NCAA Football News

BYU Football: Post-Spring Practice Stock Report for the Cougars

BYU was one of the first teams to conclude its spring practices, ending with an Alumni Day scrimmage last week. Despite having many key players sit out because of academics or rehabilitate after injuries, the Cougars took big strides in the month of practices.

“I think we became a more mentally tough team. We became more disciplined. Our execution improved. Our identities became a little more clear on both sides of the ball,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall (via the Deseret News). “Our team has great chemistry and unity. I think those are the things that I would say did happen [during spring practices]."

Although the team made big improvements, several individual players stepped up as well. On the contrary, several players hurt their chances of having a big role this fall with poor spring performances.

Here is the final spring practice stock report for BYU.

 

Stock Up: Mitch Mathews

Mitch Mathews had the best season of his career last year, and he could have an even better one in the fall. If anything, his improved speed has caught the attention of the coaches.

If Taysom Hill can stay healthy, Mathews could easily emerge as BYU's go-to receiver. Keep an eye out for the 6'6" speedster this season.

 

Stock Down: Manoa Pikula

Manoa Pikula is projected to start at middle linebacker, but he didn't do anything on the field this spring to help his stock. In fact, he didn't do anything on the field, period.

Academic issues restricted Pikula from participating in spring practices, which will be a big hurdle to jump. Unless he can make noticeable strides by the time fall camp starts, it will be tough for him to regain that starting spot.

 

Stock Up: Eric Takenaka

BYU always tends to have a JUCO guy steal the spotlight in spring practices, and this spring, it wasn't Nick Kurtz—it was Snow College transfer Eric Takenaka.

Takenaka led the nation in kick return average at Snow, and he could help fill the vacancies left by Craig Bills and Dallin Leavitt. The safety-turned-return specialist could see plenty of field time this fall, whether it be on defense or special teams.

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USC Spring Game 2015: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

USC Spring Game—FINAL

Cardinal (Offense) 37, White (Defense) 23

Year 2 of the Steve Sarkisian era at Southern California is underway, and after an impressive 9-4 start to his tenure, Sark is looking for his Trojans to take the next step back toward national prominence.

The 2015 Spring Game wasn't an endless highlight reel, but what we did see was a much deeper USC team, talent-wise, take the field and show some maturity moving forward.  Juju Smith looks to take over the starring role in the receiving game, and Cody Kessler and able backup Max Brown appear to be ready to pick up right where they left off last season.

Let the perennial USC hype begin—only this year, it might not be all hype!

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Ole Miss Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Ole Miss football fans got their first taste of what the Rebels will look like in 2015 Saturday as the Blue team defeated the Red team 17-7 in the Grove Bowl spring game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi.

Saturday's exhibition was largely a defensive battle, which comes as little surprise since the Rebels led the nation in points allowed last season. With that said, there were still some standouts on the offensive side of the ball.

The talk of the game was undoubtedly the play of junior quarterback Chad Kelly, who may have established himself as the favorite to seize the Rebels' starting job.

As seen in this tweet courtesy of Ole Miss Football, Kelly outperformed his competition statistically as the only Rebels quarterback to throw a touchdown:

Kelly came to Ole Miss as a transfer from East Mississippi Community College after some off-field issues led to his dismissal from Clemson. Kelly may still be a work in progress from a character perspective, but few have ever questioned the skill set that the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly possesses.

His ability was quite evident in the very early going as Kelly quickly put the Blue team ahead 7-0 with a touchdown pass to junior tight end Taz Zettergren in the first quarter, according to Ole Miss Football:

It was a 44-yard strike, and it thoroughly impressed many, including David Brandt of The Associated Press:

Brandt was far from the only one taken aback by Kelly's hot start, though, as Brad Logan of ESPN Radio 96.3 The Ticket also took notice:

Although it was only one drive, Kelly opened some eyes and put up some big-time statistics in the process, per Chris Hudgison of WLBT:

As important as Kelly's play is in terms of becoming a quality starter at the collegiate level, he must continue to mature and evolve as a person as well.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze attempted to help that process along by bringing Kelly on a mission trip to Haiti recently. According to Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Freeze believes it was a positive experience for the polarizing native of Buffalo, New York:

But right now, all indications are that it heightened his awareness of the blessings that he has here, the opportunity to get an education—and to not waste those things. I certainly think his awareness to that was heightened. So I think it had to be a good thing. Hopefully, it will have lasting effects on all the people that went.

