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Florida State Football Poetically Trolls Rival Florida on Valentine's Day

Sports rivalries never sleep, not even on the one day a year dedicated to love.

As people celebrated Valentine's Day on Sunday, the Florida State Seminoles decided to share a Valentine their fans could use. It may not be particularly romantic, but it's the type of card every Seminoles fan would love to get on Valentine's Day.

The same can't be said of Florida Gators fans, however. The card is a little reminder about who owns the Sunshine State right now.

[FSU Football, h/t BroBible]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Amari Rodgers to Clemson: Tigers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Clemson landed one of the first big pieces of its 2017 recruiting class Sunday, as 4-star wide receiver Amari Rodgers announced his verbal commitment to the Tigers in a Twitter post:

Rodgers, who stars at Knoxville Catholic, is the No. 249 overall prospect, the 34th-ranked receiver and the seventh-best player in the state of Tennessee, per 247Sports' composite rankings.    

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 25 Freshmen to Watch for in 2016 Spring Football

Spring football is a time for development, and no one needs that more than freshmen.

That's why they're so compelling to follow.

Early-enrolling high schoolers are the pinnacle, since to this point they are mostly unknowns. Even if they arrive with high expectations, there are no "sure things" in recruiting. Spring ball is their first chance to compete against college opponents.

Redshirt freshmen are fun to track, too. After spending one year with the scout team, they should be ready to make an impact. Those whom coaches praised for tearing up practice—and there are loads of them—get their first chances to back up the hype.

Here are 25 freshmen of both types to keep an eye on.

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Why UCLA RB Paul Perkins Is NFL Draft's Most Underrated Weapon

The running back has become the forgotten position in the NFL draft. 

The position has been so ignored in recent years that one of the major storylines of the 2015 draft was the selection of two running backs in the first round—an occurrence that had previously been commonplace for decades. 

Due to this trend, coverage of prospects in recent years had tended to be skewed toward positions more likely to land in the first round. And for this reason, many of the most underrated offensive weapons can be found at the running back position. 

Last year we saw prospects such as the Buffalo Bills' Karlos Williams and the Chicago Bears' Jeremy Langford burst onto the scene with strong rookie performances despite limited predraft hype. 

The most underrated weapon in this year's draft class could be UCLA running back Paul Perkins. 

Perkins, who enters the draft after his junior year, has been one of the most complete running backs in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons and is in the mix to be the second running back off the board in this year's class. 

Let's take a look at Perkins' best traits that make him a candidate to be one of the instant-impact rookies from this draft class. 

 

Blend of Power and Elusiveness

The majority of running backs who sustain success at the NFL level are those who can't be defined by a single trait. 

There are certainly roles for the smaller home run threats with elite speed and the bigger downhill runners for short-yardage situations. But we rarely see those one-dimensional runners carry the load for their franchise for an extended period of time. 

Perkins' primary strength is his elusiveness, but he demonstrates a consistently balanced skill set that bodes well for his transition to the NFL. 

Elusiveness is often confused with pure speed, which isn't always the case with running backs. Perkins' has the ability to turn on the jets, but his ability to make defenders miss primarily stems from his quick footwork. 

This play against Stanford demonstrates how Perkins uses his footwork to lose defenders, as he weaves through traffic before finally hitting full speed in the open field:

Perkins doesn't have to make defenders miss in order to pick up extra yardage. 

While running through contact isn't his go-to move, it is a skill Perkins has flashed at times due to his balance and low running style.

On this play against Washington State, Perkins first shows his patience and vision; then he hits the hole with an explosive burst and finally runs over a closing defender:

It's rare to find running backs capable of winning with such a varied skill set. 

We often think of bigger, more physical running backs as the ones who force the most missed tackles. But as a runner who can find ways to pick up extra yardage regardless of the situation, Perkins is as elusive as they come. 

According to CFB Film Room, Perkins forced missed tackles at a higher rate than many of the most dominant running backs on the college game in 2015:

UCLA RB Paul Perkins forced missed tackles at an impressive rate in 2015 pic.twitter.com/oq31MAUFpi

— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) February 11, 2016

This skill set should place Perkins high on the draft board for any team interested in adding an immediate starter at running back in the 2016 draft. 

