What to watch in Pac-12 North this spring

Here's a look at the new Pac-12 North division as we head into spring practices.


Spring practice starts: March 29

Last practice (no spring game): April 30

What to watch:

  • Who the heck is the quarterback? It's rare to have a quarterback competition that is completely wide-open with no favorite. Even more rare is that there are five in the mix: senior Brock Mansion, sophomore Allen Bridgford, redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, junior Zach Maynard and junior Beau Sweeney. Mansion started the final four games of the 2010 season after Kevin Riley went down, but he didn't play well, so his experience advantage is muted. An intriguing option is Maynard, a pass-run threat, who started at Buffalo in 2009 and is is the half-brother of Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen.

  • Who's in charge of the offense? The offensive staff has been reworked after coordinator Andy Ludwig left, but there won't be a lack of familiarity among the coaches. Jim Michalczik (coordinator/line) and Eric Kiesau (receivers/passing game coordinator) both had previous tenures under Jeff Tedford. But with longtime running backs coach Ron Gould also serving as run game coordinator, there will be a lot of chefs in the kitchen. So fleshing out a pecking order and establishing lines of communication between coach-to-coach and coach-to-player will be important this spring.

  • You must run: For the first time in recent memory, we don't know the Bears' depth chart at tailback, a position that is even more important with questions at quarterback. Isi Sofele was the backup in 2010, but he's a scatback type at 5-foot-7, 186 pounds. Is he a guy who can carry the ball 200 times? Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Dasarte Yarnway and Trajuan Briggs are the contenders, but each is nursing an injury, with Yarnway in particular questionable for the spring. Brandon Bigelow, Daniel Lasco and junior college transfer C.J. Anderson join the fray in the fall.


Spring practice starts: March 28 or 29

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

  • O-line re-Ducks: Oregon must replace three starters from its offensive line, though Darrion Weems owns plenty of starting experience. Two juniors, Ryan Clanton, who could replace Jordan Holmes at center, and tackle Nick Cody, are the top candidate to fill the other two voids. But expect there to be plenty of mixing and matching throughout spring practices.

  • Fronting the seven: Three defensive linemen need to be replaced as well as two linebackers. That means only two from the 2010 starting front seven are back: end Terrell Turner and lineback Josh Kaddu. That said, a lot of backups played last season so this won't be an area of complete inexperience. At linebacker, Michael Clay is the frontrunner to replace Spencer Paysinger on the weak side, while Kiko Alonso and Dewitt Stuckey are top candidates in the middle, which was Casey Matthew's spot. Or might Boseko Lokombo make a move for a starting spot? On the line, Dion Jordan and Brandon Hanna look like the top two candidates at the end opposite Turner, while Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart, Isaac Remington and Ricky Heimuli will battle inside for the tackle spots.

  • Good to receive: The Ducks top two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis, are gone. No. 3 receiver, 6-foot-5, Lavasier Tuinei, is back, as is talented sophomore Josh Huff. Justin Hoffman will need a good spring to hold off some youngsters and the incoming recruiting class includes a number of speedy players who figure to crack the depth chart.

Oregon State

Spring practice starts: March 28

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

  • The O-line must step up: While there were many reasonable explanations for the Beavers disappointing 2010 season, none were bigger than the underachievement of the offensive line. The Beavers didn't run block or pass block terribly well. So that tends to flatten the excitement over four returning starters, the only departure being second-team All-Pac-10 center Alex Linnenkohl. First in line to improve is tackle Michael Philipp, a touted recruit who took a step back after earning accolades as a true freshman starter in 2009. The chief question this spring is: Do the Beavers have any young players who can push -- or eclipse -- the returning starters? Sophomore Josh Andrews was Linnenkohl's backup last year and should get first crack at center.

  • Rebuilding the D-line: Tackles Stephen Paea and Brennan Olander and end Gabe Miller are gone and some of the depth in 2010 was supplied by seniors. While Kevin Frahm, a part-time starter, is an obvious option at one tackle, there will be plenty of opportunites to earn playing time. Two JC transfers, Rusty Fernando and Blake Harrah, will participate in spring practices and offer options at end. Castro Masaniai, who's coming back from a shoulder injury, and Ben Motter are options at tackle, as is grayshirt Fred Thompson.

