Monday, July 31, 2006
“They were a good football team, and they have a lot of guys back,” Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said of Cal. “(But) in this league, you’ve got to have a quarterback; and right now they don’t have a proven quarterback. They have some candidates, but they don’t have a proven quarterback.”
For Sporting News
A capsule look at Tennessee, ranked No. 18 in Sporting News' 2006 College Football Preview.
Look for a renewed interest in the screen pass in coordinator David Cutcliffe's return. Ideally, Cutcliffe will help quarterback Erik Ainge regain his composure and production. But if Ainge falters again, Jonathan Crompton has the tools to play in the SEC. Running back Arian Foster isn't a speedster, but his vision and hard-nosed style key the running game. The receivers flopped last fall, and they need to run more disciplined routes and drop fewer balls to reach their potential. Coach Philip Fulmer also wants the line to be more physical in the running game.
Everything starts up front with stopping the run, but John Chavis isn't afraid to bring pressure from a variety of angles. There is reloading to do on the line, but it will come through. There is a lot of talent at linebacker but not much experience. Big things are expected of outside 'backer Rico McCoy, but he must earn the starting spot. The secondary should be solid, with most significant contributors back. Corner Jonathan Wade has flashed big-play ability, but the safeties must be tougher against the run.
Two bad years in a row are unacceptable at Tennessee, and Fulmer showed he was taking things seriously when he fired two coaches. Bringing back Cutcliffe should help, and the defense has responded to Chavis' no-nonsense demeanor.
AN SEC COACH SAYS
QB Erik Ainge hasn't lost the talent he showed as a freshman; he just needs someone to bring it back out. David Cutcliffe is one of the game's best teachers. Tennessee's season hinges on how well Ainge responds to Cutcliffe. . . . If I'm making the calls, I'm giving RB Arian Foster the ball 30 times a game and taking my chances. . . . You look at WRs Robert Meachem and Bret Smith and wonder how they're not dominating any defensive back trying to cover them.
The Vols aren't ready to think BCS this season. The goal should be recovering sufficiently so they can take that step in 2007.
Stadium: Neyland Stadium/ Shields-Watkins Field (grass, 104,079)
Site: Knoxville, Tenn.
Coach: Phillip Fulmer (128-37, 14 years; 29th at school)
Offensive coordinator: David Cutcliffe (1st year, 18th at school)
Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (12th year, 19th at school)
Offensive scheme: Multiple
Defensive scheme: 4-3
Last league title won: 1998
Last bowl appearance: 2004
2005 record: 5-6, 3-5/T4th SEC East
1. CALIFORNIA BEARS -
It may all come down to this: November 18, the Trojans of Southern Cal hosting the Golden Bears of Cal. Not only should this game decide the Pac-10 title, but possibly the national championship, as well. So why Cal as No. 1? Hunger, for one thing. USC has put a hammerlock on the conference over the past few years, which could lead to some complacence. Cal has a senior-dominated team that knows it has one chance to wrest that title away. New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar has installed a semi-spread offense that should open things up for star running back Marshawn Lynch as well as the passing game, and the defense is rock solid with two All-America candidates (DT Brandon Mebane and CB Daymeion Hughes) among seven returning starters. Lynch may be the second-best running back in the country after Adrian Peterson, and the heavily recruited Nate Longshore looks to be settled in at quarterback.
Cal tailback Marshawn Lynch will be featured on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" on Tuesday as the program showcases this year's group of Heisman Trophy hopefuls. The segment is scheduled to air during the live broadcast between 7-9 a.m. and be rebroadcast between 9-11 a.m. Lynch ran for 1,246 yards as a sophomore last season.
Quarterback Joe Ayoob was given a golden opportunity to swipe away Canyon High graduate Nate Longshore's job in 2005. The prestigious title of starting signal-caller for the University of California Berkeley football team was his for the taking. Less than two quarters into Cal's season opener against Sacramento State, fate handed him a one-year audition. He was handed the keys to the Golden Bears offense when Longshore - having beaten him out for the starting position less than a week earlier in a close race - suffered a season-ending broken left leg. This was Ayoob's time to shine, his chance, with neither having any previous Division I playing experience, to establish himself as Cal's long-term answer. Based on the way he proceeded to perform in his nine starts for the team, though, conventional wisdom says he may have ruined that chance.
The quarterback didn't even make it through the rest of the Sacramento State game, throwing incomplete passes on his first 10 attempts before head coach Jeff Tedford gave him the hook. He went just 5-4 as a starter, taking the brunt of the blame for a team that went a disappointing 4-4 in Pac-10 conference play. Longshore is now 100 percent healthy and ready to take back his position now as the team's Sept. 2 opener against Tennessee approaches. After earning rave reviews from the coaching staff for his spring performance, it was widely assumed he'd be given back what he had once earned. Now it's just a matter of convincing the guy who actually has the power to decide who starts and who rides the pine to actually give that job back to him.
Tedford gave one big "not so fast" Thursday at the Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles to the notion that the controls will be handed back without a fight. "He gives us great confidence," Tedford said of Longshore's return to health, "but there's still going to be a great competition there between him, Joe, (senior) Steve (Levy) and (redshirt freshman) Kyle (Reed). Nate will take the first snap of our first practice, but everyone is going to have an equal chance at this."
Tedford spoke glowingly of the 6-foot-5, 230-pound former Cowboy, but his praises were all qualified with big ifs - as in, if he is indeed named the team's starter.
"He's a big, strong kid that can make all the throws on the field. He can throw the deep ball very well, has touch on his short balls, has a lot of zip on his intermediate balls," Tedford said of the redshirt sophomore. "I feel with his knowledge of the game and his physical tools, he has a lot of potential to be great. "He's going to be a great leader for the team if he does win the job for us there, but Joe also believes he can be a starting quarterback and he'll compete for it."
Working against Longshore is the fact he has lost the one big advantage he had going for him over his competitors heading into last year's camp. In 2005, as the team was trying to replace starter Aaron Rodgers - who left school early to become a first-round pick in the NFL draft and senior backup Reggie Robertson - Longshore, despite never having played a snap for the Bears, was the only quarterback in the battle who had already been a part of the Cal system.
Now he's Cal's third most experienced signal-caller, having not even played one full half, while Ayoob started nine games and Levy started the final two. Standing on crutches on the sidelines while the others played, he did, though, prove himself to his coaches in other areas. "Nate was great. Nate stayed focused mentally on the game plans, was really supportive of the other guys and stayed focused on the team aspect," Tedford said. "You get hurt that early, it'd be really easy just to turn it off and say I'll wait until next year, but he didn't. He did a great job of staying involved in the team."
Ayoob, though, has impressed Tedford with the way he has also bounced back and stayed positive after a potentially confidence-shattering 2005. With a renewed focus and an improved work ethic that has seen him put on 20 pounds of muscle, the senior is still very much alive in the team's race. "His persona has been built around his swagger being an athlete and things like that, that gives him his self esteem and his confidence so I'm really happy obviously for football reasons, but more importantly for him as a person that he's learned to overcome some adversity and get back on his feet," Tedford said.
For whomever Tedford does choose as his quarterback, it figures to be a very important season, with Cal currently projected as the No. 2 team in the Pac-10. With USC, the projected No. 1 team, expected to be less invincible than in years past because of former Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and others having been swallowed up by the NFL draft, the Golden Bears could be in a position to make a run if they get strong play out of their signal-caller. Daymeion Hughes, a senior starting cornerback for the Golden Bears, is calling that starting quarterback position the team's only question mark heading into the season.
"You have to get that position set going into the season. You have to decide on who's going to run the offense and I really like Nate," Hughes said. "He's a strong player and he's got the experience and he's already a leader. He's the guy that pretty much guides everybody. The offensive guys all really look up to him." He's earned everyone's respect - now, one year after his bitter debut - it's just a matter of showing Tedford that he deserves another chance at starting.
"As expected, the Trojans were favored by the writers in the preseason poll to win the Pac-10, but unlike in past years, the Trojans were not unanimous favorites, and there are some other formidable challengers looking to make their mark. California, for one, is listed in the AP pre-season top 10 and has a legitimate Heisman candidate in running back Marshawn Lynch. Cal will get a chance to prove itself right away as it opens on the road against national powerhouse Tennessee. "We feel we have just as a good chance as ever to compete for the Pac-10 title," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We have a lot of skill and experience returning on both sides of the ball."
LOS ANGELES-As the start to the 2006 Cal football season nears, it's only natural to think back to 2004 when the Bears were presented with the same lofty preseason expectations. That campaign ultimately came down to the missed opportunities in team's setback against USC, which left Cal fans wondering, "Why didn't they run on second down?" or "What if Jonathan Makonnen hadn't slipped on fourth and goal?" But if this is the year the Bears erase those painful memories, you can thank coach Jeff Tedford for a quiet move he made in early February. In his four years at the helm, Tedford has shown he is always a step ahead of the competition. When he hired Mike Dunbar to be offensive coordinator, it once again demonstrated his brilliance.
This isn't going to be one of those Remember-the-Titans-you-do-your-job-I-do-mine types of marriages. Tedford is one of the brightest offensive minds in all of football, but by hiring Dunbar, whose spread offense at Northwestern averaged 500.3 yards a game last season, Tedford proves he isn't too big-headed to incorporate new ideas and tactics.
