This defense led the nation last year against the run. It ranked eighth overall and forced 34 turnovers (6th in the nation). It ranked fourth in sacks with 44 and ranked sixth in tackles for a loss per game with 8.2.
Troy QB Sizzle Or Fizzle
The touted USC quarterback competition may be decided by default because neither Mark Sanchez
nor Mitch Mustain
has stepped to the fore. Both have been consistently inconsistent. That means Sanchez, who's got three years in the Trojans system, remains solidly ahead with spring practice nearing the halfway mark.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported Tuesday that coach Pete Carroll called it "improbable" that Sanchez would fall to No. 2 on the depth chart.
While Mustain hasn't broken through, fellow Arkansas and high school teammate Damian Williams
, has been earning enthusiastic kudus. Though the receiver twisted his ankle this week trying to avoid a young fan watching practice, according to the Los Angeles Times, Williams' playmaking ability suggests he'll make an immediate impact, whoever starts at quarterback.
Hold That Line
There's no magic solution for a team that lost three starters from an offensive line that gave up 55 sacks -- third most in the nation. That much is clear after a week of spring practices at Arizona State, where the defense has dominated a unit that essentially is rebuilding a ruin (a ruin that, nonetheless, was a part of an impressive 10-3 debut for Dennis Erickson and was fairly adept at run blocking).
Moreover, it's the three most critical spots -- center and both tackles -- that will be manned by green starters against a schedule that includes a visit from Georgia, the likely preseason No. 1, and its athletic defensive line.
Starting this spring, Erickson will try to ease the pressure on the line three ways: (1) He wants to spread out defenses with four- and five-receiver sets; (2) he wants to simplify protection schemes; and (3) he wants veteran quarterback Rudy Carpenter
to get rid of the ball quicker, even if that means occasionally playing it safe and hurling the ball 15 rows deep into the stands.
A Lot Bruin
New UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel didn't exactly inherit a full cupboard. While many will be fretting over the quarterback competition and injury issues at tailback, more pressing are huge holes on the Bruins' offensive line and in the secondary.
The only returning starter from 2007's standout secondary is cornerback Alterraun Verner. As for the offensive line, no returning player started every game last year, though three -- senior Micah Reed, a former walk-on who's moved from guard to center, and junior tackles Aleksey Lanis and Micah Kia -- combined for 21 starts last season.
Former defensive tackle Darius Savage is listed No. 1 at one-guard, opposite junior Nick Ekbatani.
Last week we attempted to present the many names in the mix to become Oregon's next quarterback, but apparently five names wasn't enough.
An e-mail from the football office noted we'd left out junior Cade Cooper, a BYU transfer who was a junior college All-American and is experienced with the spread-option offense.
So, for those keep score at home, rank Cooper in the mix with Nathan Costa (the frontrunner who will be limited during spring practices with a bum knee), Justin Roper, Cody Kempt, Darron Thomas and Chris Harper.
Good Bear/Bad Bear
Cal started spring practices with a pleasant and unpleasant surprise. First, shifty sophomore running back Jahvid Best
, who suffered a worrisome hip injury that ended a sometimes spectacular debut season on Nov. 10, participated in individual drills and ran well. While it's highly unlikely he'll join full-contact action, this bodes well for a healthy return this fall.
On the downside, junior cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, a two-year starter, is riding an indefinite suspension for breaking a team rule.