Provided Kelly is able to continue improving in all areas as a player and person, he may very well prove to be the best possible successor to Bo Wallace at quarterback.

He helped his own cause significantly in the first half, and he also benefited from his chief competition struggling a bit.

Per Aslan Hodges of WAPT, sophomore signal-caller Ryan Buchanan was unable to manufacture any points in the first half:

Kelly's blue squad entered halftime with a 10-0 lead on the heels of an opening half that was fairly nondescript besides the big-play touchdown pass to Zettergren.

Things got a bit more entertaining in the second half due to the implementation of some trickery. The Blue team extended its lead to 17-0 with another touchdown pass, but this time it didn't come courtesy of Kelly.

According to Ole Miss Football, senior running back Jaylen Walton connected with sophomore wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow for an unexpected, 66-yard score:

Per Brandt, the Mississippi fans in attendance were captivated by Freeze's aggressive and innovative play call:

Following a late score by the Red team on a Eugene Brazley run to make it 17-7, Kelly made his only major miscue of the game on the final play:

Although spring games generally raise more questions than answers, the 2015 Grove Bowl was fairly successful from the perspective of Ole Miss.

It is clear that the Rebels haven't missed a beat defensively after their fine performance in 2014, and while the offense is a work in progress, there are some glimmers of hope there as well.

Kelly made an excellent first impression and looks to be the leader in the clubhouse at quarterback, while weapons like Walton, Stringfellow and Zettergren shined as well.

Having success in the SEC is no easy task, but there is reason to believe that the Rebels have the talent and formula needed to thrive in 2015.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Isaiah McKenzie Injury: Updates on Georgia WR's Hamstring and Return

Georgia sophomore wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who played sparingly in 2014, left the team's spring game with a hamstring injury. 

Continue for updates.  

McKenzie Leaves Spring Game Injured Saturday, Apr. 11

According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, McKenzie was taken off the field with a pulled hamstring:

Per Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McKenzie's injury occurred on a scoring play and needed assistance to the locker room:

McKenzie came to Georgia with good potential as a four-star prospect out of high school, per 247 Sports, and made his presence felt with three special teams touchdowns. He didn't have a catch as a wide receiver after an October 4 game against Vanderbilt and was suspended for the Belk Bowl. 

The Bulldogs will need McKenzie to take a step forward as a wideout in 2015 to support an offense that's losing Todd Gurley to the NFL. He flashed good potential as a freshman, so his injury will cause everyone in Athens to hold their breath until a more concrete diagnosis comes out. 

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Florida Orange and Blue Debut Spring Game Shows Gators' 2015 QB Battle Not over

Florida quarterback Will Grier has been one of the most mysterious players in the SEC this spring.

The redshirt freshman from Davidson, North Carolina, not only has been vying for the top spot on Florida's depth chart under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, but he took the lead over incumbent starter Treon Harris for a brief time late in spring.

The Orange and Blue debut on Saturday in The Swamp peeled back the curtain on Grier, and he didn't disappoint.

Grier finished the day 7-of-9 for 130 yards in a rather offensively challenged game that forced McElwain to sub Grier and Harris with the first team since the second-team offensive line featured just one scholarship player.

Is that enough for Grier to win the job?

Nope.

While Harris, a sophomore, was slow out of the gate, he came on strong late with a solid second-half drive that included a long back-shoulder completion to stud wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and a short touchdown pass to C'yontai Lewis. Harris finished the day 6-of-9 for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Harris' late surge through the air—which culminated in a red-zone touchdown—makes it clear that this battle will last well into fall camp.

He fell behind Grier in the middle of spring practice after missing several practices dealing with a death in his family, but the dual-threat quarterback proved that he can function as a pro-style passer within the traditional offense that McElwain and first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier employ.