 

Weapon in Passing Game

Perkins' skills as a runner are enough to make him a future starter, but what he offers in the passing game elevates his draft stock to another level. 

Not only was Perkins a reliable checkdown option for UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen in 2015, but he was frequently featured as a weapon down the field. 

Perkins has reliable hands to haul in the pass, and he also does a great job quickly securing the ball and turning upfield. 

This play against Arizona shows Perkins' skills as he quickly snags the pass and then shows off his ability to make guys miss in the open field. 

  

Pass Protection

The ability to make plays in the passing game is only a piece of the equation for a running back to become a true three-down playmaker. 

A running back also has to be able to stand in and help out in pass protection in order to be an effective third-down back. 

Perkins lacks the size to dominate in this area, and he doesn't have the refined technique of other prospects such as Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. However, he consistently gives a strong effort, which is half the battle with many running backs. 

This area can't be touted as a strength for Perkins, but the fact his pass-protection skills aren't a liability is enough to ease concerns when it comes to projecting him as a three-down back in the NFL. 

 

Final Thoughts

Elliott is the top running back in this draft class by a wide margin, as Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton has broken down in detail. But a strong case can be made that Perkins should be the next man off the board. 

Due to their scheme, some teams may prefer a more traditional downhill runner like Alabama's Derrick Henry, but Perkins clearly offers the more complete skill set. 

With such a well-rounded game, it's easy to envision Perkins as a rookie feature back during the 2016 season. 

In the second round, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Miami Dolphins could view Perkins as their running back of the future depending on how the free-agency period plays out. 

Regardless of where Perkins lands, he's a name to remember heading into the 2016 season due to the multitude of ways he impacts the game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why UCLA RB Paul Perkins Is NFL Draft's Most Underrated Weapon

The running back has become the forgotten position in the NFL draft. The position has been so ignored in recent years that one of the major storylines of the 2015 draft was the ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pat Haden Comments on Status After Being Released from Hospital

USC athletic director Pat Haden addressed his health Saturday after he felt lightheaded and was transported to the hospital Feb. 9. 

In a statement on Twitter, Haden confirmed he was released from the hospital two days after it was reported he "underwent an unspecified medical procedure," according to the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry:  

Haden, 63, has encountered several medical scares over the past few months, with Wednesday's hospitalization serving as another scary situation following his collapse on the field prior to an October showdown between USC and Notre Dame. 

Shortly thereafter, Haden resigned from the College Football Playoff selection committee after he released a statement saying "my doctors advised me to reduce my traveling," according to the Los Angeles Times' Chris Dufresne

On Feb. 5, the New York Times' Marc Tracy reported Haden plans to step down as USC's athletic director in June. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Gehrig Dieter to Alabama: Latest Transfer Details, Comments and Reaction

Former Bowling Green wide receiver Gehrig Dieter announced on Saturday that he has transferred to Alabama  

The receiver announced his decision on Twitter:

In 2015, Dieter caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards with Bowling Green. He had previously transferred to the Ohio school from SMU. 

Dieter was part of a Bowling Green passing attack that ranked fifth in the nation last season. During his second year with the team in 2015, he recorded 75 or more receiving yards in 10 games. 

His contributions helped Bowling Green put together just its second 10-win season in 12 years. 

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Dieter will graduate from Bowling Green in May and will have two years of eligibility starting in 2016. 

Feldman pointed out that this is the second time in the past two years that Alabama has brought on a graduate transfer. In 2015, Richard Mullaney transferred from Oregon State, where he caught 38 passes for five touchdowns. 

Dieter is a nice pickup for an Alabama team that is already returning its top two receivers in Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart. It's the only skill position on offense that won't be undergoing a big change. 

The Tide lost quarterback Jake Coker to graduation and starting running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to the NFL draft. Bringing in another set of dangerous hands like Dieter's will further advance the passing game and give another nice target to whomever steps in under center for the defending national champions.

