SEATTLE -- At last, blame can finally be assessed for why Washington's defense stunk so badly last year, posting the worst numbers in school history.
No Good McKnight
The news at USC isn't about any movement in the quarterback competition -- Mark Sanchez
still owns a clear edge over Mitch Mustain
-- but rather it's that neither quarterback will benefit from the impressive athletic ability of all-purpose tailback Joe McKnight
in the spring game Saturday.
McKnight is sitting out the final week of practices because he is academically ineligible after dropping a class, which left him with too few units this semester. USC officials instructed McKnight to drop the class to protect his GPA and his eligibility this fall.
With McKnight out, that means more touches for the other five members of the Trojans' talented, six-man logjam at tailback, which includes (in no particular order): Stafon Johnson
, C.J. Gable
, Allen Bradford
, Marc Tyler
and Broderick Green
Down On The Farm
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said his quarterback competition wouldn't be decided until a week to 10 days into fall camp, but it appears that experienced junior Tavita Pritchard
remains the front-runner over sophomores Alex Loukas
and Jason Forcier
after spring practices concluded.
Still, it's not a slam dunk. Prichard, who started seven games a year ago, was the first pick of the White team in the draft system Harbaugh set up for the spring game and he saw the most action, but he only completed 12 of 28 passes for 106 yards as the Red team rolled 24-6.
Unlike Prichard, Forcier and Loukas both threw touchdown passes and interceptions. Forcier went 7-for-12 for 116 yards while Loukas connected on two of his four throws for 39 yards. Loukas, perhaps the best athlete of the threesome, also caught three passes and turned in a long run on a fake punt, though Harbaugh told reporters afterward the performance didn't presage a position change.
Life Of Riley
While California coach Jeff Tedford insists that Nate Longshore
won't lose his quarterback competition with Kevin Riley
because of a pectoral injury that knocked him out of spring practices, it certainly can't help.
Riley is already the fan favorite because he came off the bench and led the Bears to a comeback victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. He's more mobile than Longshore -- see his abortive run against Oregon State that started Cal's massive swoon last season -- and his extra time with the first-team offense could outshine what had been a solid spring for Longshore, who has 26 starts to his credit despite frequent injury woes.
Nonetheless, Longshore will have plenty of time to regain his footing. Tedford has said he's in no rush to name a starter, and he could hold off on the decision until the week of the Aug. 30 season opener against Michigan State.
• USC junior cornerback Kevin Thomas, who redshirted last season because of a shoulder injury, has played well this spring. He's already emerged as the Trojans' third cornerback and could push starters Cary Harris and Shareece Wright.
• California is using a three-man front a lot this spring, and the starting unit appears to be ends Rulon Davis and Tyson Alualu flanking noseguard Mika Kane. A player to watch, though, is redshirt freshman defensive end Ernest Owusu, who showcased good pass-rushing skills in a weekend scrimmage.
• While it may just be issues on the offensive line, word on the street is the predicted demise of Oregon State's defense may be premature, despite a complete rebuilding of the front seven. Three productive linebackers need to be replaced, but a troika among Keaton Kristick, Bryant Cornell, Dwight Roberson, Keith Pankey and Isaiah Cook could turn out to be more than adequate.
• The breakout player of Oregon's spring practices thus far is bulldozing 235-pound running back LeGarrette Blount, a junior college transfer. He rushed for a team-high 68 yards on 11 carries in a weekend scrimmage and earned high praise from coach Mike Bellotti.
• Washington State may have found an intriguing complement to All-Pac-10 receiver Brandon Gibson in converted defensive back Michael Willis. Willis hauled in six receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars' scrimmage that concluded spring practices.