Gold Nuggets: Pac-12 quarterback competitions gain steam in spring ball
While the majority of Pac-12 sports fans had their heads turned to the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments in March and perhaps the league’s strong baseball and softball programs, the league’s football teams were busy beginning spring camp.
Here’s a look at some of the bigger football headlines to come out of the Pac-12 in recent days …
Arizona: Dual-threat Wiley looking to take a leap
While the Arizona receiving corps lost a good one in walk-on-turned-Pac-12-leading target Dorian Singer, the running game returns intact, including all-conference honorable mention Michael Wiley. And in addition to returning with more than 1,400 career rushing yards, he is a capable wideout, coming off the most catches (36) by an Arizona running back since Ka’Deem Carey in 2012. Wiley has 95 career catches. Just 10 more receptions will put him at the top of the list of most receptions by an Arizona running back.
“All my life I always thought I was a receiver in my head,” Wiley said, according to the Arizona Daily Star’s Justin Spears. “I trust my hands. It’s just second nature.”
Arizona State: Rashada ink deal, takes lead in QB race?
Fresh off his first official NIL deal — well, his first official NIL deal that actually went through — Arizona State quarterback Jaden Rashada can be seen zooming across the Sun Devils’ Tempe campus on his new State Bicycle Co. e-bike.
Turns out he can zoom a bit himself. Rashada is duking it out with incumbent part-time starter Trenton Bourguet and former Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne for the Sun Devils’ starting quarterback position, among others. Arizona Sports’ Jake Anderson believes Rashada has been the clear-cut top option for new head coach Kenny Dillingham, who is keeping his options open at this point.
‘”Everybody’s kind of new here because the staff is new, so nobody has a competitive advantage via the scheme,” Dillingham said Saturday, according to Anderson. “But I like having these guys come in and I’m open in dialogue. I want to hear, ‘How did you read it?'”
Cal: Jackson takes hold of starting quarterback spot
Former TCU backup quarterback Sam Jackson IV has reportedly “solidified his hold on the starting quarterback job” midway through Cal’s spring practice calendar, as his tantalizing combination of athleticism and talent has taken over.
“It’s not like he’s played 6 years of starting quarterback. He’s a young guy, he’s still growing. His best football is always going to be ahead of him,” coach Justin Wilcox said, according to Cal Sports Reports. “He’s a great athlete, he’s a sharp guy — he’s smart. He loves football and every moment, every play out here I’m sure he’s learning something. As long as he’s doing that, he’s going to be fine.”
Colorado: Buffaloes buff up on the defensive front
With all of the upheaval Colorado is experiencing this offseason, no single position group is more important than the next. The Buffaloes were almost equally pitiful across the board last season.
But in a conference that features perhaps the best collection of passing prowess in the country as well as a defensive backfield that may boast the most talent on the roster, all eyes are on a defensive line that helped Colorado collect just 9.5 sacks last season. Only 1 Buff defender racked up more than a single sack last year — linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo.
Incoming transfer Shane Cokes, a former 2-time All-Ivy defensive lineman for Dartmouth, is impressed by the collection of talent in Boulder so far.
“I would say from today (and) from the past few days, we’ve put in a lot more work and made a lot more plays,” Cokes told reporters last week, according to Buffaloes Wire’s Jack Carlough. “I think it’s a growing process — out with the old and in with the new. Taking what coach (Nick) Williams and coach (Sal) Sunseri have been teaching us and just becoming better for it, I think that’s what’s really been exciting for us, just raising that intensity level each and every day.”
Oregon: Conerly leads Ducks up front
The Ducks boasted one of the most impressive offensive line rooms in college football last year, with a first unit that allowed less than a hand’s worth of sacks and 5-stars just waiting in the wings. With the loss of talented leaders including TJ Bass and Alex Forsythe, Josh Conerly is moving into a major leadership role, according to The Register-Guard’s Chris Hansen.
“This guy is working his tail off in everything that he absolutely does,” coach Dan Lanning said. “The way he stretches, the way he approaches everything, his mentality in the classroom as well.”