He isn't simply an athlete who plays quarterback; he's a quarterback with elite athleticism who can make most of the throws that are required within the scheme.

That means the new staff won't have to veer too much from what it would ideally like to do when Harris is the one taking the snaps.

What's more, the Gators' offensive line issues aren't going to magically get better.

McElwain commented on Rod Johnson's stinger injury, saying it "doesn't look great," according to Nick de la Torre of GatorCountry.com, and Trip Thurman's shoulder injury is still very much a question. The presence of incoming freshman tackle Martez Ivey should help, but the Gators are still suffering from a number of problems up front.

Wouldn't an elite athlete at quarterback help negate some of those issues?

The quarterback race will go on, which for Florida is a very good thing.

What the spring game proved is that both players can handle what the coaching staff is throwing at them, which is a huge jump from where Florida was in the offseason, when that was a great unknown.

Grier has the lead, but most importantly, the Gators gained a little confidence in both contenders behind a patchwork offensive line that made it hard for any real progress to be made this spring.

The Gators took baby steps this spring, and that's about the best Gator fans could ask for considering the circumstances.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Kaden Smith to Stanford: Cardinal Land 4-Star TE Prospect

Elite pass-catchers with tight end size and wide receiver skills are hard to find, which is why Stanford received such a critical boost Saturday when tight end Kaden Smith committed as part of its 2016 recruiting class.

Smith announced the decision on Twitter:

The 6’5 ½” and 235-pound Smith checks in as a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite ranking.

A number of other national schools were in on Smith’s recruitment throughout the process, including Texas, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma. 

Ultimately, Smith chose to head to Stanford, where tight ends such as Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz have thrived in recent years. 

Scout Recruiting pointed out that Smith’s versatility was key to landing so many offers, while Andy Drukarev of Rivals.com noted that teams may not be able to do any better on the recruiting trail for the 2016 class at the tight end spot:

Smith has the skill set necessary to contribute right away at the college level as a walking mismatch. He has the speed to get past most linebackers and contend with corners and safeties and the size and the physicality to simply overwhelm most collegiate defenders in the secondary.

Teams will have to pick their poison when it comes to covering Smith, which is a scary proposition for defensive coordinators in his new conference.

Look for Smith to go up and get jump balls in the red zone, pick up critical third-down conversions over the middle and provide critical blocking in the running attack. His coaching staff couldn’t ask for much more in his freshman season.

Recruit star ratings and information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Florida Football: Winners and Losers from Gators' 2015 Spring

Everyone can rejoice—football is here. Well, sort of. The Florida Gators wrapped up the 2015 portion of spring practice with a Orange versus Blue game on Saturday.

New head coach Jim McElwain originally wasn't going to have the traditional spring game due to injuries and depth concerns—particularly along the offensive line. However, McElwain changed course this week and decided to put together a spring game, per Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel

"We're still kind of piece-mealing those groups together right now," McElwain said. "Yet I think we'll be able to go, we'll have a good competitive game as much as we can."

After Saturday's scrimmage, McElwain, an offensive guru, probably realizes he still has some work to do on that side of the ball. The aforementioned offensive line lost five former starters who combined for 99 career starts for UF.

The Orange won Saturday's scrimmage by score of 31-6 (if you're keeping score), and here are the winners and losers from Florida's 2015 spring practice sessions.

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Arizona Wildcats Head Coach Rich Rodriguez Let Fans Call Plays at Spring Game

During the Arizona Wildcats' annual spring football game on Friday night, head coach Rich Rodriguez went into the stands and let fans call some goal-line plays, to mixed success.

Suffice it to say, co-offensive coordinators Calvin McGee and Rod Smith likely aren't sweating their job security after the fans' performance as play-callers.

The Wildcats are coming off their best season in 16 years and open their schedule against the University of Texas at San Antonio on September 3. 

[YouTube]

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FSU Spring Game 2015: Live Score, Top Performers for Garnet & Gold Game

Gold 17, Garnet 10—Mid 2nd Quarter

The Florida State Seminoles wrap up spring practice Saturday afternoon with the 2015 Garnet & Gold Game at Doak Campbell Stadium.

