NCAA Football

Top 2015 College Football Recruit Each Pac-12 Coach Covets the Most

Things are going to be fascinating in the Pac -12 for years to come. The league is stacked with terrific head coaches who covet many of the same recruits, so the recruiting trail is going to be quite competitive...

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Michigan Football: Realistic Expectations for Derrick Green in 2014

Derrick Green’s steady creep is due for a jump into overdrive.

In 2013, he showed a few streaks that justified his lofty 4-star ranking (No. 8 RB) from 247Sports. Now a sophomore, the 6’0”, 230-pound former Hermitage High (Richmond, Va.) standout is expected to either lead or get out of the way.

That’s just how things are, and if Green is to be the next (great) Michigan running back, he must accelerate his pace or risk being passed by fellow sophomore DeVeon Smith, who also entered Ann Arbor with a 4-star grade (No. 15 RB).

While under Doug Nussmeier’s control, the Michigan offense has undergone a few subtle, but meaningful, adjustments. Since yanking the keys from Al Borges, Nussmeier has paraded a simpler style—one that worked well in the SEC and one that will work well in the Big Ten.

His reputation for crafting ideal pro-style attacks and developing blue chips into Saturday heroes speaks for itself.

Green, who was offered by Alabama (and Nussmeier), should benefit from the change. Borges’ calls didn’t seem to accentuate the strengths of his roster. Instead of giving the ball to one of four potential suitors, Borges stuck with senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose mighty struggle to reach the line of scrimmage was one of many thorns in the side of Team 134.

Nussmeier likes to keep productive, fresh legs on the field. When fresh, Green was productive; he should see the field plenty of times in the backfield this fall.

Here’s what to expect.

 

Getting Going

After a quick launch in Week 1, Green seemed destined for more as the schedule unfolded.

But that didn’t happen.

Apparently 11 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown vs. Central Michigan didn’t impress Brady Hoke’s staff enough to order more totes the next week. Green waited until Oct. 5 against Minnesota before getting double-digit attempts.

Michigan defeated the Gophers 42-13, and the frosh finished with 10 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, the yards weren’t great, but scoring never hurts.

Green’s not one of those jet-like imports. He needs a little space—and perhaps a split second longer—before reaching full speed. In that regard, he’s more like an American muscle car.

The first couple test drives were fine. But the more Borges hit the gas, the more Green produced—and that was made clear by his late-season bursts vs. Northwestern (19 carries, 79 yards) and Ohio State (12 carries for 47 yards).

With his belts tightened and oil changed, Green’s been in the garage long enough. Look for Nussmeier to hop in the driver’s seat, turn up the radio and cruise with the sophomore all the way to the playoffs. That, in all likelihood, is the plan.

Michigan has a nice backfield. But it’s Green’s year until someone—such as Smith—says otherwise. Even if he’s not the “featured back,” he’ll have a prominent role in Nussmeier’s system.

 

Stat Break

In 2013, Michigan ran the ball 498 times, averaged 125.7 yards per game and finished with the No. 11 rushing offense in the league. Green had 83 of those carries for 270 yards. 

Toussaint had 185 carries for 648 yards and 13 touchdowns. At the very least, Green could, and should, hit those numbers this fall. 

 

Maturation

When it comes to teaching Michigan running backs, there aren’t many—if any—better than coach Fred Jackson, who has more than 20 years of experience with the Wolverines.

As one of the most respected position coaches in the Big Ten, Jackson’s opinion matters.

Earlier this month, he said the following about Green during an interview with WTKA-Ann Arbor radio (via MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner):

When you think about his speed, he could always run, but now you see flashes of that speed. I see a man who has more confidence because he's lighter. He's running with more conviction. He's running with more ability to make tight cuts.

Right now, because he lost that weight, he's going to make a tremendous difference for us this fall.

This past fall, in light of a Green-less backfield, complaints began to mount. He was either out of shape and/or lazy, or Michigan (Borges) hadn't a clue on how to showcase its ball-carrier. 

Yeah, he was a few Twinkies over the limit. Who hasn't been there? But lazy?! Nope. He had to learn a few lessons before earning an endorsement from the staff, which had to get things straight before counting on a true freshman to carry the load. 

Sounds like everyone finally got it. 

 

Healthy Competition

As mentioned above, Smith is the other No. 1 back to follow this season. Honestly, Michigan has a good problem. There aren't many programs in the Big Ten that can match Team 135's potential Green-Smith punch. 

As Smith improves, so will Green. Greatness pushes greatness, or at least that's how it should be. 

