Pac-12 Spotlight: Five spring position battles to track
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
Spring football has started for some and is on the near horizon for many others so this week we are taking a look at some key position battles in each Power Five conference. Today we look at the Pac-12 with four quarterback battles and a team trying to replace a star running back.
USC: MATT FINK VS. JACK SEARS
The skinny: With Sam Darnold off to the NFL, experience is lacking for his possible replacements, but there is plenty of talent. Considering Matt Fink beat out Jack Sears last year for the back-up job, it is reasonable to believe that he is currently the front runner for the starting job in 2018. However, whatever lead he may have, it is likely very minimal.
Whomever grabs the lead coming out of the spring will also have to deal with JT Daniels when he arrives on campus this summer. Daniels, who re-classified from 2019 to 2018 only a few months ago, possesses an incredible amount of talent, but will he be able to out-perform Fink and Sears in only a month?
Farrell’s rake: Fink has come a long way from the kid who was so out of place at the Under Armour All-America Game that we wondered why USC was even taking him. Sears has talent and was always a kid with a high ceiling and a good arm, so he should be right in the mix. Whoever wins the job could be a placeholder for Daniels, who will be the guy when he’s ready. I’m not saying it will be his freshman year, but it will be sooner than later. Fink was a low three-star out of high school while Sears was a four-star and Daniels was a five-star.
UCLA: DEVON MODSTER VS. MATT LYNCH VS. KJ CARTA-SAMUELS
The skinny: With Josh Rosen sitting out the Cactus Bowl, Devon Modster stepped in and threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but with Chip Kelly now in charge, the competition is considered more open. Redshirt sophomore Matt Lynch has minimal experience, but will get a long look during the spring. Grad-transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels possesses a skill set that is more suitable for Kelly’s offense, but he won’t arrive for a couple of more weeks. All Bruin fans are also waiting for the arrival of freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who won’t be there until the summer, but could be a potential star in the future. Modster is still most likely to win the job, but how secure will that job be?
Farrell’s take: The big question is how the quarterbacks will fit into Kelly’s system. Modster should be the guy, but incoming freshman Thompson-Robinson, a four-star out of high school, could be the best fit in the long run. As it is with USC, whoever wins the job could be keeping the seat warm for the talented incoming freshman.
STANFORD: KJ COSTELLO VS. DAVIS MILLS VS. JACK RICHARDSON
The skinny: In Palo Alto this is less of a positional battle and more of a battle of attrition this spring. A few months ago it seemed as though it would be a battle among KJ Costello, Davis Mills and Keller Chryst for the starting job this fall, but with Costello dealing with a hip injury, Mills dealing with a knee injury and Chryst transferring to Tennessee, the Cardinal are left with Jack Richardson at quarterback this spring. Richardson, who spent time on the scout team last fall as a walk-on, has actually surprised some in the early going this spring. But it is safe to say that the Cardinal hope for speedy recoveries from Costello and Mills this spring and summer.
Farrell’s take: Things look bleak this spring for Stanford, but there is a lot of talent on the roster. I like Mills the best based on his upside and think he wins the job in the end, but Costello also has a good skill set. I expect the performance at the quarterback position to be much improved next season and it helps that Bryce Love is coming back to help ease the pressure.
WASHINGTON STATE: CONNER NEVILLE VS. CAMMON COOPER
The skinny: With the tragic suicide of Tyler Hilinski in January, the Cougars were left in a position nobody even imagines. On the field, Trey Tinsley returns as the third-string quarterback from last season, but he is a walk-on and served as the team’s holder. Anthony Gordon saw time on the scout team, but neither he nor Tinsley should play a major role this spring and summer. Connor Neville will likely get the most snaps early on during the spring, but keep an eye on early enrollee Cammon Cooper, who has been force-fed the Cougars' offense since January.
Farrell’s take: Neville was a Rivals.com discovery as a little-known quarterback from Oregon who came on to win one of our quarterback events and go on to numerous scholarship offers. Cooper has a chance to be a stat-stuffer in this offense and we all know Mike Leach will develop a quarterback, so this seems to be an intriguing battle. Whoever wins the job will put up big numbers.
OREGON: TONY BROOKS-JAMES VS. DARRIAN FELIX VS. CJ VERDELL VS. CYRUS HABIBI-LIKIO
The skinny: Replacing Royce Freeman, a four-year starter who finished as the seventh-leading rusher in NCAA history, will be a tough task for the Ducks. Tony Brooks-James has the most experience, rushing for 1,554 yards over the last three seasons. But with a smaller frame, it is more likely that the carries will be more dispersed this fall. Sophomore Darrian Felix only received limited playing time in 2017, but showed potential, while redshirt freshman CJ Verdell has impressed over the last year on the practice field and Cyrus Habibi-Likio is the only back on the roster heavier than 200 pounds. Even true freshmen Travis Dye and Jamal Currie-Elliot should receive an ample amount of carries during the spring.
Farrell’s take: This will be an interesting battle as Brooks-James is dynamic but small, Felix is also very good in space and a little bit more put together while Verdell is also a short running back but very thick. Habibi-Likio is the biggest of the bunch but doesn’t have the speed of the others. No one back will replace Freeman, that’s too much to ask, but there is enough talent here to find a nice combo.