NCAA Football News

USC Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

A deeper, more explosive USC Trojans roster took the field Saturday as Team Cardinal upended Team White, 37-23 at the program's spring game.

In an offense vs. defense format, Team Cardinal encountered few issues piling on the points en route to the victory, thanks to a strong showing from quarterback Cody Kessler and his backup, freshman Max Browne.

Several names, including star JuJu Smith, exploded in the quick-twitch attack, reinforcing the notion the receiving corps is in good hands moving forward.

Coach Steve Sarkisian went into Saturday's spectacle hoping to further expand the explosiveness of his offense—a year after Kessler threw for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns to five interceptions and the offense's leading receiver, Nelson Agholor, departed for the NFL.

ESPN's Joe Schad highlighted the focus before the game:

Suffice it to say, Sarkisian accomplished the goal.

An innovative approach to scoring allowed both the offense (Cardinal) and defense (White) to stay on the field and compete, as captured by the team's Twitter account:

After running the ever-popular Oklahoma drill and 7-on-7 to warm up, the actual game got underway.

It started with what everyone wanted to see, too, with Smith reeling in an eight-yard reception on the opening drive, which put the offense up 3-0. Considering he's the favorite to lead the team in receiving and had many dropped passes in recent weeks, it was a great sign for the offense.

As expected for a Sarkisian-led attack, things devolved into a blowout. Kicker Alex Wood made it 6-0 on the second drive, and then Kessler hit Smith for 36 yards on fourth down before firing a scoring strike to Christian Tober.

For those ready to switch to a search engine, stop—Tober played in just one game last year due to injury, but he's one critical part of a deep corps this season. Pigskin Grind's Lisa Horne put it best:

Tober wasn't done, either, catching a second touchdown pass on the next drive, this time from Browne, to make it 20-0.

It wasn't all offense, though. Team White earned three points for a three-and-out and one more for a Lamar Dawson sack. As Neon Tommy Sports points out, Dawson's sack was the first conversion of many successful pressures on the day:

Call it a sigh of relief for Trojans faithful, as a hobbled defense tasked with replacing Leonard Williams needs to be up-to-par this year.

The good vibes didn't last long, though, as Steven Mitchell, another unheralded name, turned on the burners. USC radio announcer Evan Budrovich paints the picture:

It was much of the same after the halftime break.

Smith finally got on the board, reeling in a 15-yard reception in the end zone from Browne. Pac-12 Networks captured his celebration:

So, no, Sarkisian wasn't joking about wanting to focus on the passing game Saturday.

In fact, the first rushing touchdown didn't come until the fourth quarter—and it wasn't scored by a member of the team, as noted, per the team's Twitter account:

Sarkisian himself took to social media to speak about the game's result:

At the end of the day, Saturday's event was pretty one-sided, which makes sense given all the circumstances. Defense still put on a show, though.

It's important to point out the rush was hitting home at a consistent clip. Players such as Jalen Jones and Chris Hawkins recorded interceptions, and Adoree Jackson's elite athleticism prevented a touchdown and helped with the little things.

Again, the headlines go to the offense, though, even more so when Smith uses the platform to throw down gauntlets, as Horne captures:

Free of NCAA sanctions and deeper than in recent years, this edition of the Trojans showed Saturday why a potential run at the Pac-12 crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff are realistic goals.

The Trojans have a long road ahead, over the summer, but Sarkisian's offense answered plenty of questions about depth in emphatic fashion Saturday, a small step in the right direction ahead of the journey.

 

Info courtesy of USCTrojans.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Why Amari Cooper Should Be Picked Ahead of Kevin White at the NFL Draft

When the first wide receiver's name is called at this year's NFL draft, the player walking to the podium should be Alabama's Amari Cooper. That's not to say it will be; after all, the draft is an inexact science. There's also West Virginia's Kevin White, who's a serious threat to be the first pass-catcher taken.

While no player, regardless of how good he is, represents a sure thing, Cooper seems like a safe bet. This year's recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's most outstanding wide receiver, is a polished route runner who makes defenses pay with his fluid ability to change direction. Here he is catching passes at Alabama's pro day.

What stands out is how strong Cooper's legs are. He does a terrific job of maintaining a low base so that when it's time to change direction, he simply plants his leg in the ground and seamlessly creates space for himself. There's also no wasted motion with Cooper. Everything has a purpose. These tools will allow him to make an immediate impact in the NFL.