Expect the first few weeks to be a test. If Green can carry over his late 2013 momentum into early 2014, he'll reach the top of the depth chart. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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Oklahoma State Football: 8 2014 Breakout Candidates

With spring practices concluding on April 11, now is the time to look back over the last few weeks and try to get an idea of which Oklahoma State players are going to become impact players this fall.

It's still very early in the process; however, through just 15 practices, players have started to emerge on both sides of the ball that look like breakout candidates for 2014.

Who are the eight players that could see themselves become the next stars at Oklahoma State? Read on to find out.

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Top 2015 College Football Recruit Each Big 12 Coach Covets the Most

Big 12 coaches are no strangers when it comes to coveting recruits on the trail. All of them hustle around the country to get the best talent they can find.

This year will be no different, as it figures to be an interesting recruiting cycle in the league in the Midwest. Charlie Strong is now the head coach at Texas, and a 5-star cornerback is his primary recruiting target.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis would love to pair a 4-star running back with a stud runner he signed last year, and Baylor's offensive-minded Art Briles is looking to add another weapon to his high-scoring unit.

 

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Grading UGA's Post-Spring Depth Chart

The Bulldogs played their spring game on Saturday, but spring practice is not over yet.

They still have one more week of practices, and after that, they will break until August for the start of preseason practice.

The one thing fans saw during G-Day is what the starting lineup is going to look like. There will be some minor changes once the new signees come in this fall, but for the most part, the No. 1 and No. 2 units will look the same going into preseason camp.

So here are grades to hand out for the Bulldogs' post-spring depth chart.

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OSU's Braxton Miller Makes Fun of Michigan's Spring Game Attendance on Twitter

The rivalry between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines is so intense that the two sides will find any excuse to talk smack to the other.

Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller decided to take a shot at the Wolverines over Twitter, tweeting out a picture of tweets from both schools that compared their spring game attendances. 

While Michigan had 15,000 fans at its game, the Buckeyes had more than 61,000 people at theirs. 

[Twitter, h/t For the Win]

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Georgia Football: Top 5 Performers from the Bulldogs' Spring Game

The Georgia Bulldogs held their annual G-Day spring game Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 46,073 fans at Sanford Stadium.

While many in attendance and watching from home were most intrigued by the new defensive coaching staff, a number of players on both sides of the ball stood out in the intrasquad scrimmage.

Here are the five performers who performed at the highest level Saturday.

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Alabama Football: 5 Players to Watch in Tide's Spring Game

With Alabama’s spring game on tap for this weekend, Tide fans will get their first glimpse of what Nick Saban’s club has in store for the 2014 season.

Plenty of changes have been made in the offseason. From notable departures due to graduation and early entries to the NFL draft, plus the addition of new coaches such as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Tide’s program has undergone its biggest period of transition since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.

Which players should fans be watching closely as the action unfolds inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon?

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Shirtless Wisconsin Fan Has Epic Dance-off with LB Cadogan at Spring Game

This Wisconsin Badgers fan knows how to get down.

During the Badgers spring game, one fan was lucky enough to win a contest to perform in a dance-off in between the third and fourth quarters. 

The fan took on senior linebacker Sherard Cadogan and made the most of his opportunity, ripping off his shirt during the dance-off.

Regardless of what you think about his dance moves, it looks like the fan and the players had a fun time.

[BTN.com, h/t College Spun]

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Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's 3 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

Spring practice is in the books for Ohio State, and with less than five months before the official start of the season, Urban Meyer has the Buckeyes primed for another title run.

Still, the Buckeyes are far from a finished product, and Saturday's spring game revealed a number of issues that need resolved.

These three in particular are top concerns for Meyer because they all have the potential to derail Ohio State's championship run.

 

The Offensive Line

In 2013, four senior starters along Ohio State's offensive line paved the way for one of the most successful offenses in school history. The Buckeyes averaged 308.6 rushing yards per game, which ranked fifth in the country.

Meyer needs to replace those four starters, a process that's only 25 percent complete going into summer conditioning.

The Buckeyes' sole returning starter, Taylor Decker, has made the switch from right tackle to left tackle. Pat Elflein—who played admirably for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season—has secured the right guard spot.

The other three openings have yet to be claimed, and that doesn't sit well with Meyer, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer

“The offensive line, we got a lot of work to do,” Meyer said. “We've got to really go, we gotta really go from here.”

After the defenses piled up five sacks during the spring game without sending a single blitz, that urgency is easy to understand. 

