Pac-12 Football: 5 Teams Having the Best Spring Camp
Having a great spring camp is sort of like starting a puzzle by completing the outer ring; you have a solid foundation for completing the project, but it's not the most essential aspect of the process.
For Pac-12 teams, improving during spring and maintaining health are key goals but not entirely crucial for success in the 2014 regular season. That said, you'd rather be drawing rave reviews and running crisp practices than look sloppy and be dealing with injuries.
There's no perfect formula to judge how well a team is doing, especially if fans and media aren't allowed to watch, as is the case with some programs. But we'll do our best based on practice reports, overall health of the team and, admittedly, gut feelings.
Remember that these rankings are strictly based on how a team is faring during spring practice and have no correlation with perceived order of finish in 2014. Also, being excluded from this list doesn't necessarily mean spring practice is going poorly for those teams. The five listed programs have just generated more buzz for one reason or another.
Take a look at these five Pac-12 squads that are happy about their offseason progress so far.
By now you might be sick of hearing this writer gush about Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau. But while the Buffaloes' woes in recent years are due to a lack of talent across the board, nowhere has it been more apparent than at signal-caller.
In March, Liufau was seen sporting a gold jersey, a reward put in place by coach Mike MacIntyre. At the time, Liufau had this to say, via Irv Moss of The Denver Post: "If you make a hustle play in practice and Coach thinks it helped the team a lot, you get to wear a gold jersey the next day in practice. If you win it twice, you get to keep it for the rest of the spring."
The Buffaloes have been desperately searching for a quarterback with the confidence and talent to take the program back to where it once was. Getting into the top 10 may not happen in Liufau's time, but the sophomore has things moving in the right direction.
There are questions to consider, however. Will he deliver when the games begin? And how will the team replace wide receiver Paul Richardson?
That answer may have come during the annual Black and Gold game, when freshman Bryce Bobo caught five passes for 132 yards, including a 67-yarder. Between him and the already proven Nelson Spruce, Liufau may suddenly find himself surrounded by more talent than he previously thought.
In addition to Bobo's breakout performance, the defense, led by linebacker Addison Gillam and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, made a number of notable plays. All in all, it was a positive spring for a Colorado program that has long been stuck in a rut.
The main reason Arizona makes the list is because of the situation at quarterback. Nobody has worked his way to the front of the pack just yet, but the mystery surrounding who will eventually be named starter is a good thing.
Consider that an open competition brings out the best in all of the candidates. But perhaps the more intriguing aspect is how athletic each player is. Anu Solomon, Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall all have the chops to move the ball on the ground, and whoever Rodriguez names as starter is going to be a perfect fit for his offense.
In the spring game, Solomon and Texas transfer Connor Brewer led the way at quarterback, and both will be aided by the addition of wide receivers Austin Hill and DaVonte' Neal.
We know what Hill can do from his monster season in 2012, and Neal is a wild card at the position we'll just call a game-breaker. Filling in for Ka'Deem Carey may be Terris Jones-Grigsby, who had 62 yards and a score in the spring game.
His role will be especially important when the season begins, as the offense cannot truly excel without a back who can make defenses pay when they aren't fully locked in.
The Wildcats will still have to answer some questions on defense, but with an offense that looks like one of the nation's best, that side of the ball is at least going to get tested during practice.
Eventually, fans will want to see a starting quarterback, and going into the final week before the first game without having one may not be the best route. But with several talented candidates all putting everything on the line, the winner should be a terror throughout the 2014 season.
Oregon State Beavers
Not every team needs to have played its annual spring game to be judged on how successful camp has been thus far.
Oregon State is just such a team, and while this isn't a knock on the team just down the road from Corvallis, the Beavers have to be pleased with where they stand.
Start first with Sean Mannion, a rock-solid veteran who threw for roughly 42,736 yards last season (someone will take this part seriously). While he loses Brandin Cooks at receiver, Richard Mullaney returns as a solid starter who is capable of putting together a 1,000-yard campaign.
Taking a look at some of the bullet points surrounding Oregon State's spring practices, via Gina Mizell of The Oregonian, you should note the development of the younger wideouts. This is as crucial to future success as any other aspect on the team, as losing Cooks is equal to losing arguably the best player in school history.
Mizell also mentions a young linebacker named Jabari Johnson, who was forced into action in 2013 following an injury to Michael Doctor. Coach Mike Riley spoke about his burgeoning young star: "(Johnson) is a real guy for all of our team to take a snapshot of. This is a very good example of how hard work, diligence, continued effort in the weight room, continued study can all of a sudden elevate you in a position that is pretty highly regarded on our team."
Needless to say, so far so good for Coach Riley in his effort to build off the success of this past year.
When evaluating spring practices, sometimes it's too difficult to ignore talent. Sure, you look for certain units to show improvement, for sloppy play to disappear after the first few outings and for team morale to be high going forward.
But while the Trojans appear to making strides in all three areas, the talent on the team is eye-popping. You could argue that the talent hasn't disappeared in recent years despite several underwhelming campaigns. But now it exists not only on the top spots of the depth chart, but in the two- and three-deep as well.
You know about the quarterback battle between Cody Kessler and Max Browne, and you've surely heard of defensive tackle Leonard Williams and wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Even Javorius Allen, an unknown running back entering the 2013 campaign, is participating in spring practice as a veteran.
But several other names have popped up time and time again, according to Jake Davidson at the Daily Trojan.
Davidson notes the development of defensive back Chris Hawkins and linebacker Scott Starr as well as the emergence of defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Defensive coordinators around the conference must be thinking, "Great, just what we need...a second scary defensive tackle to deal with when playing USC."
At receiver, Darreus Rogers has the talent to help offset the loss of Marqise Lee, and Davidson makes note of how Rogers has been one of the clear standouts this spring.
If new coach Steve Sarkisian can get everyone on the same page with his offense and adjusting to the way he runs things, the Trojans should be serious contenders in the Pac-12 South.
It's hard to know exactly what to make of UCLA heading into the 2014 season, but all signs are pointed in the right direction so far in Westwood.
While naysayers might point to a 28-point loss at Oregon or the fact that the Bruins have yet to really "arrive," the program is loaded and has experience all over the place. In fact, the current version of UCLA probably has more talent than it did at any point in the last decade.
The fact that the experienced leaders on the team are able to help out the young stars is merely one of the reasons why the Bruins are having a great spring. Another is that no major injuries have occurred that might force any starters to miss time next season.
Mike W.R. of GoJoeBruin.com noted how sharp quarterback Brett Hundley has looked thus far and also raved about the speed and strength of running back Paul Perkins. It's interesting to see mention of Perkins, as running back was arguably the lone spot on UCLA's offense last season that underperformed.
Now, with a year under his belt, the sophomore back could emerge as the next great back in Westwood after guys like Johnathan Franklin and Maurice Jones-Drew.
Receiver is another interesting position with Shaq Evans gone, but expect both Eldridge Massington and Mossi Johnson to make a few headlines in 2014.
We'll reiterate that it's difficult to project this UCLA team with several months remaining until the start of the regular season, and no one would be shocked to see the Bruins settle with eight or nine wins. But the talent is there, and if it comes together just right under coach Jim Mora's guidance, making the first College Football Playoff isn't out of the question.
All stats via cfbstats.com.
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