, has i-jits JUST LIKE US who write too much and too candidly for their own program's own good. Now, you may be quick to ask, what credibility do any of these observers of other programs have as football analysts? The easy answer is…don't go there. Just back away from that ledge, everything is going to be…just…fine.
The hard answer is take everything you read with an ounce of pepper. Errrrr, a lick of salt, a shot of tequila, a body shot with that HOT blonde with the low-rise jeans down…to…there….(a little more definition in the pooper and she'd be a first round draft pick fa shizzle).
So bear with us as we, ahem, cull select tidbits for your delectation, drawing parallels to the UCLA program and inferences about the strengths and weaknesses of each program, starting with….
Take a look at this for the story about their Spring Game.
The major take-aways about the Cardinal are:
- The O overall didn't look sharp at all in the first half: inaccurate passes, dropped passes, numerous penalties, and shoddy play by the OL. The passing game really struggled in the first half with timing and providing adequate protection. Apparently, some of the RS FR OL OD'ed on the BO of the DL! Just kidding, they were freaked out playing in the nearly empty Stanford Stadium, thinking, "I gave up LA for this?" In any event, they didn't look very athletic… "cement boots" were mentioned. Think they will miss Kwame Harris?
- The O clicked better in the second half as the run and pass were mixed, keeping the D off-balance.
- Five WRs or TEs didn't play due to injury, a substantial number. Conditioning issues?
- Trent Edwards (RS FR next year) clearly outplayed Chris Lewis (SR next year) and Kyle "Watsa" Matter (RS SO). Thank goodness Teevens doesn't run a meritocracy. We'll worry more about Trent Reznor next year than Trent Edwards…
- Under the half empty/half full theory of intrasquad football scrimmages, the D must have looked pretty good, no? Yes, the reporter acknowledged that the D played well. The DL sounded particularly strong, able to produce a strong push to collapse the pocket.
- Three LBs were out, including Michael Craven. (That makes eight players…) - The Cardinal need to spend some time watching Adam Sandler and Jack work their magic: DL Babatunde Oshinowo got into a wrestling match with OL Ismail Simpson at the end of one play near halftime, and "it took nearly 15 minutes for his fellow defenders to cool him down." Buddy had to huddle the team to reestablish control.
- Discipline is an issue for Buddy. Personal fouls were a particular problem in the first half of last season, with Amon Gordon being the lead culprit. And Amon Gordon had drawn a yellow hanky for a late hit on the quarterback by the referees in the first half. If Teevens was not hard enough on his players to maintain a proper level of discipline last year, he maintains that any player hit with a personal foul this year, deserved or not, will be pulled from the game with a warning.
- And ya gotta love that Stanford idea of tough D: "The coverage from the cornerbacks was very good in the game, as well. The clamped down in a hurry after many of the receptions." But not all, I take it. That's okay, we'll pull ahead on the 2 point conversions! (Psst, try not letting them catch the ball first!) - Back to the "what have I done?" theme: TC Ostrander, incoming QB phenom, had this to say: "Trent [Edwards] looks pretty good out there today." (gulp, shrivel)
- Sounds like the 1st team O went against the 1st team D, but no score was mentioned.
Bottom Line: The D was ahead of the O ("It is a theme we have seen throughout the spring, but the defense once again held court Saturday as they kept the offense in check at the Spring Game."), there are big names at QB, but there might be a QB controversy in Palo Alto…UCLA could definitely take them.
Hey, spring in the Bay Area, so let's swing over to…Cal for their spring wrap-up.
- The Bears played 1st team vs. 2nd team in their finale, so "it quickly became evident that the game would be a one-sided affair with the first units lined up opposite the reserves."
- The Bears don't have a high-quality play-maker at QB: "We did not settle the quarterback situation. As Coach Tedford said at the conclusion of today's scrimmage, "The quarterback competition will be open again in the fall". Look for QB Aaron Rodgers to make a big push to earn the #1 slot on the depth chart."
- Cary Dove (true FR QB next year) from Taft looks special, but made poor decisions throughout spring, according to reports: "he threw an interception (on a throw he should not have tried - rolling left, throwing across his body) and made an "all arm" throw into double coverage (under heavy pressure)." Psst, Jeffie, play Cary!
- The strengths for the Bears will be discipline and the LBs. LB Joe Maningo stepped up to first team and "tallied five sacks and forced a couple of fumbles" in one scrimmage.
- Re: the OL: in one breath they are cited as the strongest unit of the team, but in another: "At times, they were simply overwhelmed by the aggressive play of the defense. It will be interesting to see how they rebound next week."
- Offensive playmakers to watch are WR Geoff McArthur (Carson) and RB Marcus O'Keith (Narbonne). But O'Keith is 2nd string behind RB Adimchinobe Echemaandu, who didn't run well during the spring at all. The Bears seem to lack the speed to turn the corner.
- The Bears seemed to catch the ball well, and attention to detail is strong.
- Long snapping is a problem for the Bears right now.
