Utah to Join Colorado in Pac-12

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(Photo by Icon Sports media)

ESPN is reporting that Utah has accepted an invite to join the Pac-10. Utah will hold a press conference tomorrow at 12 pacific to announce their move. The presser will take place after the school’s board of trustees meet. Pac-10 officials will be in attendance for the news conference.

Colorado also accepted an invitation to join the conference last week.

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(Photo by Icon Sports media)

There is early speculation that the Pac-12 will be broken up into North and South conferences. USC will be in the Southern conference with UCLA, ASU, U of A, Utah and Colorado.

We will update you when any official announcements are made.

Pac-10 invites Utah as 12th member [espn]
Pac-10 makes announcement on Colorado [espn]

Football. USC-Arizona State Football Kickoff Set For 7:30 p.m.

The kickoff time for USC’s Nov. 6 home football game against Arizona State has been set for 7:30 p.m. Pacific and it will be shown live nationally on FSN, bringing the total to 11 of the Trojans’ 13 games with set start times in 2010. Kick times and televising networks for USC’s 2 remaining 2010 contests–Sept. 25 at Washington State and Dec. 4 at UCLA–will be determined 2 weeks prior to each game.

Sam Cunningham Elected to College Football Hall of Fame

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Former USC full back, Sam Cunningham, is a new member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Cunningham played at USC from 1970 – 1972. He won a national championship and was an All-American in 1972. He scored 4 touchdowns in the 1973 Rose Bowl defeating Ohio State Sucks 42-17 and was Rose Bowl MVP.

Cunningham is most famous for his performance against Alabama that convinced head coach Bear Bryant and others to integrate football in the South. Cunningham ran for 130 yards and scored two touchdowns in 12 carries in a 42-21 victory over the Crimson Tide in Birmingham, Ala.

Cunningham was drafted by the Patriots with the 11th pick in the first round of the 1973 draft and is the older brother of former NFL QB Randall Cunningham.

Other notable members of this years HOF class include:

Pat Tillman–LB, Arizona State (1994-97)
Desmond Howard–WR, Michigan (1989-91)
Randy Cross–OG, FUCLA (1973-75)

Cunningham was on the Petros & Money show this week. Click here to listen to the interview.

Sam Cunningham was on PMS [PMS]
Alvarez, Stallings elected as coaches [espn]

Opening the mailbag: Impressions of spring

Got bogged down on Friday, so this mailbag fermented over the weekend.

To the notes.

Jason from the Bay Area writes: So having seen most of the Pac-10 this spring, what are your impressions?

Ted Miller: Obviously, we’ll have more on this going forward with a spring wrapup, but here are some quick hits.

  • My top three remain: USC, Oregon and Oregon State.
  • Every team has significant questions. It doesn’t seem like there’s a national title contender.
  • USC’s defensive line is going to be strong, and I think the Trojans will again rank among the nation’s elite in defense in 2010.
  • That’s why I favor the Trojans at present. That and QB Matt Barkley appearing ready to take a significant step forward.
  • Washington’s offense is going to be very good if the O-line stays healthy.
  • UCLA’s and Arizona State’s offenses will be better.
  • Arizona is a top-25 team if it gets solid play at linebacker, but that’s a significant “if.”
  • Washington State is the clear choice for No. 10, but the Cougars will not be the patsies of 2008 and 2009.
  • You could throw Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford, UCLA and Washington into a hat and randomly pick their order and probably be as accurate as what you’ll read among preseason predictions from publications and pundits.

At this point, 2010 looks to be a black-and-blue season. Hard to imagine the eventual champion going undefeated in league play. Things might end up like last year, when the conference had a lot of ranked teams, just none near the top of the polls.

Scott from Palo Alto writes: Let’s put Andrew Luck in perspective to help jog readers’ memories… very few turnovers… back-to-back victories over Oregon and USC. Did we mention he was a mere freshman? I think you have to be amazed by Luck overall and I’m sorry but Stanford vs. Oregon was not a game for the defensive-minded. We put the pedal to the medal and outscored them when they were considered the hottest team around.

Ted Miller: No question Luck looks like a budding star after leading the Pac-10 in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman. He looks, at this point, like a future first-round NFL draft pick. Perhaps a top-10 pick. Or higher.

