Top 10 2009 Pac-10 Football Performers: Who's Your MVP?

Who's your Pac-10 football MVP of 2009? Vote and discuss in the comments.

To see the first three parts, click on these links: Part 1--Worst performers in the Pac-10, Part 2--Honorable Mention & #30-21 & Part 3--#20-11

#10 Oregon offensive line
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Jeremiah Masoli with a gun (via Minted Llama)

These guys got worked over against Boise. Smart Football wrote this after the Oregon FAIL
"If you’d like to know how Boise State was able to stymie Oregon’s fancy spread, the answer is simple: they whipped Oregon’s line, which was starting four new guys."
Since then? Lights out.

Oregon's offense at Boise: 31 rushing yards, 1.8 yards per rush, 1 sack allowed, 1 offensive touchdown
Oregon's offense rest of season: 2802 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per rush, 51 offensive touchdowns
Oregon's offense in conference play: 2392 rushing yards, 5.91 yards per rush, 265 yards per game, 7 sacks allowed

Think about that. In nine conference games, against defenses that have seen Oregon's spread attack god knows how many times, Masoli was sacked less than once a game. In 2008, with four seniors on their front led by Max Unger, the Ducks gave up 20 sacks, including 15 in conference play. Oregon executed their blocking schemes to perfection and were just fine with the faster pace--they scored 35+ points in eight of the 9 conference games, i.e. all the ones Masoli started. 

For a new unit breaking into the deal, you can't get more impressive than that. They weren't great individually (I could tell you their names, ask you for them ten minutes later, and you'd stare back at me blankly), but as a team? Domination.

For all the talk about Barkley and Luck, it was Foles who had the best rookie quarterback campaign in the Pac-10. He turned out to be the perfect guy for the Airraid, hitting the quick/short patterns and (with less regularity) the deeper throws downfield. It doesn't hurt that he was great in the Wildcats biggest game against Oregon and led a huge comeback drive against USC that pushed his team into the Holiday Bowl. He outdueled Luck against the Furd and Canfield in Corvallis, so that definitely counts.

He unfortunately gets docked down for making two critical errors--opting to throw in the Washington game rather than running the ball and the clock (although that's more on Stoops and Dykes), and opting to throw twice against Cal. Take either of those away...well, I guess we can't talk like that. He's a freshman for a reason.  

It's a great start for Foles, but next season will be tough--Arizona will only be returning 9 starters, TOTAL (http://www.uwdawgpound.com/2009/12/2/1179273/pac-10-holes-to-fill-in-2010). Good luck blonde Jonas Brother. 


#8 Brian Price
Brian_price_ucla_2_medium

via latimesblogs.latimes.com

Best player on a six win team. Best defensive player in the conference. This seems about right in a season where the Pac-10 returned to its offensive wacky ways. The stats don't lie about his dominance, according to Tomahawk Nation

 

Turns out UCLA is leading the country in stuffs against the run. No team recorded more per game, with North Carolina coming in a very close 2nd.  UCLA Junior DT Brian Price (7 sacks, 14 stuffs) is just a wrecking ball of a lineman, and was recently named the Pac-10 Pat Tillman Player of the Year; can’t imagine this guy not turning pro given the season he had and the season UCLA had (6-6).

...

As it turns out, on average, UCLA and UNC turned 1 out of every 6 opponent rushes into negative yards. These are drive killers, just like sacks, but against a team’s run game. (At least with an offsides or holding you get to work the same down again.) How much more impressive is this statistic when we take into account that these stuffs are coming against (most frequently) attacking linemen; not only do UNC and UCLA hold the point of attack when attacked, but are actually beating opposing linemen at their own game.
All of that because of one guy. In the words of generic football commentator X, "Now THAT'S a player."

I admittedly didn't watch much UCLA football, but the best defensive player I saw all year was Price. Cal rushed for nearly 300 yards against the Bruins and I STILL was terrified at the thought of facing him next season.  Oh well. Hopefully he'll settle for being a 1st/2nd round NFL prospect and get out of Westwood. 