According to Cooper's NFL.com draft profile, he ran the 20-yard shuttle in 3.98 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.71 seconds, making him one of the top performers in both categories. These numbers indicate the quickness and body control Cooper has, which, combined with his elite abilities as a route-runner, will allow him to line up anywhere across the line of scrimmage. He could even be used coming out of the backfield, something he rarely, if ever, did at Alabama.

If Cooper is not the first wide receiver selected at the NFL draft, there are several candidates who stand out above the rest, ranging from Dorial Green-Beckham to DeVante Parker to White. However, for a variety of reasons, none more paramount than talent, the latter has separated himself from the pack.

This is reflected in the fact that most draft experts have Cooper and White as the top two wide receivers to come off the board. Not one of CBS Sports.com's Pete Prisco, Will Brinson, Rob Rang and Dane Brugler had Parker or Green-Beckham going ahead of either player.

What separates Cooper from White? Aside from polish, there is production. In addition to his performances at the combine, his prospect page highlights some of his accomplishments during his three seasons at Alabama. As a junior, he led the nation in receptions with 124, and his 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns were both the second-most in the country.

As stated on his prospect page, these numbers made Cooper a Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous first-team All American and the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. What makes these accolades even more impressive is the fact they came against elite competition in the Southeastern Conference. As evidenced by NFL.com's Charles Davis' mock draft, the conference could boast as many as 10 first-round picks at this year's draft.

White, a junior college transfer, skyrocketed up draft charts after a breakout season at West Virginia, taking advantage of suspect defenses in the Big 12. He finished the year with 109 catches, 1,447 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns, per ESPN.com. According to his NFL.com draft profile, he opened his senior campaign with seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games and hauled in 16 catches against Texas.

White's advantages are his size, speed and strength. According to NFL.com, the 6'3" wide receiver ran a 4.35 40-yard dash, which tied for the fourth-fastest time at the combine. His 23 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press put him in a three-way tie with Sammie Coates and Geremy Davis for first place among wide receivers. These traits give him the potential to be a premier vertical threat.

Make no mistake; White has big-time potential. However, Cooper is more polished, versatile and battle-tested. Whether it's the Jaguars at number three, the Raiders at number four or a team that trades up, the highly decorated receiver from Alabama should be the first player drafted at his position.

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Winners and Losers of Saturday's College Football Spring Games

Were you in need of a football fix? Saturday's slate of spring games was here to help. For another few weeks, these weekends will provide the last bit of anything resembling college football until August and September. 

So, you know, cherish them. 

Among the big-name programs to hold their spring scrimmages on April 11 were Nebraska, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma and Florida State. Naturally, there's a lot of intrigue about who will replace Jameis Winston and which first-year coaches are off to great starts. 

The points may not matter, and the stats may be misleading, but there are still fun and interesting things to take away from spring games. From quarterback competitions to freshman standouts and everything in between, here's a list of winners and losers from Saturday's batch of spring games. 

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Alabama Football: Takeaways, Complete Stats from Tide's 2nd Spring Scrimmage

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The 2015 Alabama football team is still very much a work in progress. That was the message Nick Saban had after the Crimson Tide’s second scrimmage of the spring.

“When you’re playing against yourself, when one side does good the other side has to do not-so-good,” Saban said. "So you don’t really know exactly whether you’re really that good on one side or that bad on the other.

“I think what we need to do here is continue to try to create our identity as a team. I think we’ve done a lot of different things on offense this spring, and I really do think we have to establish an identity of what we can do and what we’re going to do. There’s a lot of things that are happening now that contribute to being able to do that.”

With one week to go until next Saturday’s A-Day spring game, Alabama took to Bryant-Denny Stadium for its second scrimmage of the spring, a closed affair open to only members of the prominent booster club on campus.

Saban addressed the media afterward, though, and UA provided some stats from the action.

Here are some takeaways:

 

Saban eager for quarterback resolution

The longer Alabama’s quarterback competition goes on, the longer Alabama essentially takes watered-down reps on offense.

With Saban and Lane Kiffin essentially splitting reps five ways, it’s difficult to establish any continuity or chemistry for long periods of time.

As far as the actual competition, everyone has shown flashes, but Saban is waiting to see that over an extended duration.

“I think all these guys at some point in time have shown they have the capability of doing it. I think the issue is, who can do it with the most consistency?” Saban said.