 

Clarity at Wide Receiver

When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State, he described Ohio State's wide receiver corps as a "clown show." 

After three recruiting cycles in Columbus, Meyer has stockpiled a host of playmakers for the perimeter. The only challenge now is identifying who can contribute.

Of course, that's not entirely true as Dontre Wilson—the blazing sophomore from DeSoto, Texas—already snagged the starting H-back spot earlier this spring. Devin Smith has brought his track speed to the field as a starter for the last two seasons, something he's expected to do again in 2014.

Beyond that, though, is uncertainty.

Corey Brown was Ohio State's top receiver the last two years, and replacing his production is a tall order. Meyer is turning to a number of players such as Michael Thomas, Corey Smith and Johnnie Dixon to pick up the slack, but as the Buckeyes finished up spring drills, the unit has offered more questions than answers. 

 

The Backup Quarterback

With Braxton Miller recovering from shoulder surgery, Meyer got a long look at redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett this spring.

It was a pivotal stretch for the Buckeyes, who must replace longtime backup Kenny Guiton. The cool-headed signal-caller saved Ohio State on multiple occasions, and with Miller's injury history, identifying a new safety net was a top priority.

Jones has surged ahead of Barrett, but neither looked impressive during Ohio State's spring game. Jones completed 14-of-31 passes for 126 yards, while Barrett was marginally better, connecting on 17 of his 33 passes for 151 yards.

Neither threw a touchdown pass in a scrimmage that featured 24 total points.

Even though Jones had a poor outing, Meyer won't let that soil what had been a promising spring.

The spring game showed that neither Jones or Barrett are close to operating at the level Guiton did as a reserve. The Buckeyes will need both to improve before the start of the 2014 season.

 

Unless otherwise noted, stats via Ohio State's official website.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Ken Griffey Jr.'s Son Makes Insane One-Handed Catch at Arizona Spring Game

Future Hall of Fame baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. had a terrific career hitting big home runs and making catches in the outfield, but now his son is starting to make highlight plays in a different sport.

Arizona sophomore receiver Trey Griffey is Ken's son, and during the team's spring game, he made this incredible one-handed catch that will likely make his dad proud.

[YouTube, h/t College Football Talk]

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South Carolina Football: Top 5 Performers from the Gamecock Spring Game

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier got almost everything he wanted out of Saturday's spring game.

The coaches got to see how the younger players performed in game conditions while providing a fun and entertaining day for the fans.

The only negative came on the injury front. Tailback Shon Carson suffered a shoulder injury.

Otherwise, it was a satisfying end to what Spurrier said was a productive spring. 

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Notre Dame Spring Game Shows Irish Have Plethora of Weapons on 2014 Offense

As new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was introduced to the Notre Dame faithful this spring, one of the continual talking points has been his ability to find roles for his players. Building sub-packages and schematic tweaks to utilize the talent on the roster, VanGorder's main edict has been to find roles for players to help the Irish win. 

After watching Saturday's Blue-Gold game, perhaps VanGorder should step into the offensive meeting rooms as well. Because for the first time in the Brian Kelly era, the Irish have the offensive weapons to scare defenses. 

Now, they've just got to find a way to get everybody on the field. 

Spring delusions is a deadly disease that's infected football fans for years. Playing against an opponent they see seven days a week, offenses routinely light up backup defensive backs and vanilla schemes, promising hope for a brand new day, only to be shocked into reality when fall rolls around.

(Don't believe me? Gunner Kiel's 300-yard spring game has Cincinnati fans infected already.)

But the look of Saturday's 85th annual Blue-Gold game was different. After four years of rebuilding a depth chart to fit Kelly's offensive needs, it appears the offense is finally on its way to being the big-play threat that people had been expecting.

First, the quarterbacks. Both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire executed the offense efficiently, building on an important spring, as quarterback is the focal point of Kelly's spread attack. Even taking the yardage numbers and ban on contact with a very large grain of salt, neither quarterback threw an interception, a rarity in a spring game and something we haven't seen in South Bend in almost 20 years (my search for box scores ran cold in 1998).

If competency and stability at the quarterback position was the only accomplishment this spring for Kelly's troops, it'd have been a successful spring. But the depth emerging at skill positions should make Kelly and new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock very happy. 

After turning to TJ Jones in nearly every situation last year, 2014 should have a distinctly different look. For much of the past four seasons, Kelly and the offense has relied on a small handful of key contributors. But this year, the strength of this roster is the depth it possesses. 