T-#6: The Rodgers brothers.
Let's see. James and Jacquizz accounted for 161 of Oregon State's 297 catches (and finished 1/2 in the Pac-10), 309 of their 413 rushing carries, over 4100 of the Beavers 6200 all-purpose yards (and again, 1/2 in the Pac-10), and scored 31 of the team's 46 touchdowns.  You'd think at some point they'd run out of gas, but those two black hobbits keep on chugging to Mordor...unfortunately they didn't throw the ring into Mt. Doom to get the roses. Or something.

If Oregon State's going to win a Rose Bowl (and the schedule's in their favor next year), they're going to have to rely heavily on them again next season. Yes, next season--James is still a junior, Quizz a sophomore. They just never go away...

#4 Toby Gerhart
Before you get on your high horse, here's the reason Toby's ranked so low...

#5 The Furd offensive line/fullback (Owen Maracic, Marinelli
These guys are the real heroes of the Cardinal's season. Gerhart might have had some beastly carries, but without the offensive line knocking defenders out of his way, the Furd don't barrel their way to demolitions of Oregon and USC. Check out the film from the Trojan explosion and look at how untouched Gerhart is on some of these plays. It was like that most of the season; the O-line opening wide holes for Gerhart to burst through and pick up anywhere from 5 to 50 yards.

These stats also mean a lot:
The Furd didn't just run block well to make things easier for Gerhart, but they made sure Luck had all the time in the world to uncork it deep. You're going to tell me the Furd's season was all Gerhart chugging away and breaking tackles like a madman? That it had nothing to do with  seven to eight blockers in front of him clearing the lanes for him and running clear in open space? 

Gerhart's tremendous season reminded me a lot of JJ Arrington in 2004--Arrington had a superb season, but it was just as dependent on one of the most gifted offensive lines in the Tedford era blocking in front of him. Same thing here with the Cardinal--these guys might not be as physically gifted, but they have the right mentality to execute their schemes efficiently.

"They take pride in their work, they're physical, and they work well together," said Tim Drevno, who shared the offensive line coaching this year with staff newcomer Greg Roman. "They're tough guys who want to do it right."

The line includes junior center Chase Beeler and a pair of redshirt freshmen, left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, who have "played beyond their years," according to left guard Andrew Phillips.

"This year during camp we made it a priority that we were going to make the O-line a strong unit," Phillips said, "and erase all the bad memories of the past when the O-line was one of the weaker units."


The scary part is all of these guy except Marinelli are returning. Whoever ends up running for the Furd next season could have plenty of opportunities to make their way through.

It was a fine season for Gerhart, but he should've brought Maracic, Marinelli, and the rest of his linemen with him to New York--they deserve just as much credit as O'Callaghan, Phillip, Merz, Manderino and crew deserved for Arrington's season.

 

#3 LaMichael James
Okay, all of you Cardinal fans on the Internet are going bonkers right now, calling me a homer, a Furd-hater (oh wait, you don't exist. That makes this easier). Which is all true, but none of that has to do with why I ranked LaMichael higher. Let's break down Gerhart vs James, shall we?

Individual ability:
 Quite a contrast between the two, huh? Gerhart is all old power, classic WASPish, "I'm going to run over you like a Hummer" mentality; James brings that avant-garde, quick speedy elusive back that's quickly becoming the wave of the futuer. I'm not saying Gerhart's going to be a bust, but I'll go ahead and say Toby needs a lot more from his offensive line than LaMichael needs from his. When defenses killed the Furd's O-line (see Oregon St, Arizona, Cal for most of the Big Game), they got to Gerhart quick and took him down with ease. When defenses killed Oregon's O-line and got to James, it took a lot more to bring the Energizer Duck down. Advantage: James.

