Pac-12 spring football previews: Stanford, Arizona, Colorado kick off spring games
The Pac-12 spring football games kick off this weekend with Colorado, Arizona and Stanford giving fans a first look at the teams that will take the field in 2014. Position battles are far from won, but hints of challengers will be given. Here's what we're eyeing for Saturday's set of games.
The second year under head coach Mike MacIntyre should see improvements, and it starts with comfort. The time spent last year where the Buffs learned how to execute drills will turn into pushing those sets as close to game speed as possible. And the players who fought their way into earning snaps in 2013 now hope to keep their spots with a new recruiting class battling them for immediate playing time.
Depth represents the growth of a football team, and that's what MacIntyre hopes to develop as his second season at the helm approaches.
The easiest example of needed depth comes at the receiver spot, where the loss of standout Paul Richardson will need to be replaced by committee. That could be welcoming to the coaching staff, which will ride Nelson Spruce and Co. to make opponents lock down across the field rather than scheming to stop one elite player.
Positional battle of note: Quarterback Sefo Liufau finished out the 2013 campaign as a green quarterback with a lot of promise, but the Colorado coaching staff isn't giving him any hints that the job is his in 2014. Sophomore Jordan Gehrke adds a little more mobility at the quarterback position and is breathing down Liufau's neck.
A name you should know: Addison Gillam led the Buffs with 119 tackles from his middle linebacker spot last season, but expect him to become an all-conference type of player in his sophomore year.
When you think Arizona, you think fast-paced offense. And in the fast-paced offense under coach Rich Rodriguez, the decision making is done by the quarterback. For the third of three years in the Rodriguez era, the Wildcats enter spring with a new signal-caller on deck, but it's never been less clear about who the starter will be.
Considering the explosiveness in the receiving group with Austin Hill, Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, and transfers DaVonte' Neal and Caleb Jones, getting the ball down the field is all the more important.
As many as five quarterbacks have gotten reps with the first unit heading into Saturday's spring game. It would seem that senior Jesse Scroggins, after an injury-plagued year, joins Texas transfer Connor Brewer and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon atop the list of quarterbacks who could win the job. But don't count out junior college transfer Jerrard Randall or quarterback-receiver combo Khari McGee to replace departed quarterback B.J. Denker.
Positional battle of note: It's unclear how Arizona will replace All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey, who declared for the NFL draft after his junior season. Youngsters like Pierre Cormier and Zach Green could battle for snaps, but Rodriguez is even toying with using receivers like DaVonte' Neal and Samajie Grant in the backfield.
A name you should know: Jerrard Randall is a redshirt junior quarterback who spent a year at LSU, went the junior college track and then joined the Wildcats. He's perhaps a dark horse candidate with the most pure talent of players in the deep stable of quarterbacks.
How do you follow up two consecutive Rose Bowl appearances? Go for another.
The Stanford Cardinal made skeptics look silly a few years back when Andrew Luck departed and again when head coach Jim Harbaugh was replaced by David Shaw. Winning hasn't stopped. Like it's been the last three years, it's time for the Cardinal to reload and continue striving for big-name bowl games.
Running back Tyler Gaffney is gone, as are defensive leaders Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. And so the face of the Cardinal is quarterback Kevin Hogan, who succeeded when he was thrown into the fire two years ago and then this past season, when he built consistency. Now, Shaw is looking for leadership from his signal-caller, who has the tools to make near any throw and the legs to extend plays. Can he put it all together and put Stanford in a position to win the Pac-12 once again?
The culture has been built, and now it's on the new faces to keep the tradition of excellence alive.
Positional battle of note: The Cardinal lost a bit in the front seven when Skov and Murphy left for the NFL, but A.J. Tarpley is expected to pick up the leadership responsibilities. Blake Martinez is another player who could see an increase in playing time.
A name you should know: Austin Hooper, a sophomore tight end, has earned positive reviews from Stanford head coaches. He could be in solid position to have a breakout year for a team with quite the tradition at the tight end position.