 

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

James Conner Returns to Practice for 1st Time Since Lymphoma Diagnosis

Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner has returned to the practice field as he continues his recovery from a knee injury and following his diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi posted a video Saturday showing Conner going through a training session with teammates:

Conner announced his diagnosis in December. Pitt's official athletic site passed along comments at the time from the 2014 ACC Player of the Year, and he vowed not only to win the fight against cancer but also to play football again:

I know there are so many people in the world who were told by their doctors this week that they also have cancer. I want them to know that together we can—and will—beat cancer.

I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.

Conner is doing everything in his power to make those words come true. While a workout in February is still a long way from game day in the fall, every step represents progress and can also provide inspiration for others in a similar situation.

Conner was a force for Pittsburgh throughout the 2014 season. The Pennsylvania native rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns to lead the Panthers offense. He also established himself as one of the nation's top running backs.

At 6'2", 240 pounds, Conner's combination of size and power made him a nightmare for opposing defenders. He hopes to one day put those traits on display again.

Exactly what the future holds is still a mystery, though, as he's not only dealing with the cancer diagnosis but also trying to get his knee back to full strength. So, there are still plenty of hurdles to clear before he returns to the field.

But just seeing No. 24 out there doing drills is surely enough to put smiles on faces throughout the college football community.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

9 College Football Coaches Who Are Destined for the NFL

Barring a surprising development, the 2015-16 college football coaching carousel has ground to a halt. Twenty-eight FBS programs changed their head coaches, with the last move perhaps the most surprising. Just before national signing day, Southern Miss lost Todd Monken to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not as their head coach, but as their offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.

It was a reminder that the NFL is always a threat to poach college football coaches. Some coaches feel the pro game is a more comfortable fit. Others are just looking for their next challenge.

Some coaches have more success than others with the transition. Tom Coughlin went from Boston College to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and eventually won two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants. More recently, Oregon’s Chip Kelly made a splash by heading to the Philadelphia Eagles, but he didn’t even last three full seasons before flaming out in a culture clash.

He rebounded by taking the San Francisco 49ers' head coaching job.

Kelly’s failure in Philly won’t scare off the next NFL owner who is looking for a great college leader. Monken won’t be the last college coach to jump to the pro ranks. Who will join him? The game has a number of excellent candidates. Here are nine college coaches who are destined to wind up in the NFL sooner or later.

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Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Recruiting Jet Costs Totaled Nearly $136k in 12-Day Span

Jim Harbaugh wasted no time with his recruiting efforts when he became the Michigan Wolverines head coach Dec. 30, 2014.

And money does not seem to be an issue.

Steve Berkowitz of USA Today reported the jet Harbaugh and his staff used accumulated more than $10,000 in costs per day in a 12-day span during his first month on the job, according to Michigan records. After trips to California, Florida and Georgia, among other states, the total for that nearly two-week stint came out to almost $136,000.

Berkowitz provided a breakdown of Harbaugh's travel adventures:

Traveling alone or being accompanied by as many as three assistants at a time, Harbaugh racked up 18 jet-travel legs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 30. There were another five "dead" legs involving no passengers, and an assistant coach had one solo travel leg. There was only day during that period for which no private-jet trips were logged (sic).

According to Berkowitz, in those 12 days, Michigan and Harbaugh spent a third of the school's travel expenses in the 2013-14 fiscal year ($584,721) and almost 15 percent of what it spent in the 2014-15 fiscal year ($739,337).

Michigan had the 37th-best recruiting class in 2015, per 247Sports. After going 10-3 in Harbaugh's first year at Michigan, the Wolverines have compiled the fifth-best recruiting class in the country in 2016, per 247Sports.

Harbaugh's relentless recruiting efforts paid off when he got a commitment from defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the nation's top recruit in the 2016 class, per 247Sports. As long as Michigan's expenses lead to success on the field, it won't be shocking to see the dollar figures continue to escalate in the coming years.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Recruiting Jet Costs Totaled Nearly $136k in 12-Day Span

Jim Harbaugh wasted no time with his recruiting efforts when he became the Michigan Wolverines head coach Dec. 30, 2014.

And money does not seem to be an issue.

Steve Berkowitz of USA Today reported the jet Harbaugh and his staff used accumulated more than $10,000 in costs per day in a 12-day span during his first month on the job, according to Michigan records. After trips to California, Florida and Georgia, among other states, the total for that nearly two-week stint came out to almost $136,000.