“We're looking for the guys that can do it more consistently and who’s gonna help play winning football at their position on the most consistent basis. Knowledge and experience comes into that. Instincts and awareness, understanding of the offense, confidence, all these things are factors in this. Ability to be accurate, be a good decision-maker with the ball, take care of the ball.

“So this is not something that you can just sort of wave a wand and say 'OK, I think we've got it here.' This decision is going to be made over time. And we're going to be fair and give everybody a fair opportunity. And when the time comes, we're going to have to make a choice and decision and go to work on making that guy the guy.”

But until that “guy” emerges, the offense as a whole is somewhat stuck in neutral. After the spring, Saban will have to make the choice of narrowing down the field to two or three—and thus giving the offense a little more continuity—or sticking with the same wide-open, five-man race.

“I think if we had that resolved that it would be easier for us to establish an identity on offense,” Saban said.

 

Secondary experiment could turn into long-term switch

One noticeable personnel switch this week has been cornerback Eddie Jackson taking reps at safety. With Geno Smith suspended, Alabama has been noticeably thin on the back end, so Saban moved Jackson over from cornerback to safety.

Jackson started three games at corner in 2014 as a sophomore. With Tony Brown’s emergence after a big freshman year and Cyrus Jones owning the other spot, his skill set has been welcome at safety.

“I think in the long run we want to get our best players on the field in the secondary and make sure they fit the roles that they need to play,” Saban said. “In this day and age, we end up playing a lot of five DBs, we end up playing six DBs in some cases on third down. When we play multiple-wideout teams with four wideouts or more, you have to have the right components to fit the parts.

“So what happens with Eddie is it’s just not all about Eddie, it’s how the other corners develop. The experiment was to see how he’d adapt to playing safety, and that’s going very well. So now we have the option of playing him at corner or safety. I don’t think we need to make that decision right now, but I think it is affected by how everybody else progresses.”

Alabama doesn’t really have a solid fifth or sixth defensive back for those passing situations that Saban was talking about. If Jackson doesn’t end up starting at cornerback, his work at safety could pay off and give the Crimson Tide more depth in the secondary.

 

Smith back in the mix after DUI

Speaking of the secondary, one of Alabama’s troubled players appears to have worked his way back into Saban’s good graces, at least somewhat.

Smith has been practicing with the team since Monday, nine days after his DUI arrest, his second since coming to Tuscaloosa.

Saban said that he still has more work to do, but so far, Smith has done everything they’ve asked him to since the arrest.

“He was out for seven days,” Saban said. “That was, you know, those seven days were what he needed to do, did it all correctly, did it the way we wanted him to do it. We test him every day. So if he continues to do the right things, he can continue to perform. Geno has not been a problem on the field in terms of his performance.

"So we're encouraged to have him back, and hopefully he'll continue to improve and make good choices and decisions about what he does.”

 

Complete stats

The following stats were provided by UA after the scrimmage. They include game-like simulations and situational work:

 

Rushing

  • Ronnie Clark: 17 rushes, 29 yards
  • Lawrence Erekosima: 7 rushes, 29 yards
  • Derrick Henry: 6 rushes, 24 yards

 

Receiving

  • Robert Foster: 6 rec., 102 yards
  • Parker Barrineau: 4 rec., 81 yards
  • Raheem Falkins: 2 rec., 46 yards
  • O.J. Howard: 4 rec., 45 yards, 2 TD

 

Defense

  • Jarran Reed: 5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 PBU
  • Dalvin Tomlinson: 5 tackles
  • Ronnie Harrison: 4 tackles
  • Dillon Lee: 3 tackles, 1 INT
  • Reuben Foster: 3 tackles, 1 INT

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Note: Players are referenced by fall 2015 eligibility.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Florida State Football 2015: Winners, Losers from Noles' Spring Practices, Game

The Florida State Seminoles concluded spring practice Saturday with the Garnet and Gold Game, which helped solidify some winners and losers of the session.

The injury bug bit Jimbo Fisher's team hard throughout the spring. While it sidelined a few potential starters that would've benefited from the offseason reps, it created opportunities for some expected reserves to step up.

Additionally, a couple of positional units were surrounded by question marks, but not every one managed to escape those problems.

Who do you think showed out during the spring? Head to the comments section and add your thoughts.

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FSU Spring Game 2015: Sean Maguire Shows Growth but Still Needs Improvement

One of the first throws in the post-Jameis Winston era at Florida State was a pick-six. Sean Maguire, generally believed to be Winston's successor at quarterback, threw it right to freshman defensive back Derwin James, who returned it 41 yards to the house. 