It's not that Tedford really needed to tweak his offense. Cal averaged 32.9 points last season, the fourth highest average in its history. But much like the wishbone offense in the 1970s, the spread formation is the new thing to do these days-and you can't argue with the results: Oregon implemented it last year and saw a 40-yard increase in total yards per game. Texas Tech and BYU's attack have caused the Bears' defense to struggle. Tedford, who had no prior relationship with Dunbar, made a simple phone call, which led to a meeting and eventually a job at Cal. Just like that, done. If only ordering a pizza could be this easy.
With the versatility of Lynch, Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson and Marcus O'Keith, it makes perfect sense for the Bears to use at least some form of a spread offense. After seeing Forsett and Lynch both rush for around 1,000 yards last year, imagining the possibility of them in open field will make opponents sweat more than the Tennessee humidity. But when asked about Cal's new offense at Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day, Trojans coach Pete Carroll said, "This conference is so loaded with offense and tactical approach that I don't know how it can get a whole lot more productive than it's been." Though the comment was probably meant as a compliment to Tedford, Carroll will have his hands full next year. There has always been a sense of assurance that Tedford has all the answers. Behind the sunglasses, cap and headset is a man carefully dissecting the other team. In 2004, Cal outscored its opponents 227-67 in the second half, compared to just 134-80 in the first half. Think of the upcoming year as the Bears' second half run to the Rose Bowl, only this time Marshawn Lynch has come in for J.J. Arrington, DeSean Jackson has replaced Geoff McArthur, and perhaps most importantly, Tedford has added a secret weapon in Dunbar.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
You wonder how he can smile, let alone rocket a football 55yards down the field without taking a step. And not just any old smile. No, Ben Longshore's smile is one of the best. It's boyish and disarming, like it comes up all the way from his toes. The kind you need a genuinely sweet nature to qualify for. All you have to do is be around Longshore and his smile for two minutes before you start grinning too. But how do you keep smiling around a kid like this when you know he just lost his father? What do you say? How do you act? In April, Ben's father, Todd Longshore, died suddenly at the age of 49 from a blood clot in his lung.
The news shocked this tight-knit community. "I'll never forget it," Canyon High football coach Harry Welch said. "I get this voicemail at 6:45 a.m.: `Coach Welch, this is Ben Longshore. I won't be at practice today. My father just died.' I just started crying. I ran over to his house looking for him and kept going back. I kept telling people to cover my classes, because I had to find him." Everyone felt the same way. Numb. Teammates came in a constant stream over to the Longshore house. Even Canyon's cross-town rival, the Hart of Newhall football team, sent something. But still, no one knew what to say ... except Ben Longshore. "I know where my dad is," he said, still smiling. "It feels like he's still around 24-7, watching me, and I don't want to let him down." Judging from the rave reviews Ben Longshore has drawn this summer, his father would be more than proud. "He's blossomed," Welch said of Ben Longshore. "I think he's honoring his family with his effort. He's progressed so well, he's probably one of the best quarterbacks I've ever coached." That list goes a full 30 years back and it includes Ben's older brother Nate, who is now the starting quarterback at California.
But Welch didn't stutter when he made the statement. In fact, he couldn't stop glowing about the way Ben has been playing this summer. "It's almost funny how well he's throwing right now," Welch said. "I did not see a better quarterback on any of the teams I saw this summer."
Longshore did well enough on the summer camp and passing league circuit to draw recruiting interest from a handful of Pacific-10 and Mountain West conference schools, although most are holding back on a scholarship offer until they see how he performs in games. Canyon's star running back, J.J. DiLuigi, noticed the difference in Longshore right away. Instead of leaving right after practice, Longshore stays afterward to work on his skills. In the weight room, he pushes himself harder than anyone. The other day, he benched 280 pounds at the end of a hard upper-body workout. He volunteers to run with the fastest group for conditioning.
"He's really putting it all out there," DiLuigi said. "Most people would go into a slump if something like that happened to him. But instead of going, `Oh, pity me,' he's really pushing himself hard. He's like a new kid."
Don't misunderstand DiLuigi, however. Ben wasn't lazy before this year, just more passive. Last year, Welch declared that Longshore and senior quarterback Austin Civita were even coming into the season opener. But in the end, Welch went with the senior. And all Civita did was lead the Cowboys to a Southern Section Div. II championship. Longshore took Welch's decision about as well as you could expect. But deep down, he knew he could be starting if he'd pushed a little harder. "It was right there in front of me, but I just let it sit there. I didn't go after it," he said. "I guess I just thought it would come to me." Meanwhile, older brother Nate found himself on the sideline for a different reason. Instead of becoming the next quarterback prodigy of Cal coach Jeff Tedford, Longshore was in a cast. After beating out highly-touted junior college prospect Joe Ayoob in summer practice, Longshore seemed poised for a breakout year. But in the first game, a Sacramento State defender rolled up on his lower leg, breaking it.
"It happens. It's football," Nate Longshore said. "But it was tough watching the team and not being able to help them." The brothers talked often last year, both yearning to get out on the field. It was around this time that Ben's focus started to change. With his senior year staring him in the face and only a few late-game snaps to show for his first two years of varsity football, whatever passivity he'd had vanished. His workouts got more intense, his mental focus sharpened. And then his world was turned upside down. It would've been understandable if he went into a funk. Or if he needed an extended break from football. But the Longshore family is too strong to let that happen. "Right after my dad died, Nate came home, and the first thing we said to each other was, `We gotta do this, We gotta do this,"' Ben recalled. Added Nate: "You don't even really have to talk about it. You just look at each other and you just know."
A few days after Todd Longshore died, Welch reminded Ben about an elite quarterback camp in San Diego that he'd been invited to and asked if he was still going to attend. "His mother, DeAnn, said, `I don't think so, Ben,"' Welch said. "Ben looked at his mom, with all this emotion, and said, `Dad was going to take me."' That pretty much settled it. A few days later, Welch and his wife drove Ben down to San Diego. Nate came down to support him. And even with a heavy heart, Ben was selected as the top quarterback in the camp. "All of a sudden, all these eyes were open and people saw the potential," Welch said. "And I think he did too. ... The rest is history."
Go ahead, you can smile. Ben is. And somehow, you just get the feeling his dad is, too.
Oski, California's dementedly grinning, beer-bellied bear mascot, holds the Pac-10's national reputation in his paws. That's one way of considering -- hyping -- the most important Pac-10 regular-season game in recent memory: California's visit to Tennessee on Sept. 2. The Bears square off with an SEC power in front of 106,000 orange-clad loons hailing from the reddest of red states who might spontaneously combust if their beloved Volunteers lose to a bunch of lefty, artist-types from Berkeley.
Here's what would happen if Cal wins:
The Pac-10 would announce to the nation that it is not merely USC and nine empty uniforms, an inaccurate but persistent perception during the Trojans' reign atop college football. Cal would justify a preseason ranking in the top half of the national polls and establish itself as a budding national power under Jeff Tedford. A platter would be prepared for already embattled Vols coach Phillip Fulmer's round and meaty noggin.
That's pretty heady stuff for a victory over a team that posted a losing record a year ago, but such is the semiannual battle for the Pac-10 to prove itself to a skeptical nation. And a loss? It would reinforce the foundation of the hoary East Coast bias, which includes the codicil that the SEC invented college football, a perception that infiltrates even the minds of Pac-10 players.
"I think everybody is going to be a little (wide-eyed) at first, including me," Bears cornerback Daymeion Hughes said. "We've got to remember it's just another football game." Cal's showdown in Dixie is merely the most important of an eyebrow-raising schedule of intersectional Pac-10 games this year. While the Bears are enduring the 756th performance of "Rocky Top," Washington State will be at Auburn and USC at Arkansas. The non-conference slate also features Oklahoma (Washington, Oregon), Nebraska (USC), LSU (Arizona), Minnesota (Cal), Colorado (Arizona State) and Notre Dame (USC, UCLA, Stanford).
While coaches will always claim conference games hold the most meaning, it's the matchups between elite BCS teams that establish a national pecking order, and the Pac-10 needs these games more than the ACC and SEC and even the top-heavy Big 12. "It's a big factor in how we are regarded," Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said. "That's one reason why it's more important for us to play those games than the Eastern schools -- because they are running around telling each other how good they are. We have to go out and find some way to prove how good we are. "If we just sit back and play San Jose State and Idaho, we're not proving anything to anybody. We have to be more aggressive than some of the other conferences." The ACC, SEC and Big 12 have separated themselves from the Pac-10, Big Ten and sagging Big East. They added teams, split into two divisions and play revenue-generating conference championship games.
The ACC operated on a peer-level or even slightly below the Pac-10 in football until it added Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College over the past two years. Now it's eye-to-eye with the SEC as the nation's best conference. Hansen said Pac-10 presidents and athletic directors continue to have no interest in expansion, and new television contracts make that a moot point until 2011. That means no significant revenue -- or attention -- boost for the Pac-10. Therefore, winning, often in hostile environments, is the only way to create buzz and maintain elite status.