We’ve already discussed the possibility of him and Jake Locker battling for the top spot in the 2011 NFL draft.

However — you knew that was coming — any quarterback will tell you having the nation’s best running back vexing a defense makes it easier to throw the ball. Toby Gerhart rushed for 1,871 yards and 28 TDs last fall. Every defender Luck threw against was leaning forward on its toes thinking one thing: “Gerhart… hope he runs to the other side.”

Luck is in luck that he’s got almost his entire receiving corps back and the Cardinal offensive line should again be solid. There is no reason he can’t be an elite QB in a conference loaded with elite QBs.

Still, don’t take for granted a blockbuster season. It’s possible that it will take time for the Cardinal offense to reinvent itself with Gerhart off the the NFL.

Nick from Washington D.C. writes: I have been a Duck fan for most of my life and growing up in Portland, it always felt like we were the dark horse… My question is this: Has Chip Kelly turned the corner? Even with all the haywire crazy that is the athletic department, are we now a legitimate year in year out contender?

Ted Miller: Oregon has won nine or more games six times over the past 10 seasons. And during that decade, it suffered only one losing season.

The Ducks are no longer darkhorses. They are perennial contenders, a second-tier power rating a step below programs such as Texas, USC, Florida and Ohio State.

If your question is will the Ducks make that next step and become an equal to those schools, my guess would be no, not on an annual basis.

Why? Start with population base. Those four schools have huge head starts in recruiting.

Moreover, what’s the common denominator for nearly all BCS football champions? Big Stadiums. The only team that won a BCS title that doesn’t play in front of home crowds of 80,000-plus is Miami, which is smack-dab in the middle of prime recruiting real estate.

That doesn’t mean Oregon can’t regularly beat the superpowers and contend for a national title every few years. They’ve proven they can.

The program’s momentum under Kelly, despite the recent bad off-field news, is clearly positive. The distance between what the program was in the “old days” and present is significant.

So, yeah, Oregon has turned the corner. What benchmark challenges are ahead? Win a Rose Bowl in the modern era. Or a national title.

Bill from Oakland writes: Why is it that when an offense/defense performs well in a Spring Game all the talk is about how the other side of the ball struggled and not about how good the offense/defense may be? It happened with Cal and their defense performing well and with Oregon and their defense performing well too. Is it all about perspective and expectations? With both Cal and Oregon their offenses were thought to have some issues (Cal more than Oregon) so is it just everyone saying I knew that would be a problem, instead of looking at the possibility that maybe the defenses are good?

Ted Miller: Well, obviously when a team is scrimmaging against itself any success on one side of the ball means failure on the other.

Still, it’s not that difficult to figure out if a unit is playing poorly or is simply getting beat by outstanding opposing talent.

For example on offense: penalties, missed receivers, unblocked defenders, fumbles, dropped passes, a QB with happy feet not seeing open receivers, etc. Those sorts of things indicate a poor offensive performance.

Same thing for defense: penalties, wide-open receivers, missed tackles, multiple explosion plays, huge holes through the line, etc. Those sorts of things indicate a poor defensive performance.

Moreover, a person can make distinctions. If Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea whips an opposing offensive lineman one-on-one, you sort of go: “Well, Paea’s a beast.” But if you see a starting offensive tackle getting whipped by a junior what’s-his-name defensive end, you might wonder how he’ll do against, say, Ricky Elmore or Nick Perry.

Michael from Houston writes: I think that a lot of Oregon State fans are tired of reading about how dominant our defensive line looks. Last spring and fall, I constantly took in all the stories I could about how dominant the defensive line looked, yet we all know how poorly the sack total was for the defense last year. So here we are again with a new year, but with the same stories of dominance by the D-Line. At this point, I’m having a real hard time buying into this idea. I sorta feel like it’s déjà vu all over again. Is it truly possible to get a good take on a position (O-Line, D-Line, Secondary, etc) from Spring reports?

Ted Miller: The Beavers defensive line looks like a bunch of petunias.

Feel better?

Well, see above for some explanation. Does a dominate D-line suggest a weak O-line during spring? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? If a tree falls in the woods, will it leave?

My impression from my one day at Oregon State is both Beavers lines should be better in 2010 than 2009. Paea is the Pac-10′s best defensive tackle and end Gabe Miller looks poised for a breakout. Obviously, the D-line would be better if end Matt LaGrone didn’t quit and the O-line will look better when it gets some guys back who are sitting out spring with injuries, including tackle Michael Philipp and guard Grant Johnson.