Suddenly, the world ended. Would the Seminoles be lost without Winston? Just how much did fans need to brace themselves?

It was a bad mistake by Maguire, without a doubt, but the bigger question would be how he responded. If he's going to take over Florida State's offense in 2015, there are going to be moments when Maguire has to overcome adversity. 

And overcome he did—at least at first. 

Maguire had a slow first quarter for a number of reasons. Nerves all around meant high snaps, poor decisions and bad timing, and receivers were covered well early. It should also be noted that the Seminoles have been plagued by the injury bug all spring. The teams on display on Saturday won't look exactly like what's fielded in September. There are going to be some mistakes associated with that attrition. 

"The offensive line...there were high snaps, off snaps. When you're trying to play quarterback, that's the worst thing in the world," head coach Jimbo Fisher said, via Wayne McGahee of Scout.com

However, Maguire, a redshirt junior, followed up his slow start with a much stronger second quarter, as noted by Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat

For a while, it looked like Maguire was out of the woods. He was playing more confidently and showing off some nice accuracy on deep balls. Keep in mind, too, that this is the same player who threw for 304 yards against Clemson, which had the No. 1 defense in the country, last year. 

However, Maguire's inconsistency and inability to close out the game strong were concerning. Specifically, Maguire regressed in the fourth quarter, missing open receivers and throwing high for another interception. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey nearly picked off another Maguire pass with just seconds left in the game. 

"We had some drives where we looked like a great football team and drives where we didn't," Maguire said, via Travis Register of 247Sports. "Up and down was the definition of today." 

You'd think that would be a bad omen for Maguire's chances at earning the starting job, but it's going to take more than one spring game to truly affect those chances. Fisher has raved previously about Maguire during practice, according to the Palm Beach Post's Bob Ferrante. 

When it comes to the quarterback competition, Maguire still appears to be a step ahead of everyone else. J.J. Cosentino, the second-team quarterback, had plenty of overthrows. Freshman De'Andre Johnson showed nice flashes on some touchdown passes, but he's still learning the offense.

Nothing out of Florida State practice reports indicate either of them is ready to overtake Maguire. It would have to take injury or a major development in the next few months for that to change. 

Maguire can't rest easy yet, though. After Saturday, he won't. And he shouldn't. He still needs work in his decision-making and must improve his accuracy. As Clark notes, Maguire doesn't have to make every throw, but he has to make must-have throws. 

Ideally, you'd like to see an improvement on that consistency by the time preseason camp rolls around. The summer months are going to be largely on Maguire to make those strides himself. This is when we'll really find out how capable he is of improving. 

No, Maguire isn't Winston, but he doesn't need to be. Just because Winston was a once-in-a-generation quarterback for the Seminoles doesn't mean they can't win without him. Maguire has a few things going for him as well. He has a nice arm, good mobility and can extend plays long enough to make a dump-off throw. 

That can be more than good enough to win. He just has more room to grow. 

Sure, the look of Florida State's offense could change. That happens every year depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the unit. Running back Dalvin Cook is bound for a breakout year and leads a talented backfield with Mario Pender Jr. and Jacques Patrick. If the new-look offensive line shapes up and receivers are still developing, there could be more emphasis placed on the run than in 2014. 

Right now, it would be a surprise to see someone else besides Maguire be the first-string quarterback in the fall. If the Seminoles want to get back to the ACC championship, and perhaps to the College Football Playoff, Maguire has to show what happened Saturday was an anomaly, not a trend. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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Georgia's 2015 Quarterback Job Still a Mystery, and That's Not a Bad Thing

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia has been spoiled by quarterbacks.

Five years ago, Aaron Murray beat out Zach Mettenberger for the starting job in Athens, which was the last time there was even a small amount of intrigue in the Georgia quarterback battle during the school's annual G-Day spring game.

Once Murray's four years of starting between the hedges ended, redshirt senior Hutson Mason slid into the top spot on the depth chart and promptly finished second in the SEC in passing efficiency (155.75) and threw just four picks. 

This spring, though, things have changed.

Junior Faton Bauta, sophomore Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Park all got their turns to impress the coaching staff—particularly first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer—on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon in northeast Georgia. The trio was shrouded in mystery coming in, but their play during the annual G-Day game suggests something much different.

Confidence.