Berkowitz provided a breakdown of Harbaugh's travel adventures:

Traveling alone or being accompanied by as many as three assistants at a time, Harbaugh racked up 18 jet-travel legs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 30. There were another five "dead" legs involving no passengers, and an assistant coach had one solo travel leg. There was only day during that period for which no private-jet trips were logged (sic).

According to Berkowitz, in those 12 days, Michigan and Harbaugh spent a third of the school's travel expenses in the 2013-14 fiscal year ($584,721) and almost 15 percent of what it spent in the 2014-15 fiscal year ($739,337).

Michigan had the 37th-best recruiting class in 2015, per 247Sports. After going 10-3 in Harbaugh's first year at Michigan, the Wolverines have compiled the fifth-best recruiting class in the country in 2016, per 247Sports.

Harbaugh's relentless recruiting efforts paid off when he got a commitment from defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the nation's top recruit in the 2016 class, per 247Sports. As long as Michigan's expenses lead to success on the field, it won't be shocking to see the dollar figures continue to escalate in the coming years.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor Board of Regents Approves New Measures to Handle Sexual Assault on Campus

Baylor University has been scrutinized for its handling of sexual assaults on campus in recent years, and the school took a step toward rectifying the problem Friday when the Board of Regents approved new measures designed to help victims.

According to the Dallas Morning News' Shehan Jeyarajah, several new measures focus on committing more resources to Title IX investigations and training:

Baylor's announcement comes on the heels of a letter that President and Chancellor Ken Starr penned to the university community Feb. 7.

In the letter, Starr mentioned the school had hired Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct a thorough review of the school's history of sexual assault and offer "forward-looking recommendations."

Over the past few years, several high-profile cases of sexual assault at Baylor have included members of the football team.

In August 2015, transfer Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in a county jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a Baylor women's soccer player. The case came under intense scrutiny when "a Baylor official testified the school investigated the woman's complaint but didn't find enough evidence 'to move forward,'" according to ESPN.com.

A year earlier, Tevin Elliott was sentenced to 20 years in jail and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine after he was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault dating back to a 2012 incident at the school, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald's Tommy Witherspoon.

More recently, ESPN's Outside the Lines detailed cases of sexual assault that school administrators reportedly ignored:

An investigation by Outside the Lines found several examples in Tanya's case, and others at Baylor, in which school officials either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults. Moreover, it took Baylor more than three years to comply with a federal directive: In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities outlining their responsibilities under Title IX, including the need for each school to have a Title IX coordinator. Baylor didn't hire a full-time coordinator until fall 2014. 

"We know we can and must do a better job to confront interpersonal violence in our campus community," Starr said upon the announcement of the new measures, per the school's press release. "We will learn many things from the external review that has been commissioned by Baylor Regents, and that information will guide our future plans."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor Board of Regents Approves New Measures to Handle Sexual Assault on Campus

Baylor University has been scrutinized for its handling of sexual assaults on campus in recent years, and the school took a step toward rectifying the problem Friday when the Board of Regents approved new measures designed to help victims.

According to the Dallas Morning News' Shehan Jeyarajah, several new measures focus on committing more resources to Title IX investigations and training:

Baylor's announcement comes on the heels of a letter that President and Chancellor Ken Starr penned to the university community Feb. 7.

In the letter, Starr mentioned the school had hired Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct a thorough review of the school's history of sexual assault and offer "forward-looking recommendations."

Over the past few years, several high-profile cases of sexual assault at Baylor have included members of the football team.

In August 2015, transfer Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in a county jail after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a Baylor women's soccer player. The case came under intense scrutiny when "a Baylor official testified the school investigated the woman's complaint but didn't find enough evidence 'to move forward,'" according to ESPN.com.

A year earlier, Tevin Elliott was sentenced to 20 years in jail and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine after he was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault dating back to a 2012 incident at the school, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald's Tommy Witherspoon.

More recently, ESPN's Outside the Lines detailed cases of sexual assault that school administrators reportedly ignored:

An investigation by Outside the Lines found several examples in Tanya's case, and others at Baylor, in which school officials either failed to investigate, or adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults. Moreover, it took Baylor more than three years to comply with a federal directive: In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all colleges and universities outlining their responsibilities under Title IX, including the need for each school to have a Title IX coordinator. Baylor didn't hire a full-time coordinator until fall 2014. 