"You have to be willing to play at your level or up in order to be a player in the BCS," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "I don't think people are going to respect you otherwise. ... Those are the marquee games that make or break your reputation." Oregon has fought hard to earn legitimacy, and the program's ambitions under Bellotti and athletic director Bill Moos have paid off with the ultimate sign of respect: home-and-home game contracts with big-time foes.
The Ducks are putting the finishing touches on a contract with Georgia, a program notorious for refusing to travel outside the Southeast. The Bulldogs will join a list of past and future Autzen Stadium visitors that includes Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The idea of consistently luring those types of teams to Eugene would have seemed ludicrous 15 years ago.
Of course, Oregon went 10-1 last regular season and got screwed by the BCS, just like California did in 2004. Common denominator? No marquee non-conference games. The BCS has left other teams griping, too, most notably Auburn in 2004. That outrage was based on the notion that an undefeated SEC team should always play for the national championship.
Poppycock. Auburn was justifiably waylaid because it played a wimpy non-conference schedule: Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech. Many national poll voters, including me, severely penalize teams that play three patsies in order to create an illusion of formidability.
Conversely, voters rewarded Texas for its thrilling win at Ohio State last year, and in many cases protected the Buckeyes in the polls thereafter, refusing to hit them with a precipitous drop. Call it a tip of the cap for showing guts and creating excitement for fans. That was the most anticipated game of 2005. And it will be again on Sept. 9 in Austin.
UCLA coach Karl Dorrell called the Bruins' 41-24 bludgeoning of Oklahoma last year "a statement game." That's what it is every time the Pac-10 squares off with a marquee BCS foe.
So Oski needs to roar when he ambles across the checkerboard end zone of Neyland Stadium.
35. Nathan Longshore – California (SO)
Even the intelligentsia at Berkeley appear able to have their own unruly socialite run-ins, as perceived starter Steve Levy was suspended for at least the season-opener. Fantasy owners, turn your attention away from Levy and watch the battle between sophomore Nathan Longshore and Joe Ayoob. But, even more so than at Arizona State, the question arises as to which quarterback does one choose? Longshore came away impressive in the first part of 2006 practices, but could very well benefit from another year of learning – not to mention that a noticeable limp from an injury sustained in last year’s first game was still apparent and may require additional healing. Longshore played only in the Bears’ opener against Sacramento State (he broke his ankle), and came away with 131 yards passing, one touchdown, and one interception. Less than stellar numbers. The potential Longshore possesses may prove too tempting, with Longshore getting the nod against Tennessee. Too much uncertainty here for quarterbacks, fantasy owners would be well off to look to other PAC-10 schools for potential short and long-term payoffs. Running backs at Berkeley are a first round must, but see Ayoob or Longshore as more a potential second or third week pickup.
Friday, July 28, 2006
One of the biggest topics of the day was Cal's switch to a spread option offense, which should open up the field. Many have questioned Jeff Tedford's decision, but at least one coach backed Tedford. "He is not going to do anything that won't give them a chance to win at the highest level," Arizona's Mike Stoops said. "Who is going to question him? He's a great offensive mind."
Bear backing -- Cal returns 18 starters and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Marshawn Lynch, placing the Bears, who received seven first-place votes, second behind USC in the Pac-10 media poll. Cal is ranked in the top 10 in five preseason publications, including No. 6 by Street and Smith's 2006 edition. And coach Jeff Tedford's expectations? "We expect to be pretty good."
"With shining stars like Leinart, Bush, Olson, Drew, Washington State running back Jerome Harrison, Oregon State receiver Mike Hass and Arizona State receiver Derek Hagan leaving for greener pastures, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was asked about a potential "talent drain'' from the conference.
Tedford, whose offense boasts Heisman Trophy candidate Marshawn Lynch, rattled off the names of several performers he expected to fill the void, including Arizona State quarterbacks Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, USC receiver Dwayne Jarrett, Washington State receiver Jason Hill, Washington quarterback Isiah Stanback and Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama.
"I was very impressed with what he did last year,'' said Tedford of Tuitama. Still, I think there will be a learning curve with him.''
By Joe Davidson -- Bee Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES -- The coaches took turns taking the microphone Thursday, talking shop.
And it was pretty much the same drivel as every other football media day session across the country -- heavy on the politically correct, light on any biting comments and plenty of bagels and coffee and "gee, coach, you guys are great this year" to go around. The consensus in the media poll -- not at all contested by the coaches -- is that USC is again the favorite to take top honors in the Pacific-10 Conference, followed by Cal, Oregon and Arizona State. But the vulnerable Trojans won't have a cakewalk to another Pac-10 title, not to mention a fourth consecutive national-title game appearance. With that, a closer look at 10 story lines in the Pac-10 for 2006.
1. How does USC replace Heisman Trophy winners Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart? -- For starters, they recruit better than anyone and hope the unproven talent proves something in a hurry. Still, the Pac-10 no longer seems awed by Troy, with Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback saying, "There's no one team that will win every game." And Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter: "I don't think many teams in history lost two Heisman winners and (did not) take a step back."
2. Is Cal's Marshawn Lynch the best tailback in the conference? -- Uh, good luck finding a better one. The Bears tailback is a multi-tasking headache for every defensive coordinator on Cal's schedule: fast, brutish, good hands and a good blocker. He's also being hyped as a Heisman hopeful. "We have a responsibility to make sure that's known (Lynch's talent)," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He does understand the responsibility that comes with it. But by no means does he put himself on a pedestal."
3. Has Karl Dorrell finally found some measure of peace as the "other team in L.A.?" -- Well, yes. For the first time in his three seasons as UCLA's coach, Dorrell isn't fielding questions about playing in USC's considerable shadow, even though a 10-2 season in 2005 was bloodied a bit when the Trojans dropped a 66-19 shelling on the Bruins. "We've grown, we've matured," said Dorrell, still craving his first win against USC. "I've grown, I've matured."
4. Will Oregon coach Mike Bellotti learn to appreciate the new BCS format? -- Despite great seasons in the past, the Oregon coach has been burned a time or two by a lack of BCS love. He was asked if he found it "interesting" that there will be more BCS bowl teams this year. 'Interesting' is a nice way to put it," the former UC Davis player and coach said. "It's very difficult to be 10-1 (before their bowl loss) and be overlooked by the BCS."
5. Can Arizona State contend with an unsettled passing attack? -- The Sun Devils are blessed to have two proven quarterbacks in Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter. Keller threw for 2,165 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2005, missing the final five games with a thumb injury. Redshirt freshman Carpenter took over and passed for 2,273 yards, 17 scores -- leading the nation in passing efficiency -- and had a 4-1 record. "It's very delicate," Koetter said of dealing with the dead-heat push in camp. "I care a lot about those two guys. We're going to make one guy very happy and one very sad. Worst thing you can do is beat around the bush and not tell them the truth."
6. Can Stanford's new stadium create a home-field advantage? -- Coach Walt Harris is counting on it. The second-year Cardinal coach went 1-5 at beaten-down old Stanford Stadium last season, including a stunning 20-17 loss to UC Davis. The new 50,000-seat stadium will be ready for the home-opener against Navy on Sept. 16, with some nice perks, including keeping a lot of the old stadium charm with the trees. "I've been to the upper deck, left corner, and there's not a bad seat in the house," Harris said. "And we have a lot of bathrooms and concessions."
7. Is everyone going spread happy or what? -- Last season, Oregon installed a spread offense that helped the Ducks go 10-2. Now Cal is ready to go "spread" on the conference -- as if the Bears haven't been prolific enough. So why do it, Cal? "We don't see it that much in our league," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "(Tedford) knows what he's doing. Who's to question? He's got a great offensive mind."
8. Can Washington State return to some sense of glory? -- Yes and maybe. WSU, loaded at 10-2 as recently as 2003, started fast in 2005 with a 3-0 start. Then the seven-game tailspin: heartbreakers to Oregon State (44-33), Stanford (24-21), UCLA (44-41), Cal (42-38), USC (55-13), Arizona State (27-24) and Oregon (34-31). "Not finishing games was as much a mental problem as physical," WSU coach Bill Doba said. "That's something we have to overcome."
9. Will Arizona return to a bowl game? -- Yes, but don't bet your mortgage on it. Two of the first four games are whoppers -- against LSU and USC -- but the defense returns nine starters and Stoops is sinking his bark into the program. Then again, Arizona can't go 3-8 for the third successive year, either. The Wildcats last went bowling in 1998, capping a 12-1 season.
10. OK, just how is USC going to replace Bush and Leinart again? -- By showing the newbies where the ball is. Four heralded freshman tailbacks are eager to handle the load, while veteran Chauncey Washington doesn't want to bow down to youth. At quarterback, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez are vying for Leinart's old job. "It's like it was before," said USC center Ryan Kalil. "We lost (Heisman winner Carson) Palmer, then this lanky kid from Orange County named Leinart came in. I know we have great
"California tailback Marshawn Lynch accepts this season's Heisman hype, but it's not easy.He enters the fall as the nation's second-leading returning rusher at 124.6 yards per game. The program's sports information department has launched a Heisman campaign, but it seems Lynch rather would go about his trade quietly."I think Marshawn has shown the last couple of years that he's one of the most talented players in the country, and we have a responsibility to make sure that's known," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He'd prefer to keep the spotlight off himself, but he understands that's part of it." "
"Cal looks like a legitimate threat with a dynamic offense that includes Heisman Trophy candidate Marshawn Lynch at tailback. Oregon has 15 starters back from a team that went 10-2, while Arizona State (7-5 in 2005) is believed to be a program on the rise under Coach Dirk Koetter."