That was on display Saturday. Rising junior Chris Brown's five catches were half of his entire regular-season total. Corey Robinson built on a strong spring by making a few highlight-reel grabs. Will Fuller continued to make big plays. Torii Hunter Jr. looked good after being talked up during bowl preparation. Add to that group DaVaris Daniels, who awaits a rubber stamp from the school's administration before his return in June, and the outside receiver position is set. 

"We got a very competitive situation with Robinson, Daniels, Fuller, Brown, (Amir) Carlisle," Kelly said after the game. "We've got a nice situation there. I think it's a just competitive situation. We've got to get the best players on the field, because the tight end is going to be on the field as well."

Carlisle's inclusion in that statement likely signifies that any lapse in confidence last season didn't impact his ability. While the former USC running back isn't a natural fit in the backfield, his ball skills and athleticism make him a custom fit for the slot receiver position, a spot where Kelly's tried just about everything to get production these past four seasons. 

On Saturday, both Carlisle and C.J. Prosise, the two top candidates for the position, had big games. After challenging Prosise to up his game this spring, the 220-pound receiver answered the call with the type of explosive play that we've only heard about. 

"C.J. Prosise was not in my opinion having great practices and today he showed," Kelly said. "He flashed today."

The passing game is only half of the equation. Both Golson and Zaire will unlock the zone-read scheme that was abandoned with Tommy Rees under center. The option to "call it and haul it," a philosophy often mentioned but rarely executed by Kelly, should finally put the type of no-huddle, hurry-up that Oregon and Auburn utilize to great success, on the table as well. 

Saturday's game showed that the backfield looks to be in great shape. After Cam McDaniel led the team in rushing last season, Tarean Folston emerged down the stretch as the team's top back. But Greg Bryant's 100-yard day showed the Irish have another weapon there.  

While a three-back platoon is more manageable than the crowd Tony Alford coached last year, carving out opportunities for the Irish backs will be something that needs managing as well. 

To project what the Irish offense looks like come August 30th is a fool's errand. But that's never stopped anybody. How Kelly and Denbrock decide to utilize their five skill players is a fascinating exercise.

Senior tight end Ben Koyack will be a key piece to the attack. He's the Irish's only true in-line blocking option, though Durham Smythe is getting closer. Koyack will be more than serviceable in the passing game as well, with a breakout season likely for the 6'5", 261-pound senior. 

But beyond that, finding the right combination of quarterback, running back and receivers makes for a busy offseason. Kelly acknowledged that finding the right personnel groupings is still ongoing.            

"To go three‑deep at the running back position is a good thing," Kelly said. "And to know that you have two quarterbacks that certainly can compete at that position, as well. I think we answered some questions there about units more so than maybe about one individual."

Those questions will make this offseason a busy one. They'll also continue to be answered in June, where NCAA rule changes now allow Kelly and his staff to work with their players both on and off the field. 

That means more opportunities to see a young group of talented receivers improve. And after hunting to find personnel that can go four wide, competition to even get on the field will be at its most fierce in years. 

"We're talking about three positions and arguably you've got half a dozen guys there that can compete," Kelly said. "So what's going to be the deciding factor for me is, I'm not settled on any one of those guys right now. I think it will be a very competitive situation. I think they are going to push each other and we're going to be the beneficiary. Notre Dame's offense is beginning to be the beneficiary."

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Nebraska Football: Top Performers from the Cornhuskers' Spring Game

If you asked random people who the top performer for Nebraska's spring game was, they might say it was a cat. While head coach Bo Pelini made news carrying a feline friend during the tunnel walk, it actually wasn't the cat that shined the most.

In fact, plenty of players had big days in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 people. And there were quite a few that were top performers on the day.

Pelini noted that there was still a lot of work to be done before fall during his post-scrimmage press conference, but he said he likes where the squad is now. Based on some of those that stood out, it's not hard to see why the head coach is confident with his team.

So, who exactly were Nebraska's top spring game performers? Read on to find out.

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USC Football: Will Sark Feature a Running Back by Committee in 2014?

It is widely perceived that one of the challenges USC will face in 2014 is a dearth of scholarship players available for the upcoming football season.

Indeed, the primary challenge for new head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff will be a lack of depth along the vast majority of the roster due to the sanctions leveled on the Trojans by the NCAA, which has removed 30 scholarships over the last three years.

Planning to employ an up-tempo offense in 2014, USC will need to find rotations to accommodate a game plan that will require players to be shuffled in and out of the game on a routine basis.

But while most units will be scrambling to find capable players in an effort to keep those units fresh, this will not be the case with the running backs unit.