"We know we can and must do a better job to confront interpersonal violence in our campus community," Starr said upon the announcement of the new measures, per the school's press release. "We will learn many things from the external review that has been commissioned by Baylor Regents, and that information will guide our future plans."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football Fan Decks Out Jeep Wrangler in Full 'Roll Tide' Fashion

This is the heart of Dixie.

One Alabama football fan gave their Jeep Wrangler a serious makeover, complete with all the necessary bells and whistles that would do the Crimson Tide proud.

The intricate body paint has a touch of houndstooth on the top, with A's tastefully placed on the doors and wheel cover. The "Saban Nation" and "Houndstooth Mafia" window decals really bring it home. 

Fandom at its finest.

[Twitter, h/t The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football Fan Decks Out Jeep Wrangler in Full 'Roll Tide' Fashion

This is the heart of Dixie.

One Alabama football fan gave their Jeep Wrangler a serious makeover, complete with all the necessary bells and whistles that would do the Crimson Tide proud.

The intricate body paint has a touch of houndstooth on the top, with A's tastefully placed on the doors and wheel cover. The "Saban Nation" and "Houndstooth Mafia" window decals really bring it home. 

Fandom at its finest.

[Twitter, h/t The Big Lead]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Offenses That Might Struggle After 2016 NFL Departures

This is the time of year when college football writers and fans alike pour over the returning starter lists and count up the experience coming back for programs across the country. 

Early projections for the season hinge a lot on the amount of talent coming back and how many key players decided to skip their final years of school to head to the NFL.

The biggest declared underclassman count in NFL draft history has been set in stone, and plenty of college teams are looking for future stars to fill in for their departed ones.

Here are seven college football offenses that were the most impacted by 2016 NFL draft departures and might struggle this fall. These schools were picked primarily for the number of early entrants lost to the next level, but graduated seniors are also listed on the following slides to show how much firepower was lost from 2015 to 2016.

The key word here is might, as new starters have been known to produce in even bigger ways than their predecessors each season. However, returning talent is extremely valuable in college football, and these are the teams that might not reach their high offensive standards due to the early losses to the NFL.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Offenses That Might Struggle After 2016 NFL Departures

This is the time of year when college football writers and fans alike pour over the returning starter lists and count up the experience coming back for programs across the country. 

Early projections for the season hinge a lot on the amount of talent coming back and how many key players decided to skip their final years of school to head to the NFL.

The biggest declared underclassman count in NFL draft history has been set in stone, and plenty of college teams are looking for future stars to fill in for their departed ones.

Here are seven college football offenses that were the most impacted by 2016 NFL draft departures and might struggle this fall. These schools were picked primarily for the number of early entrants lost to the next level, but graduated seniors are also listed on the following slides to show how much firepower was lost from 2015 to 2016.

The key word here is might, as new starters have been known to produce in even bigger ways than their predecessors each season. However, returning talent is extremely valuable in college football, and these are the teams that might not reach their high offensive standards due to the early losses to the NFL.

Begin Slideshow

What Are the Biggest Questions Facing Arizona as It Begins Spring Practice?

It was only a month ago that the college football season officially came to a close but luckily for all the football junkies out there, the offseason isn’t too long when you factor in spring football starting around the FBS.

While half of the country may still be under a few inches of snow on February 12, the Arizona Wildcats will happily head outside into the warm desert air and be among the first schools in all of FBS to begin spring practice. It may seem like it was just yesterday that the team was taking the field to capture a wild New Mexico Bowl win, but head coach Rich Rodriguez’s group is right back at it over the next several weeks and looking to sort out a host of issues before a long offseason hits in late March.

Here are a few questions surrounding the Wildcats as spring practice gets underway.

 

What will the defense look like?

Spring football is not about game plans or opponents but yourself. As a result, many coaches refer to the 15 practices they have at the beginning of each year as an opportunity to teach. That will certainly be the case this year as the Wildcats go through some major changes defensively.