July 28, 2006
By DAN WEBER
LOS ANGELES - Coach Pete Carroll accepted USC's fourth straight selection as the Pacific-10 Conference football favorite Thursday for the compliment it was. "It shows how much they respect our talent," Carroll said of what he described as the Trojans' unique "culmination of three very big recruiting years." By the same token, the rest of the Pac-10 coaches clearly accepted the consensus that the rest of the conference has gained ground on the Trojans this season. After all, USC's 11 returning starters are the Pac-10's fewest, while the Trojans are the first team to lose two Heisman Trophy winners since Army in 1947. From a unanimous preseason No. 1 in voting by league media the previous two seasons, USC got 18 votes this time to seven for No. 2 Cal, three for No. 3 Oregon and one for No. 4 Arizona State.
"From top to bottom, I think the conference has a chance to be the most competitive it has been," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "A tight race, a pretty even league," Washington State's Bill Doba said. But Doba wouldn't go along with those who wondered if USC was a team in transition.
"They look pretty good to me," he said. Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter ticked off some numbers that explain why the contenders may be closing in on USC, however. His Sun Devils, for example, return twice as many offensive starters as USC, 8-4. While ASU is led by a pair of veteran quarterbacks, Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter, USC has no one with real playing experience to succeed Matt Leinart. Junior John David Booty and redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez are, as Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said, among the group of "new quarterbacks who are highly touted but untested."
"You've got to give USC credit for what they've accomplished the last few years," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said with a look at the Trojans' three Pac-10 titles, two national championships and a runner-up finish. "But ..." Stanford's Walt Harris was excited about the Cardinal's new 50,000-seat stadium, Oregon's Mike Bellotti about returning the conference's No. 1 defense. Cal's Jeff Tedford wasn't all that put off by the pressure of a team likely to start the year in the Top 10 and featuring the conference's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, tailback Marshawn Lynch. Then came UCLA's Karl Dorrell, after a 10-2 season and a Sun Bowl win, who stated what seemed to be a league-wide directive. "All of us have to try to keep gaining ground -- and not just on the team across town," Dorrell said of his Bruins, picked fifth by the media. "This year is no different. We are very capable of taking a big step." UCLA wide receiver Junior Taylor, returning from surgery on a torn ACL, didn't mince words. "The next step for UCLA football is a Pac-10 championship," Taylor said. Carroll acknowledged that if it looks like he's heading into this season with heightened enthusiasm, that would be correct.
"Honestly, I realize that people don't think we can be as good," Carroll said, "and that gets me real fired up."
By Jay Heater
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
LOS ANGELES - Facing the assembled media Thursday during the Pac-10's football media day, Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter was asked if he thought USC finally would be vulnerable this season. "USC has a very talented team," Koetter said. "But I don't think any team has lost two Heisman Trophy winners (Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart) and not taken a little step back."
Winners of four consecutive conference titles, the Trojans might not seem invincible, but they still command lots of respect. A media poll selected USC to defend its title once again, but the Trojans only received 18 of a possible 29 votes. The past two seasons they were unanimous picks. Cal, a team that has been identified as a top 10 team by most analysts, received seven first place votes. Oregon picked up three first-place votes and ASU got the other.
"We find ourselves in a position that we were in three years back," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Hopefully, we will be able to respond in a similar fashion. It's time for us to show we have some staying power." Following the 2002 season, in which the Trojans hammered Iowa 38-17 in the Orange Bowl, they lost Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer along with safety Troy Polamalu, one of the top defensive players in the country. Going into 2003, there were questions whether USC could keep it rolling. Carroll inserted Matt Leinart at quarterback and the Trojans went 12-1, including a 28-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
This time, USC has to replace a host of talent, including 11 players who were drafted into the NFL. That list includes Bush, Leinart and tailback LenDale White. "It's inevitable when you lose Leinart, Bush and that other monster back there (White), that they will be searching a little bit," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops. While USC has dominated recruiting among Pac-10 teams over the past three seasons, simply reloading might not be enough with Cal stockpiling talent and Oregon and Arizona State looking like factors in the national picture. "Cal has got a lot of good players back," Stoops said. "They have some big stars."
Bears coach Jeff Tedford appears to be comfortable with the role of national powerhouse. "This team has the potential to accomplish quite a bit," Tedford said. "Our goal is to reach our full potential. We're all aware of the external expectations. But we focus on our internal expectations. It's all up to us." Carroll agreed that Cal might be the Trojans' top opposition for the conference title, but he added, "I think Oregon will have something to say about (it), and Arizona State as well."
Pac-10 preseason media poll with first place votes:
1. USC (18) 276
2. Cal (7) 247
3. Oregon (3) 229
4. Arizona State (1) 204
5. UCLA 145
6. Arizona 133
7. Oregon State 125
8. Washington St. 96
9. Stanford 90
10. Washington 50
Seattle Times colleges reporter
LOS ANGELES — It might have been the unlikeliest collision of humanity since John Candy and Steve Martin locked horns in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." Assembled at a hotel near the Los Angeles airport Thursday were the assorted scribes who cover Pac-10 football, gathered for the league's annual media day. Adjacent to them in several conference rooms was a convention of the National Evangelism Movement. The population in the bar appeared to be one-sided.
The writers relied on a time-tested formula: Praise the Lord and pick SC. They've gotten good at this lately, both the scriveners and Trojans. While there's considerable history of who-knew selections upsetting the media forecast for the conference football championship, lately it's been pretty chalky. You choose the Trojans, you do well. But even before that — Washington in 2000, Oregon in 2001, Washington State in 2002 — the writers nailed it. (And to think, those e-mails we get.)
Not to bet into a streak, as they say in Las Vegas, but just a thought: Might here be a new sheriff in town? "Maybe it's a nice thing to be ranked high, preseason," said Jeff Tedford, the California coach. Of his Bears, he added, "They still understand, it means nothing." Methodically, Tedford has been constructing a monster in Berkeley the past four seasons. Selected to finish second behind the Trojans this year, but getting a respectable seven first-place votes, Cal has been doing it the way Tedford knows best. When in doubt, he raids Oregon.
At every level, Cal has pilfered people from Tedford's previous coaching stop in Eugene. He's got Oregon graduates on his staff, he's got three ex-Oregon assistants working for him. The Cal strength coach, John Krasinski, came with him from Eugene. It goes to crazy levels. Tedford came up with enough money to hire away Ed Garland, an assistant equipment manager at Oregon. Even Cal's sideline radio reporter, Todd McKim, was a longtime TV guy in Eugene.
Why does all this matter? Because much of Cal's football future could be tied up in the latest plunder from the Oregon program. Over the summer, the Bears hired as their new senior associate athletic director for development — an unwieldy title for Get-That-Freakin'-Stadium-Renovation-Project rolling — a fellow named Jim Bartko.
One of Bartko's chief duties at Oregon was to talk Phil Knight through various spats with the Ducks and keep the cash flowing from the Nike czar's accounts for things like the 463 uniforms Oregon wears (including new ones for 2006). "I know a lot about him," Tedford said. "He's a good friend of mine. I think he's going to bring a lot of knowledge and expertise to our program and university. He's a true professional. I look for him to really help our program meet some of the needs we have."
While Bartko is out searching for another shoe guru, Tedford seems to have the Bears equipped to make a serious run at the Trojans, and the writers, this year. He's got players like tailback Marshawn Lynch, as good as there is in the nation, and truculent nose tackle Brandon Mebane.
To the south, USC has been stockpiling prep All-Americans that you haven't heard of because of people like Reggie Bush. Coach Pete Carroll calls it "the culmination of three really big-time recruiting years." "Oh yeah," Tedford said, almost breezily. "I feel we've been able to create a little bit of depth as well."
Depth like this: In the injury absence of Cal's top receivers last season, a sophomore named LaReylle Cunningham caught 112 yards in passes to beat Washington State. Cunningham isn't even on the two-deep roster now. Into the mix, Tedford will introduce some of the shotgun-based, spread-option offense, and his track record wins him the benefit of the doubt. "Who's to question him?" said Mike Stoops, the Arizona coach.
Funny thing, though. In all the discussion of USC, Cal and the third-place media pick, Oregon, there's nary a quarterback you can take to the bank. Between them, the three No. 1 guys on those depth charts — USC's John David Booty, Cal's Nate Longshore and Oregon's Dennis Dixon — have a total of five career starts.
Referring to Cal, Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said, "They were a good football team, and they have a lot of guys back. [But] in this league, you've got to have a quarterback; and right now they don't have a proven quarterback. They have some candidates, but they don't have a proven quarterback."
It's assumed Tedford will find one. Ditto the Trojans, whose Carroll, referring to the departure of people like Matt Leinart, Bush and LenDale White, said almost whimsically, "I hope we're able to surprise some people."