Instead, the task for Sarkisian and his running backs coach, Johnny Nansen, will be figuring out who gets the ball when the Trojans run.

Blessed with the deepest unit on the roster, the first order of business when the season starts is to determine exactly how the running back rotation will play out this season.

Historically, Sarkisian hasn't had to figure out rotations when it came to running the ball at his former job at Washington.

That is because Sark had Bishop Sankey at his disposal, and when a coach has a talent such as Sankey available, his decision is made easy.

In 2013, Washington ran the ball 610 times, and 327 of those found Sankey with the ball in his hands. For his trouble, Sankey rushed for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns, rendering whatever notions Sark might have had about sharing the ball null and void.

This is not the case at USC where the Trojans have no less than five capable backs at their disposal, four of whom saw extensive playing time in 2013 and performed well when given the opportunity.

In fact, Javorius (Buck) Allen, Justin Davis, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac all have the talent to be a featured back in Sark's system.

And that doesn't even take into consideration the return of D.J. Morgan, who is probably the fastest of all of the Trojan tailbacks.

In 2013, Allen and Madden pretty much split 173 carries for 1,488 yards and 17 touchdowns (14 by Allen) as USC rushed for over 2,400 yards overall. Meanwhile, the two true freshmen in 2013—Davis and Isaac—averaged over six yards a carry as a duo with eight touchdowns to their credit.

So when Sark and Nansen peer out into the practice field this year, they won't see Sankey, but they will find a bevy of runners who may wind up being just as good.

It is a problem that any coach would love to have, but also one that will demand a decision at some point.

Will USC feature a single running back, or will it wind up being an effort by committee?

Compounding the problem is that all of the backs are somewhat similar in the talent they bring to the field of play.

Allen is a strong north-south runner who has proved he can gain the tough yards inside the opponent's 10-yard line and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Madden is almost the same kind of back, utilizing the same size and capable of the same kind of tough running that Allen offers. 

Isaac? He is even bigger, and he also possesses a fine pair of hands.

Only Davis weighs less than 215 pounds, and he is listed at 200 pounds. At 6'1", he will likely weigh more when USC begins play in 2014.

Of the four, Davis is the most likely to "take it to the house" on any given play, but really, any of the four are capable in that area.

So when all is said and done, Sark and Co. will have to make a decision at some point as to how to prosecute the running game.

Will it be a featured back or running back by committee?

Fortunately for all concerned, this Trojan team has the horses to make the decision difficult.

And that is a problem all coaches would love to have.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan

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USC Football: Will Sark Feature a Running Back by Committee in 2014?

It is widely perceived that one of the challenges USC will face in 2014 is a dearth of scholarship players available for the upcoming football season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Miami Football: Quarterback Play in Spring Game Cause for Concern for Al Golden

The Miami Hurricanes spring game was the first chance for both Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow to show fans of "The U" what he brings to the offense.

Olsen, a top prospect in the 2013 class, was handed the reins as the starter after Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage. Crow served as the third-stringer last year, and he is now the only healthy quarterback with collegiate in-game experience.

After further review, however, it's clear that many—including myself—have either underestimated the importance of Ryan Williams or had an unrealistic expectation of what Olsen can actually contribute right now.

The redshirt freshman was simply erratic throughout the day, badly overthrowing his receivers multiple times—one of which Dallas Crawford intercepted during the nine-on-nine drill. Later, Olsen floated a deep pass to Stacy Coley, and Tracy Howard came down with the very poorly thrown ball.

Olsen was under center for the lone touchdown drive of the 11-on-11 section, but that possession was dominated by the running of Walter Tucker and blocking by the offensive line.

Quite clearly, Malcolm Lewis was the only receiver with whom Olsen had a connection, which is the first step in building rapport with the wideouts. But really, Lewis was the only target Olsen could consistently hit, and that's not a fantastic sign.

"Malc runs those kind of routes, those over-the-middle routes real good," Olsen said on a postgame video recorded by Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald. "We found a pretty good connection all spring on that same play."

Olsen's best pass of the day, unsurprisingly, found Lewis. He threw a perfectly placed ball over one linebacker, short of a defensive back and connected with the Miramar High School product in stride.

"I feel like I ran the offense good," Olsen said. "I left a couple throws out there, but that happens sometimes."

And he definitely left more than a couple. According to Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Olsen finished the day completing seven of 21 passes for 65 yards, one interception and zero touchdowns.

Gray Crow actually outplayed Olsen, but that really isn't saying much.