ESPN3 is streaming the scrimmage. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates and reaction throughout the spring game. Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

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Georgia Spring Game 2015: G-Day Live Score and Top Performers

Black 14, Red 7 - 2nd Quarter

It's that time of year again. The Georgia Bulldogs have taken the field for the annual G-Day game. It is currently being televised on the SEC-Plus Network.

This game give fans a chance to get a glimpse of what the Bulldogs will look like this fall.  Some players to watch will be Jacob Park, Jake Ganus and Jonathan Ledbetter. 

Be sure to keep this blog open when the game begins for scoring updates and analysis. 

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Ole Miss Spring Game 2015: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

Coach Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels face quite the challenge Saturday at the program's spring game, otherwise known as the Regions Bank Grove Bowl.

There, Freeze will search for at least continuity after a 9-4 campaign last season while hosting a quarterback competition, replacing critical starters on both sides of the football and going toe-to-toe with the injury bug.

After fading down the stretch last season, losing four of its last six games—including the Peach Bowl in 42-3 fashion—this weekend marks the beginning of an attempted return to SEC prominence for Ole Miss.

 

2015 Ole Miss Spring Game 

When: Saturday, April 11 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview

As it should, the quarterback battle takes center stage Saturday in Oxford.

Gone is leader Bo Wallace, who completed better than 60 percent of his passes last season and led the major upset of then-No. 3 Alabama in October. His backups, DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, attempted a combined 42 passes last year.

Conventional wisdom suggests former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly, who arrived in January, is the favorite for the starting gig. Kelly's mobile in the pocket and can get up the field, which seems to make him a strong fit:

It helps last year he won a title at East Mississippi Community College, throwing for 3,906 yards, 47 touchdowns, eight interceptions and rushing for another 446 yards and four scores on the ground.

Recent reviews from the staff have been nothing short of glowing, as Riley Blevins of The Clarion-Ledger illustrates:

As the above video notes, running back will also come into serious focus Saturday.

The running game figures to take a bigger seat at the table than it has in recent years with inexperience leading the passing game. Jaylen Walton is back in the fold after flashing as an outside runner last year, averaging 5.5 yards per carry with 586 yards and five scores.

While those numbers are solid, Jordan Wilkins carried 52 times for 361 yards and a score, suggesting he can be the between-the-tackles bruiser Freeze wants, making the competition even more interesting.

Of course, neither back will look great if the team doesn't have enough linemen to suit up. Blevins notes the conundrum Freeze faces thanks to injuries across his offensive line:

The Rebels were down to just eight able-bodied blockers at a point this spring, but Freeze said he now has 10 healthy offensive linemen at his disposal – just enough to divide up into two teams.

If any lineman goes down with an injury before Saturday, however, Freeze said the Rebels will scrimmage offense vs. defense instead of splitting into teams.

On the opposite side of the ball, the secondary by far steals the spotlight. 

Freeze's defense ranked No. 1 last year with an average of just 16.0 points allowed per game, but losing corner Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt to the NFL means Freeze's unit has a lot of work to do over the weekend.

In fact, the departure of top talent has created a few shifts to compensate. Trae Elston will move to safety, prompting sophomore C.J. Hampton to man his old spot. A hodgepodge of names such as Tee Shepard, Tony Bridges and sophomore Kendarius Webster will duke it out for playing time lower on the corner depth chart.

No matter which format Saturday's event takes, the key areas of observation are obvious. Freeze wants another elite defense and will get it if his new-look secondary can mesh well.

His offense must run to set up the pass, so the wealth of backs need to also put on a strong showing.

The search for a new identity in Oxford begins Saturday, and rest assured the rest of the SEC will be watching.

 

Info courtesy of OleMissSports.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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SEC Football: Freshmen Making Their Presence Known This Spring

Several freshmen are using spring practice as a springboard to show they've got the goods to be the SEC football stars of the future.