Ramsey completed five of nine passes for 174 yards and one touchdown, Bauta connected on 16 of 25 passes for 171 yards and a score, and Park finished the afternoon 10-of-15 for 92 yards and an interception.

"I think it's still a race," head coach Mark Richt said after the game. "There's no question it'll go through summer and fall before we settle on one.

"Has any [QB] mastered their craft yet? No, but that's not expected."

Ramsey, who earned primary No. 2 reps last season behind Mason, was equally impressive. His 72-yard touchdown to Isaiah McKenzie was on a deep slant in which Ramsey put it right on McKenzie's numbers, and The Human Joystick took it to the house.

He then hit Reggie Davis for a 60-yard gain deep down the sideline over starting corner Malkom Parrish when the first teams were squaring off against each other early in the second half.

"I think he made some nice plays," Richt said, while conceding that he did miss some of his throws while running up to the television and radio booths during the game. "During the spring, I think he's done a very good job of studying what to do, getting us in the right protection and getting us in the right hot and sight-adjustment situations."

Bauta, who was much more known as a bruising, dual-threat quarterback in the Tim Tebow mold, showed the poise of a veteran, particularly on a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Davis. Bauta came off play action on a designed bootleg to find pressure in his face and quickly dumped it off to Davis who did the rest. 

"Faton has worked extremely hard to get a comfort level with everything that coach Schottenheimer is trying to teach him," Richt said. "He got better and better as spring went along."

Park had fallen behind Ramsey and Bauta late during spring practice, but all he did when he got into the game was start out 5-of-5 before being picked off by Jarvis Wilson late in the first half.

"I think they all did well," said wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. "They all made plays. They made some mistakes, too. But that's OK. That's what everybody did today, which gives us a chance to grow." Saturday Down South's Brad Crawford summarized the spring game's key takeaways:

Has the three-man race to win the top spot on the depth chart hurt the progress of Schottenheimer's offense? Not really.

The confidence is there, with the only missing piece being the familiarity that comes when a starter is eventually named.

"We need a lot more chemistry," Mitchell explained. "That's not bashing the chemistry we have now because we have flow, and you saw a little of that today. We got a long way to go for everybody to get on the same page, and that will be straightened out once we get that quarterback position solidified."

The strong showing from all three contenders didn't do anything to lift the veil of mystery surrounding the quarterback position, but it did raise the bar on just how good the eventual winner has to be in order to earn the nod from the coaching staff.

That's huge news for Georgia. 

Bauta has the dual-threat capabilities to be a bruiser between the tackles, but he fired off a beautiful back-shoulder fade to Kenneth Towns in the first quarter to get Georgia inside the 1-yard line. It was the same kind of pass that Mason, Murray and the countless other successful quarterbacks who have played under Richt at Georgia have made famous between the hedges. 

If he has that kind of passing ability on top of his running style, that'll work nicely.

For Ramsey, it was about showing command of the offense—of which he had plenty. 

His arm strength was never in doubt, but making the right reads, checking down when appropriate and showing the command of the offense that a starter must have to be successful are things the staff needed to see.

They saw it—and didn't see any interceptions in the process, which was one of Richt's stated points of emphasis in the postgame press conference.

The unknown is always scary, but Georgia's spring game shed some light on the quarterback situation in Athens. 

Instead of mystery, that situation is filled with promise, regardless of who ultimately wins the job.

Spring mission: accomplished.

 

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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Georgia Football: Winners and Losers from Bulldogs' Spring Practices, Game

The Georgia Bulldogs have played their spring game, and some players stepped their game up, while a few did not have the best outing on Saturday.

However, the Bulldogs have two more practices next week, so the entire team will look to finish the spring season strong and go into the summer with a lot of momentum. But who stood out this spring? Who are the players to watch for as the team gears up for fall camp?

Here are the winners and losers from the Bulldogs' spring practices and game.

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Notre Dame Football: Biggest Takeaways from Irish's Spring Scrimmage

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Saturday marked Notre Dame football’s 12th of 15 spring sessions, and the Irish took their work outdoors on a gorgeous afternoon for a practice heavy on hitting and scrimmage situations.

The entire two-hour session was open to the media, giving us another chance to see for ourselves and read (cautiously) some tea leaves.

 

Quarterbacks Go Back and Forth

A majority of eyes were trained on quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire throughout the afternoon. The split remained even, and Zaire handled the first-team work on this particular afternoon.

Kelly said to reporters after practice there aren’t really any mysteries with the two quarterbacks; both know their areas for further development.