That starts with the coaching staff, which is almost all new on that side of the ball following the departure of Jeff Casteel and the recent hire of new coordinator Marcel Yates from Boise State. With that change comes a big shift in philosophy from the 3-3-5 alignment Arizona had been running for the past several years, to Yates’ version of what amounts to a 4-2-5. Not only does that mean new schemes to learn this spring, but new positions for many players as well.

It will also be interesting to see how well the new coaching staff jells without much time to together. Defensive line coach Vincent Amey was only officially hired this week, even though he was an internal promotion. Jahmile Addae also hasn’t been in his role for long and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams is a fresh face from San Jose State. They didn’t have much time to all get on the same page before heading out onto the field to teach their players.

Speaking of personnel, replacing Scooby Wright III will undoubtedly be the biggest test the team faces, but luckily it had some experience in that department when the defensive star was out with an injury last season. Still, the team leader is busy training for the NFL draft now and from a leadership and on-field standpoint, he’ll undoubtedly be missed in 2016. Cal transfer Michael Barton will likely be counted on to pick up some of the slack as somebody with plenty of experience around the Pac-12.

 

How much can quarterback Anu Solomon improve?

Anu Solomon burst onto the scene as a freshman for Arizona and promptly led the team to an unexpected Pac-12 South title back in 2014. The following season, when many expected him to build off the momentum of his first year as a starter, things didn’t quite go as expected. While part of last season’s struggles were due to injury, there was no doubt some sophomore slump issues involved as well.

Still, as one could see in the team’s bowl game, a top-notch and healthy Solomon can be a dangerous signal-caller against any defense. Given his ability to damage teams with his legs and his improving arm, he should enter 2016 as one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and has the potential to put up his best numbers yet this season. Another year in Rodriguez’s system will be big for the quarterback, and Solomon could use this spring to further refine his passing to become even more dangerous. Just how much he can improve will be an interesting storyline to follow in Tucson.

What makes things interesting is that while Solomon will start practice as the entrenched starter at the position, there is little doubt that he’ll get pushed for the job this spring. Backup Brandon Dawkins showed flashes during limited playing time last season and could wind up seeing time with the first team. Highly touted true freshman Khalil Tate will also be somebody to keep an eye on as the coaches love his potential, and getting an early start on learning the offense is never a bad thing.

 

Who steps up at receiver?

Quarterback isn’t a huge concern on Rodriguez’s radar, but sorting out his receiving corps is much more pressing for the veteran head coach. Gone are playmaker Cayleb Jones and solid contributor David Richards, both tall outside receivers who the team will be hard pressed to replace.

Now a senior, Trey Griffey returns as the top option on the outside and figures to be option No. 1 for Solomon in the passing game after coming up with some big catches each year he’s been on campus. Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant are solid out of the slot, and ex-defensive back Cam Denson is using the spring to make the switch to become a receiver instead of covering one.

In past years with Jones, Richards and Griffey, the Wildcats were able trot out a tall lineup of receivers (all over 6'3") that few teams could match up with. They won’t have that advantage in 2016, but they could sort out new ways of attacking opposing secondaries this spring with the host of options they have among pass-catchers.

 

What early enrollees will make an impact?

Spring practice also presents a new crop of early enrollees their first chance to get a taste of playing college football, and the Wildcats are likely hoping one or two of them can wind up making an impact as freshmen during the fall.

Arizona will have seven newcomers take the field this spring, including four grayshirts and a trio of high school early enrollees. Quarterback Khalil Tate was the highest rated among the group, and as referenced earlier, he could look to make some waves early on as a backup quarterback. He was listed as an athlete coming out of high school, though, so it’s possible he shows the coaching staff enough to get a look at another position the team might be thin at while still taking reps behind center.

Defensive back Isaiah Hayes and linebacker Kahi Neves are both a pair of 3-star recruits who will also suit up this month and next for practice, and each has a chance to contribute early on as well given there are spots up for grabs at the positions they play.

 

Are these changes enough to get Arizona back on top in the Pac-12 South?

Two seasons ago, Arizona was the surprise team in the Pac-12 South who combined a little luck with great play on both sides of the ball to capture the division title. That high-water mark, which included a New Year’s Six bowl game, was an impressive accomplishment for the program but also part of the reason why 2015 felt like such a disappointment.