Midterm enrollees across the league are using their first trip to a college football practice forum to prove they belong. Other athletes who weren't quite ready in 2014 are making their marks during redshirt freshman campaigns.

Everywhere, coaches are giving extended looks to players who'll carry their programs into the next four-year cycle. 

As injured or established upperclassmen recover everywhere in the SEC, it's the young guys' turn in the spotlight, and spring is a perfect stage to see who can handle the pressure and who is a year (or more) away.

From offensive skill position players into the trenches and across the line of scrimmage to the defensive backfield, the stars of tomorrow are emerging today.

Let's take a look at some freshmen around the league who are proving they belong in one of the nation's toughest conferences.

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USC Spring Game 2015: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

USC's march to a potential College Football Playoff bid begins Saturday at the Trojans' spring game.

After a 9-4 campaign and a triumph in the Holiday Bowl, coach Steve Sarkisian's Trojans are sanction free and welcome in a recruiting class deep in talent just in time for a serious run.

The 2015 Trojans return 16 starters, chief among them quarterback Cody Kessler. Saturday will prove to be a feeling-out period for key spots, the most important of them being the void left by Leonard Williams' departure to the NFL.

 

2015 USC Spring Game 

When: Saturday, April 11 at 12 p.m. ET

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Network

Live Stream:  Pac-12.com

 

Preview 

Sarkisian understands his sophomore campaign as Trojans head coach needs to start off on the right foot. Expectations are rampant thanks to the wealth of returning starters and the lack of sanctions holding the team's scholarships back.

"We realize what people's expectations are for the program and we're not going to shy away from them, we're going to embrace them," said Sarkisian, per USCTrojans.com. "That's the reason all of us came to USC, to be the best and to uphold the standards that have been set here."

It starts with Kessler under center. He completed a whopping 69.7 percent of his passes last season for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns to five interceptions.

Kessler will hit Saturday's game in search of a new No. 1 wideout with Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns) on his way to the NFL. Sophomore JuJu Smith is the name to watch, as he came second behind Agholor last year at 54 grabs for 724 yards and five scores.

As CBS Sports' Aaron Taylor notes, though, drops have peppered Smith's preseason thus far:

It's early, of course, and Saturday is a chance for Smith to round into form—and others behind him such as Darreus Rogers to step up and seize the No. 2 slot.

Of course, Adoree' Jackson, USC's first three-way player since 1997, is also in on the action as a receiver. He's had a nice transition to the defense too, as his main job remains cornerback as of now.

As Michael Lev of the Orange County Register notes, though, how Jackson's time is divvied up Saturday remains anyone's guess:

Cornerback is perhaps the most interesting position of all this weekend not just because of Jackson, but because of new names in the fold. Keep an eye on how the coaching staff decides to use freshman Iman Marshall, among others.

Injury makes linebacker and the defensive trenches an important focal point too.

With senior Anthony Sarao sidelined with a foot injury, inside linebacker Olajuwon Tucker has played with the first team this spring and will get the nod this weekend. He told WeAreSC.com's Greg Katz he appreciates the chance to prove himself (via ESPN.com):

“I feel very blessed and appreciated with the opportunity the coaches have given to me, and me just stepping up and really taking advantage of the opportunity given to me.”

At the least, Tucker's ability to rise to the occasion will give the Trojans more reliable depth and one of its younger linebackers live-game experience should injuries continue to plague the spot.

The problems are even worse in the trenches, as ESPN.com's Johnny Curren documents:

This is probably the hardest unit to get a read on right now. Pelon suffered a shoulder injury late in practice on Saturday, and if it winds up being serious, it will certainly shake things up here. When Pelon went to the sideline, Dorton took his place with the No. 1 group, while also taking reps with the No. 2 unit at nose tackle. Hill, normally a rush end, lined up on the interior at defensive end. Temple has spent the entire spring going with the No. 1 group at nose tackle in place of the injured Antwaun Woods (pectoral muscle).

Replacing the aforementioned Williams and others is no easy task in the first place, let alone when injuries add to the mix. If the Trojans are to improve or remain level there, a hodgepodge of names need to step up in the spring game.