It’s possible, in fact, that the D-line looks so good because the O-line is beaten up.

But to your final question: You really don’t know how good a team is until it plays a real game. And recent history has taught us that Oregon State often takes four or five games to find itself anyway.

Jacob from Myrtle Point, Ore., writes: Ted Miller, pardon my informality, but you are the man!! This blog has kept me sane throughout the offseason, especially as a Duck fan. One quick question for you: can you use your powers to talk either Oregon or Oregon State into putting its Spring Game later/earlier in the day on May 1!? I know that the UO game is scheduled on ESPN2, and I could TIVO it and go to the OS game, but it just isn’t the same! I could go to the first part of the Beaver scrimmage then fly (no pun intended) up I-5 for the Duck game, but that really takes a hit on beverage choice. Miller, I ask your professional advice!! What should I do!?!?

Ted Miller: No, you’re the man.

Couple of ideas. First, you could replicate yourself. Not only could you be in two places at one time, but you could make a third and force him to be the designated driver.

You could buy a helicopter. Or a jet.

You could hire the Flash to carry you back and forth.

As for my professional take: It’s my responsibility to recommend against seeing both games, particularly if you plan to wear Ducks colors at Reser Stadium.

But your obsessiveness is certainly admirable.

Pac-10 lunch links: ASU’s Szakacsy gets involved in more than football

Walk along the river, sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing,

It don’t worry ’bout where it’s going, no, no.

Don’t fly, mister blue bird, I’m just walking down the road,

Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know.

Is Mike Garrett really ready to open up?

Kudos to USC athletic director Mike Garrett for putting himself out there on USC’s football blog and his very own Twitter page. But once you’re out there, you’re susceptible to friendly fire. Hope he can take it as well as he dishes it …

Item 1: Garrett laments the USC women’s basketball team not making the NCAA Tournament.

Garrett says: “The feeling is even worse because there’s no transparency with the whole system. The selection committee makes their educated decisions, but for USC, the 65th-best team and first one out of the tournament, there’s no rationale for why we weren’t included. We’re just left wondering.”

Reaction: See what it feels like when Garrett and other members of the USC athletic department refuse to comment on any aspect of the NCAA’s investigation into their alleged violations? With no rebuttals, we’re just left wondering.

Item 2: Garrett complains about the Pac-10 getting snubbed in both tournaments.

Garrett says: “It’s a major disappointment that the Pac-10 has only two teams in both the men’s and women’s tournament brackets this year, and it bugs me that the conference has been getting belittled in the press like it has. … It’s disappointing that we don’t get the same benefit of the doubt that other conferences get.”

Reaction: I agree that the Pac-10 is a victim of East Coast bias, but the NCAA Selection Committee apparently knew what it was doing when it excluded Arizona State from the men’s field. ASU, the only other viable conference candidate, lost its 1-versus-8, first-round NIT game to Jacksonville.

Item 3: Garrett reiterates that no member of the USC athletic department will be participating in an NCAA pool because it’s considered a form of gambling.

Garrett says: “There have been several notable examples of college athletic department employees who have broken this rule, and we’re fortunate we have those examples to teach us all that the only way to do it is the right way.”

Reaction: Garrett couldn’t have been referring to UCLA football coach and former Bracketologist Rick Neuheisel, could he?

Item 4: Garrett says he never will sit on a tournament selection committee.

Garrett says: “I’m here to win and be involved in the lives of our student-athletes, and for someone with tunnel vision like me, it’s not best for our program if I sit on committees that consume such time and take me away from my No. 1 job. I’m into helping and educating our student-athletes — not being a cog in a bureaucracy.”

Reaction: UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero was the chairman of the men’s committee this year. Just sayin’.

Related posts:

Is Mike Garrett really ready to open up? is a post from: USC

Former ASU WR is on a horse

You’ve seen the ad.

“Hello ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to meeeee.”

The “Man,” who ends up on a white horse, is former Arizona State receiver Isaiah Mustafa, who was a reserve receiver during the Sun Devils 1996 Rose Bowl run.

His “Old Spice” commercial has generated a lot of buzz.