  • No Rodgers: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is off to the NFL. Receiver James Rodgers got a medical hardship year but his knee is still giving him trouble and his status is unclear, other than he won't practice this spring. At running back, a pecking order needs to be established with Ryan McCants, Jordan Jenkins, Jovan Stevenson and Malcolm Marable. At receiver, the Beavers have some experience coming back -- Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop topping the list -- but there are opportunities for young players to step up.


Spring practice starts (first session): Feb. 21

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:

  • Maintain the attitude: Jim Harbaugh is gone, as are key assistants, such defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive strategist Greg Roman. While promoting offensive coordinator David Shaw to head coach ensured continuity on paper on the Farm, it's up to Shaw and his staff to maintain the Harbaugh-ian state of mind: competitive, creative, edgy. While the returning players know much of the coaching staff, it's important for them to know by the end of spring practices that Shaw and company fully intend to remain competitive at the top of the Pac-12 and nationally.

  • New bullies? The Cardinal offensive line set the standard for what Harbaugh wanted over the past two seasons. They were aggressive, physical and sorta, well, mean. They pushed people around. But center Chase Beeler, guard Andrew Phillips and tackle Derek Hall are gone, leaving behind big -- literally, by the way -- shoes to fill. The good news is left tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro are All-Conference sorts. Youngsters such as Cameron Flemming and David Yankey will be trying to play their way into the mix against 2010 backups Tyler Mabry, Matt Bentler, Khalil Wilkes and Kevin Danser.

  • Receiving some Luck: Receiver Chris Owusu is back at after an injury-riddled season, but quarterback Andrew Luck's top two targets in Doug Baldwin and Ryan Whalen are gone. In 2010, the Cardinal expected some young receivers to step up. As great as the season was, that didn't happen. Will it this spring? One bonus is that there is so much talent at tight end, there are options to use a "big" out wide.


Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

  • Post-Locker: The competition on the marquee is obvious, who replaces Jake Locker at quarterback? It's sophomore Keith Price versus redshirt freshman Nick Montana. Price was the backup during the previous season and started at Oregon, so he figures to get the first snap. Montana has very, very good quarterback genes.

  • Replacing 'backers: Both outside linebackers, Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, must be replaced, and both were highly productive. Foster earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors, while Aiyewa led the Pac-10 with 21 tackles for a loss. JC transfer Thomas Tutogi and Princeton Fuimaono are the leading candidates to fill the voids, but Victor Burnett, Tim Tucker, Garret Gilliland, Jordan Wallace and Cooper Pelluer also figure to get mixed and matched around returning MLB Cort Dennison.

  • Is there a TE in the house? A year ago, tight end was expected to be a strength on the Huskies roster in 2010. It wasn't. Kavario Middleton was kicked off the team last summer and Chris Izbicki quit the team after a disappointing season. Redshirt freshman Marlion Barnett stepped into the void as best he could, and Michael Hartvigson, who's coming back from a shoulder injury, probably enters spring at No. 1 on the depth chart. A program that used to produce NFL tight ends hasn't done so lately. The answer might be touted incoming freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is hoping to enroll in time to participate in spring football.

Washington State

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

  • Front seven steps up: Washington State improved dramatically on offense in 2010 and it looks poised to take another step forward in 2011. But the only way the Cougars actually start winning some games is if the defense improves. It all starts with the front seven, which performed poorly against the run and didn't pressure the opposing quarterbacks last fall. End Travis Long and tackle Brandon Rankin are a good start up front, and there's decent talent at linebacker. But is there enough talent and depth to consistently disrupt opposing offenses? Two new, veteran coaches in Chris Tormey (LBs) and Todd Howard (DL) should help.

  • Run the ball? The Cougars, with quarterback Jeff Tuel and a good corps of receivers, will be able to pass the ball in 2011. But what about a running game that ranked last in the Pac-10? Where do things stand with running back James Montgomery, who's hoping for a medical hardship waiver but ran into a bit of off-field trouble? Freshman Rickey Galvin flashed potential in 2010 but broke his arm and was lost for the season on his first carry against Oklahoma State. Logwone Mitz, Arthur Burns and Carl Winston also are options. A pecking order at running back needs to be established.

  • Competition on the O-line: The Cougars lost two starters, but the offensive line has a chance to be the best coach Paul Wulff has had in four seasons. Young linemen should be maturing and a couple of incoming JC recruits will bolster competition. While the defense should improve, the Cougs probably are going to have to outscore foes. That means giving Tuel protection as well as establishing a running game to keep defenses honest. He didn't have much of either last season. Of particular note were the 51 sacks the unit surrendered, which ranked 119th in the country.