As a whole, Saturday is the first step toward a new beginning for a program with its eyes set on the loftiest of goals. Expect plenty of competition and big plays as two units test one another in preparation for the season.

 

Info courtesy of USCTrojans.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Arizona Football: Biggest Takeaways from Wildcats' 2015 Spring Game

Fresh off its best season in 16 years, Arizona continues to keep its foot on the gas in the quest to become a regular member of college football's elite. Friday night's spring game was just one step in that direction.

The Wildcats ran 100 plays in a glorified scrimmage, with the offensive squad earning a 96-68 win using a modified scoring system that gave points for scores, big plays and defensive stops.

"I saw some good, I saw some ugly, I saw some bad," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said afterward. "We know what we have, and we also know what we don't have."

Last year produced the program's first Pac-12 title of any sort, winning the South Division, then making its first major bowl appearance since 1994. One year does not make for prolonged success, as Arizona has never had back-to-back seasons with 10 or more victories, but the 26 wins the past three years is the most since 1973-75.

"This was definitely a smooth spring for us," senior safety Will Parks said.

Here's a look at what stood out most during Friday's outing, as well as the spring in general:

 

Solomon's improved decision-making

One of the biggest knocks against quarterback Anu Solomon during his freshman year was in the decision-making department, as he'd often hold the ball too long and take a sack—such as on Arizona's final play in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State—or try to force in a throw instead of throwing it away. Other times, Solomon would get too excited and overthrow an open receiver, resulting in a 58 percent completion rate.

The redshirt sophomore looked far more confident on Friday, getting rid of the ball quickly and showing little hesitation when deciding to run or throw. He finished with 175 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-25 passing, adding 20 yards on three carries including a 16-yard run on the scrimmage's first snap.

"He was pretty sharp," Rodriguez said of Solomon, who last season tied the school record with 28 TD passes and had the second-most yards (3,793). "There were a couple of times he probably could've been a little more decisive in his throws, but Anu is a smart guy. He's gotten better and, with a great summer, I think he will be even better this fall."

Solomon admits he still has to work on game management and making correct choices—"it's something that I'm struggling with," he said—but through film study and repetition he expects to continue making progress.

"I think it's been night and day for him," senior receiver David Richards said of Solomon. "He's become a leader out there. He's still learning, but I think he knows it really well."

 

Offensive wrinkles

Arizona ranked 26th in total offense last season, averaging 463.6 yards per game, but it was 85th in red-zone efficiency and only scored touchdowns on 33-of-60 possessions. A lack of diversity in the play-calling near the goal line contributed to this, as the Wildcats' short-yardage offense frequently fell short.

There are no shortage of skill-position players at Arizona's disposal this season, and in the spring game it broke out some looks that hadn't been seen in Arizona Stadium in quite some time. Namely, the use of tight ends.

"We had more catches by a tight end than in the history of Arizona football," Rodriguez joked. "More than even when Gronk (former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski) was here."

Junior Josh Kern was the main recipient of this emphasis on tight end passing, with five receptions for 31 yards, while sophomore Trevor Wood had a touchdown catch.

Arizona also used receivers Samajie Grant and Tyrell Johnson in the backfield on sweeps and pitches, partly because the Wildcats held top running back Nick Wilson from competition after an injury-plagued freshman year.

"We'll use them a both positions," Rodriguez said.

 

Defense will continue to bend, but break less

Arizona's defense didn't get much praise last year, despite having a player (linebacker Scooby Wright) who won the Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards last year, because it was 105th in yards allowed and gave up more than 28 points per game. The Wildcats aren't trying to develop a top-10 defense, just one that can make a few plays here and there.

That was the case on Friday, as a rotation made mostly of reserves spent most of its time trying to prevent big gains rather than reverse the field. The lone exception was when redshirt freshman defensive tackle stripped quarterback Brandon Dawkins near midfield, nearly scoring a big-guy touchdown before Dawkins chased him down and popped the ball loose near the 10-yard-line.