During the first half, Crow telegraphed a pass that should have been picked off by sophomore linebacker Jermaine Grace. In the second frame, defensive tackle Jelani Hamilton tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage, and linebacker Juwon Young intercepted the deflection.

Crow looked decent on the move, especially after a play-action, roll-left call—a favorite of offensive coordinator James Coley. He also launched a pair of well-placed deep passes, but D'Mauri Jones and Garrett Kidd dropped one each.

His final stat line read nine of 20 for 63 yards and one interception.

Though Olsen, Crow and the 'Canes looked brutal offensively during the spring game, the limited amount of practice time is an important concession.

Olsen spent 85 percent of practice as the backup, and Crow was taking somewhere between five to 10 snaps per workout, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. The pressure on the two quarterbacks was undoubtedly immense, and the scrimmage was their first time being watched under a national microscope.

Plus, the defense has certainly improved and, in turn, tested both quarterbacks. With that being said, recognizing the less-than-mediocre quarterback play is essential in assessing how well Denzel Perryman and Co. performed.

However, even when factoring in limited reps and heightened pressure, the two quarterbacks still had shaky 2014 debuts. There is a long time before Monday, Sept. 1 and a date with the Louisville Cardinals, but Saturday was still a cause for concern.

As seen on CanesAllAccess, Golden wanted to see if Olsen and Crow could stay poised and call the right protections. He didn't dismiss the biggest takeaway of the night, though.

"We gotta execute a little bit better," the fourth-year coach said, "There's no question about it."

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Tennessee Freshmen Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone Prove the Hype Is Real in Spring Game

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's no secret that a large portion of the hype swirling around the Tennessee Volunteers' spring football practice has centered on highly rated prospects Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone.

After Saturday, it's no secret why.

The future was on full display during the Orange and White Game in Neyland Stadium, and an announced crowd of 68,548—the second-largest ever to watch a UT spring game—was there to see Hurd and Malone show out.

They didn't disappoint.

Malone was electrifying in leading the Vols with six catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns. The Lebanon, Tenn., standout pass-catcher had been improving throughout the spring and dominated defenders when the ball was thrown his way.

Hurd had 93 yards on 12 touches, including 66 on the ground, a 6.0 average and a short touchdown run. Glimpses of his immense talent were evident even if he couldn't get loose for a game-breaking play.

A 129-100 win by the White team (offense), thanks to a silly scoring system that rewarded individual accolades, situational victories and forced turnovers, among other things, was a mere footnote. 

The crowd wanted to see all the newcomers, including the 14 representatives from head coach Butch Jones' highly rated recruiting class.

Hurd and Malone highlighted that group, and the dynamic duo from the Midstate was at its best on the biggest stage so far.

"Josh has been pretty much doing that all spring," Jones said. "You can see he adds a whole other dynamic to our offense. I said it in the offseason: We have to be able to throw a 5-yard pass and turn it into a 20-yard gain. That was missing from our offense last year, and we've really helped ourselves in recruiting. Josh has been an individual that, right from practice one, he can be as good as he wants to be.

"I think we’ve really improved our throw game, but on the flip side of it, unacceptable defensively."

Indeed the defensive drop-off was drastic between the Vols' first and second teams. A large chunk of the yardage from Hurd and Malone came against those reserves, but that did nothing to dampen the buzz they generated throughout the stadium and even among their teammates.

Sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs—who had a breakout day of his own, completing six of nine passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns—especially showed a rapport with Malone. Two of his three scoring passes went to the freshman.

Dobbs said having weapons like the youngster at his disposal is huge.

"It’s amazing," he said. "It's honestly a quarterback's best friend. You have people like Marquez, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, just bodies that you’re able to just throw the ball up and know they're going to come down with or no one’s going to come down with it. It's huge for us, especially when we get in the red zone."

North, who added 106 receiving yards of his own, said matter-of-factly of Malone, "He's gonna take off."

Hurd never quite exploded on Saturday, failing to break through to the second level. But that didn't stop him from still having the best day of any Tennessee running back.

Part of that was the fact that Marlin Lane saw all of his action against the first team, but Hurd showed flashes of his dynamic athleticism in the open field on a 27-yard catch. He also impressed his coach between the tackles.

"Jalen continues to progress," Jones said. "I thought he had some hard-earned yards today. I thought he dropped his pad level, but again, it’s him understanding football rewards those who are in great shape.

"I thought there were a couple times he didn't pick his heels up, and he went down on a shoe tackle, and in this conference, you can’t do that. But Jalen's going to be a special player for us."