Not the writers, who, Cal or no Cal, are spreading the gospel of USC.
Read the entire article here.
The Orange County Register
LOS ANGELES - They love the smell of vulnerability in the morning. The nine coaches who compete against USC gathered early on Pac-10 Media Day, not only to talk about their own football teams but to gleefully discuss a Trojans team missing two Heisman Trophy winners, the Pac-10 scoring leader and enough top draft picks to stock an NFL all-rookie team.
From across town in Westwood to 1,500 miles north in Washington and all points in between, the sense is that this is the year Pete Carroll's Trojans will come back to the pack.
The word everyone uses is v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e.
"You know where that talk comes from," said Cal's Jeff Tedford, the last Pac-10 coach to defeat USC, way back in 2003. "They're facing a big turnover at key positions, at quarterback and running back. "When you do that, a transition has to be made. There is a learning curve involved. The last time we beat SC, they had freshman tailbacks. And in overtime, one of those guys (Hershel Dennis) put the ball on the ground."
Arizona's Mike Stoops, looking to make a move up the conference standings, sounded hopeful about the Trojans, who won two national titles and came within inches of a third in the past three years. Hopeful that they might not be as dominant.
"When you lose (Matt) Leinart, (Reggie) Bush and the other monster back there (LenDale White), you have to search for a little while," Stoops said. "When their (new) quarterback comes in, the score is going to be 0-0, instead of them being up by 50."
Dirk Koetter, Arizona State's coach, tried to hide the semblance of a smile when he said: "I don't think many teams in history have lost two Heisman winners in the same backfield and not taken a step back."
Karl Dorrell, his fat, new contract extension making him appear more loose and relaxed, noted some similarity to USC's situation and his.
"They've had some changes in their program, too," he said. "They had a lot more people drafted than we did."
To be fair, all of these same coaches were about as quick as Cal's Marshawn Lynch in the open field when it came to slipping in a qualifier or two.
"The thing about USC is it has such broad talent that maybe it doesn't have to depend on replacing those guys," Tedford said.
"What people don't realize," said Stoops, "is that they are going to be much improved defensively."
Koetter said: "But until someone tells you otherwise, they're still the team to beat."
Dorrell noted the Trojans "still have some depth, some quality."
None of the nine coaches is willing to say it on the record, but you get the feeling they know this is the year they'd better get Carroll and USC.
The Trojans are sitting on three consecutive recruiting classes ranked, by most assessments, as No.1 in the country.
They don't just have good athletes at most positions. They have them stacked in long lines, as if they were waiting at an airport security gate.
Ryan Kalil, the senior All-America candidate at center from Servite High, was amused by the day's earlier discussion of how grave USC's losses are.
"A couple of years ago, we lost Carson (Palmer) and (Troy) Polamalu, and here comes this lanky kid out of Orange County and he wins the Heisman Trophy," he said.
"Let them say we're vulnerable. I kind of like that. I think we'll change some people's minds."
Carroll listened to everyone's opinion, then settled in for a quick lunch and some comments of his own.
"Two years ago, no one thought we could win another national championship," he said. "Last year, no one thought we could overcome our coaching losses. We take these things as a personal challenge. We wanted to overcome the problems in the past, and we did."
That doesn't mean this latest USC group doesn't have some question marks. Many of the skill players are unproven at this level, and, defensively, there remains the gaping hole no one was able to fill a year ago after tackle Shaun Cody left for the NFL.
"There is more curiosity this year," Carroll said. "It's more exciting than ever, in a way. It's kind of like having Christmas presents waiting downstairs, and you can't wait to open them to see what you get."
Let's not forget it was also the wildest offseason of the Carroll era with incidents involving Bush's parents and the apartment Leinart shared with wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. Then there was the arrest of freshman quarterback Mark Sanchez on sexual assault charges that were never filed.
"It was a difficult time for everybody," Carroll said.
In the Pac-10, many opposing coaches are hoping USC experiences similar difficulties on the field. Others tend to be a bit more pragmatic.
"Are they in transition?" said Washington State's droll Bill Doba. "I don't know. They look pretty good to me."
LOS ANGELES - Cal Coach Jeff Tedford hadn't been at the podium more than two minutes Thursday when he was hit with a series of questions about the nationally televised season opener at Tennessee. Sure, it's a big game for the Bears -- at stake will be their top-25 ranking, their national reputation and Marshawn Lynch's Heisman Trophy candidacy -- but it's not their biggest. That comes Nov. 18, at USC. Without winning that game it's hard to envision the Bears winning the Pacific-10 Conference and playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959.
It's also hard to envision the Bears having a better chance of dethroning mighty USC than it has this season. Thursday, at Pac-10 media day, Cal was picked second to USC in the preseason media poll; the Bears received seven first-place votes to the Trojans' 18. (Stanford was picked ninth.)
Cal has its best mix of talent, experience and depth since Tedford took over in 2002. The Bears return 16 starters, have several preseason All-Americans, and are a lock to open the season in the top 15. ``Cal has a lot of good players back, and they have some big stars, as well,'' Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said when asked to assess the title chase. ``And Oregon has played very consistent.'' Toss in Arizona State, and there are at least three teams capable of challenging USC -- and that's three more than last year. The three-time defending league champions must replace quarterback Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman winner; tailback Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman winner; and tailback LenDale White, who scored 26 touchdowns last season. That's not easy, no matter how many five-star recruits you have on the depth chart.
``Any time you have the positions, like quarterback and tailback, that they're replacing, there's a learning curve,'' Tedford said. ``Like us last year.'' When USC Coach Pete Carroll reached the podium Thursday, he compared these Trojans to his 2003 team, which had to replace its starting quarterback (Heisman winner Carson Palmer) and its defensive leader (safety Troy Polamalu). That team responded by winning 12 games, beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl and claiming half the national championship.
``This is an opportunity to show we have staying power,'' Carroll said. ``This team is the culmination of three big-time recruiting years.'' The Trojans are stocked at receiver and on defense but have much to prove on the offensive line and at quarterback and in the backfield. The favorite to replace Leinart, John David Booty, missed all but one spring practice because of a herniated disk in his back that required surgery. The backup, Mark Sanchez, is a redshirt freshman. And the presumptive starter at tailback, junior Chauncey Washington, has just 19 career carries after being academically ineligible in 2004 and 2005.
How does Cal compare? Very well, actually. The Bears return eight starters to what should be their best defense in Tedford's tenure, and they're loaded at receiver and tailback. The questions are on the offensive line and, like USC, at quarterback. Sophomore Nate Longshore will be given every opportunity to win the job he held last season for one quarter. (He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the opener against Sacramento State.) Longshore's toughest competition will come not from Steve Levy but from senior Joe Ayoob, who incurred the wrath of Cal fans with his inconsistent play last fall.
Ayoob, who transferred from City College of San Francisco, was clearly overwhelmed by the speed of the game and the size of the playbook. If he finds a comfort zone and if Longshore continues to develop -- reasonable expectations, given Tedford's track record -- then Cal could have two effective passers. Then again, Tedford doesn't need either quarterback to make big plays. He just needs them to avoid bad ones. ``This team has the potential to accomplish quite a bit,'' Tedford said. ``We have a lot of experience . . . a lot of skill on both sides of the football.''
Thursday, July 27, 2006
"I'm not saying the other conferences -- they're good, too. We're getting ready to play one of them from Cal that's really, really good. You study them on film during the course of the summer. Doesn't make for a great summer.
Q. You play the first four games of the season at home. Would you prefer to do it that way or prefer to have the home games spread evenly over the course of the schedule? Talk about how the California series game came about? Is that a home-on-home series with the Golden Bears?
COACH FULMER: I think the Cal game will be a good thing for us. Typically we've played a lot of those kind of games early in the year, whether it be Syracuse, UCLA, have some great rivalries.
Q. When did the Cal series get set? How many years ago? Have you noticed the off-season focus being better when you have a quality opponent like that to get the season started?
COACH FULMER: I'm not sure when it was set a hundred percent, Cal. Some time back. Most of our schedules are seven, eight, ten years out. Coach Tedford obviously has come in and really changed things there and done a great job with Cal's team.
I have a sense, and I've seen it over a number of years, when you play a team like that in the opener, the focus in the summer is a lot better. That's maybe just human nature. You'd like for it not to be that way, whoever you open with. I think with our situation coming off last year, the demands that are out there internally, and the opponent all have made a difference for our outlook of things."
CALIFORNIA Head Coach Jeff Tedford: "We are very excited about the season. We have the potential to accomplish quite a bit, we have a lot of skill on both sides of the ball. We have a true test right out of the gates at Tennessee, but I'm looking forward to the leadership that people like Daymeion are going to provide for the rest of the team ... I think some of those crossover games are very important to college football, it's something that's good for us, playing in Tennessee and in that environment ... It gives our team a lot of confidence to have Nate Longshore back. There will still be a tremendous amount of competition at quarterback, but it gives the team that much more confidence to know any of those guys can go in and get it done ... There are certain parts of the spread offense that matches our talent very well. We are not changing our offensive philosophy, but the spread attack does give you the option to have two running backs on the field at the same time. The luxury that we have is that our tailbacks can spread out and catch the ball ... There are external and internal expectations and we focus on internal expectations. It's all up to us to go out there and get the job done."