- Injuries were light.
Bottom Line: Their QB situation doesn't sound good at all. The post-Boller let down could be heavy. Talent sounds a little thin. Get those entheogens ready, never a problem in Berkley…UCLA could definitely take them.
Moving up the coast to Oregon for a spring game report.
- Kellen Clemens outplayed Jason "Barney" Fife at QB during the spring. Look for him to be the man come the fall.
- Sammie Parker looks to be the go-to WR.
- No dominant RB has emerged.
- The D is good at stopping runs up the middle. Hello, Mr. Ngata…
- The OL has trouble with protection/the D is ahead of the O: "Defensively, the Duck were very aggressive and recorded a number of sacks."
- "Keith Lewis (SR FS) is the obvious leader of the defensive backfield and caught the eye of the head coach."
- The Ducks had no serious injuries in the spring.
Bottom Line: The Ducks are a solid program. They have a proven O scheme…but teams are starting to catch up to it a little bit. Run D seems strong. Will the pass D improve enough? UCLA will definitely be in this game, should be a close one.
The Beavers' spring game report.
- No fair: 1s ran against the 2s.
- "The defense dominated the majority of the two-hour scrimmage."
- RB Steven Jackson looked in mid-season form.
- QBs struggled: "No one stood out as passes were overthrown, underthrown, and intercepted. Derek Anderson made some nice throws, but was the ONLY quarterback that received sufficient protection."
- LB Richard Seigler is back this year. That's one All Pac-10 selection…
- There were six notable players injured/out of the scrimmage.
Bottom Line: Doesn't sound like Pat Riley has really taken over the program. They might still be a little hung over from the Erickson regimen. They don't play UCLA, so who cares…but UCLA could definitely take them.
The Huskies' spring game report.
- 100+ play scrimmage, longest in conference probably.
- "Purple" and "White" squads, mixed up for balance. Purple won, 21-19.
- Three big name QBs all had decent #s on the day: Cody Pickett, Isiah Stanback and Casey Paus.
- Paus was described as "effective but unspectacular," Stanback as "brilliant" after one option run.
- RB Shelton Sampson (5-11, 175) seemed the most explosive offensive threat: 3 catches, 72 yds, 1 TD, plus 40 yds rushing.
- Pickett was sacked six times, Paus three more times. OL protection issues? Am I sensing a theme here?
- Very few completions to WRs.
- Running game is adrift: "the running game didn't provide the real spark it needed to." RB Rich Alexis hurt a shoulder early and was out entire spring.
- Injuries were high: "11 players did not participate" due to injury.
- Long snapping is an issue, as is punting. True FR P Sean Douglas is a shoo-in.
- The D is more aggressive under Phil Snow, but "the thing that was glaring to me was that we're still missing too many tackles."
- Phil on the CBs: "Are we good enough yet? No. The thing that we need to continue working on is our mental toughness." (licking chops)
- OC Keith Gilbertson on the WRs: "All we have are walk-on receivers. We only have two solid receivers who've been regularly playing." So depth is a concern.
- More Gibby: "We've got to find a tailback because when you don't run the ball, you struggle. We need a tailback who is a dominant guy. And we need some more depth at receivers. That is a pressing need so those two things are what we really need right now. [Our] top tight end, top offensive linemen, and [our] third wide receiver are injured and you lose two tailbacks at the start of spring football so you're limited. So we don't have a lot of variety right now."
Bottom Line: The Huskies don't sound like a real competent, polished FB team right now. They have great talent in Reggie, Reggie, Reggie, so they're always a threat. But we KNOW Phil Snow. UCLA can definitely take them…in one of the most intriguing games of the season.
Washington State: ZERO truth to the rumor that the team motto next year will be "It's Rolling, Baby, It's Rolling!" Although it's not a damn bad idea. Adrian McPherson is laying even money that it will replace "Let's Roll" at FSU next year.
- 1st vs. 2nd team…nuff said.
- But during the spring, the 1st team D owned the 1st team O: "The Washington State starting offense has had its troubles this spring…"
- The O came on strong at the end of spring session.
- Long snapping is an issue.
- Running game was non-existent in spring game: 20 yds was the most gained by any back. Look for WSU to remain a throwing team.
- Matt Kegel is the clear #1 at QB. As he goes, so go the Cougs.
Bottom Line: Will WSU continue to outfox the Pac-10 without Price calling plays and Gesser pulling off miracles? The D will be fast and strong. Expect quality there. But if the running game is zip, protection is poor and Kegel (the QB, not the exercise) doesn't pull it together…Cougs could slip back to historic spot in Pac-10: doormat. UCLA can take them.
Arizona State: spring recap article here.
- The D dominated the first scrimmage.
- The O came back subsequently and had some success.
- Andrew Walter is the clear #1 at QB. This is his team. He had a solid but not spectacular spring. In final scrimmage, threw for 271 yds and 4 TDs…against 2nd team D.
