Commentary

Quarterback battles, defensive replacements key to Pac-10 spring practices

Updated: February 29, 2008, 4:36 PM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

New coaches Rick Neuheisel at UCLA and Paul Wulff at Washington State take over Pac-10 programs this spring. But the most interesting part of spring camp across the conference should be a boatload of quarterback battles that will play out over the next few weeks.

Only returning starters Willie Tuitama at Arizona, Rudy Carpenter at Arizona State and Jake Locker at Washington are legitimately assured of starting jobs heading into their team's spring work. Traditional powers USC, UCLA, Oregon and California all have simmering battles for playing time that will percolate throughout the spring.

Here's a quick look at some of the other major positional battles, coaching changes and other things to consider during spring practice.

Arizona Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• Coach Mike Stoops is on the hot seat after finishing 5-7 last season and missing another bowl trip.

• Arizona's most immediate spring aim will be to find a feature back to reduce pressure on QB Willie Tuitama. Nic Grigsby will be the first option, but Xavier Smith, Chris Jennings, Joe Reese and Keola Antolin all will receive consideration.

• The biggest overall loss on defense will be in the secondary, where Thorpe Award-winning CB Antoine Cason, CB Wilrey Fontenot and FS Dominic Patrick all have departed. But the Wildcats also lost six of their front seven starters. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is facing a back-to-the-basics approach because of the unit's inexperience.

Pac-10 Power Rankings

USC enters spring practice atop the Pac-10 power rankings, but Arizona State and Oregon could challenge the Trojans in 2008, writes Tim Griffin. Story

Arizona State Sun Devils

Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• The Sun Devils had trouble protecting QB Rudy Carpenter last season and must rebuild an offensive line that returns only two starters from last season.

• The starting tailback position is wide open after Ryan Torain bolted for the NFL. Dimitri Nance and Keegan Herring will get most of the spring work, but incoming freshman Ryan Bass could win the job when he arrives in the fall.

• Juco transfers Terell Carr and Max Tabach will be counted on immediately in a secondary that lost three starters, including both starting corners.

California Golden Bears

Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: None. Final practice on April 19.
What to watch
• After last season's late collapse, coach Jeff Tedford will have to skate through a potential divisive quarterback controversy involving Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley.

• Rebuilding the receiving corps after the departure of top threats Robert Jordan, Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson will be a challenge. The Bears will be counting on a strong group of receivers in their signing class.

• New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. will inherit the play-calling duties from Tedford. And last year's offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik will remain as the offensive line coach and assistant offensive coordinator.

Oregon Ducks

Spring practice starts: April 4
Spring game: April 26
What to watch
• Replacing departing starting QB Dennis Dixon won't be as daunting as it might have appeared before the Sun Bowl. Justin Roper appears to have the inside shot at the job, but he will be pushed by Cody Kempt.

• A bigger concern will be filling in at TB for Jonathan Stewart, who left early for the NFL. Jeremiah Johnson inherits the starting position, bull he will face a spring challenge from Andre Crenshaw.

• Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will have to replace the strength of the Ducks' unit after losing starting tackles Jeremy Gibbs and David Faaeteete, starting linebackers A.J. Tuitele and Kwame Agyeman and free safety Matthew Harper.

Spring Forward

New coaching staffs are making plans. New offensive and defensive schemes are on the chalkboard. Position battles are about to heat up. The games won't count again until August, but the preparation for the 2008 season is about to kickoff. Here's a quick look at what you need to know about spring practice.

ACC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big 12
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big East
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big Ten
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Pac-10
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

SEC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Non-BCS
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Oregon State Beavers

Spring practice starts: March 31
Spring game: May 3
What to watch
• With starting QB Sean Canfield missing after offseason shoulder surgery, Lyle Moevao is the only veteran at the position for spring drills. Ryan Katz, an early arrival from Santa Monica (Calif.) High School also is expected to arrive.

• The Beavers will be facing a complete transformation after losing their front seven from a unit that led the nation in rush defense in 2007.

• Oregon State also will be looking for a kicker and a punter after Alex Serna graduated.

Stanford Cardinal

Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• A full-fledged battle for the starting quarterback position is in the works with the departure of T.C. Ostrander. Part-time 2007 starter Tavita Pritchard is back, along with returning roster players L.D. Crow and Alex Loukas and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier. But keep an eye out for the emergence of incoming freshman Andrew Luck, who arrives in the fall.

• New co-defensive coordinator Ron Lynn has been out of football for three years. It will be interesting to see how he handles the rebuilding task with the Cardinal.

• A big upgrade is needed from an offensive line that ranked 102nd in rushing and 116th in sacks allowed. Three starters are back, but Coach Jim Harbaugh is looking for big improvement.

UCLA Bruins

Spring practice starts: April 3
Spring game: April 26
What to watch
• Rick Neuheisel helped bring the term "passion bucket" into the popular vernacular over the last several weeks since taking the head job at his alma mater. The question remains whether Neuheisel's excitement about his new job will remain as strong once his work on the field begins.

• New offensive coordinator Norm Chow's first chore will be to sort through a budding quarterback controversy with Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan, who both started and were both injured last season. Olson won the challenge before, but the new coaching staff might have different ideas.

• The Bruins also have a deep collection of running backs headed by leading returning rusher Kahlil Bell. But look for a serious push from redshirt freshman Raymond Carter in the spring and incoming freshmen Milton Knox and Aundre Dean later in fall camp.

USC Trojans

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• The nation's most interesting quarterback race will play out for Pete Carroll during the spring as junior Mark Sanchez and Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain will battle to replace John David Booty. Don't be surprised if redshirt freshman Aaron Corp gets a long look, too.

• The most crowded position to watch will be a running back where Joe McKnight, Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson already are entrenched and C.J. Gable will be coming off a groin injury. Throw in redshirt freshmen Broderick Green and Marc Tyler for good measure in another deep Trojan backfield.

• The Trojans are loaded with defensive talent, but need to find replacements for DE Lawrence Jackson and NT Sedrick Ellis. Christian Tupou and Averell Spicer will be among the challengers for those positions.

Washington Huskies

Spring practice starts: April 3
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• New defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who served as defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons from 2006-06, arrives with some work to do. Donatell hasn't determined whether he'll use a 4-3 or a 3-4 alignment for a front that lost three of four starters and wasn't very deep.

• The Huskies need to rebuild a receiving corps that loses seven of its eight top producers from last season. Holdovers Curtis Shaw and D'Andre Goodwin will be pushed by Anthony Boyles, Devin Aguilar and Chris Polk.

• QB Jake Locker is an exciting player, but must do a better job after completing only 47 percent of his passes last season. The spring will be critical in his maturation.

Washington State Cougars

Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• New coach Paul Wulff has 14 returning starters, but his biggest spring question will be finding a replacement for QB Alex Brink. Senior Gary Rogers was the backup for two seasons, but he could be pushed by redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael.

• Top returning rusher Dwight Tardy will miss the spring following ACL surgery after last season. Chris Ivory and Marcus Richmond will receive most of the work since Tardy is not practicing.

• New co-defensive coordinators Chris Ball and Jody Sears will install a base 4-3 defense. Their spring challenge will be to build more depth along the front and in the secondary.

Tim Griffin is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.