Injuries no doubt played a major part in the reason why the team just barely reached the .500 mark, but there were still plenty of Arizona fans who went home disappointed for a myriad of reasons after a tough loss.

Will this spring be a chance to get back on track to the ways of 2014, or is it simply going to be used to sort out the issues brought up in 2015? We won’t get a good answer on that until later this fall, but the changes Rodriguez is implementing are encouraging.

After struggling defensively last year, he made the bold move of dismissing his defensive staff filled with longtime friends in order to bring in Yates’ more aggressive style of defense. The moves were also done to boost the team’s standing on the recruiting trail, but it’s reasonable to expect a nice improvement on that side of the ball going forward.

Offensively, there’s plenty to like about the Wildcats with Solomon behind center, Griffey catching passes and a hopefully healthy Nick Wilson running the ball. Offense hasn’t been all that much of an issue under Rodriguez, and one wouldn’t expect it to be in 2016 given the chance the players will get use this spring to learn even more of the uptempo spread system their head coach is known for running.

Yes, the talent level in Tucson isn’t quite as good as some of their peers in the division, but there are plenty of reasons why a good spring and summer could translate on the field in Tucson later this year. The Pac-12 South is as wide-open as it has been with no clear favorite this upcoming season, and the changes being implemented by the coaching staff could certainly pay dividends quickly.

Is that enough to go from fifth to first in the league? Maybe not, but the team is used to surprising people when they least expect it, and that could be the case once again if it’s a productive two months in the desert for Arizona.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer. Unless noted otherwise, all recruiting information is from 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Are the Biggest Questions Facing Arizona as It Begins Spring Practice?

It was only a month ago that the college football season officially came to a close but luckily for all the football junkies out there, the offseason isn’t too long when you factor in spring football starting around the FBS.

While half of the country may still be under a few inches of snow on February 12, the Arizona Wildcats will happily head outside into the warm desert air and be among the first schools in all of FBS to begin spring practice. It may seem like it was just yesterday that the team was taking the field to capture a wild New Mexico Bowl win, but head coach Rich Rodriguez’s group is right back at it over the next several weeks and looking to sort out a host of issues before a long offseason hits in late March.

Here are a few questions surrounding the Wildcats as spring practice gets underway.

 

What will the defense look like?

Spring football is not about game plans or opponents but yourself. As a result, many coaches refer to the 15 practices they have at the beginning of each year as an opportunity to teach. That will certainly be the case this year as the Wildcats go through some major changes defensively.

That starts with the coaching staff, which is almost all new on that side of the ball following the departure of Jeff Casteel and the recent hire of new coordinator Marcel Yates from Boise State. With that change comes a big shift in philosophy from the 3-3-5 alignment Arizona had been running for the past several years, to Yates’ version of what amounts to a 4-2-5. Not only does that mean new schemes to learn this spring, but new positions for many players as well.

It will also be interesting to see how well the new coaching staff jells without much time to together. Defensive line coach Vincent Amey was only officially hired this week, even though he was an internal promotion. Jahmile Addae also hasn’t been in his role for long and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams is a fresh face from San Jose State. They didn’t have much time to all get on the same page before heading out onto the field to teach their players.

Speaking of personnel, replacing Scooby Wright III will undoubtedly be the biggest test the team faces, but luckily it had some experience in that department when the defensive star was out with an injury last season. Still, the team leader is busy training for the NFL draft now and from a leadership and on-field standpoint, he’ll undoubtedly be missed in 2016. Cal transfer Michael Barton will likely be counted on to pick up some of the slack as somebody with plenty of experience around the Pac-12.

 

How much can quarterback Anu Solomon improve?

Anu Solomon burst onto the scene as a freshman for Arizona and promptly led the team to an unexpected Pac-12 South title back in 2014. The following season, when many expected him to build off the momentum of his first year as a starter, things didn’t quite go as expected. While part of last season’s struggles were due to injury, there was no doubt some sophomore slump issues involved as well.