Mustafa has mostly played small TV roles in acting career — see his Wikipedia page – but his career may shortly take off, considering the commercial already had earned him a “People” feature.

USC vs. the NCAA: What does it all mean?

Even though USC and the NCAA released precious little information about their meeting in Tempe, Ariz. — to the extent that “Less Than Zero” replaced “A Few Good Men” as the du jour movie analogy –  the three-day affair still provided much to digest. (And from the sound of things, it resulted in more than a few upset stomachs.)

So to help break it down, here’s one man’s take on three key developments:

1. Todd McNair, star witness
According to reports, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions spent the better part of two days grilling Todd McNair, the incumbent USC running backs coach. That’s a clear indicator that the Reggie Bush situation is the centerpiece of the NCAA’s probe. McNair was Bush’s position coach in 2004 and ‘05, so if any school employee knew what Bush and his family were up to, it had to be McNair, who’s like a father figure (or at least a big brother) to his charges. The extent of what he knew is critical to the case, particularly in determining how severely USC should be punished. This was extremely serious stuff, so much so that McNair “lawyered up” for the hearing. It’ll be interesting to see how, if at all, McNair’s involvement affects his future at USC. He technically remains part of the staff, but Lane Kiffin hasn’t finished putting it together, and it’s conceivable he will be “encouraged” to sever all ties to Bush (although Kiffin was part of that staff as well, and he will insist that all staff decisions were made solely for football reasons).

2. Floyd: Friend or foe?
Among Saturday’s star witnesses was former basketball coach Tim Floyd, who appeared on behalf of USC but also to defend himself. Given that he steadfastly has denied the allegations against him and reportedly continued to do so Saturday, one has to wonder if Floyd’s version of events was consistent with the school’s — and if there were discrepancies, how much that will work against USC. Floyd didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms with Mike Garrett, although the two shook hands at the hearing, according to this story. (We can only presume that handshake rivaled Bill Belichick-Eric Mangini I on the awkwardness scale.) Regardless of how the committee viewed Floyd’s testimony, my best guess is that the NCAA won’t penalize the basketball program beyond the self-imposed sanctions already in place. At the time, Garett said they were “consistent with penalties imposed at other NCAA member institutions which have been cited with similar rules infractions.” If they weren’t, someone should be fired.

3. Longest. Hearing. Ever.
The quote of the weekend came from David Price, the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement, who, besides having a cool job title, described the meeting as “my longest in 11 years” of duty. That, plus the ballyhooed seven boxes of documents wheeled out of the conference room, has led to speculation that USC could get hit harder than Garrett and others anticipated. (This New York Times account delves into the more-boxes theory and includes a quote from recruit Seantrel Henderson’s father, who says his son’s decision about a school might, for lack of concrete information, come from the gut.) But given that the investigation took nearly four years, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the hearing felt that long. It’s obviously a complex case, perhaps one whose outcome hinges on witness testimony. The results might not be revealed for 10 weeks, also an abnormally lengthy period, at which time USC finally will learn its fate. My prediction, for whatever it’s worth: The football program will lose scholarships and will have to vacate victories — including the Jan. 4, 2006, BCS title game — but won’t face a postseason ban.

More USC football posts:

USC vs. the NCAA: What does it all mean? is a post from: USC

What to watch in the Pac-10 this spring

Taking a look at what to watch for as teams head into spring practices, officially ringing the bell on preparations for the 2010 season.

Arizona

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators — Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense — and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.

The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren’t brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.

Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he’s not there yet. He’s going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.

Arizona State

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

The QB battle: It’s a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy — Threet — is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who’s been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.

O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils’ offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won’t matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off, is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.

The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone — though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side — as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won’t be completely green.

California

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: N/A

What to watch:

Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly… well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there’s a reason he’s in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?

Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new — likely more aggressive scheme — now must be incorporated.

RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who’s the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.

Oregon

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.

The passing game: The Ducks’ passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season’s end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.

Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.

Oregon State

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: May 1

What to watch:

Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers’ biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz‘s to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.

Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.

The O-line grows up: The Beavers’ offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times — Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.

Stanford

Spring practice starts: March 1

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal’s power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.

Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.

Luck steps up: This was Gerhart’s team in 2009. Now it’s Luck’s. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he’s done. But life won’t be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game — and leadership — to meet the challenge.