The Wildcats return most of its front seven, but a newcomer who figures to have an instant impact is junior college transfer Paul Magloire. Magloire had a game-high nine tackles and should contend for a starting stop on the defensive line.

"I think overall we found some guys that we need to get in the rotation," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully they will work hard this summer and be ready in August."

 

Turn off the play clock

Rodriguez had hoped to run 90 to 100 plays Friday, and they hit the century mark in just over 70 minutes of real time before heading into the stands and turning the play-calling over to the fans. It was about the only time Arizona took its time on offense, averaging between 10 and 12 seconds between snaps.

Last season Arizona ran an FBS-best 1,139 plays, averaging 81.3 per game despite being 119th in time of possession.

"I think we can play faster than we have before," Rodriguez said.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Nike Unveils New Mach Speed Uniforms for TCU Horned Frogs for 2015

Thanks to Nike, the TCU football team is going to look like a bunch of Horned Frogs in 2015.

Nike's lastest technology has allowed it to incorporate TCU's Horned Frog pattern into its uniforms. Via Nike, TCU's new Mach Speed uniforms are a "digital evolution of the program's existing lizard skin pattern."

[Nike]

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SEC Football: Predicting the Biggest Upsets in the Conference in 2015

We lovers of sports spend copious amounts of time predicting what will happen in any given game. We look at every possible statistic that could sway the game in favor of one team. So many times, the team predicted to win does just that, and our efforts later seem wasted. Why, then, do we do it?

We know that sometimes, the favorite on paper loses.

In the SEC, there's a gap between the best and the rest, but it's not as wide as in most other conferences. Just last season, nine of 14 SEC schools were ranked in the AP poll at some point. But there's still a gap.

Since the season isn't yet upon us, we don't know how the conference will play out, but we can use the past to predict the future. We can look at trends, and we can look at what's already been predicted for the upcoming season. That's what I've done today to determine which SEC games are the most likely to be won by the underdog.

I've ordered the slides chronologically, beginning with the earliest game. I've also taken this composite preseason poll into account when determining what would qualify as an upset.

The beauty of a deep league is that there will be so many more upsets than these. Have I missed any? Please share your own views in the comments section below.

 

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USC's Expectations Are High for 2-Way Star Adoree' Jackson

Adoree' Jackson, a two-way player at USC, can do it all for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans. The talented wide receiver/defensive back put up some respectable numbers in 2014. But what can we expect from him in 2015? 

Los Angeles Times USC reporter Lindsey Thiry joined Adam Lefkoe as they discussed Jackson and what he brings to the table for the Trojans. 

What are Adoree' Jackson's expectations in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!  

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Under-the-Radar Players Who Will Have Breakout Seasons for the Florida Gators

The Florida Gators are undergoing a rebuilding effort for the first time in a long time. Jim McElwain has taken over at head coach, and he is looking to return the Gators to a top-tier team. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joins Stephen Nelson to discuss some under-the-radar guys who could have an impact on Florida next season. 

What kind of team do you think the Gators can have? Check out the video and let us know!

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What Michigan State Must Improve to Beat Ohio State, Seize Big Ten in 2015

Bodog (h/t Odds Shark) lists Ohio State as a 4-1 favorite to win the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship, in part because the Big Ten—unlike the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12—sports no other team among the top seven favorites.

The Big Ten team with the best chance of beating OSU, Michigan State, lost by 12 points at home to the Buckeyes last season and must travel to Columbus next year.

Sparty handed Ohio State its first loss of the Urban Meyer era in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. After three years, it is still the only Big Ten team that knows the taste of Meyer's blood.

But as last year's meeting made painfully clear, it has a long way to go before it can reassume the Big Ten throne.

Here's where it most desperately needs improvements.

 

Pass Defense

It's alarming how fast this secondary went from strength to weakness.

One year after fielding the "No Fly Zone," a secondary replete with NFL talent, the Spartans allowed a staggering number of big plays:

Next year, the Spartans lose All-Big Ten defensive back Kurtis Drummond and projected first-round NFL draft pick Trae Waynes. In other words, a secondary that already struggled to contain big plays loses by far its two best weapons for containing big plays.