On Saturday, both Malone and Hurd looked like they're capable of being special immediately. Even though it was one glorified practice session, they flashed the physical abilities that UT hasn't produced enough of in years.

They're a big reason why Tennessee is heading into the offseason believing this offense is capable of surprising a lot of teams this fall.

"It's impressive," rising senior quarterback Justin Worley said of the duo, "and speaking for myself, I enrolled early and my first spring was a struggle. It is hard to get adjusted to what the coaches are asking of you and the rigorous schedule that you're put through, so having those two guys show out like they've done…"

Worley never finished his thought. Perhaps it was difficult for him to put into words what Hurd and Malone have done in a such a short time.

With play like Saturday's, they'll be leaving plenty of people speechless.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand.

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Baker Mayfield Dominates Oklahoma Spring Game, Is He Sooners' Future Star QB?

Unfortunately for Bob Stoops, the best signal-caller from the Oklahoma Sooners' spring game won't even be eligible to see the field this fall. 

Baker Mayfield, the highly touted walk-on transfer from Texas Tech, stole the limelight from incumbent starter Trevor Knight on Saturday. Mayfield completed nine of nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 28-13 win for the White team over Knight's Red team. 

At Saturday's spring game, Mayfield showed that not only is he the future of Oklahoma football, but that he's already blending in to the community well. Already a fan favorite, he donned a GoPro camera on his helmet during the spring game. 

His actual on-field performance was even more impressive. His drives were methodical, and his throws were precise. His best highlight was a 28-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Jordan Smallwood in the start of the second half. 

After the game, according to an Oklahoma press release, offensive coordinator and former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel praised Mayfield for his progress in just 14 days: 

He’s a guy that’s performing extremely well for the 14th day. In our meeting room, he’s the most experienced guy. Obviously some of that wasn’t here but he performed in a great way. The guys in our program love him and we look forward to him being eligible whenever that is.

On the flip side, Heupel was critical of Knight's performance, saying he didn't read coverages and there he still has plenty of work to do before the fall:

It was a combination of everything. Not seeing the coverage or recognizing it. Today was not his best performance. He’s continued to make strides since the Sugar Bowl. It’s not like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl, no quarterback is going too. He’s really good but there are things he missed in that game, too. It’s a constant process of continuing to get better and understanding defenses.

Mayfield must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. So it's pretty much set in stone that Knight, who completed just five of 14 passes for 53 yards and an interception, will be the starter in Norman this fall. 

But after Saturday, Sooners fans may be wishing that the former Red Raiders gunslinger was eligible to possibly steal the job from Knight this season. 

Mayfield is no stranger to the Big 12. Last year, he started seven games as a true freshman walk-on for the Red Raiders. In Week 1, he earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors after racking up 413 yards and four touchdowns against SMU in what was believed to be the first season-opening start for a walk-on, true freshman at quarterback in FBS history. 

He battled injuries throughout the majority of the season and eventually lost the starting job to Davis Webb. Mayfield finished the season with 2,315 yards passing and 12 touchdowns with nine interceptions. 

Mayfield decided to transfer out of Texas Tech at the end of last season. According to Guerin Emig and Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World, Texas Texas administrators denied his appeal of transfer restrictions that prevented Mayfield from receiving scholarship offers from Big 12 schools, forcing Mayfield to walk-on yet again and hope he gets a scholarship in future seasons. 

Because of both NCAA and Big 12 rules, not only will Mayfield be forced to sit this season, but he will lose a year of eligibility, regardless of whether or not he is redshirted. That means he'll have just two years left to play for the Sooners starting in 2015. 

But when that time comes, Mayfield may very well be ready to dethrone the MVP of last year's Sugar Bowl and become the next superstar quarterback at Oklahoma, following the likes of Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Jason White and Heupel, his new offensive coordinator. 

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Notre Dame Football: Malik Zaire's Great Spring Game, Impact on Irish QB Race

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — No matter what happened Saturday, quarterbacks were going to be the story of the day.

Whether senior Everett Golson or sophomore Malik Zaire starred or sputtered, the signal-callers would be the starting point for any spring game discussion.

So what did we get Saturday?

Zaire took the first snap under center and led the Irish on a touchdown drive, from which point Zaire and Golson alternated possessions.

Zaire finished 18-of-25 for 292 yards and two touchdowns, while Golson was 13-of-24 for 154 yards and a rushing touchdown.

“I thought there was some development there in terms of where they were at times during the spring,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “There was a little bit better attention to some of the details that they have to have at that position.”