UCLA

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He’s got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it’s important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with an questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.

Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won’t necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.

The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There’s a logjam of options at running back — with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class — and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).

USC

Spring practice starts: April 31

Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll’s offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll’s defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.

Barkley Year 2: Barkley won’t have the president of his fan club — Carroll — around anymore. He’s a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll’s daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he’s obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won’t be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).

Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There’s plenty of talent on hand, but last year’s team proved that the Trojans don’t always just plug-and-play.

Washington

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker’s passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.

Replacing Te’o-Nesheim: Daniel Te’o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who’s the next pass-rushing threat?

The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah’s failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there’s an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.

Washington State

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars’ quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars’ offense could take a significant step forward this fall.

O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn’t look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year’s youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.

Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.

USC now in for day two with NCAA infractions committee

TEMPE, Ariz. — USC’s hearing in front of the NCAA infractions committee got started at 8:30 a.m. local time.

Trojans running backs coach Todd McNair joined the meeting, so the focus still may be on football. I didn’t see former Trojans basketball coach Tim Floyd but he is apparently going to be present at some point.

Unless he changed his mind, former football coach Pete Carroll bolted after the Thursday session and is now in LA.

New football coach Lane Kiffin is also still on hand.

More updates later.

The LA Times, by the way, caught up with Reggie Bush at the Olympics.

A new front-runner leads the Pac-10 into spring

Spring is often cited as a time of renewal, and in recent years that has held true in Pac-10 football.

USC would renew its lease atop the conference annually, no matter who had bolted for NFL riches.

<!–photo1–>But this spring a different bird is chirping. It’s a Duck, er, quacking.

After seven seasons of USC dominance, Oregon is the defending Pac-10 champion, and just about everyone has the Ducks pegged as the favorite to repeat.

Obviously, that means the Ducks have to prepare for the pressure of being a front-runner, right?

“We’ve never paid attention to any of that stuff — the preseason rankings and everything like that means nothing to us,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Our players can notice it. But our kids are smart kids. Because someone says you’re supposed to be good doesn’t mean a thing. All that stuff means nothing. We don’t address it. We don’t talk about it. We never talked about BCS rankings or Pac-10 championships until we won it. That’s not a concern for us. It’s about having a good spring practice and a good day in the weight room today.”

So USC’s “Win forever” under former coach Pete Carroll has become Kelly’s “Win the day.”

Of course, counting out the Trojans — or really any team in the deep Pac-10 — might be a mistake. Even Washington State, with 19 starters back, should be improved and more competitive.

Last spring, the Pac-10 welcomed back good talent at running back and on defense. Quarterback was a huge question mark. This year, eight starting quarterbacks return as well as an impressive cast of running backs, but a number of defenses take personnel hits.

So, just maybe, the days of high-flying, high-scoring games will return in the fall.

Kelly’s Ducks certainly should be stout on offense. Ten starters, topped by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LaMichael James, are back from a unit that averaged 412 yards and a conference-high 36 points per game in 2009.

Of course, off-field events could change things a bit, so stayed tuned.

Masoli leads a group of outstanding returning quarterbacks, a list that includes Washington’s Jake Locker, Arizona’s Nick Foles and Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

Other returning starters at the position have something to prove: California’s Kevin Riley, USC’s Matt Barkley, UCLA’s Kevin Prince and Washington State’s Jeff Tuel.

Oregon State lost quarterback Sean Canfield, who won first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009, but 19 other starters are back. The chief question in the spring for the Beavers, who should again be in the thick of the Pac-10 race, is whether sophomore Ryan Katz quickly asserts himself as the starting quarterback or whether he gets challenged, particularly by Virginia transfer Peter Lalich.

Arizona State also is unsettled at quarterback, and the Sun Devils might feature the most wide-open competition between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to be in the mix, but the elbow injury that has riddled him during his career has been acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday.

Of course, Riley is hardly secure. He might face a challenge from sophomore Beau Sweeney.

Still, while the offensive firepower looks impressive, know that defense will be a huge issue this spring. Six teams lost at least five starters from that side of the ball: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Stanford, UCLA and USC.

As they say — and Carroll’s crews at USC proved — defense wins championships.

But for the first time in a long time, the favored team heading into spring practices isn’t the Trojans.