Stats: 
Touchdowns: 26 for Gerhart, 14 for James. 144 rushing yards/game for Gerhart, 123 rushing yards/game for James. 5.6 yards per carry for Gerhart, 6.9 yards per carry for James. Edge: Gerhart

Take away Gerhart and James from their teams. Which team suffers more?
 This is where Gerhart picks up steam; that team revolved around him. If they had one of those frosh running behind there, do the Cardinal win four games? Five? Put Barner or Blount in instead of James, and Oregon probably has another eight win season--satisfactory for the Ducks, who weren't expecting much this season. Big Advantage: Gerhart

Clutch.  Let's not forget Gerhart struggled against Oregon State (didn't get going until the second half), Arizona (that was mostly Luck playing balls-out) and Arizona State (again, Luck was the destroyer there). James just kept the feet chugging and didn't really let anyone stop him...he was like the football's version of the Energizer Bunny, and no Pac-10 defense (well, maybe Arizona, although that's debatable) could defend him properly (similar to Quizz last season). He managed 7.6 yards per carry against a UCLA defense keying in on HIM with Masoli out. His worst game was against Wazzu. He saved his best down the stretch, never averaging less than 6 yards a carry per game for each game, including a dominating performance against the Trojans (7.83 YPC???). Pretty awesome debut for a freshman who will be getting plenty of hype heading into next fall... Edge: James

Biggest moment.
 Has to be Toby shedding a hundred tackles on that final Big Game drive, right? That was the most terrifying moment of my Cal fandom--if Gerhart had pulled out the win with that play, he'd have won the Heisman, and the vitriol that would've been hurled at our team and Tedford would have been ugggly. But he didn't. (I should bump up Mohamed another ten spots.)

As for James, his 50 yard streak to daylight, go-ahead touchdown in the Civil War sent the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. Doesn't really get much bigger than that, does it? Edge: James
  
Tougher situation. Let's face it. Gerhart's situation was perfect. He had an offensive line that blocked great for him, he had a quarterback that threw well enough, and the most apathetic fanbase in college football that rallied behind him rather easily.  (And he was a white running back, so the media loved him a little bit more. Whoops, did I say that?)
He also gets penalized (possibly unfairly) for the fact that Harbaugh went to Luck and Pritchard in the Big Game and the Sun Bowl in manageable, acceptable running situations. I mean...if you're an MVP, shouldn't your coach trust you with the ball? Tough luck Toby.

If Gerhart was strolling along in the sunshine of Palo Alto, then LaMichael ended up somewhere in a DMZ-like situation. The Ducks had only played one game and most college football fans were wondering if the program was on the verge of collapse after a nightmare experience in Boise.

Here's what I wrote a few hours after the Blount madness
"That kid LaMichael James has spunk. Perfect for a spread offense. He could be scary if given the opportunity."
Here's what I wrote the week before the Oregon game.
"I'm so annoyed at Blount's suspension...Because we could’ve handled him (he had -4 yards last year in our game). Instead we have to deal with Lamichael James, who looks like another typical spread 200 yarder."

People were kinda skeptical, and I was only being half-serious, but man, my half-serious side was soooo right. James stepped into a role that required him to be excellent for Oregon to do any damage, and he absolutely delivered, week after week after week. He pushed through the holes the O-line opened up for him, and when they weren't there, he kept his feet moving until he found daylight. Hell, his freshman campaign approached Jonathan Stewart in his SENIOR year.

If Cal fans want any consolation, his least efficient performance was against the Bears, where he managed a pathetic 118 yards on 21 carries. Oh yeah, you think we're worried next year? Yes. Yes we are. James is one crazy boy. And to think his dream season might've happened if not for one punch... Big edge: James

Adding in all those factors, I gave the spot to James. By a smidgen. 

#2 Sean Canfield
Totally undervalued season; I doubt anyone went more under the radar than Canfield this year. His stats are incredible: 70% completion rate, 4th in the country. 148 passer rating, 15th in the country. 258 passing yards per game, 19th in the country. And he saved his best for the most crucial down, 3rd down...an incredible 70% completion rate (1st in the country among QBs with 60+ attempts), 145 passer rating, 6 TDs (including that strike to Rodgers in Autzen at the end of the half), 47% 1st down conversion rate. He only trailed Kellen Moore, Tony Pike and Max Hall in red zone efficiency: 67% completion rate, 18 touchdowns, no picks, 222 passer rating. Those are Aaron Rodgers-type numbers people. I'd love to have this guy as an NFL backup.