Who will step up to replace them?

At safety, Montae Nicholson and RJ Williamson seem locked into starting roles. The much bigger questions lie at cornerback.

Former starter Darian Hicks, whom Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year Tony Lippett replaced in the starting lineup, must put last year behind him and regain the form he showed last offseason. Sean Merriman of BTN.com named Hicks the star of last year's spring game, and Hicks flashed potential at the start of the season too.

His struggles seemed to be the result of a mental block more than anything else.

Elsewhere, Sparty could use a smooth transition to cornerback from Demetrious Cox, who converted after spending his first two seasons at safety.

Fortunately, Cox found the perfect mentor in former teammate Darqueze Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award recipient as the best defensive back in college football.

"I've already hit up Darqueze," Cox said in November, when he first learned of his position change, according to Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "Like, 'Look, if you've got time, we're working out this summer.' And he's all for it, he's excited."

Last year, in the 49-37 home loss to the Buckeyes, Michigan State allowed six consecutive touchdown drives.

Not all included big plays—in fact, many were methodical—but the prospect of the big play, which MSU knew it struggled to defend, loosened the defense so much that Ohio State looked like the Green Bay Packers.

Next year, it has to get better.

 

Connor Cook's Consistency

Connor Cook played an average game against Ohio State last season. He played a spectacular game in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

Guess which game the Spartans won?

Cook is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, but he's not one of the most reliable. His accuracy, footwork and throwing motion vary from one snap to the next, which leads to inconsistent results.

He stands out most with his intangibles: his will to win and leadership qualities. It's not every quarterback who plows through a safety to set the tone against his school's biggest rival:

But it's also not every quarterback—or at least not every quarterback with first-round NFL potential—who infuriates evaluators with bad decisions, poor mechanics and occasional ugly plays:

There is no way—no way—Michigan State will beat Ohio State unless Cook plays like an NFL quarterback. The Spartans lose their top two running backs (Jeremy Langford, Nick Hill) and receivers (Lippett, Keith Mumphrey) from 2014, so Cook must bear an even bigger load.

Ohio State's defense made Marcus Mariota look average in the CFP National Championship. All Cook has to do is outperform the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner—and in The Horseshoe, no less.

Will it be easy? No. Is it likely? Not really.

But is it possible?

Cook is one of the only players for whom the answer is "Yes."

 

Defensive Identity

The 2014 Spartans weren't soft. That word has never been used and never will be used in reference to a Mark Dantonio-coached team.

But the 2014 Spartans were comparatively soft, albeit against the impossible standard of 2013. They didn't protect the middle of the defensive line and tackled inconsistently at every level.

The loss of Pat Narduzzi, one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, hurts. Narduzzi spent 11 seasons under Dantonio and won the 2013 Broyles Award, but he left this winter to become the head coach at Pittsburgh.

How will his co-replacements, former linebackers coach Mike Tressel and former defensive backs coach Harlan Barnett, restore the Spartans' defensive identity? It sort of got away from them last season—and that was with Narduzzi storming the sideline.

A defensive line led by Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas, Malik McDowell and Demetrius Cooper is big, strong and nasty enough to combat Ohio State's offensive line. That group can hang with anyone.

The real questions lie at linebacker, a historically strong position for the Spartans that last year suffered a drop-off.

Who will replace Taiwan Jones up the middle? How is tackling? Can he set the defensive temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit the same way Max Bullough, Greg Jones and company have in the past?

This defense wasn't mean enough to beat Ohio State last season. No defense was mean enough to beat Ohio State last season, unless you want to count Virginia Tech's.

To stop running back Ezekiel Elliott in Columbus, the Spartans must play like bullies and be the hammers instead of the nails.

Otherwise, that game could get ugly.

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Which College Football Teams Will Take Steps Back in 2015?

The 2014 college football season was full of surprises, from the emergence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss to the disappointing USC season. Teams rise and fall each and every season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee predict the teams that will fall off record-wise in 2015. 

Which teams will not enjoy the same success? Check out the video and let us know! 

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