Kelly added that the Irish will have the opportunity to get some work in with their players in June, which helps in the development and evaluation processes. Kelly also mentioned that he hopes to settle on one quarterback, as opposed to a more even two-quarterback system, by the season opener.

So how did Saturday affect which quarterback will be that guy come August?

Let’s take a look.

Malik Zaire shines at the “party”

On the opening drive, Zaire connected with junior receiver C.J. Prosise for a 22-yard gain and sophomore receiver Will Fuller for a 29-yard gain to bring the Irish to the 1-yard line, where senior running back Cam McDaniel would punch in the touchdown.

Zaire led the Irish on touchdown drives in each of his next two possessions and maneuvered the offense into the red zone on the next one.

“By and large, I thought he was fairly consistent,” Kelly said. “His problem has been consistency of staying with progressions. … So that has been really good today, the consistency was much better for him.”

Looking ahead to the summer, Zaire agreed that the biggest room for improvement is with his consistency.

He said the spring has been a learning experience for the Irish with all the newness to this year’s team. Zaire said because it was so new, it was harder to perform well.

That wasn't the case today.

“When we figured everything out and got it down and today was like, ‘This is your party,’” Zaire said. “That’s the same way during the season should work. Practice should be harder than the games and when it’s the game time, it comes easy to us, and it came easy to us today.”

One of Zaire’s most impressive plays was his second-quarter touchdown laser to Amir Carlisle in the back of end zone, where Zaire fit the pass into a miniscule window.

Zaire certainly impressed with his performance, but he said not much changes for him heading into the summer.

“My mindset doesn't change at all, whether I’m declared a starter or whether I’m the backup or whatever the situation is because in my mind I’m always looking just to get better every day,” Zaire said. “Whatever it takes for this team to win a lot of games, I’m willing to do that.

“So I’m always working as if nobody’s giving me a chance, and I think that’s what’s really my backing. I feel like not enough people are giving me that chance and that opportunity, that’s my personal belief. So as long as I keep believing that and working my butt off to try to be the best I can be for this team, then that’s all I can ask for.”

More people might be giving Zaire that chance now.

Golson not where he wants to be

For whatever reason, Golson looked off through the air. Even from his very first pass attempt—a quick slant delivered behind Corey Robinson, the intended receiver—the timing wasn’t completely there. On the same possession, Golson overthrew senior slot receiver Amir Carlisle out of the back of the end zone.

Kelly said he would have liked to see better ball placement, leading to more catchable balls, from Golson. The 54 percent completion rate was atypical for the man who completed 59 percent of his passes as a sophomore in 2012.

“Not as good as I wanted to,” Golson said when asked about how he thought he played. “I think I’m a hard critic on myself. I don’t think I did nearly as good as I wanted to. Couple of situational things that I could have done. Because we were installing so much this spring, we didn’t really get a chance to work situation stuff.”

The 11 incompletions were fairly uncharacteristic for Golson, who looked quite accurate in practice sessions open to the media throughout the spring. Even as recently as Thursday morning, Notre Dame’s final practice before Saturday’s spring game, Golson was firing passes with precision.

So what changed?

“I do not know, to be honest,” Golson said. “I really can’t put my hand on it. A lot of different things that factored into it. We practiced on the turf, playing on the field, I think that was an issue to be honest. Guys couldn’t just get out of their breaks like they wanted to. … You saw a couple times when I fell.”

The turf problem should be taken care of moving forward, as Notre Dame announced plans to install synthetic FieldTurf to be ready for the 2014 season.

We’ve talked in the spring about Golson’s chemistry with the receivers, and after the game, the quarterback said the connections are “pretty good” and “still improving.”

“There were a couple of times where I remember throwing the ball to Will [Fuller] and I kind of threw it in the ground because I didn’t trust it off my third step,” Golson said. “Just little things like that, just becoming more comfortable knowing that they’re going to be there, knowing how to throw the ball. I think it’s still improving but we’ve got a whole offseason to really work on that.”

The offseason begins now for Golson and the Irish, who begin their regular season Aug. 30 against Rice. From now until then, Golson said the thing he most wants to develop is his pocket presence. Golson took three sacks Saturday, and Kelly said Golson’s pocket awareness was merely “OK” and noted he has “a ways to go there.”

In general, though not pleased with his performance, Golson knows what he can take away from Saturday’s outing.

“It’s some good film, as Coach Kelly always says,” Golson said. “I’ll definitely go back and watch it and correct my mistakes.”

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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