Here's what Hydrotech wrote after Cal's loss to Oregon State, after another virtuoso performance for the unheralded Beaver:

"I was directed to some video of Canfield's completions against USC's defense over at Trojanfootballanalysis.com.  After seeing that film, I decided that blitzing Canfield was not really the correct strategy.  Why?  Canfield gets the ball out so quickly and efficiently.  He hits his TEs and RBs on short check-downs to neutralize the blitz.  When an offense's QB can get the ball out quickly against a blitzing defense, it just neutralizes the blitz and allows the offense to gain big yardage (see the final Cal drive of the 2009 Cal vs. Arizona State game for a pretty good Cal example of this).  Blitzing against an offense that can get the ball out that quickly and efficiently is extremely risky, and has much less reward than normal blitzing strategies.  Canfield was getting the ball out extremely quick - and against USC's very fast pass rush too!  USC's pass rush is much faster than Cal's pass rush, yet Canfield neutralized them.  It doesn't matter if Cal was sending five or six pass rushers per down to get a quicker pass rush, Canfield still probably would have been able to get the ball out.  He did it against USC's faster defense and I have little doubt he would have done it to Cal's defense. "

That's truth speaking there. Throughout the Civil War, Oregon blitzed, Canfield burned. If Canfield played anywhere other than Corvallis (Baton Rouge, Lincoln, Happy Valley all come to mind), wouldn't his season get more pub than it actually got (which was NONE)?

And if Canfield converts that 4th down at the end, he's probably #1. But instead...

#1 Jeremiah Masoli
Masoli-crowdjpg-f58b8d67c106d2bb_medium

via media.oregonlive.com

Lost in the Blount fiasco was Masoli's horrid performance in the Smurf Turf (14 for 27, 1 INT, 4.5 YPA; 7 carries for 14 yards). Also lost was how most Bears fans barely respected Masoli's abilities, including me, especially after an even more atrocious performance against Utah (4 completions, 1 pick, 1 fumble) that nearly coughed away the game. For some reason I made the same mistakes I always do when I see a bad quarterback performance--assume that this is the mean performance and not the outlier.

Masoli shredded the Bears with an unprecedented (although easily replicated) 84% completion rate and 208 passer rating, and the Ducks offense was off. He wouldn't replicate those passing numbers again, but he more than replicated clutch. Oregon would score five touchdowns in every Pac-10 game he quarterbacked, and a lot of that had to do with Masoli's abilities and his teamwork with James, Barner, Crenshaw, Blount, and whoever else was lining up with him in shotgun.

More importantly than the stats (which don't look that great, at least passing-wise) was his ability to disguise the handoff in the zone read.  A hundred times this year it fooled ESPN's cameras and we were all left jerking back and forth between running back and Masoli, wondering who exactly had the ball. That he was able to deceive opposing defenses was crucial to getting the avalanche rolling; added in with some other wrinkles (play-action, rollout, quick hits), everything to disguise his weak arm and maximize his athletic abilities, he was able to keep the Ducks moving inexorably toward the end zone.

And when the stage got bigger, Masoli didn't shrink. He carried the ball 13 times for 164 yards in the demolition of USC's defense. He was responsible for all of Oregon's six touchdowns against Arizona, including the game-tying, three minute, 80 yard drive at the end of regulation, capped off by the TD to Dickson with six seconds left. He made all the right decisions on the Rose Bowl-clinching drive of the Civil War, including a beastly run on 4th and short and making the option pitch to Barner on the second 4th and short.

Strong stats, solid leadership, big moments...Masoli sounds like your Pac-10 MVP, doesn't he? If not, who's yours?
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