It was interesting to hear former Clemson 5-star quarterback recruit DJ Uiagalelei describe his decision to transfer to Oregon State to play for Jonathan Smith and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren and the study that went into the move, which is being hailed as one of the most impactful transfers in college football.
“I did my homework,” he said, according to The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman. “And I told Coach Lindgren, I like the way he called plays, I like the different stuff they did under center. The offense they run here is kind of like San Francisco or the old LA Rams when they had Jared Goff. They’re kind of similar to the (Sean) McVay offense and (Kyle) Shanahan. Different stuff like that. And for me, that’s what I told him. I felt like it was a great system for me to learn from and to be able to grow my game.”
Stanford: Former Cardinal DB Bonner steals the show at Pro Day
While former Stanford defensive back Kyu Blu Kelly drew much of the praise during his Cardinal tenure, fellow defensive back Ethan Bonner was the one who stole the show at Stanford’s Pro Day, according to All Cardinal’s Kevin Borba. Bonner reportedly “registered the fastest 40-yard dash, the 2nd-highest vertical jump, the longest broad jump, and the fastest short shuttle out of all of Stanford’s participants.”
Kelly of course impressed as well, and he’s expected to be a Day 2 pick.
“I think it was a good day,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t able to do the drills at the (NFL) Combine, had a slight tweak at the last course. So, coming out here and showing them that I can move, showing them with the hamstring in question, I think it went well for sure.”
UCLA: Quarterback competition draws eyeballs
Last week, CBS Sports deemed the Bruins’ wide-open quarterback competition one of the best battles in the country, as UCLA will turn to a new quarterback aside from Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the first time in a half-decade.
Former Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee, who was considered a top-5 portal quarterback, is the most experienced QB on the roster, though he’s not exactly a long-time starter. Nor is career backup Ethan Garbers, who played well in relief of DTR but lacks explosiveness. And the of course there’s 5-star recruit Dante Moore.
This contest likely won’t have a winner until mid-summer.
USC: Foreman foremost among Trojans risers
Spring football is an opportunity for those seeking a redemption arc, and USC defensive lineman Korey Foreman is in the process of answering naysayers. Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley singled out the former 5-star for his maturation improvement this spring.
“He has improved and is such a better player right now than he was 12 months ago. It’s not even close. It is not even close,” Riley told reporters. “And the kid is really, he’s working hard. He’s really taking some steps. He’s been a more consistent playmaker six practices in. … If he closes spring strong, stays healthy, stays on the field, keeps getting reps, has a great summer; he ought to be primed to be a disruptive player for us this fall. No question about it.
Utah: Fano finds a new fan
It’s not so rare for a former BYU player to transfer to Utah or vice versa, but it is a bit strange when the player never suits up for his original team. Now we have no idea what Utah freshman defensive end Logan Fano is going to look like for the Utes, but he’s getting some good ink from Utah defensive ends coach Lewis Powell, according to the Deseret News.
“Logan’s looking good. He was cleared (by doctors) as soon as he got here. He wasn’t limited in any of his workouts and it’s the same in spring. Everything looks good,” Powell said. “He’s gained the weight he needs to and he’s had a great offseason. Right now, two days into spring, he is a pleasant surprise. We’re excited to see how he continues to develop throughout the 15 practices.”
Washington: Polk making voice known in a crowd
In a loaded wide receiver corps that includes Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, fellow stud Ja’Lynn Polk is making waves both with his game and his leadership, according to Inside the Huskies’ Dan Raley. Despite just being a sophomore, much is expected out of Polk along with the rest of the targets of Heisman hopeful Michael Penix Jr.
Washington State: Pandemic boosts Cougars defensive front
Perhaps no single unit in the Pac-12 was impacted more this year by the lasting effects of COVID than Washington State, which returned 6th-year senior stars Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone up front. Their talent and experience has been obvious, according to the Spokesman-Review’s Colton Clark.
“It’s huge just having a group with a lot of depth and experience,” Jackson said. “Everyone knows the technique, what it should look like, what the standard is. Having those guys not be young guys anymore and really being mature competitors at this point, it’s huge for the group and the development of the young guys coming in.”