Still, as one could see in the team’s bowl game, a top-notch and healthy Solomon can be a dangerous signal-caller against any defense. Given his ability to damage teams with his legs and his improving arm, he should enter 2016 as one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 and has the potential to put up his best numbers yet this season. Another year in Rodriguez’s system will be big for the quarterback, and Solomon could use this spring to further refine his passing to become even more dangerous. Just how much he can improve will be an interesting storyline to follow in Tucson.

What makes things interesting is that while Solomon will start practice as the entrenched starter at the position, there is little doubt that he’ll get pushed for the job this spring. Backup Brandon Dawkins showed flashes during limited playing time last season and could wind up seeing time with the first team. Highly touted true freshman Khalil Tate will also be somebody to keep an eye on as the coaches love his potential, and getting an early start on learning the offense is never a bad thing.

 

Who steps up at receiver?

Quarterback isn’t a huge concern on Rodriguez’s radar, but sorting out his receiving corps is much more pressing for the veteran head coach. Gone are playmaker Cayleb Jones and solid contributor David Richards, both tall outside receivers who the team will be hard pressed to replace.

Now a senior, Trey Griffey returns as the top option on the outside and figures to be option No. 1 for Solomon in the passing game after coming up with some big catches each year he’s been on campus. Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant are solid out of the slot, and ex-defensive back Cam Denson is using the spring to make the switch to become a receiver instead of covering one.

In past years with Jones, Richards and Griffey, the Wildcats were able trot out a tall lineup of receivers (all over 6'3") that few teams could match up with. They won’t have that advantage in 2016, but they could sort out new ways of attacking opposing secondaries this spring with the host of options they have among pass-catchers.

 

What early enrollees will make an impact?

Spring practice also presents a new crop of early enrollees their first chance to get a taste of playing college football, and the Wildcats are likely hoping one or two of them can wind up making an impact as freshmen during the fall.

Arizona will have seven newcomers take the field this spring, including four grayshirts and a trio of high school early enrollees. Quarterback Khalil Tate was the highest rated among the group, and as referenced earlier, he could look to make some waves early on as a backup quarterback. He was listed as an athlete coming out of high school, though, so it’s possible he shows the coaching staff enough to get a look at another position the team might be thin at while still taking reps behind center.

Defensive back Isaiah Hayes and linebacker Kahi Neves are both a pair of 3-star recruits who will also suit up this month and next for practice, and each has a chance to contribute early on as well given there are spots up for grabs at the positions they play.

 

Are these changes enough to get Arizona back on top in the Pac-12 South?

Two seasons ago, Arizona was the surprise team in the Pac-12 South who combined a little luck with great play on both sides of the ball to capture the division title. That high-water mark, which included a New Year’s Six bowl game, was an impressive accomplishment for the program but also part of the reason why 2015 felt like such a disappointment.

Injuries no doubt played a major part in the reason why the team just barely reached the .500 mark, but there were still plenty of Arizona fans who went home disappointed for a myriad of reasons after a tough loss.

Will this spring be a chance to get back on track to the ways of 2014, or is it simply going to be used to sort out the issues brought up in 2015? We won’t get a good answer on that until later this fall, but the changes Rodriguez is implementing are encouraging.

After struggling defensively last year, he made the bold move of dismissing his defensive staff filled with longtime friends in order to bring in Yates’ more aggressive style of defense. The moves were also done to boost the team’s standing on the recruiting trail, but it’s reasonable to expect a nice improvement on that side of the ball going forward.

Offensively, there’s plenty to like about the Wildcats with Solomon behind center, Griffey catching passes and a hopefully healthy Nick Wilson running the ball. Offense hasn’t been all that much of an issue under Rodriguez, and one wouldn’t expect it to be in 2016 given the chance the players will get use this spring to learn even more of the uptempo spread system their head coach is known for running.

Yes, the talent level in Tucson isn’t quite as good as some of their peers in the division, but there are plenty of reasons why a good spring and summer could translate on the field in Tucson later this year. The Pac-12 South is as wide-open as it has been with no clear favorite this upcoming season, and the changes being implemented by the coaching staff could certainly pay dividends quickly.

Is that enough to go from fifth to first in the league? Maybe not, but the team is used to surprising people when they least expect it, and that could be the case once again if it’s a productive two months in the desert for Arizona.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer. Unless noted otherwise, all recruiting information is from 247Sports.

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