- The running game has some potency, or the D is susceptible to the run: in one scrimmage, ASU RB's racked up 219 yards. They have some good SoCal talent: Mike Williams (Mayfair) and Loren Wade (Serra). Cornell Candidate is Trung's brother and a burner.
- Skyler Fulton of WA is the #1 receiving target, replacing Shaun McDonald. Other major threats are So Cal products Terry Richardson and Derek Hagan.
- The Sun Devils have serious talent at skill positions on O. The OL, young last year but still somewhat successful, is feeling it this year and stepping up.
- DE Nick Johnson is supposedly a bigger, faster Terrell Suggs…we'll see.
- S Jason Shivers is ASU's best D player; there's talk he'll be NFL-bound after this year.
- ASU runs a lot of 4-2-5 alignment. They lost three LBs from last year's team, but the new guys have stepped up with no loss of performance.
- The CBs are led by RJ Oliver.
- True Fact (as they say): "ASU went from last in the Pac-10 in takeaways to second. And ASU actually turned it over more this year than the previous one." Gotta credit the D…
- Favorite Koetter line: "As long as the defense stands still and fights like men, we do good. But when the defense starts moving and slanting around, then it's a lot harder." Oh Larry! Mr. Kerr! Coach, got a minute…okay, laker, tell him what you found…
Bottom Line: The Sun Devils sound legit. If they can run the ball effectively in addition to having Walter toss the rock to a talented fleet of WRs and TEs…that will enable their D to gamble and try for the big play, which is what the 4-2-5 is designed to do. The interplay between their O scheme and their D scheme comes together nicely. This will be a great game to watch.
- Makovic remains on the hot seat: "You can cut it anyway you like, but Tucson, at this stage of the game, is bottomline apathetic about Wildcat football, which means ticket sales will be sluggish yet again, which means Arizona's already tenuous athletic budget will not be particularly benefited, yet again, from one of the program's two major moneymaking sources."
- The Flex Eagle is out, the 3-4 is in. Craig Bray, Oregon State's defensive coordinator last season, is the new DC.
- QB John Rattay hurt his knee again and is facing more surgery.
- QB looks to be Ryan O'Hara. He was not allowed to dress for one practice for reasons that were unexplained, but played extremely well in the final scrimmage. Ten of 11, four TDs, two over 45 yds.
- Nic Costa (QB) hit his throwing hand on a helmet and missed the final scrimmage.
- Both O'Hara and Costa seemed to be hotter when playing with the 2nd team O and cooler when playing with the 1st team O. Not mentioned, but was it 1s vs. 1s and 2s vs. 2s?
- Beau Carr (5-11, 204) is the primary RB, with Mike Bell #2.
- AZ spent a lot of time in practice practicing situations: 2 minute drill, goal line, red zone passing O, etc.
- Many articles made numerous references to how much the coaches were trying to install in a short period. Overall, players seemed to be absorbing it well.
Bottom Line: I think the ‘Cats will be better than expected…if dissension doesn't eat them up. They have a tough schedule. If they get off to a bad start, the reemergence of last year's issues would sink them. Odds are they are a disheartened group by the time they play UCLA, who will of course prevail.
So let's reflect for a second on UCLA relative to their opponents. What do we know?
- The 1s ran against the 1s almost all spring long. Competition makes you better. Most programs ran mostly 1s vs. 2s.
- The Bruins were very polished this spring on O: very few picks, no fumbles, very few drops, showed a dedication to the power running game. They had a 13 play and an 11 play drive against a good D in the Blue & Gold Game.
- QB isn't entirely settled, but that's true at five other programs. The two QBs at UCLA consistently looked sharp in decision-making and throwing.
- The OL struggled at times (vs. a great DL)…but so did the OL at every other Pac-10 school accept maybe ASU. Accounts of 5 to 10 sacks in a scrimmage were not uncommon.
- Dorrell displayed a willingness to move players around, which will keep everyone on their toes. Other programs display a "time in grade" mentality.
- The placekicking isn't solid yet. Five or six programs had trouble with snapping, but kicking is in good shape at four programs and dependent on incoming FR at a couple.
- The D is solid at DL, LB and DBs. The Ds at ASU (219 rushing yds in one scrimmage) and UDub seem behind the curve.
- The Bruins suffered two major injuries. Only Oregon and USC came out of spring ball as healthy or healthier.
Oh yeah. USC. I fully expect USC to be very strong next year. They're on a roll. ("It's Rolling, Baby, It's Rolling!!!") Yes, the heir to The Jaw That Could Pass hasn't emerged yet. But it probably will. There are too many options at their disposal. And Pete Carroll isn't afraid to fiddle if one guy isn't working. Their hole card is a strong D with a penetrating DL that sets the table for the quick, elusive LBs and DBs to strike. The D will keep them in the game.
My heart says that it will be a UCLA/USC race for the Roses. But fairness dictates that ASU get the recognition it deserves. Oregon will also contend. These four programs seem to have the talent, the balance, the systems and the leadership to win it all, depending on performance in crunch time by each team's superstars.