CB Daymeion Hughes: "We really look forward to the challenge of playing at Tennessee, coach Tedford is going ot prepare us well for the game. We have to throw the obstacles out of the way and compete like we know how to do."
"California, the last team to defeat USC during the regular season, could be the best defensive team in a league known for its offense. Last season, no Pac-10 team was better than 44th in the country in total defense. Four league teams were ranked worse than No. 100.
However, the Bears will counter the league's top offenses with Rivals.com first-team All-American cornerback Daymeion Hughes and second-team defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. With Heisman Trophy contender Marshawn Lynch running the ball, the Bears could have an offense to match the league's best."
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Wed, Jul 26, 2006
Read the entire article here.
Sometimes flying under the radar is the best way to travel. Sure, you don’t get the hype or props that the Notre Dames and Ohio States of the college football world receive, but hey, that can work to your advantage if you play your cards right. This is truly one sport where a solid team can get lost in the shuffle and while top schools focus on rivalry games and marquee matchups, these unknowns can swoop in like steath bombers and blow up everything. For bettors, this can mean big money if you know which teams to watch – especially early in the season. Here are five teams that have the potential to surprise their competition and the sportsbooks this year.
California Golden Bears
USC is obviously the favorite to win the Pac-10 again, but bettors should also consider Cal at +350 as a front-runner for the conference title. With Nate Longshore back from injury, the Golden Bears may get the consistency at quarterback they so badly lacked in 2005. Marshawn Lynch returns as the conference’s top running back, and is more than capable of surpassing the 1,246 yards he gained last season. Many people even expect him to assume Reggie Bush`s mantle as the top runner (and highlight maker) on the West Coast. Cornerbacks Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon make the secondary dangerous, while the defensive line and linebacking
If you plan on attending, go to SportsMart and buy a Wilson autograph football (it's white on 3 sides). They are on sale right now for $44.99. Bring a Sharpie, and a team roster, to Fan Appreciation Day and get the team to autograph the ball (use the roster to mark the names off after you get a signature). Also bring suntan lotion and cash - game-worn jersies are on sale.
8. CALIFORNIA -
This season offers a window of opportunity for somebody to finish ahead of Southern Cal in the Pac 10 -- a small window, to be sure, but it's there. And the California Golden Bears, beloved of thousands of "Tedheads" (for coach Jeff Tedford) could be just the guys to do it. If the quarterback position can get sorted out (neither Nate Longshore or Joe Ayoub, while talented, have been able to put a lock on first string), RB Marshawn Lynch is perhaps the No. 3 Heisman possibility and WR DeSean Jackson is electric. It is the defense, however, that really looks bearish -- DT Brandon Mebane, DE Nu'u Tafisi, LB Desmond Bishop and CBs Daymeoin Hughes and Tim Mixon provide a senior corps quite capable of shutting down USC's young offense. The opener at Tennessee will be a challenge, but a necessary one.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
By Anthony Hanshew
HUNTINGTON -- Woe is the football team that finds itself in the path of the 2006 Tennessee Volunteers. Following last year's embarrassment, coaches and players simply won't accept anything resembling a repeat. Tennessee does not finish the home schedule with a loss to Vanderbilt; the perennial SEC power does not stay at home during bowl season.
Actually, the Vols did both in 2005, leading experts to unanimously predict a strong bounceback season. It makes, sense, considering coach Philip Fulmer's overstocked collection of offensive talent. Running back Arian Foster was a rock last year while his team spiraled to a 5-6 finish, Tennessee receivers, led by Robert Meachem, should rank among the SEC's best and Erik Ainge appears on his way back after a worst-case-scenario sophomore season.
For those reasons and more (former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe should energize Ainge and Co. as offensive coordinator; Fulmer is feeling the heat from the Vols' faithful), Tennessee is a popular pick to contend for the SEC East title. That could well come to fruition, but peeling back the layers reveals real question marks.
Read the entire article here.
For The Signal
Sitting before 65,938 breathless onlookers, Nate Longshore sat coolly enjoying Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon breeze as it tickled his now-exposed left foot. Heading into the depths of Berkeley's Memorial Stadium on a medical cart, with a green Gatorade bottle clenched in his left fist, a calm reassurance overcame Cal's quarterback. "I was hoping that they'd take me up there, tape it up and take me back out," Longshore says. Instead, his first collegiate football game - the 2005 season opener against Sacramento State - would end on crutches. "They told me pretty much right away," says the former Canyon High School signal-caller. "They felt it and said (the left fibula) was broken. It took them five minutes to do an X-ray. They showed me where I'd broken it and then they put a cast on it and gave me some medication. "I was devastated."
But for this 6-foot-5, 233-pound gunslinger, that devastation only lingered for a matter of minutes. "I said I wanted to go watch the rest of the game," he recalls. And he did, sporting crutches and a ball cap, the former All-American high school senior watched Cal roll to a 41-3 victory. The following day he had surgery and began his year-long rehabilitation. "As soon as the game was over, I immediately focused on getting back," Longshore says. As of today, Longshore is pretty much there. His leg is at 100 percent according to him and his coaches, and he's back at the helm as Cal's starting quarterback. "They expected there to be competition in the spring," says Golden Bears offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. "But as far as I know, starters don't lose their position to injury."
Apparently, they don't lose their swagger either. Even with a scheduled starting quarterback who has next to no collegiate game experience, the Bears are being bombarded by preseason accolades. They're a top-10 team in most preseason polls and Longshore has even been listed as a Top-60 Heisman candidate by foxsports.com. "People have respect for Nate's talent," Dunbar says. "That's his goal - to be a successful quarterback - and he's doing everything to become that." But Longshore isn't about to accept the accolades - at least not until he earns them outright. "I'm more concerned with my teammates. I have to prove to them throughout the fall that I can make plays. I can't just be good enough to be the starter - I need their confidence," the 2004 Canyon graduate says. "More of (the preseason accolades) is my coaches. It's a tribute to them - not me.
"I'm just lucky I'm associated with it." While his modesty doesn't exactly translate into reality, it's well taken - especially by the Bears' new offensive mind. "The quarterback needs to play in the framework of the offense," Dunbar says. "He doesn't need to go out and be the hero and win every game with an amazing play." That philosophy ended up doing wonders for Dunbar and his former employer - Northwestern University. Dunbar, hired in February by Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, guided the Wildcats to the No. 4 offense in the country in 2005 as they amassed 500.3 yards of offense per game. They became just the second team in the history of the Big Ten to average 500 yards per game. Some pundits have argued that the less-mobile Longshore may not be suited for the spread offense elements that Dunbar will add to the Cal offense this season - and the Bears' new offensive coordinator refutes them whole-heartedly. "People have a common misnomer that you'll run the quarterback all over the place," he says. "I don't think that's true and I think Nate fits the elements very well.
"It's not like we're going to ask him to run like a tailback." Especially when they have a pair that rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, including Heisman contender Marshawn Lynch. "I'm perfectly content with throwing a swing pass to one of them and letting them go to work," Longshore says. "I just need to get the ball to them and let them make the play. I was blessed with teammates like this in high school too. "I always felt my job was pretty easy." But that's not to say he hasn't had to work to make it that way. The last guy off the practice field and the first one in the weight room, Longshore is addicted to his own work ethic. "It feels like I have to," he says. "A lot of guys are gifted and talented. With me, there's always something I have to work on. If I want to compete with these guys, it's what I have to do." It's this type of tireless workman-like mentality that made Longshore's recovery process all the more frustrating.
"It was really awkward. I could feel my body telling me to take it slow," he says. "You can't go in and do extra exercises to make your body heal faster. Your body doesn't work that way." But with the determination that earned him the starting nod at the onset of last season, Longshore beat out his injury and frustration too. "I can't even remember which leg it is anymore," he says. On September 2, his second stab at a season opener, Tennessee will be there to remind him. "Going from my first half against Sacramento State to the next play I'll take is against Tennessee at Tennessee" he says. "I'll be ready."
Sound confusing to you?
Read the article here.
It is only 40 days and 40 nights, folks. In a little under six weeks, the Cal football team will take the field in front of over 100,000 fans at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, orange checkerboard end zone and all. That image alone is enough to put me on the edge of my seat and wake me up from a slow summer headlined by head-butts and threatened indictments. But just the other day I came across www.marshawn10.com, Cal's new promotional web site for Heisman Trophy candidate Marshawn Lynch. Like whoa.
Lynch has enough highlights in two seasons to last two decades of normal football in Strawberry Canyon. For me, it felt good to simply revel in it. I'll be honest, I felt a smile creeping across my face as No. 10 juked defender after defender, and eventually left a trail of Cardinal in his wake (55-yard Big Game touchdown in 2004, my personal favorite). His greatness, however, is not the point. The encouraging sign is that the Bears are aggressively showing him off. Forget flying under the radar. Forget modesty. Lynch may have a groundbreaking year this fall, but without a little propping up from public relations, don't expect any notable postseason award to come anywhere near Berkeley in 2006.