Golson wasn’t perfect with his accuracy and decision-making—he tossed his interception to double coverage near the sideline—but he still impresses as a passer. Golson heaved a deep toss downfield and planted it perfectly in stride on Torii Hunter Jr.’s hands.

Zaire, meanwhile, is still growing mentally.

“Sometimes he’ll check into some things that we’re not quite certain as to what he’s thinking,” Kelly said of Zaire. “Everett, there’s no doubt about where his mind is relative to what he’s seeing and thinking.”

Zaire drew some questioning from the coaching staff for a throw into double coverage and a pre-snap adjustment.

“There’s still some of that processing going on,” Kelly said.

The competition rolls along.

“Neither one of them can turn the football over,” Kelly said, referring to Saturday’s giveaways. “They’re building on what we see as the areas that we’ve asked them to work on.”

Kelly also added Golson has had his best spring in a Notre Dame uniform and is fully engaged in “everything that he’s doing.”

“There’s no indication in anything that he’s done would mean that he’s just doing this as a way to go somewhere else,” Kelly said. “If I sensed it all, I would have pulled the plug on it myself because we’re wasting time.”

 

C.J. Prosise Is Another Versatile Weapon

Senior-to-be C.J. Prosise, who is cross-training at running back this year after sticking in the slot in 2014, provided the offensive highlight of the afternoon. Lined up in the backfield next to Golson, Prosise took a handoff, angled right and sprinted untouched 70 yards past the entire defense for a touchdown.

Kelly said Prosise has run well between the tackles and can put pressure on fellow backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.

“If I were those two guys, I would feel like they better be careful because he’s got elite speed at the second level,” Kelly said.

Freshmen-to-be Dexter Williams and Josh Adams are on the way this summer, and Kelly said he wants to continue cultivating competition at the position, believing it will bring out the best in the running back room.

 

Young Talent In Position to Play

First-team reps can sometimes be misleading, especially five months away from the season opener. But there is young talent worth noting for the Irish.

Early enrollee and spring darling Jerry Tillery handled the bulk of the first-team work at defensive tackle next to standout Sheldon Day on Saturday. Tillery has earned the praise of Kelly throughout the spring slate for his maturity and, specifically, his hand technique.

Second-year cornerback Nick Watkins logged all the first-team reps opposite Cole Luke. Of course, if and when KeiVarae Russell returns to the team, Watkins won’t be one of the top two corners. Still, it’s important for the Irish to develop strong depth at the position. Watkins has impressed with his length and athleticism throughout the spring.

 

Max Redfield Could Be Primed for Breakout Year

Fans and coaches alike have been waiting for safety Max Redfield, the former blue-chipper, to thrive in the defensive secondary. Kelly even reflected earlier this week that, although Redfield still has two seasons of eligibility remaining, he feels the safety’s career has moved too quickly.

But the early returns this spring indicate a much-improved player. Redfield was quite vocal throughout the two-hour practice Saturday, and he came up with a few big plays, including an interception of Zaire.

Kelly praised Redfield and fellow safety Elijah Shumate’s growth.

“I think the first thing you notice is they’re much more vocal,” Kelly said. “You can hear them back there.”

Kelly said they possess a better grasp of the defense, too, which has bred confidence, in part.

“They know they can make plays,” Kelly said. “They know they’re capable of playing at a high level. A lot of that is confidence.”

 

Matthias Farley Will Make Plays

Matthias Farley, the formerly oft-ridiculed defensive back, continues to be a playmaker on the Notre Dame defense. After leading the Irish with four interceptions and ranking tied for second with 3.5 sacks in 2014, Farley keeps flashing his right-place, right-time ability.

The fifth-year nickelback thumped tight end Tyler Luatua in the open field (though, the burly sophomore held on to the reception) and hung around the ball all afternoon.

Farley has transitioned from derided as a safety in 2013 to possibly underrated, yet undoubtedly valuable, as a nickelback in 2014 and 2015.

 

Liam Eichenberg To Announce Decision Soon

Class of 2016 offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg stopped by campus this weekend for a visit.

According to Irish247’s Tom Loy, Eichenberg will visit Ohio State next weekend and announce a decision soon thereafter. The 4-star prospect from Cleveland is slotted as the No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 83 overall player in the country. With Matt Hegarty’s departure and Tillery’s start on the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame will look to add depth along the offensive line in the next few recruiting cycles.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

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

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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.

Begin Slideshow

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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