Remember J.J. Arrington? He was the nation's only 2,000-yard rusher in 2004 and only the third in Pac-10 history. He also led the nation in yards per carry (7.0), but wasn't even among the finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Anointing Lynch as the face of the team through the web site could help him gain more recognition than Arrington had. Of course, big performances in big games are a necessity to gain the exposure needed for any postseason award. But Lynch would probably still have to put up Arrington-type stats and hope the team goes undefeated to have any shot at being a Heisman finalist. One web site-no matter how cool-won't change decades of bias from certain regions of the country (cough, SEC) towards football on the left coast.
Still, the real winner in Lynch's promotion is the Cal football program as a whole. Imagine you are a five-star high school recruit. Sure, the USCs, Miamis and Ohio States of the world are very appealing places to play. But maybe the Bears make a push for you as well. Under Jeff Tedford, you get a winning program that is slightly less known, but not obscure enough that it can't effectively promote its superstars. It makes sense. Tedford has always been a coach that puts the needs of the team above any single player. He sat Lynch for the first quarter last year at UCLA for arriving late to a meeting. Big Game golden boy Steve Levy will be on the bench for the opener thanks to an altercation at a bar. There is no hypocrisy, though, in putting one player on a pedestal if it is for the good of the team. Marshawn10.com doesn't mean Tedford likes Lynch better than any other player on the roster. It does mean is that Lynch has been marked as Cal's definite leader. The message to Lynch is clear: In 40 days and 40 nights, it will be time to produce on the field.
If highlight reel footage is the result of that production, then all the better for the future of the Bears program.
(Note: Every Pac-10 quarterback is at least given an "honorable mention" with the exception of Cal, which is absent from the list)
RUNNING BACK1. MARSHAWN LYNCH, CAL. Junior, 5-11, 217, Oakland, CA. Not even bullets can stop this guy -- over the summer, a car in which he was riding was struck several times by random gunfire as Lynch was leaving his sister's graduation, but he didn't get a scratch. A "representative of the shooter" then went to Lynch's mother and apologized. Lynch has his own Web site now, touting him for a Heisman that isn't beyond the realm of possibility. Last season, despite missing two games with injuries, he rushed for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns, caught 15 passes for another 125 yards, and averaged 20.8 yards on kickoffs. Most of the preseason football pundits have picked him as a first-team All-American, and he obviously has a running back's mentality -- to the standard question "What four people who you like to have dinner with," he started out with his mother and God, but then added Barry Sanders and DeShaun Foster.
Read the entire article here.
We hear about it all the time: big-time college athletes getting busted for all kinds of transgressions. We tend to slam down the gavel and lament another jock feeling a sense of entitlement. Then one of our own discovers the inside of a patrol car. Suddenly we have a rooting interest. Suddenly we realize there's a person involved, a living, breathing human being with family members who live in our neighborhoods. Suddenly we think, and hope: Maybe he's innocent.
Steve Levy's a
All because of an incident inside a bar in the early morning of June 25. According to police, Levy was involved in a dispute with a patron at 1:23 a.m. When the doorman asked Levy to leave, police said, he threw a pint glass at the doorman, who sustained a cut near his eye. Levy is facing a felony charge of using an instrument to incur bodily injury, essentially assault with a deadly weapon. He could face two to four years in prison, and today faces a pretrial hearing. Levy has pleaded not guilty. Only the people who saw the incident know the degree of Levy's guilt. Chances are, at the very least, he's guilty of poor judgment. A lot of bad things happen in bars after midnight. Levy, of such wondrous decision-making skills on the field, must be able to read the potential consequences of every situation.
"I wouldn't make a judgment on it until it all goes down,'' said Levy's buddy, John Allegretta. "It's not like him to do something like this. Steve's not a violent guy or a big juicehead.'' None of this makes Levy a bad person. Even if he's guilty, Levy can learn from the mistake and go on to live a productive life. If he's not guilty, Levy will serve as a reminder that big-time athletes also are innocent until proven guilty. Not just one of our guys.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
By Jon Wilner
Marshawn Lynch, who has always been more comfortable dealing with linebackers than the media, is about to become the face and voice of Cal football. Friday, the Bears launched a Heisman Trophy campaign featuring Lynch, a junior tailback who has been named to numerous preseason All-America teams. It's rarefied air for both team and player. The Bears haven't had a Heisman contender since Chuck Muncie in 1975 -- he finished second to Archie Griffin -- and Lynch rarely seemed at ease with the media during his first two seasons at Cal. ``He has matured quite a bit,'' Coach Jeff Tedford said this week. ``He has never been one to embrace the media and the limelight. He's uncomfortable with that role. He likes to surround himself with teammates.
``He loves it to be fun, but he has figured out that at some level, football becomes a business.'' To prepare for the Heisman campaign, Lynch met with school officials to hone his interview skills and talked to Tedford about the demands that come with a Heisman campaign. More to the point, Tedford talked to Lynch about the demands. The 20-year-old Oakland native must live in the spotlight without being affected by it. ``I'm still in the same position as when I came in,'' Lynch said. ``It's still all about the team. I'm trying to keep the attention away from me. The team knows I'm here for them.'' Lynch's résumé certainly justifies a Heisman campaign. He gained 1,246 yards last season despite missing two games because of a broken finger and is the second-leading returning rusher in the nation, behind Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe. The Sporting News named him the No. 2 running back in the country for the upcoming season; Sports Illustrated called him the eighth-best overall player.
But Lynch picked a tough season to compete for the most prestigious award in college sports. The list of Heisman hopefuls includes a handful of players from glamour programs: a quarterback from Notre Dame (Brady Quinn), a tailback from Oklahoma (Adrian Peterson), a receiver from USC (Dwayne Jarrett) and two game-breakers from Ohio State (receiver Ted Ginn and quarterback Troy Smith). Those four schools have produced 24 of the 71 Heisman winners. ``We know people in the West know Marshawn,'' said Kevin Klintworth, Cal's associate athletic director for communications. ``We have to raise awareness in other parts of the country. Marshawn's talent is good enough to stand on its own if people are aware of him.''
This is Cal's first foray into Heisman promotion since 1992, when the Bears mailed postcards touting tailback Russell White. (The campaign went nowhere, due largely to Cal's losing record.) The Bears passed on a chance to promote quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tailback J.J. Arrington in 2004 because both were relatively unknown and unproven, especially Arrington, a backup the previous season. ``If you had to put your eggs in one basket, who in the world would it have been?'' Tedford said. For Lynch, the Bears created a Web site, marshawn10.com, that made its debut Friday afternoon. Next week, they'll mail brochures -- ``10 Things To Know About No. 10'' -- to college football writers and broadcasters around the country. A second wave of mailings will go out closer to the crucial Sept. 2 season opener at Tennessee.
Klintworth declined to reveal the cost of the promotional campaign but said it was ``significantly less than $10,000'' -- comparable to what Oklahoma is spending on Peterson. Both schools are doing more than Notre Dame, which has no immediate plans to promote Quinn. The low-key approaches stand in stark contrast to Heisman promotions of the past. Gone are the days of Brigham Young sending out neckties to promote Ty Detmer, or Washington State mailing a leaf to hype Ryan Leaf. The rise of multimedia means voters should know about the top candidates -- especially those from the major conferences -- by the end of the season.
``Everybody sees the stuff on highlight shows and video on the web,'' said USC sports information director Tim Tessalone, whose school has three of the past four Heisman winners. ``But it helps to have a team in the hunt.'' Actually, it's essential. The Bears probably have to win big for Lynch to remain in Heisman contention. The past five winners -- and four of the past five runners-up -- have played for teams that had two or fewer regular-season losses. The reason? It's impossible to win the Heisman without being on television or making headlines, and exposure goes to the elite. Lynch is in solid shape in that respect: The Bears are scheduled for six appearances on regional or national television -- including the opener at Tennessee and a November showdown at USC. ``The bottom line is, we have to have a good year,'' Klintworth said. ``The opener is a big day for a lot of reasons.''
Friday, July 21, 2006
"Both magazines forecast a tight Pac-10 race, with USC, California, Arizona State and Oregon all in the running. Athlon likes USC as the Pac-10 champ, while Street & Smith’s gives the nod to California.The Golden Bears return 18 starters, including a gifted tailback in junior Marshawn Lynch. If sophomore Nate Longshore or senior Joe Ayoob can step up at quarterback, Cal has a chance."
Sophomore Nate Longshore returns after somewhat surprisingly winning the starting job as a freshman in 2005, only to get hurt in the first game and stay out the rest of the season.
Senior Joe Ayoob was everybody's JUCO Mr. Everything heading into 2005, then had a roller-coaster year after replacing Longshore. Ayoob, who was saddled with ridiculously unfair Michael Vick comparisons in junior college, managed to throw down a shaky 5-4 record as a starter. However, the senior was said to look solid in the spring, despite tweaking his ankle late in the sessions. Converted fullback Steve Levy also returns, having won a couple of games as starter late in 2005.
The three quarterbacks leave a solid situation in Berkeley for coach Jeff Tedford. Longshore's a prototype, 6-5 guy; Ayoob is a fantastic athlete and more accurate than what we saw last year, and Levy was a gamer in every sense of the word. You didn't think the Cal quarterback situation would struggle for very long under Coach Ted's watch, did ya? Plus, Tedford's experience developing college passers in recent memory gives Cal the edge over the next school on our list.
July 21, 2006
By Brian Hardy
As another Pac-10 football season approaches, there is a growing sense of optimism in Berkeley for this season about the Cal Bears, whom some point to as the team that can knock off four-time Pac-10 champion USC this year. And the reason for such optimism clearly centers on its junior tailback and Heisman Trophy candidate Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch rushed for 1,246 yards last season - the third highest rushing total in Cal's history - despite missing two full games and parts of several others due to breaking his finger. Lynch also had 10 touchdowns and 15 receptions last season, and in the final five games of the season, Lynch rushed for a whopping total of 753 yards, averaging over 150 yards per game.
"Marshawn is a very good player," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's really improved his game to be a great all-around player. He can run inside, he can run outside, and he's got the speed to go the distance. He's very physical as a blocker and he's a great receiver. He can do it all - there is no question about it. He's really matured a lot as a player and as a person and I think he's poised for a big year if he can stay healthy." Lynch averaged over 124 yards per game last year and that number surely would have been higher had it not been for his injury.
"Obviously, last year breaking his finger held him back and kind of limited what we could do with him," Tedford said. "But, he's a very strong competitor and I think he's very anxious for the season." With all of the attention centered around Lynch and the Heisman - which includes the launching of his own website: Marshawn10.com - the Oakland, Calif. native tries to just focus on the team and winning games, but admits its hard not to recognize all the attention. "It's hard not to notice when someone has given you that recognition and has labeled me as a contender for the Heisman," Lynch said. "But I wouldn't be where I'm at right now if I didn't have the surrounding of my team. So I blame it on them," Lynch added humorously. "It's their fault that I'm in the race right now."
"I think he's uncomfortable with all the personal attention," Tedford added. "I think he'd be much more comfortable if there were people around him. He doesn't really like to be singled out and I think he's very conscious of that and uncomfortable with some of the surroundings where he gets put on a pedestal or gets special treatment or anything like that." While perhaps not wanting the attention centered on him, Lynch is humbled to be considered for the Heisman.
"Well, it's not everyday you go back to my neighborhood and talk to a Heisman candidate," Lynch said. "So I'm real thankful for that." Cal's talent at running back doesn't end with Lynch either. Joining Marshawn in the backfield is Justin Forsett, who rushed for 999 yards last year, averaging 7.6 yards per carry, as well as Marcus O'Keith, who ran for 243 yards on just 22 carries last season. "It's great to have that one-two punch that when Marshawn comes out, you can put in a quality back behind him be it Justin or Marcus, and still be able to run the ball," Tedford said. With this trio returning, the running game should be Cal's biggest strength. The Bears were second in the conference and ninth in the nation last season averaging 235.2 yards per game. Just as he credits his teammates for him being a Heisman candidate, Lynch knows that it takes a total team effort from everyone in order to be successful.
"There's no individual success in football," Lynch says. "It's a collective thing, so you can't just have one player out there making the game because it won't happen; not at all. You need all 11 working and hitting all on the same cylinder."
Lynch also enjoys the fact that there are two other proven running backs behind him in the backfield, showing that he is a true team player. "Anyone of those two guys could start right now," Lynch says. "So we all just look to each other for a spark and we all just play with passion and are there for one another. It should be interesting watching us all get after it this season."
When talking about the Pac-10 and challenging for the title, Tedford will tell you that it comes down to basics and that if they are able to have everything click - he as well as Lynch - believe they can play with anyone.
"Our goal is just to reach our full potential. And if we do that and that means the Pac-10 title, then great," Tedford said. "But we don't really go in with talking about all that. It's just how we prepare on a daily basis. And if we take care of ourselves and prepare to reach our full potential, we feel like if we do that, that we can play with anybody in the country. But it still comes down to hard work and preparation." After three straight seasons of eight or more wins, Cal might just be ready to take that next step and compete for a Pac-10 title. Tedford took over the program in 2002, and has orchestrated quite an amazing turnaround in his tenure. Following a 2001 season in which the Bears went 1-10, Cal won seven games in 2002, eight in 2003 and 2005, and had a 10-win season in 2004. But while Tedford helped make the Bears into a league-title contender, Cal, along with the rest of the teams in the conference, have had to look up at a USC team that has enjoyed conference supremacy the past four years. That might change in 2006 as Cal looks to be the top threat and a prime candidate to possibly knock off the Trojans from their Pac-10 pedestal.
At quarterback, sophomore Nate Longshore returns to the mix after a season-ending injury last year, while senior Joe Ayoob, who filled in for Longshore last season, also returns. "It's nice to have Nate back," Tedford said. "He went into last season as the incumbent who knew the offense really well and it was unfortunate to have him break his leg in the first game. So he really hasn't been proven under fire yet because he missed all last year. He's a big, strong competitive guy who really throws the ball very well. He's very smart. " And while not quite 100 percent healthy in the spring, Tedford believes Longshore will be ready come fall. "I trust through summer workouts he's the kind of kid who will work extremely hard to get back to where he was," Tedford said. "So I have 100 percent confidence that he will come into camp prepared to compete. And he'll take the first snap in camp" The quarterback position does look to be in good hands, as according to Tedford, Ayoob has had a very sharp spring. "He's played very well this spring," Tedford said. He really got thrown into the mix very early last season and had some times where he did very, very well, and then struggled at times. But, his perseverance and competitive nature were really great to see through spring practice and being a starter for nine games last year, he's got experience."
While the running game is in very good hands, so too is the receiving bunch, as DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan all return to the mix. "They provide a lot of speed on the field to be able to stretch the field and get the ball out there," Teford said. "We feel good about their talent and potential." A new spread offense has been implemented, as former Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar has joined Tedford's staff to make some changes. "It's great to have Mike," Tedford said. "He's added the spread dimension into the offense and while we won't be 100 percent spread, we will pick and chose our spots to be able to spread the field. He brings great knowledge of it and has done a great job in the spring communicating it to our players."
While the offense looks to be in good hands, the defense may just wind up being the best in the Pac-10 this year. The Bears return eight starters to a very experienced defense. So, while the Bears bring back a ton of experience to both sides of the ball, its clear that this team has a serious shot at wining the Pac-10, and it begins with their Heisman candidate running back, who looks primed to put up some big numbers this season.
Fisher to miss opener
By: Randy Moore
One of Tennessee's leading candidates for a starting job at defensive end will miss the Volunteers' Sept. 2 football opener with California while he continues to recuperate from spring shoulder surgery.
Read the article at
Most Tennessee football fans begin with the quarterback position when they talk about their concerns about the 2006 Vols. No matter who the quarterback is, he'll need protection up front, and there will be a lot of new faces in UT's offensive line. It's often said you don't hear much about offensive linemen unless they mess up. But you may not have heard much about this year's group because most of them haven't played that much.
With Cody Douglas and Albert Toeaina graduated and Rob Smith trying his luck with the NFL, there are plenty of holes to fill. Arron Sears is a solid anchor to build on at tackle and David Ligon will likely start at center. "We're certainly glad to have them back," said offensive line coach Greg Adkins. How good this line is will be determined by how hard last year's reserves have prepared themselves to be this year's starters. "That to me is a lot about attitude and toughness," said head coach Phillip Fulmer. "We had 737 scrimmage snaps during the course of the spring which was probably 30 percent more than we would normally have, and that was to get those guys the experience they needed and to put them in as many situations as we possibly could."
Freshman Jacques McClendon could be in the mix, but most likely the starters will be players who have already been on the field at some point. "We've had some guys who have played spotty over the last couple of years," Adkins said. (Anthony) Parker and (Ramon) Foster and Eric Young. And we expect those guys to step up and be a part of the group that we're counting on this year."
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots signed rookie offensive tackle Ryan O'Callaghan today. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. New England selected O'Callaghan in the fifth round (136th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. O'Callaghan, who turned 23 today, started 35 games over the past three seasons at the University of California and appeared in 46 of 47 games during his collegiate career. The 6-foot-7-inch, 330-pound offensive lineman helped produce the school's first 2,000-yard rusher in 2004 (J.J. Arrington) and helped pave the way for a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in 2005 (Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett) while earning consecutive first-team all-conference honors. Last season, he started 11 games and earned the Morris Trophy, presented annually to the PAC-10's most outstanding offensive and defensive linemen. The award has a unique selection process in which the conference's starting defensive linemen vote for the most outstanding offensive linemen and vice versa. Cal averaged 235.2 yards rushing per game last year, which ranked ninth in the country.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Consider that Pac-10 bully USC must rebuild a big part of its offense, and it's clear that the Golden Bears are being presented with a window of opportunity. Getting through that window, however, won't be easy.
Read the entire article here.
By: Daniel Novinson
Date: Jul 18, 2006
Our hugely popular summer series previewing Stanford's fall football schedule is back. We count down the 2006 slate starting with an opponent not to be seen until... December? Big Game has been moved two weeks past its normal slot, but it still remains in a primary position in the consciousness of Cardinal fans. What do the Bears bring to the field this fall? Plenty on both sides of the ball.
Here is the link.
(Thanks to Jeremy for this submission).